26 june 2018






school photos







           All original writing

           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin


DEEPEST GLOUCESTERSHIRE, with cars, soap powder, police and graves

The job offer meant I was destined for either the South West or the South East. Coming originally from the North, both were attractive. But what to do? Then I anticipated, by 13 years, the second episode of Only Fools and Horses, 'Go west young man', so went West.

The new house was nearly finished but the road wasn't. Everytime you went out you had to wear wellingtons because of the mud. The pub was at the top of the road and when we went in, everything went quiet and straws fell out of the mouths and hit the floor. It must have been a shock suddenly to have young newcomers to the village. Before long we were chatting to Old Harry and the rhubarb of conversation started up again.

A builder came in to finish something off. "What do people do round here?" I asked. "Well there be tug-o'-war." It was months till we got a road and then we found that the car stuck on the steep concrete slope down to the garage. A fillet of concrete did the trick and also slowed the car down as it slid down the ice towards the garage door in winter.

There was no internet in those days, and precious few telephone lines. Hands up who wants to spy on their neighbour? We stuck ours up and got the only line in the vill-age: a 'party line'. Both houses could use it but not at the same time. And you could listen in to your neighbour's conversations. Interestingly GCHQ was re-located to Cheltenham at around that time . . . .

Remember Jonathan King? The once famous english singer-songwriter, record producer, music entrepreneur, self-publicist and alleged sex pest? Well it was folk night at the Old Bell Hotel. There were whispers in the air. Word had clearly got around that I was attending. I think. There was the obligatory unattractive folk singer with a strange hat and scarf, acne, unaccompanied - neither music nor friend - and with one finger in his ear. (Stops you having to listen to what you're singing.) All eyes were on the entrance. Would he turn up? What would he be wearing? Hope he notices me. It was at that point that I realised it wasn't me they were waiting for. And suddenly there he was, in the doorway, with his hair and cruel twisted lip. Jonathan King. In deepest Gloucestershire. On a Thurday night. What could he have been thinking? The rest of the evening was disappointing. He didn't sign anybody, he didn't even notice me. And neither did anyone else. Oh except the guy in the car park, stuck in a first floor warehouse after I'd moved his ladder to make room to park . . .

The church clock needed winding every day. A friend down the road had agreed to take it on but when he was away, he needed a substitute. I volunteered on occasions. It was eerie walking through the graveyard at dusk with the pigeons cooing in the distant woods. And entering the church vestry made you nervous. The heavy door creaked on its hinges, the surplices hanging on the wall twitched, but perhaps they didn't. There was danger round every turn of the spiral stairs. At the top of the tower a startled pigeon flew noisily past. Quickly you wound the weights up to the top, ran down the stairs and out into the graveyard, hoping that no grave had disturbed itself while you were up the tower.

The church bells rang out every Sunday morning, very loudly and much too early. There were no bell ringers because there weren't any bells. It was a record with speakers at the top of the tower. On clock winding occasions I'd wondered  about snipping the wires . . . .

There was the usual village hall. The newcomers to the village were young, energetic, scientific and up for it. So we organised dances and decorated the hall. On one occasion I wanted to add a bit of something new so borrowed a slide projector and some glass microscope slides. If you clamped three together with different coloured oil varnishes between them, the heat from the projector lamp would cause the oils to move and bubble. When projected onto the wall, the effect was stunning, with different coloured areas moving across each other, sometimes in time to the music. Top of the Pops would have snapped the idea up instantly were it not for my notice on the road into the village "Top of the Pops producers not welcome here."

Someone had the bright idea of making the floor more dance-friendly by sprinkling soap flakes all over it. Worked a treat till somebody spilled their drink. After that nobody could stand up. (Spoiler alert - it was the soap/drink combination, not the drink.)

Being rural, there were farmers with barns. I know, let's have a barn dance. In a Barn. No there were no prizes for originality but we did have a raffle. First prize - the chance to wind the church clock.

As the children got older, we'd organise sleep-overs for their friends. One treat was to take them all out in the dark with torches, up the local hill fort, part of the Cotswold escarpment. They made lots of squeals and somebody'd heard them. As they descended they were met by the police, possibly with reinforcements, hoping to catch people 'lamping' for rabbits. Memorably the Constable was heard to exclaim "Oh no, it's only little girls".

When they got back they trooped Into the loft. I'd covered the rafters with chipboard and sleeping bags were spread around. We counted them all in in the evening and counted them all out the following morning. That's funny, one extra'd appeared in the night.

There was a pub we used to visit in Waterley Bottom. Yes, it was near some water and at the bottom of a steep hill with some nasty hairpin bends on the way down. It was easy driving there but in a Citroen 2CV getting back up the hill required nerve, skill, timing and blind faith. You had to get in first gear at the bottom, hurl yourself and the car at the first hairpin bend, hoping that no-one was coming in the opposite direction, scream the engine at the next bends, cross your fingers, close your eyes and pray. It mostly worked.

Changed the car a few times over the years and, in my first of many fits of overindulgence, bought a Golf GTi. "Not a red one?" asked the salesman incredulously. "Oh you want to be inconspicuous when the rozzers are around." I learnt later that he had a special wariness where rozzers were concerned.

I needed a part for it once and visited their parts department. I was in the middle of the transaction when someone stormed through the door, grabbed the salesman by the shirt and thumped him. Hard. Several times. Teeth may have become dislodged. Others arrived to help and eventually the police appeared. Turns out the husband was somewhat aggrieved that the employee'd been seeing his wife. After that surprise interruption, I was sheepishly handed the part which I paid for, pretended nothing had happened, stepped over the teeth on the floor and made a hasty retreat. It's just coincidence that I always seem to be around at the wrong moment, honest, constable.

That car was jinxed. One day driving home from work, the road was clear at the junction and I turned off it to find another car approaching fast on the wrong side of the road. Time slowed down, options were limited, I swerved onto the other side of the road but he hit my front nearside. No injuries but cars damaged. He was a vet hurrying to a sick cow and thought he'd cut the corner, the cow being more important than the lives of other road users. The cow stayed sick for much longer than he'd intended. The police asked if I wanted to bring charges, but I didn't. I felt a bit sorry for the vet - oh and the cow.

When in the VW showroom quite some time later, I asked about the 'rozzer' salesman. "Oh haven't you heard? He's spending time at Her Majesty's Pleasure. He embezzled lots of customer's money."

I'd been lusting after a Mazda MX5 for years. The family indulged me for a while, then got sick of me going on about it. In the end, a daughter said "Why don't you just buy one Dad?" It was utterly impractical of course, but that didn't matter. You have to grab your 'wind in the hair' motoring while you still have hair. It was parked on the drive. We were watching television. There was a noise outside, briefly. Must have been nothing. In the morning I went out to the car to find that the door lock'd been hammered in, the inside was awry, the leather seat was torn and the radio stolen. I’d picked the wrong moment again. The Police arrived and then stepped back quickly in some alarm. He'd seen the black tubing snaking from plant trough to trough by the front door. He'd mistaken my automatic watering system for a bomb fuse or something!   

A lot of months later, it was the police at the door again. It's OK they just wanted to let me know that they'd caught the thief and he'd confessed to doing lots of jobs, mine among them. Wanted money for drugs apparently. If he'd asked politely, explaining alternatives, I'd probably have given him some money. There's a serious national discussion needed there, but it won't happen, will it.

Eventually the nest became empty, the twice weekly mowing of the third of an acre became wearing, the energy was sapping and retirement wasn't the novelty that it used to be. And there was only dial-up internet. So we moved south near to our daughter and family. When I drove out of the village, in the MX5, for the last time, I expected to feel regret, nostalgia, emotion of some kind. I felt nothing. That confirmed that it really was time to move on . . . . .