Basil Chives – butcher and newsagent
Village butcher and newsagent Basil Chives has lived in Stonking all his life and was once runner-up in a county-wide Useless Trivia competition. He is the epitome of a ‘good villager’, involved in a wealth of village activities. As well as being a parish councillor, he is a member of the Bowls, Putting, Crocheting, Best Kept Village, Plasticine Modelling, Paranormal Investigations, and Synchronised Trampolining societies. As he puts it – “I feel it important to take an active part in pursuits that might otherwise wither and die; I just cannot understand why these societies all appear to be shrinking further since I joined.”
Villagers still talk of the day when a much younger Basil Chives had descended into the Brambling Castle moat with his metal detector in search of doubloons only to return with – another metal detector. The story now constitutes his sole reference in the Log of Local Interest kept in the village museum near the church.
Other than that he is most renowned for his meaty comestibles, including his famous Devil’s Bangers (a volcanic sausage made of boar meat and leek, peppered with chopped habanero chillies and prunes) and his notorious Mistral chipolatas, consisting of pork and Brussels Sprouts, available now from the butcher’s shop in the High Street.
Rab Selwyn – landlord of The Rancid Polecat
Once ‘something in the city‘, Rab Selwyn has been the landlord of the Rancid Polecat, Stonking‘s only public house, for nigh on nine years, aided by his comely wife Doris. Rab describes himself as a “public house purist“, almost evangelical in his opposition to such distractions as TVs, pinball and gaming machines in pubs. He prides himself on maintaining his bar as a gadget-free zone. His one concession is a wall-mounted jukebox jam-packed with such country and western classics as ‘I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome….I Can’t Keep Control of My Rear’.
As a dedicated ale connoisseur, Rab takes pride in sourcing remote and unusual beers, amongst his favourites being Neptune’s Bile, Old Beaver’s Bottom and threateningly strong Lithuanian lager ShortencurlyHaren, He also has a penchant for concocting his own fancy cocktails, most memorable of which is the Cling On, a gut-wrenching combination of gin, chartreuse, pomegranate juice and sweet chilli sauce.
He is a regular stalwart of the May Bank Holiday festival, for which he erects a well-stocked beverage tent , rigs up a PA system and regales festival goers with a motley variety from his expansive collection of country and western CDs, last year treating those sheltering from the inevitable rain to the hard-to-find ’Raindrops Keep Falling On His Head’ by the Chinese Water Torturers Ceilidh Band
Anita Tush – florist
Anita Tush is the proprietor of Flor de Luna, the quaint flower shop in the centre of the High Street. She is an unlikely florist inasmuch as she suffers chronically from hay fever. Rather than being dissuaded by this handicap, she was actually prompted by it – the constant sneezing was the miracle path she had sought for keeping off the pounds. She is an easily detectable presence around the village : her preferred colour scheme is a monochromatic hotch-potch of greys and blacks. The only thing she wears that is coloured is a floral eye patch.
She arrived in the village some three years ago as the new owner of the run-down and abjectly failing Stonking Stems flower shop. This once-thriving floral emporium had suffered a steady decline since its previous owner, Basil Stoke-Quandary, had won a substantial enough sum on the Premium Bonds to allow him to pursue a qualification in alcoholism. Some said it was the ruin of him; for him it was the making, and he died with a glass of Chateau Lafitte in his hand and an exotic dancer called Lola in his lap. The first thing that Anita did when she took over the premises at a knockdown price from the executor of Stoke Quandary’s estate was to change the name. Not only did Flor d’Luna have an exotic air about it, but it is also the title of her favourite Santana track.
Frank Disclosure – Chairman of the Parish Council
Frank Disclosure is proud of his position as Chairman of the Parish Council, a position he has held for over twenty years. His father occupied the same position forty years ago and this was the first time that Frank could have been said to have emulated his father, who collected preferments like most people collect wrinkles.
Frank takes his responsibilities as Council Chairman seriously, and devotes his full energy to even the most trivial of issues. That the village sports a new bus shelter, a reconditioned set of stocks and a new dong (if that is the technical term) for the inside of the bell in the Clock Tower is largely due to Frank’s sterling efforts. He is married to self-sufficient Florence, and has no offspring that he is prepared to own up to. And he takes criticisms of the Council to heart in a way that would have made Cleopatra appear uncommitted with her asp. He is a firm chairman, renowned for his ability to settle on recalcitrant committee members a gaze that would not have disgraced King Arthur when he had found Guinevere’s chastity belt key on Lancelot’s holy relic key ring.
Frank is a stickler for sartorial etiquette at all times, wearing a jacket and tie de rigeur, his only deference to the weather being the occasional short-sleeved shirt. Not for him the informality of the scantily-clad. Some have rumoured that he even wears a tie to bed, and his wife Florence has done nothing to refute the allegations.
Edith Farley – Church warden and more besides
Chair of the Best Kept Village committee, there is precious little about the village and its inhabitants that she does not know. She has lived in the village her entire life, a longevity that brings with it, in her estimation, certain responsibilities in the way of upholding standards in the face of apparent social dementia.
She visits the Church of St Andrew most days of the week in her role as church warden. Although she lives what many might describe as a quiet life, it is to her hectic enough to warrant regular recourse to the solace of a tranquil church interior.
She was widowed nine years ago after thirty-six years with her husband Harold. Her recollections of him are of a steady man, smart in a Man at Oxfam sort of way, handsome if you had a thing about men with a squint, and considered by her parents to be quite a catch. Their marriage had been happy enough, and he had earned good enough money as a foreman at Passwood Nurseries, the local mushroom grower. After he died, Edith found that the acquisition of a Siamese cat and a goldfish seemed to go someway towards restoring her equilibrium. .
Disraeli Gears – taxi driver
Disraeli Gears is Stonking’s best-known (if only) taxi driver. Generally attired in a tie-dyed T-shirt and jeans that look as if they had survived Vietnam – just – he is a self-confessed relic of the 70s in everything from demeanour to the musical taste that he insists on inflicting upon unsuspecting passengers in his vehicle. He and Rancid Polecat landlord Rab Selwyn regularly attempt a meeting of minds over the relative merits of each others’ musical tastes, with the inevitable mutual conclusion that the other’s preferences have no merits. For Rab, the arena of heavy metal is devoid of lyricism, melody or subtlety, whilst for Disraeli country’n’western is music to slit wrists by.
Disraeli lives and runs his business from a converted railway outhouse that is one of the last reminders of the days when Stonking had a thriving railway. It is a compact residence – one bedroom and one box room which he has, naturally enough, filled with boxes – and one lounge/diner which is the main hub of his world (after his Vauxhall Vectra taxi cab). In these days of CD domination, he remains strictly a vinyl man, and one whole wall of the lounge/diner is taken up with a behemoth of a record collection, all arranged in group alphabetical order and, within each group, in order of release date, varying from the Ozark Mountain Daredevils to the Pubic Beards. And not one of them released after 1976. His absolute favourite song is ‘ Father Frankenstein Is Behind Your Pillow’ from Stackridge circa 1972 when bands didn’t think twice about inserting such lyrics as ‘Annie Besant is dusting her mausoleum’ into a song.
Member of the Parish Council and village cricket team, Albert Brown is a farmer who was born with the blood of the land flowing through his veins and no requirement for a transfusion since. Of good farming stock, his family has farmed the same land for generations past and, he hopes, for generations future. Since the death of his parents he has lived on his own in a big farmhouse with undisturbed views of the South Downs. He describes himself as a man of simple needs. He has never ventured further than the county boundary and never felt the need to. His whole world revolves around the village that has been his environment since birth, and amongst village folk he is renowned as a teller of yarns and for taking his pet ferret out for a walk on a lead at dawn each morning. Has a Springer spaniel called Daniel, a Siamese cat called Nat, a pet squirrel called Cyril, and a pet duck called Frank.
The Revd. Arthur Spears
35 years old, and vicar at St Andrews for the past three years, the Revd Arthur Spears is a highly principled man, which – as a vicar – is not a bad way to be. He has confessed that his only dalliance with drugs is an occasional paracetamol, “and the only time I have smoked was when a mischievous choirboy set my cassock alight“. He has, though, been known to have the occasional shandy too many, but as this normally just makes him jolly and slightly irreverent, this is seen by the understanding villagers of Stonking as a sign of his humanity.
Father Spears also prides himself on being a good community vicar, at all times approachable and attentive, knowing when to listen and when to counsel. Despite occasional thefts from the property, he refuses to have the church locked, saying that would be akin to “denying access to the Lord”. He maintains an immaculate church and a churchyard kept tidy and picturesque with almost military precision. Father Spears has just inaugurated a church appeal to raise the £30,000 necessary to have central heating installed. But in four weeks the Fund has only raised seventy-eight pence, ten euros, one nickel and one Chocolate Button. “At this rate it will be celebrating its thousandth anniversary in 2164 with still-shivering parishioners.”
Loretta Martin lives in a fine mock tudor residence just outside Stonking on the Chesswood road. A relative newcomer to the village, having only been a resident for three years, she describes herself as a ‘businesswoman of leisure’ specialising in ‘stress relief for the modern executive’. An elegant and natty divorcee, during her married life she lived in Moulding-Under-Armpits in the Cotswolds, where the Avon lady spent so long on her visits that she had been mistaken for a lodger. She readily acknowledges that she is almost obsessive about appearance and this obsession she extends towards her possessions as well as herself. This means that the exterior of her house is in immaculate order, and in her garage she keeps a red BMW 3 series that she will not take out in the rain. Keeping guard over her gated domicile are her three Dobermanns, Flopsy, Mopsy and Whoopsy (the most difficult of the three to housetrain).
Loretta is a well-renowned patron of any number of village endeavours and endeared herself to many villagers as soon as she moved in. The Stonking Museum was crawling through a fund-raising campaign to allow it to move from its cramped quarters to the purpose-built deluxe new premises, next to the village Library, in which it currently resides. They needed the substantial sum of £10,000 and a year of charity bazaars, bring and buy sales, coffee mornings and whist drives had drummed up the derisory figure of £382.50, two French francs and a trouser button. Loretta approached the Parish Council and the trustees of the Museum with an offer to host a social fund-raising gathering at her house. She chose to hold a Murder Mystery dinner and cabaret on the theme of Murder at the Moulin Rouge. She persuaded shop owner Maria Ferrini that taking part would provide a close to catwalk opportunity to show off the latest ranges from her Lingerie Longa emporium on the High Street. And so the two ladies had spent the majority of the evening dressed (and, at times, nearly dressed) in a range of exotic undies. Of no real surprise to anyone was the success of the evening, which raised £800 for the Museum and saw a 30% surge in sales at Lingerie Longa.
She then compounded her entry into village life at one of Rab Selwyn’s regular Amateur Nights at the Rancid Polecat where she and fellow villagers Maria Ferrini, Amber Signal and Martha Tydville wowed the audience with an impromptu version of ’Stand On Your Man’ as The Foxy Chicks (“the Dixie Chicks but with less clothes,” as Loretta had introduced them to a monumental round of cheers and wolf whistles).
Stonking Tourist Information officer Amber Signal is only five feet tall but generally adds all-important inches to her height by wearing a spiky peroxide hairstyle that belies her 46 years of age. She is a Parish councillor, and almost singlehandedly ensured that this year’s May Bath Race should not be cancelled in the face of the District Council Health & Safety supremo objections. “What do you mean – no Bath Race? This is my moment of glory!!” she had declared at the Council meeting to decide the event’s fate. She was dressed as a mermaid with a large rosette displaying her vital statistics – ‘36-24-98 pence per kilo’. The Council caved in.
It is a matter of some regret to Amber Signal that since her university days, she has done little to make any practical use of the English degree that she had won amidst the usual distractions and predilections of heady student life. To dispel this disappointment in herself, last year she started up a up a poetry class in Stonking. She has pursued his initiative with enthusiasm and established a series of sessions held every Tuesday evening in the Village Hall. She had been dubious about the level of response she might expect when she began her venture, and so had been pleasantly surprised when her initial advert in the window of The News Prince had garnered a dozen responses. Some were not altogether unexpected – Edith Farley, Frank Disclosure, Basil Chives – but others were, as she so poetically put it, “so out of left field as to necessitate turning round to spot them“. Of these, Abel Batchelor, whose idea of ‘poetic licence’ appeared to be any that allowed pubs to open 24 hours a day, was the most surprising. “But so long as he is prepared to pay his £3.00 per session, who am I to complain?” was Amber’s pragmatic response.
Proprietor of the Lingerie Longa shop on the High Street, Maria Ferrini has lived in the UK for all forty-four years of her life, only visiting Italy on three occasions as a young girl, when her grandparents still lived in the village of Pieve di Compito near the northern town of Lucca. In the early 70s Maria was taken on by a central London modelling agency and, after a number of years of fashion shoots, reached the pinnacle of her success as “the girl in the ruby port advert”, which, she admits candidly, involved little more than “sauntering scantily-clad around a stately home of England“. But within weeks, hers was a face and figure (if not a name) recognised throughout the UK.
At a promotional party in late 1983 she met her future husband, the Rt. Hon. Selwyn Monk, Eton- and Cambridge- educated, who had enjoyed a distinguished military career before retiring, aged 38, to enter politics. He was, at 41, eighteen years older than the captivating Maria. Within two months, their wedding photographs were featured in Tatler and they had embarked on honeymoon to Antigua. Monk’s popularity soared just from his attachment to such a beauty, and he was soon being tipped for Cabinet status. But then one particular Sunday tabloid got a sniff of a story about her amorous encounters with a professional footballer, and the media sank their jackal teeth in until her blood was all over the front pages of every paper except ‘Exchange & Mart’. Within three months, the marriage was over and so was Maria‘s public profile. She sold the London apartment, moved to Stonking and invested the remainder of her capital into Lingerie Longa (or, as her bank manager was wont to refer to it, Shifting Shortly), thereby making both the female and male residents of the village all the happier.
Col. ‘Rusty’ Rustington Smythe.
Colonel Jonas Rustington-Smythe is a decorated war hero, former chairman of the parish council, long-standing resident of Stonking and county-renowned mole strangler. And now fully-fledged Parliamentary candidate. He lives on his own in a trim whitewashed cottage in the shadows of the church, where, over a cup of Darjeeling and a plate of chocolate digestives, he will discuss at length what he believes are his credentials for elected office. All the while his aged Scotty dog Enoch sits sentry at his ankles, whilst from the kitchen his mynah bird Benito would interrupt proceedings with frequent cries of what might sound to untrained ears as ’Achtung!’
Perhaps understandably, the traditional political parties have curried little favour with Jonas, who dismisses them as a ‘bunch of charlatans with the perspicacity of an aardvark’. So Jonas, or ’Rusty’ as he is known to all and sundry, has started up his own party, RYE which stands for Respect Your Elders, as well as being a nostalgic reminder of a place he holds in great affection. Amongst his manifesto pledges are :
All baseball caps should be banned
Free ale for the over 70s
Dogs fouling pavements to be shot
Free pipe tobacco for the over 70s.
Pedestrianisation of village car parks.
Complimentary queue-barging for the over 70s
Rusty is, naturally enough, over 70. When not dispensing his political sophistry (often from a bar stool in the Rancid Polecat), Rusty likes nothing better than to settle in front of the TV for the Bizarre Channel’s evening coverage of Bottomless Snooker from the Old Knackers Yard at Cockfosters. “There were some things for which even the temptation of the Rancid Polecat is no substitute,” he explains