Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Village tales of Fekenham Swarberry - UNPUBLISHED WORK - Book Four - The Politics of Turnips - Part One 'Arrivals' - Chapters 9 and 10 - The Anti-Corn Tax League and Riots in Fekenham - Fekenham Gazette





News spread rapidly of the arrival of Cybil and Cyril’s new-born. Eileen and Harvey Lovelock were the second to know after being informed by their son-in-law who, having arrived home at ten for his aforementioned ‘cuddle and a cuppa,’ was greeted by a gibbering Maurice Tinkercuss. Unable to get much sense out of the postman, Cyril had instantly gone to phone Verity. Ralph had answered the call, informing Cyril that Verity was out. Hearing the sounds of concern coming from Cyril’s voice the American had said he would be over straight away. Although Ralph tended to acquiesce to Verity, when in her presence he was a capable man, one used to making decisions. He also was a man with a huge heart. By the time he arrived, Cyril had received a call from the vicar telling him that both wife and son were safe and well. An ambulance had collected mother and child, accompanied by Ethel Blowvalve, who were now on their way to Muckleford Hospital.
   Cyril arrived, having been driven by Ralph and still in uniform, half-an-hour later. He beamed when he saw Cybil lying in the hospital bed. She looked tired but overjoyed to see him. She pointed to the right of the bed where, neatly tucked up in a clean blanket, lay their heir and first born.
   Cyril had asked Sister Lotofap if he might pick his infant son up to which the notoriously stern nurse conceded he may, but only for a minute or two. Cyril held his son in his arms staring down at the tiny face that slept on blissfully unaware of his surroundings or even who was holding him. Cybil felt as if she could explode with happiness. She had just given birth to a beautiful boy and now she and her tiny family were together in the same room. It felt like heaven.
By the time Eileen and Harvey Lovelock arrived, Cyril had put his son back into his crib. The child slept on as his grandparents cooed over their grandson’s sleeping head. They declared that they had never (before) seen such a fine baby before. Harvey said that Jonah was by far his favourite grandson. His wife, Eileen, then pointed out that Jonah was in fact their only grandchild. Harvey didn’t care though. As far as he was concerned not even the infant Jesus was as good as this child.
Elvis Linkthorpe arrived later. It was just as the Lovelock’s were leaving. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence when legal grandparents encountered the natural grandfather. Elvis, with a sensibility he often revealed at such times, congratulated Eileen and Harvey for their good fortune. He said how lucky they were to have such a beautiful boy for a grandson. Whether it was the moment, the point when emotions run high suggesting that the world isn’t such a bad place after all or purely because Harvey was just a kind hearted, generous man is beside the point. Harvey held his hand out to his local vicar shacking it vigorously.

“And the same to you vicar, young Jonah there doesn’t know how lucky he is having two grandad’s.”  It was a very charitable thing to have done and the implication was not lost on Linkthorpe who grinned from ear to ear before returning to his usual befuddled self.

“Like an ink spot on the old blotting paper.”

The phrase obviously meant something to the priest but it meant bugger all to either Eileen or Harvey who just smiled and nodded sagely before saying their goodbyes. The vicar sat for a while stroking the baby’s face while occasionally looking at Cybil. He felt acutely out of place knowing full well that, although blood kin to little Jonah he had less right to call him grandson than either of Cybil’s adoptive parents.
He looked again at Cybil who had now, due to tiredness brought on by the physical exertion of labour, drifted off to sleep. Cyril walked in with Verity, back from whatever business she had been engaged in, and Ralph Ramhard. Linkthorpe got up from his seat, kissed Jonah on the forehead, then did the same with Cybil. He smiled at Verity, Ralph and Cyril and then left without saying a word.
Verity went straight to her grandson’s side, gazing down at the sleeping tot. It was hard to discern what emotions were running through her heart but the fact she seemed to be biting her lip was enough for Cyril to believe that his old headmistress had more soul than she let on. Ralph, being American perhaps, had no such problem in showing his emotions making more ‘Oh’s and Ah’s than a Harlem gospel choir. He genuinely seemed elated to be meeting a new member of his rickety, fractured English family. He turned to Cyril, proffering his hand which the policeman gladly accepted. Rather than just shake hands though, Ralph pulled Cyril close to him giving the new father a big hug with a pat on the back.

“Congratulations buddy, I am over the moon for you. What a great family you have and what a great name Jonah is.”

Cyril, a little taken aback, thanked the man whom he had come to think of more as a friend than surrogate father-in-law.
Cybil slept through Verity and Ralph’s visit. She didn’t see Ethel leave either as she slept the sleep of the exhausted. Ralph drove Verity home in silence. Verity knew, even after the joy of Jonah’s birth, that something was wrong but chose to wait until her husband informed her of whatever it was. It felt strange to sit in silence after such an occasion but Verity, always the mistress of self-control, knew better than try to force a situation, realising it was far better to wait.
Ethel walked home after first locating Bladder who had wandered off onto Hamfist’s farm where the pig had started to poke its snout around looking for food. Elton had seen and recognised the ever-growing animal and had led it into one of the family’s many barns. Ethel thanked him then went home. It was when she arrived home that afternoon that news of Andrew Flair’s parliamentary speech was broadcast on the radio. The Prime Minister had, although as yet without the consent of either the lower chamber or the House of Lords, proposed a new tax. It was referred to by the media as being the modern day equivalent of the Corn Tax.
That evening in the Frog and Radiator conversation about the village’s postmistress and policeman’s good fortune was only briefly spoken of. It was the so-called Corn Tax that was the most discussed subject. The pub was filled to capacity with the ensuing discussions creating a hubbub of heated debate. The general consensus was that even though Parliament hadn’t yet agreed to it that Andrew Flair, England’s Whig Prime Minister, would win the day.
No tax ever proves to be popular. Some are simply recognised as being necessary and therefore are tolerated. The so called Corn Tax would have a huge effect on the buoyant farming community which by consequence would harm the people of Wessex. The Hamfists, Micklethwaites and other farming families were in uproar over the proposed bill but it was, oddly enough, folks like the Sisters Merryfeather,  Mavis Mufftickle, Ted Sandpip, Rose Buckshot, Herman and Destine Cole along with Primrose Heathernip who formed the Fekenham Anti-Corn Tax League.
Other villagers all paid heavy lip service but not one of them could be arsed to do anything other than give a lot of highfaluting platitudes .The gang of eight though made plans. That night, but not until after closing time, the six women and two men repaired to the Cole’s garden centre where they prepared placards, painting on them inspirational slogans. They also drew up plans including a riot that was to take place the following day in Fekenham High Street.
Bringing a kettle to boil can take time in Fekenham but not so passions when raised beyond boiling point. Fekenham’s villagers were, no pun intended, revolting. 

 

The sunken night passed slowly into the rust glow of an autumn morning. Clouds drew strange patterns on a slate sky. A cold wind blew a fist of dust down the high street to gather at the feet of the Sisters Merryfeather who walked dressed in ponchos to keep out the chill. They looked suspiciously like Clint Eastwood caricatures minus the stubble and chewed cheroots. They stood side by side like gunslingers about to face down an evil posse.
Ted Sandpip stood grim in a grey long coat that flapped about his calves. He had a determined air about him, a dour demeanour that painted him in a severe shade. He was no Clint; he was Gary Cooper about to face his personal High Noon, his own clock was ticking away the seconds toward his finest hour.
Beside him, short and silent and wrapped in a white ski jacket that trailed to his feet was the black Herman Cole. Even in heeled boots he still only came to Ted’s chest. At times this proved advantageous especially when confronted with his wife. He could simply walk directly into her ample bosom.
Herman had come armed with cartons filled with custard. He thought petrol was rather dangerous and besides, he didn’t want to start a fire in Fekenham, he only wanted to protest his displeasure at yet another tax being levied on the working man.
Destine, Herman’s wife, came from the left. She wore a large woollen hat pulled firmly over her ears. She didn’t look like a gunslinger. She looked more like a dairy maid searching for udders. In each hand she carried shopping bags that contained tins of red paint.
Marching three abreast like Curly, Mo and Groucho came Mavis Mufftickle, Rose Buckshot and Primrose Heathernip. The first a retired spinster, the second a wife and mother of two boys and the third a respected teacher at Fekenham Senior School, they looked desperate; desperately cold in Destines case.
The old barn that once had been Theobold’s smithy before it had been converted into three separate shops stood vacant. Tom Theobold had retired, boarding up his ironmongers shop. He was shortly followed by Bert Mead who had sold his soul to Voxco, the new fan dangled supermarket in Winchester and was working there as Head Baker. Next was Neil Beefshank’s Butcher’s shop that stood lonely and closed.
Destine walked up to what had once been Tom Theobold’s shop and pulled out a tin of red paint. Thrusting a large bristly brush into the tin she started to paint a crude slogan.

NO MORE TAX IN FEKENHAM - THE ANTI-CORN TAX LEGGE

She stood back to admire her work as a dribble of paint started to run from the misspelt last E of league. Primrose Heathernip shook her head.

“You’ve incorrectly spelt league,” said the querulous school mistress.

“It looks fine t’me” responded Destine with a degree of self-defence evident in her voice.

“You’ve spelt it L.E.G.G.E. It looks like olde worlde leg.”

Ted Sandpip marched up and in his most authoritative manner proclaimed that Destine should run a red line through LEGGE then re-write it properly following Primrose’s instructions.
Destine sighed then shivered with cold before nodding her agreement. Just then, unbeknown to the gathered Anti-Corn Tax League, Brenda Sharptack, having spotted the motley crew from her window phoned Fekenham Police station.
Within five minutes Police Constable Jock Strap arrived to assess the situation. He stood with hands by his side looking at the gang of eight who looked back at him with determined resignation. Had there been music then it would have been the twang of a Jew’s harp accompanied by a harmonica playing a mournful tune. Time stretched a hoary finger over the tableau slowing everything to a static pause. A silence, thin and fraught with a hidden undercurrent, fell over the high street.
PC Jock Strap’s eyes were slits against the wind as he looked from one of the gang to another. The Sisters Merryfeather stared back; their hands hovered above their hips just waiting for the policeman to move. Ted Sandpip, a solemn sentinel, stood with his long coat pulled back and away from his hip. He looked to be in a mean mood, a picture of parsimonious petulance. His eyes were half-closed, his chin jutted out in derisory defiance. Destine and Herman Cole had moved apart and were standing alert like coiled springs. Destine had a paint tin in one hand with a shopping bag in the other. Herman held up one carton of custard to show the young constable they meant business. It was a Fekenham stand-off.
PC Strap held up his hand. It was an act of authority. In his other hand he held his walkie-talkie.

“Alright then,” he said with as much conviction he could muster, “who was the bright spark that painted the old iron mongers? Step forward please. If you don’t then I shall be forced to nick the lot of you.”

A brighter intellect might not have said that. A smarter man may have tried communicating with the obviously disgruntled crew but young Strap still had a way to go. When no one answered him or moved toward him it left him little choice but to do the thing he said he would.

“Right then, you is all under arrest!”

Apart from delivering to Herman a healthy family, Destine’s other talent was, or rather had been, her skill at netball. She lobbed the tin of paint at the young policeman. It spun in a slow circle, arcing through the air before landing with a crash within inches of Strap’s feet. Upon impact the tin crumpled, the lid flew off as the paint, expelled at force, shot all over the policeman’s feet before spraying across his calves. Strap looked down, as if in a dream, observing the vivid colour that now emblazoned his trouser legs. He put his walkie-talkie to his mouth then called Cyril Updike for back-up. Just as he was calling for reinforcements so Herman Cole, not only a great gardener and a practised organist but also a great bowler of the googly, threw the first of his custard cartons at the constable’s helmet. The sound it made as it struck the target was a dull PLAP. The helmet fell to the floor just as the carton exploded depositing its creamy coating of yellow over the policeman’s head.
Looking remarkably like the national flag of some banana republic with his yellow, blue and red colouring, PC Jock Strap stood stone still, unsure if he should run or cry. It was then that Cyril Updike arrived. Another tin of paint flew upward but missed its target by inches. This was followed by another carton of custard that didn’t. It hit Cyril in his middle, winding him and sending a shower of custard droplets all over his uniform giving it the appearance of a yellow Jackson Pollock.
As if by instruction, but in fact quite spontaneously, Primrose Heathernip removed her clothes then ran up and down the high street waving her arms while demanding the government back down on the issue of tax. As the government had little to do with the bill and Parliament hadn’t as yet given its support it was a rather pointless and premature action to take. It was also rather foolish in light of the chill. Primrose then chained herself to the tea room door. Observing her colleagues dashing act which seemed rather brave to Rose Buckshot, she too followed suit. She then sat naked in the road, cross-legged like a naturist Buddha. Just as Mavis Mufftickle was about to remove her clothes: fur hat, fur coat, scarf, cardigan, dress, thermal vest, bra, slip and underpants big enough for a herd of buffalo to shelter in, Cyril Updike clapped his handcuffs on the spinster.
With their protest made the gang of eight had no need to continue therefore accepted Cyril’s demand that they all calm down and accompany him to the station. Standing to one side of the street, to the left of the naked, manacled Primrose Heathernip, was Clyde Woodclatter: owner, photographer and journalist for, The Fekenham Gazette. A headline was in the making.


 
FEKENHAM GAZETTE

------------------------------------------------
October 2007
2/6d
Riots in Fekenham

The recent announcement given during Prime Minister’s question time by Mister Flair has caused a ripple of protest from the opposition party. Tory leader Ken Stark attacked the suggestion with as much venom as he could muster, suggesting that once again the Whig party were reverting to type by introducing another tax whose sole aim was to steal from the working man whilst placing an unbearable burden on business.
Although the bill has yet to be raised and before being passed must go through the second chamber, the House of Lords, it has proven to be highly contentious. Rupert Snatch-Kiss, candidate for Warden of Wessex, was vitriolic in his attack as he joined forces with his leader in condemnation of Andrew Flair’s proposal.
“As the threat of war hangs over the Commonwealth the Prime Minister should be focusing all his attention on preparing to defend this nation. He should be joining forces with the other member states to show the Imperial Chinese government that we stand as one in the face of their all-conquering forces that have, in the last fifty years, enslaved vast amounts of the Far East and now threaten the sovereign nation of Burma.
“Mister Flair should be engaging with Europe and the United States encouraging them, nay enjoining them, to stand up in protest against the Chinese in defiance of their imperialism. Instead he gathers nuts in May. The sole intent of this so called tax is to hurt the average man.”
Andrew Flair’s response was a succinct rebuttal.
“The only nut I may know this October is the honourable gentleman of Wessex who, much like a scratched record makes a lot of noise but very little else.”
Most of England’s response to the Prime Ministers has been negative but the villagers of Fekenham took to protest. Outraged at Prime Minister Andrew Flair’s proposed Corn Tax the Fekenham villagers, led by Destine Cole, took to the streets to vent their spleen and give voice to their anger.
 
Graffiti was daubed on walls and a general affray began when the forces of the police arrived. Things turned ugly when paint pots were hurled at the peace-keeping officers who tried to engage with the protestors. When exploding custard bombs were thrown at the police, reinforcements were called for and arrived in the form of Sergeant Cyril Updike.
Both Destine and Herman Cole were arrested as were Merry and Pippa Merryfeather along with Mavis Mufftickle, Primrose Heathernip, Rose Buckshot and lock keeper Ted Sandpip. All eight members of the Anti-Corn Tax Leagues were taken to Fekenham Police station where they were placed into custody awaiting the magistrate’s pleasure.
 
 
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J
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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