Blow winds and crack your cheeks…
Time had moved on. And the experience had made her vow never to do it again – what with all the packing; still-unopened cardboard boxes; complicated fees; broken Emma Bridgewater crockery; crooked solicitors; and estate agents who wouldn’t recognize any version of the truth if it poked them in both eyes with a hot poker. This time, she swore (for the umpteenth time), it was permanent: even if the cottage had proved not to be quite as perfect as it had first looked on that bright spring day; and all the paint had obviously been applied hastily with a thick roller by a one-legged moose. Especially the skirting-boards. This meant that it was now winter, of course. (Nice carpets, though. And extremely well fitted.)
Flakes of snow were therefore dutifully drifting lazily down outside The Peacock, in Oxhill: so lazily, in fact, that some of them just couldn’t be bothered to land; whilst the majority took the shortest route to the ground possible, whilst still trying to look as ballerina-like and graceful as they could: imagining they were in some wonderful Disney cartoon (and wondering when “whilst” took preference over “while” in a sentence).
Inside, two familiar-looking oldish gents (you might have to saw them in half and count the rings) were sat in front of the log-burner: which didn’t so much roar, as just hint at the odd, low, unthreatening growl. Our two subjects were long past the coat-steaming stage; and well past their first pints of the night. They were the only customers, though.
“No: I didn’t mean the plays and sonnets weren’t any good, when I said that. I just implied that, having been around this long, it’s just slightly easier to keep them in print, and help build importance, and an industry around them – that’s all. I mean, there isn’t a Royal Jonson Theatre, is there? Although I’m sure that would bring the Yanks over here even more! Or the Royal Marlowe Company? All it takes is the very occasional, very little nudge. Obviously I don’t make any money from it… directly. But the fame’s nice.”
“So how do you survive – er, financially, I mean?”
“I used to, er, help out at the Birthplace Trust. But, at the moment, people seem to think I’m some sort of retired archaeologist, ‘off the teevee’ – which isn’t that wrong, of course; and I, for one, am not going to convince them otherwise: especially if it gets me free pints of ale…! Another?” he asked, clinking his almost empty glass against his greying, close-cropped companion’s. “I must do some research, though: they seem to expect that I should always wear badly-knitted, colourful jumpers….” He stroked his stubbly, white chin with his free hand.
“Don’t mind if I do,” replied the other, a ruminative smile on his face. “Mind you, I’ve got to get back home, later; and look at it,” he said, glancing outside into the darkness; and then lifting his darkened spectacles – which didn’t help. “Two miles. In wellies. And with my gammy leg….”
“No problem,” his friend grinned, then laughed, at the obvious ploy. You can bunk at my hovel. But shouldn’t you be writing more of that Kenneth Grahame eco pastiche rubbish…?” Just at this moment, a gaggle of middle-aged women entered, snow piled like advertising-manufactured dandruff on their hats, hoods, and thick coats’ shoulders; and, after a ritual removal of said items, scarves and gloves (but not necessarily in that order), they plonked themselves down around the large ‘Reserved’ table in the window of the pub: some of them snuggling amongst the cushions on the large bench; others choosing and shuffling chairs around, governed by some innate, feminine law of organized chaos – including a couple from under the gentlemen’s table: who courteously nodded their tacit agreement in return, touching their long-eroded forelocks politely. “Oh bugger,” suddenly whispered the older one, with the wispy hair, after rising from his seat. I don’t bloody believe it.”
As if on command from some invisible sergeant-at-arms, all the women [see subsequent book description] had removed various editions of King Lear, of various ages, and in various states of repair, from their handbags [ditto]. “Hello, Book Club!” welcomed the barmaid. “Hello, Linda!” they all replied in unison, cheerfully; and then a discussion followed – literally over the gents’ heads – about the sudden change in the weather; the inaccuracy of forecasts; would they be having their usuals, or something a little more warming; and were they happy with their food orders. “I think a couple of extra bottles of that nice South African Merlot would be nice!” chirrupped one of them (as the others nodded, sagely). Somehow, it was obvious that this (obviously Waitrose-shopping, Boden-wearing, Range Rover-driving) slightly older, less rural-accented lady, was the leader of the group. And it would become more obvious as the night wore on; and the snow deepened, dependably.
Once the hubbub had resolved itself, and all were back at their respective tables (and Linda positioned behind the bar, of course: after many trips to and from the kitchen), the two men listened in on the discussion; realized it was probably growingly obvious that they were doing so; and ordered some food, too, so they could eat in silence, and listen some more. “They just don’t get it, do they?” muttered the senior of the two, chewing appreciatively on a chunk of gravy-coated Charlecote venison sausage. “Honestly, it’s not that complicated – it’s just about a bloke who goes senile; his nasty, greedy, dysfunctional family; and a critique of mental healthcare. The rest is just filler. Oh, apart from the storm. Everyone loves a good storm – I mean, look at them… – special effects will make everyone forget the dross; and a sad bit at the end – especially someone or three worth caring for dying (and the more the merrier, if you see what I mean…) – that means that those with hearts leave the theatre in a turmoil, knowing that it moved them, and therefore must have been really good. Honestly, it’s just a formula. Well-written, I’ll admit; and cleverer than Jonson or Marlowe, of course; but nothing particularly original. You could even set it on a council estate, now, if you wanted ‘edginess’, or modern relevance….”
“What about the Fool?”
“In this winter and rough weather? Mind you: the ‘mango and lime’ one sounds rather nice! Perhaps followed by a large cup of coffee?”
His companion sighed. And not for the first time. Nor the last. Not by a country mile. Or twain.