Nobody knew her first
name. The postman remembered seeing the initial E on a letter once, but that
was the nearest anyone locally came to knowing it. No doubt down at the Town
Hall or in a government office somewhere they had more personal details, but to
anyone round here she was Miss Potter. Only Mr Dromgoole at No 17 might have
been living in the street before her, but asking old Joe anything these days
was a waste of time.
As Miss Potter chose to
keep herself to herself, what anyone knew of her was guesswork and speculation.
She spoke to her neighbours so seldom that attempts to recognise her accent and
origins prompted varying opinions: variously placing her as a native of
Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Newcastle and from the Dark Side.
Estimates of her age varied from 70ish to a cruel about
120. What everyone did know was that Miss Potter was tall, apparently in
good order for her age − apart from a walking stick she always carried,
though she showed no signs of any problems getting about, and was always neat
One thing everyone agreed
on about Miss Potter: They didnt like her and tried to avoid her. The
neighbourhood children and dogs had learned to scuttle past her front door on
the opposite side of the street the kids because she always shouted at
them no matter how quiet and well-behaved they were and the dogs because
she always seemed to have a bucket of cold water ready to throw over them.
Curiously, the sighting of a cat in the area was rare. The exception was Miss
Potters black tom.
You must have seen
illustrations of Queen Elizabeth 1 with her chalky white face and gingery hair,
well Miss Potter was like that. And if she ever had any teeth well, she
hadnt now. She may have had a set of dentures somewhere; but if she had
she never wore them. No wonder children ran away from her. That gaping mouth
was enough to frighten a grown man, not just children. Some of the tiny ones
believed she was a witch and her black cat was the confirmation of
One theory was that she
was German. That came about from the fact the Miss P did not believe in
queuing, and several of the people in the street had seen this very un-English
trait on holidays abroad and attributed it to a specific national culture.
Everyone else queued − for the buses, or in local shops − but she
didnt. Like in the local post office on Thursdays. Miss Potter felt that
head of the queue was hers by right. No-one liked it, but they came to accept
Even for Pension Day, the
George Street post office was busier than usual. With room for only half a
dozen or so customers inside, there was an overflow on to the pavement.
Normally Miss Potter arrived about ten past the hour and, ignoring the
complaining voices, squeezed in to be served at the single hatch in the glass
window. This time she didnt get that far. She had managed to push her way
through the door and into the queue, when, in front of her, some sort of melee
started with lots of angry shouting. A man was barging through the turmoil
swinging a large black holdall. An older man was trying to stop him but in the
scrum couldnt reach him. Miss Potter was pushing to get to the counter,
the young man pushing the other way and Miss Potter and her walking stick won.
Taking his pushing as an attack on her personally, she hit him with her stick,
then lowered her aim and tripped him up. As he fell his bag burst open and what
looked like bundles of banknotes fell out. His head banged on the stone step
and he stayed prone in a daze.
Inevitably someone had a
mobile phone and took a picture of the victorious Miss Potter with her stick
raised standing over her vanquished foe. The woman who took the picture then
decided − as any good citizen should − to call the
Money changed hands and
the photo was in some of the national papers the next day. Even after being
improved by the papers technicians, it was still dark and blurred. Not so
the picture in the Daily Mirror a few days later. The paper had sent a reporter
along to interview Miss Potter and had made a half-page piece out of her visit.
You couldnt miss the headline.
DUNFORD WOMAN DRAWS
PENSION AT 21.
Apparently that particular
Pension Day had been Miss Eliza Potters birthday. She had been born on
February 29th, and as a Leap Year baby she had a true birthday every four
years. And this one was her 21st. The article went on to talk about
probabilities and famous people who had the same birthday all fairly
routine celebrity-based stuff. But what created most interest in and around
Crawston was the photograph. There was Miss Potter in a head and shoulders only
picture, smiling and showing a perfect set of false teeth.
This sight unique
in the real meaning of that often wrongly used word hid a secret that
only Miss P herself knew about. After the failed robbery a count showed that a
bundle of £10 notes had gone missing, and quite fortuitously had found
its way into her open shopping basket.
Folks round there now knew
two things they hadnt known before Miss Potters age and her
first name. What they didnt know was the reason for the big smile on her
face in the photograph. And they never would. The cat knew but the cat
spoke only to Miss P.