Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - UNPUBLISHED WORK - Book Four - The Politics of Turnips - Part Two 'Departures' - Chapter Sixteen "In the Sacred Halls Where God’s Great Works Are Sung"


November had arrived just as Ruth Crabtree’s lyrics (in a previous story) had suggested, pale and grim. Colour fled the trees as leaves fell in crimsons and gold, covering field and garden with a multi-hued blanket. The only colour that remained standing was that of the circus. It had been on the village green now for a month and showed no signs of moving on. This was unusual as normally the travelling folk never stayed long in one place. Fekenham though had been different. The circus people were not only welcomed there; they were accepted for what they were. This, in the Roma’s experience, was highly uncommon.
It was the villager’s way to tolerate most things and of course they were of an open-hearted nature but their acceptance of the Roma people was not pure altruism. The travellers visited the Post Office where they purchased newspapers, stamps, magazines and loaves of bread; they frequented both The Frog and Radiator and Molly Sharptack’s Tea Rooms where they drank Widows Whiskers at one and copious amounts of coffee at the other. One or two, although seldom, even ate at The Duck.
There was also the church, Saint Whipplemore’s, whose attendance figures which were always good, suddenly exceeded all expectations when the travellers arrived. Of course Vicar Linkthorpe’s sermons had to be heard to be believed. At first the travellers, traditionalists by nature, found the priest’s orations a little too secular for their tastes. His views of God and religion bordered on a comprehensive, all embracing vision that accepted no one faith to be right but all faiths to be flawed. By acceptance mixed with tolerance Linkthorpe believed together they may get to where they were going in the end, aided undoubtedly by his love of Ginger Wine.
The organ, as played by Herman Cole who, having paid a hefty fine for the pleasure of paint-bombing the police, did a damn fine Doctor John swamp boogie version of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’. Notes rolled and flew as hands clapped along in time to the music. Accompanied by his wife Destine, whose voice rose like a gospel diva’s, were the church choir who chanted a series of Hindu-like mantras as incense filled the church with its cloying scent.
Each pew was filled. From back door to front pulpit people sat or stood raising their voices in song, praising whatever god it was they believed in with a mutual sense of belonging. This sense of openness had not won favour with the church hierarchy who had sent one of their papal gestapo down to beat some sense into their errant priest. However, Harmonious Boyle had proven to be no match for the people of Fekenham who had gathered around their vicar like bees around their queen.
This day Elvis Linkthorpe was dressed in Fez and Arabic robes of white. His dog collar remained but looked distinctly out of place next to the desert dweller’s garb. He raised his hands to silence the music, looking for all the world like a Bedouin market tradesman. He coughed once into the microphone sending a squall of feedback bouncing off the walls.
“Dearly beloved,” he began optimistically, “we are all gathered here today, hanging out with God under this blessed, beautiful roof to celebrate the love of the Lord, in all its many ways but more importantly to share our communal belief in the karmic notion. For every good act we commit there is another bad to follow. We all must aim to gather as much good karma as we may. Karma is a bit like nuts collected by squirrels, you horde them up for a rainy day. I want to chat to you today about loading up your good karma for that big journey we will all one day have to make. Surely it is better to go loaded with good stuff than weighed down by bad?”
Brigadier Humphrey Largepiece sat in the pew holding his bible firmly in his hand. He looked, as he often did when attending Sunday church, a little disgruntled. As far as he was concerned the only nut present, friend through thick and thin, was the vicar. Beside him, dressed soberly in a blue dress, was Verity Lambush. She knew of old why her elderly friend looked displeased but said nothing of it but instead looked at her husband, Ralph, who sat next to her. She smiled at him and him at her. For the Brigadier, the concept of having a God, who may or may not be the celestial creator of all, was a hard thought to bear.
The Brigadier was of the old school that worshiped and praised God the almighty of whom he, the Brigadier, had been made in the likeness of. The vicars’ belief that God was merely a concept; a word for the greater force that created the planets, stars, oceans and life in general just didn’t seem right. The notion seemed preposterous. The Brigadier liked Linkthorpe as a friend so therefore was willing to forget his very odd ways.
The Vicar continued to speak, illuminating the assembled with his perceived words of wisdom. The gypsy folk too had their reservations but were willing to defer to his ordained authority even if it did seem a trifle weird.
Mavis Mufftickle, vilified by the local newspaper for her recent affray with law or, as she saw it, her martyrdom, thought the vicar to be the bees’ knees. In her eyes he could do no wrong. Every word he uttered seemed wise. She saw him as the voice of the gods, their spokesman active here in Fekenham, working with one foot in the celestial plane whilst the other remained firmly here on Earth. There had only ever been one other who she had loved more than the vicar. That had been Henry, her Harry, and that had been a long time ago.
The vicar, having virtually concluded his renegade, ramshackle sermon, had but one more thing to add.
“However we hold faith, whether we believe God to be the deity who breathed life into everything, the grand architect who built the universe and all its complexities, or if we hold true to another way of living our lives, no less spiritual but according to our moral codes then there is one thing to remember at all times. There are many paths that ascend the mountain but all reach the same summit; only a fool would say his way was the only way.”
A rousing chorus of hallelujahs mingled with one or two damn rights echoed around the church. The travellers all applauded loudly as did Ethel Blowvalve. The Brigadier, unable to fault the sentiment of the closing words, clapped politely as one does when one is English. Mavis Mufftickle rose to her feet screaming like a teenager at a pop concert. She felt so uplifted that, momentarily, the thought of taking all her clothes off again passed through her mind. Fortunately, on this occasion, thought was accompanied by two old friends: dignity and common decency that persuaded thought too think again. For once it did.
As the service ended so the vicar went to the doors to shake hands with all those who had come to worship with him. Numbered among them was Flora Gusset, demurely attired in a yellow dress with a black pair of Doctor Marten boots on her feet. She stood before Linkthorpe’s waist looking up at his face. She extended her hand upward smiling broadly as she did.
“Interesting sermon, vicar. Have to say I have never heard the like before. I’ll be leaving in a week or two so just wanted to say thank you.” Her voice was clipped; it carried a certain precise tone that suggested the speaker meant what she said. In a funny way it reminded Linkthorpe of the Brigadier.
“Well, I hope your stay here has been pleasant. It has certainly been a pleasure to have made your acquaintance but if you are not going for another week or so won’t you be attending church again?”
Flora raised both of her forefingers then moved them back and forth under the priest’s nose as though they were windscreen wipers.
“Oh, no, no, no, I will be far too busy to attend church for the next week or so. I will be engaged in other business.”
What the other business was, Linkthorpe was too polite, too polite by far to ask. As the vertically challenged female turned on her heel and left the church so Ernie Stallworthy approached the vicar. Next to Ernie was Martha Horncluff. He was gruff and to the point, she was timidity personified.
 “Wotcha vicar, nice sermon I have to say, very instructive too. Listen, I have a brace of coney if you fancy them. Seeing as it’s you only a fiver for the pair.”
Ernie tapped the side of his nose as a sign of complicit agreement then winked. Linkthorpe looked around guiltily ensuring the next people departing the church hadn’t overheard.
“Drop them off later this PM at the vestry door,” whispered the priest.
Martha handed Linkthorpe a bowl of something covered with a tea towel. She leant in close so Ethel, the next in line, didn’t hear.
“Rhubarb Crumble.” she intoned quietly.
Linkthorpe nodded wisely.
“Bless you sister,” he said authoritatively.
“Come on Martha,” boomed Ethel her bosoms heaving with the effort, “we all know what you give the vicar,” she winked salaciously at priest and parishioner.
“Nice sermon Elvis. I liked it. Mind you I don’t know how you are going t’ square it with the village now that your Susanne, or should I say ‘Anais Sin’ has opened that bordello. Is that part of the karmic thing? You know, pop in for a bit on the side then rush over here to atone fer yer sins?” Ethel laughed out loud. Linkthorpe turned scarlet. Fortunately, the next parishioner in line, who was looking rather dejected, was Neil Beefshanks so Linkthorpe’s attention was taken away from Ethel who walked off still laughing.
“Neil? Is everything alright you look, if dare say it, rather down-at-heel?”
The butcher could only shake his head morosely.
“Life is complicated enough vicar without having love thrown into the mix.”
Linkthorpe leant in close so that other wouldn’t hear.
“I take it you have had a falling out with Ruth?”
“I wish we had rowed but no, that’s not it at all. The Frenchman she met when in Cherbourg has turned up but to make matters worse so has Dafid. I am at a loss to know what to do.”
Linkthorpe looked at the abject way Neil looked. Gone was the usual fortitude and resilience replaced by a gloomy air of despondency.
“I cannot claim to have the greatest knowledge of either women or affairs of the heart but the one I can see, as plain as the nose on my face, is that there is something special between the two of you so don’t concern yourself with ifs and maybes, trust to your heart-felt intuition.”
Neil smiled at the priest but didn’t look too convinced.
“Thanks vicar, I’ll bear it in mind.”
Behind the butcher the travellers had gathered en masse. Linkthorpe smiled at them extending his hand to the first in the group. Once he had shaken hands with the majority of the circus people and after saying his good days to his regular congregation as they left there was one final couple he needed to bid farewell to: Lupini and Arthur Bentwhistle. Elvis turned smiling as the publican’s wife approached but she simply gave the vicar a filthy look, ignored his outstretched hand then walked on by. Arthur came up sheepishly.
“Sorry ‘bout that Elvis but Lupini has gotten wind of Susanne’s ‘shop.’ Not only that but she found out that Delores is back and is working there so t’ speak. What made it worse was I volunteered to help move some furniture for the girl. When I was tellin’ Lupini she sort of got a bit heated. Y’see, there was this big cabinet that Delores wanted shifting but it wouldn’t go through the door. I told Lupini that Delores wanted to take it up front but I couldn’t get it in so I told her to take hold of the big end and together we could shove it up her back passage. Well, I ‘ave t’ say I ‘ave never seen Lupini get so cross over something so stupid afore. She slapped my face and called me a bastard!”
Linkthorpe’s face turned ash grey.
“Really,” he said, “how very odd.”
So the villagers went home or about their business as did Flora Gusset. Hers though was about to have a calamitous effect on Fekenham.

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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