On a sunny evening like this I can transport myself back. You know before Maggie Thatcher and the have-it-all and have-it-now mentality. The summer then lasts forever, and no, there isn’t a drop of rain to be remembered. The Village road is dusty with straw stalks and it is dry and the Wedding must have been in late summer for our den was up in the rafters of the barn and our escape routes – slides among the thousands of rectangular bales - were steep, dark and exhilarating.
Johnny had had the whole Village of tenterhooks all that summer. Not a peep out of him, well except the usual cursory remarks. I don’t ever remember him working as such - you would always find him propped up at his garden gate across the road and opposite the Judge’s house. Just looking, waiting like some Pike at the bottom of a pond. Lurking in the depths for some unwary duckling or equal unfortunate. A brooding presence, yet not unkind as such, just angry and the older he got the angrier he became.
His house was a rented cottage; Victorian with leaded windows, tall and angular and nothing like Johnny. In fact the whole set up was the antithesis of him. It had an immaculate vegetable patch taking up the whole garden, a few large apple trees with a wooden ladder – the longest I can ever remember - propped or propping up one of fruit trees. It was there year in and year out throughout my childhood. The Brick wall round his garden was red and sinuous and low with angular coping stones, which didn’t invite you to linger.
Johnny was sharp and delighted in inverted snobbery looking down on those who: “Baint b’satisfed wi wha tha’got ‘way bobbin aboot when allus need bi yer.” And it was all there for Johnny. Although he lived alone every meal was cooked for him by his sister who would walk the mile to his house to make sure Johnny had everything he wanted. She did his laundry, cleaned his house, did all the shopping, and made sure Johnny was in someway respectably attired - this in addition to looking after her own husband and family. Come rain, wind, snow or sleet - every meal, every day, this tiny creature could be seen making her way doggedly to Johnny’s. Neither her husband or Johnny going out of their way to give her a lift even if they were driving past.
So no wonder he didn’t have to go anywhere he was waited on hand and foot. But that never seemed to satisfy Johnny.
In addition Johnny reckoned he had been hard done by especially by his landlord - Jim Elliot. Now the law had upheld Jim’s claim to some disputed land and Johnny’s ire simmered. And where did Johnny lay the blame for this – with the law. And who typified the law in the Village? The Judge.
Now Johnny’s farmyard abutted the Judge’s house and the old dairy was used as a deep litter cattle byre and on the eve of the wedding Johnny decided to make his move. He started to muck out.
Although all the cattle had been out in the fields for ages Johnny had not got round to clearing the yard where they had over-wintered – until now. The stench from the yard as well as all those flies filtered even down to our house, as did the shouts emitted from the Judge’s abode.
As you’d expect everyone downed tools and made their way to the Village Shop, or the decided to take their dogs for a walk, or basically hung around and gawped. There was Johnny revving his tractor and cupping his ear; and there was the Judge’s Lady wife – not being ladylike. The more she shouted the more Johnny revved the tractor and then it happened; although I am sure it was an accident. While revving the tractor Johnny must have let go of the brakes, the tyres spun and the Judge’s good lady was suddenly covered from head to toe in muck.
There was silence.
The all hell broke loose: the Judge’s wife screaming, the Judge, his daughter, friends and relatives yelling and threatening and Johnny trapped on his tractor laughing and shouting and cursing, having a high old time.
Then there was a a wail - the most heart rending wail I have ever heard - and Johnny’s sister was there like one of the furies. Everyone parted for her and she made a bee line for Johnny, who had suddenly turned white. He was manhandled off the tractor and every one of us quailed with the ensuing onslaught. We all scarpered.
I am not sure what happened after that but the day of the wedding dawned bright, as it should, and there was no stench in the village. Johnny’s yard was immaculate and not a stick of mud or muck could be found. He must have worked all night to clear everything away. There were bales out and bunting and the farmyard was thrown open for everyone to park their cars.
The entire village gathered to see the bride and cheer and afterwards all us children watched the comings and goings from the wedding breakfast; begging snacks from the waiters as they dived in and out of the marquee. We listened to the music as it drifted in the summer afternoon and spied through gaps in the tent or climbed trees overlooking the garden for a glimpse of the exalted ones – the ones who had an invite. We quizzed everyone about everything and then to our delight the Bride herself came with a basket of food for us all to tuck into and all the while Johnny watched the proceedings from his gate; no one dared to catch his eye; we knew that should we ever mention the incident our lives would not be worth living.Johnny was very much older at my wedding, still around, still hanging out at his gate – and there he stood watching all the comings and goings and there stood his sister watching him, watching us - and we were safe….