Posted by philwhiteland on Tue, 30 Apr 2019
We first encountered Cyril when we kept our pub, The New Talbot. Mum and dad rather collected ‘waifs and strays’ and seemed to have a weakness for odd characters. It was not unusual to have a living room full of people, after closing time on a Saturday night, enjoying an after-hours drink on the house. On these occasions, mum often put on a bit of supper because she was concerned that a number of her ‘characters’ didn’t eat properly. This was almost certainly the case with Cyril, who appeared to exist on a diet of cigarettes and tea. Whenever she provided a cooked meal, you have never seen anyone eat with such concentration and attention to detail as Cyril. It was a standing joke, in our family, that you had seen nothing until you had seen Cyril chasing an errant pea around his plate!
To the best of my knowledge, Cyril didn’t drink an awful lot, confining himself mostly to the odd half pint. However, these after-hours sessions often involved the consumption of one or two shorts and, probably because of the meagreness of his diet, these seemed to ‘get over’ Cyril quite rapidly. In the exuberance of alcohol, he was known to adopt an Italian character and pursue my mother around the room, all the time entreating her with a stream of mock Italian. This had my mother in fits of giggles. I didn’t think much of it as a ten-year-old but, then again, inebriated adults were never much of a source of humour at that age.
At these same soirees, Cyril was often encouraged to ‘do his party piece’. Apparently, at some point in the past, he had made the mistake of admitting that he frequently spent time standing on his head, because he believed that this improved the circulation to the brain. Thereafter, he was forever being entreated to demonstrate this, and I think he was nagged into it on a few, rare occasions, but I never witnessed it.
Another one of Cyril’s all-consuming hobbies was entering newspaper competitions. He even took the ‘Competitor’s Journal’ every week and used to let me have back issues of this, when I once expressed an interest. My interest soon waned when I realised that, although it was apparently possible to win such competitions on a regular basis, you more or less had to devote your every waking moment to tracking competitions down, clipping out tokens and devising witty tie-breaker answers. My heart wasn’t in it, but Cyril never gave up, although I can’t recall him ever winning anything.
Cyril’s other love was The Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes, or The Buffs, for short. Cyril always attended his local lodge and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Order’s rules and regulations. Many people, I believe, used to attend The Buffs for the social side of it and many didn’t take all the ritual and regalia too seriously, but Cyril did. Because of his encyclopaedic knowledge, along with his memory for what had transpired at previous meetings and what precedents had been set, I believe he rose to quite a high position in the Order.
In many ways, Cyril was an eccentric’s eccentric. He had a sense of humour (see his ‘Italian’ exploits above) but this did not extend to seeing anything remotely funny about his own beliefs and practices. If anything, he took himself rather seriously. Nowadays, I suppose Cyril would be regarded as being on some spectrum or other, but then he was just one of the rich panoply of characters with which Burton seemed to be populated.
On occasions when my mum hadn’t seen Cyril for a while, and wondered if he was alright, I would often be sent around to his home in Oak Street. I always knew that this would be a waste of time because he was either not there or, if he was, he wouldn’t come to the door. On the very rare occasions that he did answer the door, he would only open it a fraction and peer through the crack, cigarette puffing fit to burst. To the best of my knowledge, no-one ever got to see inside his house. I suspect that he was someone who tended to hoard, which might explain his reluctance to let anyone in, but who knows? Well, I suppose the answer to that is, whoever had the job of dealing with his estate, because…
The one remaining oddity of Cyril’s life was that everyone knew that he had left instructions that his body was to be donated to science on his death. This was way before such a practice was generally known about and was the cause of much comment. Amazingly, despite his sporadic diet and immense consumption of cigarettes, Cyril lived a long and active life. Regrettably, when he eventually shuffled off this mortal coil, I’m told that science didn’t actually want his remains and so he had to have the burial that he had never planned. Nevertheless, I think he would have been pleased with it. The Buffs have their own funeral ceremony, which I had never witnessed until Cyril’s interment. It’s rather touching and relates to the circularity of life and there was quite a turn out of Buffs to take part.
I think Cyril would have approved!
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