Misreading Percy

He was a small, dapper, white haired man. He would have been one of the guests at the primary school Christmas dinner, which he attended wearing dark shoes, flannel trousers, a V-necked pullover and a collar and tie. Half a century later, thinking about the occasion, the Christmas dinner guests seemed those who might otherwise have had no Christmas dinner. He was a solitary figure who came along by himself. He lived in a large, whitewashed stone farmhouse that I could see from my bedroom window. Being a very quiet and shy man, it is hard to  imagine what he might have thought about the cacophonous gathering of the forty children of our primary school, sat around the tables if our school dining room, enjoying our roast potatoes and turkey. Did he find a sixpence in his Christmas pudding as every pupil in the school would have done? Did he enjoy sitting with the two teachers and the other invited guests?

Among ourselves we would have called him by his forename, “Percy,” but to his face he would never have been anything other than “Mr Windsor.” Whatever age he might have been, to the pupils of the school he was a venerable institution of our village.

Passing his house on a bright October morning, I wondered what he would have thought of times when farming has become incidental to the life of our community, when places that still bear the name “farm” are no more than fine dwelling houses for those from elsewhere who can afford to buy them. What would he have made of the conversion of outbuildings to houses and the spelling of his name”Windsor” with a “z” and a “u”, instead of with an “s” and an “o”?

Undoubtedly, Percy would have spoken with the distinctive West Country burr with which we all spoke, (and which still lingers in these parts, Estuary English having stopped at the borders of Bristol, its halt being something to do with the West Country pronunciation of certain sounds).  Percy would have lived in a community where the letter “r” would have been long and the letter “s” may have sounded like a “z” to the ears of an outsider, but Percy was also of a generation where literacy and numeracy were greatly valued. To be able to write with legibility and correct punctuation, to be able to communicate on farm business with accuracy and clarity, to be able to keep the accounts with neatness and exactness, these were skills that were valued. Percy would not have thought that his name might have been differently spelt, particularly as it was one he shared with the royal family.

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