from Jim Henderson’s A SUFFOLK DIARY

Tuesday, January 30th

Of late The Wheatsheaf has been figuring larger in my life than usual because home is a bit grim. It is not so much that my wife and I are not talking – being able to be silent in the company of one’s partner is (or can be) a sign of ease and comfort and oneness; you do not have to be constantly prattling away at one another – but it is that what talking we do is more or less limited to things such as “Dinner’s ready” and “I’m off to bed”, and is almost always delivered from her direction in a tone from which icicles hang. The intellectual engagement and stimulating discussion regarding the burning issues of the day are simply not there. At The Wheatsheaf there is, at least, conversation of sorts. And things are looking up insofar as the clown they got in to replace the lovely Lulu (Justin – and “clown” is far too complimentary) did not last very long. Alan Foster, the landlord, said he lost patience, and recycled the John Cleese remark from “Fawlty Towers” i.e. it would have been easier to train a monkey. Anyhoo, we now have our beverages served with a smile and a pleasing flutter of the eyelashes by the vaguely attractive and possibly 30-something (I’m guessing) Kristina, who I gather is from Eastern Europe via post-Soviet Stowmarket. Early efforts at light-hearted small talk and my trademark badinage, which usually goes down well, left her looking a little blank, so I think her English is not yet up to speed, but she knows how to pull a decent pint.

Thursday, February 1st

I very much dislike February. It is often the most depressing month of the year. My wife and I were married in a February. I forget the year.

Friday, February 2nd

GASSE (“Go Away! Stay Somewhere Else!”) – the group formed to prevent the government dumping a bunch of its unwanted (“illegal”) immigrants in our village hall – reconvened this evening because it looks like the plan to send the unwanteds to Africa may be headed for the rocks. Even if they do get away with sending some of the unfortunate people to a place that sounds about as pleasant as a Saturday night in Ipswich at closing time then it looks like there will still be loads left here with nowhere to call home. Much as we sympathize with their plight, we do not sympathize with them that much. Our village hall is a vital part of the community, and hosts a large number of important social community events, including my wife’s yoga class (Oh yeah! Yoga!).

Anyhoo, we met this evening in the Shepherdson’s summerhouse. Before things got properly underway there was the small matter of the personal contretemps that had occurred in the car park of The Wheatsheaf at the weekend between John Garnham, the Parish Clerk, and Michael Whittingham, a Parish Council member and a member of GASSE (although quite what he has ever done apart from swear has so far escaped me). John Garnham proposed a formal reprimand, asserting that Whittingham’s drunken behaviour and personal insults were unbecoming of a community representative. Whittingham, meanwhile, counter-proposed that he was still waiting for the Parish Clerk to perform the physical act he had recommended on Saturday evening. I am not going to write down all the verbal back and forth that went on – I am not even sure it will be fully recorded in the meeting’s minutes – but, long story short, Michael Whittingham is no longer a member of GASSE or of the Parish Council, and Miss Tindle, for one, has probably learned a few new words. Even I am not quite sure what some of them mean.

Once the brouhaha was done with, and Bernadette Shepherdson had made everyone a nice cup of tea and brought in a couple of plates of biscuits, we turned our attention to roles and responsibilities to see if any further changes needed to be made. That the group has only a dozen members means this was not actually very complicated. John Garnham, given that he is the Parish Clerk, remains GASSE Operations Organiser (GOO); Bernie Shepherdson is Logistics and Strategic Services (LASS); Major “Teddy” Thomas has agreed to continue to put his old army jeep at our disposal, but declined, without explanation, the title of Former Army Road Transport officer; and I am still the Advanced Round-the-clock Security Executive (ARSE). Ted Crockett, who hardly ever says anything in our meetings, surprised us all by wondering out loud why anyone needed a job title or should be called an officer, and he seemed to imply that it was all a bit unnecessary and hifalutin’. Then John Garnham asked him if he would like to be our Technology, Internet and Telecoms officer (TIT), and he accepted, so that put an end to that minor hint of dissent in the ranks. As had been mentioned at the Parish Council meeting, some people have mislaid their GASSE armbands, and Miss Tindle has undertaken to make new ones, but she said she has not had time to make them yet. She pointed out that she does have other things to do. (She did not say what they are.)

What with one thing and another we did not get around to deciding anything about what we might actually do as regards the unwanted foreigners, and because John Garnham wanted to get home to watch the second half of the rugby on television it was put off until the next meeting.

I cannot help thinking that this evening was something of a waste of time, but it is February. A few of us went to The Wheatsheaf, where I half expected to find Michael Whittingham laying in wait, but thankfully he was nowhere to be seen.

Monday, February 5th

The youth are revolting! Apparently Nancy Crowe, who last summer told us she and some of her friends thought we were being racist and xenophobic, and prattled on about the European Convention on Human Rights, has contacted John Garnham and demanded a formal meeting with the Parish Council on the grounds that GASSE does not fully represent the younger generation in the village and this is a democracy and their views should be heard. (Can views be heard? Surely they should be seen . . . But I digress . . . ) She has said that she has acquired the support, too, of our Member of Parliament. How on earth did she get that? We can never find him! Also he is supposed to be on our side. Anyhoo, it has been agreed, if only so their parents do not give us a hard time, that we will meet with a young people’s delegation next week – I assume it will have to be at a time when they are not needed on loiter duty at the War Memorial.





James Henderson







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