Chapter 9

 

Economic Living

 

Dove cottage, Brassford is one of the oldest and prettiest dwellings in the village and, set within low stone walls enclosing a small tidy garden full of hollyhocks, dog daisies, lupins, sweet williams and other such traditional fragrant flowers, attracts almost as many inquisitive and appreciative tourists and visitors as its flowers do bees. Standing on the main road just across from the Post Office and the Village Hall, it is at the very focus of the village and thus could only logically be inhabited by a gregarious and extrovert person, well able to accept the attention which living there inevitably receives. True to type, this inhabitant had for many years been Effie Wallace, a spinster who had been born 73 years ago within sight of the cottage and who had served the village all her life as school teacher, headmistress, choir mistress and organiser of the local Women's Institute. In her 'spare' time over the last fifty years she had played with the band where she played a mean tenor horn - an instrument which itself sneaks up on the music with extrovert passages or cheekily doubles the cornet's tune in a lower register.

Recently, however, bronchitis and badly fitting false teeth had robbed her of the ability to meet the band's standards and so she had voluntarily dropped out to play a lesser role in the background. Despite the obvious restrictions on active participation, her interest in the band had never waned and many of the tasks which she now undertook were ones which she had created herself to maintain this interest. Just such a task was the 'keeping of seats' in the Fox and Duck after rehearsals on a Sunday evening. The 'L - shaped' pub, whilst quite old, had been remodelled to brewery standards and was now divided into a number of 'bays' by mock Tudor woodwork and beams, each of which was populated by several small tables and stools comfortably upholstered in fake leather. From about 7:30 pm each Sunday, Effie could be found sitting in the very centre of the largest of these bays, fending off any stray drinker with designs on a comfortable seat until the band arrived for their post rehearsal relaxation just after 9 o'clock. None of the regulars would tangle with Effie's sharp tongue and chose instead to respect the efficiency with which she carried out her self imposed duty. Visitors, of course, were not to know, and many learnt to their cost Effie's perception of the needs and privileges earned by the band over their years of dedication, so much so that quite often a quiet word or a free drink was required from the landlord or the band's director later in the evening to smooth the visitor's ruffled feathers. However, no one would think of saying anything to Effie as she was too well liked to be upset.

As time passed and Effie's health waned, she spent more and more time in the pub where she would sit in a corner most evenings behind a half finished glass of stout discussing the state of the world with anyone who would speak to her.

Living just across the road, Janet, the postmistress and long time co-conspirator of Effies on the tenor horn row, had fallen into the task of being Effie’s ‘minder’. She would call in at Effie’s house once or twice a day as business allowed just to make sure she was OK and would do her weekly shopping on a Thursday after the Post Office closed for the afternoon. She would also be the one to keep Effie in touch with band gossip and make sure that someone would be available to drive Effie to any band concerts as she would have been devastated to find that she had missed one.

One Sunday evening last November, Effie had done her usual good job and almost the whole band were comfortably seated in the busy pub. The atmosphere bubbled with laughter and jovial banter as everyone released the last of the pent up steam before descending into the doldrums of Monday morning at work. Effie had already had three halves of mild before the band arrived and, as different members of the group bought rounds which always included her, the row of empty glasses in front of her threatened to overwhelm the table. As the band began to split up and make for home, Des, mindful that while Effie was showing no obvious signs of intoxication and was clearly still enjoying herself, the six pints or so of mild ale which she had consumed by then must have had some effect, said, "Come on Effie, I’ll walk you home."

"You’ll do no such thing, young man" came the sharp reply, "I’m perfectly capable of getting home on my own and anyway, it’s not time yet. You can get me another drink though."

"Don’t you think you’ve had enough now?" said Des, "you must have had about six pints already."

"Rubbish! Six pints indeed! I know exactly how many I’ve had and that’s three small glasses all evening."

"Three small glasses, but what about all these empties lined up on the table?"

"Oh, I don’t know about them, they’re not relevant. You can only count the drinks you pay for yourself!"

Obviously not in a winning position, Des realised that his pleas would have no effect upon the strong will of Effie and so he left her sitting alone in the now emptying pub. On his way home he called in at Janets just to let her know how he had had to leave Effie and with a suggestion that a visit in the morning might not go amiss. But it didn’t get that far. After the band left, Effie was befriended by a couple of tourists who were staying in the pub and together they spent a happy and animated couple of hours exchanging stories and reminiscences. By about 1:30, however, with none of the participants showing signs of running out of material, the landlord finally decided enough was enough and that he would dearly like to close up and fall into the arms of Morpheus. Unfortunately, Effie had other ideas and, with help from her surfeit of alcohol, started to become belligerent. Hadn’t she been his best customer of the evening? Hadn’t she made sure that the band had swelled his till until it almost burst? She would go when she was ready and not before!

Eventually, it all became too much for the poor landlord and he had to send for reinforcements - Janet! Dragged from her sweet slumbers and dressed only in an old raincoat and wellingtons over her nighty, she was not in the best of moods as she squared up to Effie and demanded that she stop making such a fuss and allow her to make sure she got home safely.

"Oh well, I suppose I shall have to if you’re all going to gang up on me," said Effie, "but I’m really not ready for bed and it will be such a waste to have to use my own electric light!"

  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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