A DAY IN THE LIFE OF
In the Vernbury Vale is a little
village called Vernham, in
which most of the buildings appear to be from the 16th century
or at least Mock Tudor. There is a little confectioner
tobacconist newsagent shop with small square panelled
windows which alternate from clear glass to bottle bottom
convex panels; they still sell sweets by the quarter and halves
from traditional glass jars. There is an open-fronted
greengrocer's that has a very fat greengrocer who proudly
shouts that his apples are lovely and green and his bananas are
ripe, but not too ripe, and his farm fresh eggs are fifteen pence
cheaper than the local supermarket. There is a butcher's that
always has rabbits and pheasants hanging upside down with
flies buzzing around them most times of year, and the most
prime and bloodiest beef steaks on display, very proud of his
pies, a board outside heralds "THE BEST PIES IN
VERNHAM, WITH GOLDEN SHORTCRUST PASTRY!" -
mind you, no one else makes pies in the village, even the local
pub pies are his. And, oh yes, his local farm fresh eggs are
fifteen pence cheaper than the local supermarket's as well!
Now the pub, 'The Grummet and Nut', which is open all
day, serves nothing but the finest ales, none of that lager
rubbish. The same people stand at the bar in the same place
seemingly all day, only returning home at teatime for the
evening meal and then back to The Grummet and Nut for
another three or four local brews. The barber always stops for
lunch at the pub for an hour before reopening for business in
the afternoon; it is said that it is always better to have your hair
cut in the morning rather than the afternoon, unless you want a
crew cut, but even then it is advisable to mask you ears with
sticky plasters just in case (prevention being better than cure).
The Gent's toilets in The Grummet and Nut are worth avoiding
too, neither of the sit-downs flush properly and the urinals are
blocked with cigarette ends, even a year after the smoking ban!
There is a toy shop that sells toys that can only be described
as collectors' items or antiques. There are only two children in
the village as most young couples moved out into neighbouring
villages when they became parents due to the lack of cottages.
The two children don't seem to be too interested in toys
anyway, preferring to make their own catapults and crossbows
to kill animals and break old people's windows.
There is a haberdashery that provides all needs for the
skilful knitters and sewers of the village with an ambitious
name, 'Haberdasher's World', a small world but a world
But the jewel in Vernham's cobblestoned crown has to be
the local tea room 'Comfytums'; not just tea and cake here,
they also serve All Day Breakfasts, but only until midday when
they change the name to Mixed Grill. This badly lit, even in
broad daylight tea room, is owned by twin spinsters Milly and
Molly Goldsworth - everyone has asked them why they never
married, I don't know why as they're quite unattractive. Even
in the black-and-white framed photographs dotted around the
walls of Comfytums showing them in their 'Land Girl' day
(yes they are quite old) with pitchforks at the ready, prove them
to be not very good catches; but there does also seem to be
great big Friesian cattle in every photo (the ones without
udders, so maybe…?). Every day Friesian cattle roam through
the village and peer into Comfytums' windows as if searching
for somebody; nobody knows where these cattle come from,
there's no dairy nearby, they just appear every day.
The food is always good at Comfytums, they even give you
little indigestion tablets with your bill instead of after-dinner
mints. The omelettes are to die for; in particular the Cajun Four
Cheese omelette is popular, a touch on the expensive side
perhaps, but they buy their eggs from the supermarket
believing the local farm fresh ones to be inferior. The farm
fresh eggs are treated with suspicion by both Milly and Molly
ever since they saw the local chickens, some of them appeared
to be double headed; soon after they bought a batch of farm
fresh eggs and they were all double yolkers. Putting two and
two together, the spinsters believed this to be a bad omen and
could encourage a spate of mutant offspring being born after
their women customers ate them. After all anything could
happen, when all is said and done - Tommy Perkins the village
odd boy is rumoured to have been conceived after his mother
was supposed to have had an illegitimate affair with old Mr
Williams' St Bernard, and Tommy does bark rather loudly. In
reality, Tommy's mother used to take Mr Williams' dog out for
regular walks as the old fellow couldn't manage it (not with his
hip!), and Tommy had whooping cough when he was eighteen
months old and is always 'a bit chesty'. And the supermarket's
eggs come from exactly the same farm-fresh farm - they are
just fifteen pence dearer, overheads you see!
At 10:00am Milly and Molly open for business; a turn of
two keys in two locks, click, click, turn the CLOSED sign to
OPEN, open the shop door, tinkle, tinkle, clang goes the bell
on a spring. This charming bell adds a touch of homely village
business to the atmosphere, at the same time alerting Milly and
Molly to customers entering the premises, but after five or six
punters come in, it can prove quite damned irritating. "Ooh,
mustn't forget to put the specials board outside, doesn't look
like rain, the chalk won't run!" thinks Molly.
At 10:02am precisely, tinkle, tinkle, clang! Mrs Bunkerton
walks in as she always does every day, looks at the menu and
says, "I think I'll try the Welsh Rarebit and a pot of tea
please?" as she always does every day. Mrs Bunkerton, kindhearted,
nice to talk to and a nosey moo, recently widowed, as
she tells everybody every day - well seven years ago actually
but who's counting - makes her way to the ladies room while
the Rarebit is being prepared to 'powder her nose' and bumps
into the giant brass bedpan 'BONG!' that could do with a bit of
'Brasso' hanging on a bitumen-soaked oak beam, as she does
Meanwhile tinkle, tinkle, clang, Mr Selsman walks in, only
after changing his Wellingtons for the clean pair always kept
by the door that Milly and Molly bought for him to
commemorate twenty years of loyal custom. This is a 'No
Muddy Wellingtons Please?' establishment and as Mr Selsman
insists that Wellingtons are the only footwear he can
comfortably wear due to his complaint(?), Milly and Molly
thought it only kind to present him with 'indoor Wellies' and
not penalise him as he was such a good customer. A long time
ago Mr Selsman walked some sheep doodles onto the terracotta
tiled floor in Comfytums and a poor old lady visitor slipped
upon the offending excreta, gashing her forehead badly on the
corner of a table. Naturally, an all out Wellie ban had to be
engaged. The indoor Wellies have a dual purpose − one, that
Mr Selsman can enjoy his tea in comfort; and two, people had
complained for a long time about the Eau de Pied fromage
pong emanating from Mr Selsman's stockinged feet, so
something had to be done! And yet, the postman told me that
he had seen Mr S wearing carpet slippers the other day when
he had to open the door to sign for the new pair of Wellington
boots that he had ordered from last month's Country Gent
magazine. Mr Selsman walks over to his favourite table in the
far corner of the tea room, squeezes in between the table and
chair and sits down, ordering a pot of tea and a muffin with a
rude click of his fingers. Molly obliges and shoots off to brew a
fresh pot for him. He takes out his newspaper from his
dogtooth chequered jacket with traditional teddy bear elbow
patches, unfolds the broadsheet, shakes it and knocks the white
sugar bowl flying, spilling out grains of white across the
ebony-black stained table. If you concentrate, the little sugar
granules look like tiny stars in a new galaxy that only Patrick
Moore could dream of.
Mrs Bunkerton returns back to the tea room refreshed, God
only knows what she's been doing in there, and says, "Oh
hello, Mr Selsman!"
"MORNING," he growls without looking up from his daily
"Nice day out there I think, Mr Selsman," says Mrs
"IS IT?" he bellows. There the conversation ends as it
always does every day.
Molly brings out Mr Selsman's pot of tea and muffin, and
Milly brings out Mrs Bunkerton's Rarebit and pot of tea.
Tinkle, tinkle, clang! In walks Miss Somerton-Jove, flustered
as usual after the everyday occurrence of heavy-breathing
phone calls at breakfast time, or so she says.
"Good morning, Miss Somerton-Jove, how are you today?"
asks Mrs Bunkerton, gesturing to a vacant seat for Miss
Somerton-Jove to sit, as she does every day.
"Oh, not too good, dear! I had another one of my turns this
morning after those blessed phone calls, I feel the end is not
too far for me now!" says Miss Somerton-Jove dumping her
more than generous rump on the offered seat, letting out a
whiff of mothballs from each pocket of her burgundy bouclé
jacket. She always smells of mothballs, she feels the fragrance
is more unique than any toilet water that you can get from the
chemist. Apart from the obvious benefits of keeping those
hungry little moths and woolly bear larvae at bay, they also
make a very good breath freshener. After too many cups of tea
and Milly and Molly's cheese and garlic quiche, should she
meet a dapper gentleman that may wish to take her out to the
evening play at the Vernham parish village hall, 'Pop a
mothball in your mouth, quiche pong gone!' as the song from a
fantasy television advert goes inside her head.
Somerton-Jove? Now that's an interesting arrangement of a
double-barrelled name. Miss Somerton-Jove's mother was a
Somerton by birth, and Miss Somerton-Jove was born a… how
can I say it politely? …well, a bastardess! The Jove bit came
about after her mother was interrogated by the village in The
Grummet and Nut as to who the father was; the young Miss
Somerton didn't know exactly. So her father shouted, "WHO
DID THIS TO YOU?" The possible guilty party who was
present looked at his watch and exclaimed, "BY JOVE!" and
dashed out pretending to be late for something or other. Miss
Somerton's father looked around the pub and said, "Who is this
damned Jove anyway? I've never heard of him!" And so the
village conceded that Jove, however a mysterious stranger he
was, must have been the sire, and so the tailpiece of Miss
Somerton-Jove's name came about to give the new baby a
noble start and remove any suspicion that she may be
illegitimate, although that is rather like plopping a liberally
thick layer of whipped cream on a horrid trifle, underneath that
layer is uncertainty. The baby, a beautiful little girl, was
eventually fortunate enough to be fostered by a normal family
and not have to grow up in a village of weirdos; but later in
life, as she grew older, she became curious about her true
mother and returned to Vernham.
Molly asks Miss Somerton-Jove what she would like to eat
and drink and points to the specials board in case she wants
something different from the usual cheese and garlic quiche.
This would be preferable because the quiche was off; or rather
she had forgotten to make it and is thinking that to distract
Miss Somerton-Jove to eat something else would be an
advantage. Miss Somerton-Jove has this awful quiche every
day and is known to be quite unreasonable if she doesn't get
her way. "Mmmm!" ponders Miss Somerton-Jove, and notices
a very huge stuffed and mounted brown trout in a glass case,
the inscription declaring that the Reverend Thomas Stilton
caught it from the River Poddum on April 1st 1926 weighing
"I'll have the trout please?" says Miss Somerton-Jove.
"I beg your pardon?" Molly queries
"The trout, that great ugly thing swimming around in that
tank!" Miss Somerton-Jove points at it with her obese
"Oh but you can't eat that," chortles Molly, "it's a
taxidermist's work and quite inedible!"
"Don't you mock me, Madam, I know a trout when I see
one and I'm looking at one now! You can't deprive me of
something that I desire when you yourself have just offered it
to me, I know about the trades description act and I demand my
rights!" shrieks Miss Somerton-Jove.
It is only 10:42am and already the unpleasantness has
begun. Sensing trouble, Molly nods to Milly and mouths the
word 'PHONE' to her. This is a common occurrence with Miss
Somerton-Jove and it isn't the first time that they have had to
telephone 'Merry Meadow', Vernham's local home for the
infirm, old and very disturbed.
Before the auxiliaries from Merry Meadow arrive, Miss
Somerton-Jove is rolling around the terracotta tiles, foaming at
the mouth and shouting, "I WANT THE TROUT, I WANT
THE TROUT!" Auxiliaries arrive, despatching Miss Somerton-
Jove quicker than a trout angler's priest, into the van, and off
they go back to Merry Meadow to be merry again.
All the while this commotion is going on, Mr Selsman
carries on reading his paper and Mrs Bunkerton enjoys her
delicious Welsh Rarebit and tea, pretending not to notice. Mrs
Bunkerton and Mr Selsman leave before the usual run of
normal-ish and noisy customers come in for their cappuccino
and Jaffa cake treats.
Another everyday regular customer Mr Wilson arrives -
tinkle, tinkle, clang, crash, smash, clump! through the door. Mr
Wilson is blind, and Milly and Molly haven't quite got the
concept of blind location and negotiation yet; each time Mr
Wilson visits he walks into a table. The reason for this is that
both Milly and Molly think that as the table proves to be a
hindrance to Mr Wilson, they have to move it to another area
so he won't bump into it next time. Of course poor Mr Wilson
never does accustom himself to the tea room as nothing is ever
in the same place. Mr Wilson lost his sight during the Second
World War - not as a soldier, he wasn't old enough. The story
goes that he and some chums as school children used to go up
to the top of 'Silver Hill' which is the highest point of the
Vernbury Vale and play 'Sungazing'. Sungazing was a
character-building exercise and a competitive one at that too.
The boys used to lie on their backs and see who could stare at
the sun the longest without blinking. Counting more than two
skylarks achieved bonus points. What the young Wilson boy
didn't realise was that although his pals didn't blink, they
cheated and had their eyes closed all of the time. One day,
'Wilson Champion Sungazer' pushed the bar too far and lost
At one time even though Comfytums had a 'No Dogs'
policy, Milly and Molly did allow Mr Wilson to bring his
beautiful old Golden Labrador guide dog with him. The only
trouble was that the old dog suffered from terrible flatulence
and used to clear the tea room in a trice. Molly once suggested
to him that "Charcoal biscuits are very good!" but Mr Wilson
said that he'd prefer the buttered scones that he normally had
and didn't quite take the hint. Nowadays he prefers a white
stick because, as all dog owners know, it's hard to come to
terms with an old friend being put down - just as well because
all of the spinster twins' profits were going on potpourri and
incense sticks! Other than that, dear Mr Wilson is no trouble at
all, although he insists on a pot of tea to pour out for himself
and either Milly or Molly rush around making sure that the tea
ends up in his cup; unfortunately the same principle as the
doorway table is applied here. One thing I have noticed though
is that Mr Wilson is always aware when a pretty young woman
comes into the tea room, he seems almost as though he's
following the girl around the room with his eyes - surely not?
Tinkle, tinkle, clang… Tommy Perkins
the odd boy walks
into Comfytums, coughs loudly and walks out again.
It's lunch time. Mr Wilson has long
departed, having gone
in the opposite direction to home - don't worry though, he's
sure to get home eventually, and after all Milly and Molly can't
be held responsible for moving his home.
A new visitor arrives with a tinkle, tinkle, clang and looks
around the tea room - it's a young lady newspaper reporter
from the Vernbury Trumpet, a weekly local rag that tells you
that nothing very much happened last week and well worth the
twenty-five pence cover price. Her name is Monica Millstone
and she's here to report on a sighting of the 'Vernham Bog
Stomper' − a local, possibly mythical beast that is said to
stomp around Sweetwater Marsh on the outside of the village.
She sits down at a table near the counter and orders an
expensive cheese and ham omelette. She explains to both Milly
and Molly what she is about and the twin spinsters enthuse.
The legend of the Vernham Bog Stomper goes back no further
in time than twenty-three years; Milly and Molly confess that
although they have never seen the beast, they have heard it
regularly, particularly on very still nights and always after
"Ooh terrible stomping noise it makes!" grimaces Molly,
shaking her head and screwing her face up as though she has
just sucked on the sourest lemon in the world.
"Ooh yes, STOMP, STOMP, STOMP," concurs Milly
portraying the sound visually with an 'I thought I was going to
break wind but was horribly wrong' kind of walk.
Now I'll let you into a secret that I wouldn't want to tell
anyone else as it would spoil the myth, and the fun… Not so
long ago I saw Tommy Perkins trying out some new shoes -
they aren't everyday shoes, they're very special. The shoes are
made from the round discs that form the lid and bottom of a
beer barrel; these discs, strapped to Tommy's feet with old
pieces of leather trouser belt nailed to them, act as a sort of
snow shoe, but are BOG SHOES!
Unbeknown to the village, Tommy works the night shift at
the Velstrum baker's across Sweetwater Marsh as he has done
for nearly twenty-three years. Velstrum, a neighbouring
village, is a twenty-minute bus ride away which takes you all
around the village and around the marsh before finally reaching
Velstrum where it terminates and returns half an hour later to
journey back to Vernham. After 10:32.5pm the buses stop
running and if you don't have a car or tricycle you have to
walk for forty-two minutes, or roller skate which can knock off
three or five minutes depending on wind direction.
With Tommy's Bog Shoes, walking across the Sweetwater
Marsh is a fifteen-minute doddle and gets him to the baker's in
time for a quick cup of tea and a smoke outside before his shift
11:30pm to 8:30am starts. Tommy may be odd, but not daft.
Tommy has also heard of the Vernham Stomper but doesn't
realise that it is he who started the myth. On some nights when
it is very still, dark and paranoia rising high, Tommy can hear
the beast chasing him; that can knock off another five minutes
and give him a bit more smoking time.
All of the Vernham populace unfairly think that Tommy is a
'benefit sponge', I don't think they realise just how hard he
works! Tommy never seems to sleep, which is a worry to his
mother; she's told him that he eats too many of those special
under-the-counter sweets from the chemist called 'Whizz
Balls' − just as well that they are expensive and he spreads
them out over a week, or he'd be gnashing his teeth like a
pneumatic road drill.
Monica Millstone, the Vernbury Trumpet reporter (just in
case you'd forgotten her after all of that waffle) notices some
attractive butterfly paintings on the shop window and
compliments on how lovely they are. Milly says, "Oh yes, we
call that accidental art!" 'Accidental art', because they are
modified graffiti made by the two children of the village.
Outside Comfytums in the summer are alfresco tables, and the
two children thought it would be great fun to paint each other's
buttocks with bright yellow vinyl gloss paint that they'd stolen
from Chris the painter, stand on the alfresco tables and press
their little botties against the window. These 'bum prints'
looked too much like bum prints to both Milly and Molly and
so they decided to modify them by turning them into
Monica Millstone shovels down her cheese and ham
omelette and says that she'd better get her skates on, as she has
eight interviews with locals who say they have seen the
Stomper, before camping out on the edge of Sweetwater Marsh
in hopes of catching some footage of the beast on her infrared
camcorder. From there, if she succeeds, the footage will be
posted on the Vernbury Trumpet's website. I hope she fails,
it'll ruin the fun!
No sooner after Monica leaves, the
enters tinkle, tinkle, clang into Comfytums - he's here to
scrounge a scone and cup of coffee under false pretences. He
comes in every day to collect for the church door fund; the
church needs a new door after it was stolen three years ago.
The church door had silver and gold embellishments and was
worth a great deal of money. The only way to keep the weather
out of the church is to stick polythene bin liners to the door
frame with cellulose tape, cheap but effective. There's no need
to fear a break-in as everything inside has been stolen as well.
So 'Old Rev' visits Comfytums every day in the hope of
raising a little more badly-needed funds.
Sadly, after the tea room the next visit is The Grummet and
Nut where he stays until kick-out time. Somehow the church
door fund always seems to get stolen every night when poor
'Old Rev' gets mugged, looking like he's been dragged
through a hedge backwards, or fallen into one perhaps?
Hopefully the collection at the Sunday morning meeting will
help. Reverend Parsworthy walks around the twenty-strong
congregation with a wooden tray collecting the freewill
offerings; anything less than fifty pence gets a 'God bless you!'
with clenched teeth. I heard some cynical swine suggest the
other day that 'Old Rev' may have sold the church door and the
church's silver communion cup to finance his craving for
liquor, how very unchristian! Reverend Parsworthy distracts
the Goldsworth twins most of the afternoon with tales of his
missionary work in the Sudan, most of his tales untrue, but he
did serve the missionary position once or twice.
Tinkle, tinkle, clang! It's Nelly Birdham - she's come here
to play the piano for afternoon tea entertainment. With a
clanking of gin bottles in her tartan shopping basket, she makes
her way to the upright piano that has a board nailed to the back
with 'NELLY WILL BE ONLY TOO HAPPY TO PLAY
ANY OF YOUR REQUESTS' and unlocks the lid revealing
ebony and ivory tinklers that look like the dentures of a very
happy piano. The locking and unlocking of the piano lid is an
important ritual as Nelly fears that some wag might swap the
keys around when she's not about. One afternoon the tea room
was subjected to a cacophony of melodies and Nelly swears
that when she wasn't looking, or swigging a big gulp of gin
maybe, somebody swapped the notes around. When the old gin
kicks in good and proper, Milly and Molly know of a little
button at the side of the piano that can flick it into pianola
mode, thus saving a mass walkout and keeping Nelly happy
thinking she's doing a grand job. The man in the off-licence
once asked Nelly if she drank 'London Dry', and she said, "No,
I think there is plenty more to be imbibed yet!"
"Hello, Nelly how are you? Your hair looks nice!" chirps
Molly. Nelly nods her head and her very nice hair tilts forward,
it's a wig, a grey wig and no one is ever sure whether she has
got it on the right way round or not. Underneath this wire wool
bird's nest is a beautiful mane of white hair, so why the wig?
Nelly peers into a dark corner and spots Mr Barnford and
mentions that he's asleep again as he often is. Mr Barnford,
now in his one hundred and second year, regularly nods off and
Milly and Molly don't like to wake him as he gets very
confused when he is woken abruptly, often running around
searching for his ARP helmet. The only trouble is that Mr
Barnford has been like that for the last five days without going
home, even the flies that keep landing on him can't wake him
from his slumber, I think somebody should phone for a doctor!
Across the road from Comfytums, Mrs Bunkerton is trying
to make her way through a herd of Friesian cattle, bobbing up
and down with arms sticking upwards being carried away as if
in a fast river current. She finally makes her way back to
Comfytums - tinkle, tinkle, clang, GASP, "The Fire Station
has burned down!" she yells.
"Ooh that's a bit of a silly place to have a fire!" says Milly.
"Yes very silly!" agrees Molly.
"Yes it is!" says Mrs Bunkerton as she leaves to find
someone who's really interested, as she does every day.
Reverend Parsworthy, now convinced that he's got about all
the dosh he's going to get from the frigid purses of the tea
room, gets up and makes his way to The Grummet and Nut.
A coach load of naughty school children arrive outside
Comfytums and herd into the tea room like a swarm of locusts.
The gaggle of pre-pubescence catches Milly and Molly with
their defences down, and the counter and all of its contents are
raided. The ruffians are gone as quick as they came without
paying for anything, even the poor old tea room door bell can't
cope under the strain of so many openings and closings.
Well, there's nothing left for the Goldsworth duo to do but
close up shop for today, Milly looks around at the aftermath
and notices Mr Barnford gone. As she tinkle, tinkle, clangs her
way outside to get the specials board in she sees the school
coach disappear with old Mr Barnford hanging out of a broken
side window, arms flapping about like a rag doll. "Well! The
little blighters have even stolen Mr Barnford!" says Milly
quietly to herself.
Milly closes the tea room door, click, click both the locks
locked, CLOSED sign turned and the twins prepare food in the
kitchen for another cheery day at Comfytums.
Walking with a purposeful zigzag from The Grummet and
Nut towards Comfytums is hairdresser Harry Helmson. Too
late to open up shop for the afternoon, he trips up on a curb
stone and falls against the tea room window. Face pressed tight
to the window, his face smears downward with a piggy nostril
expression, fast asleep - he'll stay there all night, as he does
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