Litton 2007

Dyce slowly opened his eyes and slowly realised where he was, ‘Ah … yes …  ah ….  yes.’

Dead black things sprinkled the other single bed. Paper peeled off the walls next to blisters of plaster which were either still intact or had burst, scattering grey and white flakes across grubby red carpet. A barely shaded bulb hung from a black rafter.

He needed the toilet and roused himself. His soles prickled with debris. The toilet flushed brown and brown water came out of the cold water tap. Ah, Dyce remembered. The water supply came off the fells, gravity fed and full of peat. Some people drink it said their host and we’ve not had a casualty yet.

Dyce pulled on shirt and trousers and found the dining room, downstairs through a hall with a cellophaned six pack of clear water on a fridge. The same fridge that Mark thought would be good to take overflow provisions. It doesn’t work said our host. Geoff, feet dangling, was semi-conscious on a short bed settee.

Dyce jacked up the door latch, went outside and was hit by a cold wet blast. A river was running down the path next to the cottage, turning left down the garden toward a stone shed. The grass was short and the paths were overgrown. Glistening limestone walls, borders of spiky trees with brown leaf hearthrugs and short scruffy stuff with dead flowerheads. A movement in the kitchen caught his eye. Mark was bobbing and weaving, sorting and tidying.

The gate was hanging off it’s hinges and Dyce had to lean sideways to read the house sign carved on a wooden plaque – ‘Fell View’. An outside light was precariously attached to the wall above the door, the electric wire sometimes in a plastic tube, sometimes not.

He walked down the garden and looked up toward the dalehead. The tops were obscured by mist and the few trees were being tossed and jerked about. Water dripped down his face and his feet were cold, trainers muddy. The stone shed was a ruin. Reminded him of the small brilliant whitewashed room down grannie’s back yard with skewered sheets of newspaper and a candle holder. A large key, matchbox and candle were kept behind her front door.

He returned to the cottage, wet and cold. No need to wipe the feet on rough stone flags. Geoff had gone. In the kitchen a solitary coffee maker was heating up on a gas ring. Mark was a regular visitor to Italy. A far cry from here, thought Dyce, wonder what he’s making of all this? Back in the dining room, more hospitable than the bedroom somehow, a wood fire had cheered them up the previous evening, though the host had been a bit miffed when Geoff set it off with coal,

‘Do you need your hearing tested? I said wood-burning. Tar from coal blocks the flue.’

Geoff’s hearing was perfect.

The dining furniture was modern. First thing Dyce did on getting there was sit on one of the chairs, ‘Don’t sit on that, the strut’s gone. Maybe you could mend it?’ The host produced a small pot with screws and an allan key.

Built in the 1600’s. Two bedrooms. Kitchen. Lounge and dining rooms with open fires and bed settees. Two staircases. Inside bath and toilet. Open views across the fell and up to the dalehead. Pub two minutes away. Dyce had booked it.

Pete came in from the front room. Wood floored with severely scarred and pitted walls. The host had put in a coal fire for when they arrived, ‘We’ve redone the roof and put in central heating. Then the money ran out.’

Pete’d slept on a larger version of the dining room bed settee, ‘I was as warm as toast with that fire. Woke up in the middle of the night frozen. Room door was open and so was the outside door. How?’ He paused and got no answer, ‘Fancy some coffee? I’ll put the kettle on.’

Five minutes later. ‘The night fairy’s been in and tidied up the kitchen,’ said Pete carrying a cafetiere and a couple of mugs followed by Geoff and cup of tea, ‘what’s the plan?’

‘It’s too wet and misty to go far. Why don’t we go see Miseryguts down in Arncliffe? Two miles down by the river.’

‘Good idea. Yes Geoff?’

‘Yea, anything. Our lass’s boyfriend talks about him.’

‘Does bottled lager if he can be bothered to serve you. No crisps either.’

‘Anyone seen Mark?’

‘He’s in the front room listening to CD’s.’

‘What’s he doing in there on his own?’ asked Pete.

‘Said his stomach was upset,’ replied Geoff.

‘I don’t know why he came. Climbed into two bottles of red last night, and the rest down the pub.’ They’d never intended cooking their first night at the cottage and Geoff had advanced knowledge of a decent menu down the local. He’d the mixed grill to dare for. The size of big chicken, heaped on a metal salver – never got close even after sharing and paying £19. Dyce had £11 fish and chips which he could get back at his own local for £6. Pete wanted rabbit pie, but there were no rabbits to be had at the moment said the genial barman, ‘I always have rabbit pie if it’s on. Me dad used to keep show rabbits, not all of them for show.’ Dyce recognised another oft repeated tale from Pete’s childhood.

‘I’ll go tell Mark what we’re doing.’ Pete stood, went into the front room and came back straight away.

‘He’s not coming. Meet us at the pub. Doesn’t want breakfast. Come on, let’s get ours and then we can go.’

Boots, waterproofs, woolly hats and gloves. No change in the weather.

‘Are we taking a map?’

Ah, the need for certainty, thought Dyce. To be precise, at any given moment, where you were on the planet. There was only one road up the dale, but Geoff said Mark had followed his satnav to the inch.

‘There’s only one river and one path. How difficult can that be?’ said Dyce and set off behind the cottage. Geoff carried on to a sign twenty five yards along the road. Pete stood between the two, stranded.

‘Just says bridleway.’

They followed Dyce across fields and stiles toward the river. Muddy and angry. Tree trunks covered to depths of three and four feet and no banks to speak of. Creamy brown crests where it mounted submerged stones. And noisy, unshushable, unruly, uncontrollable.

The path was a stony river too, but passable except where waterfalls emerged from half way down the fellside and plunged through fields and walls to the river. Wooden planks, rickety stepping stones or wet feet, take your choice.

They eventually came to the green valley floor. Water oozed from the grass.

‘Is Mark depressed?’ asked Dyce.

‘He hasn’t been well.’ said Pete. More could’ve been said, but it wasn’t. Both Pete and Geoff knew Mark better than him and Dyce did not want to intrude into things said in confidence. He recalled Mark from the night before, folded up in a chair, totally focussed on a drink, a plate of food or whatever was at table height. When anyone spoke to him, his eyelids rose just a bit and he looked up, but nothing else moved. Just a touch dark.

‘I’m getting a bit irritated by government,’ said Dyce, happy to wax on about something else. Despite relatively lowly origins, he had no political affiliation. He cheerfully delegated the running of the country to others at each election, confident that they would leave him alone for the next five years. Not so in the autumn of 2007. Either through incompetence or greed, it was getting personal. He’d some experience of power and the slippery nature of promotion and progression. Need to know. Variations on the truth. The creation of illusion. Accepted and acceptable if they served the purpose, whatever that was. But this lot were mopping up one mess after another and he was footing the bill.

History Boys. Great film. Came out in 2006.’

Dyce outlined the story. Bright northern grammar school boys, caring teachers, good results to be converted into successful Oxbridge entrance and a specially imported staff ‘ringer’ to do just that. A Cambridge graduate, only he wasn’t. He made the boys think the unthinkable so they stopped writing dull correct essays and passed. Even the stereotyped ‘thicko’ rugby player – a buffer on the interview panel recognised his father as a former college servant. He wasn’t bothered for going anyway.

‘We won’t need to see it now,’ said Geoff.

‘The point is our leaders are schooled in deceit, either at Oxbridge or as part of their passage through the murky depths of the labour movement, like in  Boys from the North. All very well when it works, or we don’t know what’s been going on.’

‘The problem is where the information comes from,’ Pete’s voice rose a breathier couple of notes, ‘papers and the television are there to make money and reporting on bad things sells. They got rid of the conservatives in the nineties and they’re after labour now.’

Dyce had to concede, especially as Pete used to have connections with the press. But he also knew Pete argued with his heart, moulded by a tough childhood, a secondary modern and a lifelong sense of coming second. In the fifties, to fail your eleven plus could seriously damage your life chances. Dyce tended to back away rather than escalate the emotion. Deeply held belief tended to be fireproof.

‘You have to start with something and there are a few reputable guys writing in the papers. Ministers don’t talk to the civil service. They don’t talk to each other. Can’t be right.’

Pete nodded, but said nothing. They’d reached Arncliffe and the pub, The Falcon, which was closed.

‘What time does it open?’

‘Notice on the door says midday.’

‘What time is it now?’

‘Four seconds to. Where’s Mark?’

A bloke appeared from a garage and walked across the road with a brace of pheasant under his arm. He spotted Dyce.

‘Do you want a drink?’

‘Are you serving?’

‘Is there just you?’

‘There’s three of us, four actually when he comes.’

‘I’ll open up in a minute.’ The very man, Misery himself.

‘I can’t get a signal. I’ve no idea where Mark is,’ said Pete.

What was a few more minutes in the wind and rain, next to the bench and ashtray that did for the smoke room?

At five minutes past twelve the outside door of the pub swung inward. The inner door had two signs, No Dogs and Walkers please leave the Pennine Way outside. At least it said please, thought Dyce. The toilet was across the back yard and galoshes were provided for those not keen on making the journey in stockinged feet. Dyce plonked next to the coal fire set in the snug. The decor was marginally better than the cottage. Old photographs, notice board and royal emblems on an emulsion the colour of alehouses before the smoking ban. The bar was a wooden shelf on a hinge half way up the door frame.

‘Two pints of your finest and a bottle of lager,’ Pete held the kitty. More gravity fed brown fluid from a barrel into a pot jug and then into pint glasses. Bob judged the volume to within a sip. Drinkable brown fluid.

‘Is that it?’

‘It is until our mate turns up.’

‘Sorry about the lager. I haven’t had beer since me stag night,’ another of Pete’s one line introductions. Dyce had thought of challenging them, but apart from simply being grumpy, which he enjoyed to a point, it wouldn’t achieve anything.

Bob bit, ‘Oh it doesn’t bother me.’

What was this, a reformed character, thought Dyce?

‘We have eastern european girls here to help out in the summer. One of them asked us back to her place, so we did a four day break to Prague. It’s light beer there and very nice. She cooked us dumplings and not stodgy at all. Nice place, lovely buildings. Best to do it before we spoil it. You staying local?’

‘Litton, the last cottage on the right as you leave.’

‘The Williams place. Fell View. From Bradford, there’s a few brothers and sisters.’ He opened his mouth, but said nothing. Then his attention seemed to waver and he moved away into the body of the bar area.

‘No Mark. Are we off?’

‘I’m disappointed, he was supposed to be miserable. He’s actually quite sensible. I’ll have to tell our lass,’ said Geoff.

They went back on the road. Easier walking though into the wind and rain. The constant rushing water and blustering force six was disturbed by engine noise from a quad bike up on the fellside. Dyce assumed it’d be a shepherd out checking on the stock. As it came near they saw man and boy in combat fatigues separated by a high powered rifle and telescopic sight.

‘What’s he been shooting?’ said Dyce.

‘Giant rabbits. Why can’t the pub get some of them?’

‘I’ll just go and check the cottage for Mark. See you in the pub.’

‘What’s he worried about?’

‘Wouldn’t be the first time someone slit his wrists in the bath.’

Dyce and Geoff settled next to the large fire. Martin, the barman, was as genial as ever. Could afford to be at those prices thought Dyce. Bare stone walls and flags. More photographs and royal badges. It was The King’s Arms.

‘Where are you staying?’

Fell View.’

‘The Williams place.’ Martin wandered into the kitchen.

Pete arrived, ‘Car’s gone, so I didn’t try the cottage. We’ll see soon enough if he’s really gone.’

No sign of him. ‘He did leave the beer,’ two twenty four packs stacked in the front hall.

Return to the pub for predinner drinks friday night weekenders

we are collecting grumpy landlords

we think he’s terrific

any chance of a game of rugby tomorrow – genial Martin

couple from tadcaster waiting for relatives from slough – where on earth is that? they wanted to talk and Pick wasn’t about to let them down started visiting the dales with Dyce – eventually turned his back on them – until they arrived.

 

 

 

Pick having a go – normally uncontroversial

the bleeding obvious

why don’t you go and have your teeth done?

hypocrisy and hippocrates

I don’t want the beer/wine, neither do I

why won’t you have a drink

we’d better get home before we have too much

don’t come to the club anymore

this isn’t a bad place really

 

Pick picking people up

Grassington is the nearest spot. Parked at the bottom of Littondale, where it meets the Kettlewell road and caught the bus. Let’s go to the Rugby Club? Same as many years previously with Big Dave, the week of the famous row over map reading. The large bar area had half a dozen people in. ‘No game on?’ asked Dyce when he bought the round. ‘The vets’. ‘Well that’s something.’ The weather had marginally improved but you wouldn’t want to stand outside drinking beer. They watched the game through the bar window. Senior guys who should know better and blind pimply youth, much like Northallerton’s Fettlers. Except for Wharfedale’s outside centre, who was even too good for his own side. ‘Coming back from injury most likely’, said Dyce. He overheard the stewardess talking about a break-in somewhere up the dale. ‘Much crime around here?’ ‘No, good job really, we’ve only two bobbies on at weekends. One is out in his car somewhere and the other one’s there, pointing to a middle aged guy in a rugby shirt at the end of the bar. Dyce chuckled. ‘We need a pub with a TV, to catch the Test against S Africa ‘The Pheasant, to of the village. Hang on ten minutes, I’ll give you a lift.’

Nicely settled in the TV lounge, choice of two buses, Pete worried, ‘Before you start slotting pints, let’s get back to the car.’ Common sense was the way to go.

stewardess at the rugby club – wants to play again

Grassington

 

 

 

 

parallel themes – government incompetence

rough and unhygienic cottage

constant having a go

wind rain hail snow

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