Poor Old Dennis

By Country Boy

Poor old Maggots, being the smallest one of us, he always got the muddy end of the stick. Today we lay in wait for him to show up because he had accidently let the boat drift away down the river and we had to make a mile detour along the road to cross the bridge to get to the other bank where the wind had driven our Jolly Roger.

It was in all the newspapers that a man was to be hung in London for a murder on the A40, whatever that was. To us kids hanging was a just cause for Maggots for letting the boat go astray. When he eventually arrived he was captured by my brother and we frog-marched him to the large old Miller seedling apple tree where we had a length of rope hanging ready for the dirty deed to take place. Standing him upon a wooden box I placed the rope around his scrawny neck. At this precise moment Mother approached as usual and made us let him go.

Always Mum got her way. Did she follow us everywhere of have some kind ofsecond sense. Maybe she could read our little boy’s language, I don’t know, but she always saved a life. Later, Maggots was punished to our satisfaction. We got him and shut him in one of our father’s smoke houses, a tall, wooden shed 10 feet high by 4 feet square called a Dee. Here my Dad turned herrings into bloaters and kippers. On the earth floor we lit a fire of odd sawdust and as it smouldered away so Maggots started to bang on the door and shout. We covered up his screams by making a lot of noise ourselves but as the fire and smoke got really going the game was up again. With all the vents in the shed emitting vast clouds of choking smoke, Mother once again came to his rescue. That was enough for one day. Maggots was sent home for the day and we had to go indoors. Maggots stank like a kipper for days. His hair was a real mess. I swear he had a much darker complexion for years afterwards. He got his revenge . It was in the April of ‘54. A real spring day had nearly spent itself. The sun was setting far to the west into the bursting buds of summer along the wood. Father had cleared an old house out of all the unwanted things for the estate agent. Amongst the items were a set of golf clubs in an old leather caddy along with balls and tees. Out on the flat new spring grass of the marsh we were going to have real fun. Armed with a wooden driver shod with irons Maggots turn arrived. As he was about to swing and clout the ball. I decided the tee his ball rested on was out of the ground too far so bent down to poke it further in. Too late – not having his eye on the ball he took his mighty swing at the little white thing that a moment before had been blocked by my bending body. The angry hungry driver with all the venom a 6 year old could give it hit me on the back of my head. I was dead. No messing. There I lay on that new spring grass, blood gushing from my brain. It was too much for Maggots. His little white legs were going ten to the dozen and taking long ones at that. He was gone. Bursting indoors at home he poured his little heart out. He had killed me. Yes, I was dead. He had seen blood and I did not move.

Soon, very soon, a rescue party arrived. I regained consciousness to find 3 adults and Maggots peering down at me. But my Mum was not one of them. She always saved him, why not me? It was not fair. Even though it had been a tragic accident, Maggots was going to pay for this. I would get my own back on him sooner or later. The chance came sooner rather than later. A couple of weeks afterwards a magpie’s nest was found to be occupied. The old nests used to stay up in the big thick hawthorn trees all year round. We knew all of them. But instead of climbing all the trees we waited and watched till we saw a bird on our approach to tell us it was being used this year. We had located one now in use way up in the top of one of the tallest trees around, a real beast of a tree, high and all thorns. For every clutch of eggs we could get 6 shillings from the farmer and this nest was right at the top where the branches were only thick twigs. So it was a job for the smallest, lightest one to investigate. Up went Maggots.

Now, don’t forget we all wore short trousers in those days so legs were very apt to get scratched and stabbed by the thorns. We carried a tin with sheep’s wool in it to place the eggs in your pocket. But as there were six eggs to the nest and only four would fit the tin you had to put the remaining eggs in your mouth or climb the tree twice and no one wanted to tackle this thorn bush more than once a year. So, into his mouth went two rather addled eggs. To me, this was payback time for hitting me over the head with a golf club. 4 eggs in the tin were enough to constitute a clutch. As he started to gingerly climb down through the thorns I seized my chance and started to rock the trunk. He held on for as long as he could then, taking a sharp breath, ready to shout, he swallowed one of the eggs, at the same time spitting the other one out. It was well set, blood and all. That was good, he had got his just desserts. Down he came, none too pleased. On seeing the broken egg he was sick.

From Rye’s Own October 2003

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