The Bastle Barn – Neil Campbell

Jackie stands in the yard screaming. Dogs bark. Smoke pours from two chimneys at either end of the barn. Inside, the living room is lit by two fires and two table lamps. At the top of the two stairwells there are bedrooms. John finishes his tea and puts on his coat. He takes Jackie’s coat out with him and drapes it across her shaking shoulders before putting a woolly hat on her head. Her screaming subsides as he props open the back gates. He gets in his red car and reverses on to the old drovers’ road. She gets in her little blue car and slowly backs it out. John manoeuvres past her and parks his little red car back in the yard. He closes the gates as she continues to go backwards up the old drovers’ road.

Back inside, John makes another cup of tea and puts it on the table next to the couch. He puts his hands behind his head, flicks off his slippers and stretches his legs. There are starlings nesting in the bushes just beyond the door and he listens to their curious sounds.

After waking he pours the cold tea into the kitchen sink. The two fires are glowing with coals. He shovels more coal on each of them and smoke billows from both chimneys. Turning on the radio he listens to 70’s music and washes the wine glasses in the sink. A woman sings that she feels she’s made out of gingerbread.

Looking at his watch he turns off the radio and waits. Then he hears the car horn, one, two, three, four beeps. He goes out into the yard, opens the gates, reverses his little red car out and lets the little blue car back in.

‘Did you get them, Jackie?’ he says.

‘Yes, I got them.’

In the living room lit by lamps and fires she opens the Belgian biscuits and begins to eat them.

‘Why don’t you try something else, Jackie?’ he says.

‘I like these.’

‘I know, but don’t they have anything else in Aldi, Jackie?’

‘I like these.’

‘Alright, Jackie.’

Jackie sits on the couch with the empty box of biscuits. John looks up from his copy of the Hexham Courant. ‘Do you want your knitting, Jackie?’

‘Oh fuck. Okay.’

He goes to the drawer and takes out the long black and white scarf with the needles still attached and passes it to Jackie. She resumes the slow clicking and clacking and John goes back to his newspaper.

In the afternoon John looks at his watch and sees that it is time for Countdown. He puts on the TV and Jackie puts down the scarf when she hears the theme music. They watch in silence, relaxing to the considered requests for vowels and consonants. John puzzles over the conundrum, and the contestant, a seventeen-year-old boy, figures it out before him.

In the kitchen, Jackie cooks her speciality of chilli con carne as John attends to the fires. He folds out the tiny dining table and they sit at either end over their steaming plates just as The Simpsons starts. On the screen, Homer strangles his son Bart in a running visual gag. John watches as Homer goes to Moe’s and sits at the bar with Lenny and Carl.

When Jackie comes back downstairs in her dressing gown, John has a glass waiting. The yard is filled with empties and John thinks to go to the bottle bank sometime. At the end of Mrs Brown’s Boys, John turns smiling to Jackie and sees her sleeping on the couch. He finishes his glass of wine and lifts her into his arms before carrying her up the stairwell and putting her in to bed.

Back in the living room he puts more coal on both fires to keep the bastle barn warm through the night. He throws the empty box of biscuits in to the flames as the last westbound train passes. There are highlights of the England game on ITV. He has avoided hearing the score and is lifted by news of the 2-1 victory. Hodgson seems to know what he’s doing but neither side is like they used to be during the time of Bobby Moore.

After the football he looks more closely at the leaflets that came through the door while Jackie was out. Under a heading, ‘Quiet Revolution’ there’s details of a plan to put some wind turbines just across the river below Willimoteswick Castle. A meeting has been set up at the newly constructed village hall to organize a petition. The other leaflet details the upcoming production of As You Like It at Henshaw School.

The first eastbound train of the morning passes. As it fades away John hears the young starlings. After the starlings there’s the screaming. Dogs bark. John gets up and comes down his stairwell, sees the front door open and Jackie standing in the yard in her dressing gown, looking up at the blue sky. John starts the fires and then brings her inside. Later, as they go through the routine with the cars, John sees the police van by the side of the old drovers’ road.


Image via Pixabay

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