Once upon a time that were two small villages not too far from each other. Nestling among the Muddlingthrough hills, Much Sodding boasted a farrier, whereas Little Sodding was proud of its brewery. The road connecting the two was a winding, half cobbled, rutted, dung strewn affair. It’s tree lined hedges hid myriad dubious characters who were liable at any time to accost any poor wretch who dared to traverse the King’s Highway. If you stood on the granite steps of The Badger and Ferret in the high street of Little Sodding, the highway passed under your nose and carried on to your left towards Much Sodding. Should you find yourself lingering upon the Inn’s inner threshold, you would have your nose engaged with the highway before your eyes saw it, or any sound of its use arose, for it served the purpose of a lavatory, a waste system for the old throw outs of rotted vegetables from the Wednesday market, and a horse’ digestatory processing depository all in one go.
In other words, it was full of shit.
This observation, by the way, was also an insult the denizens of Little Sodding (also known as little Soddoms) would later use – without irony – to describe any visitor from the next village of Much Sodding. The annals record that this became so popular that in future decades other towns and villages in the Muddlinghthrough Shire took it up as a favoured insult to anyone they did not know, found to be talking a lot with a funny accent.
To suggest the highway stank, was to be a statement of the ‘so bleedin’ obvious’ as to rank it alongside warnings isssued about the use of guillotines and excessive bleeding, bean eating and flatulence and the inability of Hollywood* producers to keep their trousers on.
As the highway left the village it began to climb in quite a circuitous fashion due to there being a hill, the summit of which was often hidden in mist. The hill was named ‘Sodding Hill’ by later unanimous agreement between the inhabitants of the two villages. Anyone reaching the top was oft heard by a roosting crow to utter “That Sodding Hill will be the death of me”, a truth muttered often in jest or exasperation. A truth which at times visited itself upon the weary traveller due to robbery, hypothermia or as a result of the extra pie and pint taken in the Badger and Ferret the night before.
Sodding Hill then of course served as both defence and blockage between the two villages. The existence of each which was known only to the inhabitants of the other through rumour and legend gleaned from the lips of rain soaked, deathly pale and penniless venturers who sought refuge in either The Badger and Ferret or The Prince and Pecadillo in the two Soddings.
Little Sodding’s brewery had a reputation for producing ales of such quality that demand for it spread from the high street, to the old vicarage and on to the ears of Old Gilbert Fiddles who lived in the last thatched cottage overlooking the duck pond at the village boundary which lay at a point just as the highway began its climb up Sodding Hill. Vicar Tiresomely-Preaching, upon hearing of a new cask being opened in the Badger’s snug would not be above cutting vespers short so as to get a tankard full before Squire Sir Evershot Strangely-Bottom got wind of it and beat him to the virgin pint. They were fierce rivals and would go to any length to be the first to taste the sweet golden liquid that had never yet passed a man’s lips.
Demand for ale, meant demand for barrels and horses to pull the drey.
A problem of course is that horses need shoes, and to the little Soddoms’ chagrin that meant Much Sodding’s farrier. Yet for years, before the knowledge of the existence of the adjacent village, the poor horses of Little Sodding had to plod along very slowly in their bare feet, picking their way slowly through the highway’s detritus. This also meant that the brewery’s famed ales were famous really only in one village and particularly between a Squire and a Vicar.
Sodding Hill was therefore a barrier to trade, It not only was a physical barrier but for years blocked all knowledge of the possibility of an emerging market for ale beyond the borders of the village. The same was true in reverse of course. The farrier in Much Sodding, although excellent, often had to take holidays because all of the horses in Much Sodding were already “Sodding provided for, by me the Sodding Blacksmith” as oft grumbled the, er, Blacksmith.
After a long hard day’s forging, Rupert the blacksmith, would say “I don’t half fancy a drink of something…..cold and refreshingly hopped with a hint of citrus notes if only there was such a thing….well, I don’t really fancy water and tea has not yet been discovered…” But he was always disappointed to get home, wash, and then trudge to his local ‘The Prince and Peccadillo’ only to be served cider and rum. Not that that there was anything wrong with either save the offer was limited. There was something ‘missing’ in the bar that the ‘Huge Soddoms’ of Much Sodding could not quite put their finger either in or on.
This unsatisfactory situation continued for years because of Sodding Hill and the very poor and quite dangerous transport links between the two villages. In truth, the ‘transport link’ was only a shit and rat infested rutted roadway whose head was lost in the mist of the hill.
The brewmaster, in Little Sodding, one day had an idea when delivering his last two barrels of his premium ale ‘Rectal Bleeder’ which at 6% was the vicar’s favourite.
“Nice to see the delivery of a new ale George” said the vicar in the smoke filled darkness of the snug. “Don’t tell the Squire just yet”. The snug was otherwise empty and looking around, it occurred to ‘George the Brew’, that it would be a grand idea if there was another pair like the vicar and squire who required more regular slaking of thirsts. He could make more ale, sell more ale and free up barrels for fresh batches more regularly. There may be unintended consequences of the increased libatory habits of little Soddoms, but surely it would be a good thing to increase trade, if only the road was better and the barrier to moving stuff could be removed…he was of course referring to Sodding Hill.
Old George the Brew had a son, “Gullible Gordon” so called due to his propensity to believe in anything at all relayed to him by absolutely anyone, including the very odd traveller from over the hill who survived to tell of girls, freely galloping horses and a pub with only rum and something like apple juice on offer.
Gullible would repeat the tales to his father of a village over the hill and far away, a village in need of ‘something, but I don’t quite know what’. It was just such a tale that resonated with George the Brew, just as the Squire burst into the snug and upon spying the vicar reaching for the first pint of the new ale cried “Bastards! I’d have got here faster but the horse trod in some dung and refused to move until his toenail was cleaned…if only he had some sort of footwear protection…I’d have beaten you to it”.
Back in the brewery….
“How do you fancy a little trip son?” Fearful of what could become of him should he step one foot on the highway to Sodding Hill, George knew he could encourage ‘Gullible’ to go and seek out the truth of the stories. But, how was he going to get there?
Canals had not been thought about due to the requirement of digging a large trench and then lining it with bricks to make it water tight. This seemed like an awful lot of work to fulfil a function no one had fully thought was possible. This meant that canal boats had yet to be built, mainly because canals were non existent, this being a classic example of the chicken and egg conundrum. There were also no such things as aircraft. Both villages did not even have have a word for them, and security checks with rubber gloves were but a far off dream. Only the ‘road’ existed and this was braved only by a desperate few on foot and very occasionally a horse in pain going one way to the summit, but lacking the will to go any further, would turn back.
Oil was still underground in the desert in a strange hot dusty land far far away. Given the inhabitants of Much and Little Sodding on both sides of th hill had not ever heard of a desert, and given also that transport was impossible bar walking and coaxing a horse in pain, the lack of this commodity meant the horrors of car use was yet to come.
‘Gullible’ yet agreed to go over the hill in search of ‘something’ which he believed actually existed such was his store of delusion, self belief and it must be said, lust. For he had heard of fair rosy cheeked maidens who still had their own teeth and were free with their ‘liberties’ or so it was rumoured. He so wanted to believe, and so he was easily persuaded by his father to seek out men in need of ‘Rectal Bleeder’ and girls in search of ‘moral guidance’. Perhaps there may be something he could bring back, apart from a bruised ego ?
There was another force driving ‘Gullible’ onwards. A force which would not be held in check by trifling details such as the lack of canals, cars, trains or aircraft. This force lay dormant for millennia in the gonads of the most daring of tribes who otherwise had no choice but to restrict the radius of their travels to just a few miles in any direction, or as far as the lone tree on a green hill far away just outside a village wall, should they be so technologically developed as to add masonry skills to gazelle gutting and carrot growing. It is the case that travel was as mysterious and as dangerous an activity as witchcraft or the goat worrying activities of the pubescent male. This resulted in the often difficult practice of the disappointing search for breeding with someone who does not look like yourself or your sister…
And so it was that Gullible was driven by the will to lust, a primordial force strong enough to force him up and over the hill to discover new pastures and petticoats, to establish a trade route without the need to colonise, rape or pillage. He needed not a passport, nor points or tariffs. He was free to come and go as he pleased notwithstanding the rigours of travel itself.
One early dawn, armed with bravado, a ham and cheese sandwich and his father’s words ringing in his ears, “Go my boy, and don’t stop until you find thirsty men willing to accept a Rectal Bleeder”, Gullible set off with a donkey called ‘Stobart’ who carried a small barrel of George’s finest beer. Trudging though the village detritus in the high street, past the last thatched cottage by the duck pond and onwards towards the hill, Gullible (and Stobart) set off with Joy in his heart and Hope in his trousers.
The journey was easy at first, before the road started to wend its way upwards. However, the detritus became less dense and noxious as they climbed higher, as fewer and fewer folk ever travelled this way. Gullible’s heart lept at twigs cracking or leaves rustling, fearing he might be set upon by rogues and vagabonds hell bent on stealing his beer or wanton donkey fiddling. Dusk fell until right at the top of the hill, he was in darkness. An owl hooted. They were the only bird to have an equity card that allowed nocturnal performances, and they took full advantage to scare the living bejesus out of unwary travelling folk.
A tiny thought crept into Gullible’s mind. “Maybe I should go back?” The donkey thought “where the flying fuck are we?”. Yet, the force was with him urging him on. He pictured scantily clad young ladies in frilly lace, just like the pictures his father had back in the Brewery office, pictures that the chap selling them had described as ‘artistic’ and therefore not rude at all.
He travelled though the night, through dense trees with the moon trying to poke through the canopy. Finally he crested the hill and began the slow decent towards Much Sodding. Its lights were not yet in view and so the only guide was the occasional moonbeam on the road.
The only sound was an owl’s hoot, and an occasional donkey fart.
As the early rays of the dawning sun rose in the distance, Gullible reached the boundary to the village. There was a duck pond, and a thatched cottage and a sign pointing the way to the pub. As he trudged along, with Stobart occasionally stopping to eat nettles, he could smell bacon and eggs, baking bread and coffee wafting through the street. Up ahead in the distance, he could see a shimmering light. It was the Inn, with its staff preparing for the breakfast rush. A sign hung outside which simply stated “You can check in anytime you please”.
Gullible encouraged by the sights and sounds of Much Sodding was only too keen to meet the Inn Keeper. A big disappointment at this time was the lack of frilly laced young ladies in view. No doubt they would come flocking to hear of the stranger from over the hill. But first to work!
The landlord of ‘The Prince and Pecadillo’ was pleased to hear of the availability and novelty of the 6% ‘Rectal Bleeder’ and only asked that Gullible return to Little Sodding with a cask of his best cider ‘Eve’s Sin’ which at 7% became a firm favourite in the Vicarage after choir practice and before a confession. Gullible stayed a few days and indeed his attractiveness blossomed with each pint sold and tales of exotica from Little Sodding were told. He was not above embellishment, especially when it came to tales about his own prowess in brewing, donkey riding and what he called “Lady fettling”.
The landlord of The Prince and Pecadillo was pleased to hear of the availability and novelty of the 6% ‘Rectal Bleeder’ and only asked that Gullible return to Little Sodding with a cask of his best cider ‘Eve’s Sin’ which at 7% became a firm favourite in the Vicarage after choir practice and before a confession. Gullible returned to Little Sodding on a horse who was only too happy to quickly trot over the hill, shod as it was with iron shoes of Rupert’s best quality. Gullible would trade with gold and silver coins happily accepted by the ‘Burghers of Much Sodding’ to ease the trade of iron shoes one way and ale in the other.
It was not long before other villagers began to take the same journey and to realise that the ‘little sods’, as they became known to the ‘huge sods’ and vice versa, had much in common, and that Sodding Hill could easily be overcome if they just encouraged as much movement up and down the road as possible. They’ve even clubbed together to fix the road and before long someone invented a railway. There was no need for a canal. One unintended consequence was that babies born in the Sodding’s were much better looking than they had been before, and quite a few resembled Gullible.
*of course, Hollywood at this time was only a lone cactus, a lizard and an outcrop of rock.