That long hot summer of 1927, which now seems lost in the past, felt as if it went on forever. Folks took cover under trees, and left feet dangling in streams, while the kids ran barefoot along the riverbanks, throwing stones at imaginary creatures.
As Jake made his way down into the valley, he noticed how the sun had bleached most of the wooden posts. This was Jake’s life now, not that it was much of a life but it kept him reasonably happy. The ironic thing was that he had survived the war, the Great one, that is, while his fiancée had not.
He had never really heard about Shoreham, not until Helen had started working in the shop on the High Street. She was fourteen when she took on the job, and Jake would walk every day after his work to meet her and walk her back to her home; fifteen miles all in all, but that didn’t bother him, he was with his favourite girl, and that’s all that mattered.
When the time came, Jake and his pals all went to war together: all feeling alive, and all believing that seeing the world would be the start of a new life for them all.
Jake and his mate, Johnny were the only two who came home. Johnny had lost his sight at the Somme and eventually moved to Birmingham to live with his aunt. His darling, and the love of Jake’s life, Helen, got caught in a Zeppelin raid in 1915.
Jake arrived in the year 1927, via three marriage proposals (all made to him), and a business of painting and repair – one which he had built up from scratch and which now employed three other men. Men who were in short supply after the war and Jake did well to hold on to his guys.
Although he was doing okay financially, he was still lonely and missing his love Helen and that is why, once a month, he would walk from his home in South London to the village of Shoreham – to relive the walks he made in the old days.
It was on one of those hot, hot days in 1927, he found himself walking past the Shoreham Village Hall when he heard a shout from inside:
“Damn and blast, blast and damn,” said the gruff voice.
The words belonged to Alex Green, a rough man in his sixties, who was trying to move a block of wood, and failing very badly.
“Damn,damn,damn,” he shouted again. This time a lady of a similar age shouted from the stage.
“Quiet, Alex, the Lord can hear you.”
“I don’t care if he can, he ain’t helping me with this scenery, now is he?”
Jake had found himself in the middle of the village hall, and this was the home to the Players – they had only been in existence for a couple of years, but already they were bringing a smile and some warmth back to the community.
When Alex spotted Jake, he felt that maybe the Lord had been listening after all.
“Here, grab this,” shouted Alex, as if he was still in the army.
Jake did as he was told and grabbed the end.
By the end of the afternoon, Jake had moved scenery, repaired some curtains and helped in painting a cloth at the rear of the stage, and do you know what he had enjoyed it.
“Might see you next week, then?” Asked Alex.
Jake nodded, and meant it. On the way home, as Jake walked past Helen’s old shop, he smiled, whispered ‘thanks’, and walked up the valley faster than usual.
All that Jake could think about that following week was his walk to Shoreham and the work that would be waiting on him there. For the first time, in a very long time, people needed him.
The next Saturday, Jake made a suggestion about a particular piece of scenery and how it could be improved. There were six in the hall that day, and they all voted on the spot to take on board Jake’s changes.
At the end of the month, the play was put on the stage and Jake came down to sit and admire his handy work. He laughed and cried at the play and enjoyed watching the folks of the village entertaining their friends. It was all this greatest stuff that built villages.
When the play was over, Jake felt lost as if something important had been taken away from him. So he filled his weekends with walks to and from Shoreham. Sometimes he sat by the Cross on the Hill and talked to his sweetheart Helen – he was sure she was always up there waiting on him.
One cold Saturday afternoon in November, Jake noticed a light on in the village hall. As he entered, he could hear Alex cursing and swearing about something or other. When Alex saw Jake, he smiled.
“I was going to send a letter to your place asking if you wanted to help on this new play, then I realised I had no idea where you lived,” said Alex.
Jake slapped Alex on the back and they chuckled.
That Christmas, Jake didn’t sit in the audience but instead he helped backstage – and as he looked out at the faces all laughing and enjoying the evening, he smiled to himself and felt that he’d finally found a home.
bobby stevenson 2017
painting: Samuel Palmer