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A Shout From The Attic: The June Years - 8

Ronnie Bray tells of the bad-tempered boss who suddenly thought he was in mushroom heaven.

Flying Mushrooms

It is a funny thing, but I always wanted to write a story entitled, “The Day the Sea Boiled.” Since I make it a rule only to write about things I have actually experienced, it could be a long time before I lay that title down and actually tell the story. However, I have seen flying mushrooms.

The most common unlikely flying non-flying things are pigs, but since I have never seen pigs fly, I can’t write about them. In any case, if I did you’d never believe me, so I’m going to tell you about flying mushrooms.

I once drove an asphalt wagon for a road building company. One job was laying a new airstrip at a small airport in East Anglia. It took several weeks to get the strip ready for the
final surface, so that when we went to lay it, one of the road gangs had already been on site for some time.

The surfacing gang had a supervisor whose robust manner and lack of human understanding made him an outcast. He did not eat with the workmen, and spoke only to grunt instructions or rudely bark his displeasure. He had a rich vocabulary, and in the heat of an angry delivery of opinion would confuse syllables from several common cuss words to create new ones. This had the opposite effect than he intended. The gang, all grown men, took all this in their stride, allowing his individuality to be his own concern.

His social history was unknown. The feeling was that if he was married, everyone had sympathy for his wife, and, if he had children, that sympathy was extended to his offspring. Two things were known about this enigmatic man, one, his legendary greed, the other, his love of mushrooms. This is not much to know about a man, but no one had any grounds for
delving deeper.

Although he was halfway respected – he was the boss after all – he was also held in derision. Some of the bolder men jested at his expense. Sadly, although he knew how to surface roads, that appeared to be the extent of his wisdom. He could have been a classical idiot savant, but we could not be sure, and no one was going to get close enough to find out. Humour was the pattern of the asphalt gang. Even the presence of the dark overlord couldn’t change that.

My wagon was first to bowl onto the airfield that morning. The sun had risen early and was busy warming the dew and flashing off the windows of airport buildings as I drove to the
delivery point. Ten tons of hot asphalt smouldered behind me discharging its heady fumes.

The road-laying machine was being fired up, the pans having heat applied by fierce blue flames. With the engine switched off, I rolled down my window to talk to some of the workers waiting for the giant machine to start. It has been said that the devil finds amusement for idle hands: here were idle hands and the devil knew it.

Giddiness was already in the air as the dark blue car carrying our anti-hero swerved up to the gang, his face peering through the windscreen, already contorted with signs of fury as he
prepared to deliver his first missile of the day. Down came his window as he swung his face round to the aperture and opened his mouth. He was stopped in his tracks.

“Do you like mushrooms?” asked one of the more laconic asphalters, aware of the man’s passion for them.

“Yes,” answered the puzzled and unsuspecting executive.

“Take a look up there!” The speaker pointed straight-armed to a spot about three hundred yards away on the brilliant greensward.

Sure enough, the grass was speckled with hundreds of white balls. It was enough. His foot hit the gas pedal and the car lurched forward at breakneck speed.

People handle disappointment in different ways. Some take it in good part, knowing that life has a habit of not delivering on time, and that, often, it delivers not at all. This was to be one
of those occasions. It is at times such as this that our sense of humour rescues us from the awful consequences of delusions of self-importance.

This poor man had never been known to laugh or even crack a smile. Had he done so, he might have survived with his dignity intact. As he approached the mushrooms with his engine racing noisily, each one of them stood up, unfolded its wings, and flew away, converting themselves into seagulls in the process.

The mirth-ridden crew rolled onto the floor, legs buckling beneath them and hands clutching their shaking abdomens. The car rocked but did not move. Time passed in the bright
sunshine of the morning, the asphalt smoking in the clear blue air, the pans grew hotter sending a heat haze up to challenge the sun: still the car did not move.

Not a single gull remained. There was nothing to show where the mushrooms had assembled themselves as if anticipating the joke. Eventually, the car eased away, crossing the field to a different exit. He was done for the day.

When next he visited that merry band, he was noticeably quieter. His rages became less frequent, and his language more congenial. This signalled a significant shift in the dynamics between the group and their overseer, and allowed something approaching normal human relations to be placed and maintained. In time, the warm miracle that human personality alone can generate, overtook them and friendship set in.

Was it a mistake? Was the event that led to the humanisation of a fiery demon and the dissolution of a relationship whose essential characteristic was the savage interplay of animosity and ridicule, the result of a cruel joke, or a genuine mistake? You would have to ask the asphalt raker with the binoculars, who spends his weekends bird watching.

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