After 30 years working as a secretary Noni decided that there must be more to life than typing up other people’s creations. She, therefore, gave up her full-time job to pursue personal interests.
One of these interests was to try her hand at writing.
Having attended, and been inspired by, one of Rona Laycock’s Creative Writing courses in 2014 she hasn’t looked back.
Although Noni has received lots of praise for her short stories, so far she has not had any women’s magazines knocking on her door. But she persists and one day …
Noni is also in the process of planning a novel, based here in Cirencester.
Noni has chosen just the one piece, a short story entitled The Cotswold Privy.
The Cotswold Privy
Malcolm and Clive, friends since school, now in their fifties and strong as oxen, worked together as jobbing gardeners. Both were happily married and even happier living and working in North Nibley where they grew up. Not in all the years they had been working together had they made a discovery like the one that was to leave them speechless the following day.
It was early evening in late in September. The summer had been a long and very enjoyable burst of bright sunny days after a long, wet and windy winter. Both were enjoying a quick pint in their local, The Red Lion, having finished cutting the grass in the beer garden. They were talking about their next job at Yew Tree Cottage, starting the following morning.
Yew Tree Cottage had been bought by a London couple for their retirement. The cottage had been empty and up for sale for a couple of years, consequently the garden had been neglected. They both knew it wouldn’t be easy but, working together, the job would soon be completed.
‘Right I’m off otherwise I’ll be in the doghouse. Susan has to work late. There’s some specialist auction today so I’ve offered to get the tea on. Baked beans are all I can manage but I picked up a couple of lovely apple turnovers in the local shop so that should keep her happy.’
Clive placed his empty pint glass on the bar, put his flat cap on and made his way to the door.
‘Right-Ho, Clive. Good luck with the cooking. If I see smoke I’ll call the fire brigade’.
Malcolm chuckled to himself. He looked down to check on Patch, his terrier and constant companion. Patch was spread out fast asleep on the mat in front of the fireplace. Malcom turned to George, the landlord.
‘Clive’s a good mate, can’t believe we’ve been friends all these years. Pop another one in there then I’ll be off. By the way, how is the church roof fund raising going?’
George frowned, his face normally jolly turned sad. Filling the pint glass he said, ‘Not well, Malcolm. We need another £20,000 and I’ve no idea where it is going to come from. Times are hard and everyone is feeling the pinch.’
The following morning in the garden at Yew Tree Cottage, Malcolm had arrived very early but was heartbroken when he saw the state of the garden. He got his mobile out and called Clive to warn him.
‘It hasn’t been touched for decades. You’d think you were in the Amazon jungle not rural Gloucestershire. It’s going to take us longer than we thought. I’ll make a start and see you in a bit.’
Malcolm pressed ‘End Call’ and placed his mobile safely back in his trouser pocket. Looking down at Patch he said, ‘The sooner we start the sooner it will be finished.’
Patch’s stumpy tail was vibrating in pure delight. He couldn’t wait to investigate the garden. His tiny black and white face, alert with eager eyes and bent ears, was just waiting for the signal to start from his master. Once he had it, he shot off, tearing round the garden, his nose in every nook and cranny. He stopped abruptly at the bottom of the garden. After sniffing for a bit he started barking.
‘What’ve you found, boy?’
Patch stamped his feet impatiently looking at a mass of brambles, ivy and honeysuckle, glancing back to his master edging him to hurry up.
‘OK! OK! I’m coming.’
Malcolm pulled on a pair of heavy-duty gardening gloves to protect his hands. Then with a heavy sigh began peeling back the mass of growth to find what Patch was so interested in.
‘And what do we have here then? Well done, Patch, we’ve found a door.’
Clive arrived and joined Malcolm and Patch at the bottom of the garden.
‘Hello, Clive. As soon as I got off the phone to you Patch led me down here. Look, there’s a door.’
After half an hour with both Malcolm and Clive hacking at the mass of creepers and climbers they stood stunned. With arms aching, resting on their hips and droplets of sweat on their brows they took a step back in amazement.
‘Well, Clive. I haven’t seen one of these for years. Shall we go in?’
The rough weather-beaten door with a heart-shaped hole at head height creaked open to reveal a bygone age. There on the left was a wooden plank with a single hole about a foot in diameter under which was a privy-bucket. Years of dust hovered in the stream of daylight coming through the door. Dangling from a nail on the wall and held together with a piece of string were small squares of paper.
‘What a find! Talk about primitive.’ Perched on the privy seat propped against the wall was a newspaper and next to it an enamel mug. Clive picked up the newspaper, the Daily Express dated Thursday, 6 June 1963, price 3d. He read aloud the top headline.
“Profumo Quits: I Lied.”
‘It doesn’t look like anyone has been in since 1963. Whoever was here last left their mug of tea too.’
Malcolm was busy trying out the privy.
‘Not uncomfortable but it must have been bitter in the winter.’
He looked up straight in front of him.
‘Move over Clive. What’s that behind you?’
Clive turned, reached up and unhooked a small, dusty picture frame. It was a sketch of some buildings. Studying it closely he said, ‘If it is as old as the newspaper it might be worth something. I’ll take it home. Susan can ask Jeremy to give it the once over. I’m sure she has mentioned his speciality is art.’
Susan was just stirring the gravy having dished up cottage pie, peas and carrots when Clive came in the back door. He took his dirty boots off, laid the sketch and his cap on the table and went to the sink to wash his hands.
‘Hello, love. You’re just in time. Tea’s ready. Sit down.’
Susan gave her husband a quick peck on the cheek before placing both plates on the table. Carrying the gravy boat over and placing it on the table he sat down too. Heaving a sigh of relief he said, ‘I’m starving. This is just what I need after a day like today.’
Clive passed the gravy having drowned most of his meal with a massive dollop of it.
‘Malcolm and I were clearing the back garden of Yew Tree Cottage this afternoon and we found a privy. In it we found that.’ Clive jerked his head at the picture frame on the table, his mouth full of cottage pie, gravy dribbling down his chin.
Resting her knife and fork on her plate, Susan reached to pick it up.
‘It looks very old. If you like I’ll take it with me tomorrow and ask Jeremy if he can shed any light on it.’
Dead on 8.30 a.m. the following morning Susan shivered as she stepped through the door into the small office she shared with Jeremy at Parker, Smith & Patterson Auctioneers.
‘Good morning, Jeremy. There’s a definite chill in the air. It feels like autumn has arrived.’
Susan put her bag and the picture frame on her desk but decided to keep her jacket on till she warmed through.
Jeremy, a dashing man in his late thirties with red corduroy trousers and green tweed jacket, walked over to his desk, mug of steaming coffee in his hand.
‘Good morning, Susan. I’ve just made a pot of coffee. A mug of that will warm you up.’ Then, with his business hat on, continued. ‘There’s no peace for the wicked, is there? We’ve got another busy spell coming up. The antique picture auction next month is proving more popular than usual. By the way, thank you for staying late the other evening, I really appreciate it.’
‘That’s alright, I don’t mind helping out when I can. Before I forget, could you have a look at this?’ Susan handed him the picture frame.
Jeremy took the frame with his spare hand and studied it closely.
‘Good grief! I haven’t seen one of these for years. Surely, it can’t be!’
Jeremy put his mug down and took an even closer look, holding it with both hands. ‘I’ll need to get confirmation but I’m pretty sure it is a sketch by the World War 1 official war artist, Sir Henry Rushbury.’
A week later, the garden at Yew Tree Cottage looked so much tidier although a little barren. The privy stood proud and resilient at the bottom of the garden. The new owners, Sophie and Jonathan, were admiring their restored garden and were more than delighted at the find of the privy. It was the icing on the cake as far as they were concerned. They couldn’t wait to leave their hectic life in London and take early retirement. Just as they were congratulating Malcolm and Clive on their hard work, Susan and Jeremy appeared unexpectedly. After brief introductions Jeremy turned to Sophie and Jonathan.
‘We had to come over when we knew you were here. I don’t know whether or not you know but this sketch was found in the privy by Malcolm and Clive last week. Susan asked me to have a look at it. Having this morning received confirmation; I’m pleased to tell you that it is what I thought. It is a sketch by Sir Henry Rushbury. He was an official war artist during World War 1. This one is St. Martins in the Fields sketched during 1944. I’m even more pleased to tell you that, at auction, it could raise between £10,000 and £15,000. If the right collector is there it could possibly make even more.’
Sophie and Jonathan were completely stunned. Their rural retreat was full of surprises.
In the Red Lion the following weekend Sophie and Jonathan were meeting the locals. Malcolm and Clive were very happy having received an extra bonus for their hard work but the best was to come.
‘Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention for a moment please? The new residents of Yew Tree Cottage have an announcement to make.’ George smiled and signalled to Jonathan to speak.
Jonathan gave a little cough. ‘I know we haven’t had a chance to meet you all yet but now we are settled there will be plenty of time. I have no doubt that you must all know that there was rather a rare find in the privy that had been hidden away for so long in our garden. We would like to share our good fortune with you. We are so pleased to tell you that the sketch was sold yesterday afternoon for the handsome sum of £25,000. We would further like to share this good fortune with the village by donating £20,000 to the church fund.’
The cheers from inside the pub could almost be heard in the next village. There is always hope just round the corner in the most unlikely places.