old men

The facts

William, Ginger and Henry had not intended to join the meeting. They had come to the house in order to call for Douglas. But Douglas, it turned out, had not yet returned from an appointment with the dentist, so they decided to wait for him. Ginger and Henry would have loitered fidgeting in the doorway, but William, who liked to be in anything that was going on, had made his way at once to the front row.

  • Number: 38.2
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: William tries to give a retired army officer a taste of how life used to be.


The Outlaws are compiling a Railway Museum. What they really want for this Railway Museum is a guard’s lamp. And Major Reading, a retired military gentleman, has one. They can’t afford to offer him any money for it, but they try to give him an experience that he’d like.

“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind all right,” said Douglas. “Then I started thinkin’ how I’d like to have the dentist in the chair an’ me have a go at him with that drill thing.”
“That’s not very upliftin’,” said William. “What did you think, Ginger?”
“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind, too,” said Ginger. “Then… well, I started thinkin’ about those two trees by the road an’ I thought if I climbed up one of them I could sort of swing myself from the middle branch of that one on to the middle branch of the other an’ climb down its trunk.”

So when they overhear him saying to someone in conversation, “I’d give almost anything to have an hour or two of the old days back,” they know their task.

“What’ll we do, then?” asked Ginger.
“Give him an hour of danger, discomfort, an’ challenge,” said William simply, “an’ he’ll get so ’zilarated with zest that he’ll give us the guard’s lantern.”
“He mightn’t, you know,” said Henry.
“It’s goin’ to be one of the biggest muddles we’ve ever got into in all our lives,” said Douglas.

It doesn’t entirely go to plan, but remarkably (and slightly implausibly) they do get their hands on a guard’s lamp!

The facts

“What did this man do underground?” said Ginger.
“He read…”
“What could we read?” said Douglas. “We’ve read all the books we’ve got.”
“I’ve got a book my aunt gave me that I’ve never read, called ‘Heroes of Hebrew History’,” said William. “We could take that.”
“What else could we do?” said Douglas.
“We could think,” said William.
“What about?”
“Well… jus’ anythin’. We needn’t think about anythin’ in particular. We could jus’ think.”
“Sounds jolly dull to me,” said Douglas. “Jus’ readin’ ‘Heroes of Hebrew Hist’ry’ an’ thinkin’ about nothin’.”

  • Number: 37.7
  • Published: 1968
  • Book: William the Superman
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws decide to live underground as a nice little earner.


The boys have read the story of a spelunker who was paid £600 by a newspaper for living in a cave for four months. Henry works out that, if the Outlaws went in for the same offer, they’d earn £4 a day.

They choose a cave – an old air raid shelter of Sir Gerald Markham’s – and begin settling in, borrowing materials that they find around them to strengthen and improve their new accommodation.

“It’s about four pounds a day,” said Henry.
“Gosh!” said William. “If we only did it for one month we’d have nearly enough money to last us for the rest of our lives.”
“Depends how long we lived,” said Henry judicially.

But when they meet a friendly old soldier who has been camping illegally on Sir Gerald’s land and is facing eviction, their mission changes.

The facts

“I’ll get you a job,” said William. The words were out of his mouth almost before he knew that he was going to say them. A flicker of doubt passed through his mind, a vague memory of other similar tasks that he had undertaken with disastrous results; but he stifled the doubts, dispelled the memories and repeated, “Yes, I bet I can get you a job all right.”
There was a hopeful gleam in the old man’s eyes as he turned to look at William.
“Well, of course, you’re only a boy, but you’ve prob’ly got local influence.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve got local infl’ence,” said William airily.
“People know you…?”
“Oh, yes. People know me all right,” said William.


William makes the acquaintance of a 78-year-old occupant of an old-age home who is still full of joie de vie and wants an escape from the dullness of his life. (In 1961, the average life expectance of a man was 68 so he was doing very well to be as fit as he was!)

Enchanted by Mr Mason’s friendliness, William determines to get him a job. He starts the search at home:

“I say, Dad,” began William.
Mr Brown grunted.
“Didn’t you say you were short-handed at the office?”
“I did, my boy. Very short-handed.”
“Well, would you like an old man?”
“A what?” said Mr Brown, startled. “A what, did you say?”
“An old man,” repeated William patiently. “I can let you have one. An old man in the prime of life with the strength of ten young men. He’s felled trees over a hundred feet high. I bethe’d be jolly useful to you in the office.”
 “In the event of our needing a tree felled in the office,” said Mr Brown, “I will certainly get in touch with your friend.”

“Can this man play the organ?” the Vicar asked sternly.
“Well,” temporised William, “I don’t know that he can axshully play it ’cause I don’t think he’s ever tried, but I bet he could if someone jus’ showed him how to. He’s in the prime of life an’ he’s got the strength of…”
Suddenly and inexplicably, as it seemed to William, he found himself, at this point, outside the closed front door of the Vicarage.

Both this avenue of investigation, and all his other ones, come to nought. Especially hopeless was his application – on Mr Mason’s behalf – for the post of church organist.

But then the two of them run into General Moult (and are briefly arrested by him for housebreaking) and everything turns out for the best.