The Frog and Radiator was filled with folk, fumes and the fug of cigarette smoke. The fire was lit and glowed red. The firelight cast Womak Zither, a man from Winchester, a man with a head like the laughing Buddha, whose bald head sat upon a neck of multiple chins and whose earlobes hung like heavy curtains on that neck of many chins, a man whose bottom lip protruded beyond the upper wet and rubbery, a man whose mouth filled when he spoke with fleck of foam, a man who sat now with author, Russell CJ Duffy in a warm glow. Zither works for The Winchester Gazette as a journalist. He writes a column called Fond Recall where he witters on about past and present glories of celebrities, some of whom the public at large don’t even know others so ancient that the only time they get an airing is in Zithers column. The two were sitting at a table situated by one of the Frog and Radiators windows. There was a frost upon the pane for Winter had settled in promising snow. The penniless writer whose works seldom saw paper let alone print was recounting a recent incident of which he fondly remembered.
‘I had the good fortune yesterday, although luck had little to do with it as I was taking my morning constitutional, to be passing the vicarage when Elvis Linkthorpe called out to me. ‘How about a spot of tiffin?’ He asked in that exuberant manner he has. I, having done all I could with regard to writing, with my latest project progressing nicely, readily agreed. The vicar’s mistress, how incongruous those two appellations seem when said together, was out ‘seeing to business’ as he put it ushering me in with a wave of his hand. Quite how a former whore can open a bordello in Fekenham let alone shack up with the village priest is beyond yet but, as the Good Book says, ‘Judge Ye not less Ye to be judged’ or at least something along those lines.
The vicarage nestles neatly beside St. Whipplemores. It has seen a host of curates and vicars but none, I suspect, quite like Elvis Linkthorpe who arrived in Fekenham in the early seventies bereft of cash but laden with hash, hashish that is. An uncommon commodity for a cleric to carry you might say, and who am I to argue, but then again there is nothing commonplace or conventional about the current village vicar. As I settled myself into a cosy chair Linkthorpe asked me if I would like anything to drink.
‘A small aperitif perhaps?’ He suggested winsomely.
I said that would be most welcome requesting a glass of pale sherry.
‘Not sure I have any, but I think I might have something similar that Susanne brought with her from France.’
He set a glass filled with a greenish liquid in front of me that gave off a slight smell of aniseed. It wasn’t an unpleasant taste, so I sipped nonchalantly at this agreeable liquor with vigour. He then pressed into my hand a plate that had neatly sliced upon it some fruitcake.
‘From Ethel,’ he whispered conspiratorially.
‘Sort of like Somerset Maugham. ‘I quipped as the effects of the alcoholic beverage left my head feeling light. He furrowed his brow obviously nonplussed.
‘Cakes and ale or in this case cakes and, whatever this drink is,’ I elaborated.
‘Absinthe,’ he intoned slurping noisily from his glass, ‘thought I’d give the ginger wine a rest and see how this Gaelic tipple compared. Rather nice I think.’
I concurred while eating cake and swilling aniseed tasting alcohol feeling the heady mix spin my brain like laundry in a washing machine.
‘I have to say this cake is very flavoursome, special recipe?’
He smiled knowingly nodding his head.
‘Indeed. Ethel uses a homegrown ingredient she adds to the mix. Gives it a bit of zing doesn’t it?’
I had to agree that a certain punch did strike the palette as I chomped then swallowed the tasty patisserie. Whatever active ingredients had commingled with fruit and flour together they produced, when blessed with the aniseed potion, an exhilarating sensation that not so much flooded my senses but rather hijacked them with a firm imperative. I had never felt so alive before. I could see that the vicar too appeared lifted, energised somehow.
What say we pop out and paint the town red as it were,’ suggested the vicar with sudden vitality.
‘What about Winchester?’
‘Winchester it is!’
Flying from our seats like spring propelled acrobats the pair of us hoofed it out of the vicarage filled with a sense of sang-froid that teetered on the edge of madness. If it wasn't sang whatsit then it jolly well was ce la vie, something exotic and French anyway. Linkthorpe had the presence of mind to grab hold of the greenish booze we had been consuming and together we skedaddled off to the Wessex capital.
We arrived late afternoon as day decanters into dusk. Having concluded their days work residents were returning to their homes as we stalked the ancient city. Night beckoned as did the mischievous spirit of Puck who entered our heads whispering wicked words of encouragement.
Now then, I am not sure how acquainted with old Venta Belgarum the dear readers of this tale are but once upon a time Winchester used to be the capital of England. Course that was ages ago but still the ageing bricks, the crumbling masonry is of a vintage that allows ample authority to antiquity. There is the cathedral, of course, the longest in Europe, not to mention the castle and palace. These, though, distinguished as they remain, were not the target we had in mind for make no mistake we had a firm objective.
I think it was the vicar who said, having spotted the idle paint pots lying beside the recently decorated newsagent, what a wheeze it would be if we were to literally paint, if not the town, some monument red or, in the case of the castaway emulsion, scarlet.
Winchester has many a statue gracing its munificent walkways the most magnificent being the mighty, majestic one of King Alfred the Great. But it wasn’t Alf we wanted to deface. He may have the let the cakes burn but that was all ash under the grill as far as we were concerned. No, we didn’t want to paint notable Kings of the past, we wanted to irradiate, and illustrate for all to see the grand pomposity of councillor Tinkerbelle whose enormous egocentric effigy took pride of place in the quadrangle outside Winchester University.
As far as memory allows, and I admit to finding facts surrounding what happened a bit fuzzy, we succeeded in our aspirations according to the following morning’s newspaper which printed in Arial Black this journalistic piece of reportage – ‘Never has a member of Winchester City Council been so vividly illuminated. Seldom do we see an acting officer’s profile raised as high as his own self-esteem. Describing the painting of the statue as a wanton act of vandalism Titus Tinkerbelle found himself at odds with public opinion which seems to have found the stunt a heart-warming rebuff of current council policies. Whoever mounted the twelve-foot statue painting it a fluorescent scarlet has made the monument into a totem of ridicule. Highlighting Tinkerbelle’s nose in garish green put the finishing touches to the job. Quite why a vicar’s dog collar had been placed around the throat of the statue is unknown.’
I do not recall how I arrived home nor how I came to spend the night in my bathtub wrapped in a towel, but I do remember during the Sunday service the vicar quoting these passages from the Bible in his sermon:’
‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’ Acts ix 5
‘Every man's work shall be made manifest’ I Corinthians iii 13
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.