Legend, or The Tale of Tommy Tattle, as it’s subtitled is currently, at 32k words, a Novella though I’m afraid the storyline doesn’t have the legs to make it as far as a novel, much as I’d wish.
It’s something of an Alice in Wonderland type tale for adults, in as much as the narrator falls asleep in a cemetery and has an imaginary conversation with several of the interred, including the now legendry Tommy Tattle himself.
Tommy Tattle, a local legend in the vicinity of Poleryn, a Cornish coastal community, was, and is a philanderer though death, he has had to accept has imposed limitations to his physical activity even if still not to his mouth.
Hopefully, the story’s lyrical qualities are its saving grace!
Here’s an extract from it:
The Only Chapter
Much as might be expected, it’s all serenely quiet in this little coastal cemetery that lies, some will assert, halfway up, whilst others insist halfway down a Cornish hillside. It’s all dependent on which way you’re approaching it from, I guess.
I’ve never taken a view myself even over all the years I’ve lived here. The argument appears entirely academic as far as I’m concerned. It is where it is, somewhere in the middle of the hill, whichever way you look at it.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to be a subject worth getting overly excited about to my way of thinking although some of the residents still do. You’d be surprised. I can never understand it myself for, as cemeteries go, this one’s nowhere near special, not as such, not to anyone outside of the local community anyway. To them, of course, it’s the final resting place of their ancestors; their weather-stricken headstones the embodiment of those gone long before.
To anyone else, outside of this closed community, it’s just another village cemetery. There are none of the great and the good of history here most certainly since the little village of Poleryn has never boasted any. Surprising really, given as to how long the place has been in existence. You’d have thought, by now, there might have been the odd one or two; a general, maybe, or the occasional bishop perhaps, but no, not one.
The nearest this village has ever come to boasting anyone even remotely near to being an historical figure is one, Thomas Tattle Esquire, formerly of this parish and since deceased these good few years. He’s become something of a legend, though only in these parts, never on a national scale, and I can’t help but wonder if the stories have grown to be greater than the man himself actually ever was anyway. It is possible, as history has shown in other instances although my grandmother always maintained the stories of Tommy Tattle to be completely true.
I remember Tom, myself, to an extent, though only in his later years. I never knew him in his prime, I must confess. I’d be about twenty when he died and that’s what, thirty years ago? As I recall, Tom couldn’t even do that without attracting a certain amount of attention, not to say raised eyebrows, dying as he did, at the feet of Sally Croft. It also left a touch of animosity amongst some of the ladies in the area, Tom seemingly having chosen Sally’s feet to have died at instead of theirs.
Tom was very much a lady’s man right to the end and, the story has it, had been all his life, right from the beginning, certainly from his infant-school days. He’d grown quite a cohort of devotees during that time, even if all of them hadn’t been quite as close to him as some of the others were reputed to have been.
Tom had a definitive style both in his dress and his talk, I do remember that. He was always keenly dressed and kept a full head of hair to the very last. That was part of his attraction, it was said, his looks, as well as his ability to talk his way into, or out of, any situation, particularly a lady’s bedroom. Tom was as great a one for the words, as he was for the ladies. When blended together, those two proved as harmonious as a single malt with just a dash of the freshest of spring waters, taken at source. They rejuvenated Tom, daily.
Tom could also sell property. Talking some unsuspecting enquirer into a purchase was easy to Tom; it was second nature. It was little more than an extension of his ability to talk a lady into bed although, of the two, I understand, he preferred the latter. It was always said that he’d rather forgo the commission of a sale than miss the opportunity of female company. If nothing else, you have to admire his dedication and level of consistency.
Tom’s buried somewhere over towards the top of the old part of the cemetery, near to the wall that separates it from the new section that had to be added thirty years or so ago in readiness to accommodate the increasing traffic. It must have been extended not long after Tom died, come to think about it.
I always find the cemetery to be the perfect point to pause and take a few minutes break, falling, as it does, almost at the end of my walk, for even the bees keep their silence here, out of respect, and the clock set into the wooden portico, arching over the entrance gate, never makes a sound as its fingers slice through noon. It can’t, of course, never having been given a chime thereby preventing it ever disturbing the eternal peace that pervades the little place.
I normally find that a few minutes spent on the wooden bench that sits alongside the portico, the one recently re-varnished and dedicated, according to the brass plaque screwed to its back, to Arnold, ‘Arnie’, Oliver, can be a great reviver. This afternoon, mind, given the combination of a midday sun and some strenuous exercise, it’s best I’m wary against falling asleep. It has been known I must confess, and a ten-minute break has turned into itself, no matter how unwittingly, into half an hour. It’s something I definitely need to guard against today for this weather, combined with exercise, can prove a strong adversary. Still, it is a treat to sit just a few minutes, lean back, stretch my legs and rest my eyes.
Having only now just said as how I always find this place serenely quiet, its main attraction to me, I must say, it’s annoying to have the tranquillity suddenly and, seemingly, deliberately to being broken by the intrusion of a female voice. It’s reciting, in soft, low tones, a verse that’s become familiar to most in the community over the years, and not just in the school yard either.
“Tommy Tattle, full of rattle,
A wizard with the girls.
Soft as butter, he would utter,
Words that fell like pearls.”
It’s a rhyme that remains popular with the local ladies long after their school days, recollecting, as they do, tales their mothers have told them, particularly when their fathers weren’t around. It’s a tale I’ve heard only in snippets, of course, being a man though, I understand, it still continues to be passed down female lines. I can only wonder if my grandmother ever told my mother and, more to the point, if she was ever an active participant in the story. It has to be questioned; so many of the local ladies were, it seems.
Familiar as the lines might be though, whoever penned them in the first place remains as much a mystery right to this day as it’s ever been. Their origin is still anonymous despite the enormous amount of research, not to say rumour and speculation, that’s gone into discovering the source over the years.
Well, this is a small village, even now, let’s not forget. Rumour and speculation have always held far more interest than any amount of fact which, whilst most certainly more pertinent, is also far more boring and makes for that much duller listening.
The only theory arrived at over all this time that might well host even a grain of truth is that it was devised by Thomas Tattle himself, keen as he most likely was to set himself a place in history. It certainly wouldn’t have been beyond his contriving, nor conniving, and Tommy had always seen himself as an integral part of the community, well the female part, anyway.
Whatever the source, it’s fair to say the result’s the same. Alive or dead, Thomas Tattle was and is most definitely a legend in these parts and that’s all he could or would have ever wished for or wanted.
“Well, it weren’t me,” says the same, female voice, the one that’s just finished reciting the little ditty. “I didn’t write it; I do know that. I got it from Tamara who says she got it from Annie-May who got it from Sally Croft who got it from Morwenna Jones (née Pentree),” and here the voice has to pause a minute if she’s to think further.
“I think it was Morwenna Jones (née Pentree), or no, was it Wyllow Storm?” The reciter of the verse adds another name to her catalogue. “I have to think hard on to recall these days. Might have been Wyllow. Yes, could have been Wyllow,” though once again the voice hesitates as she takes yet more time to reflect.
“No, no, it was Morwenna, when I think about it; I’m pretty certain anyway. Yes, definitely certain; it was Morwenna, without a doubt. That’s where it came from though who Morwenna got it from, she says she can’t remember. I did ask her once, I do know that, but ‘twere a long time ago now, and Morwenna’s memory’s no better than mine after all these years. I still remember the rhyme though, and Tom,” and here the reciter pauses as she recalls a living Tom with a fair degree of affection not to mention, longing.
“No one could ever forget Tom Tattle,” the speaker adds. “A living legend he were. at least around here. He still is, though a dead one now, mind. Pity, really; he were much more athletic when he were alive. The things we got up to when my husband weren’t around. They’d make even me blush if I still could when I think about them.”
If you’d have listened carefully, you’d have noted that the last bit was accompanied with just the hint of a sigh.
With no-one else around yet speaking, and so still holding centre stage, certainly for the moment, the voice resumes for, it appears she’s one of the band of residents keen to set the matter straight once and for all as regards the location of the cemetery. Its positioning is seen as a matter of great importance, at least to her.
She adds, “If you’re a villager,” and, apparently, this is the only way to view the positioning of the cemetery, “then it’s halfway up, obviously, given that the village lies at the bottom of the hill. Where else would it be but halfway up? Nobody visits the cemetery on their way home, back from working away all day or city shopping, do they?”
“No, no. The cemetery’s a destination place, much like the Smugglers Inn, down on the quay. They’re both places you go to for a purpose, though, in comparison, the cemetery does lack somewhat in atmosphere, and I should know. I’ve frequented both in my time and, I can tell you, this one’s no fun palace.”
As much as the origin of the rhyme is a mystery so too is the point from where the voice is coming let alone to whom it belongs. It’s certainly coming from somewhere in the graveyard, that much is certain, given that there are only treeless fields surrounding the place on three sides and the main road, inhospitable to pedestrians as it is, bounds the fourth. Even the seagulls, settled around, give this place as wide a berth as possible, and they’ll go almost anywhere. There’s not even the occasional scarecrow to provide cover to a passing voice. Looking around both to left and right, as well as forwards and back, it’s quite clear, there’s no one obvious about. You don’t need to be a trained observer to notice that, and your average boy scout will be more than sufficient to confirm it if you feel the need for a second opinion.
No, when you do look around, you’ll see there’s no one standing by the open grave, fresh dug this morning and now waiting, health and safety considerations having been taken into account, boarded over as it is, for its recipient tomorrow afternoon, three-thirty, give or take a minute or two. The timing’s not all that exact a science here but, none-the-less, the mourners will arrive around then, and a few minutes plus or minus are unlikely to inconvenience the deceased any further. Death’s already done that.
There’s also no one hidden, either in full or in part, behind the Great Oak, broad as it is, no one bent double either in front of or behind a granite headstone, nor anyone fetching water from the trough to top up a vase of flowers. When the wind blows, or the sun shines, those little tin pots can dry out some fearsome quick in this sou’-west facing cemetery. It means that visitors have to drop by with regular frequency in the summer months. Winter gales, in contrast, have a tendency to keep visitor numbers more to a minimum.
No, looking around, there’s no one to be seen, nothing, apart from a couple of disinterested, scrawny-looking rooks atop the Oak, the one that’s stood watch over the place ever since the date of the first internment here, planted, as it was, when little more than an acorn, in commemoration. It’s an old oak now, the first interred has been long dead, and the lettering carved into the granite headstone has long since been weathered away with the constant grind of salted winds. It’s hard to tell who lies below without resorting to Parish records.
Who’s talking then? it can only be asked, for it’s well noted, in general conversation, that dead men don’t talk. Women neither, by extension.
They do, I can assure you,” says Tommy Tattle, “and I should know. For all his power, not even sharp-scythed Death concealed in hooded cloak, like some recalcitrant teenager hanging around on a street corner in a full-length hoodie, can close this mouth. And that’s Rosie Posset, by the way, who’s been talking, dead and buried here many a long year now.”
“Death, it seems,” Tom adds, “hasn’t affected Rosie’s memory all that much, I’m pleased to hear. I’m amazed that she’s still able to recall such a long list of names after all this time. It’s only a shame that her body hasn’t lasted as well. Physically, she’s no longer as attractive nor as lithesome as she was in her heyday; the curves have definitely gone. She always had a good figure. But then, to be fair, none of us are what we were, are we? Not even me. Anti-aging cream can only go so far and this cemetery’s well beyond its remit.”
Tommy Tattle never could resist joining in a conversation, particularly if it involved the use of convoluted language. If it didn’t already then Tom would be sure to introduce some himself. He couldn’t resist; he had prowess in that department. Tom would join in any dialogue going, whether it was his or not, and often start one, if only for the sake of it. Tom had a need to talk and still has, it seems. His mouth was a perpetual motion machine if ever there was one and it continues on to this day.
As a by-product Tom’s ability to continue to talk, it ought to be noted, serves to disprove the adage regarding the ability of the dead to not to be able to communicate after all. It’s an adage that might need revising.
“We can talk alright;” Tom continues, “that’s not the issue. The problem is, there’s no one around to hear the telling anymore, apart from the other dead, that is. I wish there were, there’s many a tale we could tell but the living, regrettably, lose connection with us immediately we gasp our last. Annoying really.”