A Few of My Short Stories

Below I have set out a few of my short stories.
They are all from my own life experiencesStay tuned I will add more soon
Posted by Roy Aylmer

A Bicycle Made For Two

One day a friend of mine told me the tale of how he and his disabled daughter had enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon cycling round the country lanes. They had hired a tandem for the weekend which had been very enjoyable and had also given his daughter tremendous confidence when he let her ride in front on some of the quieter sections.The tandem was the property of the Birmingham School for the Blind. It was used by sighted people to take blind children for a ride. If it was not in use for this purpose, it was available for members of the public to hire.My wife and I often spend Sunday afternoons walking in the country and I have tried on several occasions to interest her in cycling, without success. As a child she did not had a bike, and now she lacked any motivation to try. A tandem was a splendid idea I thought!

I phoned the school to enquire and the very next Saturday hired the tandem for the weekend. When I brought it home my wife was not impressed, “I am not riding that thing round here” she said, “the neighbours might see us!”

“OK,” I said, “we’ll take it on the car; into the country somewhere and cycle from there!”

She reluctantly agreed that we would go; tomorrow!

That Sunday morning was one of those marvellous summer days, the air was fresh and warm, just like being on a Mediterranean holiday; perfect day for a tandem ride.

My wife insisted on a leisurely breakfast, just a healthy cereal with fruit, followed by toast and coffee. The emphasis was on leisurely, she was in no hurry.

I put the tandem on the roof rack; it was too big to go inside the car. I suggested that we take a picnic with us but my wife insisted that if I was going to cajole her into riding that thing, the least I could do was to buy her a Pub Lunch.

We eventually set off. “Where would you like to go to” I enquired.

“Somewhere very quiet, with no one else around” was the reply.

“How about Lapworth Junction” I offered. She agreed with indifference.

Lapworth Junction is a very pleasant location in South Warwickshire. It is where the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and The Grand Union Canal are joined by “a cut.”

The area has car parks and picnic areas with manicured lawns and barbecue places set up ready for use. There are at least four tow-paths that are perfect for walking or cycling along and there are also several bridleways and many quiet lanes in the area.

The tandem was unloaded and we had a few wobbly goes in the car park; then we set off down one of the lanes. After twenty minutes or so we came to the M40 motorway, which, at that time was nearly complete but not yet open.

“This will be good,” I said, “We can have the whole six lanes and the hard shoulders, all to ourselves.”

After we had been up and down the slip road and across the central reservation a few times, we decided to set off along the motorway, to see how far it was complete. We were going up hill for a time, this was quite strenuous. After we reached the summit it was so nice to free wheel down the far side.

We free wheeled on and on, it was marvellous, we must have gone 14 or 15 miles. It was so relaxing; we were really enjoying ourselves, travelling with so little effort.

As the motorway levelled out and we had to start peddling again, we saw the signs for Warwick. “Let’s go there for lunch,” I suggested, “Great” was the reply from behind me.

We tandemed along in the warm sunshine, into Warwick town centre, and found a nice place for our Sunday Lunch. The bike was chained to a lamp post and we went in.

The waitress said that we could have a table for two, but as they were very busy, the food may be some time. I explained that we were in no rush, they could take their time.

We had a very pleasant lunch; it must have taken a couple of hours or so. Sitting in their soft chairs relaxing we did not have a care, all was well in the world for us.

Have you ever put the wrong key into a lock and had the shock that the key would not turn and the door would not open? That was the feeling we had when we tried to get out of our chairs. It was as if somebody had set our feet in concrete whilst we sat in the restaurant.

First of all we had a laugh together and joked that we had eaten so much that we no longer had the strength to move our inflated bodies. This mood soon changed to annoyance that I really thought that a practical joker had tied me to the chair whilst we had our lunch!

The truth then dawned on us that from the morning’s exertions on the tandem, we had aches in muscles that we had not used for years. As we finally managed to get into an upright position, we found that we also had aches in places that we did not realise we had muscles.

The true facts of the situation then dawned on us that we were in agony; we were dressed in shorts and tee shirts, in Warwick. This was about 40 miles from home and also 16 miles from our car. The car was in a car-park that I would not want to leave it in overnight and we were in charge of a tandem that had to be back in Birmingham for the morning.

Our minds were working overtime as we tried to think of the best way of resolving our situation. Then the solution suddenly hit me.

Our car was parked at Lapworth, near the Grand Union Canal. This canal passes through Warwick. We are in Warwick. As everybody knows, canals have to be level.

All we have to do is find the canal in Warwick and we have a level tow-path back to our car. Simple!

In excruciating agony, we leant on either side the wretched tandem and waddled our way along the road that a passer-by had assured us, led to the canal.

My memory of the beautiful haven at Lapworth where my car was parked is of manicured lawns flowing down to block paved tow-paths. Unfortunately this is not the case at Warwick!

As we peered down at the canal from the bridge, it was difficult to imagine if either side of the canal had ever been a tow-path. It was also hard to imagine how the boats passed between the brambles that appeared to meet from either side of the canal.

With aching muscles and sinking hearts, we explored the area and finally found the overgrown tow-path.

The ground was so uneven that cycling was out of the question; we could not even push the dammed thing, I had to carry it. You cannot imagine how heavy a tandem is, especially when you need all your strength just to carry yourself upright.

As we left Warwick the tow-path became recognisable as just that. I assured my wife in triumph that we could now leisurely ride our machine along a nice level tow-path, back to the car. She was not impressed but she was hopeful that I was right.

Over the years we have walked most of the lanes and the tow-paths in this area and I was sure I knew them all. For some unbelievable, extra-ordinary reason one part of the local topography had eluded me. At Hatton, on the Grand Union Canal, there is a flight of 20 locks!

As we passed under the A46 trunk road, The Hatton locks rose majestically in front of us, looking every inch of their 100 foot height!

To cycle up this flight would be like trying to ride up the roof of a house. I tried to assure my wife that if we took a run at it, we may get half to three quarters of the way up.

With severely aching limbs beginning to regain their movement, we mounted the tandem and took a run at the path that ran to the side of the locks. It was not a smooth slope but a series of level sections and then steep parts.

On the first level section we managed to achieve enough speed to help us up the next slope. I tried to shout encouragement back to my wife, saying that it was not as bad as we had feared. I then shouted that she must push hard on the pedals as we climb the next rise.

The next rise was very hard to climb. As the bike slowed and I pushed with all my strength, I noticed my wife’s feet sticking straight out either side. We came to an abrupt stop and nearly toppled into the deep section of the canal lock.

“Why are you not pushing,” I yelled, “We nearly made it that time.”

“Don’t you shout at me,” my wife screamed back at me, “You are the one that got us into this mess.”

“I didn’t want to ride it here; I didn’t want to ride it anywhere and I am not riding it again.” With that she flounced off up the hill.

What a weight this contraption is I thought as I tried to encourage passers-by to help me push it. The trouble was that the few people around were helpless with laughter, embarrassed at the spectacle before them, or both.

When I finally reached the summit, my wife was waiting for me, sitting on a bench. We kissed and made up and tried to ride the tandem along the now level tow-path.

“There are no more locks between here and Lapworth,” I promised her, “I checked with a boating couple who have just come down from there. It is about 6 miles along a level canal, so we should get back to the car within the hour, without any further problem.”

For the first time since we reached the tow-path, we were at last able to ride the tandem, it was such a relief. There were no lights on the tandem and it was now beginning to get dark, we could see the canal glistening before us in the half light, it was a lovely sight.

I say the canal was a lovely sight, but I could not see where the tow-path went? Maybe it was just a trick of the rapidly fading light.

No it was not! The tow-path was definitely rising as the canal disappeared into Shrewley tunnel.

As darkness fell, along with the rain, we were frozen in our shorts and tee shirts. My wife was now sobbing uncontrollably. There was no more animosity or recrimination, she was just distraught.

The tow-path was now a very steep climb. Its cobble stone surface was worn smooth from centuries of foot and horse traffic. This was made treacherously slippery by the now very heavy rain.

In the dark and rain, I had to walk backwards up the hill. I was wedging my heals into the cracks between the stones of the floor of the tow-path as I dragged the tandem up the slope.

When I reached the top of the climb, I was exhausted. I just collapsed on the ground on a grassy patch beside the road. The tandem lay on the ground next to me and my wife was kneeling nearby sobbing.

If anybody had seen us they would have justifiably assumed that we were the victims of a hit and run road accident. Nobody did see us. Everybody with any sense was at home in doors on such a wet night.

When I recovered my breath and my senses I looked around and noticed a road sign that said, Lapworth three miles. It was all we needed to see. In the pouring rain and in the pitch dark we rode the tandem with no lights, along the winding country lane. There was no alternative, we had no reserves left.

Thankfully it was nearly all down hill, so we could free wheel a lot of the way.

Reaching the car park at Lapworth was rather an anti-climax, as opposed to the jubilation that one would expect after such an ordeal. We were so drained that there was no room for any further emotions.

When we first caught sight of our solitary car amongst the trees and lawns, it looked so ordinary that it was almost unbelievable. We half expected the mirage to disappear at any moment.

My wife helped me lift the tandem on to the roof rack and we both got into the car and wrapped ourselves in a jacket and a rug that happened to be in the car. This was all achieved in absolute silence; we were both completely drained of any possible emotion.

As we drove out of the car park I had the feeling that it was not me driving; it was like an out of body experience with me being an observer to the event.

The rain was now torrential as we drove slowly home along the country lanes. We had not gone far from Lapworth when suddenly there was a flash of lights in front of us. A car coming towards us crashed through the hedge on our side of the road.

I stopped our car and we both rushed over see if we could be of any help. There were four teenagers in a mini. They had skidded on the wet road and lost control; their car had rolled completely over and was now upright again.

There was a strong smell of petrol and we could not open the doors. Without a word between us, my wife and I ran back to our car. I grabbed a shovel that just happened to be in the boot of our car; my wife got on the car-phone to the emergency services and then rushed back to help me.

With the aid of the shovel, we managed to get the doors open and the occupants out of the mini. They were still very dazed when the police and ambulance crews arrived promptly.

Before we could continue our journey home, we had to give statements to the police regarding the accident we had witnessed. Although this is a formal procedure, the officer in charge tried to be as casual as he could.

“What sort of day have you had, before this happened,” he asked me.

“Oh, just an ordinary Sunday,” I lied.

“It looked more than that,” he said, looking at my soaked shorts and tee-shirt and the tandem.

So I gave him a very quick resume of the pertinent parts of the day’s adventure.

He laughed out loud before I finished the sorry tale.

“Why on earth did you not come back on the train,” he said, when he finally stopped laughing. “It is a very good service between Warwick and Lapworth, the trains run every two hours and the journey takes about twenty minutes.”

“Don’t you dare tell my wife,” I insisted.

As we drove home, it was my wife who broke the silence. She asked me where I found the energy from, to have dealt so efficiently with the situation we had just experienced, in view of the day we had gone through.

“Well,” I said proudly, “I was just about to ask you exactly the same question!”

Roy Aylmer

WE’VE GOT NO GAS

On Wednesday evening, 16th December my wife and I were entertained by friends Mark and Jill. It was a great night but it finished rather too late, as I had a busy day planned for Thursday.At about seven thirty the next morning, with a slight hangover, I ran the shower and left it to warm-up. Meanwhile Lita, my wife, went down stairs to make tea. “Have you been messing with the Aga. It’s gone out?” she called up to me.“No!” I replied, “leave it for now; I will look at it when I’ve had my shower.”

“You must have messed with it, it doesn’t normally go out!” She was back upstairs now.
‘She is always ready to jump to my defence?’ I thought.

“I haven’t messed with it,” I protested, “I will look at it when I have had a shower;
Oh No! The shower doesn’t seem to be getting hot!”

I checked the boiler and the Aga, neither of them were working. The pilot light to the gas fire had also gone out. It must be the gas, I thought? Living in Bidford we are used to power cuts, we get them on average every three or four weeks, they sometimes go on for days on end but I have never had a gas cut before.

I phoned our neighbours and enquired about their heating. Ingrid said that her boiler had gone out and Peter was in the cellar, trying to re-light it. Not an easy job with a sore head from last night. I said that I thought it was the same problem we had, WE’VE GOT NO GAS.

“What do we do about that,” Ingrid asked,

“I really don’t know,” I replied, “it is not a situation I have had to deal with before? I will ring the gas board; no, it’s not called that anymore, is it?”

As I looked up the number of British Gas, I remembered the problem we had when we moved into Bidford, nine years earlier. I then rang The Gas Board number from the phone book. It was a Solihull number, I asked them to transfer the supply to us.

“Did you say Bidford-On-Avon” I was asked, “Only we don’t supply gas there?”

“Well,” I replied, “There is some smelly stuff that comes out of a pipe, and you can light it, I am pretty sure it is gas.”

“Are you sure it’s not bottled gas?” I was asked

“Positive” I replied, “There is a gas meter, if that is any help to you!”

“Does it have any numbers on it,” she asked, “You should ring our Bath office,” she said, after I gave her the meter details. Bath is more than three times as far away as Solihull!

That all happened when there was only The Gas Board, I was dreading the thought of having that conversation now that there are many Gas Companies.

With that previous phone conversation in mind, I thought I must make sure I get the correct phone number, so I checked my gas bill.

On the front-page of my gas bill, right at the top in a prominent position, is an 0645 phone number; ‘For Bill enquiries only.’ Under this number it said for all other enquiries please see overleaf.

On the back of the bill, there were numbers for moving home, moving your gas supplier, meter readings, leaks etc. and then it said, for all other enquiries call the number on the front of the bill.

I rang the number, and got through to an automated answering service. “Please listen to this entire message before selecting the service you require.”

After listening to the menu on offer, I pressed 5, for any other enquiries.

“You are through to our ‘other enquiries service.’ If you would like to return to the previous menu press 1; alternatively, if you really wish to spend a fortune on you phone bill, please hang on for as long as you can afford!”

After a long wait, I decided to press 5 again and was instantly connected to a real live person!

“This is the British Gas enquiry line, my name is June, and how may I help you?”

‘You could shorten your introduction I thought, that would save on my phone bill.’ No I must be positive.
“I haven’t got any gas” I said,

“Would you like to apply for a gas supply?” June asked,

“No!” I said, “I had gas yesterday, I don’t have any today.”

“Have you checked that it has not been turned off” she asked,

“Yes,” I said, “the meter is turned on, my boiler is not working, my gas fire is not working, my cooker is not working, my neighbours boiler is not working, and nor is their cooker, WE’VE GOT NO GAS!”

“Is it due for service?” she enquired,

“No!” I replied, “It would be most unusual if five appliances all expired at the same time because they were all in desperate need of a service!”

“Do you think there has been an interruption of supply?”

“I think there has been an interruption of something”

“Right, I will go through a few safety features with you,” she continued,

“Safety features?” I asked, “What for?”

If you have an interruption of supply, you have to go through the safety features.” she said,

“Right, OK!”

“Is your gas meter in a cellar?” she asked

“Yes” I said,

“Right, in that case, this is an emergency situation and you must not touch it.” she said

“Why not?”

“Any room below ground level, such as a cellar can fill up with gas and become a hazard; it will be dangerous to go down there”

“Umm. Well, when I say the gas meter is in a cellar, we call it our cellar, but it is at ground level. We live in a very unusual house you see” I said

“Right, in that case,” she said, “go to the meter and turn the gas off. Don’t turn any lights on or off; don’t strike any matches, don’t smoke, don’t do this, don’t do that and don’t spend any longer than you have to in the room with the meter.”

“Look!” I said, “There is absolutely no point in any of this. WE’VE GOT NO GAS!

“Yes, but we have to go through the safety precautions when there is an emergency,” she said.

“Arr! So you think it is an emergency then?” I said,

“No, but it might be.”

“You agree it might be an emergency?”

“No, I have got to prepare myself, in case it is an emergency!” she countered, “But I am not agreeing with you that it is an emergency, or even could be!”

“Look, I am phoning you because we’ve got no gas. There is no point in turning the meter on or off, smoking or not smoking, turning lights on or off, WE’VE GOT NO GAS!!”

“We have to go through the safety procedures, before we can do anything else. Will you make sure you carry them out?” she insisted, “Please turn the gas off now.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!; I have done all that!”

“You could not have done it all that quickly,” she said

“I’ve done it, I’ve done it. Look, let’s assume that I’ve done it, will you?”

“I have got to know that you have done it!” she said sternly

“How could you possibly know whether I have done it, or not?” I noticed my voice getting higher.

“You have to be away from the phone long enough to turn it off.”

“Right, Look, this phone is next to my cellar, I am now reaching into the room. I can just touch the meter. I have now reached the handle. I am turning it, the gas is now turned off! Happy?”

“NO! Go and turn the gas off at the meter, NOW!”

“It’s OFF, It’s OFF, It’s OFF; I’ve turned the bloody thing off!! Right! Now what do we do?”

“You now wait for our engineer to arrive. He will be with you within the hour.”

“Urrh. You are going to send someone round, are you?” I asked,

“Yes. For a gas leak! We always send an engineer within the hour when a gas leak is reported.”

“We haven’t got a gas leak, WE’VE GOT NO GAS!
You have not at any time agreed with me that we’ve got no gas. Have you had any reports from other people in Bidford that they are without gas?”

With an audible sigh, she said, “What’s your postcode?”

“B50 4Blah Blah” I replied

“Just one moment,” said June,

‘did de did de did de did’ I was treated to ‘The Archers’ signature tune whilst she was away. That’s the longest running soap opera in the world; I thought ‘how appropriate.’
She was gone quite a long time, ‘I wonder if she’s gone to the toilet,’ I thought to myself.

“I have checked with my boss,” she came back to me, “and you have an incident.”

“I have an incident?” I enquired,

“There has been an incident in B50,” she replied

“An incident?” I enquired again, “What sort of an incident?”

“There has been an incident in B50.” she repeated, “That is all I can say. We shall deal with it as soon as we can. We are calling engineers to your area from all over the country to deal with it.”

“That is gratifying to know,” I said, “thank you for your help.”

I went next door to my neighbour’s house to inform them of the incident. There was a Transco Van outside. My neighbours were debating whether to light their open fire. I said that there did not seam much point as they were both off to work soon. Isn’t it funny that as soon as something happens to break your routine, your common sense seams to leave you!

When I returned to the street, there were now five Transco Vans outside, ‘They seem to be taking this seriously, I thought to myself, ‘Perhaps they will get it sorted!’ I returned home.

I went out again a short time later, and to my amazement I was able to count twenty six Transco Vans and lorries, some with trailers. They were all parked in Church Street, which normally just about holds 12 cars.

Church Street is virtually a cull-de-sac because at its end is a no-entry sign. Can you imagine the scene as about a dozen transit vans, most of them with trailers; try to turn round in the space at the end of the street where it would be difficult to park more than three or four of them? Down in The High Street there was another forty or so and the main village car park was overflowing with Transco Vans.

Out of these vans came lots and lots of jolly workmen, all in their Transco uniforms of blue trousers and jumpers, some also had high-viz yellow dayglow, bodywarmers on top. They all looked very smart but were they doing anything?

Nothing seemed to be happening, other than lots of drinks were being poured from a variety of flasks and numerous sandwiches were being consumed. Most of the men appeared to be talking on mobile phones.

The only other activity happened when a particular lorry opened its roller shutter tailgate, to reveal boxes of fan heaters and electric hot plates stacked from floor to ceiling. A huge crowd of women seamed to appear from nowhere, and descended on the lorry. They stripped it bare in what could only be just a few short seconds. It was like a plague of locusts stripping the leaves off a tree. They dispersed as quickly as they had appeared, carrying their booty with them.

Anyway, I had things to do and people to see, I had to go to Birmingham, so I did just that. On my return in the early dusk of the late afternoon, The scene was what I imagine the set of a Hollywood war film would look like; I was half expecting Bruce Willis in his string vest to appear from one of the vehicles. Bidford’s first ever Christmas lights gave the whole scene a strange air of unreality.

There were dozens and dozens of Transco vans and lorries, some of them parked but most of them moving. There were flashing lights and lots of noise and uniformed people with clipboards every where. Had the Martians landed I wondered? No they would not have clipboards!

There was a lone BT van, with a lone BT man, up the BT pole next to the Church Hall. I presumed he was setting up a telephone for the Church Hall which I saw now had a smart new sign saying “TRANSCO INCIDENT ROOM”. This was going to be a long job I thought.

Whilst I was out and about, I heard on the local radio that there was an interruption of gas supply in Bidford; the radio said that an incident room had been set up in Icknield Street. I thought that was funny because I live in Icknield Street and not only had I heard nothing, but all questions aimed at any of the officials I had seen in the morning, had received a shrug of the shoulders as a reply.

Now I had returned in the late afternoon, I thought it would be a good time to find out what exactly was “The Incident” before most other people returned from their work. As we approached the ‘Transco Incident Room’ we were prevented from entering by a mountain of a man in a new Transco uniform, he was probably a nightclub bouncer drafted in especially.

He was the size of a brick built outhouse and he completely filled the doorway to the church hall. With a deep gravely voice and a very menacing tone, he said,
“Can I ‘elp you?”

I enquired, “This is the incident room?”

“Yes”

“We have come to find out what is happening.”

“There is nothing happening at the moment” was the curt reply.

“Well I can see that nothing is happening here,” I said, “ but the village is over-run with Transco vans and Transco men, our gas supplies have ceased and nobody seams to know what is going on. Can you tell me what the situation is?”

“We’ve Got No Gas,” he said

“Yes,” I replied, “That reminds me of a conversation I had on the ‘phone about nine hours ago, but can somebody tell me what is the problem. What else can you tell me?”

“There has been an incident,” he appeared to use up all his intellect to say the words. “It will take some time to put the gas back on.”

“Some time?” I questioned, “What does ‘Some time’ mean? An other five minutes, several hours, a few weeks or months? Or even Years? You don’t know how long? What are we supposed to do about cooking or heating in the mean time?”

“If you go and see that man over there,” He pointed with his huge hands to another huge man, this one had three gold ‘ear rings’ in each eyebrow, “He will take your name and address.”

“For what purpose?” I enquired

“He will fix you up with a heating appliance.” was the reply

I spoke to ‘Three Earrings’ and asked him “What can you tell me?”

He said “We will give you a hot plate and a fan heater. We are expecting a load at three O’clock.”

“It is now quarter to five.” I said

“Well, nothing goes quite according to plan does it?”

As he said that, a hired van turned up, packed to the gunnels with hot plates and fan heaters. After the locusts had again had their fill, we were given one of each from what remained. We returned home to contemplate the evening ahead.

‘Wow, I thought to myself, there must be well over a hundred Transco vans here and they are also now hiring vans in. This must be costing a fortune.’

Having missed my morning shower I was now feeling a bit sticky so to improvise a water heater, we set up the new hot plate on the top landing of the stairs and proceeded to boil saucepans of water for a bath. Having experienced an unusual day, the hot bath was very relaxing; without any central heating, it seemed a good idea to have an early night.

I was woken by a loud noise, I looked at the clock, it was 12:30 am. The noise came again, a loud banging on our front door. “Whatever they are selling, I’m not buying it,” I said to my wife, and turned over to go back to sleep.

The banging got louder and more persistent, so feeling completely disorientated I wrapped a bath towel round me and went down to answer the door.

“Transco Sir,” two men greeted me, “We have come to turn your boiler on.”

“I can do that myself in the morning.” I said, “once the gas is back on.”

“We have to check that your boiler is working properly, Sir.”

“But it’s automatic,” I said, “It will come on itself when you press the button.”

“We still have to check it Sir,” I was informed, “it’s regulations.”

I led them to our boiler; I pressed the button, the boiler ignited. The two men shone their torches at it and agreed with me, the boiler was working.

“Thank you Sir,” they said, “Now what about the little old lady next door, do you know if she has a gas boiler?”

“She is not little,” I said, “And she is certainly not old,”
“She does have a boiler, its in an out building. She is away at the moment but I do have a key.”

I struggled into a pair of shoes and led them round to the back of the house next door. Having satisfied themselves that her boiler was fine, they bid me fair well. It was only then I realised that I was standing in a neighbours back garden at one o’clock in the morning, in the middle of December, naked apart from a towel round my waist.

Our gas was off for about 17 hours, it was another three days before everybody in the village was reconnected.

Since “The Incident,” or boiler has been playing up.

The only time that it will work perfectly well, is when the repair man comes to fix it so he cannot find the problem! At all other times it only works intermittently. The whole ‘incident’ reminds me of the old Flanders and Swann song, “The gas man cometh,” How right they were.

Roy Aylmer Bidford-on-Avon

What to Expect From the Utilities?

This is the story about another run in I had with Mr Jobsworth recently!

My House is in a Very unusual position, by the Church but behind other houses.  We have a total 12 immediate next door neighbours! (That can be another story!)

A few years ago, a puddle appeared in the road outside our house.  Within a few days it developed into a lake!  I called Severn Trent Water on a daily basis and so did most of our neighbours.  Various Suits and/or Peaked Caps turned up to look at it over time but nothing happened.

After at least two months, three big lorries turned up one day.  The digger mounted on one of them dug a hole.  The spoil was tipped into a second lorry.  The third lorry had fresh soil, hardcore and tarmac; ready to fill the hole in with.

There were also several vans, filled with the tools and paraphernalia required to carry out plumbing repairs and at least three hatchback cars were in attendance, all with official looking suits in them.  (If you read the No Gas Story above you will know that Church Street is a very small cull-de-sac.)

When the digging stopped, at the bottom of the trench could be seen an antique lead pipe; probably early Victorian!  The suits then joined the gaggle of workmen and they all stood round the hole, looking into it.  They stood in silence as if paying their respects to a fallen comrade.

After a period of time that fitted well with the fallen comrade analogy, one of them said, “The leak’s on property!”  As if he had made a startling discovery

“The leak’s on property!”  They seemed to all repeat it like a mantra

“The leak’s on property!”  It was as if they had found the Holy Grail!

“The leak’s on property!”  They were all getting excited now!

“The leak’s on property!”

I had to stop the excitement before they started dancing and burning effigies

“OK,” I said, “You found the leak, are you going to fix it?”

They all went suddenly silent and they all stared at me: as if they didn’t need an effigy, they could burn me instead.

“You found the leak, are you going to fix it?” I repeated

“It’s on property!” one of them said

“It’s on property!” the mantra started again

One of the suits then said to me, “The leak is on private property.  It is therefore the responsibility of the householder to fix the leak.”

“That’s OK,” I said, “I don’t mind paying my way, how much do I owe you?”

“No,” he said, “The leak is on private property.  It is the responsibility of the householder to fix the leak; we can’t do it!”

Whilst he was saying this, the workmen had stretched a string-line across the end of my drive and were measuring where the split in the lead pipe was.

“200mm” one of them triumphed!

That’s about eight inches; inside my property, from the string line!

I looked in my wallet; I had two £20 notes.  I asked if that was enough to fix the leak.  The suit shook his head.

“How much do you want from me to fix this leak?”  I demanded

The suit replied, “The leak is on private property, there is nothing we can do about it; it is the householders responsibility.”

“You have dug up more than five feet of my drive!” I said, “Whilst you have the damaged pipe exposed, you might as well fix it”

He assured me that they would “Make Good” the drive.

By this time, the workmen had erected a striped plastic tent over the trench and were working away inside.  They were there for several hours; I can’t understand what they could be doing; other than fixing the leak?

I stuck my head in the ten to enquire what was happening.  They explained that they were replacing the lead pipe with plastic and they were fitting a housing that could be fitted with a water meter at some point in the future; if it was ever required.

When they finished in the tent, fresh hardcore was poured into the hole and this was consolidated with a ‘Wacker Plate’   Fresh Tarmac was then professionally applied to the top surface.

Common sense had prevailed.  I was reassured that Great Britain will Triumph again.  The utility companies have the goodwill of the public, close to their heart.

The next morning, when I gathered my post from the box on my gate, I noticed water oozing up through the new Tarmac.  I also noticed a SevernTrent envelope amongst the mail.

When I opened the SevernTrent envelope the letter said that It had come to their notice that water was leaking from the ground on private property at my address and unless I rectified this situation within 14 days I would be prosecuted for wasting their resources!

It cost me about £2,500 to rectify the situation.  It would have been better for all concerned if SevernTrent had fixed the leak and charged me accordingly.  As they were not going to fix the leak; why on earth did they fill the hole in, WHACK IT DOWN and Tarmac over the evidence?

Owls In Our Churchyard

On the night I moved into Bidford as a resident, I heard for the first time in my life, the call of a Tawney Owl. It was the real ta-woo-oo part of the fabled terwit-ta-woo that is famously associated with owls, thanks to the writings of William Shakespeare. To our great delight, we found that a pair of Tawneys were living in the churchyard, near to our house.A few weeks later we discovered that a Barn Owl was living in a huge shed that was in the front of number 23, the bungalow a few doors away. This was a delight to watch in the evening dusk but not so pleasant to listen to. The call was a loud screech, usually at about 04:00 o’clock in the morning.Each spring, the Tawneys had two or three chicks. We used to sit in our garden and watch them in the big lime trees in the east end of the churchyard. They looked like coconuts placed on the branches, we could see them getting bigger each day.

When number 23 was redeveloped into what is now Bryan Mews, obviously the Barn Owl was driven out when his shed was demolished, but the Tawneys left also. This we presume was because of the loss of their hunting ground, the overgrown orchard at the back of the bungalow.

We watched the owls for several seasons, until their demise. Their disappearance left us feeling sad because it made this part of Bidford appear urbanised rather than part of the country.

After the bungalow was demolished and the owls departed, a pair of rooks moved into the area and they appeared to be nesting in the top of the lime trees. In the few years since this development, they have built up quite a rookery. They now form a very vocal part of the local fauna, as they shout abuse at anything, human or animal that dares to move within their range.

It is very nice to see the antics of these birds cavorting about in the area but I must own up to preferring to watch owls. Also the guffaw of a crow is not as pleasing to the ear as the ta-wit or the ta-woo of a Tawney owl.

To our great delight in early June this year, we heard the blackbirds creating a lot of noise in the churchyard, indicating that a serious predator was about. They did not make that much fuss when there were cats in the churchyard, we hoped it meant that the Tawneys were back.

We went to the churchyard to investigate. As we could not see anything there, we tried the graveyard next door, to get a better view of the tops of the big lime trees.

We often see a heron flying to and from the river but I have never ever seen more than one heron at a time. This I am led to believe, is because they are solitary creatures who are also very territorial. That evening, we saw from the graveyard, what appeared to be an airborne invasion of herons. There were FIVE herons, flying in formation along the river from the bridge towards the churchyard. I assume this was either a mother with four juveniles or a pair with three young.

When they reached the churchyard, the herons all tried to land in the top of one of the big lime trees. The rooks were not too keen on this idea. There was a cacophony of noise from the punch-up sixty feet up in the air, as the two groups negotiated the situation. Wether the herons were there for a nightly roost or after tasty chicks, we will never know. The outcome of this encounter was that the herons decided to settle for the smaller willow tree on the opposite side of the river. Here they settled down and seemed to be ready for the nights roost.

As we watched the hilarious site of herons trying to roost in a tree, we noticed that the blackbird noise had stopped. We therefore assumed that the alarm had been raised for the approaching herons and not owls.

As we watched the herons, dusk was approaching and we suddenly heard what sounded like a rusty gate hinge swinging back and forth. This, we were delighted to hear, because it was a tawney owl parent communicating with its chicks.

The call was coming from the pollarded trees near the church door. We approached and the sound got louder and louder, then to our delight a large tawney appeared from out of the tree on our left and swooped silently across the path to an adjacent tree on our right.

We then listened to the stereophonic sound of the rusty gate hinge squeaking in one tree to our left, followed by a similar sound from the tree on our right. Some times it was question and answer and at other times it was synchronised together. It was wonderful to hear this music after the few years it had been missing from our lives, I hope they have now returned for good.

A few minutes later a chick appeared from the first tree and flew across to the tree with the parent. This event was repeated soon after, when another chick made the same move. We could still hear the plaintive questioning call of another chick in the tree to our left. Three chicks in a successful litter, would that be too much to ask for?

Soon after that the parent bird flew away, up the river towards the golf course, calling as it went. Maybe the parent wanted some space from its juveniles; or it may have wanted them to follow it to go hunting; or it could be because of our presence, so we decided to leave.

The next day, we discussed this encounter with our neighbours John and Heather. John told us that about five o’clock that morning, he had seen a baby owl walking along Church Street. Heather told us that she had recently seen a baby owl mugging a blackbird for the worm he had just caught.
According to my bird book this latter is quite common behaviour for little owls. So if this part of the village now has tawney owls and little owls, Bidford is once again a healthy place to be. All we need now is for the barn owl to return and the picture would be complete.

Unfortunately we have a postscript to this story. On the very night I put this to paper, I noticed John and his wife, in the churchyard with other neighbours. They were recovering a large bundle of feathers and down that was a sickly tawney owl chick. It was probably the one that John had seen walking up Church Street a few days earlier. John rushed it to the Vale Wildlife Centre at Beckford but it was dead by the time they arrived.
This morning I saw the sparrowhawk flying over our garden, it disappeared in the direction of the golf course. We like to see the predator birds, it means that the countryside is healthy with predators about. They are obviously helping their own species by surviving but they are also helping their prey species by weeding out the weaklings, this ensures a healthy breading stock for all of our futures.

 

Here are a Few of MY CAT PHOTOS