Yesterday evening, we had the pleasure of being invited to Master George’s 18th family birthday party. This wasn’t one of those usual 18th birthday parties where all the adults sit in the kitchen whilst hormonally charged youths consume their single malt whisky and vomit in the bath, but a ‘family dinner party’, where everybody sat around the long table in the barn at the Loose Canon’s house.
We were honoured to be the only guests who weren’t immediate family. It was a wonderful evening, sitting between The Sexton and his younger sister Sue, with a sumptuous chicken and ham pie cooked by Pen, followed by a slice of delicious frangipani, created by Sue, who bakes for a living.
You’re probably thinking that this all seemed very pleasant, with little incident, but events that happened towards the end of the celebrations made the evening very special for me.
After we’d finished our meal, guests congregated at the other end of the large barn, warmed by the gas fires and space heater blasting away in the corner. I found myself sitting next to The Loose Canon himself, who had settled himself in his favourite wingback chair with another large glass of red wine. Next to him sat the young boys of the family, Ollie, Master George and Master Johnny, all attempting to make balloon animals,unsuccessfully. They resorted to balloon crossbows and eventually balloon headbands, gurning and laughing at each other. The Loose Canon observed them carefully, his fingers laced together across his chest, resplendent in red trousers and navy blazer, the brass buttons flashing as he shifted in his chair.
“There you are, Johnny”, he suddenly blurted, pointing up to the gable end of the barn, “ you can have that one when I’m gone.”
Everybody’s attention was drawn to the array of animal horns hanging on the wall, the uppermost being a fine example of a buffalo.
“Thank you,” Master Johnny grinned.
“Hang on,” said Master George, “ you can’t write Johnny into the will!”
“Oh, yes I can,” replied The Loose Canon defiantly, “ I can do what I like. Johnny, you can have all the horns. But you’ll have to wait until I die.”
The boys looked bemused, but not surprised. This wasn’t an unusual statement from the ecclesiastic, who, after a few glasses of wine and approaching 80, would contemplate his ultimate destination to meet what he hoped to be his maker.
“Anyway, you’ve got all the maps, George. Tom gets all the furniture,” he continued, pointing at The Sexton’s eldest son, who sat on the other sofa, clearly enjoying his grandfather’s performance.
The conversation then moved on, The Loose Canon accepting the offer of another glass of wine, becoming even more relaxed in his chair. However, it didn’t take long for the subject of his chattels to come to the fore once again.
“Here’s a painting you’d appreciate,” he said to me, pointing to a rather large pastel hanging on the wall to his left, just above the sofa where the boys sat, now joined by Jane, wife of The Loose Canon.
It depicted four ladies cavorting on a village green at what appeared to be the annual summer show. But more than that; it was a scene from the village I lived in and entitled ‘Old Meg’s Clog Dancers’ by Peter Rasmussen.
The Loose Canon explained that Peter was an old friend of his, now sadly passed on, who lived in our village.
“What do you think of it?” he asked.
“I really like it,” I answered honestly, “ there’s something quite magical about it,” I continued, before removing my phone from my pocket and taking a picture, to share later with the other villagers and perhaps display at the 50th anniversary village show in September.
“You can have it.”
I looked at The Loose Canon with surprise. He sat serious faced, hands still intertwined, his rheumy eyes staring back at me.
“No, of course, you can’t just let me have the painting,” I said.
“Didn’t you pay £250 for it, dad?” enquired Pen, looking slightly concerned.
He sat as if in thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter. Robert shall have it,” he stated firmly, as if decreeing a law.
I looked at Pen. She shrugged, a look on her face saying ‘if that’s what he wants’.
I decided to play it cool.
“Well, I think you should think about it, it’s very generous of you,” before returning to my seat and waiting for somebody to change the subject. Perhaps he’d nod off and forget his rather magnanimous offer.
The Loose Canon, with no little effort, hauled himself out of his wingback chair, took a couple of paces toward the painting, leaned over his wife and grasped the picture frame firmly by the corner, attempting to remove it. Being over a metre long and half a metre wide, the sheer physical effort needed to take it off its hanging place safely was very unlikely. Jane, alarmed at finding her husband looming over her, aware that a large work of art may fall on her head at any moment, let out a small shriek. The boys reacted quickly in helping The Loose Canon extricate it from the wall.
Victoriously, he handed Old Meg’s Clog Dancers over to me. I didn’t know how to react.
“I know you’re a little embarrassed, Robert, but you shouldn’t be. I want you to have it. Hang it in Randall Towers. It’s a picture of your village painted by an artist from your village,” he continued, “and that’s where it belongs.”
“What on earth are you doing, John?” asked a rather bewildered Jane.
“I want him to have it. Anyway, I need somewhere to hang my Badger.”
Jane shook her head.
“But the badger is awful,” she commented, already resigned to losing the removed artwork.
“Well, thank you John. Thank you very much indeed,” I said.
“That’s quite alright. Just invite me around for supper, that would be lovely,” he replied.
We left half an hour later, with the painting. Pen insisted that it was the right thing to do.
“I’ll come and pick it up tomorrow when he’s realised what he’s done,” said The Sexton.
So now we’ve got to find somewhere to hang it in our house. Lady Barton St Mary is pleased it matches the colour scheme of our drawing room.
So thank you, Loose Canon, for your tremendous generosity, giving a valuable possession away; a retired vicar showing an act of Christian kindness to a friendly atheist.
May your god go with you.