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The Annexe

The Annexe

The Annexe
The complete (all fourteen chapters) story in the 'Lower Methil Annexe' series!
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The Innerleven Boolin Club – 6

BACKGROUND TITLE 450 WIDE

If you were to wander along the road leading from the Innerleven Bowling Club to Lower Methil (And no! I have no idea where a Higher Methil might be, except, perhaps, in Paradise), then you would soon come to the Methil Post Office. And if you were to do so on a Tuesday, then you just might see Rachel Simpson.

She’d be standing outside, on the pavement. Message bag in hand, and her Family Allowance safely stowed away in her purse. She wouldn’t be waiting for a bus – you can’t afford a bus when you’re bringing up two bairns on the Family Allowance and an army pension. It had not been a good deal, swapping her man for a pension, and a wee bit of jungle in Malaya. Then again, she was never asked if she agreed, and I have never heard her complain. She just got on with it, and that was that.

She wasn’t there for the bairns, either. They were just across the road in the Primary School, getting an education and their ears skelped by the teachers. Safe enough, and they’d be making their own way home at four o’clock. No schoolchild over six years old would be seen dead, walking home with their mother!

There, she would be. Standing beside the Post Office, a trim wee lassie. For all the world like they had put a statue in front of that red sandstone building. Gazing out on a world of her own. A human touch to soothe the hard stone of officialdom. Always a smile. Nothing flashy, just the outward sign of a long and distant memory.
Nobody knew why she stood there, why she waited for half an hour. Then, with a slight shake of her head, she’d be off up the road. Away home.

Now, there is nothing chews away at people, quite like a mystery! Folk had watched, and folk had puzzled. Family Allowance day was the day for a blether, and all the members of The Coh-mittee would nod to each other as they went in an out of the shops in the High Street. It was the henhouse strut. Big chickens and wee chickens. Nodding and bobbing, getting the pecking order just right. Bestowing grace on those in favour, and marking those who had fallen in the eyes of the mighty. Putting them to the one side for future consideration. And gathering in petty courts, to try the disfavoured and condemn them.

Everything in its place!
Except Rachel. She was a mystery. And it’s in the very nature of The Coh-mittee to abhor a mystery. Because a mystery soon becomes a Mystery, and before you know it, it’s all in capitals. A MYSTERY! And we just can’t be doing with that.

As always, Mrs. Jeffrey had to start the proceedings.
“There’s thon Rachel Simpson. Staundin there …”“There is Rachel Simpson. Standing there …”
A crime in itself.
“Evry Tuesday. Ootside the Post Office. Same thing. Is she waitin fur summat?”“Every Tuesday. Outside the Post Office. Always the same. Is she waiting for something?”
Never one to admit to a less than perfect knowledge of the world, Big Mary just made that wee throat noise that says nothing, and admits to less.
Never in need of encouragement, Mrs Jeffrey turned to Ina, and asked a question. The wrong uestion!
“Heh Ina, Why d’ye think she staunds there?”“I say, Ina. Why do you think is the reason why she stands there?”
Ina could look down on Mrs Jeffrey (and often did!). Backing away from the impudence of being asked to think, she replied to the pin which held Mrs Jeffrey’s hat in place.
“Mebbe if ye asked her, ye’d fund oot!”“Perhaps, if you ask her, you might find the answer.”
“Ca’ dae that. It’s no fittin tae ask. It’s mebbe a private matter.”“I can’t do that. It is not fitting, to ask. It is possibly a private matter.”
“Then we’d better fund oot.” snapped Mary. “Ca’ be dae’n wi that!”“Then we had better find out.” snapped Mary. “Just cannot abide that sort of thing!”

And that’s where Eck Slater comes in to the story. If his reactions had been faster, that’s exactly where he would have slipped back out again.
Eck was sleekit, but just not fast enough that day.
Eck was the bookie’s runner. In those days, it was illegal to bet on the horses if you were not on a racecourse. Musselburgh and Ayr were too far to walk on Family Allowance day. So Eck hung around street corners. A natural, he was. Blended in with the peeling paint and the crumbling brick. There was as much black soot on his jacket as on the wall of the railway station yard, and his bonnet had generations of Brylcreem in the creases.
Not a man much affected by the education handed out to him in the school across the road, Eck couldn’t add up his toes and come to eleven. In fact, the extra toe might well explain Eck. His reading was strictly the Fun Section of the Sunday Post.
But give Eck a three-cross-double and ten shillings on Tatty Jack in the 3.30 at Wincanton, and he never got it wrong. Each way, any way. Didn’t matter. He had it all committed to memory. Couldn’t have any betting slips. It was illegal, and if the police caught you …

Eck looked shifty when confronted by Big Mary and Ina, but then again, most men avoided their gaze and tried to slip away.
“Eck Slater! A word!”
Might as well have been ‘Sit! Rover.‘ for all the chance Eck had of disobeying.
“See thon Rachel Simpson?”“Do you see Rachel Simpson, across there?”
Eck’s bonnet, the smarter part of his head, nodded.
“D’ye ken why she hings around the Post Office?”“Do you know why she waits beside the Post Office?”
Not gifted with brains, but a few pence nearer the full shilling than Mrs Jeffrey, Eck didn’t mention the subject of Big Mary’s ignorance.
“Ah could ask her?”“I could ask her?”
“Aye. You dae that!”“Yes. Go and do that!”
Rover! See the ball!
“… an back efter, mind.”“… and back afterwards. Is that clear?”
Rover. Fetch!

The Coh-mittee got back to its rightful business of judging the unworthy, and Eck sidled across to the Post Office. Eck never travelled in a straight line if he could help it.
Eyes on alert for the police ( The Police Station was just around the corner in Fisher Street), he managed to pull up alongside Rachel without ever looking in her direction.
“Mornin, Rachel.”“Good morning, Rachel.”
Rachel put away her smile, and turned towards Eck.
“Hullo, Eck. How’s the horses, then?”“Hello, Alec. How is the horse-race betting business?”
Eck squirmed.
“Wheesht! Ah dae dae the cuddies onny mair!”“Hush! I am not involved in horse racing any more!”
Watching Eck trying to wink, talk and move sideways, all at the same time, brought back the smile. If he’d been smoking a Woodbine, he’d have probably fallen over as a result of spreading his talents too thinly.
“Ah wis kindae winderin, like …”“I was kind of wondering …”
Rachel wasn’t cruel. Eck was suffering!
“Wonderin aboot what, Eck?”“Wondering about what, Alec?”
She could see where Eck’s leash led. Across the road to the Coh-mittee.
“Ah wis winderin …”“I was wondering …”
“Yes?”
“Ah wis winderin why ye ayewis staund around the Post Office on a Tuesday? No meanin tae be nosey, mind. Jist winderin.”“I was wondering why you wait beside the Post Office, every Tuesday. Not meaning to be curious, you understand. Just wondering.”
The smile grew, yet somehow gained a little sadness. Rachel turned and looked at the red sandstone wall of the Post Office.
“Why, Eck. I’m waitin here with Edward.”“Why, Alec. I’m waiting here with Edward.”
With that, Rachel turned away, and headed up the road towards home. And if Eck imagined that he had seen her eyes sparkle, then it surely must have been the light. You don’t shed a tear when you’re smiling. Surely not.

Here, boy!
The lead tugged. And Eck shuffled back to his master.
“Well?”
“The wummin’s daft, so she is!”“That woman is intellectually challenged, so she does! “
“Oh!” prompted Ina. “An hoo w’d that be?”“And how would that be?”
“She says she’s waitin wi Edward.”“She says that she is waiting with Edward.”
“Edward who?” cut in Big Mary. “There’s nae Edward that ah ken o’!”“Edward who?” interjected Big Mary. “There is no Edward that I am familiar with!”
“Hoo aboot Eddie Kinninmont?”“How about Edward Kinninmont?” said Mrs Jeffrey.
Ina addressed the hatpin again.
“Dae you be daft as weel. He’s been daed fur the past six months. Guid job, tae. What wi’ the Co-op checkin up the store books, an him bein manager.”“Stop being intellectually challenged too. He has been dead for the past six months. Good job, too. What with the Co-op accountants checking the books for the time that he was the manager.”
“Then wha’s this Edward, then?”“Then who is this Edward, then?”
Big Mary’s brow furrowed.
It was so quiet, that Big Mary and Mrs Jeffrey didn’t catch it at first.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson”
You could see that wee filament start to glow in Ina’s eye.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson!”
She laughed. She couldn’t help it. It just started to bubble out.
“Whit’s up wi you?”“What is up with you?”
Big Mary’s brow twisted up even more.
“Have ye gaun an …”“Have you gone and …”
Then Big Mary got it.
“Edward and Mrs. Simpson!”
Now Mary started to laugh, and it looked like she would never stop.
Eck looked at Mrs Jeffrey, and blank was swapped for blank.
“Whaatt?”“What!”
Through the tears and laughter, Ina looked at the baffled pair.
“Eck. She’s made a monkey o ye. Ah ken that’s no difficult, see’n as ye’re hauf wey there already.“Alec. She has made a monkey of you. I know that isn’t difficult – you must be halfway there already.”It’s a joke. Edward and Mrs. Simpson. King Edward and Wallis Simpson. The Abdication.”
“Ah dae get it.” puzzled Mrs. Jeffrey. “Whit dae ye mean?”“I just don’t understand.” puzzled Mrs Jeffrey. “What do you mean?”
Ina was doubled up by now, and could only point to the Post Office wall.
Being part of the Royal Mail, British Main Post Offices always had the Royal Crest carved on the front. Built in 1936, Methil Post Office had the initials of the King.
E VIII R
Edward the Eighth. Soon to abdicate for the love of Wallis Simpson.

In a minute, all The Coh-mittee was laughing. Eck took his chance and made himself, and his bonnet, disappear around the corner before the situation returned to normal. And things became unpleasant.

Somehow, the mystery never became a Mystery, and all the rest of the capitals were put back in the box. Nobody ever did find out why Rachel Simpson stood outside the Post Office on a Tuesday.

Unless you happened to be present at that spot a few years before, and saw Rachel say goodbye to the father of her bairns. He was going back, after a week’s leave. Back to the Army, and from there to Malaya. As she kissed him goodbye, she said the words that many an Army wife has said to her man.
“How are me an the bairns gaun manage without ye? We’ll shairly miss ye.”“How will the children and I manage without you? We shall surely miss you.”
Her man pointed to the Post Office wall, and said …
“Ye’ll be aw richt. Wait here wi Edward, an ah’ll be back!”“You will be alright. Wait here with Edward, and I’ll be back soon!”

It was called the ‘Malayan Emergency.’ It started in 1948 and finally ended in 1960.
Not soon enough for Thomas Simpson. And never for Rachel.

Coming next … The Midnight Pitboy (The Chicken Hat)

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