Sue Lawley, Budleigh Salterton resident, talks about the Budleigh Literary…
I think it was when I saw a man walking down the white line in the middle of the High St dragging a wheelie bin that I first really noticed Old John. Clad in brown corduroys, tweed jacket and flat cap, he looked every inch the country gent. For some reason though he sported a pair of iridescent, orange running shorts-over his trousers. This, as one can imagine, set him apart from the other traffic. The wheelie bin was used to carry John’s once fortnightly shop at the Spar, which consisted almost entirely of frozen ready made meals and as he refused to pay his water bills he also used it to extract water from the football club’s outside tap at three o’clock in the morning. Old John had farmed half the wide bosom of Devon in his time. Born in the 1920s he had been part of the last generation to use horses extensively on the land before the tractor consumed all.
John lived when gypsies still roamed the countryside in brightly painted wagons, leading their colourful lives. His mother never turned Romanies away when they sold heather at her door and would always give them something to eat. Gypsies always repay kindness and when John’s sister was dangerously ill, an ancient gypsy woman gave his mother some herbs which saved the girl’s life, much to the local doctor’s consternation as he had given up all hope.
Old John can still be seen on murky evenings stealing through the gloaming, bent crooked against the elements, against life, still believing in the saving power of herbs as a new devotee of Chinese medicine.
© FCR Esgen