The Prophet Of West Wycombe Hill – the most cheerful man alive

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The Dashwood Mausoleum, West Wycombe Hill

Let’s call him Bill Franklin. We meet him on West Wycombe Hill, by the huge, walled mausoleum to Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), who founded the Hellfire Club and hosted its meetings in chalk caves he had excavated some 100m below our feet.

Variously, this club had a reputation for occultism, paganism, pornography and drinking. Ladies were permitted if they were of a ‘cheerful disposition so as to add to the general merriment of the company’.

Bill would have been right at home there, being of about as cheerful a disposition as is possible. He is weathered, about five foot four and barrel chested, with greying wavy hair at his shoulders and wears a worn raspberry jumper over a shirt, with green corduroy trousers and well-used, tan workman’s boots.

This is pretty much a verbatim account of our conversation, consisting largely of him delivering a sermon of sorts, punctuated with frequent explosions of belly laughter during which he would rock back on his heels and hold his sides he was laughing so much. It’s infectious so we laugh a lot, too. All the while he is ignoring his luckless teenage daughter who asks for help in bringing a Labrador to heel.

Hallo lads. Where you headed?

Hallo. Back to Saunderton. The track comes out on to Plough Lane or something…

Slough Lane. Yep. I know it. It’s along there, gesturing with one of those plastic bits of kit used for hurling tennis balls for dogs to fetch. Where you from then?

South London.

Then a hail and hearty welcome from a Chiltern Hillsman!

Cheers! You from here, then?

I was conceived on this hill 60 years ago. My mum and dad used to come walking up here. I’ve family buried in the church and I dare say I will be too. I live down there. In between West Wycombe and High Wycombe. Place called Sands, just where you can see the traffic lights.

You one of the Dashwoods then?

Laughs. No, no. They’re all inbred that lot. Pulls a face and laughs. I don’t have a holiday. I don’t go away for two weeks. I come here and have a holiday for an hour every day. I just bring up one of my Land Rovers.

One of them? How many have you got?

Six. I don’t need six but I like them. Women have their bags and shoes, don’t they? Men have Land Rovers. They don’t need all those shoes but you have to pay for them, don’t you? At least I did for my wife. Well, she’s my ex-wife now. She went 14 years ago.

Was one of the reasons because you had so many Land Rovers?

Laughs. One of them. She gave me a list of ten things. Farting in bed was number one. Land Rovers was another. And border collies, they were on the list. Laughs. I haven’t bothered replacing her. I like living alone.

Are there options around here if you’d want to?

Oh, good God, loads of them. Laughs. Loads of them. Other people’s cast-offs.

Maybe we should move here Jimmy. Where do you find them all?

They just queue up outside my door. Laughs. They come up my drive [presumably picking their way through fleet of Land Rovers]. I don’t go anywhere, they just come to me. Just don’t let them stay the night. Laughs. It’s the same with clients, only ever go there once. I’m a plumber and a flirt. We’re always shagging. I tell them how much it will cost for a job and say to them, ‘I’ve got a wife, mistresses, a box at Chelsea … How else am I going to pay for it all?’ Laughs. I’m keeping the pilot light alive for male… what do you call it?

Chauvinism?

That’s it, male chauvinism. I’m keeping the pilot light burning. I reckon it will come back. Women like to be told what to do. They like a boss. They do. Who’s been out earning a thousand pound a day? I tell them, if plod comes knocking, who do they want to speak to? Me. If the VAT man comes knocking, who do they want to speak to? That’s right, me. And if the taxman comes calling, who do they want to speak to? That’s right, me. Why? Because I’m the boss.

Here’s the thing. Men don’t want women to change and women want to change men. But it happens the other way around, doesn’t it? Men don’t change and women do. That’s just how it is. But we still need them don’t we, for some things.

Well, I guess some things aren’t better on your own…

Oh, I don’t know, I’ve had the best sex of my life on my own. Laughs. It’s true. The best sex of my life.

That’s a good note to leave it on. It’s that way is it?

That’s it. It’s a common route, used by farmers a lot. I’ve used it myself. You’re on a ridge all the way there. My name’s ______ _______. I’m the president of Sweden in exile. Laughs. That’s what I always say, the president of Sweden in exile. My mate keeps getting it wrong, says I’m the king of Thailand. The king of Thailand! Laughs. I say, no it’s the president of Sweden in exile. Anyway, lads, nice to meet you. Keep your trousers on!

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The Prophet Of West Wycombe Hill – the most cheerful man alive

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