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Looking across the platform to the tube sign on the opposite wall, at Balham.

Picture by Nicobobinus: Balham

When Geoffrey of Belgeham finally receives his copy of the Domesday Book, it says that he owns one and a half ploughs. The other half a plough belongs to the next village over, which has six and a half total, so you’d think there’d be room for a bit of generous compromise; but no. Instead the representatives of the two villages take it in turns to drag the shared plough up and down their border, one half in Estreham and the other in Belgeham, furrowing ever deeper.

One afternoon, Leofric’s had enough. He steers the plough into Estreham fields, and keeps it up for a whole productive afternoon before anyone from Belgeham notices. After that, the plough is always manned by two: one from each village, eyeing the other suspiciously, up and down the border.

The plough digs further and further into the earth as months go by. The edges of the furrow start to shade the workers, both from sun and from watchful eyes. After a while it’s no longer strictly necessary to have a representative from both villages — the furrow is too deep for anyone to lift out the plough unaided — but it’s tradition now, and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon besides.

The problem comes late one autumn afternoon when, sun angling golden above them, Beorhtsige and Deoring find they’ve ploughed too deep and they can’t climb out. They call for help but nobody hears until morning, when Huscarl wanders over from Belgeham and Alflaed from Estreham.

“Have you tried a leg-up?” Alflaed calls down.

“Of course we’ve tried a fucking leg-up,” says Beorhstige.

Alflaed looks shocked: they’re more demure, over Estreham way. “There’s no call for that.”

Deoring shrugs, conciliatory but damp. “Well, we have just spent the night in a furrow. And it did rain a bit. Maybe one of you could get a ladder?”

Huscarl leafs through his copy of the Book. “It doesn’t look like we’ve got one,” he says.

“We’ve got two,” Beorstige says. “Behind the big house. And Ordwig’s son has a rope.”

Huscarl runs his finger down the page. “It’s not listed. Maybe Estreham?”

Alflaed’s already looking through his copy. “We’ve got two hides and a virgate… no… oh, here we go. Hm. Half a ladder.”

Beorhstige swears again, but Deoring looks hopeful. “Half a ladder might do it. We’re not that far down. You could drop it in, we’ll climb up as far as we can and maybe you can pull us the rest of the way.”

They wait three hours for Alflaed to get back: the ladder’s kept right over on the border with Furzedown, which owns the other half. Deoring takes the plough up and down the furrow a few times while he waits, and makes small talk with Huscarl, who’s sat on the Belgeham side with his legs dangling over the edge. Beorhstige sits at the bottom with crossed arms, leaning his head against the dirt wall.

“Here,” Alflaed says, finally returned. “They wouldn’t let me borrow their half, sorry.” There’s half a dozen curious Estrehamians and even one Furzedowner behind him.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Deoring says, setting the plough down; and then he ducks beneath the shower of falling rungs.

Posted in Northern Line. Tagged with , , , , .

3 Responses

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  1. A bloke on my bus home was claiming to live in Belgeham the other day, but since he turned out to live on my street he’s clearly just ashamed of living in Estreham Hill.

  2. Hahahahaha!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. not falling down linked to this post on January 30, 2009

    [...] Today’s story is a perfect reason why you should be reading Minor Delays. [...]

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