The Noogan

Somewhere in Britain’s ancient and mystical landscape, there
lies a village. A place that has witnessed ages come and go. Its
stories are many. Most forgotten, some buried. And at least one
is hidden.

1939 three children were evacuated to a country village in
the south west of England. The idyllic yet antiquated village of
Abbeyton Lacey. By the end of the following summer, pretty-faced
Rosey Larchwood had disappeared. One foggy night she ran off and
was never found again.
In the summer of 1976 a schoolboy found a dilapidated diary
hidden in an overgrown garden.
But only now, many years later, the time has finally come for
him to tell of what he had discovered. The tale of those three
evacuees, consequentially of his own childhood and the dark side
of a village called Abbeyton Lacey.

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2. Abbeyton Lacey

 

 

Just like many other old villages in this island, It lay hidden in a corner of the countryside, going on more or less as it always had. In more recent years though, a motorway connecting two major cities had been built following the rise of traffic and, for better or worse, travellers seldom more needed to visit here on their route going north or south. The old highway, still used as a minor road winds along the high points of the hills. It runs this way and that, as deep green hills roll away below into hidden folds and beyond. Every so often, the road dips down, descending into what seems a leafy sub-world of lucid greens and shadowy follies. All along the low road, old drystone walls, earthy in age, are consumed in moss and ivy bound, holding back the high ground from tumbling into the narrow little passage hidden within. And the further down you come, so then does the soak from up high.  Every here and there it dribbles forth from a glistening beard of emerald moss surrounded by ferny whiskers as it seeps over rock or stone wall spreading dark to the road. Where there is not wall, the earthen banks grow high and from them, birch, elms and hazels stretch out, their trunks grappling the bank in raptor-like clutch. Above, they envelope the way in a tunnel of dappled greens. A bridge-crossing soon follows. Over secluded river then later under railway bridge. Supported by high pillars and arches, the Victorian red brick, is now almost cloaked in dark ivy, while tufts of grass grow from the crusty lime mortar encouraging it all back into the fold of mother earth. Upwards the road climbs, until once again leaving the moss caked trees and overgrown hedgerow behind for the height of the hills. Here, the stiff breeze roams, clearing away cobwebs, coppice and clutter from the emerald limbs of the sleeping giant which spreads out to forever below. Onward that road goes until passing a small turn off offering a descent downwards to somewhere. An offer that I would suggest, is best refused. Indeed, the curious traveller is advised to drive on, lest you be naively seduced and entertain the novel idea of living here. High ideas perhaps of your sophisticated lifestyle gracefully accepting a change to this simple yet idyllic place? Those who are a little wise are, after all, said to be the best of fools.

   Abbeyton Lacey is its name. Its existence is  marked by an old stone stump, easily missed, lurking in the high grass and advancing hedge which seems on the brink of tumbling. In chiseled out letters, once painted black on whiting, it is now left barefaced. It states, rather faintly, that Abbeyton Lacey is two and three quarter miles from this place and stands like a dwarfed sentry accompanying the road to the right. Mainly though, it is the other one. A signpost, all cast iron and old white paint going green. The greying letters showing through the flaky white, seem to mutter its existence like an unobtrusive afterthought to the traveller. Abbeyton Lacey is, it says, to be found two and a half miles from here. A quarter of a mile has since been lost somewhere. The differing statements in distance is either down to its boundaries having increased over the years or  perhaps that the first measurement has since been improved upon. In any case, somewhere there below, nestled in the valleys it is to be found. 

   The descending road down is far from a serene amble but a series of daunting hairpin turns and doubtful zig zags negotiating a steep tumbling landscape that falls away into great  sweeps of bright crumpled green velvet. This continues away to the faded distance where it is difficult to know which is hill and which is cloud. Further down below, the narrow way sinks lower, blinkered by the accompaniment of high elders, hips, hawthorns and hazels. All which close in on the curious as if a dead end is imminent. This rather daunting and cumbersome descent distracts travellers from the glimpses through trees and bends of the vista below and the secluded village which awaits them. On reaching the lower grounds, enclaved in dark and ancient trees, the road will be interrupted just the once by a roundabout. One that has evolved by circumnavigating the enormous and ancient rock which lay in its path. Curiously spouting a dribble of  spring water, It has forever served as a halfway drink for the weary traveller and an opportunity to change direction. A choice that is either to return from where you have come, or in past times, to head east for the monastery which now was just a ruin in the grounds of the Lesueur family. Abbeyton Lacey of course, was a name derived from that place. The Abbey and the Lacey river which runs through here. It is, I remember, as if that road delivers you almost suddenly to its heart. A high street, if a little brief, was of colorful conformity. To those traveling through, there appeared little more than quaintness here. Its old coaching Inns remained. Though now, the clatter of horses and coaches, the smell of dung, the linger of tobacco smoke and the lively taverns offering overnight board to those traveling north or south have long gone. Quiet and gentle was its manner in this age. And in the high street, village life was to be found going about its everyday business. Every requisite shopkeeper keeping their shop. The butcher hanging out hare and pheasant from his awning, while next door, the grocer filling brown paper bags with fruit or veg for his customers. Then the bakers, the chip shop, the hairdressers, the hardware store, the paper shop and so on until there at the end, the post office. Home of the one eyed postmaster. It was a street where the old and crooked timber buildings took their places along with the new and modern. As if leftover courtiers from the past monarchy, the older buildings did their best to stand up straight, pledging in allegiance to the present. A couple of miles away and it was all hedges and pastures leading to meadow and paddocks, copse and woodland. All of it gently sloped away to a boggy valley and a wooded river. As a boy, the landscape seemingly went on for miles and miles.    

   You may remember 1976 was an unusually hot summer in England. 'Heatwave' was the new word banded about that year. Suddenly everyone seemed to be using it in sentences like a fashionable exotic ingredient. I was in school then and spent my time wishing those classes away for the arrival of the August summer holidays.

                            

 

                                                                    School

 

It was an English class on a stuffy afternoon. Blue sky and fluffy white clouds could be glimpsed outside while a droning Cessna plane laboured somewhere high above. Mr Gerrard was his name and he ruled with an unstable manner that blew hot and cold. So unnerved were we that it kept us from ever questioning his teaching ability. With a professional appearance and a ferocious manner, he taught us just one memorable lesson and that would only dawn on us years later. It followed the realisation that the competency of our grammar was poorer than your average European foreign exchange student. The lesson had been the art of distraction by fear. I see his eyes, stove black and glinting from narrow hooded eyelids. They dart towards the outside corridor in mid sentence.  He is distracted. Someone that lay beyond the door has his attention to the extent now that his mind is no longer with us. He asks questions to the class but has no idea what answer is being offered back. Next, he is preparing to leave the classroom. It is of course, with the intention of cornering Ms. Bramble, another English teacher with whom he has a besotted fascination.

She is a trim and somewhat petite lady with rather attractive ash coloured hair. Straight like an Indian and cut in a bob, it sways like parallel pendulums as she walks along the corridors leaving the air gently infused with the smell of something light and floral like newly washed clothes. From behind, I suppose she could hold the attention of most men and boys alike. Indeed when seeing her face on, she is still pleasing to the eye. And her eyes in particular are probably that which makes Mr. Gerrard want to continually please her. They are large, warm and brown with eyelashes brushed to blackness. Just as a teacher underlines points that needs to be looked at again, so was applied those eyes. Sweeping arcs were her eyebrows. Wild and dark, they were plucked into shape and lingered below her ash fringe, hinting at a wilder character made to conform. After her eyes, it was a slightly square shaped face containing a short straight nose. More strong than weak and more direct than shrinking, it spoke of vitality with occasional but delicately flaring nostrils. And rather pretty though she was, she had the hint of a prizefighters daughter about her, putting her appeal into a slight decline for those men who like to be mothered rather than contested. Her maturing of years accentuated this harder look. A look she was destined for, once departing her daisy-like softness of maidenhood. She was apparently, a divorced woman and I imagined a marriage where the husband had been seduced solely by the soft bloom of her youthful years. Unlike some of the other more matronly teachers she was not ample bosomed but in fact quite flat chested. And as far as girls chests went, it was a schoolboys first sexual qualifier to see budding breasts. In a strange way, it made her seem younger. But she was feminine and pretty enough to arouse sexual fantasies in most school boys. Boys talk in the changing rooms and at the back of the class and the name Ms.Bramble was often thrown hotly into the arena without hesitation nor fear of ridicule. Then there was the raised eyebrow. I’d seen her do that during conversations, but only with the opposite sex and would suggest she well understood the sexual wanderings of their minds, in spite of whatever the topic of conversation was. Indeed, one could sense she was entertained by it. Quite different from the flowering schoolgirls, who rarely entertained such interest when sensing a males curious and aroused mind. Unless of course it was attention from a more senior boy. In such cases, the schoolgirls seemingly impenetrable wall was dissolved in moments and they became malleable and even more immature than the immature boys they so caustically rejected. Ms. Bramble was not an impenetrable wall. She was a sensual woman who seemed to offer sexual and erotic delights withheld in a lofty tower- and was amused by those who believed that they could climb her. Actually, one had the sense she would linger on the outer realms of being seduced. Perhaps she understood better than any girl that to flower is a passing thing and therefore, not forever. Receiving attention was not to be sneered at. Playing along was better than not being able to play. 

And so, to Ms. Bramble, Mr. Gerrard has gone. Enamored by her presence, her devilishly amused expressions, he was forever glancing through that window of our door, checking until she appeared from her classroom heading for the stock room. And then he was gone, wittering some excuse to us and about our behaving. It was a question I asked as to whether they had begun an affair or not. I saw him cornering her between classes. Or other times catching her at the bottom of the stairs amongst the din and scuff of herding school children. Watching from a distance I liked to make up suitable exchanges of their words to the suggestive looks and wicked smirks of their flirtatious chat. Mr Gerrard’s cheeky or daring remark was revealed by how his head quivered in accompaniment to his delivery. Sometimes during class, as we could glimpse Gerrard out in the corridor, I would dub-over their conversation to entertain those near my table. The more they laughed, the more often I’d do it. 

   When a teacher leaves his class, it becomes a dangerous time. Anarchy soon emerges and unless you can do something funny, you are a sitting duck for the dangerously aggressive ones. Roy Denby, Denzil Hodman. They would make perhaps good infantry soldiers on the front line, being sent to ram bayonets into the enemy and never ask questions. But yet deprived of that duty or any other distraction, they soon began listening to their instincts and looking around the class. Yes, a funny routine was certainly useful. A sort of security. And its debut was a precarious gamble. Should the class not laugh, you opened yourself to become the target and vengeance gladly meted out by Denby, Hodman and their creeping followers. But even if you raised a laugh from some, it might still have them resent you for being more popular or wittier than their ruling brand of class entertainment. Others attempted different things to divert unwanted attention as best they could. Some could clown, some were shrewd and those who were neither, masqueraded as supporters of moronic brutish behaviour.  When the unsuspecting got their eyes poked, when heads got thumped, faces slapped and when pack-lunches got mashed, they laughed impressively, lest they be a target too. Other than this, staying quiet, hoping not to draw attention was the only option. That was an admirable talent on its own. Some in the class could become blank and dull as a brown envelope. Later in class when Gerrard would direct his simmering wrath towards me, I sometimes wondered if he really knew what I’d been up to. On entering, he seemed to sense that some piss taking had been done at his expense by the faces around the room. And though he perhaps knew not what, his narrow eyes would too often settle suspiciously on me. I was not loud. Why did he suspect me? I’d ask myself. Soon, I knew though, the old bastard would eventually vent his anger on me.

Later, while he was gone again from the classroom and Denzil Hodman’s attention was on some other unfortunate boy, my eyes went to the window. I could see the trees in their magnificent profusion of green vitality. From the edge of the rugby fields where their affluent crowns gently nodded, to verdant hedges, pastures and unknown wooded places until descending into hazy emeraldness of what lay beyond. We were at the last hours of summer and kept unnaturally from them. To wish on the hurried approach of August and September was though, to inadvertently invite dark autumn and black winter which clings to summers tail. Winter, when home time is dark, all the daylight spent and used up between the first bell of the day and the last. Oh winter. Hibernation seemed a wonderful escape, exclusive to the animal club. It was the price I suppose for the truly idyllic summer. To each day, each bell moved us one more space forward until we would reach our reward. Blessed home time.

Mr. Gerrard breezed back in.“Pendleton!” he blasted

“Yes sir?” I answered swinging around in surprise.

“Michael Pendleton you are not here to stare vacantly out of the window. Are you boy?” The class laughed of course as we all masqueraded as supporters of Gerrard.

“No sir,” I answered,feeling ashamed.

“Right! Uummm..,” he announced loudly to the class as he tried to remember where we had left off. We were to continue with the page that we had been on. A confusing request as the whole class had not gotten further than the text books being handed out. Some looked at other tables to see if they had been left behind somewhere. Except Lisa Hadly that was. The painfully beautiful faced one who continued in blinkered fashion flicking through her Smash Hits magazine. With little attention and reaction of wrath from Gerrard, she had become conditioned. She believed the teacher didn’t see her. In truth he had abandoned confronting her. Not because he was soft, but because Lisa was seemingly unable to reason. Don't be seduced by that face though. Like some planets that are beautiful from afar, she was a raging storm of toxic chaos beneath the clouds. Her response to everything was usually an unpredictable volley of unintelligible abuse, attention-bringing shouts and denials followed by strange vengeful laughter. Maybe Mr. Gerrard was not that concerned about his students that he felt he should deal with her. He cared little about this lesson, this class. I don’t know if an eruption of his snarling anger was suitable proof of concern. He didn’t even try to organize an exercise. Nor did he feel concern that his lessons of nothing in particular would reach the ears of someone more senior. Gerrard was apparently linked to the justice court. A magistrate, so I had once been told. Surely not. Why would a magistrate want to submit himself to teaching  a secondary school rabble? Today he finished the class by chatting to us. He liked to chat and tended to speak to a select few. The ones he could pry gossip from were his focus. But he was careful though. Careful not to be the one to introduce a person’s name or story. But he deftly steered the comments towards the gossip he wanted to know, using his power, his choice of attention. 

Mr. Gerrard’s interest today was aroused with the stories about what had happened at Lynda Tilley’s party or what Lisa Fielding had done behind the cricket pavilion. He coaxed them as best he could within the confines of being a teacher. During these conference-like classes we had his most devoted and friendly attention. Some shouted out the lewd detail, which Mr. Gerrard received not with scorn or wrath but with warming delight. Perhaps he did have the makings of judge after all. Despite lessons devoid of teachings, he was certainly feared by us. We were afraid because he could explode venting furious disapproval. The sudden change, the roar, snarl, spit and six o'clock shadow had us nervous.  That dark blue three piece suit was, I remember, intimidating. And with his parrot- like nose and a thundering nasal voice, it could be turned to a rather cruel and unnerving expression. The seriousness was only broken when revealing his more perverted side. In a previous life, he could have easily fit the toga of some reclining Roman emperor. One of those strange incestuous and psychopathic types like Nero or Caligula. There was an element of this other character visible in the way he walked down the corridor. His feet moved closely together as if following an invisible line on the floor. His hands oddly, were held loosely in front as if waiting for his nails to dry.  Like a subjugated mince, it wanted to break free from his other brutish persona.

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