There once was an old man who lived in a two up, two down in the Balby area of Doncaster. He was a bit of a hoarder, at least when it came to timepieces. Carriage clocks, star burst clocks, clocks with Mickey Mouse on them, Big Ben clocks, Small Ben clocks, Just Ben Clocks. Clocks that featured hourly bird calls, clocks that sounded like Stephen Fry, cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks. He also had a large collection of watches: a Morris the Cat watch, a Spiro T Agnew one, watches that needed new batteries, as well as watches that would never tick again, no matter if they had the freshest batteries this side of Greenwich.
A large, freshly sharpened scythe leaned in an alcove corner. The old man claimed it was for demonstration purposes only. In a long lifetime, he had only used it twice.
If you asked the old man how he managed to sleep in a house that ticked so very loudly, he would reply: “Sleep is for tortoises.” This was a Doctor Who quote, for the old man was a fan.
At the back of the clock/watch room hung a wooden clothes airer. Hanging from it were 17 long, hooded white robes. These were his going out clothes. At the moment, he was inside, and wearing a faded Blur t-shirt, and baggy jogger’s bottoms, as well as a black cat on his right shoulder.
“Tis the season to eat holly, dum de dum de dum, de dum dum deee,” the old man carolled to himself as he removed one of the robes from the airer.
“Holly is highly poisonous, you do NOT want to eat it,” the cat said.
“If you think I’m going to start taking gardening advice from a feline, you have another thing coming, Alexander Pushkincat,” the old man replied.
Alex the cat attempted to wash his bottom without leaving his master’s shoulder. This did not work out, for reasons which were obvious to both of them. The cat tumbled off, landing with all four feet on the floor, by way of around two dozen clocks.
“Tongue!” the man said loudly. Instantly, Alex pulled his tongue in. Like all cats, he had a horror of looking foolish.
As a way of changing the subject, Alex said, “Aren’t you running a bit late, Father? “
The old man’s full name was Old Father Time (OFT). Only Alex called him Father, mainly because Father Time had rescued Alex when he was a kitten from certain death on the M1.
The New Years tended to call him “Old Times”, which was both rude and inaccurate. For starters, OFT was a singular being, not a plural. There had once been an Old Mother Time, but she had left him to study how to become a minor Hindu deity. It was so long ago, only OFT remembered her.
“Stuff and nonsense!” replied Father Time. “It’s only Saturday.”
The cat cleared his throat, coughing up a hairball in the course of it. He looked at the Streetcat Named Bob watch on his furry right wrist, and said, “No it isn’t, it’s Monday. The New Year starts tomorrow.”
“So what?” said Father Time.
“So what is that we can’t afford for you to miss your best paying gig of 2018/2019,” the cat replied.
“But my timepieces are all saying it’s Saturday the 29th,” said Old Father Time.
He picked up the nearest one, an hour glass with sand that changed colours when you turned it over.
It didn’t display the date, unlike his collection of digital clocks, each of which displayed the time and date as 18:00 and 31/12/2018. The Bens and other mechanical clocks agreed with the digitals.
“Crumbs,” said OFT. “At this rate that snotty-nosed kid will be seeing me out, and not vice versa.”
Father Time was referring to 2019. Meeting the latest New Year was one of the downsides of his job.
“Here,” said Alex. As he was holding a pamphlet in his mouth, it came across more as “Mmhhgh.”
“What’s this then?” said Father Time, taking the pamphlet from his cat. “Buses to London from Doncaster?”
“The trains will be rammed, by the time you get to the station. Do you have much to pack?”
The bus driver on the 18:45 Doncaster to London National Express bus was not a happy man. He didn’t mind driving a bus: in truth he quite enjoyed it. The passengers, though, were another kettle of strange fish. And today, New Year’s Eve, he’d met the strangest fish of them all.
The old man had a valid ticket all right, but what was with the cat on his shoulder? And the – the bus driver gulped – big stick with a curved blade on its end?
“What do you call that?” the driver demanded, pointing at the black cat who was sitting on Father Time’s shoulder.
“Well, his full name is Alexander Pushkincat, but I usually just call him Alex. It saves Time.”
“And what about that bloody great stick with its bloody great knife?”
“It’s called a scythe,”said Father Time.
“And what’s it for?” The old man paused, considering the question. “Chastisement.”
“There’re laws about knives, you know, I can’t let you on with that bloody big thing.”
“It’s not a knife,” said Time. “It’s original purpose was to cut the grass in a meadow.”
Not a knife?” the driver asked, then paused. “Oh, the hell with it. I retire in a fortnight. He narrowed his eyes, and said, “Do you promise not to sythe any of the other passengers?”
“Scythe,” Time corrected.
“Whatever. Welcome aboard. Don’t sing the song, keep your scythe to yourself, and we’ll get along just fine.”
“Which song?” Time asked, puzzled.
Alex the cat leaned toward Time’s nearest ear, and whispered. “Oh,” said Father Time. “That song.”
“Humming counts, you know,” said the driver.
“Whatever,” said the old man. But he did stop humming, and by way of a three hour nap, troubled the bus driver no more.
“It was 22:00 by the time the bus reached London. “We’re running a bit late,” the cat said nervously. “I’ll get us a cab shall I?” replied Father Time.
It took around 20 minutes for Father Time to flag down a cab. “I need to get to the Jools Holland show, right quick. Can you help?”
“Maybe, if you can promise me two things.”
Such as?” the old man said
The driver held up his right thumb. “First of all, keep your scythe to yourself.”
“Oh jolly good,” said Father Time. “You know what a scythe is.”
“Second, “ the cabbie said, holding up another finger, “no being car sick. Oh, and try and keep the shedding to a minimum,” he added, looking at Alex.
Alex the cat saluted him, and said, “I’ve just had a hairball, so I should be okay, at least for the duration of our journey.”
“Okey dokey,” the cab driver replied. “Let’s go!”
After a false stop at Television Centre, the cab drove on to the London studio where Jools Holland’s “Hootananny” was filmed. “Excuse me,” said Father Time, as he attempted to queue jump approximately two dozen pipers, kilts and all. “Terribly sorry, ma’m,” he said to a middle aged black lady whose sparkly black dress and matching boa screamed “diva”.
“Thank you,” said Alex with a bow.
“Goodness me, a talking cat!” You must be from Doncaster.”
“Why so?” asked Time.
“Because that’s the only place I know which has sentient animals,” she replied.
“Well observed,” said Alex.
“What about you,” said the woman looking at the old man.“You supposed to be dressed up as Father Time?”
“Indeed,” said Time.
“Jools is expecting you. He’s been expecting you for at least an hour. The man/s a bit twitchy with it, if you ask me.”
“Come, Alex,” said Father Time. “Time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man.”
“Or cat,” replied Alex. “Though I’d rather have buttered tuna. Especially if you skip the butter.”
“Um, I don’t think they had any tuna in the green room,” the woman said.
“Never mind, friend cat,” said Father Time. “All we have to do is find Mr Holland, prance about a bit, then it’s breakfast time. How do you fancy a full English, Alex?”
“Will the eggs be buttered?” asked Alex the cat.
“Not necessarily. Should they be?”
While they were having their conversation about breakfast, Time – complete with shoulder riding cat – was making their way to the stage.
“Old Father Time!” said Jools Holland. “Where have you been?”
“On a bus, then a cab,” replied Time.
Jools shook his head. “2019 is already here.”
“No he isn’t,” said Time.
“Okay, the man playing 2019 is here. It’s still 2018 – for another hour.” Jools Holland said, adding, Nice scythe.”
“Thank you,” chorused Alex and Time.
“And our brass?” asked Alex.
“Goodness gracious, a talking cat!”
“To quote Mae West, ‘Goodness has nothing to do with it’,” said Alex.