" ... He had no idea where he was going, and knew that it didn’t matter anyway. Because he’d never get there, wherever it was.
Wherever he ended up at times like this, it was never the place he’d started out for. Whatever the day, this sort of day, promised, whatever was going on out there, in that golden distance where summer is always perfectly summer, it was the sort of thing that was always going on somewhere else."
Old Etonian Phineas Cook is a dreamer. It's not a dream about anything in particular, but whatever it is about he remains - he will always remain - convinced that it's out there somewhere.
He thought he'd found it - or it had found him - a few times in the past, in people or places. But they always, in the end, turned out to be not quite what he'd been looking for.
And then one day, when on a journey to nowhere in particular, and in no particular hurry to get there, he had turned off into a side road, simply because he considered that it had invited him to do so, and had ended up in Batch Magna.
And even Batch Magna, in the end, had not been quite what he'd been looking for either. But in it, or rather on it, he had found a home for now, the perfect place to dream while waiting for whatever it was to turn up: a river.
In the first sequel to The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, Sir Humphrey of Batch Hall, Phineas, when talking about a water bat, says: “I’m too old now to hear them. It is a well-known fact that only the very young can pick up the squealing of a Baubenton’s water bat. It’s a glass slipper which fits no one much over the age of twenty. It’s among the other things only the very young can tune into. The sort of thing that some of us never stop hearing – or at any rate never stop listening for.”
And he hears it again, in this scene taken from the same book, the call of whatever it is he's looking for.
Phineas had checked the oil and water of his Frogeye, an old canary-yellow Austin Healey Sprite, parked up outside the moorings of his boat, the Cluny Belle, and was now doing the tyres, while Bill Sikes, his large white boxer dog, panted quietly with expectation in the passenger seat and kept an eye on him.
Phineas walked round the car, giving them a kick with the furtive air of kicking someone else’s tyres.
He knew he shouldn’t be out there. Where he should be, with a deadline and a new life to make a start on, was at work, at his typewriter. Instead of taking a day off as if earning a living was something only other people had to worry about. And it was just the other evening, sitting with Sally on her sofa, he’d said all those things about knuckling down to it, producing more work and therefore more income. He had, he’d said sternly, the future to think of now, a new start at things waiting.
And he had meant every word of it at the time. He’d felt big and brave under her serious, sweet gaze and spoke of big and brave things, like stability and responsibility. Doing so with the odd nervous laugh, coming as near as he’d come in a long time to making a commitment, while Sally sat holding his hand through it.
And now he was off on a day’s jaunt. He did not, he told himself, deserve her.
He’d been restless since getting up this morning. It was that sort of day. With a thin mist on the water after the rain, and the sun rising behind it, burning it off, the river steaming under it. A day smoky with promise under an Eton-blue sky, carrying a memory of other, perfect, summers, spent carelessly on another river, of a time when it was always jolly boating weather. Always, as he remembered it, the Fourth of June, and there were strawberries and fizz when the shade was off the trees, and he wore a straw hat decked with flowers.
The day calling him back, calling him on the road to somewhere, anywhere, as long as it wasn’t where he was now.
Because on such days as this even Batch Magna couldn’t hold him.
Sitting at his worktable on deck, writing as Warren Chase the crime writer, he’d plodded grimly on for a while at his typewriter, cooped up with DI MacNail in a stuffy interview room at New Scotland Yard, where a bank clerk sweated across the table from him. He was the inside man on the latest bank raid by a South London gang, a bit player in a dangerous game, and one who was on the edge, MacNail knew, of fingering Mr Big.
Smiling with menace, MacNail, who, according to Warren Chase, had eyes the colour of rust on barbed wire, and a Glasgow kiss, a razor stripe, down one cheek, had pushed him that bit nearer and waited for him to crack.
And then, with the bank clerk about to cough, Warren Chase got up and went for another walk round the deck.
He became increasingly distracted as the sun climbed higher.
Until he heard only its bright music, calling with such promise he felt that if he listened hard enough he would be able to make out the words.
He reversed at speed until the Frogeye had room to turn, and then shot up past the pub and into the High Street, simply because that was the road he normally took when leaving the village. He had no idea where he was going, and knew that it didn’t matter anyway. Because he’d never get there, wherever it was.
Wherever he ended up at times like this, it was never the place he’d started out for. Whatever the day, this sort of day, promised, whatever was going on out there, in that golden distance where summer is always perfectly summer, it was the sort of thing that was always going on somewhere else.
With Bill Sikes sticking his head out into the slipstream and taking bites out of the wind, the little yellow sports car sped up through the valley as if to a fire.
More Batch Magna people to come ...