Spike, like his predecessor Humphrey Kynaston of Myddle, could only be described as the perfect embodiment of the phrase ‘bull in a China shop’. Spike, just like his mother Joan Cool of Albrighton, was forthright and fearless. And, like his mother, Spike liked to chat. It was preferable, but not essential, for his mother to be listening; it was enough for Joan to nod her head in feigned agreement and then to continue with her own outpourings.
This might have been all well and good, but hindsight suggests that young Spike would very likely have benefited from some gentle guidance. For in the passing of time, the not-so-young Spike came to be considered as a survivor against the odds; the cat who, scuffed and skedaddled and still bubbling with ceaseless chatter, had had more than his fair share of nine lives. For if Spike spotted something of interest, he would say so – and he would say so with gusto! At full volume, and with total disregard for what could, on occasion, be some very embarrassing consequences.
Very embarrassing indeed.
Hats. Petite hats. Purple hats. And plush hats. Embarrassing Mum hats.
Joan Cool loved hats and she loved shopping. What better opportunity for an expedition to find a hat pin for her Sunday best, than a trip to see her ailing sister, Lottie, in Clitheroe, Lancashire? What better opportunity to spend the profits from her husband’s honey pot sales, out of said husband’s sight and mind – and out of her eldest son Dan’s sight and mind? Such a long way away from home! Perfect.
|Drawing by David Ring|
Best though, to leave prying youngest son’s eyes outside. “Spike,” I just need to pop into the Draper’s shop to get something for Auntie Lottie. “Won’t be a moment! You’d best wait here! Back soon!”
“You won’t even know I’ve gone!”
Boring. Spike hated shopping and he hated waiting. He thought of little brother, Dan, back at home, back at Single Lane, back helping their father with the gardening. Gardening. Boring. Spike hated gardening even more than he hated shopping. Best get on with the waiting.
It was a long wait …..
It was always a long wait for Joan Cool. And Spike was certain beyond a doubt, that Auntie Lottie was too sick to be interested in any fancy wares from the Drapery. Best make the most of it. Best investigate the locals.
… Best not ….
“Mum!” shouted Spike, yelling through the door of the Drapery. “Mum!”
“Won’t be a moment, dear. Be with you soon!
Now, I’m not quite sure that this pin will quite go with the mauve. Can you show me what else you have in your …?”
“Mum, mum! Mum, mum, mum!”
“No, no. I don’t want that brassy shade! Please do show me …”
“Mum, mum! MUUUUUUM! Come quick!”
“No, no. I really don’t think that …”
“Mum. Mum. Mum. MUM. MUM. MUM!
Mum – look! Come quick! Look, look, look! Look at the three witches! They’re coming this way! Look. LOOK! THE W – I – T – C – H -E – S”
Joan Cool had no choice but to emerge from the shop. Joan Cool had no choice but to abandon the extensive array of hat pins laid out on the draper’s counter. Joan Cool had no choice but to look. She looked and her smudgy freckles went from a peachy-pale orange, to a shocking-red shade, as her mouth opened in horror and her cheeks expanded. To be more precise about it, then she looked rather like a puffa fish. 
Pulling her precious son Spike into her side and tucking him under her overcoat, Joan, a God-fearing and upstanding member of the Church of England, immediately underwent a transformation.  Her puffed out cheeks took on a more natural appearance, as she forced the corners of her lips up into a half-moon smile and nodded cheerfully at the approaching ‘witches’. Spike, shaking, was more than happy with his overcoated sanctuary. Enclosed and suffocating, he felt safe and secure.
“Good afternoon Sisters!” Joan greeted. “Lovely day for a walk!”
“God bless you, dear! And god bless your young son! Bless him!” And the good nuns, stifling their giggles, went on their way.
White Ladies’ Priory, near Albrighton, Shropshire
“Is it safe now, Mum? Are you okay, Mum? Have the witches gone?”
“Keep your voice down! There are no witches! Those ladies are nuns!”
Joan shushed Spike up and made quick haste.
And Spike wondered at how his mum, who was so tiny, managed to take such gigantic and brisk strides that he had no choice but to emerge from her overcoat and fall behind. Puffing and panting, but still talking. Ceaselessly talking.
Still, it was best to make the most of the quiet times, relatively speaking! Because Joan Cool had a more of a preference for t
he louder-than-loud talking, than for the shrieking and screaming that ensued, back at Single Lane, when it was bath night. Baths took place, once a week, on a Saturday morning, so that her boys, Dan and Spike, would look clean and respectable, ready for Sunday morning attendance at Saint Cuthbert’s church, Donington. Filling up the bath was an arduous task in itself.
The bath was made of tin and was situated in the Wash House, an extension built onto the back of the main house. The Wash House also housed a Butler sink, wash tub, dolly and mangle. The soap was in the form of a large green block, which also served as the main cleaning agent for the washing of the Cool family’s clothes. The water for the bath had to be heated up from underneath, via a brick-built coal fire, some time in advance of the bathing rituals, and some time in advance of Jean Cool’s elbow test. The temperature had to be just right in preparation for the immersion of two small mud-encrusted boys.
Dan was in and out of the tub, all fresh and ready to scramble into his clothes, whilst his younger brother Spike, was still standing there – screeching like a cat in a gang fight! Joan did her best to force Spike into the tub, but this was very rarely achieved without enlisting the help of husband Arnold. It took two adults to get Spike into the bath and even then, he would flip his feet and knees up, and hang, from the hands of both parents, before he gave in to force and submitted to the soaping process. 
After extracting a still-screaming Spike from the tin tub, Joan let him loose and set to work scrubbing a week’s worth of laundry – in the same murky bathwater!
To be fair, though, there was one occasion on which young Spike might have had a justifiable reason for making a lot of noise. By which, I mean that the outcome was reason enough for Spike to experience the fear of the fox, as he screams in terror just before being ripped apart by a pack of beagles. One might, however, question whether, or not, the outcome could have been avoided. Because what Spike had set his sights on, Spike fearlessly, and with a total disregard for his own safety – went for!
Every year, the country folk of Cosford and Albrighton, psyched themselves up for the big day of excitement, for the day of the annual Albrighton Hunt.
|Photo by Dan Sharp, reporter at Stourbridge News|
“You ready, Dan?” asked Spike. “Why are you wasting time fixing your bicycle up now? We need to get going, if we want to catch sight of all the posh folk on and their dogs. Come on!”
“Sorry, Spike!” muttered Dan apologetically. “I can’t go. I’ve got to help dad with the honey – he’s scraped the honeycomb caps and needs someone strong to turn the handle of the extractor drum. And you can’t go getting all horsy either. You’re needed! Mum needs you to go the village on an errand! The Griffin’s are coming round for lunch and we’re out of tea leaves. You’ll have to miss the hunt this time round! Go on – I’ve fixed up your bike. It won’t be so bad to have a ride out to the village. Get going!”
“No!” wailed the seven-year old Spike. “I’ve been looking forward to the hunt all week. I’ve got to go!”
“You’re out of luck, little brother. Look on it as an adventure – your first time out on your bike without me!”
RING, RING! Spike pedalled to the village shop, as fast as his long legs would allow him. He ran into the village-shop-come Post Office, handed over his mum’s shopping list, and hopped around from foot to foot, jogging up and down whilst he waited for the tea leaves to be weighed out and bagged up.
“Hold your horses!” laughed the shop keeper. “I’m being as quick as I can. Do you need the toilet? Nip out the back if you must!”
“No, no, no. I just need …”
And Spike was off.
“I’ll put that on the tab for Joan, shall I?”
Spike was out the shop and on his bike, and he was already whizzing on down Rectory Road, under the railway bridge, through to Shackerley Lane … already on his way to the hunt. He was coming on down to Single Lane and there was no stopping …
Two men were striding on up the hill, right on into the oncoming path of the non-stop bicycle. Two men, deep in conversation.
RING, RING! Spike couldn’t understand why the men didn’t just step aside and allow him on his way. He ploughed on; perhaps they were about to make a last minute tactical move. RING, RING!
On attempting an emergency stop, Spike discovered that his brakes, expertly maintained by big-brother Dan, were in great condition. The front wheel halted immediately, and the back wheel reared up, just like a terrified back-to-front breed of horse. Spike had his first experience of flying. He was catapulted right up and over the handle bars and onto …
the gravelly lane.
Hands reached out to help him up, but young Spike barely even noticed them, let alone acknowledged them. There was a hunt to see. And Spike was on his way to see it ..
And he was up and off again.
Back to Single Lane.
“Mum, mum, mum! I’m back – I’ve got the tea leaves! Can I go over the road to see the hunt now?”
Jean Cool looked. She looked and her freckles turned white. She looked again and her whole self turned green.
As Jean turned gr
een, Spike felt a warm blobs landing on his bare knees. The kitchen floor, usually so cold, began to feel warm. Spike put his hand up to his chin. Bone. Bone and blood. His chin had been cut right open.
The hunt …?
Gassed up and stitched up and lying in a bed at the RAF hospital – so conveniently located, just across the road from his house – Spike Cool realised that, even though, he’d missed the annual hunt, he had a far more exciting tale of devilry and adventure to relay to his school mates on Monday morning. 
Images: the photo of White Ladies’ Priory is by Nilfanion, is Creative Commons Licensed and available from Wikimedia; permission has been granted by Dan Sharp (Stourbridge News) for non-commercial reuse of the Albrighton & Hagley Hunt photo (note that this is not the same as the Albrighton Hunt, and is merely intended for mood-enhancement, not factual accuracy); drawing of hat pin by David Ring available by Creative Commons License at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatpin#/media/File:Hatpin.jpg
Other sites of interest: Check out http://www.albrightontourism.co.uk/gallery.php