Chapter 6

Grave Consequences

 

Every amateur organisation suffers from one major inconvenience, the need for many of its members to work for a living. This fundamental imposition often gets in the way of the serious business of enjoying oneself, particularly where shift work or unusual hours are concerned. In the case of bands, choirs, drama groups and the like the effects are felt more strongly than in most organisations as their primary vehicle of expression is the arrangement of public performances. Unusual occupations seem to attract odd hours and at the same time spawn a type of person who is decidedly extrovert and ideally suited to the more exposed positions in a performing group - those solo spots from which the average '9 to 5 man' will shy away with an enthusiasm unknown in his daily grind.

Judson Stonegrave was the eccentric extrovert's representative in the Brassford Band. Not a very imposing person he hid his 5 ft. 8 in. frame in a hunched stoop and tried unsuccessfully to mask his lack of physique by wearing jackets several sizes too large. These were almost always of a dark grey colour with that greasy sheen so characteristic of the 'Italian designer suits' found only at the more exclusive discount warehouses and sported shoulder pads of a size which ensured that, in speaking to him face to face, you couldn't avoid staring at the large damp stains spreading through the armpits of his unironed, heavy cotton shirts and darkening still further the sides of his jacket. On his feet he wore brown suede shoes which he swore were his only pair and which caused untold conflicts with the band's director who was a stickler for the correct uniform black shoes on public performances. On one notable occasion, Jud had performed in black stockings with his big toes poking out after the director had refused to let him on stage in his brown suedes.

Having said all this, Jud was a fine musician with a natural talent for the soprano cornet he played. This is an extremely exposed position demanding the highest standards of musicianship as, being the highest toned instrument and having its own solo tunes singing out over the rest of the band, it is the one position which cannot fail to be identified by even the most unmusical of listeners. Judson excelled. His clear bright notes always sailed forth over the melody in exactly the right places and gave to the overall sound that clear ringing quality which is normally the hallmark of only the best of bands. Having Jud playing at concerts gave confidence to the lesser players in the ensemble and masked or diverted attention away from the errors of some of its younger members.

 

However, Jud did have a rather unusual calling. He was employed as a 'junior partner' in his father's village joinery business and spent most of his days repairing old furniture, farm carts and household woodwork. As with his music making, his craftsmanship was first rate and his skills were in particular demand over a wide area of the countryside. It was always he who was summoned to the local manor house to attend to any breakage or damage and this was always done by a personal visit from the butler...."His Lordship requests that you ..........". Whilst in this employment, he was almost his own boss and he could generally manage the demands upon his time so as to give ample opportunity for band business, but the firm was also, in line with common practice, the local undertakers and, human nature being what it is, people always seem to die at the most inopportune times. So it was on the 25th. June. The band had agreed to play a very important concert at a civic occasion in Bracclesfield, the nearest city - some 30 miles distant, on the Saturday afternoon. This honour had been bestowed on them as one of the leading city councillors had been particularly impressed by their last Christmas concert which he had attended at the 'Crown and Sparrow' (The band were hoping he had actually been impressed with their music and not just with Brassford Bottom, the local beer of which he had copiously partaken throughout the evening) and, in any case, their usual local band were away at a contest on the day in question. The concert was to begin at 4:00 pm, the funeral of Ruth Jones was scheduled for 1:30 pm with tea afterwards at Copsebottom Farm.

Normally, Jud would have left this kind of job to their hired help with his father supervising but, over the years, the Jones' had been one of the business' best customers and, besides, Jud was currently courting their eldest daughter, Ann. Consequently, Jud felt duty bound to supervise the arrangements personally. He had worked out that, if the funeral service and interment went to schedule, he should be able to leave at about 2:45 with just enough time to get to the concert venue. It would be cutting it a bit fine but with luck there would be speeches first which would give a little leeway.

Just as a precaution, Jud even had a word with the vicar to elicit his agreement to being on hand early so that there would be no delay.

At first the funeral went well, the cortege arrived at the farm to pick up the relatives at one o'clock and was at the church by 1:20. So far, so good. However, Jud had reckoned without Ruth's popularity and the eulogy seemed to take an age. During her later years she had been the mainstay of the local W.I. and several other organisations within the village and the vicar felt duty bound to remind the assembled congregation of all her good works individually. By the time she was safely buried in the far corner of the graveyard it was already 3 p.m. If Jud was to be on stage in Bracclesfield at 4 o'clock he would have to get his skates on!

He had intended returning to the workshop with the hearse, changing into uniform there and using his own car for the onward journey, but to do this would take him some 5 miles out of his way and delay him far too long. So, without another thought, he set off immediately for Bracclesfield. Fortunately, he already had his cornet with him as the family had requested that he play 'the Last Post' over Ruth's grave. As regards his dress, Jud, upon due consideration, decided that in the circumstances, his old black funeral suit was as near as dammit to the band's blue and black uniform. However, even now, things didn't go smoothly and, ten minutes later, he was sitting fuming in a queue of cars at roadworks. As he sat there fretting he was undecided as to which would be his biggest problem - letting down the band by being late or facing Ann's wrath when he returned for not appearing at the funeral tea.

By the time he had passed the roadworks the decision was made and, putting his foot hard down on the accelerator, he fairly flew towards Bracclesfield. The old hearse had never gone so fast. On one section of dual carriageway it had actually touched 80 miles an hour and he was passing every other vehicle as though they were standing still. As he pulled into the car park of the concert hall, he could hear clapping from within and could hear the opening speeches. He was met at the door by the band secretary who fairly pushed him up the stairs and onto the stage to land clumsily in his seat just as the curtains began to pull back. Fortunately his music had already been placed on his stand by one of the second cornet players and he launched into the first number with gusto, trying to appear calm and composed as the rest of the band. Only when he felt the conductor's eyes began to bite into his old black suit and his muddy brown suede shoes did he realise that he wasn't only going to have Ann to do some explaining to!

It was a week later before the second blow struck. A letter landed on the mat the following Tuesday morning bearing his address in heavy purple ink. He had seen the same handwriting before and, whilst he couldn't recall where, it gave him a premonition of doom. Falteringly, he opened the envelope and removed the single sheet of thick white paper. In the same purple hand it began....

'Dear Mr. Stonegrave,

It has been brought to the attention of the Undertakers' Federation the on 25th. June you did drive your hearse in an offensive and reckless manner between Brassford and Bracclesfield so as to bring the undertaking profession into disrepute........"

He had been spotted and reported by a competitor (he later found out who was responsible and delighted in exacting a suitable revenge) and was now called upon to face a disciplinary board to explain his actions.

"Oh well", he had successfully fended off the anger of both the conductor and Ann the previous week, surely this could be no worse!

  

This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 1994. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.

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