Meet Cyril Wilmslow, volunteer extraordinaire
This post, a bit of light relief from the academic writing, introduces a new fictional character, Cyril Wilmslow, volunteer extraordinaire.
Cyril Wilmslow’s discomfort was painfully obvious as he attempted to secure his seat in the already crowded gallery. Close physical proximity, especially to those of his own kind, was something he tried to avoid – touching was out of the question. Cyril shuddered visibly as he inevitably brushed past the well-rounded nylon clad knees of an immaculately attired, over odourised middle-aged lady who looked up and beamed invitingly. She made no attempt to lean the other way and appeared to relish his unease.
Being a gentleman, Cyril grappled for the right words to apologise for his ungallant infringement of her personal space. To his dismay he instead erupted with a senseless blustery gasp as he pressed his corpulent gut over the balustrade whilst straining to save, not hers, but his own blushes. His blazing red cheeks, his flaxen hair plastered across his hot forehead and his cobalt waistcoat created above all, a patriotic vision of red, white and blue – a vision which, in different circumstances, Cyril would have most heartily approved of.
Cyril finally managed to squeeze his frame into the only remaining gap, next to the smiling lady. As soon as he sat down, she gently tilted towards him as if anticipating his manly protection from what they were about to witness. There seemed to be no escape. He would have to remain at close range for the duration.
‘I fear the shock of what’s to come may be too much for me to bear,’ she sighed, clearly seeking comfort before the proceedings had even begun.
Cyril had that effect on people. As he would remind his wife every morning at breakfast,
‘I have an aura of compassion that draws the sad and the sick wherever I go, Mrs W.’
In fact, the conversation at breakfast just an hour earlier had followed the usual pattern. Sitting at an immaculately laid breakfast table, Cyril tucked in his napkin and consumed his bran flakes with military precision, starting with the top of the bowl and working his way downwards in a clockwise motion. As ever, Cyril was oblivious to the clanking that reverberated around the small kitchen as he used his spoon to round up any deviant flakes, and oblivious to Mrs W’s flinching. Mrs W never complained, so how could he possibly know that the sound drove her to distraction every morning?
In truth, Cyril was a real stickler for good table manners, always the first to spot the foul misdeeds of a fellow diner such as shovelling peas and what he contemptuously regarded as ‘chomping’. He struggled immensely with the communal dining experience in the staff canteen and could not help scowling at offenders, making them feel dreadfully uneasy. They could not know what they had done to displease but would be left in no doubt that whatever it was, their sin would never be absolved.
That morning at breakfast Cyril picked up his neatly folded Cambridge News and glanced at the headlines,
STUDENT IN DEATH PLUNGE TRAGEDY
‘Oh dear Mrs W’ he exclaimed, ‘another blessed soul has slipped through the net.’
Mrs W, waiting for Cyril to hand over his empty cereal bowl in exchange for a quieter plateful of mushrooms and scrambled eggs, asked,
‘Pardon, what’s that dear?’
Irritated at having to repeat himself Cyril retorted loudly, ‘I said yet another blessed soul slips through the next. I would’ve talked him out of it. Convinced him that life’s always worth living!’
Mrs W, a consistent and compliant player in the breakfast liturgy, declared,
‘Perhaps I shouldn’t say it Mr W but you’re a pillar of society, you are the life-blood of the Cambridge Samaritans!’
Cyril could not agree more but knew it would appear conceited to say so. Yes, it was true. Total strangers told him their life stories, their tragedies and tales – at the Coop checkout, on the guided bus and in the queue at the post office. That was why he did what he did; one night a week as a Good Samaritan and one day a week as a Witness Service Volunteer, comforting the victims and witnesses of all manner of crimes.
Back on the gallery, resigned to the burden of consoling his new neighbour, Cyril made himself as comfortable as he could. Looking around, he admired the symbols of office with reverence and reflection, sharing an acute sense of occasion with everyone present, officials and public alike. The solemnity of the audacious yet utilitarian backdrop, designed by the town cemetery architect did not appear to dampen the anticipation of what could well turn out to be the best show in town.
Cyril had been here many times before but today was different. This time he was a member of the public and he had personal knowledge of the major protagonist.
All present were about to be both fascinated and repulsed.
More to follow after the PhD…