Now, while I have no doubt that there isn’t one amongst us who hasn’t, at some time or other, caught something out of the corner of our eye and for a split second, perceived to have spotted a black cat leaping out of the wallpaper, I am equally convinced that there cannot be too many people out there who, whilst casually preparing a few sausages in a frying pan, are called up on the telephone by a dead auntie who insists she pops in for a natter over tea and biscuits. And yet these are the circumstances surrounding our very own Arnold Matson. Alright, he has never exactly been ‘man-of-the-year,’ but the dishevelled, quivering wreck that is currently lying in a hot bathtub, holding on to a plastic yellow duck and asking ‘Why me?’ to his aquatic mucker, is not exactly in the frame of mind to scrub himself down, dry off the torso and fill in the entry form for the ‘Brain of Britain’ contest. The poor old lad is frazzled and confused to his very core; in fact, and I’m not one to kick a man as he writhes on the carpet, so to speak, but at this precise moment in time I would wager that there are more bubbles inside Arnold’s spinning cranium than there are on the surface of his bath water.
So what’s to be done, dear jury?
Well, I’ve heard tales of chaps in similar distress who have either a) Hit the bottle (as Arnold has his own public house I can only advise him to steer well clear of that particular option, b) Take a sabbatical (not really on the cards at this moment in time as I’m pretty sure that Arnold doesn’t even know where he’s left his car keys), or c) Read the small-ads for a local exorcist and get them to pop round and do a job-lot on the entire building (Mmm…a little melodramatic for a man of Arnold’s constitution and besides, it may well turn out to be the Reverend Colin Wheatsheaf who volunteers and Arnold could find himself in a worse state than he was before…)
No, there is only one thing to do when life has got you on the ropes and the referee is looking into your eyes deciding whether or not to call off the contest…you must turn to your friends.
‘But I don’t have any,’ mutters Arnold amongst the steam and loofers. Not entirely true, Arnold, you old buzzard. There must be at least half-a-dozen people in this village who don’t find a pub landlord obsessed with insects a little odd. All Arnold has to do is try and remember who they are and invite them all round for a few drinks behind closed doors, get it off his chest, hear other people have problems like his own and realise he is not alone.
‘It might work…’ he unconvincingly mutters to his Captain Nemo toy submarine, before once more submerging beneath the waves.
Retired Signalman Harold Garstang pops in another rusk as he fastidiously makes headway at the reference library. Tracing the history of the common minnow had certainly proved a challenge, and the pain in his left temple was now the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb. His excruciating expressions had not gone unnoticed however, and Pinky, Harold’s faithful three-legged cocker spaniel in his canine wisdom, decided enough was enough.
Smirking and comatose, and now enjoying what little ventilation there is to be had on such a sultry evening, old Mr. Garstang wafts himself in his pale blue deckchair, sips approvingly on one of the Co-op’s cheaper tinctures, and drifts as his mind parasails to the larynx of Moira Anderson, purring on his Dansette.
The nuisance of the telephone in his kitchen breaks the spell and Harold toddles off to investigate.
‘Good evening, caller, do tell all.’
‘In person, my dear boy. Who’s this? Reveal thyself.’
‘It’s me, Arnold…your local friendly pub landlord,’ he added nervously as his mind hit the buffers.
‘Arnold, you little rascal. Pray tell, what’s on thy mind.’
‘Are you feeling alright, Harold?’ asked Matson, swerving nicely back to reality.
Garstang did the same.
‘Sorry, Arnold; been relaxing to a bit of music and I’m still out there. What’s up?’
‘Just wondering if you and a few of the lads fancy popping round for a few drinkies during the week. It’s that quiet on Wednesdays these days that I don’t bother opening so it would be a behind closed doors job. Nice chat, free grub and what have you.’
‘Free anything these days interests me strangely, old friend,’ said Garstang, drifting away with the fairies again.
‘Great,’ said Matson, ‘I’ll get ringing round a few of the others.’
Then, realizing he didn’t really know too many of the others he added,
‘Who do you reckon would enjoy coming, Harold?’
‘Leave it with me, Arnold, my dear. I shall fetch my lasso.’
‘Right,’ said Arnold to himself, ‘You’ve done it. The ball is rolling. It’s taken you all day to pluck up the courage to ring up some lushed-out old signalman, but you did it.’ He rattled down sardines on toast and opened his doors for another evening of local gossip and intrigue.