A fox hunting man on sixty pence an hour

Were it not for the pandemic, these days would be a time for hunt meets all around the country. Hunting foxes with hounds might be illegal, but riding to hounds seems as popular as it ever was.

Fox hunting was part of the Romantic world of two centuries ago imagined by Mike. His passion was the poetry of the time. He would have been able to narrate the life of Wordsworth, especially the years when the poet and his sister lived near Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset in the 1790s.

Mike loved the Romantic poets. Although regarding himself as a novelist, he would have been capable of a lyrical turn of phrase. An affection for Coleridge’s Kubla Khan was perhaps common among those of a literary inclination who had emerged from the psychedelic era of a decade before.

It would have been hard to have guessed Mike’s age (to be honest, when one is seventeen, it is hard to guess the age of anyone over the age of thirty). He might have been in his thirties, a fresh faced chubbiness disguised any lines there might have been; he might have been older. His clothes were those of a former generation. Plain white shirt, dark trousers, a sleeveless brown leather jerkin, he could have walked out of a wartime drama. Mike’s home was in a small village tucked in a fold in the hills, he lived with his parents, a quiet couple whom I once met.

Reading was Mike’s passion, reading and writing. He had written his first novel at just fifteen years of age. The manuscript lay in a drawer in the desk, it was stuff about fox hunting and romance, not much entertainment for a seventeen year old.

Mike liked the solitude that came with his job. Deep in rural Somerset, the work provided time for thought, reflection, reading, even scribbling a few words.

Had I possessed the literary knowledge and the critical vocabulary, there might have been interesting conversations; having neither, we exchanged only pleasantries.

Encounters with Mike came at one o’clock each Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, I arrived at one o’clock and worked until closing time at eight o’clock in the evening, on Sundays I arrived at opening time at eight o’clock in the morning and worked until one o’clock. Taking over from Mike and handing over to him each weekend lunchtime, we would chat about nothing in particular.

Working as a petrol pump attendant for sixty pence an hour provided me with pocket money while I was studying for my A levels. Working as a petrol pump attendant for sixty pence an hour was Mike’s full time work. Even  in 1978, it was very poor pay. He would have believed that it provided him with the space he needed for his writing.

Falling customer numbers did not inhibit the owner of the filling station from coming in and taking rolls of notes from the till to go horse racing. Bills went unpaid, the oil company cut off supplies and the garage closed. Mike took it all with a poetic stoicism.

I never discovered his surname, never discovered whether his work was ever published.

Perhaps he would have been at a meet tomorrow, remembering the fox hunting days in his first novel.


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