Jim Gibbs was, I think, the star turn of the quartet. He was not a local and had been in the Black Watch at one time, even when in his seventies he was ramrod straight and walked in a soldierly fashion. When Jim joined up he had arrived too late at the barracks to be kitted out. Along with several others who were in the same boat, Jim had to parade next morning in his civvies. As Jim said, they were a scraggy-looking bunch when the Colonel inspected them. He moved along the ranks looking disdainfully at the new recruits. When he reached Jim he stopped and asked,
“Are you one of the new men who were late arriving?”
“Yes” replied Jim
“Yes what?” asked the Colonel.
“Yesterday” replied the poker faced Jim.
That was Jim on a charge straight away, even before he was in uniform.
“I knew what he wanted me to say, but I wasna gona ter him,” said Jim.
We were never quite sure whether Jim was Irish, Scottish or Welsh, as his accent was such a jumble of different dialects! He must have been Irish as he had a sister who lived at Eyam called Mag, who definitely was.
Jim got so drunk one night in the ‘Comic’ that he fell down from the ladder which led up to the loft above the pig sty, where he was residing at the time. This resulted in him breaking his ankle. After the ambulance had taken him to hospital to have his leg put in plaster, they asked Jim who would be able to look after him, as they were very keen to get rid of him as soon as possible. Jim told them that he had an “Owd bitch of a sister” who lived at Eyam. So the ambulance took him back there.
“What’s up wi’ thee,” was Mag’s greeting to her injured brother.
“Spraint me bloody hankill,” replied Jim in a pained voice.
“Pity tha hasna spraint thee bloody throttil as well. Tha woulda sup so much ale then”. That was the loving reply from Mag: such was the affection between brother and sister.
However, when Mag died, Jim was very upset and was visibly shaken by her sudden passing. As one of his cronies remarked to me the day after her funeral, “Nay, owd Jims not himself at all. I’m a bit worried about him, he’s taken to drinking half’s instead of pints!”
Mag’s old cottage at Eyam was a small ‘one up and one down’ affair, with a privy up the garden. After Mag’s death the owners decided to sell it and after some tidying up had been done it was out on the market. As the owners were not locals they mistakenly gave Jim the job of showing prospective purchasers around the property.
One day a wealthy retired couple from Sheffield made an appointment to view. They were interested in using the cottage as a weekend holiday home. Jim was showing them around, extolling the virtues of the place but not making a very favourable impression on the lady. She was a rather tarted-up, vulgar type who liked to flaunt her apparent riches in a very domineering way. Her husband was a very meek chap and could only counter her constant criticisms with a reminder that after all, they only wanted the cottage for weekend and holidays.
“Where is the toilet my man?” asked mi lady of Jim, who was getting a little brassed off with all the hoity-toihty ways of ‘tha owd bitch’.
“It’s up I’ gardin,” snapped Jim, “and tha needa wirry about it as I’ve only just emptied it, an’ it wor lime washed only a month ago”.
Indeed it had been improved recently, and a new Elsanol chemical toilet had been installed to replace the earth closet. It was, though, very primitive compared to what madam had been used to, and she demanded to see it.
Jim wearily led the way up the garden. He proudly showed them the re-vamped privy. After much frowning and sniffing the lady announced that it might do for emergencies, but she firmly said,
“I must have a strong lock out on that door, there is not even a latch on it”.
This was quite true, there was no fastner of any kind on the door. In fact old Mag had been most content to sit there for hours contemplating the wonders of nature with the door wide open so she had a good view of the countryside.
Jim thought about the lady’s remarks for a while, and then came out with a piece of wisdom that has been local folklore ever since.
“Well Missus, if I were thee I wouldna bother wi’ a lock fer t’owd door. Tha’ see’s, me an’ me sister as been around ‘ere fer nigh on fifty year and I’ve nivver yet knowed anyone in Eyam ta steal a bucket full o’ shite”.
Needless to say, that lost the sale and the couple did not buy the cottage. The lady pushed her husband away in front of her, crying,
“Come along, Hubert lets get away from this horrid place and this disgusting dirty old man”.
At one time in his career Jim was living rough in a stable at Haywood Farm. During the dark winter nights he had to make the perilous journey through the wood and across the fields for his nightly quota at the Maynard. To light his way he always carried an old fashioned lantern. This was a triangular affair with crossed wires on the glass sides and a little round chimney on the top. It was covered in a multitude of cobwebs, cow muck and bits of straw. Inside the glass could be found a collection of dead flies and moths and a half inch stub of a candle for the light source.
One dark, cold winter’s night I called in the Tap Room of the Maynard to find Jim and his cronies in their usual place around the fire, chopsing away. Jim downed his drink, stood up and took his lantern from its place on the mantelpiece.
“I’m off back ta mi winter quarters now,” he said, struggling to light the stub of candle in the lantern.
“Tha’ll non dazzle anyone wi that there contraption of a lamp,” remarked one of the group.
Whereupon Jim turned indignantly to the company and informed them all that the said lantern had been presented to him by the late Alderman Crossland, for services rendered.
“And I’ll have thee all know,” he cried defiantly, “that when it’s in form, daylights a bloody fool to it!”
When Jim had had a good night’s session in the Maynard, he was always given a special ‘one for the causey (causeway) edge’ by Arthur Mayger. This became known as Gibbs Cocktail. It was a pint pot filled up with any of the dregs from other glasses which were left at closing time. Be it beer, stout, gin, whiskey or wine it was all grist to the mill as Jim gulped down his special. He assured everyone that it helped him sleep better, indeed, that he could not and set an unsteady course back to Haywood Farm.
Jim was unsurpassed in the art of extracting free drinks from any innocent stranger who was in the bar. The guests who stayed at the hotel were often cornered by him at the bar.
On one occasion he approached a prosperous looking gentleman at the bar who looked a good touch. With his usual guile, his Irish brogue thickened, his eyes twinkled as with over enthusiastic bonhomie he went about his act for a free pint.
“Now, what part of dese dear old Isles might you come from, Sor?” was Jims stock opening gambit.
“From Lincolnshire, near to Boston,” replied the gent.
“Oh, I knows it well. Sor,” lied Jim, “I’ve knowed dat lovely bit o’ country man and boy for nigh on 70 year now. I do remember, when I was a bit of a boy chap, workin’ on a big farm just near Boston, where you is from. Three gurt big windymills stood close together on that farm. Now that was summat strange was’t it? Three windymills next ter each other”.
Jim thought that he was on a fairly safe tack, as windmills abounded in Lincolnshire at that time.
“Well I know a place over by Donnington way where there are three tall mills all in a row, could that be the same place?”
This got Jim a bit worried in case he was found to be bluffing. So he came up with another of his priceless gems.
“Ah, weel,” he replied quickly, “They coulna’ be. I’m sorry to say but out of the three I was referring to, dere is only da one left now. You see, there wasna enough wind about to drive all the three of ‘em”.
That earned Jim his first free pint and he was then well set for the rest of night.
Jim’s regular ‘home’ was a hay loft at Haywood Farm. His bed was of straw and hay, his old army blanket and several old sacks provided the covering. In very cold weather he would move in with the cows for some extra warmth. On the coldest of the Peak Districts winter nights this was perhaps essential, though hardly very hygienic. He had two particular favourites, his “Owd Lasses” as he called them, and he slept with one either side him. “Reight friendly an’ warm they be, an’ they dun’t bloody natter at thee, neither,” was Jims verdict.
He once came into the shop and my wife, Elsie, noticed that there were two large, ragged holes in the front of his shirt. She asked innocently what had he been doing to tear his shirt like that. Jim replied in his indomitable style.
“Oh, buggery, that’s wur I put a couple o’ bits o’ cheese as Nellie at th’ Maynard gave me last night. I stuffed em down mi shirt on me way ‘ome an’ I fergit ter eat ‘em. Bloody rats ‘as bitten through me shirt an’ eaten em fust!”
Jim was well known for his simple philosophies on life. On one occasion he and his cronies were coming out of the Tap Room door at the Maynard when an elderly gent who lived in the village, and owned the Sheffield Vinegar Company, was coming out of the front entrance. This was only used by the ‘Nobbs’, and the frail old man was being helped down the steps by his chauffeur and the hotel porter.
One of the group prodded Jim and said, “Tha’d be alreight Jim, if tha’d got his brass”.
“Nay,” replied Jim, “I’ve got summat wot he hasna got, wot he canna buy an’ will nivver ‘ave”.
“What’s that then Jim?”
“Contentiment, (sic)” was Jim’s smug reply.