Verdun Jones is in his mid-eighties. Always short-tempered, he keeps his peace until one day his grandson, Sam, visits and will not put down the mobile phone he is looking at when Verdun is speaking to him. An argument ensues and he is determined to set Sam’s mind straight on a few points that have been troubling him. I have included an extract from the play below.
Verdun: I am just trying to understand you, Sam. You have intelligence and you make such facile arguments. Christ help you if you ever got in a serious argument and you disagreed with someone else’s viewpoint because it differed from yours. When was the last time you read a book instead of staring at a computer screen all day?
Sam: I do read. People do not read as much as they used to.
Verdun: Then more fool them, that's all I can say. If I had been called to account for everything that I have said and done, I would have been put in clink and the key thrown away years ago. I haven’t got long left at eighty-three and I am glad. The world is changing for the worse.
Sam: You won’t listen to reason because you are quick tempered.
Verdun: I get angry because of the stupid remarks you made earlier without thinking properly, boy! Religion and politics are never argued over because it becomes pointless until you know what you are speaking about. You say you’re an atheist?
Verdun: Well, I will give you the benefit of the doubt on that. Your great-grandfather, my father, was chapel and there was nothing more he liked than listening to a good preacher who didn’t spout bullshit. My father knew many things and he would never try to influence his children one way or another. If you were bullied in school, he would expect you to fight back, Sam. Families back then believed differently compared to now. Church and chapel were uneasy bedfellows, but respected. People wanted to understand what awaited them when they died. That’s why they went to chapel on a Sunday. They should have taught you about the Great War in school, but I expect that’s never happened because they don’t want to offend the bastard Germans! Both sides, Sam, believed they had God on their side. So, who was in the right? The Church of England more or less encouraged the men to enlist for the greater glory of God. My father said this was their undoing because they interfered in politics. They never recovered after the war ended and people deserted them. The Church has always been a law unto itself and only has itself to blame when things go wrong. The bishops even tried to stop some of the clergy from fighting, but most men went and they died alongside the poor bloody infantry they so admired.
Sam: Why didn’t you speak of this before? You are silent when I ask you about the past. You were named after the battle?
Verdun: Yes. I should count myself fortunate because I could have been christened Trafalgar. (They both laugh). My father, like the rest of the men in his battalion, attended Church Parade at the front because they needed to have their minds distracted from the boredom and terror of waiting for death. He also told me that if any of his mates took a rise out of any man reading the Bible angry words were said. No man mocked another’s beliefs.
Sam: Did he believe in Heaven?
Verdun: He would give ambiguous answers and I would try to make sense of what he said. He lost two of his brothers and never really got over it. He whispered to me one day, in the kitchen, that Jack would have been forty-three today. His eyes were sad. I didn’t understand then. Something like that never leaves you, Sam. He never spoke of what he witnessed or did. My mother knew from his demeanour, when he was awake at nights and could not sleep, that he had killed and it changed him.
Sam: None of the men who returned home spoke of the war?
Verdun: They were boys like you. Why would they boast of such things when all they wanted to do was quietly forget? There was no work for years afterwards in the valleys and things got steadily worse. My father went to Coventry for a few months to work. He was twenty and tried to get assistance from the parish while he was laid off. One officious clerk kept him waiting for his few shillings, Sam. He jumped over the table, caught this chap by the collar, and said: “I fought in the war for bastards like you. Now, give me my money!”
Sam: He said that?
Verdun: Yes. One of his friends told me this year’s later. The boys soon had their money and caught the next train home.
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