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Smallville: The Grapevine

Peter B Farrell had to keep a sharp eye on the Rottweilers when he went to see about a wood-burning stove.

“Eggs on toast?“ My culinary skills had been honed to the point where I could persuade the pristine new oven to boil, fry or poach the dish of the day. My wife tried, and failed, to look pleasantly surprised and settled for toast. Today she would be meeting up with the reading group at the local library, joining them at a drama workshop under the tutelage of Blakeney Point, a local thespian.

I heard it through the grapevine...“ Marvin Gaye’s classic wafted through the kitchen. Rather than tapping my foot and singing along with Marvin however, my reaction, on seeing a grinning face at the kitchen window, was to look furtive with narrowed eyelids. It was rumoured on the local grapevine that here in the Klondike, there was a rich seam to be mined and any ‘cowboy’ with a screwdriver, hammer, shovel or wheelbarrow could stake a claim.

Relief followed when I recognised the window cleaners. On this occasion they were appearing by urgent request as they knew the whereabouts of a large wood burning central heating stove going cheap. Deemed essential by the Sunday Supplements to combat rising electricity tariffs, a typical central heating range when coupled with the ingenious Briquette Maker priced at £14.99 - ’All you need is a store of old newspapers’ - would help me gain my independence from the German and French Power companies.

In exchange for a lifetime guarantee of the prospective chimney sweeping franchise - twice annually - I was given the requisite letter of introduction, applying for first refusal of any old rubbish, scrap metal or wood burning stove within a six mile radius.

“Go about four miles on the Thetford road, when you get to a lay-by take the next left, a cart track, for six miles, then look out for a caravan. Be careful of the dogs and don’t leave your vehicle. You need to see Dave. Well tanned, with an earring. Tell him you‘re the one with the house needing a makeover. He knows you’re coming. Any chance of coffee yet?“

A caravan I mused. Sounded like a gypsy family. Salt of the earth and sadly a rare sight nowadays. The wife selling sprigs of white heather and clothes pegs. So what if they do the odd bit of poaching and trading in scrap metal?

Much later, driving between the piled up scrap cars - probably earmarked for Uzbekistan - I saw no caravan, They must have meant the Winnebago with the satellite dish. They were right about the dogs though. Rottweilers I think. I just managed to get the window up in time. Their barking brought Dave outside.

“Makeover, the house.”

My shout was enough to get him to lower the shotgun and call the dogs off.

“Who sent you?”

‘The window cleaners, wood burner, central heating, big bills, the Germans, the French...” I was babbling uncontrollably at the sight of the gun.

“Come inside. Newcomer eh?”

“Sort of, but there’s no problem. I just want the wood burner you have, for a central heating system.”

I followed him into the spacious Winnebago where there was even a sun bed, which explained the tan.

His mobile phone rang. “The little woman,” he winked conspiratorially. “Hello Elspeth. Yes tomorrow, midnight, on the Eurostar. I’ll have it offloaded by then.“

He was glancing at me. From what I heard, Elspeth wasn’t out selling clothes pegs.

The wood burner lay rusting under an old tarpaulin in the ’Home Improvement Area.’ After a few minutes Dave had persuaded me, using techniques employed by the Chinese in the Korean War, that the cast iron powerhouse would solve my heating problems. It had been rescued from a nearby monastery, long since demolished.

I was still congratulating myself on having acquired such an historic piece of local history as he spat on his hand and clasped mine. Apparently the deal was struck and binding.

“You’re also entitled to a box of firelighters and I’ll even throw in the barbecue as well.”

The effects of Dave’s influence were wearing off and I looked askance at the oil drum sliced in half, but as it was free, gratis.

“A long and faithful servant, a sturdy companion during the long winter months, a great focal point.“

That evening I prepared my wife well in advance concerning the delivery of the wood burner but held back on the relative costing.

“Can’t wait to see it, anyway what a day we’ve had. Blakeney introduced us to Method acting, similar to Stanislavski. Did you know Brando, Monroe and Harvey Keitel used it?“

Unsurprisingly not Grouch Marx, but I was eager to know of any other dubious plans involving Blakeney.

“He’s joining up with a Rep company next week in Barnsley. Did you know Barnsley is the new Tuscany?“

Coal mines in Tuscany? This particular horse seemed to have come from the same stable as ‘Middlesbrough is the new Dubai.’ I was brought up amid the docks and slagheaps of the North-Eastern metropolis and I marked it down as a definite non-runner.

“In fact he’s recommending we join the local Amateur Dramatic Society.”

Oh and I’m just about to lose my mind...”

The hills were still alive to the sound of music.


© Peter B Farrell

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