With a well established Village Shop, Chuffleigh had come of age. It now had a centre of gravity for all degrees of tittle-tattle. The tittle-tattle itself was not required to pass any truth tests. Its mere ability to induce an inward drawing of breath, a ‘tut’, a disapproving head shake or the upward casting of eyes, were the only qualifications necessary for this information to become the fuel for another cannon blast of village gossip. Somehow, the church did not seem a suitable location – inappropriate is probably the right way to say it. Perhaps the gossiper felt there may be a divine listener-inner. The shop was definitely the place.
It was following a particularly drought-ridden gossip period that Chuffleigh was blessed with new blood. Doctor Longhan, a General Practicitioner, had moved in to one of the grand old three story houses on the small road leading off to Hampton-in-the-Chuff. His practice, The Hampton Surgery, had been running for nearly ten years, and as the founder and lead partner, Doctor Longhan had done quite well from it, so he felt a trade-up from Hampton was now justified, and Dr Longhan felt that Chuffleigh had the right qualities – quiet, pretty and uneventful. He felt this might make a welcome change from Hampton.
When the ‘For Sale’ sign went up at Doctor Longhan’s newly acquired house, nobody in the village was surprised. Or even interested for that matter. Its former inhabitants, Mr and Mrs Grey had been clean living, God-fearing, grey and rather uninteresting characters. They did everything that was required of them, and they didn’t do anything that was forbidden. This was terrible for the CGF, better known as the Chuffleigh Gossip Factory, so they escaped virtually all of it.
Doctor Longhan, on the other hand, brought with him something new. Firstly, he was a successful professional man in his early forties. Secondly, he was a very good looking man – lightly tanned, with a loose mane of dark, curly hair, and always dressed impeccably for his practice, in a smart suit with white open neck shirt. He spoke in definite, assured tones, and had perfectly white and aligned teeth which shone as he spoke and he owned all of the understated trappings of the successful man including his very British, very sporty, and very new 4×4 with his personal plate, L0NGV – the V being closest he could get for his Christian name, Ivor.
Norma Schnorks spotted him first on moving in day, and recognised him immediately. Norma lives in the house on the corner, of the main road through the village, and can see Doctor Longhan’s house from hers just across the small, triangular piece of grass which acts as the junction down which Doctor Longhans house is. Her bedroom window has the perfect aspect, and when I say she spotted, I really mean stalked – with the high-powered field glasses her grandfather left her, she can practically count the number of spots on his face. There are none whatsoever she now knows that
Norma is actually a patient of his, and with the oversized binoculars held to her eyes, her pulse quickened as a frisson of excitement visibly shot though her like a lightning bolt.
By coincidence, Norma is in the same world as Doctor Longhan. She works as a nurse at the nearby Chuffleigh Manor, a large retirement home for ex-servicemen, mostly RAF. Chuffleigh Manor, is almost the last building on the right on the Hampton-in-the-Chuff road, past Doctor Longhan’s house, then past The Star pub. Norma realised that she has to walk past his house on a daily basis, to get to work at the manor. She shuddered again at the thought.
Norma Schnorks had been unlucky in love for some time. Her numerous but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at a pairing had usually resulted in failure for one reason or another. As part of her multi-threaded plan to resurrect her love life, she had consciously decided to lower her threshold of acceptability for prospective partners, and dropped phrases such as ‘must have’, ‘must be’ and ‘not looking for’ from her profile. In fact, she’d watered things down to the point that almost anybody with blinking eyes and the ability to breath would have made the grade.
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ she thought to herself; at the same her mind calling out an extensive list of possibilities, which annoyed her.
What followed was calamity after calamity. There was Liam C, who had a tremendous stutter; so bad in fact that Norma could make no secret of her impatience by constantly twisting her wrist to check the time and completing his sentences for him. Then there was Brynn T, who – Norma discovered later that evening to her horror, wasn’t a man at all. Peter W had fingers and teeth missing, but being skilled in Photoshop was able to fix his profile picture by adding them back, and whilst he was at it, fully whitening his teeth for his profile picture. Garth D was a midget, and Eric C – for some reason, was constantly orbited by flies. All of them were missing a certain something – so far, these included fluency, genitals, teeth, fingers, height and personal hygiene.
Norma wiped the lenses of her field glasses and continued to observe her subject. It was almost as if her bedroom was a glamorous bird hide, and Doctor Longhan was a rare and treasured ornithological find. She was quiet, in case she somehow disturbed the scene. He shuttled between his 4×4 and the house, carrying various personal belongings, and Norma could see them in the highest resolution.
A breadmaker. Norma noted this meant The Doctor could cook. ‘Good’, she thought.
A tool kit. ‘Good, he can mend shit’, she quietly said to herself.
A pair of cats in a cage. ‘Ugh. Cats.’ She thought. Norma is not a cat lover. She maintains a row of missiles lined up ready on her kitchen window ledge ready to stun feline visitors who plan to defecate on her lawn. There had been many feline vistors, and now there were two more. ‘Shit.’, she breathed.
She trained her field glasses back onto the Doctor. He had just taken a box of books and CDs from his car, but placed them on the road behind his car. He had seen Reverend Colin approaching along the pavement, taking his malodorous wiry dog Bonker for his morning walk. She didn’t know if they already knew each other, but it seemed as if they didn’t. They spoke a few words, of course imperceptible to Norma, so she tilted her view down to the boxes to see if she could focus in enough to see the titles of some of his CDs.
The scene sharpened as Norma adjusted the large focussing wheel. Beyonce – Dangerously in Love. Cher – Love Hurts. Cheryl Cole – Only Human. A single eyebrow raised, and then fell again.
Just then, she noticed that The Reverend was ending his conversation, he held out his hand to shake the Doctors’, but the Doctor surprised Norma and held out both of his arms and gave the Reverend a big man hug that lasted a few seconds longer than would normally have been comfortable. This time, both eyebrows shot up. The Reverend composed himself, and then tugged on Bonker’s lead to prompt him that their walk was to continue, but Bonker had picked the worst time possible and began to ‘curl one out’ just next to the Doctors car. There was an embarrassed wait for Bonker, as he’d adopted the ‘leapfrog’ position, and he wasn’t going anywhere. After an uncomfortable few tens of seconds, there was an embarrassed smile, a fake shaking of a fist towards the dog and another smile, then a dismissive flourish of the hand from the Doctor, and then The Reverend – red faced, was briskly away with Bonker on yet another short leash.
As soon as he went, Norma then heard the sound of a car approaching. Soon, it hoved into view. An immaculately kept Fiat 500 in light blue, with a big artistic pink stripe along its side. The headlights were on, and as the car approached the Doctor’s house, the horn pipped a falsetto beep a few times to announce the arrival.
‘Shit again.’ Norma breathed. ‘Has he got a woman? I had no idea’.
Then, out stepped the Doctor’s visitor. A man. And somebody Norma did not know. The man – slim, dressed in a tight, blue and white striped T-shirt, white drainpipe jeans and white Converse sneakers, walked – well, minced over to where the Doctor was standing, and he limply held out his arms, and the Doctor hugged him. For a lot longer. Ironically, Norma didn’t know where to look.
‘Oh my good God’, Norma said out loud to herself, and then the penny dropped. Cats. Gay icon CDs. Special mincing friend. ‘The Doctor is gay, and he is moving his special friend into the big house here in Chuffleigh! That is going to put the cat amongst the pigeons.’ she thought to herself.
Had it not been the postman delivering mail to Norma’s house, the clank of her letterbox might well have been her chin dropping to the ground in both disappointment and surprise.
But now, she had a mystery to solve. Now there was no chance of the Doctor checking her pulse out of hours, for the sake of the CGM, her mission was to find out everything she could about the Doctor and his new friend. And she would start….at the shop!