Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Thursday 16th March 1939

This “Windmill” is a rum place. Too rum for me, anyhow. A nice family but the landlord himself is just a little – not quite? This morning I had to have breakfast in an ice-cold, uninhabited parlour because the landlord objected to having breakfast with me in the kitchen. Also, I’m not allowed to smoke when he’s in the room; mustn’t go in the scullery if he is having a wash there. I heard his voice bellowing around the house, presumably shouting at himself…

Cold comfort! In any case, “scenes” give me a horrid taste in the mouth, so I’m leaving at the weekend. Apparently he is the reason for all but one of the sons leaving home. Sinister, what? Buxom Mrs R sorrowfully admitted it was useless to stay. Said she’d hoped we might have been kept apart. What a queer place!

With one thing and another I was late in getting away but dashed into it when I did reach my district – Burnham and Southminster – and took four smallish orders. Three of these were “forced” sales. However it’s an improvement; the last two journeys to Burnham on Crouch had been fruitless. After I’d had tea and completed my office work, I set out to find new digs. Rain squalls and cold wind. Drove to the next village, West Hanningfield. No digs there. Rather an uninviting place. Nearly got the car “bogged” once when driving up to a lonely farmhouse which turned out to be deserted, although an oil lamp burned in the kitchen.

So I went on to Stock. It is a high village (300 feet) on the Chelmsford – Billericay road. There are quaint old cottages there, and trees. A pretty name too; I realised only the other day that “stock” is the name of a flower. At the post office they told me of several likely places including a pub, “The Cock”. I tried the pub first. A solemn looking, stocky girl with very dark brown eyes, was in the bar. They did take people in, but Mr and Mrs Allan were away at present. They’d return about 9 o’clock. I had a glass of cider at the bar, being in no hurry to go out into the cold street again. Glanced at the paper and noticed that Hitler had now annexed Slovakia as well as the Czech state. So Slovakia separated herself and had just 48 hours of independence!

A gay old gentleman to whom the girl accorded some respect, limped through from the next bar. He ordered a pink gin; made sundry witty remarks which the girl did not comprehend; asked me what I thought of the political situation. I told him how it stood, making a diagram to show how Hitler had thrust greedily into the small states. He seemed interested. “Have a drink with me, Sah!” he said when I’d finished. We chatted. I stood him a drink in return. Various villagers trickled into the bar. As each entered, my surprising companion said a few welcoming words and then stood a pint! “Good evening sir,” “Thank you sir, don’t mind if I do!”

I found that he was 78 in September, that his wife had just died, that his name was Cooke, oh and a hell of a lot more and last but not least that he was a Lincolnshire man and knew Sutton on Sea, Chapel St. Leonards and Saltfleetby (We both called it Sollerby!) “Yes sah! A yellerbelly and proud of it sah!” Next time he stood me a drink, the brown eyed girl said there was no more cider in the house! We were both gleeful about this and eventually had John Haigs.

He wished to call elsewhere for three flagons of cider to take home so I offered him a lift. “I’ll be glad of it, sah!” he said vigorously, “My gammy leg you know! Arthritis sah, not the war!” I treated him to another whisky in the other pub, then took him home – with the cider. He insisted that I should come in to “see the place” John Haig and a soda siphon at once appeared and we drank peg after peg. He donned a black skull cap. Every now and then he ejaculated “By gad sah!” (“I was in the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, by gad sah!”) I was relieved to note that he also was getting “fuzzy”, when he found himself unable to calculate the difference between the age of 26 and that of 78.

He showed me all over the house – and the garden. “Not a person in this damned village knows it sah, but my wife’s ashes are scattered here. On the graves of the dogs she loved, sah!” He donned his old hunting cap, proudly showed me his old Yeomanry tunic. “Where’s that damned switch? Somewhere near the girls petticoats? Ah!” I thought this remark fatuous until I noticed that the electric switch referred to was just beneath the picture of a girl and would have been covered by petticoats, had the picture been a few inches longer!

I got away just before 10 and hurried back into The Cock just as they closed. I was really tight. The first time I’ve chosen digs in a drunken state! However, Stock continued to welcome me. Mrs Allan, a cheery (or gay?) lady with cigarette in mouth, was in the bar. I chose my word carefully and spoke slowly, anxious to conceal that I’d had a few drinks. (I peered swiftly into a mirror and observed that I looked normal except for dilated pupils of the eyes.)

Yes, she’d be glad to have me. What would I like to pay? 27/-? Yes, that was alright. I vaguely saw four or three bedrooms with timbered beams and chose the largest, which had a fire place. “Home” “I want you to feel at home” “I’ve been in digs, I know what it’s like” “Have the bed moved under the light switch – lazy boy!”
I recall fragments…The first time I’ve ever chosen digs whilst “tight”!

Drove with grim concentration along the winding lanes back to The Windmill. Didn’t fancy my supper but had a snack, for sake of appearances. What I wanted was bed – ah! I’d sleep it off!

I awoke at about 6 o’clock, after a terrible nightmare of war, and realised that I was not being attacked in an airship and that I was gloriously sober again!


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