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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3. The Mystical Midsummers Eve

 

 

When the home time bell rang, It felt like respite. A chance to gasp oxygen again after being submerged. All was over for another day until finally that last day came and the school holiday had begun. Long were the days and the evening light. The dark sun-warmed waters of the river Lacey move like treacle in summer. It slithers through, wide and slow keeping its plummy depths hidden. Come the evenings, it dazzles with marmalade ripples as the sun turns to a glorious furnace from beyond the hills. As if a reluctant parting from the day, he presents the warmest of farewells until all that remains is the last of his twinkling embered eye before withdrawing. After that, he lingers, just beyond the horizon. Like this, our summer land of light green boughs and trickling waters was the suns most favourite place too.

Songbirds, who see the day closing for business, are like vendors with remaining stock and fill it in an ever desperate multitude of melodies. Every momentary pause eventually taken until the air is a cacophony of trilling. An overlay of warble and song everywhere. Others like the sparrows and finches leave earlier as they prefer to be the first up before dawn. But for the ones who remain, all will chirp and warble their best notes. They strive in an effort to have the last and best flourishing word of the day. It is blackbird though, to be found perched on someone’s chimney stack, who is the reluctant one to step down off his soap box. Beautifully voiced though not the best, he will at least make sure it is blackbird that all remember for singing. He can still be heard even when thrush, robin and even stop-out starling have gone home. But eventually though, there is a quietening. It is not for emptiness but more so, a hush. A silence falls and all above, puffs of vague white cloud grow dappled and more prominent until the signature of the day’s withdrawal is left like the rippled shore from a receding tide. The sky then holds indigo while the lining of the western clouds become so incandescent it appears the sun has set them ablaze on his exit.

Then, gradually, gradually the heavenly hearth fades until those clouds are turned to charcoal silhouettes against a living hue of a scorched blue sky. And while this fiery drama plays out,all earthly dramas across the land are stilled, being left with a strange and subdued peacefulness. It is as if diminished by the great drama that has just been performed on the horizon. Down on the river, summer evenings are a time for swallows. For here,where the waters are slow and the sunlight low, dancing gnats are found. Just above the water, they are a cloud alive to a rhythm that is desperate, furious and in stark contrast to the adagio of its surroundings. And for them, the swallows fly. They swoop, arc and skim the waters surface, leaving dart shapes fading this way and that.

 

 

AN OLD FISHERMAN AND HIS TALES

 

 

It was a little further down the river from here that I would sometimes see old Wally in amongst the tuffets of long grass and reed. Dressed with a flat cap and his old frayed tweed jacket over a pair of brown washed-out dungarees, he was a familiar sight. The jacket must have once accompanied him to many a formal occasion while now it served to accompany the khaki bib and brace overalls he had been wearing before retirement. The shirt though, was his respectability. It was always clean with pressed collars. He was at his usual spot on the bank, fishing for trout. It was he who told me that swallows fly to North Africa when summer is at its end here.

There were others like Wally as you made your way along the riverbank. Dotted here and there, old fishermen appearing like solitary hidden mushrooms, nestled in quiet shadow. Wally’s equipment  comprised of his rod, hooks, sinkers, a float or two and a shopping bag containing a good handful of maggots. A well worn tweed flat cap and a tin of Old Holborne rolling tobacco completed his kit. Breadcrumbs floating on the water or the occasional plop from casting out would reveal the solitary fishermen’s presence sometimes before you saw them. They were friendly enough, as was Wally, but quiet was the way they liked it. A nod and a friendly smile was their greeting as you passed by.

“A poik took 'old a me loin,” Wally once told me, with his wispy grey eyebrows raised. He was half turned towards me and the river as he spoke. And almost in a whisper, he told me a story. “Ooh, 'e were strong fella..,” he went on and turned further to look  me in the eye. “Fer moment thought oi'd 'ooked ol' Archie 'imself. 'Ooked ‘em on mi loin,” he added with a gentle laugh while holding the stub of his roley firm in the corner of his mouth. I didn't want to interrupt Wally, but I had to know.

“Who's Archie?”

“Ol' Archie?” he questioned and looked again to make eye contact. His eyes, like tiny glimmering sapphires amongst a thousand fine crumples betrayed his age. Though it was not the lines, it was the display of indigence made frail from weathering a whole lifetime of circumstance. Then he hesitated with almost an amused twinkle in his eye. Wally was a quiet sort of man, not open to chatting much and probably less to children. Maybe he’d turn back to face the river, unwilling to chat more with me. For a moment we passed with only the Lacey’s gentle gurgle between us. My thoughts that Wally wanted his solitude back began to grow louder than the swirling waters. But then,eventually he did speak.

 “Poik,” he began.“A big'n moind. Gnashing un thrashin,heh heh heh,” he said, reliving the moment with a chuckle then took a draw on his ever present rolley while his eyes looked to his memory. “He'd taken tha' trout tha oi'd 'ooked see, n’ then goh' ‘imself 'ooked on it. Angry loik a tomcat in a bag It were...Yea,angry loik a tomcat..,” he said again shaking his head . “Up 'e came. Bit roit through me loin and back 's under 'e wen'”. With a distant look, he rubbed the white stubble of his chin. “Yea,there some big ol poiks in these ere wa'ers ”, he mused, nodding his head and  then pulling his hand out of his old canvass satchel. Next he cast a few breadcrumbs on the surface and I watched them drift away from us until they sank.

“So Old Archie is a pike fish then Wally?,” I asked, to confirm what he had just told me.

“Ol' Archie?.. Poik?. Wah there n' question,” he muttered looking out across the depths of olive green river water and falling into a silence. “Truth is my soner ..,” he began, “..no 'un really knows. Probably big o' brute. Can tell you tha',” he said nodding and observed that I was waiting for more. So Wally, aware of my attention, turned to his tin of tobacco and began make himself a new rolled cigarette. His thick fingers, worn from a lifetime of manual work, filled the paper with a meager sprinkling of tobacco and then deftly began to fashion what he called a woodbine with the rolling of his fingertips. The sudden appearance of his tongue took me by surprise as it poked out over his bottom lip and that white stubble to seal the thing until he held in his hands a cigarette not much thicker than one of the reeds he sat amongst. Bringing it to within an inch from his mouth, he began again. “'E's been known t' come up these ere wa'ers lookin fer boit o' two since oi were nipper. There 'as been stories 'bout people who've seen ducks snatched on the wa'er,even the odd swan pulled 's under. But..oi dunno 'bout tha'..,” he said with a wrinkling of his nose and looking disagreeably off into the distance.

“Really?,” I responded in surprise and to be honest, growing a little fearful as I looked on hidden depths of the wide river which spread before me. Who knew what lurked below there? It was a very big river, after all. Wally pulled out his Swan Vestas to light his thinly rolled cigarette now clamped in his mouth. With the scratch of a match and cupped hands, the end ignited into a flame as he drew and then with his finger tip, quickly tempered  down to a glow. A puff of sweet woody smoke drifted over us and he finished by shaking the swan vesta out.  

“Oi remembers ol' Mortimer Norton, was the landlord at the Horse n' Lion pub. Told a story 'bout bein out walkin’ down Grenleigh Chase wi’ 'is dog. Was a bridge crossing there, where now’s not, see. Anyhow, Mortimer said ‘e ‘ad thrown a stick fer tha’ dog. Stick settled in a part o’ the river where tha’ was dark n’ deep. A pool under the riverbank. Dog swam after he. Somat came up n’ snatched tha’ dog. Took it straight ‘s under. 'is dog didn’t have toim’ ter bark ner squeak er nothin’ ..”

“What kind of dog was it?”

“Pi' Baw Terrier. It were 'is foitin' dog. Apparently. Then again, Mortimer Norton was a man who was known to tell  a woid tale or two my soner.”

“Has Archie..,”  I ventured “... ever gotten a person?” I asked,my words coming out rather disjointed.

“Naw!” replied Wally dismissively. But then began to think of something.“Moind you,” he began,lingering on his last word,“Yerr..” he breathed, retrieving a distant memory.“Jus’ ol’ stories,you know.” He looked over at me while slowly beginning to reel his line in. It clicked one by one as Wally's hand listened to the line.Somehow disconnected from his mind which reminisced somewhere else. He mumbled something to himself in a gentle almost secretive voice.

“What happened?,” I asked.

“Jus’ stories my soner,” he replied gently, amused eyes smiling at my curiosity.  “Jus stories...”

 

It was under those luminescent indigo skies I would finish the last house of my evening paper round. I would take the short cut with my bike along the old tow path and make my way home often passing old Wally. All wind and breezes having departed for the day, everything is always quiet when a summers eve is with you. With a little time, an otherworldliness too. It brings with it wandering voices and sounds that slowly become apparent to those who will eventually listen. And those who find themselves by a river at this hour, even its gurgle and swirl can pass up whispering phrases, calls and chuckles. Brought from somewhere distant yet seemingly only a stones throw from where you stand. All is not as it seems and strange are the things I have heard at this hour. Someone calling out your name just the once. Always just the once. Or the sound of bat whacking ball followed by cheers, shouts and a ripple of clapping as if a game of cricket were continuing somewhere not far away. But in those times, when I was a boy, nothing was to be seen, no game of cricket or anything. Just the deserted paddocks where I walked by under summers indigo twilight. And then other times it is music. You may catch its feint pulse. Its shards of melody. A street band or carnival, you wonder. Elusive pipes and thumping drums. Its hard to tell as it comes intermittently like a ship on the horizon peeping over the rolling seas. The sounds of far away or of long ago. Who can know? But at these times you can be sure, a strangeness falls across the land, for it is neither night or day .'To be' and 'to have been' are somewhat undefined. Indeed all is not as clear as night and day in these strange hours.

 

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