More Tall Stories
Another Tall Story
Dear survivors, welcome, once again, to 'The Field of Corn.' I hope you are still hanging in there, and are thirsty for more. Some time ago, I watched a programme, narrated by lan Hislop, about Lord Baden-Powell and his magazine, 'Scouting for Boys', and found it very interesting and amusing, in parts. Now, History is full of stories, both fictional and true, about its characters. For example, 'The Prince and the Pauper,' written by Mark Twain, concerned Edward VI, who left the royal palace and exchanged places with a look-a-like, so that each could see how the other lived. This is my precedent for writing a tall story about Lord Baden-Powell.
An expression which Ian Hislop used, in his documentary, 'Scouting for Boys', about Lord Baden-Powell's hatred of smoking, especially by boys and men on the terraces at football matches, caused a small amount of humour for myself and for some others, but was unnoticed by Mr Hislop as amusing, prompting me to write the following story.
On being Prepared
One overcast but warm Saturday afternoon, BP left the football ground early, disgusted by the home team's performance and the usual smoking on the terraces, by the men and boys. He walked purposefully to his favourite corner shop with the intention of buying some thick cut marmalade and six crumpets to toast over his open fire. The shop was owned by his old friend Ben, a former sergeant-major, who had served with him at Mafeking.
As he walked along the somewhat deserted streets, he could hear the roar of the crowd, as several goals were scored, but he paid no attention as he concentrated on what he would write for his next edition of Scouting for Boys. Suddenly, a young, poorly dressed boy, wearing short, grey trousers and a blue pullover, but no shoes, interrupted his thoughts." Oi, meestar, can I see you across the road?" he enquired cheekily. "Of course you can," replied BP, a twinkle in his eye. "You go across and wave when you can see me. There's a good fellow." The elderly man paused, leaning on his walking stick, as the boy rushed to the other pavement. The child raised his hand and waved just as a rather large, middle-aged and equally poorly dressed woman approached him, shouting, "What 'av I told yer abaht towkin' te strange men in the street?"
"But Mum," complained the child, "'E’s not a strangear, I, know 'im. That's BP. ‘E’s bin to our scart troop. We all call 'im 'Beep'." "I don't care if he's BP, BNP, PNC or Lawd Baden-Powell 'isself," she retorted angrily. "An'anovver fing." She tried to clip the boy 'smartly' around the ear, but he ducked, screeching loudly for effect, and clapped his hands, to make her think she had reached her target. Some well practised, deft footwork took him out of the way of each swing of her arm. ''I've towld yer orfan enaff abaht runnin' acrors the road in awl that traffic," shouted the by now, red-faced woman.
As the boy screeched, yet again, BP noted that not one vehicle of any sort had passed along the street since he had entered it. He supposed that the mother was using the "traffic" as another excuse to hit her son. Immediately, the woman took hold of the boy's left ear and dragged him through the open doorway of one of the terraced houses. The boy tenaciously held on to her wrist with both hands, for fear that she might tear off his inoffensive ear. In her rage, she slammed the door behind them. Then, the bemused BP heard another, loud crack followed by the wailing of the child as he was sent upstairs to bed.
Within a few minutes, BP was outside the corner shop. He stopped and admired the sign. The words of ownership stood out in white on the
'B.Arkwright, Purveyors of High Class Dog Food'
Underneath the sign hung a picture of The Ark, with Noah holding a hammer, a saw and a set square. BP had enjoyed these puns since he had first seen them. As he opened the door, the bell on the frame tinkled, causing a voice from behind the counter to call out," Well, as I live an' breave, if it ain't me auld mucker, Lord Bob." "Hello, Ben," said BP, "how are you?"
"Can't complain, can't complain," replied Ben, cheerily." What can I do for you, Sah?" he continued, coming briskly to attention and stamping his foot on the wooden floor, as if he were on the parade ground. The large, short- haired, red- faced man twirled one side of his bushy handle-bar moustache, and brushed biscuit crumbs from his brown tradesman's coat, as he waited for BP to reply. "Well, can complain," said BP, sounding rather peeved. 'I’ve just come from the match, and apart from the home team's performance, I was disgusted by the men and boys smoking endless cigarettes on the terraces."
"Endless fags, endless fags," said Ben, thoughtfully. " Nah, vere's a fing. You wouldn't fink such fings existed, would you?" He paused and then continued," I mean, a ciggy 'as te 'ave two ends so as it can be smoked. Else it don't make no sense."
BP paused for a few seconds, realising what he had just said. He had also remembered that he had made the same comment in the copy of ‘Scouting for Boys', which he had just submitted to the editor, and he began to feel embarrassed. Just then, Ben broke the silence. ''I've 'eard you mention 'endless ciggies' before, Lord Bob, and I 'ad a word wiv a mate of mine, Bill, abart 'em. We bote 'ad a larff, and he said he would see what he could do."
Ben paused as he scanned BP's face. He was deep in thought. "Nah, if you was anyone else, I would 'ave fought that you was bein' serious, Lord Bob," he said with a smile. "But the fing of it is," he continued," Bill actually made some endless ciggies .... just fer a larf, if you sees my meanin'?"
Arkwright reached under the counter and brought out a tall, brown cardboard box, which was open at the top. It was packed with circular cigarettes. BP watched in amazement, as Ben took out a few and spread them on the counter. For once, BP had nothing to say. "Problem is," continued Ben, "in order te smoke 'em, you 'ave te set light t’e,m", and then they're no longer endless cigarettes, are they, if you sees what I mean?"
BP suddenly realised that he must be more careful how he expressed himself in future, both in writing and in speech, and he hoped he could contact his publisher before the books were printed. "If it gets printed," he thought," some wag in the future will read that comment and make fun of me."
Quickly changing the subject, so that he could leave the shop and contact the publisher in order to save the day, he said," Let me have half a dozen of those crumpets and a jar of that thick cut marmalade, would you, Ben?" Arkwright obliged, BP paid and started to leave the shop, not wishing to drag out his predicament. In his haste, he did not realise that his right foot was in the way of the door, and as he opened it, the door collided with his foot and banged against his forehead. As he called out in pain he heard Ben say, "I see you weren't prepared for that one, Lord Bob."
BP smiled weakly, as he rubbed his head and closed the door after him. He took out his watch and looked at it. "Drat," he said out loud. "It is too late to contact the editor." As he went on his way, he resigned himself to the hope that nobody would notice his comment about 'endless cigarettes'.
But we all know that it is no use just hoping, don't we? We should be prepared.