I was just finishing my pint in the social club when I caught the eye of Hob Nob. He stared at me intently.
“Do you like squirrels?” he shouted.
“Erm … yes. I suppose.”
“I do,” he said. “I eats ‘em.”
It was my turn to stare.
“ I shoots ‘em. Then I eats ‘em.”
He looked at the puzzled expression on my face.
“I cooks ‘em first, mind,” he said, looking slightly affronted. Of course. Silly me.
“ I shot two with one shot once,” he nodded, smiling proudly.
“They was shagging!”
He collapsed in a heap of cackling laughter.
Hob Nob is one of those individuals you’ll find in every community, who live their life in an alternative way. They can usually be found in the local pub or social club (but aren’t necessarily alcoholics), may wear outlandish clothes and always have an alternative view on life. Some may call them unique, eccentric, free thinking. Born and bred locals where I live refer to them as a ‘juts’, which I believe is a vernacular version of idiot.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a blog making fun of people with mental health problems. If that’s what you want, Simon Cowell produces hundreds of hours of television programmes devoted to this pursuit. No, this is just an illustration of why village juts are an integral part of village life.
A few years ago, I remember there was a peripatetic jut by the name of Roger. Roger would visit all the local pubs, wearing a farmers’ cap, spotty cravat, tweed jacket and moleskin trousers. He would crash through the door, remove his bicycle clips and burst into song, usually a country classic like ‘Where Be That Blackbird Be.’
This would be swiftly followed by Roger circulating the pub collecting loose change from unsuspecting victims. After using the proceeds of the collection to buy himself a drink, he would regale the captive audience with tales of the countryside.
“Football? Pah! Rugby? Rubbish! But I tell ‘ee, I’d cycle 40 miles to see a good ploughing match!”
Tourists loved Roger. The more lugubrious locals would usually tell him to shut up and sit down.
Then there was the time we were staying in Devon. Master Johnny’s football team were taking part in a tournament in a lovely village, which opened the doors of its village hall, serving teas, coffees and cakes.
Whilst sitting in the hall, an individual shuffled in wearing a straw hat, orange shirt, blue waistcoat, white cricket trousers and … bells on his ankles. He also sported a gloriously long white beard. He was like Father Christmas on acid.
He slowly made his way to the cake stall, attracting the attention of the WI lady behind the trestle table. He started to dance and sing a vaguely familiar song. What was it? Blackbird? Wild Rover? Another 16th century folk song? After the second verse I recognised it. ‘Oops I Did It Again’. Who’d have thought he’d be a Britney fan?
Another villager noticed me staring.
“That’s Bumble,” he said, “everybody round ’ere knows Bumble.”
Master Johnny’s football coach was sitting next to me.
“That’ll be their jut, then,” he commented, “maybe we could introduce him to Hob Nob.”
It was at this point I had the most profound thought. What if there could be some kind of cultural exchange of these village eccentrics?
I had this image of a village hall filled with larger than life characters from various counties, all comparing their various techniques.
For example, workshops on how best to lean on the bar; perfecting positioning in front of the telly in the pub to maximise shouting and general abuse; expert advice on disconcerting conversation starters.
Could you imagine the dialogue?
“Do you eat Squirrels?”
“Ergh! No! I eats moles!”
Then there would be fashion advice. Go for the traditional tweed Edwardian country village eccentric look, or something more contemporary like a bright jacket and clashing trousers, known as ‘The Timmy Mallet’? Bicycle clips could be optional, though wearing them wouldn’t necessarily mean a bicycle was being ridden.
Finally, there would be a twinning of villages and an exchange of ‘juts’. How would villagers react to a different one inhabiting their pubs, social clubs, village halls and fetes?
“Ere George, what d’you make of this new jut?”
“Well, with that big flowery hat, he’s much better at blocking the telly than our usual one.”
“Well, at least he doesn’t eat squirrels. And my lawn has been much better since he’s been here.”
I could see a whole new way that we could appreciate these individuals that add extra spice to our otherwise ordinary lives by integrating them into our communities. But then I realised something.
Where else will you find people who dress in their own unique style, who have a rather unorthodox view of life, who very often appear slightly strange and talk in slightly odd voices?
Then it struck me. Go along to your local council offices. All of them display a photo montage of council representatives. Study them carefully and it doesn’t take long to make the link.
Then investigate some of the decisions and actions taken by these authorities. Are they in any way regarded as sensible? For example, who exactly is it that designs our roads? They obviously don’t live in the same world as the rest of us.
It gets worse. These councillors go on to stand for parliament. Then we vote for them. Then they become MPs. Cabinet Ministers. Prime Ministers. A few of them spend their days debating with each other in a big hall with a variety of funny voices, lisps and stutters. They’re making decisions that affect every aspect of our lives and futures.
The rest of them spend their time in The House of Commons bar. Trying not to make eye contact.
“Do you eat squirrels?”