A Sanctified Artefact
The wireless would never work unless it was laying face down on it's knobs in the gas meter cupboard. This suited Uncle Hal very well if he wanted to be alone with the Fat Stock Prices, but it caused certain problems when my old Aunt Emma proposed inviting the Women's Embroidery Circle in for Princess Marina's wedding.
Uncle Hal had written a letter of complaint to Stuart Hibberd, the chief announcer; he would have written to Sir John Reith himself, but as a theoretical atheist, he objected in principle to communication with that Calvinistic edifice.
Stuart Hibberd replied with his best wishes and a photograph of the Boyd Neel Strings drinking cocoa in the B.B.C. canteen, but was silent on the matter of the wireless's knobs.
Uncle Hal said this offhandedness typified the decadence of the public-school classes. 'If anybody wants me,' he added, 'I'm looking at the artefact.' And he hurried down the backyard to where Silas Plews, the landlord, symbol of the discredited capitalist system, which unbelievably was still with us in A.D. 1934, had replaced the old earth closet with a flush W.C.
'History has its quirks,' Uncle Hal conceded, 'and it is a splendid artefact.'
'Waste not, want not,' said my old Aunt Emma.
'Herbert Mangle's going to dedicate it,' said Uncle Hal.
'What's "Waste not, want not" got to do with it?'
'Eat your sausage,' said my old Aunt Emma.
'That's better,' said Uncle Hal.
Herbert Mangle, the Wallsend poet, arrived next morning to sanctify the new W.C. 'After all,' Uncle Hal explained, 'bishops bless an army on the eve of a battle.'
'They seldom bless a poet,' said Herbert Mangle, 'on the eve of a sonnet.' He blew his nose and declaimed:
'A joy forever is a thing of beauty:
Thus sang the poet Keats so long ago.
Within these walls a man may do his duty
And rise enlightened from this gorgeous po.
From that moment, Uncle Hal took to spending many an earnest hour in the W.C., compiling crossword puzzles for Hansard. When he had amassed fifteen, he posted them to Ramsay MacDonald, with the answers in invisible ink.
'I've advised him to breathe on them at the appropriate moment,' he told my old Aunt Emma, over his sausage.
'What have you done with Boyd Neel?'
'What about the wireless's knobs?' asked my old Aunt Emma.
Uncle Hal said the Boyd Neel Strings were a capitalist Shibboleth and instructed that the photograph should be ceremonially thrown on the backlane Guy Fawkes bonfire, but my old Aunt Emma, noting that it was only March the tenth, murmured, 'Waste not, want not,' and volunteered to find a place to hang it.
Meanwhile, the Embroidery Club had held an unsatisfactory trial run in the gas meter cupboard, listening to 'Keep Fit With Prunella Stack'. They were not unduly crowded, provided Granny Tate stuck one leg outside, but she felt unable to Knees Bend with only one leg available, unless she took off her farthingale, which she was not prepared to do until the clocks went forward.
The one man who might have mended the wireless was Jas Hunkers, Family Butcher, who used to charge his accumulators with bull's blood. What with this and his forty-foot aerial, he could get Tokyo. Unfortunately, this antagonised Uncle Hal, who had just proclaimed himself a Nipponophobe, denouncing Japan's emergent capitalist pretentious.
As it happened, however, it was coming up to the time of the Cup Final, so Uncle Hal swallowed his principles and wrote after all to Sir John Reith, seeking an audition for the job of shouting 'Square Four' during George Allison's running commentary. Sir John would be welcome, he said, to call at our house at any time for a cup of cocoa, and if he brought his tools they might mend the wireless between them. In return, Uncle Hal could make available his spare cap, since he had noticed from newspaper pictures that Sir John's black homburg was a bit on the shabby side.
There was no response from Sir John, so after a fortnight Uncle Hal wrote again, mentioning that as a lad at school he had been second-top in elocution. The cap was 6 & 7/8ths he said. When there was still no reply after another three weeks, he closed the correspondence with a short note saying the B.B.C. was obviously a bastion of privilege; the offer of the cap was withdrawn and he would gladly see Sir John standing bald-headed in everlasting Caledonian drizzle.
It was a week later that Ramsey MacDonald travelled to Canada with Uncle Hal's parcel in his haversack in mistake for the Ottawa Agreement and left it in a barber's shop after having his moustache curled. So it came that Stanley Baldwin received a postcard saying: 'Weather showery. Please send more crosswords. As it leaves me. R. Mac.D.
Nor was that the last blow to capitalist pretentious. Uncle Hal had prised the back off the wireless one day and scattered all the pieces on the floor when Jas Hunkers arrived, extending the hand of friendship and bringing my old Aunt Emma some black pudding. He was only a theoretical Nipponophile, it seemed, and in any case, it wasn't Tokyo he was getting but the Welsh Regional programme. He mended the set and screwed the back on and it gave no more trouble, although it was a few days before we realised what had happened to the black pudding.
The Embroidery Circle heard the royal wedding in the front room in regal comfort, with Granny Tate's right leg on the fender end and her farthingale removed only for the National Anthem.
As a theoretical republican, Uncle Hal spent the afternoon quietly with his artefact. It was here, an hour later, that my old Aunt Emma burst in on him to say that there was a tall distinguished man in a black homburg at the front door.
'Well, don't keep him standing, woman!' Uncle Hal shouted. 'Make some cocoa!' And he rushed through the house to meet Sir John, flourishing his spare cap and calling, 'Square Four!'
The man at the front door was not prepared to part with his homburg; it was his insignia as an official of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company. He was empowered, he said, to go down out backyard to examine the W.C. cistern. Afterwards, Uncle Hal, murmuring 'Waste not, want not', offered him the cocoa.
'Mind you,' the man said, 'that's a funny place to hang a photograph of the Boyd Neel Strings,' so on balance it was as well he wasn't the Director General of the B.B.C..
But history has it quirks and Ramsay MacDonald spent many an earnest hour in Downing Street, breathing on the Ottawa Agreement.