Elsie is looking for bamboo shoots and Rice Wine in Kwik Save. She bought a wok and all the tools from Dodgy John on the market yesterday. Last night she found a recipe on Ceefax but the ingredients are a bit exotic. She’s asked Lillian in the booth (which is more like a high security check point in Derry than a customer service desk) and Lilian said they did have them in 1983 when Ken Hom was on tele so they might still be there, near food colouring and golden syrup. Elsie has already looked there. Brian and Margaret are coming round later to sample her first attempts at international cuisine and the pressure is on. When they went round there last Margaret cooked lasagne. Elsie is beginning to think she might have to go to Hereford or Shrewsbury for bamboo shoots (or maybe just go to the Happy Dragon and pretend)
It’s been a day of drama and excitement in town.
Mike and his occasional workmate Ed are doing some work up at the castle, expanding the shop and ticket office. Today they started taking down an old partition that had been put up in the seventies and much to their surprise (and Mike’s running away screaming horror) inside the partition they discovered a collection of bones including a human skull. Ed and Cynthia from the castle called the police and now the whole area is cordoned off and men in masks and gloves are putting things in polythene bags. The town hasn’t seen anything like this since ‘Macbeth’ was on at the castle last summer. Speculation is rife. The theory gathering most credence is that the bones belong to ‘Blind Walter’ who disappeared in the summer of 1976. At the time people thought that he had perhaps been washed away in the river whilst trying to cool down in the heat. But after today’s grim discovery people are beginning to think that perhaps he stumbled into the building works when the partition was being put in, and then was accidentally walled in.
As yet the police are making no comment and Mike is in The Feathers, shaking with a whisky.
It’s Malcolm Bean’s 18th birthday. Or so he says. Malcolm Bean is a liar. He can’t help himself. If such a civic post existed Malcolm would be the ‘Town Liar’ and would visit other towns up and down the country to compete in Town Lying competitions. He would wear a long robe trimmed with ermine and a tri-corner hat. Around his neck he would proudly sport the town badge on a gold chain. And then, with the pride of his town at stake, he would tell enormous fibs, whopping lies,stinking porkies. And he would probably win – because he is good.
Below is a list of some of Malcolm’s most notable lies:
That in the fifth year at secondary school he was going out with Miss Clark, the Spanish teacher
That whilst working as an archaeologist (aged 14) he uncovered a haul of Saxon treasure
That he worked for M15 during the Falklands War passing on information about possible Argentine sympathisers in South Shropshire
That he owns the family home but lets his parents live there for a peppercorn rent (and all his meals)
That he has competed in every London Marathon since it started in 1981
That he writes a column for Punch magazine
That he co-designed the Sinclair C5 with Sir Clive
That he donated one of his kidneys to save the life of his younger sister
That he is quite closely related to the Royal Family but isn’t allowed to talk about it
That he writes for Alias Smith and Jones
That he has a commercial pilot’s license
Anyway … he is hosting a party at the Starline Club but only Andrew and Aaron have turned up because no-one else believed him
It’s Wednesday, 2 and a half weeks into the school summer holiday and teacher Phil is sitting in his study watching the rain pour from his broken gutter, hit the roof of the bay window below and bounce back onto the brick wall. Then he looks at the damp patch under his desk. He stares at it, glares at it until his focus goes and the damp patch becomes a shifting, whirling dull brown kaleidoscope. He sees faces come out of the wall – his wife, his son Thomas, Mark Morris from 4PC, the headmaster, his mum, his first girlfriend Jane, the boy who he sat next to in junior school whose name he can’t remember, the man who promised to come and fix the gutter, the headmaster again, and then his face staring back at him – not doing anything just staring.
Thomas is downstairs doing a fish jigsaw with his mum. He’s just done the stingray. Pamela strokes his blond hair. He’ll be going to school in September. She hopes it doesn’t do to him what it’s done to her husband.
Then the face becomes Pamela’s again and it’s calling out … “Phil! Phil!”
Phil watches it. “Phil … let’s go out … we can’t stay indoors all day – it’s the summer holiday!”
Phil shakes his head and the damp patch stops moving. Phil listens to the drip, drip, drip and then bang, bang, bang of Thomas coming up the stairs.
“Dad, Dad I’ve done the stingray!. I hate stingrays”
“What you doing Dad?”
“Just some school work” Phil lies
“I don’t want to go to school in Sepmember Dad”
“It’s September … No neither do I”
Aaron and Tom are excited. It’s the launch of Zap magazine - ‘the mag for all ZX Spectrum Users’. It is, as the tagline says, a magazine dedicated to people with a ZX Spectrum and Spectrum +. It has news and reviews and games that the lads have written the code for, ready for people to type in and Run. Aaron and Tom are the co-editors in chief and the main contributors. They have been working away at it for a few months now, in the college computer room and at Aaron’s house because his Dad, the Reverend Alan has just bought a new Amstrad word processor with its own printer. Aaron’s Mum Sheila says it’s a waste of money, looks ugly and that they could have put the money towards buying the little caravan she wants in Tenby. Alan said that he needed it for work, to compose his sermons and to make the parish newsletter look more professional. In some ways this advance into a brave new technological world is a shame because Aaron really loved the smell of the spirit duplicator and now he would have to spend hours teaching his Dad how to use the Amstrad ( for an intelligent man Alan could be incrediby slow learning new things). But in other ways the arrival of the computer heralds a bright future. He will no longer have to spend hours helping his Dad by turning the handle of the duplicator hundreds and hundreds of times every month to print the newsletter and, of course, he can use the word processor for his own projects.
The first issue of Zap includes drawings by Tom’s friend Miles who is a posh boy and lives at Castle Hall. Aaron hates Miles … he doesn’t have any real reason except that his parents are obviously incredibly rich and that he’s got floppy hair and that he’s brilliant at art and that he exudes a relaxed and unforced confidence that Aaron knows he will never have. Ever. And he wears glasses and looks good in them whereas Aaron wears glasses and looks uncomfortable and well … short sighted. Miles has drawn the front cover and has depicted the castle being stormed by alien stormtroopers and the sky full of explosions and futuristic fighter jets. He has also created a comic strip called ‘The Gits’ which features a lazy town family where the parents sit around watching tele all day while the son sits around playing games on his Spectrum on a portable tele in his bedroom. ‘The Gits’ communicate in grunts and shouting and the son escapes into a fantasy future world where he is an intergalactic hero. To make Aaron’s dislike of Miles even greater but even more insupportable he thinks ‘The Gits’ is really funny and clever. Bloody Miles.
Aaron and Tom have managed to get a few shops in town to stock Zap – Preedy’s, Abbots, The Bookshop and Micks the Butchers. They made an advert for Hilltop Radio last week. You might have heard it … Aaron’s making space zapping noises in the background while Tom describes what’s in the first issue. Most of their mates at college think they’re wierd but most of their mates haven’t created a magazine from scratch and got it into the shops.
The town did have a proper cinema once – The Clifton which was built in 1928 and first called The Majestic, then The Regal before becoming The Clifton in the 1960s and then a bingo hall in 1983 before being knocked down in 1985. Now it’s site has old folk’s flats on it, which with a nod to the past are called Clifton Villas. They aren’t villas, but at least their residents can remember (those of them who can remember anything) where the name Clifton came from.
The Film Society is run by Oscar Floyd, who moved to the town from London two years ago to write his second novel. This was supposed to be another futuristic thriller to follow up on the success of his best selling “Blood Machine” (the one with the robot detective that thinks it’s human and eventually commits suicide by throwing itself under a tube train). However, his second novel has actually turned into a gentle comedy about a man who moves from London to a small town on the Welsh borders and it describes all the amusing misunderstandings that happen when urban meets rural (no robots). Opinion on Oscar in the town is divided – 10 people quite like him, the other 7,500 thinks he’s an idiot. But he does get things done – such as taking over running of the Film Society, setting up a music club and starting a new theatre group. The town already had two thriving groups- The Town Players, which specialises in heavyweight dramas and social comedies, and MAD – (short for Marches Amateur Drama) which just does a panto and some messing around on the streets during festival time. Oscar’s group is called Rogues and Vagabonds and has a much more experimental brief than the other two. It’s last piece was a devised show in the parish church which set Murder in The Cathedral in a 20th century small English town. The Journal described it as ‘unrepeatable’.
Simon is at the film night and is very nervous for four reasons
- He has asked Emma to come and she said yes.
- Emma is actually coming
- Oscar has agreed to let him show a Super 8 film he has made with his mates Andrew and Aaron, as a support to the main film
- Emma will see his film.
Simon’s film is an attempt to set Fairport Convention’s album ‘John Babbacombe Lee’ to film. It’s not as long as the album because they couldn’t afford much film and they edited it using scissors and sellotape but Simon is actually quite proud of it. Or he was, until he started to look at the whole thing through Emma’s eyes – first there was the problem of being 18 and liking Fairport Convention, then the fact that he had put a substantial amount of effort on Wednesday afternoons into making a film of one of their more ‘interesting’ albums when he could have been doing sport or volunteering at the hospital, and then she would also find out that he must quite like Oscar. Simon thinks that maybe he could just run off and pretend that it was all Aaron’s idea but it’s getting a bit late to do that now and Oscar keeps coming over to tell him 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes …
The Starline is pretty busy – the main film is Blue Velvet – which it turns out has broad appeal – the audience is made up of Lynch fans, people who think it’s a film about horses and blokes who think it’s a porn flick. Simon is hovering around his little projector with Aaron ready to start ‘Babbacombe Lee’ when he spots Emma arrive. She sits down on the front row, right next to the seat he had saved with his coat. She smiles at him and gives him a little thumbs up. Simon feels sick but Oscar gives him the signal to start so he swallows hard and says a few words …
Um … thanks everyone for coming … my name’s David Lynch … no it’s not … sorry … I was just thinking about him … sorry I’m not him … I’m Simon. My name’s Simon and for the past few weeks myself and Andrew and Aaron there … have been making a film at college. Normally you do that sort of thing and no-one gets to …to see it, except you and maybe your Mum and Dad but Oscar has kindly let us show it here tonight, so thanks very much Oscar for … for that. It’s a bit rough I’m afraid – but, it’s only short and then it will be Blue Velvet. David Lynch will come out and introduce that. Hope you like it.
People laugh and clap. Simon sits down next to Emma, and as the lights go out and Aaron starts the projector she threads her arm through his and whispers “well done you” in his ear. Simon feels sick again. But in a good way.
Castle Hall is one of the biggest houses in the town. It was the biggest in fact until last year when Jim, from ‘Big Jim’s Cars’ completed his ranch style home on Temecliffe. Jim’s house (called Jimjoans – a clever amalgamation of Jim and his wife Joan’s first names) stands high on the cliff with lovely views of the river and town below. For those on the south side of the town looking out, ‘Jimjoans’ seems to occupy most of the horizon. And so it should – it has 14 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, 6 reception rooms, a games room, a bar, a projection room, a gymnasium, a covered swimming pool and a paddock with stable for his daughter Janey’s horses. (She has four). Its architecture has been variously described as “hideous”, “completely out of keeping”, “sickening” and “indescribably bland”. No-one can quite understand how it ever got past the normally very strict planning officers. Even the planning officers can’t quite understand how it got past them. They look at the plans Jim submitted and they look at the house and they do match – so it is not as if Jim built a completely different house. They have attempted to find various ways of explaining their oversight – that the original plan they received was drawn in a temporary invisible ink which gradually faded away to reveal the actual plan only after they had agreed it; that they were all blind drunk for 5 months; that they were holding the plans upside down; or, the favoured explanation – that Jim is some kind of shamen capable of bewitching council officials with the power of his mind or by some gas or scent he gives off. Whatever the reason, the plans were passed and Jim was able to plough his considerable fortune into building his family home. Despite protests from residents, visitors, councillors, and the local campaign group … Jim’s house remains for all to see and for him to enjoy.
So until the finishing touches were made on Jim’s house, the award for the biggest house in the town went to Castle Hall on the other side of the river. Castle Hall is so named because of its proximity to the castle – it is almost as if it is built into the castle walls themselves – the rear wall of the garden is in fact the castle wall. At some point a larchlap fence was put up in front of this to clearly delineate the house’s land but this has largely rotted away and repeated batterings with footballs have rendered it useless. Building of Castle Hall began in 1737, the original part having a nine window frontage with a handsome door reached by a flight of six stone steps. Towards the end of the 18th century two wings were added, giving the front a total of 17 windows.
The house has had some illustrious residents and visitors. Lord Clive of India lived there for a time, as did the Earl of Wellington, who also owned Down Castle, 15 miles to the north. It also provided a rather luxurious prison at the turn of the nineteenth century for the dashing, suspected spy Rupert ‘The Red’ Rhinehart, before being owned from 1840 to 1888 by the campaigner for women’s rights, Mary Taylor. It was purchased by the expanding grammar school in 1893 to provide dormitories for boys from out of town and its unmarried male staff (of whom there were many). The grammar school made a very good deal for its purchase from its then owner John Napier Brown who needed a quick sale and hard cash to pay off his horse racing debts. It has remained a dormitory ever since, although since the introduction of comprehensive education and the transformation of the school into a Sixth Form College, it is now called a ‘Hall Of Residence. It was briefly used as a hospital during the First World War, for officers suffering from shell shock, some of whom were old boys of the school and the Home Guard used it as a training centre in the 1940s. Some academics think it is the setting for the long and rather depressing poem “One Hundred Darkling Rooms” by the nineteenth century Shropshire Poet E.E. Taft, who lived in the town for ten years at the end of his life. but this has never been proved.
Its use as a dormitory has always seemed a little incongruous – its graceful interiors covered in posters, its gardens used for football matches and furtive smoking; and its corridors for racetracks. Castle Hall, however, will not be a dormitory for much longer. A need for funds for the college means that the old place is going to be sold. Very few students use it now anyway as improved public transport has meant that it is possible to study at the college but live some distance away. So Marcus and Miles, self appointed leaders of the Hall residents, are planning a big farewell party sometime in June. They are billing it as a mini Glastonbury with bands, booze and camping in the garden, although they can’t bill it too loudly, in case the college authorities find out about it and stop it before they have even begun.