As I approach the end of my second year as caretaker of the Parish Room and Old School, I can look back on numerous events and happenings that have marked my career thus far.
For the first six months I was, as I suppose is normal for any new incumbent of any position, a bit of a ‘new broom’ – well, the broom is still the same old one, actually…. I went about my duties with a manic efficiency which pleased some and distressed others; I polished the loo basins till they shone, and playgroup mums said how nice the toilet smelt; I swept the paths with the rotary mower (dry leaves or wet, they’re all the same); I burned rubbish with gusto, cut grass like a TV expert, picked litter with amazing dexterity, and generally kept the job under control. I tried my best, and still got into trouble now and then. I computerised the weekly returns, wrote nice letters and returned deposit cheques to hirers who swept up and cleaned up (and wrote rude ones to those who didn’t, and forgot about the cheques…); I attended HOSPRMC meetings and made my reports, and answered the phone at 10 p.m. to people wishing to hire the Old School for half an hour on a Sunday lunchtime – did a twice a year regular qualify for cheaper rates? All these things I did, except on Wednesday mornings when the golf course beckoned, with the support of the committee and the valuable assistance of John Gough, lawnmower extraordinaire, lock-fixer, drainpipe restorer, gate-builder, and general magician in other spheres too multitudinous to mention.
But it hasn’t all been fun stuff like drain-rodding and key-providing. Since the end of the honeymoon period, I have had to act as go-between among waring factions, as emergency service for a lost rambler (he was believed to be stuck in the Old School loo), I have been called to rescue a damsel in distress (although she had effected her escape from the Old School loo before I got there… maybe a government health warning should be posted: ‘This loo is dangerous; please treat with utmost care’.) And I still haven’t figured out which tables belong where, and which chairs, and which tea-towels and table-cloths… I have de-rodented the Scout Hut, and de-drug-abused the car park (by the simple expedient of chaining off the entrance overnight – my thanks to those who cooperate late at night by putting the padlock on). There are no more mice in the old school (well none reported for a long time), but the flower beds… well, I’m no gardener. Janet Frost did wonders with her pruning shears, for which I thank her, but further offers of voluntary assistance by the green fingered would be more than welcome. I still get annoyed by cycle skid-marks on grass and path, by the use of whole bins as stepping-stones to flat roofs, by the anonymous litter-droppers, by car drivers who knock down the posts which hold the ropes which guard the grass areas from attacks by automobiles, and by the wearer of size 9’s who recently left his/her footprint on the back door to the toilet block (wrecking the lock at the same time, as it happens). They only needed to ask – I would have let them in… There is less casual use of the Old School porch as a meeting place-cum-drink parlour-and smoke room, although certain unknown parties have taken pleasure in smashing empty milk bottles awaiting collection. I haven’t come across a knight of the road in the porch for a twelve-month (the last one was so deeply asleep that I failed in all my efforts to wake him: when he went on his way, a few hours later, he left the porch very tidy: filter tips in piggy packets and a beer can full of urine… better there, I suppose, than against the wall).
Then there was the clearing of the Old School cellar, the subsequent pumping out thereof, and the arrival and sad departure of the “Touch of Class” beauty salon. And the late-night patrols to check that the security lights were working, and the warning off of nocturnal parkers. (‘I’m locking up now’, I would say jangling my keys). And the early morning patrols to admit cyclist heading for Hay-on-Wye by lunchtime, or early-bird car-boot punters, or the rector en route to morning prayers (that is, ‘till he got himself a pushbike). And the congratulations on my floor-washing, and the criticisms of my floor washing, and the realisation that some folk are very easy to please, and that others are never more pleased than when they’re upset. You see all life as a caretaker, but the real trick is to be seen doing something by anyone as often as possible. And if that someone is the secretary’s old man, then so much the better…