Single Lane, Albrighton, Shropshire – May 1978
One of my early memories of my Grandad is of a bald, shiny head with its back to me. A bald, shiny head sitting in a rather tatty, wooden framed armchair by the coal fire in the sitting room. I’d like to say it is a fond memory – after all there’s nothing particularly alarming about a bald head, looking for all the world like a delicious boiled egg, ready for the cracking and for the dipping of toasted soldiers.
And it was, indeed, for my eight-year-old self, a very tempting proposition of a head. It was, in fact, so irresistible that I decided – that just like its eggy counterpart – it needed a pinch of salt. Full of the joy of a lightbulb moment, I proceeded to the kitchen to procure my weapon. All grandads resembling Kojack (1) needed to be salted and mine was no exception.
Acts of mischief such as this did, of course, need to be committed with an accomplice, so I made sure to first inform my cousin, Ned, age six, of my plans. I knew he would be up for the challenge and so he was! But, being the eldest, I was the one to carry out the actual deed. Ned hid, sitting out on the almost completely vertical staircase outside the sitting room door, ready to make a getaway to the box room at the top. Grandads were, however, according to my storybooks (2), all completely fun-loving; our Grandad, likewise, was bound to find the whole experience hilarious; Ned was unlikely to need to use the escape route – it was just a precaution.
On my tiptoes, I proceeded with salt pot in hand, creeping and sneaking and slithering my way through the open door up to the back of the armchair. Arm out, a quick shake of my hand – act done! Run! No, not run – freeze. I just stood there frozen in time, shaking, terrified. Oddly enough, my accomplice had long since vanished. The shiny-volcanic head erupted and hot lava arose from the armchair. An incoherent string of what could only be called obscenities (and, therefore unrepeatable here by Jay Cool, man-of-the-cloth’s daughter) were thrown at me in white-hot rocks.
My feet started to ascend, hover and fly. I flew through the hallway, through the kitchen and out the back door, all the way down the ginormous garden and round the back of the old henhouse [Plate 1]. A stack of wooden planks, propped up against the rear wall, made the perfect hiding place. I curled up and crouched in. Then what? How long would I have to stay there: minutes, hours, days and nights?
The henhouse wall looked decidedly fragile and aged; I peered through a large gap in the once-horizontal slats, and could see an empty box, a little cubby hole, in which a hen had once laid her last egg. It occurred to me that the dark interior might harbour the ghost of the hen I’d declined to eat during last summer’s visit to Single Lane. With the remains of my breakfast threatening to make a reappearance, I recalled a tough and chewy chicken’s leg, smothered in thick orange-tinged gravy, presented to me with Grandad’s home-grown potatoes and cabbage …
I took one look at what could only be described as a feast of vomit, and complained to my Nanna of a stomach ache. “But, you’ll upset Grandad,” she protested. “He got this one ready especially for you – the last of his hens!” This did nothing to entice me to go in for a quick taster.
“Oh, it’s just travel sickness,” my mum declared. “You know what she’s like after a long journey!”
“Here, Simon,” she offered to my older brother, handing him a large plastic-squeezy tomato. “Try yours with some ketchup!” A loud fart-like eruption interjected into the awkward silence, as my brother submerged his chicken in a blood bath.
Prime opportunity. I rushed off for an emergency trip to the toilet. Bent double over the toilet bowl, I imagined, not without some smugness, my mum and dad’s faces grimacing, as they politely and heroically struggled on with their special chicken wings.
Cold, bored and defeated by the ghost of the last old hen, I crawled out from my hiding place, and proceeded with caution, back up the garden path, to find out what had happened to Ned
Nothing had happened to Ned.
Ned was grinning at me triumphantly, playing with his toy cars on the kitchen-garden lawn. And Grandad was at the kitchen sink, posing as a doppelganger for the beetroot he was peeling.
I sneaked past undetected.
Grandad said very little to me for the rest of my stay, but that was very likely because I didn’t go anywhere near him or, indeed – the salt pot!
Copyright owned by Jay Cool
(1) Kojak, for the uninformed, was a TV cop, who was supposed to use his dark wit to solve crimes. But, I didn’t find him very riveting because every time he appeared on our TV screen he chain-smoked, in between hurling abusing his suspects; hence how, besides his bald-shiny likeness to my Grandad, he became in my mind to be one and the same person as Arnold Edward Cool of Single Lane, Albrighton.
(3) At the age of eight, I was at a loss as to why my Grandad was so angry about a pinch of salt. But, many years later, my Mum told me about the old superstition: Apparently, Judas, the errant disciple of Jesus’ knocked over a salt pot at the Last Supper, a nervous accident that inadvertently signified his evil intentions. I guess, that my Mum, the wife of a man of the cloth, ought to have known about such things. Still, it was hard to fathom why a down-to-earth man of the soil, who valued the simple things in life: his throne, the football result’s pages of the Wolverhampton Daily Star, and a packet of cigarettes, had been transformed into the fires of hell over a small-scale prank. I wonder now, whether Grandad had wits enough about him to take a few seconds out of his frenzied state to perform the devil-blinding antidote of throwing some salt over his left shoulder.
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, July 2017
Disclaimer: Please refer to Jay Cool’s ‘About the Author’ blog post.