costume

The grand finale – Day 360: William’s Foggy Morning – and an Afterword

The facts

“Are there any auras here?” William had asked doubtfully. “I’ve never seen one an’ I’ve lived here eleven years.”
“You don’t see an aura, William,” she had explained, “you sense it, though you may see manifestations.”
“They may have some manifest’uns in the Library,” Henry suggested helpfully, but Miss Montecute shook her head.

Note: as I observed yesterday under William and the Sponsored Walk, 38.6, today’s story, William’s Foggy Morning, was the last on which Richmal Crompton worked – and, indeed, it was unfinished at the time of her death on 11 January 1969. Her niece and literary executor Richmal Ashbee completed it posthumously based on her notes.

So here we go, the final story…

Verdict

“How do you fight creatures from Outer
Space?” asked Douglas, slightly alarmed.
“We could ask General Moult to shoot him,” suggested Ginger.
“You can’t shoot spacemen,” pronounced Henry. “They’ll be like the vampires in that film we saw, an’ you need silver bullets to shoot ’em with and stakes an’mallets to pin ’em down.”
“We’d better go an’ get ’em, then,” said William simply.
Henry fetched a ball of string and his Latin grammar. “You’ve got to chant Latin at ’em,” he insisted. “They only know Latin an’ it frightens ’em.”
“It sort of frightens me,” agreed William.

On an exceptionally (implausibly?) foggy morning, the Extra Dimension Community – loopy spiritualists planning a commune in the village – are arriving. Things very rapidly become silly, with people going missing, people unable to see people, the Outlaws misunderstanding spiritualism and assuming evil monsters to be behind the fog…

They set out to rescue Archie (lost in the mist) from these extraterrestrial demons, and when they find him dressed as Mephistopheles things only become more confused.

Afterword

Well, that is that – the end. Except I wouldn’t want to let the end go by without adding on a few words.

In my professional life, I tend to deal more with Moses, Abraham, Joseph and suchlike. But William is by far and away my favourite fictional character. His bafflement at the adult world is a joy. His language – so often inexpertly borrowed from the grown-ups he fails to understand – makes my sides ache. His inventiveness is quite something. And his unstintingly good heart and relentless optimism are a lesson to us all.

Who knows what would have happened to William had Richmal Crompton lived longer: he would, of course, have stayed 11 and never progressed to adolescence or marriage or adulthood. But how would he have found the ’80s and the ’90s? The internet? The Iraq War? Pokémon? Fidget spinners? It’s sometimes fun to think about.

What I’ve also had fun thinking about is long-term trends across the decades of books. As I’ve gone along, I’ve classified each story as ending with either William comes out on top or William comes out on the bottom. The final totals were: on top, 266; on the bottom, 94.

But it was kind of hard to quantify. The stories where William came out on top were easy enough to identify: wrongs righted, money earned, confiscated items recovered… But where he might be thought to have come out on the bottom (aims not met, or serious disciplinary consequences incurred) I quite often ended up categorising it as ‘on top’ regardless because he found something to be glad about, or proud of, or just enjoyed the experience so much.

I’ve enjoyed this experience too. It’s been a long and packed year for me: I’ve begun seminary, started learning Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, moved house, got engaged, even found time for a brief holiday. But the sheer joy of being able to fill spare time with William’s exploits, and force myself to navigate through all 360 stories – from the best-known to the never-published – has been wonderful.

And thank you all for reading and encouraging and joining with me!

The facts

“My aunt kept on an’ on about doin’ service to the community,” said Ginger.
“What’s the community?” said William.
“It’s people,” said Ginger earnestly. “It’s anyone. Helpin’ the community means helpin’ people. Anyone. An’ this aunt of mine promised me ten shillings if I did somethin’ to help the community.”
“Oh,” said William. “That’d be jolly useful. We could do a lot with ten shillin’s… What sort of things did she mean?”
“Well, she kept talkin’ about things that people had done for the community, like puttin’ a stop to slavery an’ settin’ up the Health Service an’ stoppin’ people gettin’ executed in public.”
“It’s too late to do any of those,” said William after a moment’s thought. “They’ve been done.”

Verdict

Ginger’s aunt has offered ten shillings to the boys on condition that they do something altruistic, and Ginger has an idea:

“She’s got a friend that works at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau.”
“What’s that?” said William.
“It’s… well, it’s sort of advisin’ citizens,” said Ginger uncertainly.
“Sounds easy enough,” said William. There was a new note of interest in his voice. “Gosh, I could do that all right. I bet I could advise anyone about anythin’.”
“They might ask us things we don’t know about,” said Ginger.
“Oh, I know about most things,” said William airily, “an’ I can make ’em up if I don’t.”

So they set up shop in the Old Barn, and their first customer is another local child, Anthea Green, who needs support in obtaining a new fancy dress costume. (I can’t help feel that Richmal Crompton rather slipped up in imagining that William was familiar with French plurals though: “’Course we can’t get you a new fancy dress costume. Citizens’ Advice Bureaux aren’t there to get people new fancy dress costumes.”)

“You’re a story-teller,” said Douglas sternly.
“I know I am,” said Violet Elizabeth with an air of modest pride. “I’m a very good thtory-teller.”

Goaded into promising to help, the boys quickly start trying to raise four shillings and sixpence so they can buy a Gretl costume they’ve seen on sale at the village fair.

This backfires.

The facts

“Gosh!” said William. “What a lot of sausage rolls!”
“Yes, I don’t know why I bought so many,” said Mrs Brown. “They were selling them off.”
“I’ll eat them for you if you like,” said William.
“All right, dear. They’ll do for your supper.”
When she came back William was kneeling on a chair, eating sausage rolls and reading the evening paper. Most of the newsprint was obscured by crumbs, but he cleared them away as he read.
“Gosh!” he said indistinctly. “Nearly a whole page about teachers strikin’.”
“It’s very sad, dear,” said Mrs Brown. “I hope yours won’t.”
“I hope they will,” said William.

Verdict

Archie has been roped in, by the indomitable Mrs Monks, to running the hoop-la stall at the church fair, but he is anxious to attend the (simultaneous) tennis club fête because Ethel will be there and he wants to make himself helpful to Ethel.

William finds this baffling (“Gosh! I’d sooner have a hoop-la stall than Ethel any day!”) but offers to run the hoop-la stall himself so as to free Archie for Ethel-chasing duties. Even though Archie won’t trust him with it, William insists.

William slid neatly down the balusters.
“Mother…”
“Oh, William!” groaned Mrs Brown. “I thought you’d gone to bed.”
“I have,” said William. “I mean, I am going. But I’ve got a smashing idea, Mother. Listen! If they do go on strike an’ we can’t go to school, we ought to get unemployment pay, oughtn’t we?”
“William, what nonsense!”
“Yes, but listen…” began William.

The hoop-la prizes, he is told, are in a brown suitcase. Inevitably William opens the wrong brown suitcase and chaos ensues – but then (and we’ve had this ending before: see eg William the Rat Lover, 17.4) William unexpectedly enters and wins a fancy-dress competition.