As I sit reclining in my solid oak-backed chair so kindly provided to me by my parishioners, my thoughts whirl around me like a big earthworm might coil and buckle in pain after it has been sliced in two by the sharp metallic blade of a heavy spade. Coming somewhere from next door’s garden, the sharp barking cough of Arbuthnot rudely jolted me from my creative daydreaming. Arbuthnot I should explain had been hired not two weeks hence by our good neighbours, Hector and Agnetha Flump, to tend their garden and carry out general household chores while they were away visiting their son Grifter in Southern Florida.
I have to confess I was full of admiration for the Flumps when they decided to press Arbuthnot close to their bosom and entrust him with looking after their 18th century sprawling manor. Arbuthnot hadn’t been shy in regaling me with tales of his rather murky past as way of introducing himself to our little community when I bumped into him outside the newly opened Budgens in Moistbury. A former merchant seaman, Arbuthnot had spent many a day and night cramped in a tiny cabin pressed up against his fellow rugged shipmates. I recall Gumpert, my lithe live-in help, had been particularly interested in the on-board conditions Arbuthnot had so vividly described on that blowy autumnal day. So enthralled was Gumpert with Arbuthnot’s tales of tossing on the high seas that he immediately invited the salty former sea dog up to his room to help him fill in his oft thumbed maritime scrapbook which I had acquired for him as a treat from a local bric-a-brac store.
Arbuthnot’s life experiences were certainly rich and varied and I thought poor Gumpert’s eyes would fair pop out of his head when the burly handy man had shared stories of his time spent at her majesty’s pleasure. Apparently, Arbuthnot had been wrongly accused of stealing a kestrel from the local manor house and had had to endure nearly five years of imprisonment among all manner of ne’er do wells. Bunk sharing in order to keep warm at the height of the winter’s frost was not uncommon by all accounts, and poor Arbuthnot told us he often had to spend long evenings in the embrace of his sweaty cell mate just to keep the nip at bay. I could see Gumpert’s eyes widen at the horror of it all.
While I was naturally delighted that Gumpert had a new playmate and, I hoped, someone who could perhaps offer some much needed paternal guidance – my ecclesiastical affairs unfortunately precluded me from playing such a role – Arbuthnot’s rather gruff past life did fill me with trepidation. However, buoyed by the Flumps’ Christian confidence and trust in the man, I decided to let sleeping dogs lie and allowed Gumpert to spend as much time with the muscled gardener-cum-help as he liked. They would often chat for hours up in Gumpert’s room, and I was particularly pleased when Arbuthnot helped my South American assistant recreate the Saucy Calculator, Arbuthnot’s last vessel, up in his room using his bed as the poop deck and pillows for sails. At least, given the banging and moaning emanating from Gumpert’s quarters, that is what I presumed they were doing.
Arbuthnot’s coughing from next door’s garden reminded me that I had some errands to run, including, rather pertinently, the purchasing of some cough drops for Mrs Dropkick’s spaniel, Tony. At Sunday’s Evensong, Mrs Dropkick, who is not as mobile as once she was, came to me in the vestry in tears, claiming poor Tony’s hacking cough and heavy throat was keeping her up at night. As part of my pastoral duties I felt it only right that I should offer to pick up Tony’s drops from the veterinarians in Cleft High Street. It was a fine sunny day so a trip on the bicycle seemed a splendid way to reconcile Mrs Dropkick’s teary request.
Gumpert had moodily taken himself off to his bedroom that morning complaining of a pain in his thighs so I felt it best not to enquire if he wished to join me in my trip. I picked up my helmet from the rather splendid mahogany table in the back passage, so kindly provided to me by my parishioners, and stepped out into the bright sunshine to retrieve my trusty two- wheeled steed. Unfortunately I immediately noticed that the tyres were both flat and sagging heavily. Instinctively I went to call out to Gumpert to assist me, but remembering the great delight he had taken in showing me his purple and blackened inner thighs earlier that morning, I imagined that my beckoning of him would be met with even more of a duller mood than he was in currently.
Suddenly a beam of ethereal light bathed the table on the open shed door. I could just see that this divine light was glinting off a dusty tool resting against some old copies of Hymn and Hers magazine. Squinting against the light I could see that the object was indeed a bicycle pump. Suddenly my path became clear. Why, by just simply pumping the tyres I could resurrect the pneumatics from their slumped torpor and fetch Tony the spaniel’s cough drops as planned. What would have taken hours of panicked bicycle repair man searching had been cured with a few sharp pumps. Verily the Lord doth move in mysterious ways!
The Very Reverend Dr Robert Carolgees will be hosting ‘An evening with Gary Glitter’ at Cleft Village Hall next Thursday. Please bring a change of shoes and a bag of toffees for the llamas. Asthmatics are asked to book in advance.