Sunday, May 16, 2010

Teddy: A Day in the Life

"Teddy woke up cross. Yesterday had been a bad day. He had argued with Roddy the fireman about a parking manouevre and though he still thought he was right, the argument had been his fault... But it had to be done, he was the one who had lost his temper... At least he would be glad when it was over.

He was also annoyed because one of his eyes had fallen out. They were only plastic buttons anyway, and P.C. Perry checked them regularly to make sure he was safe to drive a car, but one of them was quite badly scratched and the other sometimes fell off. He had been born in a period of quiet revolution in which the traditional strong twine was temporarily out of favour and the simple piercing mechanism was fashionable. It had not lasted long but it had left him with an important organ that did not work properly. He fumbled around in the gloom, the other eye not helping much, and pricked his finger on the missing one. He jammed it back into his head and sat up to look out of the window. The sun was shining on Dennytown, and the leaves on the trees in his little garden were rustling in the breeze. Some were already starting to turn brown and before long they would be falling off. There was some cloud over to the south which might be drifting this way. He decided to have breakfast in the garden and watch other people going to work.

...

Benny walked off with his postbag, turned again to wave as he reached the corner, and disappeared down the lane to the farm. Farmer Kelly always had a lot of letters, official forms and so forth, and Benny liked the walk between the trees to the gate of the pig pen, which he would open and then walk carefully across the smelly sludge while the pigs rubbed against his trousers in greeting. That was why he loved the country and he loved being a postman.

Tommy the paperboy had already delivered the Dennytown News and Teddy looked through it carefully. It was edited by Mr. Maddy M.A. (Cantab), who got most of it by sitting in Molly's tea-shop all day asking everybody what was going on... He firmly believed that what you did not tell people in the tea-shop was no one else's business.

He saw that Farmer Kelly had a new pig, a big black boar which would be keeping the sows company for the next few weeks. He made a note to go down and watch them all later. P.C. Perry had asked some people in the cottages not to sing so loudly when they gathered around the piano in the evening... Mr. Maddy had written a piece about how the town was changing now that a lot of people had cars and could move around more quickly and hunt badgers by clutch control.

He turned to the back where Jimmy the curate always contributed a dulcegram. Jimmy did not like the idea of cross words and so the clues were entered in a gentle curve which spiralled out and off the edge of the page. Teddy thought for a while and solved a few clues before putting it aside for later and picking up his granny's letter.

...

He learnt that her legs were not too good at the moment, she could not walk around her garden and enjoy the smell of the roses and the song of the birds unless the maid pushed her in her bathchair. She wanted to know if he would come and push her round, since he was more gentle on the bends and she liked to hear his voice describing the way the flowers moved in the breeze. The maid was not very good at it, and she was particularly bad at describing the brinking and dipping of the goldfish, and counting the bubbles of those that came to greet her. Teddy decided he would visit her that evening and take her some cakes from Mrs. Molly's. Then he could tell her his news and what was happening in the village and push her round the garden to take the twilight and count the fish.

...

'Good morning, Mr. Welly, how is the cod today?'

'Pretty good, Mr. Teddy, it's perfectly fresh, I was at the river all night with my rods and nets.'

'Well you can't get much fresher than that, but I didn't know you fished at night, and I thought you had other people to catch the fish.'

'I do, but I have to pay them more and more and they don't catch enough. And people want fresh fish and they won't fish at night, so I have to do it myself.'

'That's terrible, Mr. Welly, these young people are only out for themselves. Why is it so difficult to find people to do the work? Granny told me only this morning that she can't get the boys to sweep her chimney any more.'

'They have it too easy, Mr. Teddy, they don't have to work any more. I think its Mr. Jolly's fault. He makes everyone put more money in the collection plate for the people down in the cottages and so the young lads there don't want to work.

...

'Good morning, Bobby.'

'Good morning Mr. Teddy, how are you this fine morning?'

'Very well thank you Bobby, but I wanted to talk to you about Mr. Welly.'

'Oh yes. What about him?' Bobby began to look worried. Perhaps he had heard about Mr. Welly's problems as well.

'The thing is Bobby, he's stopped delivering, except to old ladies and the vicar, and whenever I go to his shop he tells me the same story about how difficult things are for him because the young lads don't want to work any more. I can't do anything about it and its rather dull to here the same complaints all the time. He'll lose all his customers if he doesn't cheer up. You still deliver, don't you?'

'Oh yes Mr. Teddy, I get my boys to do it. They don't get any pocket money until they've finished their rounds, in spite of what the vicar says.' He tapped the side of his nose. 'Mr. Jolly is a very good man, but he doesn't know what I know; if you give them money for doing nothing they won't do anything at all. He's never had boys, you see.'

'Well, can you deliver me a little more each week. I'm going to stop visiting Mr. Welly's shop until things get better and he cheers up.'

'Certainly, Mr. Teddy. You're the third person today who's told me they're going to stop eating fish. If things don't get better soon for Mr. Welly he'll lose all his customers.'

'Yes, that would be sad. I don't know that I'll stop eating fish, I enjoy my Saturday cod, but I might go to the river myself for a while.'

'Until things get better for Mr. Welly?'

'Yes, just until then.'

On his way to Molly's Teddy came across Mr. Jolly and greeted him earnestly. He believed in the importance of getting on with men of the cloth, who could offer all kinds of help at times when things were not going well, and whose good opinion could make the difference between being popular in the village and being thought anti-social and unacceptable.

'Good afternoon, Mr. Jolly.'

'Good afternoon, Teddy, and how are you today.'

'Very well, thank you, Mr. Jolly. How are things at the vicarage?'

'Oh, the usual problems; sick people to visit, those who don't come to church to take to task, looking after the fabric of the church building. You know we want to replace the bell?'

...

'But Teddy, you must realize that we need to encourage people to attend service so that we can change their lives, and ask for more money. The poor are always with us, as Christ pointed out. And we really must have bells that make a joyous, spiritual sound, one tinny ring is not good enough for the house of God.'

'I'm sure you're right, Vicar. Perhaps you would be doing good by taking money from the poor people. I've been talking to Mr. Welly and he says he can't get the lads to work for him because they don't need the money now that you give it to them.'

'But that isn't possible, Teddy, we only give it to those who need, the boys who are working don't need it so they don't get any. It's very simple, we give to the poor.'

'Yes, Vicar, but haven't you noticed how there are more poor than they used to be? The lads who used to catch fish and deliver for Mr. Welly won't do it anymore because if they stop work you give them money anyway. And Bobby only gets his boys to deliver the meat because he doesn't give them any pocket money unless they do. I know what you say in your sermons, but he has to get his meat delivered.'

'Are you suggesting we should stop giving money to the poor?'

'No, no, Vicar, but if you gave it to the wives of the poor instead you might find that there weren't so many of them. Then you could use the rest of the money for the bells and more people would come to worship and you would have all the benefits of a larger congregation.'

'Very true, Teddy

...

'The village as a whole. How right you are, Teddy, the common good is what we must strive for. If you will excuse me I have to look at the catalogue again, we must of course have the best bells.'

He almost ran into the vicarage in his anxiety to do good and Teddy continued on his way to Molly's.

...

How is Farmer Kelly's new boar?'

'It's a fine animal, Mr Teddy, a real beauty, and it eats like a horse, or should I say like a pig. It hasn't produced any piglets yet, but Farmer Kelly is very happy because Mr Quilly the Mayor has given him some of the money to buy it and has promised to buy at least a hundred piglets at a very good price even if not that many are born and the village doesn't need them anyway. Then he can sell them to other villages and we can make a lot of money which he can give to the people in the cottages so they don't have to work and they'll be happy as well. At least, I think that was the idea. You know the Mayor's schemes are too difficult for me to understand.'

'I'm sure that's not true, Benny, but I look forward to talking to him about it. If you will excuse me, I'd like to have a word with Roddy. Goodbye, Mrs Benny.'

Teddy went over to the counter where Roddy was talking to Molly and said hello. They ordered tea and sat down together. Their quarrel was forgotten and they talked about the work Roddy was doing.

‘You see, Teddy, a lot of the fires I have to put out shouldn’t have started in the first place. The people on the hillside road smoke in bed and set their cottages on fire. The older women like to cook with open stoves full of wood and embers fly everywhere and set things alight. People don’t control their cats and they let them climb trees and then they can’t get down. I want Mr. Quilly to let me talk to people and tell them how they can stop all this if they’re more careful.’

‘It sounds like a good idea, Roddy, but the people in the cottages never listen, no one wants to use these new cooker things and I’m not sure how you can control a cat.’

‘Ah, but we’d have inspectors you see, who would go around looking through bedroom windows and bringing people up before the Squire until they understood what we were telling them. The women would have to be taught how to use a stove safely and they could only use the sorts that we said were all right. I don’t think we could get rid of the trees, so we might have to stop people having cats unless they can prove they don’t get into scrapes. Or we could make them have big boxes to keep them in. Mr. Quilly and his people can design something that cats can live in without getting into trouble and everyone will have to use it.’

‘Won’t people be unhappy if inspectors keep looking through their windows? I wouldn’t like it. Of course I don’t smoke, and I don’t have a cat.’

They will have to understand that it’s for their own good. And we’d have to check everyone, no exceptions. It’s much easier, you see, if you have a list of everybody and you tick them off as you go.’

‘But Roddy, if you do that and it’s successful, you won’t have any work to do.’

‘Oh but I will, because I’ll be the chief inspector, in charge of all the others.’ ‘Others?’

‘Oh yes, we’ll need quite a few, I think. I’ll be very busy, and you know what Mr. Jolly says about a busy mind in a busy body. You see, I see my role as concerned with prevention rather than cure.’

Teddy realized there wasn’t much point talking to Roddy. His eyes were shining with enthusiam and Teddy didn’t want to have another argument with him since they’d just made up that morning. He decided to talk to Mr. Quilly to see if he could stop him from doing it. Or at least to make sure his name wasn’t on the list.

Teddy wondered if Mr. Maddy knew about it and what he would think. He said goodbye to Roddy and went over to him. He had finished talking to Jimmy and was frowning at his notebook.

‘Didn’t you like what Jimmy was telling you, Mr. Maddy?’ he said.

‘No, I didn’t Teddy. It was very dull. He said he had an interesting story to tell me but it’s no good, not what anyone wants to read. Still, he is a curate, different things are important to him.’

‘Surely the same things are important to all of us here, Mr. Maddy.’

‘True, Teddy, true, but we don’t all want to read about them. We have Mr. Jolly to tell us about them.’

‘Mr. Maddy, do you know about Roddy’s plans for preventing fires? What do you think of it?’

‘Not a good idea to go round telling people what to do. It’s one thing to give advice; if we could go to Roddy and get advice that would be different, but telling them what to do and making them buy new stoves and spying on them- yes Teddy, spying on them, that’s what it sounds like to me, people won’t have that. Especially the Hillside Road people, and I have to take their side in this.’

‘But we’ve always kept an eye on our neighbours, Mr. Maddy, and we have a quiet word when we need to.’

‘Different, Teddy, Mr. Quilly and his friends want to make the rules. Not things we all agree about, new rules, made by them. They like making rules, think they know best. They don’t, of course. No sense making rules no one’s going to obey, is there. You know how it is, Teddy, every now and then they start having ideas, think they should do things, start making rules. It’s probably to do with the springtime, but people don’t like it, and I’ve got to tell people what other people are thinking.’

‘Well, I must say I agree with you. Roddy is my friend and the Mayor is a fine man but I don’t want either of them telling me what to do. I hope we can stop it all before Roddy gets his inspector’s cap. He’ll be disappointed if he has to give it back.’

Teddy knew about Roddy’s enthusiasm for new ideas, especially when they involved telling people what to do. He took his responsibilities very seriously and believed in thinking ahead to stop fires and other dangers before they happened. Very worthy, Teddy thought, and very like him, but when people didn’t listen to him and started shaking their heads and avoiding him he would soon realize he was wrong and think of something else. If Mr Maddy didn’t like it that was a good start. Teddy had a good feeling about it, there wouldn’t be too much difficulty, although he had to admit that the people in the cottages did need watching.

...

It was to granny’s house he went when he left Molly’s. He had a lot of things to tell her, as he usually did. She sent the maid away and they sat down to eat the cakes.

...When he’d told everything he was going to and they’d eaten all the cakes and drunk their tea he pushed her out into the garden to feel the warm evening wind on her face and smell the flowers. Teddy told her about them all and described the smell of them and the colour of them and the way the fading light played across them and changed them, and he told her about the fish when they went to the pool. There weren’t many left since the boys discovered granny couldn’t see them from the house, but they came round again and again and he could count the same fish a dozen times until granny began to be suspicious and he took her back in and called the maid to distract her until it was time for bed.

...

At home he sat in his favourite chair for some time, reading his new book about the injustices inherent in a society in which economic disadvantage was both inbuilt by birth and perpetuated by the legitimization of the effects arising from differing abilities and characters having varying fortunes in the commercial and professional world. He found it very interesting, but it seemed to be saying that if Bobby was better at selling meat than Mr Welly was at selling fish then Bobby should give some of his money to Mr Welly

...a lot of people had said what a good book it was, Mr Jolly and Mr Quilly liked it, and it was very popular on the Hillside Road.

... Teddy liked to see Mr Kelly working hard. If he didn’t they might not have enough food to eat. He thought of the new boar and hoped it was also busy making food for them. Up on the Hillside road most of the lights were on as well. Some people there never seemed to sleep.

...as he lay in bed finishing his cocoa Teddy looked forward to tomorrow. He was sure it would be another good day. He put his loose eye on the table where he would be able to find it, and since he didn’t need to switch the light off he turned over and went to sleep."

2 comments:

Vincent said...

Oh yes, a tour de force. A cross between Animal Farm and the naughty Janet and John Stories read out by Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Except that it needs dramatic tension, a more compelling narrative; and finally a satisfying denouement, as reward to the reader.

More!

CIngram said...

Thanks for the concise but constructive criticism. It's a series of excerpts from a rather longer story, intended as biting satire, but perhaps, even when complete, it lacks a bit of zest.

It's a few years old now, but I might rework it to provide a bit more action and, as you say, a denouement, as a reward to the reader who makes it to the end.