Tokkmaster Clerke 

Tokkmaster Clerke

I once told you how I first came up that long, long hill out of Cullesdon and visited the local pub dubbed ‘Pail of Water’.

The rundown parade of shops, the golf-course on one side, the tracks leading to woodfalls and derelict smallholdings, and the strange mixture of council flats and semi detached owner-occupiers made that indefinable place, at one overnourished and prevalent, but at two disturbingly barren and bare-gnawn. Through the Southern Mysteries beyond Balham, it was soon that one met the Surrey Badlands, at the edge of South London, and that area to me by crap and root the core of such Badlands,

The golfers and pub locals stared imbecilically at any newcomers; the butcher’s shop kept so called satan-meat behind grinny windows; the girls begawed and bedecked themselves with flirting ribbons and enticing cockadilloes; the callow youths hung an arse round by the patron’s car park of the ‘Pail of Water’, sometimes helping the contraband lorries unload the cock-ale - delighted in by the local taste-buds; and the churn-owls swooped and whooped with the early dying of the afternoon light, betokening the preparation of other entities and elementals to squeeze themselves from between the sticky thighs of the night.

That day I arrived, after initiation from the shapes in the sky, they doctored me to their ways. The clan leader, Tokkmaster Clerke, who also acted as local general practitioner, served me the medicine and the mending and kept vigil by my several nights of bed-evil that ensued. He continued to move the bed on its ill-suited legs, muttering that the devil did rock my cradle, did cully my fever and did keep the bloody-flux at bay; but his hush-a-byes sure did beflum and bamboozle my thoughts for a while.

After, I stayed with the Sawdust family; they knew my history and why I had been called there, I was to be chief taster for those Societies that met at the Community Hall, standing across the road from the shops, a bit like an army barracks, with the letters of its name above the entrance mostly fallen completely or dislodged into a word I could not pronounce, The cabals and brotherships that there stretched their limbs from bodies politic within the big and small halls and lesser meeting-rooms feared sabotage from outsiders.

I had gained reputation in the ‘Square Mile’ further North as sniffer-out of poisons at the credence-tables of nobility and middle-class alike. I had cocked a tongue to many dire tidbit and toxic tiffin, and winked across to those sitting above the salt: telling a tale of treachery with my mere glance,

The Sawdust’s tried me out with every particle of local fare: the sometime bad toddies served at nearby Woodman-Sterne, the even more ill-reputed carrier worms dug from beneath nearby deadfall trees (considered a delicacy in parts of the Badlands ) and, finally, the scuds and curds that intermittently plummeted from the sky in crazy fibrous shapes that monsters said to be above the clouds sculptured from their own droppings.

And I passed mustard with every test.

Tokkmaster explained how the word above the Hall’s entrance, Cthulhu, was pronounced and what it implied; inside he showed me several huge black volumes with gold clasps with arcane titles, hidden with the drama props under the stage, whispered in my ears about the coming of even narrower fellowships and masonries to the area. And I was to be Chief Taster and Factotum to any such,

One day a banquet was held …. Of course, Tokkmaster Clerke was at the head of the huge oak trestle, being host and breaker of bread. The wine, deeply red, flowed down swift gullets. The food -great gristles of flesh, yellow fat and hairy skin lining the rare sides of boeuf and lion; even greater cow-udders, baked and prepared with the greasy tubes intact, the undersides green-fleshed and pocked with broken bubbles of melded fat; windfall fruit, knotted and almost branched with unwholesome sprouts of stale seasons; plates of flopping fish, still alive but unbelievably putrid, their fins pickled in vats of udder-grease as scaly extras; further dishes of octopus with inflamed, ridgy pores, squid with mutant tentacles, horny lapfish, swordfish bent and skewed, splattered blowfish, gasfish, rancid roe - the food was enjoyed at every hand.

All had passed across my credence-table for pre-tasting and, suddenly, a great boar’s head, overbaked and brainless, spoke the last word from the trestle: “Burp!” And spew poured from its sticky mouth,

They all looked up at me…. and stared icily, realization dawning. Dr Tokkmaster pressed his stethoscope to his own chest … to hear the devil in there. He grimaced and made as if to attack me…

I left that night, my job done, down the long, long hill. I was searching for some far-off pub to quaff a pint of their very best bitter and to partake of a packet of pork scratchings. Clean flakes of snow settled over me as I entered Cullesdon.

(published 'Works' 1988)

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