A reminiscence of a bygone time and a colourful character.
My name, Rupert Lane is a pseudonym. I never imagined filling the real Rupert’s boots,
In the 1950’s, Rupert was a tramp; not a homeless person, or dosser of the modern day. He was one of a breed no longer existing, but like the buffalo of the American plains, society decided he was in the way and no longer of use. In truth, Rupert was one of the last ‘knights of the road’.
It was during school summer holidays of 1951 that I first came across him. A bent old man sitting on an upturned, empty orange box in the middle of a bombsite. He was delighting shabby clothed, happy faced youngsters with stories of Arthurian knights and tales of brave, heroic feats.
Mothers of the children rewarded him more often than not with spam and beetroot butties, accompanied by a battered old enamel brew can filled with tea.
I sat with the others on the rough ground ignoring the bits of shattered brick sticking into my bum; entranced as one tale of dragons ended, and another of Derring-Do started. With never a pause for an ‘er, uh or um’, he told his tales with faultless expertise.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
With those immortal words in rhyme, he started a new story and hooked his young audience, mesmerising them with his eloquence.
He came to our grimy, rundown back streets twice a year, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday, and we kids couldn’t wait for his visits.
In later years, older folks explained why he chose those dates.
He was the only son of a family who made their fortune in armaments, and owned most of the back streets where I lived. Their factory had stood on what I believed was a huge bombsite; the very one on which I first saw him.
Rupert had with growing optimism gone off to war in 1914 with one of the local ‘Pals’ battalions. The horrific conditions and brutal conflict disillusioned him, and he soon became a sadder and wiser man.
The final, crippling blow came when Mary Langton, his long-time bride-to-be died. She had finished work in the accounts department of his family’s factory, and was making her way home, when a tremendous explosion ripped the factory apart. Her death was just one of hundreds as the blast wiped out six of the nearest streets.
With the war over Rupert returned, but wanted nothing to do with his inheritance after seeing what misery and suffering it had caused.
He used most of his money rebuilding and renovating the damaged homes, and arranged for the rents to go to an ex-serviceman’s charity, along with his remaining inheritance.
At Whitsun, the day of his engagement to Mary, he visited her grave, spending the day talking to her, leaving a small token of his love before leaving.
August Bank Holiday, the day of the explosion, he visited the graves of those killed in the explosion, apologising on behalf of his family and begging their forgiveness.
The rest of the year, he travelled around the country, following a well-worn path of his own making. For food and shelter in barns or outhouses, he would chop wood, do gardening, tell novel tales, or lend a hand at the many farms where he stopped.
Rupert Lane was a narrator, bard, and silver–tongued romancer, who plotted stories and edited them in his head. He had the gift of holding children spellbound for hours at a time.
Society called time on Rupert when his arthritic knees carried him no more. They consigned him to a council care home where he died a month later aged sixty-six. I believe he lies in a pauper’s grave. I never discovered where, but wherever, the people buried around him can rely on splendid entertainment for eternity.
You may wonder why I’m telling you the reader all this. Now, I too have become old and weary and looking for someone to take over from me.
One only has to be a wordsmith, talker, romancer and entertainer, but most of all, not want to be famous.