1.5A Pannus mihi Passionis

Short story  published in ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine in the Summer 2019 edition. Also featured on-line by the Daily Pulp on 17 July 2019.

‘Pannus mihi passionis’ is the sixth short story in the ‘Selwyn’ series.  Please read ‘The Final Vote ‘ ,‘Lost Sheep’, ‘Weapon of Choice’ , ‘The Fee Generation Game’ and ‘Faster than a man can run’ the first five stories in the ‘Selwyn’ series before this.

The Selwyn series is written specifically for the Terrier.  Each story is a self-contained episode in the life of an early-retired Council Property Manager from 2003 to the present day and beyond as he continues to maintain occasional contact with his former colleagues from the fictional Herdwick District Council.  The characters often present controversial and outspoken opinions on local and central government policy and practice. Please accept that those stories, all names, characters and incidents portrayed are fictitious and are views expressed by the author, not those of ACES. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. Also, occasional historical background details may have been changed to fit the chronology. Enjoyment of these stories will be enhanced if they are read in order from the beginning.  The first ones are available by clicking on these links – ‘The Final Vote’,  ‘Lost Sheep’ , ‘Weapon of Choice’ , ‘The Fee Generation Game’ and ‘Faster than a man can run’.

 

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 “Pannus mihi Passionis” (Spring 2013)

Bernard looked every inch the prosperous businessman that farming, the Dating Agency and the Wedding Business had made him, despite the Recession. He stood with his back to an exhibition case at one end of the room and faced the interested onlookers. The spaces between exhibits in the Long Gallery on the ground floor of Shepdale Museum were packed and people were still squeezing in at the back as he started to speak.

‘Good evening. I’m the Chairman of Shepdale Heritage Society and of the Friends of Shepdale Museum.  Thank you for coming tonight to this combined extra-ordinary general meeting. I’m pleased to see such a large turn-out and I’d like to welcome the many new members who’ve recently joined. As you know, the future of the Museum is under threat and this meeting is to consider what to do about it. You will recall that Herdwick District Council is suffering from extreme austerity cuts from the Government and is forced to look at cutting non-statutory services … things like public conveniences, parks etc … that it is not compelled by law to provide.  In particular the Council has decided that it can no longer go on supporting the Museum service.  It intends to sell off those parts of the Collection that it owns outright, return those items held on loan and sell the lease of the building. We know that Shepdale College is interested in buying it. Since the last meeting we have co-opted an expert to provide us with some estates advice and discussions have been held with the Council’s Acting Property Manager. Tonight our expert, Selwyn, will report on progress and ask for your opinions. So …’

The Shepdale Museum was located at the far end of Sheepfold Lane, the main shopping street in Shepdale.  It was an imposing two storey detached limestone building with a generous basement and attics under a local slate roof. It stood in its own grounds and backed on to the Shepdale College Art Building which matched its style of construction.  In his former role as Property Manager to Herdwick District Council Selwyn had managed the maintenance of the Museum building so knew it well.

Selwyn stepped forward.

‘Hello. As this is a Heritage Society meeting it seems appropriate that I remind you of the history of one of Shepdale’s best known characters. This is particularly relevant to the situation tonight… as you will learn. I refer, of course, to Walter Winster (1889-1945) the poet and novelist.

Walter was born in 1889 and brought up on the family sheep farm in the Shepdale Valley. As the only son, he was destined to take over the farm from his father. However, as he later related in his autobiographical novel ‘Fleeced in Carlisle’, after a drinking session in 1915 he woke up in Carlisle Castle Barracks with a hangover to find himself enlisted in the army. In typical military fashion, because of his farming experience, he was wrongly placed as a farrier with the Army Transport Corps. He said nothing about this error because it helped to keep him out of the front line and so, despite knowing nothing about horses, he fooled the authorities just long enough for him to survive the war.  On returning to Shepdale he decided that he’d seen enough of animals to last him a lifetime and took employment more suited to his interests as a barman in the Wandering Tup in Shepdale. It was during this time that he met his wife Mary (or ‘Mad Mary’ as she was often referred to when seen with a pick-axe shaft in her hand at throwing-out time), the daughter of his employer. They inherited the pub upon the death of her alcoholic father and had one son, Thomas, who ran away to London with the contents of the till as soon as he was tall enough to pull a pint.  Walter and Mary failed to spot his absence for three days as they wrangled with Shepdale Insurance about the fire that had gutted the public bar that very same night. The cause of the fire was never established but Thomas was not seen again in Shepdale.

Despite not returning to his farming heritage Walter retained ownership of the family farm, let it out to tenants and often visited it to check on his investment.  It was speculated that his lifelong interest in the wool trade stemmed from the wish for his tenants to be successful and thus keep the rent high. The rare photo in that cabinet over there shows him checking the quality of the wool of the Herdwick on his knee with his tenant at his side. It’s felt that this photo was posed for a book-cover re-issue because, although he championed the wool trade in the town, he usually avoided any contact with sheep unless they were presented to him cooked on a plate.

The sale of Walter’s poems and novels together with the income from the pub and the rent from the farm enabled him to lead a very comfortable life, eventually rising to become Mayor of the former Shepdale Municipal Borough Council (merged into Herdwick District Council in 1974) where he championed the Wool and Pub Trades equally in many lively and violent debates, often when the worse for drink.

His best known work, the world famous poem ‘Ode to t‘Erdwick’ almost earned him the appointment as ‘Poet Laureate’ until his prison record for drunken assault on a political opponent was revealed to the selection panel.  It was written in 1919, when Walter was 30 years old, as a counterbalance to the First World War poets. It was an immediate sensation and, together with his later poems and novels, secured his international reputation as the North’s greatest dialect writer. His purpose in writing was to remind people of all that was good about Britain despite the recent horrors of that war. He saw that the simple rural life, as epitomised by the horses that he’d cared for, were being replaced by mechanical monsters like tanks capable of causing great carnage. His message was that, notwithstanding the bravery and sacrifice of the fallen, those same changes might happen in peacetime. The likely post-war rush to industrialisation caused by the conversion of the steel and armaments industries into domestic production might well sweep away the best aspects of the rural world, including shepherding on the fells. There has been much academic debate about whether he was ahead of his time or just totally wrong because sheep farming on the fells could never be mechanised and remains unchanged to this day, essentially still relying upon one man with a crook and a dog, both usually on foot.  However, other aspects of rural life did eventually change with the advent of large combines, loss of hedgerows, mechanical milking, genetically modified crops etc as he had feared, although those changes did not happen until after the Second World War and, even now, it’s mainly only the Green Party that sees them as necessarily bad.  Notwithstanding that debate, his sentiments were aptly summed up in the Ode’s immortal final lines:

“Tis t’grandest sight a man can see

Yon ‘erdwicks oot on’t fell.

Then us knows thars scran on’t table

An’ all with England’s well.”

His other works include the anthologies ‘Fellside Musings’ where he reflects on the state of Britain between the wars (see later reference to modern politics) and its allegorical sequel ‘In need of Man’s Best Friend’ written just before the outbreak of World War Two and which compared the Government to a flock of sheep and suggested that the Prime Minister had less ability to organise them than a reject from a Border Collie litter.

His novels reflect his fascination with the unsavoury side of northern life.  They include the very comic ‘Fleeced in Carlisle’, referred to earlier, where he describes his encounter with the violent companions of a lady of the night on a weekend trip to Carlisle’s beer festival resulting in his unplanned enlistment in the army.

‘A Shearer’s Tale’ describes the fictitious double life of an itinerant Scottish youth who shears sheep at the quiet fell farms during the week but visits the bustling cities to play professional Rugby League at weekends.  In this novel the hero, young Marty, wins the Shepdale shearing championship on a Friday afternoon before cycling overnight without lights to Bradford to star in the 1935 R L Championship top-four playoff final victory at the Odsall Stadium on the Saturday. There he scores the winning try and collects his winner’s bonus before disappearing with both trophies for an evening visit to a hostelry in the seedier part of Bradford accompanied by ‘a blonde–haired older lady of common appearance’. The pair were never seen again. This later inspired the popular Pinewood Studios film ‘Up fer t’Cup’, starring a youthful Gordon Jackson, and re-enforces Winster’s theme from ‘Fleeced in Carlisle’ about the corrupting influence of progressive city life on an innocent country boy.

His collection of short stories entitled ‘Infamous Lock-ins at the Tup’ depict the adventures of local characters who frequented his premises after closing time and has been compared favourably as a more salacious parallel to Dickens’ ‘Pickwick Papers’. The case against him for libel arising from one story fell apart when the litigant was found drowned and reeking of alcohol in a sheep dip on the edge of town. The Coroner recorded a verdict of probable accidental suffocation from breathing in wool fibres floating in the contaminated water. Walter and Mary gave each other an alibi for the night in question which was supported by their regulars

Walter was a man of contradictions.  He was a dyed-in-the-wool Tory Councillor known to hold strong views on the sanctity of market forces above all else, particularly as regards the retail sale of alcohol.  However his poems about the free-roaming Herdwicks in ‘Fellside Musings’ have been credited with inspiring the modern-day environmental movement resulting in the creation of the Green Party. Also, despite his reputation as a tight-fisted publican, his interest in local history, particularly the wool trade, led him to grant the lease of the former wool warehouse on Sheepfold Lane at a peppercorn rent to the Council to house the Museum. That he had won it in a late-night poker game and that it was semi-derelict, scheduled as unsafe and in need of substantial remedial expenditure at the time may have helped influence his philanthropic decision.  However, at the later enquiry which failed to reach a conclusion and thus acquitted him, he claimed that it was purely co-incidental that he had been appointed Mayor immediately following the grant of that lease and furthermore that there was absolutely no connection between that appointment and the subsequent abandonment of all discussions by the Licensing Committee regarding the Methodist-sponsored Liberal Party proposal to severely restrict the drinking hours in Shepdale and thus reduce violence in the town centre in the evenings.

Walter met his demise at the age of 56 following the disputed outcome of a bet with a customer that he could see the top of Blackpool Tower from the roof of the Wandering Tup. Witnesses in the large crowd below attested that the word ‘welcher’ was shouted and that both then lost their grip on the chimney stack, rolled down the roof and fell into Sheepfold Lane, with Walter landing underneath his adversary and thus unintentionally saving the other’s life at the cost of his own.  At his funeral, on VE day in 1945, silent crowds lined the route along Sheepfold Lane and Allhallows Road with Herdwick fleeces to muffle the sound of the horses as the funeral cortege wound its way to Allhallows Graveyard. It was an ironic twist that wool prices had plummeted overnight as orders for fleece linings for aircrews’ flight suits were cancelled. Thereafter, as the Herdwick Gazette reported, customers were ten deep at the bar and spilling out onto the pavement at the Wandering Tup for the rest of the day until well after midnight and “the local Constabulary were hard-pressed to contain them in their enthusiasm to mourn his passing whilst simultaneously celebrating the end of the War.”

Shepdale MBC’s motto “Pannus mihi passionis”, meaning ‘wool (literally ‘cloth’) is my passion’ was carved on his tombstone. Mary is reputed to have said later that it should have read ‘wool is my brain’ in relation to the manner of his death.  His works still continue to sell in small numbers, particularly in Brighton.

When Walter had granted the Lease of the Museum building to the Council he included the following terms and Conditions:

  • The term to be for 999 years from 1st September 1935.
  • The rent to be one shilling (now 5 new pence) per annum payable yearly in advance as and when demanded and without review.
  • The building not to be used other than as a museum for the enjoyment and education of the residents of Shepdale and for no other purpose whatsoever.
  • The Council to covenant to put the building into good and tenantable repair at the commencement of the lease and to maintain it as such thereafter.
  • The Council not to make any alterations or improvements to the building without the consent of the Landlord.
  • The Council to meet all running costs and outgoings in respect of the property.

After Walter’s death Mary sold the farm and the pub and was rumoured to have gone to London in search of Thomas. No rent for the Museum has ever been collected by Walter or his descendants.  No one knows who inherited the benefit of the ownership of the freehold from Walter. So the Council has formed the view that it can sell the lease for alternative commercial use because it is unlikely that anyone with a direct interest will come forward to challenge its proposal and, it believes, it can arrange realistic Forfeiture of Lease (Breach of Covenant) insurance against such an unlikely occurrence.

However, we have discovered some information which may well frustrate the Council’s plans.

Bernard, your Chairman, farms sheep up the Shepdale Valley.  His neighbour runs the adjoining farm, the one with a guesthouse and the small Herdwick Visitor Centre.  Recently he mentioned to Bernard that, last year, one of his guests was called John Winster, that he lived in London and that he’d claimed to be the only grandchild of Walter, visiting to research his family tree. He’d stayed at that farm because it had been the Winster family farm.  When the Council’s threat to the Museum made the front page of the Herdwick Gazette, Bernard had the presence of mind to mention this information to me. I have contacted John, seen his research and also confirmed with the Publishers that all royalties for Walter’s writing are being paid to John following the death of his father, Thomas, until the copyright expires in 2015.

The Solicitor for Herdwick District Council accepts that John is the current Landlord of the Museum building.  He’s advised the Council that it won’t be possible to sell the Lease for any other use without consent from John Winster. However, it can still sell the Collection, mothball the building and make a partial saving that way.  John’s come up from London today and I will ask him to say a few words.’

‘Hello.  Until recently I’d no idea that there was a lease for this building, never mind that I was the Landlord.  The Council has asked me for consent to change the use of the building to commercial purposes to allow them to sell the Lease. I’m minded to refuse.’

A cheer went up from the audience.

‘However, the Council is still in a difficult financial position and I would like to help them if they can come up with a reasonable solution which also includes retaining the Museum use. Now Selwyn will explain how that can be achieved.’

Selwyn continued.

‘I’ve met with Jim, the Council’s Acting Property Manager, and the Principal of Shepdale College. Between us we’ve reached a provisional deal for the College to take over the management of the Museum on a charge-free basis but to keep it open as a Museum at least for the next ten years. There will be sharing of the accommodation with Art courses using the facilities for life and still-life drawing, craft and textile studies, printing and exhibition skills and any other educational interests where the two uses overlap including evening classes for the community. All running costs will be shared on a proportionate basis according to usage. Studies will take place in the mornings and the Museum will be open to the public in the afternoons.  The staff will transfer to the College, keep their curating duties part-time and become part-time lecturers on a new Master’s Degree in Curating, generating income from students from home and abroad. All parties have to approve the deal but first we want to know what you think about it.’

***

Jim was waiting for them in a booth seat in the Tup.  John Winster and Selwyn joined him whilst Bernard went to the bar to buy a round.  Others from the meeting trickled into the pub behind them.

‘How did it go? Is there support for the deal?’

‘I think that you can be pretty optimistic,’ replied Selwyn. ‘Although you don’t strictly need the agreement of the Society and the Friends, as they’re not parties to the Lease, everyone was generally in support. It’s a win, win, win situation. The Councillors will be pleased that they have made a substantial cost saving and they can present themselves as saviours of the Museum at the next election.  The Art College will be happy at securing the shared use of new facilities and the Museum can look forward to a continuing future. It’s all down to John here who’s saved the day.’

‘Thanks, but you people did all the work. I just supported what seemed to me to be a fair and sensible proposal. But Selwyn … there’s one thing that still bothers me.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Can you really see Blackpool Tower off the roof of this building? Did Walter Winster win his wager?’

‘I can tell from that alliteration that you’ve inherited some of your grandad’s literary talent. My honest answer is, I don’t know.  But I can tell you summat fer nowt. I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

***

©David Lewis Pogson 2019

Next read ‘Due Diligence’ the seventh short story in the ‘Selwyn’ series.

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