The Field Number 5 - My Godfather Vicious, Anthony & Cleopatra

Tom Winnifrith Monday 27 February 2017


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I have mentioned my Godfather Vicious in another context elsewhere, that is to say his tendency to fall for lesbians, something that has somehow passed on to me. During our time at Butterwell farm Byfield when I was a young boy, Vicious was in a "between lesbian phase", that is to say his wife who became a lesbian had left him but he was yet to hook up with the mother of his daughter who then left him for another woman.

He was not called Vicious by anyone other than my family. He had become my father's best friend while they both taught at Eton. It was my mother who gave him his nickname because of the way he was reputed to pick up women so very easily, often when meeting them on a bus. An incredibly handsome and charming man, with a devilish beard which fitted well with the nickname, I put this matter to him in later life. "Of course it is untrue" he said in a posh voice by then with a vague Ulster influence picked up from years lecturing in Belfast, "I rarely used the bus, I just used to, sort of, bump into women in the street."

As he was based in Belfast, Vicious popped in to see us in Byfield only very rarely. I remember him bringing a small wooden cricket bat for me and a red plastic ball. He hit the ball so high into the summer sky that it seemed to almost disappear. I recounted the magical powers of Vicious to my father who agreed that was amazing.

On another occasion he brought a present of a small fishing rod. I am not sure it could have landed more than a minnow so we went down to the bottom of the field to the small stream where there were no fish, to go fishing. Oddly we caught nothing but Vicious assured me that it was all good experience. Vicious was quickly established as the greatest living fisherman in England and Ireland.

One day he came over at a time when the couple in the house opposite were having a party to which my parents were invited. They mentioned that they had a friend over from Belfast and he too secured an invitation. The couple, Anthony & Francesca, thought they were among the few intellectuals in a village where almost everyone was a philistine or just did not know what the word meant. Those who were actually a bit scholarly such as my parents and the Carter family had their doubts about this and renamed the pair Anthony & Cleopatra.

And so the day of the party came. My father and Vicious wandered across the road and went in. Anthony took one look at Vicious started shouting and had soon chased him back across the street. For years the Winnifrith family myth was that in a previous life Anthony had caught Vicious in bed with Cleopatra and this explained his ire.

Again in later life I asked him about this episode. Again he smiled and said "of course it is untrue, I never had anything to do with Cleopatra." Oh, said I, rather disappointed that this stuff of family legend was just another myth. Vicious continued. "It was Anthony's sister."

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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