by Jill Lowry
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as others see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, And foolish notion.” From “To a Louse” by Robert Burns.
Living in a small community brings one much closer to your neighbours. City dwellers may not even recognise those who live next door, let alone speak to them. In our village, we know most people, perhaps just to say, “Hello”, as we pass, or quite closely, helping them celebrate births, deaths, marriages, birthdays, anniversaries and many other personal moments. We are interested in each other and what is happening in the lives of those we live amongst. People are supportive of each other. However there can be another aspect to this interest which involves an irresponsible and sometimes malicious behaviour, which can hurt people and do untold damage to their lives. The village shop, or Post Office, were always good places to glean information, but with the sad demise of local amenities, probably the pub and school gate gatherings are the best venues to exchange gossip, and men can be far worse than woman in my experience! At jumble sales, coffee mornings, ladies lunches and cricket matches, stories, which may not be true in the first place, are embroidered, dissected and carelessly passed on. I am probably as guilty as the next person. Let those who are without sin etc.!
Well now come a bit closer. I know you won’t repeat this, but here are a few harmless stories, in which the names have been changed to protect the not so innocent!
“I am not one to gossip, but have you heard…..” “You know me. I am as silent as the grave, but….” “I was told in the strictest confidence, and I know you won’t pass it on…..”
There was a character in the village, some time ago, who enjoyed a pint of Guinness and loved the ladies. He was married to ‘a saint’. Her indoors was rarely seen, tied to the kitchen sink coping with a large family of lads and waiting for himself to come home from the pub for his tea. At one time, so I was told, he was pretty proud of himself when his wife, the buxom lady across the road, and her teenage daughter, were all pregnant by him at the same time! He had a little girl friend, some thirty years younger than himself, who sat silently in the corner of the pub on Sunday lunchtimes, drinking pineapple juice. He himself stood at the bar ignoring her, intent on taking in his daily quota of Guinness. His weekly bar bill often exceeded his wage. It was rumoured. When the landlord called “Time”, this chap would nip out into the car park, buy a pint of prawns from the fish man, then armed with several more bottles of pineapple juice and Guinness, would take his girl friend off for a picnic in the woods. One day they were spotted by a diligent villager, who misconstrued the action and reported to the police that a man was dragging a child into the woods, for possible foul play. The couple settled down on the car rug, consumed the prawns and drinks and, not surprisingly, the chap fell asleep, snoring none too gently in the afternoon sun. His girl friend read her magazine and did her knitting, then dozed herself. They were awoken unceremoniously, by several large policemen barging across the grass like cart horses, to rescue a maiden who might be in distress. However, all they found was a pleasant idyll, a quiet, relaxed couple, enjoying the afternoon, and as the young lady concerned had just passed her 17 birthday, there was not a lot to be done.
This same chap had 3 hulking sons to follow in his footsteps. One played football for the local team. A needle match was arranged one Saturday morning, against the next village. Tempers ran high and some dirty play was a distinct possibility. The match was at fever pitch when the referee became distracted by a man running up and down the side lines, waving a scarf and shouting loudly “Come on boy, worry ’em, worry ’em. Give ’em what for! Get the boot in! Come on boy, give ’em something to remember you by!”. His frantic bellowing, and lurid language disrupted play and eventually the ref. turned to the nearest player and asked, “Who the hell is that old fool?” The player blushed a beetroot red and whispered. “That’s my old man”. “Well don’t let him come again”, bawled the ref.
Another time Himself spotted his youngest lad sneaking around the back of the house in a highly suspicious manner and called him to explain what he was doing. “What you up to boy? I seed you sneaking across the allotments with his sack. What you got there? Coal! You’ve been up that yard nicking coal haven’t you? Where you taking them sacks? You’re nicking that coal and selling it. I know that’s what your up to”. “Not me dad I wasn’t nicking nothing”. “Don’t you lie to your old dad now, I know what you’ve been doing. Now listen to me, boy, and listen good. Never lie to your old man, and don’t go flogging coal to other people before you’ve filled my bunker first!
Having learned this lesson about telling the truth this lad owned up when a large, fearsome, tweedy lady hammered on the door, and informed Dad that one of the boys had been seen breaking into the cricket pavilion and stolen a box of chocolate bars. “You been breaking and entering?”, his dad asked. “Did you nick that chocolate?”. “Yes Dad. I done it”, confessed the culprit. “That’s a bad thing you done”, said his Dad, “But you are a good boy for telling the truth. Tonight, when I go to the pub, I’ll get you a Mars Bar for not lying to your Old Man”. “Cor, thanks Dad”, said the lad and waited until his Dad appeared rather the worse for a few Guinness. “Can I have my Mars Bar Dad?,” he asked. “Mars Bar! Mars Bar!” roared his red faced parent. “What you need is a good thrashing for nicking in the first place! Now get to bed. Your old man needs a good nights sleep!, and he tottered off, leaving his son to learn another salutary lesson.
On another occasion Himself was questioned by his boy. “Dad, Dad, why is our garden full of old pram wheels and stuff, and everyone else’s is tidy and got flowers in them?” “I ain’t got no time for gardening”, said his father. “All them people is stuck up and it don’t matter anyway. I’m off to the pub”. When he returned some hours later, and her indoors, a saint she is, had his tea ready, he found his son cutting the grass with a borrowed mower. “What you up to you gurt lummox?”, he shouted “Making all that racket.” “I’m only cutting the grass Dad”. “Well there aint no point, yer daft **!! It’ll only grow again. Once you start you never stop. You’ll be cutting the **!! grass all your life. Now stop making that row. You’re old Dad’s tired. I’m going for a lie down”. Well of course that was the end of the gardening. The gate fell off its hinges, the weeds grew tall, and Himself slept off the effects of the Guinness most afternoons.
Her indoors, that was a saint, decided it was time the chimney was swept. She asked Himself several times, to no avail, and finally one Sunday the boys borrowed some drain rods and set about the job. Later when her man returned, after a heavy lunch-time session, he nearly had a fit! There were the boys black from head to foot. The sitting room was covered in soot, and his Mrs. was wielding the vacuum cleaner. The boys were running in and out to see if the rod was showing at the top of the chimney. “What the hells going on ‘ere?”, he bawled. “We’re sweeping the chimney Dad”, they chorused. “Chimney! Chimney! I’ll give you **!! chimney”, shouted Dad. “How’s a man to get a rest on Sunday afternoon, with all this racket going on? Put them things away, and don’t make no noise, ‘cos your old Dad needs a sleep”. With that he stamped off to the bedroom and was soon sleeping off his liquid lunch, while Mum and the boys crept about trying to tidy things up.
Well, there are many tales like this, but I’ll just end on a more personal note. When I was widowed some years ago, a certain fellow in the village stopped me in the street and asked how I was. After some moments chat he took a diary out of his top pocket and, with his glasses on the end of his nose, peered over them at me, with a gleam in his eye. “Mrs. Lowry”, he began, “Who is the driver of car number *** that I see outside your house so often?” Then there were several other car numbers mentioned. “Who stayed on Saturday night in car number ***, and all last weekend?”, he enquired Speechless I blushed and stammered, amazed that anyone should go to the trouble of watching my house so closely. Seeing my discomfort and embarrassment, he laughed and winked and went on his way, leaving me there dumfounded. I never bothered to enlighten him that all the cars were driven by my daughter, who worked for Skinners, and used many different vehicles in the course of her work. She often popped in and stayed overnight to give me some company. I dread to think what gossip that caused!
My two gorgeous daughters have raised a few eyebrows at times, but just think how dull life would be without someone to gossip about. Now I am about just to go off to have tea with a friend and to hear the latest, but I won’t repeat it, of course!
“Rye’s Own” February 2001
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