They had one of those conversations that go: “I don’t know what the world’s coming to, I really don’t”.
“It’s being a funny old year,” said Henry. “These terrible riots and a royal wedding. I was reading summat in the Courier the other day about the ’60s and how they’ve caused a lot of the current unrest.”
“Now that’s near sighted, that is,” said Sam. “It’s not a single decade that’s done this, it’s two world wars in one century, close together. It’s shaken everything up, people have lost sight of what’s right…” he shook his head, sadly.
“It just seems to get worse and worse, though,” said Henry. “Hippies, these Punk Rockers, and I saw a fella on the telly t’other day with a white line painted across his face and these funny little plaits and ribbons in his hair - couldn’t properly tell if he were Arthur or Martha!”
“You’re getting old, Henry!” Annie smiled. “But I must admit these riots are very troubling. They reckon it’s not only unemployed people joining in the looting…”
“Anarchy in the UK at last!” laughed Joe in reply, coming in for a morning cuppa. The gathering gloom was suddenly dispelled.
“Tea or coffee, Joe?” asked his mother.
“Ooh, tea please.” Joe sat down and attacked a piece of parkin. “Talking of things in the news, Henry, how’s Amos getting on with the Cube contest? I saw Ernie Shuttleworth in’t village this morning - he’s looking very confident!”
Henry sighed and rubbed his wrist. “Well, there’s one thing, I’m out of it. I’ve strained my wrist trying to do the blessed thing! And I did do it, an’ all!”
“You did!” Joe gaped. “You kept it quiet!”
Henry nodded: “Yesterday. I Followed this book by a thirteen-year-old lad. A thirteen-year-old, I ask you! I did it, but it took me nearly an hour. I certainly wasn’t championship material even before I ricked my wrist. And Amos gets nowhere near even doing a side of the thing! He’s like a soul demented. There’s not a minute’s peace. He’s got umpteen cubes, and umpteen books and magazines on how to solve the thing. He’s tried smearing them with Zam Buk, lard, butter, even got a bottle of vegetable oil in specially. He’s determined not to face the fact that we’re no competition for’t Malt Shovel.” Henry sighed and decided a change of subject was called for. “How are things at NY, Joe?”
“Busy,” said Joe. “And there’s an awful lot of them Rubik’s Cubes about amongst the estate workers, Henry. They’re provin’ to be a bit of a distraction.”
So much for a change of subject!
Henry sighed again: “I know. Amos has been through our NY regulars with a fine toothcomb seekin' a Cubist - he was on at Jim Brett last night, and you know how shaky he is.”
“He’s retiring next year,” said Joe. “Shame in some ways. Damn good cowman.”
“I knew his father, William Brett,” Sam chipped in. “Wonderful with cattle ’e were - told the vet a thing or two on many occasions. You remember William Brett, don’t you, Annie?”
“Aye, Dad, I do - a lovely man,” said Annie.
“Good cowman, eh? We could do with somebody as good with the Cube,” said Henry mournfully. “Because Amos won’t leave go. He’s fixated. You know how he gets. It’s ‘Cube, Cube, Cube’ from morning till night with him. Even the Royal Wedding seems to have passed him by.”
“Who is the Malt Shovel Cube chap, then?” asked Annie.
“Bernie Slater,” Henry replied, gloomily.
“Bernie Slater?!” Annie was startled. “But I’ve never known him to take interest in owt like that before. I wouldn’t imagine it was his type of thing at all.”
“Me neither,” Joe agreed. “He used to scare the wits out of us when we were kids, great gangling bloke… we used to think he was really creepy, the way he used to sit there outside Malt Shovel, starin’ into space, waitin’ for openin’ time…”
“He’s doo-lally - allus ’as been,” said Sam. “Runs in’t family. His mother…”
“Now, Dad, you speak no evil!” Annie broke in.
Sam subsided back into his chair. “I wasn’t going to, Annie! But it’s not speakin’ evil to tell’t truth and Mary Slater spent a lot of her adult years in Hotten Mental Hospital, as well you know!”
“Well, whatever his background, he certainly knows how to do the blasted Cube,” said Henry. “Ernie Shuttleworth brought him in the other day to give us a demonstration. You’re right, Joe, I’ve never seen him close up before, but he does seem a little on the odd side. Hardly spoke a word and his forehead really bulged with concentration whilst he was twisting the Cube about. Looked quite startling. He’s not real championship material, mind, wouldn’t get on the telly or owt like that, but three minutes and eighteen seconds is good by Beckindale standards - and that was his time at the Woolpack t'other day. Mind you, I know some of the youngsters round ’ere are a lot faster.”
“Shame Andy Longthorn’s too young to drink at the Woolpack,” said Joe. “I gave him a lift up to Lower Hall Farm a few days back and he did the Cube right in front of my eyes: 56 seconds. His hands were just a blur.”
“Hasn’t Ernie Shuttleworth asked to see the Woolpack champion?” asked Sam.
“Oh aye,” Henry shook his head. “But Amos just says: ‘Our champion will be revealed all in good time,’ - he’s bluffing for England!”
“Wish my eyes were better, I'd have a go,” said Sam, who had forgotten about his earlier negative stance regarding the Cube and adults taking an interest in it. He was now simply concerned that the honour of the Woolpack should be upheld.
“Never mind,” said Henry, brightening a little, as Annie poured him another mug of tea and offered the plate of parkin to him for a second time. “Amos’ll have to give up sooner or later. Then we can all get some peace!”
At the Woolpack, things were very quiet. Truth to tell, people were a little tired of Amos wittering on about the Rubik’s Cube and trying to get them to have a go at it. In the absence of anything better to do, Amos was moaning at Walter, his only customer that morning.
“It’s just like Mr Wilks, “ he was saying. “Just when I need support, he lets me down. He manages to do the Cube, then goes and hurts his wrist before he can get his speed up. I could’ve coached him, Walter, but no, ’e ’as to go rickin’ his wrist. Now I don’t know where to turn. And it has to be a regular for’t contest…”
“So it ’as, Amos!” said a voice behind him. Amos whipped round to find Seth Armstrong grinning at him.
Amos was not keen on Seth. For years, Seth’s local had been the Malt Shovel and Amos had rarely seen him. But he’d started popping into the Woolpack a year or two back, and had soon become a fully-fledged regular. This did not please Amos. He strongly suspected that everything Seth did was done simply to annoy him.
Amos was sharp: “What are you doin’, creepin’ up on me, Seth Armstrong?!”
“I weren’t creepin’ up on nawbody,” said Seth. “This is a public ’ouse and I’m a member o’t public. I’m entitled to come in. And don’t forget, I’m a regular, Amos, a regular! And you need a regular to ’elp you out of your current predicament wi’t Cube contest.”
“The matter is entirely in hand,” said Amos, loftily.
“That’s not what I’m ’earin’,” Seth grinned. “Tha’s a stubborn cuss, Amos Brearly! Now then, I can solve all your problems and the Woolpack needn’t lose face. What do you say?”
“Stop wastin’ my time, Seth Armstrong, that’s what I say!” Amos huffed. “Now are you havin’ a drink or aren’t you? Because if not I’d thank you to…”
“Watch this!” Seth broke in. He took a scrambled Rubik’s Cube from his pocket and began to twist it. Despite himself, Amos was riveted by the wily gamekeeper’s turn of speed. He’d recently seen somebody doing the Cube on the telly, and had been fascinated by the speed with which it was done. Now, in front of him, Seth’s hands became a blur…. Crrrk, crrk, crrk, crrk, went the Cube as it was twisted and turned. The bar was absolutely silent apart from that sound. And suddenly a completed Cube was resting on the bar top. Seth gazed at it with pardonable pride.
Amos was amazed. Even Walter looked rather startled.
“Well, Amos, what do you say? Shall I be Woolpack champion for thee?” asked Seth.
When Henry returned to the Woolpack an hour or so later, he found a very different Amos to the angst-ridden one he’d left. This one was light hearted and carefree, happy as a skylark. He wasted no time in filling Henry in on developments.
“Seth can do the Cube? Since when?” Henry boggled.
“That doesn’t matter, Mr Wilks - fact is he can,” said Amos. “He did it in front of me and Walter twice. Each time in less than a minute! And he’s going to represent Woolpack at the contest. Now, what do you say to that?”
“I say 'thank ’eavens for that!’” said Henry, with a great deal of feeling. “This has been the longest fortnight of my life, Amos. Get day after tomorrow here and it’ll all be over.”
Suddenly Henry chuckled.
“Summat tickled you, Mr Wilks?”
“I was just thinking how ironic it is that Seth’s turned out to be your saviour!” Henry began to laugh outright.
The merest trace of a frown crossed Amos’ brow. “Aye, well, I'll admit I’d rather it weren’t Seth Armstrong doin’ the honours. But I also have to admit, Mr Wilks, he’s saved the honour of the Woolpack.”
"Well, let this be a lesson to you, Amos, no more of these contests,” said Henry. “I can do without them - this one has put ten years on me! And look at all these Cubes and Cube-solvin’ books and magazines layin’ about - on the bar, under the bar, all over’t livin’ room. I sat on a cube last week. I’ve still not recovered. Once the contest’s out o’t way I never want to see another Cube or Cube book again. Ever!"
At 10.30pm, a very merry Seth left the Woolpack Inn, bound for home. He was grinning, some mean sprited souls might say, like an idiot. The soft scented breeze and glorious summer evening heightened his sense of wellbeing. He’d been very popular that night. The Woolpack regulars had been so pleased that somebody could at last do the cube and had got Amos off their backs that many a pint of Monk’s best had been placed before him on the bar top, free, gratis and for nothing.
Seth lurched slightly as he crossed Main Street and steadied himself against the post office wall. The blissful summer evening breeze brought a sound to his ears. Was it an owl? No… no... it was a voice… “What’s a matter, you? HEY! Gotta no respect?” it went. It was coming from behind him. He began to turn. Slowly and carefully. The voice was suddenly louder. It was in his ear: “Shadduppa your face!” And then there was blackness.
The traumas continue as we take the 1981 time tunnel back to Beckindale again soon...