The Rt Rev Willoughby Seymour Legg, his friends, called him Willy, exited the Manse in his usual manner, slowly and backward. Before he pulled the door shut behind him, he paused and looked up. A cock Sparrow chirped and hopped excitedly along the cast iron guttering, doing its utmost to impress half a dozen excited females. The Girl Spugs tweeted, bobbed, and shuffled from side to side, demonstrating their interest in the young hopefuls display. It was for Willoughby the sight and sound of home – Spring – and childhood;
A beaming smile of pleasure broadened on Willoughby’s aging face. Whistling the tune of Zipperdy Doo Dah, he twirled around swiftly, but gracefully. The crisp, sharp sound of his leather soles grating against the worn doorstep audible for only the briefest millisecond. Still standing on the step, confronted with the beauty of his garden, he raised his arms, palms to the Heavens and said aloud, “Thank you, Lord.” He stared in awe, letting the sight and sound of the season wash over him. A Blackbird, its plumage, black as jet, and its golden, dagger-like bill, sang from aloft the cascading lemon chains of Laburnum. Lilac blossoms, purple and white, reached out for the Sun, scenting the morning air with a fragrance so sweet that it was only equaled by the soothing melody of the Osle.
The sound of footfalls crunching on the gravel drive snapped the Reverend out of his mindset, it’s young Smurf the paper Lad.
“Morning, Vicar, Happy Birthday, I hear it’s your big day today.” Said Smurf pleasantly, as he pulled the copy of Bible Bashers monthly from his paper-bag and held it towards the Reverend.
“Ah, thanks, Smurf,” Willy took the magazine from Smurf, “I’ll read that later when Mrs. Prodder has cleaned up after the W.I Coffee Morning. And yes, you’ve heard correctly, it’s the big one today, I’m nervous but so excited, I can hardly wait. BUM BUM!” The Vicar responded. The BUM BUM was so loud, it spooked the birds, silencing the garden.
During early childhood, Willoughby had contracted BBS (Basil Brush Syndrome) and had suffered from it for the past 50 years. Now, at 60yrs of age, he would finally receive the cure for this sometimes amusing but embarrassing ailment.
The Reverend took hold of his push-bike that was propped against the wall and wheeled it down the drive. Once on the smooth tarmac of the footpath, he cocked his spindly leg over the old leather saddle, and in an unsteady wobble, he headed off towards the Village High Street. Still wobbling due to lack of momentum, he released his right hand from the handlebars and waved bye to Smurf. “Bye, Smurf, see you later. BUM BUM!” He shouted.
Now in full control of his bike, Willy bumped down from the pavement onto the road, careful not to do himself a mischief. The number 17 double-decker, driven by reg, who looked splendid in his navy driver uniform, pulled wide to pass Willoughby. Old Reg gently tapped on the horn button that was just under the steering wheel and onked a friendly hello to the Reverend on the bus’s horn.
” See ya tonight Rev,” hollowed Reg through the open window, over the noise of the engine. Willoughby wobbled slightly, but raised a hand in acknowledgment, then shouted BUM BUM at the top of his voice, then he returned his grip to the handlebars. Now on a slight descent with the wind blowing through his wispy grey hair, he removed his feet from the pedals and stretched out his legs. Then, with his heart full of joy and his lungs full of fresh air, he let out an enormously loud raspberry, followed by BUM BUM.
The Village Square was a hive of activity; the locals had banned vehicles from using it for the day. So now they milled about in their clicky groups, chin-wagging and laughing at each other’s jokes and comments, without the fear of being run over.
Children played tick, screaming and bawling with excitement as they ran, chasing each other between the food-laden trestles. The kids had already been eating home-made cake, jam around their mouths, and sticky fingers were proof of this.
Brightly colored bunting zig-zagged from one side of the square to the other, giving it a roofed appearance. The bunting and the loose edges of the tablecloths fluttered in the gentle breeze.
In front of the War Memorial, the local youth brass band stood, polishing and making final checks on their instruments.
There was an air of excited expectancy, and it touched everyone.
A gangly youth raced into the square, his segged boots slipping on the cobblestones as he cornered the bakery.
“HE’S COMING – HE’S COMING!” He shouted in between his deep breaths.
The waiting crowd hushed and turned to face the direction of the out of puff youth. Parents brought their children to order, and the members of the brass band shuffled into their respective positions.
Seconds after the youth, who everyone knew only by his nickname: Flagpole, the Reverend himself appeared.
As if possessed, Willoughby freewheeled at speed into the square. On seeing the carnival scene in front of him, he clasped both brake levers, and with a shuddering squeal of resistance from the rubber brake blocks, he came to a halt. Willy dismounted his faithful steed, Knackanippa; yep, that’s what the Reverend called his bike: Knackanippa. Apparently, the name came from an incident he had while lobster fishing off the Cornish coast. That’s according to Mrs. Pigeon, the gossipy old postmistress.
As he propped his bike against the bakery wall, the sound of applause, interspersed with the occasional whistle, filled his ears. Willoughby could feel his emotions, starting to bubble out of control. Happy that the bike wouldn’t fall over, Willoughby released it, stood straight, swallowed hard, then about turned.
His lips quivered, and his eyes welled with tears. There in front of him was the entire population of Hampton Chodwick, his parish for the last 30 years. A large, handmade banner hung from one side of the square across to the other, it read: Happy 60th Birthday Willy. The Reverend walked slowly towards the applauding, cheering crowd, tears rolled freely from his brimming eyes, his emotions were getting the better of him.
There opened a gap in the applauding crowd, and Willy, as if entering the mouth of a hungry monster, nodding his head in recognition and appreciation, walked into it. The mouth closed behind him, and willy disappeared. A Villus of arms reached out, touching his shoulders in praise, and steering him towards a raised platform. The Platform was occupied by a small gathering of standing, applauding, dignitaries. At their head stood a short chubby chap. He was draped in a scarlet robe and wore a red beret adorned with a large white Ostrich plume. And enough gold chains hung around his neck to sink a battleship. He beckoned willy forward. It was non-other than the Rt Hon Gerald Grosswanger, the Lord Mayor of Crapstone.
Finally, Red-faced, and with garlands of Spring flowers hooped over his head, the Reverend arrived at the platform. He stood at the bottom of a small flight of three stairs. Raising his eyes, he saw the smiling face of the Lord Mayor, who held out his stretched hand to him. Willy accepted the offer of assistance and was gently extracted from the happy, festive throng. As soon as he was free of the crowd, the Mayor lead him across the blue carpeted platform to a free-standing microphone. There they stopped, and the Mayor with one arm over Willy’s shoulder and the other free to wave about, he gestured for silence.
The gathering complied, and gradually the applause abated. A hush befell the square. The unnatural quiet was broken only occasionally by a cough or a parent’s attempt to shhh a child. Willy scanned the upturned faces, he winked a greeting whenever eye contact was made. Suddenly! A wail of ear-piercing feedback escaped the amateurishly installed P.A system, causing people to grit their teeth, and allow their necks to withdraw and disappear between haunched shoulders. On the grey slate rooftops of the square’s artisan shops, Harry Hikinbottom’s flock of racing pigeons cooed, preened, and performed that comical walk that they do. The squealing P.A triggered an instant response from the birds; they erupted into flight in a clatter of flapping wings. As silence returned to the square, a single tail feather from one of the startled pigeons spiraled, quill first, unnoticed, to the ground.
The Reverend now stood alone, the edge of the Platform seemed more like a cliff edge, and the smiling, happy faces before him were seemingly a foaming sea. The silence roared in his head, turbulent waves thundered in, slamming, and then swirling around inside of his head. Holding the mic stand for support, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he started his unprepared speech.
” My Lord, Ladies, and Gentlemen, here it is, my big six o. For years I have longed for the arrival of this day, to finally rid myself of this damn embarrassing BBE. But now, looking at your smiling faces.” He smiled and bowed his head when his eyes recognized Reg, the bus driver. “I had everything worked out, my exact words, the lot. After all, I’ve had long enough to plan them. Stood here, soaking up your love and admiration, I realise that it is you who matters most. With that in mind, I’ll keep my speech short, and let you crack on.” Willy could feel the life slowly drain from his body. ” Thank you all so much, now go and enjoy this splendorous day. BUM BUM!”
The gathering broke into laughter, the bandmaster tapped his baton against his music stand. Moist lips puckered, and rosy cheeks bulged.
The tune of for he’s a jolly good fellow filled the air, everyone sang along.
The Reverend wept, his legs turned to jelly, and he collapsed.
Willoughby, still fuzzy-headed, was awakened by the sensation of something crawling across his forehead, a spider or an ant, he didn’t know.
He tried to raise his left hand to brush it off, but he couldn’t, it was tied down. And so was the other one, his feet too. He tried to raise his head, but that was made impossible by a leather restraint. Panic took over; he wriggled and squirmed, but to no avail, he was tied fast. Tied to what he didn’t know. What he did know was that it was cold, hard, and rough against his naked body.
Although his eyes were wide open and bulged like organ stops with fear, he couldn’t see anything, it was dark, so dark. A chill breeze blew gently on his clammy skin. I must be outside, he thought. Once more, the door of his confused mind was opened, and panic entered, causing him to writhe under his restraints.
” God, help me, please help me.” He wailed pathetically. Movement! Sound! Off to his right somewhere. Rolling his eyes in that direction, he saw the orange and yellow flames of torches, lots of them, carried by mournfully chanting, hooded figures. It was the euthanasia squad. Willoughby, although still, was rigid with fear, his tense muscles flexed to their full. The flames reflection danced within the mirrors of his soul, as the menacing column filed into the clearing. Spittle sprayed from his mouth, adding synchronised vision to the words that escaped through clenched teeth.
The hooded procession was led by a tall figure who carried a large drum that he beat slowly, its somber sound filled the clearing. No one knew his real name, only his nickname. The faceless mass crowded around Willoughby’s writhing form. The clearing was a battlefield of light and shadow, flames from the torches licked the darkness, beating it back.
In this surreal ambient glow, a hooded figure stepped forward and halted at Willy’s side.
The Reverend stared wide-eyed with fear into the black chasm of the hood, but he saw no face. The hooded figure, caressing Willy’s brow gently with one hand, peeled back its hood with the other. Willy gasped. ” Reg!”
” Hello, Rev.” Responded Reg in a hushed tone. Reg winked knowingly at his panic-stricken friend. Willy smiled and coyly winked back at his old buddy.
From within his robe, Reg produced a sheathed dagger. It was a golden dagger. Holding it in the fingers of both of his hands, he raised it above his head. In a deliberately slow movement, the blade was drawn from its ceremonial scabbard and brought to rest on Willoughby’s throat.
Somewhere out in the darkness, a Dog Fox barked. Reg’s and Willy’s eyes were locked, they saw their own reflections staring back, both men smiled.
The long-awaited cure for his BBS was fast and painless.
Categories: Burning the Midnight Oil