Eddy, Ed to his friends, lived in the North Dorset village of Buckhorn Weston for all of his life save for the last months when he was resident in a care home in Sherborne. He had spent his time, for the most part, on various farms around the village and had a few gardening jobs around the local big houses. He was what could be described as a country man of the old kind. That is to say, he held those that lived in big houses and farmers in awe. Clearly he been brought up to know his place as they used to say. Ed lived in a cottage at the top of the village hill which, conveniently, was only a few hundred yards from the pub. Convenient, that is, on the way down but a major pain on the way back up. Especially so as Ed only had one lung. I don't know the history of this disability, but, one thing is for sure it did not deter Ed from his cigarettes which he continued to puff away at until he died. It would appear that Ed was no great traveller as local legend has it that he only left the village once to go to London.
The story goes that he went there to see a lady. Be that as it may, the circumstances of his trip, no doubt, went a great way to ensure that he never bothered again to venture outside the village. On the fateful day Ed had arranged a lift to the local railway station at Gillingham, about five miles or so away. He had also arranged to be picked up at the station in the evening upon his return. The pub landlord being the designated taxi for the day. Ed got around locally by means of lifts granted by a wide range of people. However, on the day of the London trip local drinkers and the said landlord, began to become a bit uneasy when, as the evening passed, there was no call from Ed. Just the concern level was becoming a major worry, the telephone rang and a stranger on the other end imparted the good news that Ed was safe and well. The problem was, he was in Exeter. Having gone to sleep in the train Ed had slept his way through Gillingham and finally woke up in Exeter, which for him, might as well have been another planet. The long suffering landlord got out his car and drove to recover Ed from Exeter. This, of course, was a round trip of many miles and several hours.
When we first moved to the village my daughters were the first members of the family to meet Ed, having visited the pub with friends, they inevitably encountered Ed in his seat at the corner of the bar. An ever present Ed was not one to hold back if he saw someone new in the pub. "Who be you and where do e live" would usually be followed by a potted history of all of the previous people that had lived in the house of the newcomer. In many cases he could also reveal the name of the builder that had built it.
In any event, Ed subjected the girls to his usual enquiry and engaged them in conversation as was his wont. He especially liked girls, that is not to suggest that he was anything other than a perfect gentleman, but he just liked the female of the species and they, generally,liked him. Ed didn't change much he wore most things until they became so shabby that they were replaced by gifts from local people who "looked after him". His dress was, therefore, uncoordinated and at times rather odd, be that as it may, he always had a large collection of badges pinned to both lapels of his jacket and for good measure a few on his hat of the day.
Having met Ed the girls duly reported back and presented the news that Ed was an egg seller. I assumed this meant he was a local poultry farmer and as such supplied local businesses with his eggs. Well, not quite, Ed did keep a few hens and he did supply some of their eggs to the pub. In fact he had a mutually acceptable arrangement with the landlord which worked upon the basis of a few pints in return for a certain number of eggs. Ed's eggs were good, he fed his birds on a great mixture of mash, bread, (which he got free from a local bakery when passed its sell by date ),and vegetables which all went to ensure a good coloured and flavoured yolk. Trust me, the feeding of laying hens does have a significant impact upon the quality of the eggs they produce. So, when Ed discovered that I also kept poultry I became the target of his attention whenever I entered the pub. There was no getting away from him, Ed would shout right across the building to get ones attention and he would not be put off. It was, therefore, much better to attend upon him on entry and then make your excuses.It wasn't that I didn't like talking to him, it was just that the conversations tended to be the same on each occasion and, inevitably involved providing the beer during the talks!
Over the years I provided Ed with birds various, when he learned that I had some ducks he casually told me one evening he had always fancied keeping a few ducks. This was his particular code for, "Can you give me a few ducks?", which, of course, is exactly what happened. There was no question of not doing so as Ed would bring up the matter of him getting a few ducks every time he encountered me and it was easier to concede and provide the said few ducks. On another occasion Ed had learned, through another customer in the pub that I had purchased some more hens from a local poultry farm. Of course, it was just at the time when Ed himself, "could do with a few more birds!"
The birds I had obtained had been purchased from a huge local egg producer and the hens had lived their lives in vast aircraft-hanger like buildings in horrible conditions at the rate of three to a cage. After the end of the first years laying cycle the hens were cleared out and sent for pie making etc. It was at this point that hens could be purchased for a few shillings each. However,there was a bit of a down side to doing this as the birds in question were almost naked. Having lived in an environmentally controlled system they had little need for feathers. What happened after leaving this regime was usually predictable and, to a large part,depended upon the weather. If it happened to be summer and warm the feather growing process was slower and gradual, if on the other hand, it was winter and cold the birds would go off lay and produce feathers with every grain of food they consumed. The shock of the cold could also result in a few losses.
What all this means is a situation where one is feeding a large number of hens which are eating for England and producing no eggs in return. This process of readjustment can take a couple of months. Having learned, over a period of several weeks, how desperate Ed was becoming for a "few more birds", I carefully explained to him where the birds came from and the obvious disadvantages of having some as egg production for him could be many weeks ahead. He, would, I explained, get a few eggs to start with followed by a complete slump until the hens had got used to their new life. This was, he assured me,no impediment to him obtaining the much needed and desired few extra birds.
When asked to quantify the few extra he referred to I was expecting to be asked for four or five, perhaps half a dozen. I was therefore, a little taken aback when I was told a couple of dozen would do nicely. It should, dear reader, be understood that coin of the realm never featured in Ed's calculations, there was a tacit expectation that the birds would be collected, delivered at a convenient time, (when Ed was not at the pub), and payment would not be discussed. On a good day, having delivered the birds, one might be promised a pint on Ed when next attending the pub. This was one of the few things that Ed's memory let him down on, I don't ever remember being harassed by Ed to take advantage of this grand offer every time I encountered him! The hens requested I delivered and again made sure Ed was aware of the process of adjustment which would surely follow, and indeed, the chance of an odd loss in the process.
I didn't see Ed for a couple of weeks after this event, not having been to the pub. Upon my next visit I received Ed's summons to attend him, hardly before I had made it through the pub door. As I approached his seat of office he announced to the whole establishment , ‘'they birds I bought off you ent no good, one of em as died and tothers ent layin''. Every head in the place turned and all eyes were on me.I hate to think what thoughts were going through the minds of those watching. Needless to say I was not a happy chap. Having put Ed firmly in his place, and made it generally known that no money had changed hands I did receive, what for Ed, was something of an apology. "'Oh a I forgot that"' Still we poultry keepers must stick together and Ed and I remained mates. More next month.