Adverse Camber lies in a valley at the point where an ancient drove road once crossed the river Camber. In fact, if you look on the very old maps, you’ll find it labelled ADVERS CAMBER FORD in the style of lettering usually reserved for HERE BE DRAGONS, leading some to claim that it’s not a name at all but a warning to the unwary.
None of which is of any relevance to what I was going to say.
Most of Adverse Camber lies in a valley, but over the years it has sent out tentacles over the surrounding hillsides in the form of roads and lanes which radiate from the central market place. Along them assorted dwellings have been built and later infilling between the ‘arms’ results in an aerial view that always puts me in mind of a giant bird dropping, but I tend to keep the thought to myself.
I live at the upper end of of one of more minor arteries and because of that am seldom troubled by people who have tarmac, religion or insurance to sell: there’s nowhere particularly convenient to park and it’s far too much effort to walk up the hill just to get an earful of home truths followed by a door in the face. It also means, of course, that I’m not troubled by Trick or Treaters at Halloween. At least – I wasn’t last year, and, after what happened this year, they’re unlikely to try it again.
It started innocuously enough with the chimes of Big Ben. Not the REAL chimes of the REAL Big Ben, but the electronic ones that my front door bell warbles. I hate it with a passion, and one day I’ll replace it with something more tasteful like ‘La Cucaracha’, but it’s fairly low on my list of priorities, and until I have the time and inclination to do something about it, I have the choice of disconnecting the wretched thing and letting people knock, or gritting my teeth and putting up with it. As one involves a little effort and the other only profound irritation, it’s no contest.
It was early evening – a time when I’m not usually troubled by any one at all, except for Maggie. She has a habit of coming down from the farm, via the back field, to ask if I’m free to do some ‘officey stuff’ the next day – usually because she’s got an accountant, or government official, or bank manager coming and wants to be able to pretend she’s got everything completely under control.
Needless to say, every time the bell rings the dogs go absolutely berserk, and before I can actually open the door, I have to shoo them into the living room and close the child gates on them in order (i) to prevent them from disembowelling whoever’s standing there, before they even know who it is and (ii) to give myself a chance to hear what’s being said to me.
So, when Big Ben rang out, I wrestled the pair of them back behind the barricades (an operation which always generates unfortunate language, blood-curdling threats and joyful barking) before hauling the front door open to greet – as I supposed – Maggie.
Only it wasn’t Maggie. It was a motley assortment of small and ill-attired witches, ghosts and vampires accompanied by a slightly tubby middle-aged woman who was inadvisedly dressed as Minnie Mouse.
‘Trick or Treat! they all yelled at me.
I looked at them.
They looked at me.
They shuffled a bit, and one of them tried the ‘Trick or Treat’ line again, but without much conviction.
‘Have you walked all the way up here from the village?’ I asked Minnie, vaguely aware that Boy Dog was getting more than normally agitated on the other side of the child gate.
‘No. We’re in a minibus, just down the road.’
‘You’re bussing trick-or-treaters around the village?’
‘They don’t appear to be exactly laden with sweets.’
I was about to tell her that I had one Kit-Kat, half a bar of 70% Valrhona and a packet of oatcakes in the house when Nemesis appeared in the guise of a miniature schnauzer dressed in a pink tutu and matching satin bow. Previously hidden behind a three-foot high witch, it pushed past her skirt, scenting the air and wagging its stumpy tail. Minnie Mouse was holding the lead.
‘I’ve got dog biscuits though…’ I said, in a moment of unusual benevolence, only ever engendered in me by the presence of dogs. The kids groaned. and started to drift away.
‘We’ve got dog biscuits,’ said Minnie through her teeth. ‘Everyone’s been giving us bloody dog biscuits …’
It was at that precise moment that there was a sound of frantic scrabbling from the living room door and a hairy black, white and tan missile hurtled past me to launch himself at the four-footed ballerina. No coward soul herself, she responded by shooting forwards to meet the challenge head on – and the next moment they were locked with each other in territorial combat, cheered on by the children for whom it was plainly the most entertaining thing that had happened all evening.
The two terriers swirled dementedly around the startled Minnie Mouse, tangling her in the schnauzer’s running lead and toppling her over backwards into the flower bed I’d just prepared for the spring bedding.
What happened next is a bit of a blur as I attempted to separate the two scrapping terriers while the woman floundered around in the mud, squeaking ineffectually – but I do remember shouting above the racket:
‘IT’S OKAY! It SOUNDS more serious than it IS ….”
Eventually, I succeeded in getting a firm hold on the Boy Dog and bore him away, kicking and protesting, into the house – where I shut him safely in the study.
By the time I got back outside, the children were helping Minnie Mouse – with ears askew – to her feet, and the little ballerina was panting on the path, tutu around her neck, tail wagging and plainly up for a second round. Inside the house, I could hear Boy Dog throwing himself bodily at the study door.
‘Sorry about that.’ I smiled at her, suddenly quite light of heart. ‘He hurdled the dog gate. Still, no harm done, eh? Do you want those dog biscuits or not?’
I’m fairly sure Minnie Mouse never used language like that.