The Strange Life of Horatio Evans
A story in four parts
The Horatio Evans Series
The series features a man born to lead but destined to fail; with ambitions so lofty they are out of sight of most mortals. Horatio's adventures would challenge even Don Quixote not only for their bizarre character but also his uncanny ability to climb out of situations that by rights should spell disaster. Supported by few and resisted by many, his communist ambitions for the town of Abertump knew no bounds. Nothing less than the declaration of the town as an independent soviet socialist republic was his great ambition. That this should cause problems even at international level was of no concern to him; capitalism must be defeated and Abertump would lead the world as a testing ground.
The town had enjoyed many years of peace and relative calm. Most of its voters seemed satisfied with their lot, whether working down the mines, in the toilet bowl factory ('Flushed With Success'), in the slaughterhouse, or taking their ease in the Mad Shepherd pub ('This Pub Contains Nuts'). But they were to be shaken out of their complacency by someone who thought it about time that the capitalist system beneath which they toiled was confronted head on. Horatio Evans had arrived, his ambitions and boundless optimism never to be dimmed.
It wasn't only the town's complacency that Horatio wanted to confront; he confronted each and every person in authority. His animosity to figures such as his school teachers, the town's policeman, the preacher at Bethesda Chapel, the tax authorities and the EU are all sources of amusement. The interplay between him and the once-rich landed family, the Fogles of Fogle Towers, who own most of Abertump, offer additional Wodehouse-like sub-plots. Despite settling in the valley generations ago, the family still had no idea how to pronounce Welsh words; in fact, their use of English was incomprehensible too.
Volume 1: Disaster in His Wake
Published March 2017
This first volume follows Horatio ap Llewelyn Evans from his birth, through school (which expelled him) and a short stay in the army (in which he was court martialled), through to his marriage to a very frail Abertump girl, Gladys. She has ailments of which medical science has no knowledge. For years her life expectancy has been worryingly short. Although not actually ill, she finds comfort in her ailments and plays the part of a martyr to her exuberant, crazy husband. Woodbines and her inhaler play an important part in her day-to-day life, topped up by the occasional deep breath of pure oxygen from ‘Neville Oxy-bottle’ next door, a retired and rather unwell miner.
Horatio’s grandparents had been florists in a well-heeled part of Bristol. Having retired and sold the business they had some spare cash and gave some to Horatio’s parents and offered some to him. Although the Evans cottage in Slaughterhouse Terrace was in desperate need of improvement and repair, he refused the money on principle: he did not want to become a capitalist. In any case, if the house needed improving, he’d do it himself, he insisted.
A proud man, refusing all help and advice, he launches himself into DIY projects in his tiny terraced cottage, shown on the map and known to the town as The Kremlin. Building a conservatory out of the detritus of the town, adding some free sand from Swansea Beach, the thing is a disaster. It becomes known as his ‘lean-over’ rather than lean-to. Sawing an old wardrobe in half in order to take it upstairs; fitting a ‘new’ fireplace when the fire in the existing one is still lit; wheeling several tons of manure through the living room, or constructing a cultivator that is so powerful it recreates a landscape in his garden like the Battle of the Somme - these are all episodes that are the eventual focus of the book.
Volume 2: The Abertump Uprising
Published 10 June 2017
Growing in confidence, but fed up with a lack of progress in bringing communism to Abertump, Horatio Evans decides to declare the town an independent soviet socialist republic. That way the Abertump Communist Party can take over the town and his dream will be fulfilled.
Horatio feels that if a revolution is to come to Abertump, then he as its leader has to emulate Karl Marx. The town lacks a reading room, such as that in the British Museum where Marx wrote Das Kapital. So Horatio tries to create one - in the dusty storeroom of a shop, the Jones Emporium (‘Suppliers of all Things Sanitary to the Gentry’). The emporium is shown in the map on High Street, above Gwen's Cafe. It is eventually filled with books donated by the Moscow and Berlin communist parties - all the books being either in Russian or German, which no-one, except the German teacher, ‘Hair Davies’, can read.
To begin the revolution, Horatio enlists the aid of the Communist Party of East Berlin (prior to the wall coming down) but hiding his intentions under the guise of twinning Abertump with Berlin. A group of six men set off for the German capital in an ancient Austin A35 van [Google it] allegedly to discuss the friendly twinning arrangements. In fact it is to make contact with their communist ‘brethren’. The preacher at Bethesda Chapel (shown in the centre of the map), the Rev Dafydd Tomos, who gave his support to the hoped-for exchange of young people from Bethesda with those in chapels in Berlin, insists he accompany them. But he has not been made aware of the secret and they have to find ways of persuading him not to go.
They fail to reach Berlin, the van breaking down outside Port Talbot. How Horatio extricates himself from the failed uprising illustrates his genius as a leader.
Volume 3: The Village Theme Park
Published September 2017
Now in his middle years, Horatio Evans has been knocked back severely by the failure of the uprising. The atmosphere in the town is also depressed, because several of the mines are to close. As great leaders do, he sees this not as a crisis, but as another opportunity for a revolution - of sorts. If the mines are closing why doesn’t the town buy them (for a song) and create visitors’ attractions? Whilst they’re at it, why not requisition the coal tips on which to grow tobacco and set up downhill skiing and tobogganing? There is also the disused canal shown at the top of the map - why not have pleasure boats on it?
Horatio’s idea of setting up the theme park is beset by a major problem - he has no cash. Persuading the once-rich Fogle family, which owns one of the mines (and most of Abertump) to collaborate with him, sees a clash between his communist, working class values and their upper-class privileged values. Fogle men are basically stupid - ‘nice but dim’ - whereas the matriarch of the family is definitely not. A further interplay between her, her odd husband and their even stranger son makes for a Wodehouse-style sub-story.
Eventually, the miners themselves step in and adopt Horatio’s idea to buy the Fogle mine (see bottom of map) with their redundancy money, making it into a tourist attraction and creating jobs. But Horatio’s reputation after the failed uprising is at rock bottom, with the result that in spite of the whole scheme being his idea, he is side-lined into setting up just a small part of it - boating on the canal. He and Gladys see this as a possible future business for themselves, if only they could find the cash.
Gladys then remembers the cash that Horatio’s grandparents once offered him and manages to get her hands on it; but she refuses to spend it on the canal, it has to be spent on repairing the mess Horatio had made of her home. So where was the cash to come from? Book 4 explains.
Volume 4: Venice in the Valleys
Published December 2017
The Fogles’ strange son, Marmaduke Wellington Fogle, has returned penniless from his grand tour of Europe. He spent most of his time and their money tobogganing in Austria but also spent some months in Venice, where he fell in love with gondolas.
Now that the Abertump Theme Park had the backing of the miners and the council - and even an EU regional development grant - there is some money around. The Fogles sell their Cwm Tiddly Mine jointly to the miners and the council, their strange son Marmaduke being told by his Boadicea-like mother to find something to do that will earn some money. But Marmaduke, being a dangerously simple individual, needs to be kept safely away from most of the theme park construction work and is side-lined, as is Horatio Evans.
The two of them are given the simple task of collaborating on the construction of a boating feature on the old canal (see top of map) - what could be easier? That Marmaduke insists on having gondolas, which Horatio has never heard of (he thinks Venice is near Wrexham), causes him genuine problems. Where will he get them? Since he always refuses help, he decides to make them - rather special, very Welsh, ones.
Luckily for Horatio, Marmaduke, like his father, always adopts the philosophy of never actually doing anything but ‘leaving it up to the chaps’ to sort out. This provides space and time for Horatio to manage the construction of the gondolas himself with disastrous and rather comic results. Venice is not in imminent danger of facing stiff competition from Abertump!