I was a lonely child. Except for the times I was asked by my gran to visit Elwyn Parry in Abergavenny.
He was Welsh by way of Nepal. He could have easily been a sherpa. Instead he opted to be the Lollypop man at my local school and he always gave me preferential treatment when I had to cross at the busy intersection. Made all the other kiddies rush across as distractions while I was ushered across in his skiff.
He also lived alone. His wife had run off years ago with two African kings. He also served in Burma. Learnt the Burmese Waltz and named his cat Salzburg.
Anyway, my gran sent me to his house for spuds from time to time. He had a large shed filled with them and there was a rumor that he was the reason there was a famine in Ireland.
He had also lost his brother to British Rail. Worked nights driving the Intercity 125 to London via the Scottish Hebrides well before Scotland was a tourist destination.
I always found Elwyn shaving with a Ghurka’s knife. And on this particular day he had two German spies tied up in his living room. One of them I swear must have been a podiatrist, because he always kept looking at me.
I asked for the spuds. He added another piece of coal to his unlit fire and smiled. He motioned for me to come closer. I did.
The German spies tried to shout out “Ich Dien”, which I had heard the Prince of Wales once say to his mother when she asked him to stop playing with her family jewels.
Elwyn’s breath smelt like the inside of a duffel bag and I could see that he had a grenade’s pin between his teeth. He told me to follow him. He led me to his stash of spuds. Asked why my gran needed them. I told him for mash potatoes. He had staked empty crisp packets around his shed. To ward off the children, he told me.
Then he told me his secret. He didn’t grow the spuds. He got them black market off a lorry headed for Weston-Super-Mare, and they’d come all the way from Maine. Place called Aroostook County.
“Ok, Elwyn,” I said, “Enough with the bullshit. Where did you get these spuds?”
And this was the only time I saw him cry. But he still gave me the tubers.
When I left, I heard terrible screams from his house. And to this day I’m not sure if they came from him or the two German spies.
Or maybe it was from the cat. He was preparing to skin it as I was leaving.