Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 61. Loony Toons.

We spent last night in a campsite on the edge of the Roaches, near Leek. The Roaches, dramatic rock formations, cover quite an area. Once upon a time some of the fell runners from our athletics club were on a training run in the area and were stunned to see some wallabies hopping along. Their astonishment was not just because the marsupials were much faster than the runners, and clearly capable of winning any fell race they entered. The lads had never heard that the critters existed here. But they have been around for many a long year. I remember that in the terrible winter of 1962/3 the wallabies were expected to die out, but they survived and thrived.

Gay drove me back to Stone this morning, where I picked up the baton I had dropped there on Monday. I pressed on up the Trent and Mersey Canal.

After a few kms I came to Barlaston, where I paused to take a photograph of the Plume of Feathers pub. This is probably the only pub in the world which I, not being a drinker, can be said to have frequented for a while. At a particularly turbulent period of my life, in about 1970, I was in this pub a few times. One of the regulars was a young man, clearly highly strung and excitable, who was known to other regulars, for obvious reasons, as “Loony Bassett”. He was always involved in arguments with them, and of course they would deliberately wind him up. Unfortunately, his looniness had very bad consequences for a French couple.

I had heard Loony say that he used an air rifle to shoot birds from his bedroom window. I also heard him announce that, if he were to kill somebody, he would use a gun, to make sure of the job. Not long after this, I was in the car one night when a news bulletin announced that a young French couple had been killed where they were camping in Delamere Forest, near Chester. A description of the suspect followed – it was clearly Loony Bassett.

The full story emerged the next day. Loony had taken a day trip to Rhyl or one of the resort towns on the North Wales coast. At a fun-fair, he had heard the French couple laughing. Being of the paranoid persuasion, he thought they were laughing at him, although they had probably not given him a glance or a thought. He stole a rifle from a shooting gallery, then followed them all the way back to their campsite, many miles away. I put it to the jury, your honour, that this shows evidence of premeditation. After slaughtering them, he went home, or thereabouts, drove to Barlaston Downs, a secluded local beauty spot, and gassed himself, using a tube attached to his exhaust pipe. Presumably the tube was not just lying around, so it seems he had given some forethought to that, as well.

When I was taking a photograph of Loony’s pub, I explained to an old man at a house a couple of doors away, why I was doing so. I told him the story of Loony Bassett. Amazingly, although this man, older than me, had lived in the are for all or most of his life, he did not know the story. So poor old Loony does not even get lasting fame out of his murderous exploits.

I pressed on. My walk today was only 16.5 kms, total so far 1656.5 kms. We are parked at the premises of Towtal, in Heron Cross, Stoke on Trent. Towtal are part of an organisation called Motorhome Stopovers. This consists mainly of pubs which welcome campervans overnight on their carparks, in the hope that people will emerge from the campervans and consume food or beverage on their premises. Towtal mend campervans, they make trailers to carry little cars behind campervans, and they sell secondhand campervans. I am not clear what trade they would expect to get as a result of one sleeping on their premises. Maybe just the possibility that you could use one of their other services. And maybe it works. We are here because it is ideally situated on my walk and there seems to be not a campsite nearby. We are certainly pleased with them already. As a result of a sudden gust of wind and our ignorance, the awning on the side of V-Force One has not been in a working condition since early in the trip. Thanks to a quick bit of wizardry by the head of the workshops, it is now in full useable order.

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