Dad had a work colleague by the name of Smith whose life seemed full of unexpected moments and hilarious interludes. Some of his experiences were quite bizarre. Dad would come home with the latest tale of what had happened to Smith and it seemed extraordinary to an impressionable teenager that one person’s life could be so filled with memorable incidents that could be shared with all of his workmates.
It was the death of the granny in Scotland that caused the first feelings of doubt. There were inconsistencies in the telling of the story. The story was that they had taken his granny to Scotland on holiday and that she had died. The first inconsistency was in why they did what they did. One version of the story said that the Scottish legal system would have created problems so they decided to take her home to register her death. Another version said that it was going to cost too much for a funeral director to bring her back to Somerset, so that brought her back themselves. The second inconsistency was in how they brought her home. In one version, they propped up her body in the back seat of the car. In another version, they rolled her body in a carpet and put it on the roof.
Anyone now, familiar with television detective series and questions surrounding the place of death and the moving of bodies, would straightaway have doubts about the stories, but it was the 1970s and we were more credulous.
It was in the 1980s that I read a book of urban myths in which the story of bringing a dead granny home from Scotland appeared. In fact, many of Smith’s stories were mythical. Smith was not a man to whom extraordinary things happened, he was a man with an extraordinary memory for stories of the unusual and the absurd.
Did the fact that Smith’s stories were inventions make him a liar? The tales were inconsequential pieces of fiction that amused people, and perhaps most people were a good deal less credulous than I was.
Myths have always been part of everyday life, stories that add something to the ordinariness. In Somerset, they were certainly part of childhood, King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea, the Druids at Glastonbury. The myths were without historical veracity, but they brought a bit of colour to an unexciting world.
Perhaps Smith’s stories are still widespread, still making people smile, still causing boys to doubt.