A peculiar prelude to The Thistledean Trilogy..........
…......old Mr Porter, the chap who looked after our communal gardens until his retirement, decided to cheer somebody up by sending them an anonymous bunch of flowers. Being spring-time......
But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We need a bit of background here. So let’s start with who we are and where we are....
Well, our town is called Thistledean and it’s way up in the north of England. It’s also a place suspended in time.
Somewhere in the distant past it missed the omnibus to the future. It sits obstinately in a cocoon at the foot of the Northumbrian Fells. As the world spins manically by outside, it is quiet and still, a liniment for the strain of modern life, a balm to an itch.
To use an oblique analogy Thistledean is a bit like Aunty Marion’s old biscuit tin, the one that makes a periodic appearance when she wants to impress visitors. On the lid it’s got a fading picture of a thatched cottage framed by a tartan border. It’s not easy to get the lid off these days as there’s a touch of rust about, made more difficult because Aunty’s fingers are a bit rheumatic. But with some huffing and puffing she manages.
The interior is that metallic gold colour that looks reassuringly expensive. Quite suitable for the high-quality, buttery shortbread from Scotland’s capital, some seventy-five miles to the north. The original contents have long gone but the tin was too good to throw away so was re-employed. It has aged gracefully, slowly maturing into an object of reassuring familiarity.
Unfortunately the (non-chocolate) digestives on offer today have less appeal since Aunty declared that she wanted her ashes interred in her tin after her demise. We chuckled at that and pointed out that a) if we put her in the tin prior to her demise there may be questions asked and b) she was being rather morbid and c) such comments could easily prejudice today’s enjoyment of our afternoon tea.
Over time her comments have augmented the legacy of the tin and added another brief footnote to it’s history. Sadly, in years to come people won’t remember the countless happy tea parties they’ll focus on Aunty’s ashes.
Yes, our town is a bit like Aunty’s tin. At first glance it looks great but it’s weathered around the edges and contains some relics. Most of our residents have grown tatty with their town, as if they’ve wrapped it round themselves like an old dressing gown.
Both tin and town were conceived somewhere back in the mists, both have a certain allure but both could perhaps do with an overhaul.
A cobbled, elongated rectangle (that we perversely call a square!) defines the centre of our town. Two-storey buildings look on, hunched over, peering malevolently at goings-on below. The thrice-weekly market is scrutinized as are regular bus-loads of visitors that come and soak in our ancient charm for a spell.
One day in the café that overlooks the square a lady was sitting beneath a parasol enjoying a latte and a lump of home made fruit-cake. Life rumbled by on the nearby cobbles as she witnessed a sequence of events that may be considered unusual elsewhere, but not here. A brown and white, floppy-eared beagle dog sat by a visitor and politely asked for a morsel of cake. The man, probably a dogist, nudged the mutt away with the toe of his boot. The hound looked at the cafe owner and in the blink of an eye the man with the offending boot was ordered to leave and barred from the café for life. Despite his protestations of innocence the man was punished for assaulting our town’s mascot. Sure, he was hard done to, but mess with our town’s treasures at your peril.
So beloved and influential was our beagle that the café's menu had a doggy theme for a while. It offered a Great Dane-ish (XL bacon sandwich), an Earl Greyhound (a quick cup of tea) and a LeonBerger (in-house, all-in, quarter-pounder). Fortunately the Shih Tzu was discontinued – in fact the entire menu was re-hashed when trends vegetarianized and meat took more of a back seat – or rump, as it were.
Just a few feet from where the lady sits, a golf buggy with a flat tyre is being issued with a parking ticket. It seems a bit unfair really, but according to our local traffic führer, rules are rules and illegally parked vehicles will be treated as equals, whatever their provenance.
‘The fact that this one,’ pointed out our warden, ‘is owned by an old duffer who can barely walk past the extent of his own stomach, is incidental. It is contravening highway regulations and will be ticketed.’ A man not to be messed with is John.
The owner of the buggy staggers up with a jack and spare tyre and commences a furious discussion with the warden. The exchange is witnessed by the lady in the cafe and recorded for posterity by a tsunami of Japanese photographers who are flooding by. The oriental snappers are in turn under the watchful eye of a fierce-looking lady wearing a yellow road-menders waist-coat. She’s known as 'The Colonel' and is a particularly intimidating member of our local security patrol force.
There you go, very briefly, that’s a snapshot of our town. Where incidentally a bit of a mystery unfolded a couple of years ago. Here, let’s start again......
…......old Mr Porter, the chap who looked after our communal gardens until his retirement, decided to cheer somebody up by sending them an anonymous bunch of flowers. Being spring-time he picked a lovely bunch of dewy daffodils. He chose two letters of the alphabet at random - ‘B’ and ‘G’, opened the phone book to the Gs and took a random stab with a pin. He landed on the name Garrity. By chance there was only one Garrity with a ‘B’ first name - Garrity, B.L. 12 Park View, Thistledean.
There was no reply to his knock so he left the flowers on the front step.
He walked by the following day and the flowers were gone so he allowed himself a smile.
Two weeks went by and a letter arrived, post-marked from Trondheim, Norway.
Dear Mr Porter
Thank you for my flowers. They are beautiful and remind me of home in times gone by.
The letter was unsigned, no date, no return address. Just that distant post-mark.
Perplexed, Mr Porter wrote a short note which he left in a water-proof plastic bag on the door-step of 12, Park View. It read....
To whoever it may concern.
Thank you for your letter.
Who are you? Are you really in Trondheim? If so, why?
Finally, I left the flowers anonymously. How did you know to thank me for them?
A further ten days went by before another letter arrived, also post-marked Trondheim.
Dear Mr Porter.
I lived in Thistledean many years ago.
I was a nurse during the war and sent to Norway. The field hospital where I was working took a direct hit, so here I remain. It's quiet now, too quiet. And it's lonely. Your lovely flowers adorn my grave.
How did I find you?
Oh, just a random stab with a pin in the telephone directory.
A peculiar tale I think you'll agree, but rather apposite for Thistledean
Overall it’s a pleasant place and the setting for the novel Twice Removed.
© Jo May 2019