Saturday, March 03, 2007


Wurzel had lived in the village for as long as anyone could remember. He lived in a caravan in a field down a lane. He made a living of sorts by doing the odd job or manual labour, and also by acting as the middle-man between village need and village supply. Someone needed some bricks to finish an extension; Wurzel knew exactly where there was a stack of bricks going elsewhere in the village. Another needed to borrow a wheelbarrow and some tools for the weekend; again, Wurzel knew where such implements could be found and lent. In all this, Wurzel’s role was not especially onerous for either side. So long as he had enough to buy a couple of cans of lager in the evening, he was content. Wurzel lived in a state that was semi-permanently one degree beneath inebriation. The only moments that punctured this veneer of continuity were those days (most evenings in fact) when two of cans of Fosters had been drained, and he entered the unalloyed state of being utterly pissed. With a ruddy face, he would fail magnificently to walk in a straight line as he made his way back to his nest at eleven o’clock, in noisy dispute with himself. He would stagger, half-fall, then jump up and start laughing, a one-man band of tragicomic proportions.

My earliest memories of Wurzel come from when I used to go on my Sunday evening errand to the Coach and Horses, to buy Strongbow cider, crisps (the ones with the salt bags inside) and walnut whips for each member of the family. Wurzel would be there, in a befuddled state, propping up the side entrance where the outside bar was. A few years later, Wurzel was banned from using the pub (let alone entering it). He then had to buy his beer from the Spa.

Dad never called him Wurzel. He called him by his real name, Tony, or sometimes the more gentle Wurze. I think he felt a sense of responsibility over him. His mother, who lived somewhere in the West Midlands, used to send money to our house for her son. Dad tried not to give him too much of it all at once, to avoid sending Wurzel on a destructive bender. When the end came, it was Dad who had to make all the arrangements..

There was tragedy, hidden beneath the village bumpkin surface. The story was that Tony had been a long-distance lorry driver, and that he was involved in some kind of accident, which involved fatalities. This was cited as the reason for his ‘turn.’ Another rumour was that Tony had been a skilled craftsman, with a flair for woodwork. He had made something for someone – I think it was a doll’s house – which had impressed the recipient. There was I think a sympathy about in the village, fostered onto him from these stories, which stopped him ever being seen as a nuisance, let alone a pest.

Returning to the village for holidays, seeing Tony wandering about was part of the template of my familiar. He was part of the moving furniture of the village. Dad would complain that sometimes stuff would go missing from the garage, only for it to re-appear a few days later. Wurzel was simply going about his business, oiling the wheels of village life. Everything was quickly forgotten and forgiven.

The end, when it came, was suitably absurd. Tony was found one morning with his legs sticking up stiff through the water in the canal, by the other pub in the village. He had apparently been drinking, leaning against the low wall of the canal bridge, when a combination of gravity and intoxication pulled him backwards, head first into the four-foot high water below. There was some suspicion around the event. The police came to the village to interview people. But in the end, it was agreed that it was a very accidental death.

When Tony died, something in the village died. It became that bit more anonymous, that bit less a village, that bit more a suburb of an anonymous elsewhere town. Perhaps his ghost is there, wandering chaotically about, too jagged a path yet for anyone to notice.


Patrice,  7:27 pm  

A beautiful and touching story. Thanks for sharing.

Fred 7:53 pm  

Give the man a Darwin Award!

Talatu-Carmen 9:22 pm  

This is beautiful. I love how this story could be translated into so many different situations and cultures... it is a very human story.

Anonymous,  11:26 am  

You don't know what you've got 'til its gone! Yet another memory of the Wheaton Aston I once knew. When the village had a Worzle, when the cricket club was the hub of the village, when I knew by first name 70% of my street and all of the 'many' shopkeepers. Happy days!!

Anthony Arojojoye 10:37 pm  

Nicely told story. I'm attracted to your creative, yet subtle way of writing (esp stories).

Mike,  11:34 pm  

RIP Wurzel - I would love to know the truth about his history - ie how he really became the man that all us villagers remember. Good old Wurze - he was a real character. I would often take the dog for a walk and see him stumbling towards us or talking to a fencepost! - i was only young but never felt afraid of him

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