Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
Trying to get back to Devizes
Cro's comment on yesterday's post reminded me of a famous old drunk in Bath called Mr Willoughby.
I first met him around 35 years ago when he stopped me in the street to tell me that he had missed the last bus to Devizes, and so urgently needed to take a taxi there. It was about 10.30 at night.
It so happened that I knew when the last bus to Devizes was - about 11.00 I seem to remember - and it also happened that he was only 100 yards from the correct stop, and I told him this.
He insisted that I was wrong, and said that even if I were right, he could never make it to the bus-stop in time to catch it. I pointed over his shoulder to the stop, and said that even he could walk 100 yards in half an hour, but he kept asking for the taxi fare, which was something like £20.
I began to smell a rat, but gave him the benefit of the doubt along with about £2.50 which was the bus fare. He took it with bad grace and walked away mumbling.
About two days later, I ran into him again in a different part of town. He was - apparently - still trying to get back to Devizes. I gave him a bit more money, this time less than the bus fare.
Over the next few months, I often heard him shout "I'M TRYING TO GET BACK TO DEVIZES!" at various people, including me. He did not have a very good memory for faces. The last time I gave him a few pence (my contributions to his bus-fare became smaller and smaller), I asked him to take a long, hard look at my face, because the next time he saw it, there would be no money forthcoming from underneath it.
He stared up at me with rheumy, bloodshot eyes above a bulbous, lurid nose and beneath a filthy pork-pie hat which was about 4 sizes too small for him. This hat was his trademark and I never saw him without it, or the horribly stained tie which he wore on an equally sordid shirt of indeterminate colour.
It was an awful experience to have him staring silently at me on the street for just about as long as he thought it would take to convince me that he was taking it all in and would never make the same mistake again.
A day later he came toward me on the pavement, and said, "I'M TRYING TO GET BACK TO DEVIZES!", and I walked on by without a word in return.
Over the coming years, I began to learn all there was to know about Mr Willoughby, which was not much. I never found out his first name, for instance. He frequented the only pub in Bath which would allow him through the doors, but blotted his copybook one day by allowing a turd to fall from one of his trouser legs and onto the floor of the establishment. He stood defensively over the offending lump of shit, furiously denying that it had anything to do with him, even though there was nobody else with 15 feet of it when it hit the ground.
Before this unfortunate incident, he had just bought a pint of cider when a couple of firemen came running into the pub to tell him that his house was burning down. "Right you are," said Mr Willoughby, "I'll be right there as soon as I've finished this pint."
There was another time when he came up to me and said, "I'M TRYING TO GET BACK TO DEVIZES!", and I said, "No you're not - you live in the old Eye Hospital, just up Lansdown Hill."
He paused for a second or two, trying to think of a strategy or alibi which would get him the bus fare. I could almost hear what was left of his brain cells creaking under the strain.
He eventually looked up from the pavement and said, "Ah - I used to live there, but now I live in Devizes!"
The ocean of cider he had drunk over the years finally got him, and following a bout of illness in hospital, he died sober for the first time in years, about 10 of them ago.
After he had been buried, they discovered that he had a small fortune sitting untouched in a bank account, and a son who popped up at the last minute to claim it.
I would like to say that I miss him, but this would not be strictly true. I wonder if he ever made it to Devizes?