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Feather's Miscellany: Bob Cowling

John Waddington-Feather tells of a small-time farmer who was delivering more than milk on his daily rounds.

In the 1950s, Bob Cowling farmed a small-holding on the hillside above Utworth, four or five miles from Keighworth town centre. He hadn’t always farmed there for he’d been manager of Sir Oswald Barraclough’s estate up the Dales for some years. But when Sir Oswald’s mills packed up, the old man called it a day, sold all his Yorkshire assets including the estate, and retired to play the gentleman down south. As a result Bob was left high and dry.

He’d three daughters, one married and working in the mill as a mender, one was engaged and a weaver, and the youngest helped him on his farm. When his job as farm manager went he rented the hill farm at Utworth and raised a few milk cows, which at that time he milked by hand. Then he started a milk round – and that’s when the trouble began.

Postmen and milkmen have always been easy prey for certain ladies whose sexual appetites aren’t matched by their husbands’. From youth Bob had been good-looking, dapper and attractive, in short, a ladies’ man. So it wasn’t surprising when he became a milkman that he was taken advantage of by the aforesaid ladies.

They began timing the drawing back of bedroom blinds as Bob walked up the drive to deliver milk. To his surprise – and delight – he began being treated to full frontals of ladies scantily attired giving him the ‘come hither’ look. Being the man he was, he went thither.

It didn’t help that Edie Cowling, his wife, had let herself go. She’d once been a real cracker when they courted, but by the time she was forty she’d gone to seed. She spent most of the day gossiping with her neighbours, dressed in her overall and pinafore, with her hair in rollers and wearing an old mop-cap as she shuffled around the house doing her housework. Her figure was decidedly pear-shaped, a full King William pear shape and with the loss of figure had gone the oomph! that attracts a man. With these odds stacked against him, no wonder Bob’s milk round got longer and his time at home shorter, and by the time he did arrive home he was shattered.

That didn’t go unnoticed by Edie, and when word drifted back to her what Bob was up to she nagged him silly. Her daughters, loyal as ever, supported their mum and decided to do something about it.

The crunch came when Bob began stopping off at Madame Yvette’s house. She was a single lady past the first flush of youth but with the sap running high still. She ran what she called a ‘salon’ in the middle of town, styling herself a corsetiere, that is, fitting corsets on the upper-crustian puddings of Keighworth ladies waging war against weight. It needn’t have been a hopeless battle, but it was lost before the first salvo was fired.

If they’d eaten less and exercised more Madame Yvette would have been out of business. But her clientele (she never called them customers) loved their grub and their coffee mornings, where they munched and munched in between swapping rich bits of scandal. You see, they were ‘kept’ wives and had nothing else to do while their husbands slogged it out at work. Today they call it comfort eating, I believe, and Bob gave some of them comfort of another kind.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short the time came when Bob’s affair with Madame Yvette had gone on long enough and his daughters decided to put an end to it. They turned up at Madame Yvette’s salon one Saturday morning on the pretext of trying on corsets. Madame Yvette had no idea who they were and fussed around, pulling out items for them to see till finally Gladys, the youngest daughter, said she’d like to see a corset actually worn and would Madame Yvette oblige. Madame pranced into the dressing-room and emerged wearing only the corset, her knickers and stockings.

What happened next was chaotic. Before she knew what was happening, Madame Yvette was bundled outside by the sisters into the busy street. The shop door was slammed behind her, locked and the key dropped into the drain outside the shop.

Before they abandoned her, the sisters gave her a piece of their minds at the tops of their voices and stalked off, leaving her surrounded by a crowd of bemused onlookers. After that, her affair with Bob Cowling died the death. No charges were ever brought against the three sisters. It would have been more than her business was worth for Madame Yvette to have done that. In fact, once the tale got around town what had happened Madame Yvette got more trade. New clientele dropped in just to hear her account of what had occurred. Madame Yvette said the accusations of the three Cowling sisters were quite without foundation. But other customers gave her an old-fashioned look and went strangely quiet when Bob Cowling’s name was mentioned.

From that time, Gladys took over the milk round, while her dad managed the farm, milking the cows each day. His philandering days were done and his marriage survived. Some years later, when Edie had a stroke, Bob and his daughters nursed her till she died. A year or so later Bob himself died and was buried with her in the family grave in Utworth Cemetery.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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