In that distant landscape, before Hitler had made the front pages and Mr Roosevelt was a little-known politician in far-away, freewheeling USA, George V was on his throne, a little lower than the angels - we would occasionally, as a short diversion on our way home from school at quarter to four, climb over the un-fenced wall of what is now a housing estate, and run to the middle of Mr Jim Lawrence’s field, to where he had a massive heap of veritable mini-mountains of rotting, heaving animal offal and carcase wash from his slaughter house further up the road, next to the Methodist chapel.We would stand for a minute or two to experience the appalling stench, and then run on, leaving it to its black halo of a thousand million buzzing flies, climb over the gate into Memorial Road, and on round into Silver Street to the forge, where we would hang over the door, hoping to watch a horse being shod, and inhale the smell of burning hoof horn, but we were usually driven off quickly by the blacksmith. In Station Road on a Monday, if we lay flat on our stomachs on the pavement, we could peer under the closed doors of the butcher’s yard and see a big bacon pig being burnt with straw. Once a year or so, there would be Vic and his team with the horse-drawn tarpot and cart loads of sand, and the giant steam roller re-surfacing the roads. The tarpot was like a mini-locomotive with a tall chimney, and a fire to keep the tar hot. And then there was the window of the monumental mason’s shop. It’s a private house now, and for many years a ladies’ hairdresser, and before that a non-dispensing chemist, but before all that it was the display shop for the monumental mason’s tomb stones, ornamental vases and such items of the trade. He wouldn’t drive us away, he was a calm, very quietly-spoken man, full of quaint stories and dry humour. Someone asked him on the telephone one day if they could speak to his wife. “If you hang on a minute, you can listen to her,” he said, and when an irate motorist bawled at him “Do you want a flaming accident ?” he quietly inquired “How much are you asking ?”At any time when he was with a group of friends, it wouldn’t be long before a little plume of laughter arose as he related one of his dry tales. There was the one about a man who died, and his spirit arrived in heaven, and was met by St Peter, who told him to go and look into a binnacle, and he would see a vision of hell. The spirit did as he was bid, and, far below, saw a great banqueting hall, lit with chandeliers and vast tables spread out ready for a feast. And wine was being drunk, and crowds having a great time enjoying themselves.
And Peter had to call him several times before he heard him. “Coming, sir”, he said, and Peter indicated a small, plastic table on which stood a jug of clear water and a glass. Peter went off and returned with corned beef sandwiches, and as they began eating together, the spirit looked at St Peter and said “Not quite so sumptuous as down below, sir.” And Peter said “Oh well, my son, I really couldn’t be bothered cooking for two.”He was always curious to know what epitaph his clients would choose. Some, of course, harrowingly sad.. A slightly more upbeat one was “’Till the day-break”. But his favourite was “Till we meet again”, when he’d turn and say “The look out !” He had a son, Roger, extremely physically handicapped from birth, who spent all his life in a wheelchair. He never complained about it, nor was he ever depressed by it, nor wished he was like the rest of us. You’d have to say he was a pretty good example of how to accept the hand dealt, of making the best of it.Most of his days were spent pedalling around the village, picking up bits of gossip here and there, and putting two and two together, and coming up with all sorts of arithmetic. For longer journies, he had a motorised chair, and, eventually, a normal car with hand controls. A couple he drove into Wrington from Yatton station still speak with awe of the experience, and his very impaired peripheral vision all too apparent. He was always very interested in cars, and some how retained the ability all boys had in pre-war days, of recognising every car manufacturer’s distinctive engine sound. Ford, Austin, Jowett, Riley - we knew them all by their sound, and, often without looking, who was driving them. Roger could sit in his chair at the roadside, chatting, and, without turning his head as you passed from behind, he’d raise his hat ironically. There’s probably only one car in the village now with a distinctive engine noise. For many who knew him, Roger is best remembered for his comical mimicry. No one was safe from his mild mockery. There was what the doctor said to his mother when she asked if it was all right and the little old retired Yorkshireman who worked part-time in the garage, and always pronounced ‘Mercedes’ ‘mercedeey’. When Roger corrected the misreading of a poster one day, it elicited the reply “Ay, it were with not ‘avin any courses.”