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17/11/2011: The Nightingale of the Farkhams

Many years before the Marmalade Mafia became my mother's focus, she was a singer and musician, with a beautiful soprano voice that earned her the nickname 'The Nightingale of the Farkhams'. During the war years and up until the time of Suez, mother did her bit for King and Country by giving her services to ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association. Whe travelled widely in this role, which gave rise to the old family joke that mother used to travel around entertaining the troops, and in the evenings used to sing.

That was not strictly true of course, my mother used to sing, play the piano and bass fiddle. At the time, mother was not yet the seventeenth Lady Farkham, but used the name on stage, feeling that being known as Mrs I Farkham would add a degree of gravitas and unattainability, thus keeping her safe from the unwanted attentions of servicemen.

That was not to be though, and in one tragic case, had far-reaching consequences. There were two young men from the village enlisted; Tommy and Jimmer. Jimmer was the eldest and some six years senior to Tommy. Sadly they both became infatuated with the future Lady Farkham and tried consistently to woo her but both failed.

I first met the brothers some thirty years after the end of the war, by which time they were to be found in the Milkmaids Arms most nights, quaffing pints of Gruntfuttock's Old Dirigible. Rumour at the time was that although they lived in the same house and had done since the war, they never, ever spoke to each other. The routine was that Jimmer would arrive first and take his seat at the bar, ordering pints for both. A few moments later, Tommy would arrive and take his pint to a table some distance away. Turn and turn about they would buy beers for each other all evening until Jimmer, who seemed to be the boss in this pairing would finish a beer and slam the glass down, which was Tommy's cue to drink up and follow, which he dutifully did. Even at the ages of 86 and 79 respectively, they stuck to this routine rigidly, as if it were the bedrock of their lives.

That is, until Tommy found an eager audience for his stories of old Farkham and the war among the younger element that frequented the pub. He started staying later and later. The effect on Jimmer of this was visible. Talk had it that he had started locking the door some ten minutes after getting home, yet somehow Tommy was always there in the mornings.

One day, Tommy didn't show up. It seems that Jimmer had rumbled his trick and found the ladder that Tommy used to gain access to his room, hidden in a hedge at the bottom of the garden. He sawed it in half! Tommy, being locked out was forced to sleep in the shed, which is no way for a near octogenarian to behave. Tommy was in hospital, and died without returning home. Many say that Jimmer died of remorse, even though the death certificate cited natural causes for Tommy's demise. He followed his brother on the journey to the Summer Lands within weeks, and the story of the feuding brothers was over. Mother still sheds a tear when this tale is told, and I can't help but feel she harboured a soft spot for one brother or the other, although she never says which one. I guess we will never know.

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