Tack And Paviour

One dreary morning I went walking along the perimeter of the owl sanctuary, past the decoy duckpond, beyond the pollarded willows by the canal just before the level crossing, and on to Blister Lane. The drizzle ceased, and through a sudden gap in the clouds a shaft of sunlight beamed down upon the paving slabs and the gutter, and I saw something glisten. Though still some yards away, I have piercing eyesight, and I saw it was a tack, a tack glinting in the light. I wondered if perhaps it had been discarded by an ironmonger or handyperson, deliberately, because it was an imperfect tack, or accidentally, through carelessness or stupidity or worse. When I reached the point on the paving alongside the gutter in which the tack had been abandoned, I stopped still. Looking at it, from my freakish height of six-foot-nine, I immediately knew it was made of brass. I am not a professional metallurgist, but over the course of my long life I have trained myself to identify any number of metals by sight, a skill which has proved useful in situations as diverse as quiz shows, cocktail parties, and mining disasters. Clouds shifted, the shaft of sunlight vanished, and the tack no longer gleamed. But there I was, standing over it, so what choice did I have? I got down to it. I do not mean that I “got down” in a groovy sort of way, daddy-o, as a soul singer might “get down”. No, I simply went down on my hands and knees, on the paving slabs, and then got down further, sprawling, as it were, flat upon the slabs, so that my body lay across Blister Lane while my head, and thus my eyes, were directly above the brass tack.

I was disporting myself thus, keenly eyeing the brass tack, when I heard footsteps approaching. I did not wish to block the path, so I sat up, and as I did so I popped the tack into my pocket. In spite of my civic-minded physical manoeuvering, the footstepper did not continue wending his way, but stopped short, looming above me.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

He was a thick-set fellow, head like a potato, and he was dressed in the dust ‘n’ muck-covered overalls of a labouring man. It occurred to me he might be the owner of the tack, out hunting for it.

“I am fine, thank you,” I said, from my sitting position, “I was just getting down to brass tack. It is now in my pocket. Does it belong to you, by any chance?”

“No,” he replied, “In my line of work I have no need for tacks. I am a paviour,” he added, “And I laid every paving slab for as far as the eye can see, including the one you are sitting on.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, getting to my feet.

“Not to worry,” said the paviour, “Well, now I have ascertained that you are not an invalid or otherwise incapacitated, I shall be on my way. I have paving to attend to elsewhere.”

“Of course,” I said, doffing my Homburg.

I went home and put the brass tack on the kitchenette floor, where I could in future get down to it at my leisure. Some authorities – Blodgett, for example – insist that one must have more than one brass tack to get down to, plural tacks, as it were, but such a hidebound view cuts no mustard with me. I know my onions.

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