from Jim Henderson’s A SUFFOLK DIARY Wednesday, September 27th

Words fail me, but I shall find some anyway. The village hall is no more. No, that is an exaggeration. To be more precise, it is currently a not quite completely but almost completely burned-out shell of brick and wood. The village was woken up in the early hours of this morning by the sound of sirens, fire engines, police cars – it was mayhem, and everyone turned out to watch.

The alarm was raised by Alexander Briggs, the sentry I had posted in my role as Advanced Round-the-clock Security Executive (ARSE) in the village’s organisation formed to prevent the import of lots of foreigners to sleep in the village hall – GASSE (“Go Away! Stay Somewhere Else!”) – who was woken up by the smell of smoke, and dialled 999. However, it took a while for the emergency services to arrive because we are, as has been noted previously, somewhat “out in the sticks”. (I think it would be petty of me now to take Briggs to task for having fallen asleep on the job, although I think I might have a quiet word when the dust has settled. It doesn’t hurt for youngsters to hear an occasional wise word from their elders. My wife says to “let it be”, but she has been saying that about other things lately, too.)

The hall is not a total write-off, thank goodness, but the roof will have to be replaced and the inside is quite the disaster area and will have to be completely renovated. John Garnham, the Parish Clerk, convened an emergency combined meeting of the Parish Council and GASSE this evening, and not surprisingly most of the talk was of repairs and money and what to do about the activities that normally take place in the hall, such as the Young Mother’s Knitting Society, the weekly Scrabble Lunch, the Book Group, Watercolour Art for All Afternoons, and the Christian Youth Club and the Boy Scouts and my wife’s yoga class ( Oh Yeah! Yoga!). No decisions were made, which was not very surprising. There is insurance, of course, and hopefully they will pay up without any argument, unlike when my wife reversed our Ford Focus into some shopping trolleys in the Tesco car park and made a mess of the paintwork.

How did the fire start? At the moment we do not know. According to the Fire Brigade it seems to have begun in the kitchen – I do not think it would have been rocket science to come to that conclusion – so whether or not something was left on when it should have been turned off, or something of the sort, perhaps we will find out. There is a new cookery group (“Cuisine Française Pour Tous”) that meets on Tuesday evenings, and this was only their second week. Miss Tindle has been asked to contact the leader of the group, Marjorie Leboeuf, who lives somewhere out towards Diss, to make discreet inquiries. Apparently they go to the same chiropodist in Stowmarket, and it was felt that Miss Tindle would likely be more gentle and diplomatic in her approach than anyone else we could think of. As John Garnham pointed out, we are not looking to assign blame but, and I quote, “we need to know whose bloody stupid fault it was.”

Bob Merchant who, off his own back and without GASSE authorization, has ordered a load of security fencing for the hall to keep out the unwanted foreigners, asked what he was supposed to do now it was almost certainly not going to be needed, and was told to cancel the order. What if they won’t let me cancel it? he asked. That’s your f*****g problem, put in Michael Whittingham. To which Bob Merchant replied to the effect that he had had enough of “C-word” Whittingham (seriously, the expletives! Miss Tindle was beside herself) and did he want to step outside for some reconstruction work on his mouth? It was all a lot of male hot air, of course, and when things calmed down and after another lot of rambling discussion it was eventually decided that GASSE is no longer needed, at least while the hall is out of commission, and it is being “suspended”. We will all keep our official titles and roles, and have been asked to hold on to the armbands Miss Tindle made for us in case we need them in the future. I shall not miss the meetings, to be honest. They have not achieved much except for an increasing amount of bickering. Anyhoo, I think we can relax for a while. Not even Suella Braverman would be stupid enough to try and house her foreigners in a burned-out wreck of a building. On the other hand, I think we should stay on our guard. One should never underestimate stupid.

My wife, incidentally, has already suggested that she thinks it would be fine to hold her Oh Yeah! Yoga! classes in our living room. It is quite a large room, but she can bloody well think again. In the light of recent events she is in no position to insist.



James Henderson




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