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Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Bones” by Ken Dunn

They say that moving house can be one of the most traumatic events in anyone’s life next to being born or the awful pain of divorce. I can’t remember which of these has priority in that threesome but I’ve moved house five times and on every occasion there has always been a disaster of some sort or another to mark the event.

I can remember losing all our crockery on one move. The slow motion image of the tea-chest falling off the end of the van and the explosive sound of shattering pottery is still fresh in my memory. Then there was the time when the piano decided to jam itself tight into the doorway of the house and wouldn’t budge. After removing half of the door frame with a saw and chisel it came quietly.

All of these irksome events are usually reduced to wonderful, humerous stories for dinner party conversations as ‘house moves we have known’ including the other inevitable revelations which we all discover about the plumbing, the electrics or the evil wet and dry rot not to mention the delights of woodworm. It’s funny how the less appetising aspects about moving house usually turn up well after the actual move has taken place but it’s far worse when unexplained ‘objects’ are found. That’s what happened to us.

In the late eighties we moved into a large terrace house. Built around the middle of the nineteenth century it had four extensive floors from a basement and up through the first and second floors to attic rooms on the very top. It was an ideal house for us at the time. With three growing children we had plenty of living and working space. The kids had their own rooms and the whole of the attic as a play area. We had the great advantage of being able to be as private or communal as we wished. Not many houses can provide that kind of bonus these days without a huge price tag.

In the first few days of moving life was a bit fraught, what with organising some badly needed decoration and shoving the furniture around. That was quite apart from getting the kitchen fully operational. With three manic kids dashing around the place we didn’t really have the time or patience to spend preparing or cooking anything. We relied on convenience food. Then my wife found a wonderful little bakers called ‘Jolly’s’ just around the corner. As well as superb bread they had amazing pasties, pies and all kinds of other goodies. It was good at the time but we don’t use that place as often as we did now that we know the actual history of the house.

After the settling in process had passed we were able to then think about how we should use the place. A house should be organised to live in. Very few people think about that. I always have. It should be efficient and comfortable as possible. That sounds like common sense, and it is, but it’s rarely organised properly. That sounds very pompous but having some experience as an interior designer I do know how to organise space. Sod the ‘feng shui’ crap of today, a house just needs to be looked at rationally in terms of what needs to go where and why.

I’d commandeered one of the rooms on the ground floor as a studio and, after measuring the whole place from top to bottom, I spent some time on the drawing board (that tells you how long ago it was!) reorganising what we had, floor by floor. The attic seemed to be the only area where a major redesign was needed. The three rooms up there didn’t really work too well for the kids and how they wanted to use the whole area. With non-structural partition walls it was a relatively easy matter to take them away to open up a large play area. They now had somewhere where they could roll around for hours without being yelled at to tidy their things away. It was their territory and they had total responsibility for it.

Then we decided that the back of the house, outside, needed some attention. We had almost fifty feet of garden which hadn’t been tended for some time. It took a whole weekend to simply clear the ‘growth’ so we could walk down to the end without getting lost on the way. Once cleared my wife took over. She’s the gardener. I took orders and by the following weekend we had something which looked like the beginnings of a garden.

The following weekend I was digging over a section, which had been designated as a flowerbed, when my spade hit something quite hard. Prising up the earth brought a number of whitish, grey objects with it. I knelt down to look at these things and then brushed the earth from one of them. It was a vertebra, just under an inch and a half across, part of a backbone of something but quite what was another matter. That part of the ground was full of them and after more digging I soon found that most of the garden had a carpet of the damned things just under the surface! What the hell had been going on in this garden? I managed to scrape them up and deposited the whole lot down in the bottom corner until I could dispatch them.

Puzzled by this I didn’t have time to think about why they were there as another, and more immediate, problem needed solving. With three children in one household it’s quite remarkable how much ‘stuff’ they accumulate and where most of it can be stored when not being used. That’s when I thought of using the empty space in the attic. The ceiling of the whole attic followed the angle of the roof with a short vertical wall, just over three feet in height at the front and back of the area. Behind that there was a void running the whole width of the house. Two small access inspection doors were set into each wall so by cleaning up the space beyond them and slapping some paint over that we might have plenty of storage space. Torch in hand I checked the front area behind the wall and the theory was correct. Plenty of space but in the space at the back of the house something had been sitting there for a long time waiting to be discovered.

My hand found a rough fabric lump in the darkness. I pulled at it and a handful of ancient hessian came away, together with a cloud of dust. I tried again, this time with both hands, easing the lump through the door and brought out into the light a large, and very dusty, hessian sack. I opened the top carefully. What I found I didn’t like. It was full of bones, vertebrae, just the same as those I’d already found in the garden. I managed to get the bag down to the back of the house without it falling apart and dropped the whole lot with the previous collection. With a couple of samples of the vertebrae sitting in front of me on the kitchen table I sat with a cup of coffee pondering and wondering what to do next. As I sat there my wife joined me.

‘Why did you bring those things in?’ she asked.

‘I didn’t,’ I replied. ‘I found them somewhere else.’

As I told her of my discovery she slowly sat down, a horrified expression settling across her face.

‘But who, and why?’ was all she could say.

I shrugged and tried not to develop the conversation around the ‘why’ or the ‘what’ quite apart from the ‘who’.

‘We need some advice about what they are,’ I said, ‘and I think we need some background on this house as well.’

My wife was looking a little worried at this last comment.

‘Do we… really?’ she asked, not too convinced.

I simply nodded.

‘Well,’ she took a deep breath, ‘if that’s the case, what about Rob Simpson? He teaches Biology at the local school. He may be able to identify these things.’

‘There’s always the local library,’ I suggested.

‘What for?’

History of the house.’

‘Or the deeds! She grinned. ‘They should give us the whole history of everyone who’s lived here.’

She was right. A couple of days later our solicitors had been able to give us a copy of the deeds but it didn’t actually tell us much. It really only gave a list of fifteen previous owners going right back to 1860 when the house had been built. That still left us with the problem of which of them had left us this little ‘legacy’. Rob Simpson was a little more helpful. The vertebrae, much to our great relief, were not human. They were probably that of a dog, or, in our circumstances, dogs. As to the age of them, well that was a little more difficult to pin down. He kept the two samples we’d been pondering over and then phoned us a couple of days later one early evening. As far as he could tell, and he’d had some help from his colleagues, they were probably only about fifty or sixty years old. No more than that. Simple mathematics gave us an approximate time span between 1920 to 1930, so that would have to be the area of search.

Going back to the copy of the deeds we had two names which covered that period. The first were a Mr and Mrs Albert and Henrietta Hodgeson. They had bought the house in 1918 and then sold it to another couple in 1929, Mr and Mrs Reginald and Martha Hobbs. But we had to find out more than that. Just the names of the previous owners were not enough. The library seemed the only way to find out. We decided to scour every newspaper from 1917 until 1933, to cover the suggested time span we’d been given by Rob Simpson. Sitting at a screen in the reference section of the library we fed in micro files from the photographic archive. After a few days of this, every early evening, we found what we were looking for. It was a small article on the front page of the local ‘Evening Herald’. I’ve still got the photocopy I took of it, framed and hanging in my study.

EVENING HERALD, Friday 20th January 1931.

DOG’S DINNER!

A great scandal was uncovered today when Reginald Hobbs, 53 years old, was convicted of the illegal trade in meat. He and his wife, Martha Hobbs, 49 years old, were jointly charged with the supply of dog meat to a local baker’s for their pies.

An inspector for the R.S.P.C.A. had noticed the dwindling number of stray animals which usually ran around the area. Over a period of six months numbers of these animals had dropped dramatically and then, over this last Christmas period, always a time for unwanted ‘present’ pets, there were none to be found at all.

Giving evidence at the Crown Court, R.S.P.C.A. Inspector Harold Braithwaite, 36 years old, and unmarried, stated his findings. One evening, as he patrolled on his bicycle, he spotted a black and white mongrel skulking along the street. It ran away from him but he followed at high speed just in time to see the accused, Reginald Hobbs, scoop up the dog, bundle it into a combination motorbike and sidecar where it was held by a woman, later to be identified as Martha Hobbs.

He gamely gave chase and managed, with some difficulty, to follow the couple to their residence, a large terrace house. Watching from a discreet distance he saw the dog, and two other animals, being taken into the basement of the house by the accused.

He kept vigil for some time and then, an hour later, saw the accused emerge from the basement with a large brown paper wrapped parcel. They walked round the corner of the street and along to an establishment known as ‘Jolly’s the Baker’s’ They returned minutes later and repeated the journey with another parcel.

His suspicion aroused, Inspector Braithwaite called the Police from a nearby telephone box. They found a basic butchery in the basement of the Hobb’s house and an oven where they had rendered down the remains of several animals. It is not known how many dogs had been supplied as ‘beef’ to the baker’s but it is assumed that a large number of animals must have met their fate via the Hobb’s ‘collection’ process.

Mr and Mrs Hobbs were both jailed for three years and the house will be sold to cover the cost of their defence. The baker was also jailed for two years for selling pies which contained the meat from the dogs supplied to him.

The name of the baker’s shop is the very same one we used so much when we first moved in. The grandson of the family is running it now. Although the other members of the family were exonerated from all blame at the time it didn’t help our natural reaction to the story. Nor did the fact that the name ‘Hobbs’ or ‘Hobb’ is a very old word for the Devil! We’ll tell the kids when they’re older. They have something else to occupy them now. We now have a dog. It’s called ‘Bones’!

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