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The Scrivener: Mr Gnome's Announcements

…'Y'know,' he announced one day, 'we put up big building. We have engineer, and builder, and arch'teck.'

He would pause to let the Basic Facts sink in.

'But Ancient 'gyptians, they knew 'ow. They had no engineer. No arch'teck. But they build pyramid!' …

Brian Barratt paints a vivid and friendly word portrait of a couple who ran a tiny sandwich kiosk.

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Mr and Mrs Gnome inhabited a tiny sandwich kiosk, until an unhappy event overtook them twenty-five years ago. The whole area was only a few metres square, but elderly Mr and Mrs Gnome were very small people, and fitted in with ease.

They kept the place immaculately neat. Each plastic bowl of salad or cold meat or cheese had its proper place. The hot dog machine was in the back corner, and was supervised by Mr Gnome.

Mrs Gnome prepared and dispensed the clinically accurate sandwiches. Mr Gnome dispensed the cold drinks from the fridge and the hot pies from the pie-warmer. It all ran like clockwork.

Cigarettes, limited in variety because of space restraints, were on a high shelf on the wall. Packets were generally taken down with a pair of tongs, as the good people could not reach up without difficulty.

They came from a distant land, and were far better equipped than most of us in that they each spoke several European and Middle Eastern languages. They would proudly show photographs of their beautiful grandchildren, little girls with eyes to melt your heart. Occasionally, they would show a letter from their son the lawyer, or their son the engineer. They were wonderful people, parents and grandparents.

I imply no disrespect when I call them 'Mr and Mrs Gnome'. They were among the most charming people I have met. Nor do I imply scorn when I attempt to reproduce the way they spoke. Indeed, I think they would enjoy sharing the fun.

Mr Gnome would choose a Topic For The Day. While his wife carefully measured out the fillings of each sandwich — they were thin sandwiches but they were much cheaper than those sold by the opposition down the road — he would lean against the fridge, thoughtfully munch on his teeth, and prepare to make his Announcement.

'Y'know,' he announced one day, 'we put up big building. We have engineer, and builder, and arch'teck.'

He would pause to let the Basic Facts sink in.

'But Ancient 'gyptians, they knew 'ow. They had no engineer. No arch'teck. But they build pyramid!'

His Announcements would always come out of the blue. The Menu was fixed but you had no idea what would be on the Agenda for the day.

'Now 'ow they know? 'Ow they know to build big pyramid?' So we had a brief conversation about the wonders of ancient pyramid building. This was difficult. Although they spoke several languages, his English was not very fluent and Mrs Gnome had to interrupt to clarify the finer points.

On another occasion, his Announcment was, 'Y'know, in Isra'el they have one million Arab. One million.' He found a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote 1m, to emphasise his point. 'Now. They have four million Yews. Four million.' And he wrote 4m on his piece of paper.

I began to wonder where this was leading us.

'Now. Yews want more people. More Yews in Isra'el. They say family must have six children. Six children. They want more pop'lation.'

Mrs Gnome interrupted him for a hot Cornish pasty for a customer.

I waited.

'Now. What happen if Arab have more children than Yew? Then they have too many Arab!' And he chuckled at this apparent conundrum, waving his piece of paper.

I sought for something intelligent to say, and referred to an opposite position in countries where people were encouraged to practice birth control in order to keep the population down. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we lost the thread of the issue.

Actually, I think I was Mr Gnome's In-house Intellectual, as I never heard him discussing such complex topics with anyone else. I felt honoured, even if I didn't really know what we were talking about.

He died more than twenty years ago. His wife retired. The kiosk has closed down. And I savour the memory.

© Copyright Brian Barratt


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