Saturday 19 June 1865
To a happy midsummer’s evening in and out of Cleggy & Martina Watts-Amis’ new manor outside Hebden Bridge is added a delicious hint of gothic. As friends we sit in and amongst history – not only as a diversely employed and scattered grouping, many of whom are either at momentous times of their lives, or so fed up momentous things happening that they’re indulging in just one more momentum and then waiting for the grandkids; but also quite literally – the garden terrace having been built upon, and of, a graveyard. If the adults are unnerved they do not show it. Or at least not until it’s their turn to ‘get them in’ and they are forced to descend the stone slabs that connect the liberally-peopled upper world with the unnervingly cold and empty cellar. For it’s within these cheerfully whitewashed walls that the communal ales are stored – right beside the sacrificial slab, of which more later. The kids, as well as being universally charming (of which scrub earlier), are fearless in spite of being utterly self-possessed – none more so that robust Rosie Watts-Amis, who leads me down the garden path, quite literally, on a quest for ghosts and fairies. The boys are old enough to bash each other around but not yet to note the significance of the finite dates and fading dedications on which we rest our modern bottoms. In that aspect, as of many, all is as it should be. Those of us without look onto irrepressible life unfolding. All creatures great and....still. For one mammal amongst us hasn’t stirred since his arrival – Clarky the dog. Neither mayflies nor the meaty smells upon which they swoon can distract the minor traffic offence-solving sheepdog from looking straight down dead at the lawn.
‘Clarky, what are you looking at?’ asks Melinda, his mistress.
He shifts his head from side-to-side.
‘What’s that?’ asks Jefferson, his master.
Tilts it coquettishly.
‘I say old boy,’ I butt in, ‘what you up to?’
And then, simultaneously, a semi-circle of us realize what he’s doing –trying to work out which of the bodies to dig up first. Never has a hound been fed so much barbecued food so quickly by so many. The children look on enviously, and I swear I see young Rosie going into her playhouse to fetch a bucket and spade.
A night has passed in good voice, with Franco Kestrel’s lute supporting the moonlit howling of half-a-dozen amateurs more naturally than any organ grinder, Ploy Stanchion or sarcastic ‘Oui?’ ever could. The next morning, due to leave with Erick & Thelma, Cleggy calls us back, seconds before we can jump into the bugger’s buggy. Seems that a solid onyx larder belonging to the previous owners needs moving out of the cellar so that the local council can collect it (along with some cheap jibes about being run by ‘kaftans’ instead of ‘suits’).Needless to say, BB is not the strapping fellow he was just 8 hours earlier, and is almost pinned to the stone ‘altar’ down there for time immemorial. As Licky later comments, it wouldn’t be the first time any of us had sacrificed ourselves for the sake of a young lady’s appetites. And when Rosie wants a new larder for her iced treats, who on earth, or under it, could possibly say no?