When old Amos Grind’s legs grew a bit dodgy he took to walking with a stick. After a year he had to rely on two sticks and some time later the hospital gave him a Zimmer frame.
Amos didn’t complain much. He could still toddle as far as the Bust and Boobies for a pint and a bit of a chat. Then one day, halfway between the almshouse where he lived and the pub he nearly collapsed. His legs began to tremble and he only just saved himself by sinking onto a low brick wall.
This was when he really started to panic. The thought of being housebound was a step too far. For a few weeks he couldn’t leave home without the aid of a helpful arm and a taxi. That meant bothering someone else and forking out for the price of the ride and this couldn’t go on. Then, just as he was sinking into a pretty bottomless well of gloom, the Nether Fondle Twilight Rescue sprang into action and presented him with an electric scooter.
The scooter stood in the yard behind his cottage, a cable leading through the kitchen window to a plug where the battery could be charged. It gave him a range of twenty miles before it would need to be charged again. Suddenly, instead of shrinking, his world had expanded so that he could take in Upper and Lower Fondle and even Ladies Touchstone if he felt so inclined.
Tuesday morning, being fine, Amos got himself up and dressed and set out on his maiden journey. He called the machine Ezra after his old horse and it had about as much speed, being limited to four miles an hour. Fifty years ago when Ezra was a five year-old pony with a mind of his own, Amos had purchased him to pull a cart. He got him cheap and he soon found out why.
Amos had secured the job of Parish Scavenger, a role highly prized as one could make a good living sorting out the rags and copper, iron and junk that came your way. It was Ezra’s job to pull the vehicle around the parish looking for rubbish. Ezra was a liability. He refused to go down certain roads and without warning took off at the speed of light whenever the fancy took him. Gradually though, Amos won the battle of wits through a combination of threats involving the nacker and a supply of carrots. After some negotiation Ezra agreed to move about twenty yards down a street and then stand and wait until something tasty was delivered up to him. He became something of a celebrity and after all this time, there was still an odd moment when Amos missed his cantankerous old friend.
Amos had once owned a BSA and he soon got the feel of what he thought of to himself as a trike. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and with a light heart he set off away from his usual route and down into Nether Fondle village centre. Once in the High Street he made a beeline for his old local the Cow and Musket. In the old days when Nether Fondle had a weekly market, the Cow was full to overflowing, but today only a handful of drinkers, mostly also diners, sat in its dark alcoves.
Amos managed to secure the scooter and heaved himself through the door. The glass panel was engraved with a cow holding a gun surrounded by the words Oblivion Beers. The old Oblivion Brewery had long since gone but the taste of those old pints of NF Strong still lingered on his tongue. He stood for a moment inhaling the distant memory of stale cigarettes and rancid ale before ordering a pint of the new Harvester Hops bottled at the new brewery at the end of Slattern Street. He sank back on a banquette to enjoy himself.
He hadn’t been inside for more than two minutes when a group of men wearing waistcoats began to settle themselves around the piano. One of them stood a sign next to the instrument showing five men in bowler hats and bearing the name Bob Marlow and the Sailors. Amos recognised him, young Robbie Marlow. He grinned.
You don’t know me, lad, he thought, but I remember you.
Every Wednesday afternoon when Robert Marlow senior shut his haberdasher’s shop for mid-week early closing, he took himself off on business to Upper Fondle. What the business was, no one knew but Mrs Marlow, Emmie was invariably at home alone. Gradually Amos took to passing the house. One day, Emmie spotted him and came out into the street.
‘Yoohoo, Mr Grind, I’m sorry to bother you, but I wonder if you could give me a hand. I’m trying to turn the mattress in our bedroom and I can’t quite manage on my own.’
Amos had shot up those stairs like a rat up a drainpipe and with a display of manly strength, flipped the mattress over as if he was tossing a pancake. A fair amount of tossing followed. Emmie was up to high dudgeon with her husband, disappearing every Wednesday like that. As she said, ‘What’s good for the gander…’ Amos was not so much a gander as a man with a raised dander. His old heart notched up an extra beat or two at the memory.
On that day Amos had been gone rather longer than expected and Ezra, impatient for something crunchy had taken himself off around the corner. Coming from the cottage empty handed and puffing more than usual Amos set off in pursuit of his traitorous servant. He found Ezra outside the greengrocers, helping himself to some nice Coxes, ignoring the brandishing fly swat that Mr Root waved at him. It cost Amos half a crown before he could get away.
After that, Amos called a little later when young Robbie arrived home from school. For the price of a sixpence, a toffee and a bunch of carrots, Robbie waited with Ezra, feeding him the carrots and chewing the sweet. Depending on how the afternoon went, Amos sometimes gave him an extra thruppence.
Bob Marlow and the Sailors began to sing. There were a few dud notes, a slight blurring of the harmonies but Amos enjoyed it. As he listened, he thought about those other routes that he and Ezra had followed, the houses where invariably Ezra was either bribed with a nosebag or tied to a gatepost while Amos conducted some extra curricular business.
It had all come to an unhappy end one September day when Mrs Grind, Patience, announced that she fancied a day out and would come with him. There wasn’t much he could say. He had a couple of collections to make down at Lower Fondle but other than that, his missions were of a more personal nature. As it was, Ezra was something of a creature of habit. Turning into a familiar street, he perked up, managed a trot and pulled up outside the Marlow household. Amos jumped down quickly and tried to stuff a quick peppermint into the horse’s mouth at the same time urging him on. The door of number 10 opened and Mrs Marlow, beautifully coiffured, stepped outside. Seeing Mrs Grind she promptly scurried back indoors.
With another handful of peppermints, Ezra finally agreed to carry on. Down the road they went, left into Canal Street, right into Duck’s Alley and again, Ezra chose the spot to halt outside the old chandlery. Once again Amos tried to bribe him to move but by now he had had enough of peppermints and refused to budge until he had a carrot at the very least. Sweating with embarrassment, Amos fetched a carrot from the cart and fed it to the pony, whispering vile threats under his breath. From the cottage a woman in a negligee poked her head out and promptly rushed back indoors.
‘What’s up with that ‘orse?’ Mrs Grind began to look suspicious. By the time Ezra stopped for a third time, she was downright accusing.
‘I know what’s going on, Amos Grind. It ain’t no coincidence all these wimmen are looking out for ye. You’re a greedy bugger, never satisfied.’
‘It’s just the horse, my love,’ he tried. ‘He gets used to people coming out to feed him.’
Mrs Grind snorted. ‘Feed him! Feed you, more like.’
The journey home wasn’t pleasant. The weeks that followed weren’t pleasant either and Amos had to work overtime to coax his wife back into the master bedroom. Sitting in the Cow and Musket he gave a little sigh, amused at his younger self, yet saddened by a world that had long been lost to him.
When he got home later, he got out his old photo album, took a bit of a stroll down memory lane. There they were, him and Patience on the beach at Upper Fondle, in the park, celebrating their golden wedding. It hadn’t been such a bad innings. There were a few other photos too, one of old Ezra turned away in a field to enjoy his retirement, several street scenes, an occasional child caught talking to the pony. Young Bert Spong, little Amy Roamer, Barney Scrub – and Robbie Marlow. The children had similar dark wavy hair, longish faces and near black eyes. Amos nodded to himself. You don’t know me young uns, he thought again, but I certainly know you.