Now I isn’t here to argue the toss about, Robert Holloway. I knows what folks says about the fellow, and I says they are all wrong. Robert is my friend - well probably my only friend in this world – but what I lacks in quality of companionship, I makes up for in quality.
Yes he can be trouble - but then I got to ask you and Good Queen Victoria – who ain’t in these deplorable times, I mean who ain’t?. We all got to live. Can’t avoid it – ‘cause, as my dear Aunt Fanny used to say, ‘if you ain’t living, then you’re dead. Simple as that my boy’.
As with most things, my Aunt Fanny was always right (or there and thereabouts).
Now to get things in order, I have to tell you, my lovely readers, that I lives in the little place above Robert’s shop. From my window, if I dropped something heavy out of it, it could easily go right through the shop roof and hit someone (I only mention that in passing, ‘cause it actually happened).
Apart from my good self, (Zachariah), my pal Robert had two other acquaintances in his life. One was his boy, Albert, who had scarpered to the Americas on account of the Peelers looking him for some misunderstanding or another. The other was his wife of thirty years, Maisie.
It could be that Maisie was misunderstood or it could be that she was just as lazy as everyone said she was. The name the neighbours gave her up the street was the ‘Coat-tail Hanger’. On account that she was too lazy to walk up the street, and so she would grab on to a passing stranger’s coat-tail and get them to pull her up the hill. Now I know it is a steep hill, but still there are limits. When she got to the shop, she’d let go, and shout some complaint or other after the poor soul. Either that he was too slow, or too fat, or even too quick: ‘’E nearly took me breath away’ was one of her favourites. She was one of those little soul suckers who thought the world owed her a living, and that all she needed to concentrate on was breathing. We all know them. We all got them.
Locally, Robert was known as two things – 1. The man married to the coat-tail hanger, and 2. The man who bought hair.
For that is what he did - among other less lucrative things. The poor and the hungry would cut off their lovely locks and take them into my friend’s shop in exchange for a measly farthing or two. Some folks sold the hair from their recently departed (or Heaven forbids – the less than recently departed, if you gets my drift).
It was then my job, Good Zachariah of this parish, to wash the hairs, then stick them on to cloths, and shape them into wigs that could be used by gents and ladies of this fair town. Sometimes, you spent the whole day just killing the things that lived in the hair. Me and Robert would split the money 40 for me, 60 for him, on account of him acquiring the hair in the first place.
We used to keep the wigs in my house as Maisie sometimes took a fancy to one of them and would decide to place it on her riddled head and that would be that. Money lost.
The weirdest wig I made, at least so far, is one I made for a rather rich Gent who knocked on me door one Thursday evening.
“Just coming,” I shouted expecting that to hold the knocking, but instead it just kept on coming, harder and harder.
“What!”, I shouted as I opened the door, ‘cause I don’t like to be put upon, I don’t likes it at all.
“Well blow me down with a feather,” is what I says when I sees who it is at the door.
“Come in, come in,” I says to him.
Now I’m trying to act all……….well you know whats I mean. Here in my little room was Mister Charles Dickens – greatest writer alive – well that’s what me and Robert says.
And here’s the strange bit – he wanted a wig to fit him, but not a gentleman’s wig but one closer to a lady’s. Yes, you did read that right. He had a second request: if there was by any chance a lady’s dress that he might acquire, he would be ever so ‘umble. He really would.
It seems (and this is only between you, me and the Bells of St Mary’s) that he has a young lady companion who he is utmost fond of, and would like to travel in her company incognito. Can’t blame a man for that, can’t blame him at all.
So I go downstairs and ask if Maisie has any clothing that she doesn’t need. ‘All of it’ was what Robert said, but I took a little number I thought might go with the wig Charles was going to wear. Robert didn’t ask why – which in itself was a bit strange.
Anyway, within the hour Mister Dickens (or Toloola Bell as he asked me to call him) was on his way and off to meet his little concubine.
The funny thing as I was taking him down the stairs, Robert was on his way up with new hair, he said, ‘Evening Zachariah, evening Mister Dickens’. So much for the disguise I thought.
‘Does all the time,’ Robert told. Last week, Mister Dickens was a red-head called Cheeky.
bobby stevenson 2017