The Bowsy was crippled with the arthritis. Yet he had a positively Homeric way of mounting and dismounting from his trusty butcher’s bike, lowslung and very prone to punctures with a black-painted hand-tinted sign slung between his legs, from the crossbar on which was inscribed in white lettering:
J.J. Young, Victualler
The act of throwing a stumpy-booted and gaitered leg athwart the low saddle was a grave gesture both ceremonial and heraldic, man and machine (wrapped in symbolic flame, suggesting Mercury) emblazoned on some obscure escutcheon invoking Subordinacy, Humility, Obeisance, Homage, Destiny, Victualler! He threw or rather cast his weary leg across the accursed saddle (he was afflicted with pile) with all the easy grace of long custom. He stank like an ancient Irish battle long lost. The triumphant victors having given three rousing cheers and stumped off, brandished their bloody weapons, to dine in high style that very evening off the finest plate, served by henchmen and lit by ranks of wax candles dripping from Georgian silverware; the defeated left dead on the cold field as wolf-fodder, crow-bait and spoils for pillagers.
The Bowsy was a strong stumpy little man who got about, when not awheel, with a pronounced limp; about his middle a broad leather belt with studs to augment coarse country braces or what he called galluses and, tucked into the long-johns, a labouring man’s collarless shirt known as Grandfather, never washed but worn until it could walk off him. On his broad cranium the same cap worn in all weathers all its long natural life, a greasy sweatsoaked affair crushed in his hands and wrung out when confronted with the Gentry, who were always out and about.
He habitually wore a bloodstained blue and white striped butchers apron tied behind, dirtied with gristle and mincemeat and snot (for he contrived manual emissions of snot while in motion and some of it came back on him, in high winds) adhering to it, a seal of his worth. A sack was thrown over the shoulders in foul weather or snow, more token than actual cover; and when it was teeming with rain, and don’t forget we’re in the Midlands, he arrived agleam in black oilskins with tam o’shanter like Skipper, the herring fleet captain, as if he were a fish (a flounder) or had come by water, so drenched was he. But always cheerful, always cheerful, leaving his puddles behind, and not a word of complaint, never a word.
He cycled miles in all weathers on his stiff delivery bike, stubby pipa clenched between stumps of broken brown teeth; soaked in sweat, running with rainwater, to deliver the meat and sausages and silverside and black and white puddings that were the staples for the not-so-well-off so addicted to rashers delivered safe and sound into the hands of the poor recipients.
Neither he nor his trusty machine was ‘able’ ( as he put it) for the slight gradient on the front avenue, so he was obliged to dismount and push it the rest of the way. Every Saturday afternoon regular as clockwork he arrived with the sirloin of beef wrapped up bloodily in yesterday’s Evening Mail and, like Olympic athletes passing on the flame, conveyed this safely into the hands of old Mrs Henry, for her to tell him that it was ‘a nice piece of meat’, and carry it off to the larder; hardly in the larder door before she came hurrying back to do the honours, offer him a bottle of Guinness to slake his thirst and beg him to be seated and take the weight off his feet, with which he gratefully complied and always with the same formality, washing his hands in coarse soap at the scullery tap while Lizzy set to work with a corkscrew, so that the hero full of village gossip, saddlesore and battlesore, could blow his nose into the sink and sit on a kitchen chair, to stink up the kitchen as he indeed made himself ‘at home’. Mumu confessed that she thought the world of the Bowsy Murray, and Dado said the Bowsy was no fool.
Aidan Higgins, Donkey’s Years, 1995