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Sunday 13 June 2021

Further Tales From The Village


    It was raining! It had to be admitted that when its raining in the village there’s really nothing much to do. No.16 wondered or not to make a dash through the rain to the café, but he put the kettle on instead. No point in getting wet unnecessarily. And no doubt even if the rain were to stop, the village green would still be too wet for a game of croquet. The cottage door suddenly opened and the maid came in carrying a breakfast tray.
    “What’s the matter with you?” she asked.
    “It’s raining.”
    “Yes, I know” she said taking the tray into the dinette.
    “You’re wet, and the breakfast will be cold.”
    “I’ve a good mind to report you” she told him.
    “But why come out in such weather?”
    “I have my job to do.”
    He picked up a slice of soggy toast out of the toast rack “To bring me a cold soggy breakfast, I applaud your devotion to the job, but I am capable of making my own breakfast.”
    “Now you’re simply being ungrateful, I thought better of you” she told him making for the door.
    “Aren’t you going to do the dusting, oh and my laundry wasn’t collected yesterday.”
    “Do your own housework, you’ve clearly nothing else to do” she told him opening the door.
    The door to his cottage closed. He stood at the window watching the maid dash down the steps and through the rain. In the dinette he made a cup of coffee and boiled himself a couple of eggs, and by late morning the rain had eased to a slight drizzle.

    By lunchtime the rain had stopped altogether, so No.16 decided to go out for a walk, and putting on his blazer he made for the door but his exit was blocked by two middle aged women.
    “Good day” No.38 said.
    “And what can I do for you to ladies?”
    “It’s flag day” 26 announced.
    It was then he noticed each of the ladies had a small cardboard box secured with a string about their necks, and each carried a clipper.
    “Flag day, flag day for what?”
    “We’re collecting donations for the building of the new concert hall” No.38 informed him.
    No.26 stood ready to pin a tiny flag to the lapel of his blazer.
    “Sorry” he said brushing passed the ladies “I’m not a concert goer!”

    Disappointed the two women went on their way, and No.16 went on his. He had descended the steps, reaching the road when a man bumped into him.
    “Sorry” the man said.
    “That’s alright, but you need to watch where you’re going.”
    “Yes I will” the man said and went on his way… walking backwards!
    “What are you doing?” 16 shouted after him.
    “I’m walking backwards!”
    Ask a stupid question!
    Walking along the street he met with the ex-Admiral “My word, that’s a fine model you have there Admiral.”
    “Yes, the Titanic built her with my own hands, took me a few weeks but isn’t she magnificent, she’s complete with an electric motor.”
   He stood there examining the vessel “And what are you going to do with her now?”
    “Break her in half and chuck her in the free sea!”
    “She’ll sink” he said.

    “That’s right” the ex-Admiral said and went on his way whistling a sea shanty.
    He hadn’t walked far when he was almost run over by a chap riding a Penny Farthing bicycle. A chap in a peaked cap shouted “Get out of the way”, he did and the man riding the penny Farthing had lost control of the bicycle as it went pell-mell down the road. It was clear to him that he wasn’t going to make it round the corner at the bottom of the road. He didn’t. The Penny Farthing collided with a low stone wall and tipped the rider over the penny wheel and into the bushes. He ran down the road towards the accident.
    “Are you alright?” 16 asked moving the bicycle out of the way, and attending to the rider.
    “Yes I think so” the man said clamouring out of the bushes.

    “Why do you ride that thing?”
    “I have to, I’m the village postman!”
    He helped him to his feet and he brushed himself down.
    “You’re Number 16.”
    “I’ve got something for you” he said and ferreted about in his post bag.
    “Something for me?”
    “Yes” he said ferreting about in his postbag “here you are sir.”
    “It’s a picture postcard” 16 said.
    “That’s right.”
    “Who would be sending me a picture postcard?”
    “It’s from Number 2” the postman said “he says having a wonderful time, the weather is fine, going to the beach later. Wish you were here.”

    “You’ve read this?”
    “It’s private.”
    “It’s a postcard” the postman said “postcards are fair game!”
    No.16 turned the postcard over, the picture was of the pink and white Georgian house “What fool sends postcards to people here?”
    The postman picked up his Penny Farthing bicycle “I shouldn’t say that too loud sir; you never know who might be listening.”
    “You’re not going to try and ride that thing again are you?”
    “It goes with the job” the postman said “might I ask you if you know the way to Gatehouse Passage.”
    “I’ve never heard of it.”
    “Oh well I expect I’ll find it” and with that the postman pushed the Penny Farthing then mounting the bicycle he peddled off, wobbling about the road as he went.
    No.16 read the postcard, it was just as the postman had said, turning it over he looked at the picture of the pink and white house, which was through the turquoise wrought iron gates nearby.
    “Of course I sent you the postcard, when on holiday people send postcards” No.2 said cheerfully.
    “People who want others to know where they are do. Just a minute, you’re on holiday?” 16 asked.
    “You’re on holiday in the village?”
    “And you’re staying here?”
    “Of course, would you like some tea?”
    “It’s a bit grand” No.16 commented “Georgian isn’t it?”
    “Yes but only on the outside” 2 replied from the dinette busy making the tea.
    “So who is in the Green Dome?”
    “An interim Number 2, while I’m on holiday.”
    “You know ever since I went out this morning I have encountered nothing but eccentrics!”
    No.2 carried the tea things on a tray into the lounge “And you count me as one of those eccentrics?”
    “Where is he?”
    “Your butler?”
    “Oh he’s in the Green Dome serving the interim Number 2, milk and sugar?”
    “Yes please, just a splash and two lumps. You could have gone anywhere for a… just a minute, whoever heard of Number 2 going on holiday, I’d have thought they’re never here long enough to warrant a holiday!”
    No.2 added milk and sugar and handed No.16 his cup of tea “Well quite, but nevertheless I intend to enjoy my holiday.”

    The grand pink and white Georgian house certainly looked its part set in its own private garden, and at the bottom of the garden, at the end of a long path, a pair of turquoise iron gates. And yet as he closed the gates and looked back, there was even something eccentric about it, because despite is grandeur the grand looking Georgian house was after all, a poky little cottage! 
    There was an archway in a wall on the opposite side of the road through which a middle aged man appeared.
    “Excuse me sir” he said.
    “Why what have you done?” No.16 asked.
    “Done, I’ve done nothing, why should you have thought I had done something?”
    “No reason. What do you want?”
    “I wondered if you can direct me to Gatehouse passage.” No.88 asked
    No.16 stood there in the road thinking, I couldn’t think of anywhere in the village called Gatehouse passage.
    A cyclist rang her bell to warn us of her approach, she stopped “Is there anything wrong?” the woman asked.
    “This man is asking directions to Gatehouse Passage.”
    “Gatehouse Passage, I’m not sure. I think its back up the road, through the first arch; no it’s not that way.”
    Two pedestrians stopped to help “What’s the problem? They asked
    “Gatehouse Passage” No.16 said.
    “Gatehouse Passage, Gatehouse Passage of yes it’s through the arch, across the Piazza.”
    “No” said another “it’s not that way, you want to do along the road, passed the café, no not that way. Look you need to go…….”
    Quite a crowd had now gathered all giving quite different directions to Gatehouse Passage.
    “It’s round the back of the Town Hall isn’t it?” No.176 suggested studying his map of the village.
    “No, if you go out of the village and take the first turning on the left……”
    “If you go back the way you came, passed the café and watchmakers shop….”
   In the control room an Observer reported a disturbance in the road.
    “Let’s have it on the screen” the Supervisor ordered.
    The large wall screen was activated displaying a large throng of people all gesticulating this way and that.
    “That’s vision, now let’s have the audio” the Supervisor said.
    The control room was suddenly filled with different voices all giving directions to Gatehouse Passage.
    “Alright turn off the audio. Gatehouse Passage, I’ve never heard of it” said the Supervisor.
   An Observer turned round in her chair “If you go down the road, turn left, down the steps, along the cobbled lane…….”
    “No you’re wrong” said No.20 “It’s that short path just after the pink Pavilion.
    “Surely not” said one of the Observers of the steel See-Saw “If you go passed the Labour Exchange, through the Triumphal arch, round by the bridge its just on the left.”
    “No you’re wrong” said No.20.
    “Stop” the Supervisor shouted suddenly “does it really matter?”
    “It does if you want Gatehouse passage sir.”

   Outside in the road it was at this point that No.16 remembered that none of the roads and paths are named in the village, so there was no Gatehouse Passage. So he left the crowd of people in the road, and went for a quiet stroll. Eccentric behaviour in the village is no better exhibited than by those citizens who promenade daily around the Piazza for no better reason other than to be seen. Unless it was one individual who stood listening to a loudspeaker of the public address system.
    “Do you hear that” asked the man in a striped jersey with his ear cocked towards the loudspeaker.
    No.16 stood still and listened “No” he said.
    “No, neither do I, see you soon!”

    Deciding to make for the Outlook above the cliff, No.16 made his way along the road passed the Green Dome, through the first arch under 12 Private, then along the road taking the narrow path to the right called Gatehouse Passage……at least that’s what the sign on the wall said. 
    It was a clear bright afternoon as No.16 sat on the wall of the Outlook, enjoying the view he had enjoyed so many times before. The tide was in and the late afternoon sunshine glistered on the water turning it to silver. Suddenly No.16 heard voices, he peered over the edge of the Outlook, but all there was, was a steep drop to the beach. Of the two people talking he could see nothing, they are in the grotto beneath the Outlook. Sitting quietly he listened to see if he could hear what the two people were saying. They clearly thought they were in the perfect place not to be overheard.
    “We must wait for the signal.”
    “Signal, what signal?”
    “When we see the signal we know they are on their way. They are our liberators.”
    “How do you know this?”
    “My code name is XB4 and I have a transistor radio. I’m expecting a message any time now.”

    The two voices fell silent, No.16 strained his ears to listen, he was sure that someone, probably XB4, was tuning in a radio. Then…

    “Nowhere is there more beauty than here. Tonight when the moon rises, the whole world will turn to silver. Do you understand, it is important you understand. I have a message for you, you must listen, the appointment cannot be fulfilled. Other things must be done tonight. If our torment is to end, if liberty is to be restored we must grasp the nettle even though it makes our hands bleed. Only through pain can tomorrow be assured.”

    The radio transmission was picked up in the control room.
    “That message, can we get a fix on it?” the supervisor wanted to know.
    The communications monitor triangulated the radio signal with two other monitoring stations positioned around the village.
    “Supervisor, the origin of the radio transmission has been located.”
    “Good, where?” the supervisor said keen to know.
    “Here….in the village!”
    “The voice” began the supervisor “If you were to ask me…….”
    “Ask you what?” said the interim No.2 from the gantry.
    “The voice sir, it sounded like a former Number 2!”
    “Really, how curious!” No.2 said.
     “Supervisor, Number 16 is climbing the Bell Tower again” a Observer reported.
    “Why does he do that?” No.60 asked.

    “Because he’s an eccentric” the Supervisor replied “no more reason than that, the village is full of them!”

    So no-one was coming! And yet from that day No.16 kept a keen lookout for a sign, a light, a plane, ship someone from his World. Daily he even climbed the Bell Tower which in itself could seem to be an eccentricity. Yet as 16 found, there are more steps leading down from the top of the Bell Tower than there are going up, and you cannot get more eccentric than that!

Be seeing you

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