WRITE ACROSS SUSSEX: EDWARD and the Meaning of Life?

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Write Across Sussex

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By John Moorthorpe

Another entry in our Write Across Sussex competition.

Born in Worthing in the early months of the Second World War, Edward was the first of three children and he was to be followed by two sisters, Margaret and Kathleen. The family later moved to Chichester to be nearer to Dad’s work. The children enjoyed a very happy childhood with two loving parents who undoubtedly sacrificed a great deal throughout the period until rationing ended in 1954.

Now, at the age of fourteen, Edward faced the prospect of leaving school at Christmas, just before his fifteenth birthday. One evening after dinner the two girls made themselves scarce as Mum and Dad obviously had something important to say. It was left to Dad to take the lead.

“You’re leaving school in two weeks’ time son, and to my mind that’s much too young these days. Anyway, I’ve been talking to Mr Mosby in the Observer office, and he wants to talk to you about a job.”

In fact Edward was quite relieved as most of his classmates were going to work at the Rudge bicycle factory, while he’d always fancied trying something different. Although he wasn’t at all sure what that might be.

“You’ll see, it’s all for the best son. At least go and see Mr Mosby. The Observer office is on the opposite side of the road from the market. There’s the print works at the front and the editor’s office is at the back. He’s expecting you at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”

Edward was nervous at the prospect of meeting the famous journalist who was quite the best known celebrity in the area. It was also his first involvement with the adult life of work. A couple of minutes before ten he knocked on the door to the office, no answer. Before knocking again, he put his ear closer and could hear someone speaking, so he waited until it went quiet then tapped on the door a second time – the door opened wide.

“Come on in lad.”

Mr Mosby reminded him of Grandad Simpson. Not very tall, not much hair and with glasses balanced precariously on the end of his nose. He was smoking a pipe. Grandad’s pipe always made Edward cough, but on this occasion he resisted the urge, as it was no doubt not very polite. The work sounded very exciting and the very informal chat ended with a smile and an outstretched hand. This was new, he’d never had a grown-up handshake before.

“I’d really like you…” pause to cough…,

“to start…” long drawn out puff puff, then suck, then another fit of coughing…..,

“as soon as possible. What about first thing after Christmas lad? Come back here at nine o’clock on the second Monday in January.”

“Yes Mr Mosby. Thank you Mr Mosby.” Edward’s smile told it all. Dad would be pleased.

After Christmas Edward arrived at the Observer office at a quarter to nine, nice and early on his first day. He was still wearing his first pair of long trousers which by now were getting a bit on the short side; however, during the holiday Mum had knitted him a new pullover, and he was also now the proud owner of a new navy duffel coat. It had been a choice between new trousers or the coat, and given the weather at this time of year the duffel was what was needed most. On this, his first morning at work, it was cold outdoors with a thick frost.

Mr Mosby explained what he expected of Edward, which apparently consisted of cycling round the local villages collecting information from various addresses on the list, which Mr Mosby would leave on the typewriter each night before he left.

He was introduced to the folk on the printing side of the business. Mr Barraclough, who Edward already knew, was a short, fat man, with a mop of dark brown hair. He was always very jolly, a very smiley kind of man. He had managed the print shop for over thirty years. His assistant, Janet, was a much younger lady, tall and with blonde hair. Edward had never seen blonde hair before, other than in the films at the Picture Palace on Saturday night.

Mr Mosby called Mr Barraclough Bert; Edward was to call Mr Barraclough Mr B; everyone called Mr Mosby Mr Mosby; Mr Mosby and Mr B would call Edward lad; but at least Edward was allowed to call Janet, Janet. There was no doubting where Edward stood in the pecking order.

The rest of the week was spent shadowing the boss, watching and listening, taking careful notes of everything he heard, and saying nothing other than “Thank you Mr Mosby.” This activity meant that Edward got to sit alongside Mr Mosby in his car, and as the only other means of transport previously had been the bus, this was yet another new experience. This was indeed all very exciting, and he could hardly wait to tell Mum and Dad.

The following Monday morning, Edward arrived at work only to find Mr Mosby already hard at work before setting out on his usual weekly round of visits to the police station, St Richard’s Hospital, the cemetery, then finally the fire station. He looked up from his desk as Edward settled into his chair.

“How you doing lad? And how’s your Mum and Dad keeping? Well, I hope.”

Mr Mosby turned back to his papers not waiting for, nor expecting, an answer.

“Today I want you to call at the cemetery to see what new customers are on Mr Morgan’s list from the weekend. After I took you there last Thursday he knows who you are, and he’ll be expecting you.”

Edward smiled, “Yes Mr Mosby.” He had enjoyed the first visit to the cemetery as the superintendent, Mr Morgan, reminded him of Christopher Lee in the Dracula film, tall, thin, with longish black hair and funny teeth.

Mr Mosby continued with the usual barrage of questions, with hardly any chance for Edward to squeeze in a reply.

“Did you know Mr B before you came here lad?”

“Yes Mr Mosby. He’s a Sunday school teacher at the chapel, and Dad knows him from the Operatic Society and says Mr B is a fine baritone. Dad plays the piano in the orchestra.”

Mr Mosby puffed on his unlit pipe and muttered something like “I know, and very familiar with Gilbert Sullivan, I’ve no doubt.”

Edward was quite taken aback by this. How come both Mr Mosby and Mr B knew Gil O’Sullivan who’d been in his class at school? After all, the O’Sullivans only moved here from Portsmouth less than a year ago.

Mr Mosby was in a hurry today so thankfully hadn’t re-lit his pipe, just puffed away as usual. He picked up his briefcase and waved as he went through the door “Cemetery” he called over his shoulder.

“Yes, Mr Mosby.”

Other than on Edward’s first day at work the interconnecting door separating the two sides of the business was always locked, presumably on the print room side. On Wednesday morning just before lunch he was in the office and finishing off a wedding report when his concentration was interrupted by Mr B roaring loudly at the top of his voice whilst at the same time Janet squealed and giggled uncontrollably. The roaring and the giggling were accompanied by the sound of chairs and furniture being moved. Then, after a couple of minutes Mr B started to sing one of his favourites from The Sound of Music…

“The hills are alive with…” The rest was drowned out by Janet’s shriek, almost scream like, “Mr B, oh you’re so wonderful. Encore. Encore.”

“…for a thousand years…”

Strange that, thought Edward. He’d always associated The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews, so to hear it sung by a deep baritone just didn’t seem right somehow. Also, who would have guessed that Janet was into musicals? Rock and blues was more her scene. This was the last thing on earth he would have expected to overhear at work; it sounded so funny he was tempted to laugh out loud, at the same time thinking what on earth would Mrs B make of all this?

EDWARD is still seeking the Meaning of Life

Edward had now been working at the Observer for over six months, and there were still lots of things he was struggling to understand. ‘Forever curious, and blessed with a vivid imagination’ was how the headmaster at school had once described him.

Every Monday morning his first job was to call at the cemetery to check the details of any new names Mr Morgan had recorded on his list of ‘Future Events.’

Because he’d learned a great deal about the world of work in the past six months, Edward noted with interest that for example, back in the office Mr Mosby, Mr B and Janet, each had two wire trays on their desk, one marked IN and the other labelled OUT, whereas the Superintendent had only one tray… another for the notebook.

Also, last Thursday evening Edward had asked Dad why Mr B referred to Mr Morgan as ‘Digger’, and Dad replied with a smile and a wink, “That’s because he’s Australian, son.”

Every third Monday of each month, the second call after seeing Mr Morgan was to a semi-detached house at 18 Aldwick Street, Bognor. Edward had never met the person who lived there, but his job was simply to collect an envelope marked RAOB, which was always pinned to the shed door. On his return to the office with the envelope Mr Mosby insisted on opening it personally, explaining that it contained information that only he was allowed to know about. He said it was something to do with the ‘Buffs’. However, by the end of March Edward was at least allowed to know that the envelope contained a notice of the next secret meeting of the Buffs, but he was still none the wiser as to what it all meant.

Every month, the same routine, and Edward wondered why the person at the Aldwick Street address was always out. He found this very strange. It never occurred to him that whoever lived there might actually be at work whenever he called. No. He was convinced this had to be something quite sinister, and he was determined to find out more about the mystery surrounding the RAOB.

At home on Monday evening, Edward went to bed early and studied the dictionary, looking to find more information about either the Buffs or RAOB, but found nothing. What was all this secrecy about, and why was it that there were so many things adults knew about that apparently weren’t suitable subjects for younger people, assuming they wouldn’t understand. It all seemed so unfair; after all, he was fifteen.

The following day Edward went across the road to the library. In the entrance he was confronted by Mrs Stevenson, their next-door neighbour, “Hello Edward. And how can I help you today?”

This was most unexpected. Why hadn’t Mum ever mentioned that Mrs Stevenson worked at the library? What would she think if he asked where to find information about the RAOB?

“Er… mmmm… hello, Mrs Stevenson. Is there a section for reference books?”

“Yes Edward. On the first floor.”

Edward spent the next hour scouring the books in the reference section, and eventually he found what he had been looking for. Under the heading ‘the Royal Antediluvian Order of the Buffaloes’, the footnote included the remarks “in the early nineteenth century, secret societies were looked upon as potentially being dangerous and subversive.”

“That’s it!” he called out. The other researchers stopped and stared disapprovingly. Edward mouthed an ‘I’m sorry’ and quietly returned to the open book which told him everything he needed to know on the matter. His hand was slightly trembling as he wrote in his reporters notebook ‘secret society, dangerous, subversive, antediluvian – whatever that meant.’ This was something he couldn’t, perhaps shouldn’t, even tell Dad about. Best just to say nothing, he decided.

It was only six months after starting work and he had already concluded that the world was indeed full of people involved in some very strange goings-on. What further mysteries would be revealed by the time he was sixteen he wondered. And what was the true meaning of life?

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