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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

The Mart

If you ever get the chance to visit Llandeilo poultry mart in Carmarthenshire you must go. It's a joy to see and hear the sights and sounds of this rural idyll. Here's a tale that I promise you is true - well mostly.

Carwyn looked at the turkey in the cage and tried to guess its weight. It was a monster - forty pounds at least. An old woman dressed in a greasy jacket sidled up. Her appearance, lank grey hair, hooked nosed and eyes, black as soot, made Carwyn uncomfortable. "He's got a lovely temperament," said the woman. "I'll be sad to see him go." Her voice, the voice of a fifty a day smoker, rasped like gravel.

"Why are you selling him?" asked Jean.

The question alarmed Carwyn. Was she actually considering buying this beast of a bird?

Beady eyed turkey
Thomas the Turkey

"I have to. They're moving me to sheltered accommodation. No pets allowed." She coughed, a long hacking wheeze of intake followed. "Not even a friendly bird like Thomas." The old woman wiped a tear from her eye.

Thomas tilted his head and looked wistfully through the bars. Carwyn's wife looked wistfully at the bird.

"No," said Carwyn. "Definitely not. We came to buy chickens not a Frankenstein turkey. How would we get it home? Seat belted on the back seat, waving a regal wing at passing cars? No!"

The woman shrugged, coughed again and wandered off.

"Your first mart is it?" A little man wearing brown dealer boots was standing behind Carwyn and Jean. He lifted his cap and wiped his forehead with a dirty handkerchief. "You were lucky."

"How do you know it's out first time at the mart?" asked Jean.

"Shiny new green wellies," said the man and pointed at their matching wellingtons. Heulwen always makes a bee-line for newbies wearing wellies that are too shiny."

"You said we were lucky," said Jean.

He tapped the cage with his foot. "This old bird should have been cooked years ago."

Thomas turned to face the old man and tried to peck his foot.

"He's a nasty old bugger and tough as old boots. If you get my meaning." He sniffed hard and cleared his throat. "Not worth buying? Not if you've got any sense." He pointed to the old woman who was lighting a cigarette at the far end of the poultry shed.

She threw a match away and did a little dance.

"That's Heulwen. She's here every mart. Always up to something. She's a menace. Would have taken your money and there's something else. This old bird." He kicked the cage again. Thomas pecked at him. "It's not hers to sell, by damn. She's bonkers, should be in a loony bin."

Carwyn and Jean left the man in the flat cap, in the poultry shed and moved outside. The auction had started in the main field. A crowd gathered following the auctioneer as he moved from lot to lot. The bidding was fast and difficult to follow. Piles of timber, plastic window frames, rusty tools, an old toilet and other assorted junk went - knocked down and sold with breathtaking speed.

It had rained hard during the night and the field was a sea of puddles and slippery mud.

"Not so shiny now," said Jean pointing at their boots.

Carwyn stopped to look at a trailer. "She's a beauty. All aluminium body, new tyres. Would be very useful. I think I'll buy it."

"What, to take Thomas home on?" said Jean.

Carwyn scowled at her.

"Give me the bidding card," said Jean. "I'm going back in the poultry shed. The bird auction starts at ten. I won't be long."

"Remember what we agreed. Six hens." Carwyn handed her the bidding card. "And if that old woman is back, don't go buying Thomas the Turkey."

Jean screwed up her nose and vanished into the crowd.

The auctioneer was moving closer. A tall man wearing a long riding coat, standing beside Carwyn examined an ancient cast iron bath. He turned the taps on and off, knocked the side of the tub with his stick and listened. He walked around the bath and bent down as if to inspect the underneath. Then he stood and tried to lift one side of the bath. It didn't move.

"Do you want a hand?" said Carwyn.

"Would you?" said the tall man. "I want to tip it on its side to look at the drain."

Carwyn went over and they both tried to lift the bath. Their feet slid in the mud as they strained. It didn't budge. It was as if the bath had been concreted into the ground. A third man joined them and then a fourth. Eventually there was a line of helpers all trying, without success, to lift the bath.

Cast iron bath

"I think it's the feet. They must be jammed in the mud. Let's try the other side," said the tall man.

The men all carefully waddled to the other side and, on the count of three, heaved.

"It's moving," yelled an onlooker.

There was a loud sucking noise. The bath came free, released from the iron grip of the mud. It popped out of the ground with more force than anyone expected. Carwyn let go of the bath and tried to remain upright but the man next to me lost his balance. He grabbed Carwyn's arm, slid and down they went, face first, into the mud. Carwyn used the bath to pull himself up. A boot came off and his sock covered foot slithered away. Down he went again, this time on his bottom where he remained mud-lark like surrounded by a growing crowd of spectators.

The auctioneer arrived and looked down at Carwyn. "Are you alright?" Then, having made his polite enquiry he went on, "Lot eighty-seven, cast iron bath with brass fittings. Who will start me at twenty pounds?..."

Carwyn tipped water from his boot pulled it on and crept away.

"Good God. What happened to you?" asked Jean. "Have you been playing mud pies?"

"I slid over lifting a bath." Carwyn peeled his jacket off, rolled it in a conspicuous bundle and tried to look unconcerned.

Jean looked at Carwyn with her, you're an idiot look. "You need a bath. Come on."

Carwyn followed her to the auctioneer's office walking slowly, legs apart, John Wayne like, with stiffening trousers.

People backed away as he went in. A fan heater on the ceiling started to dry Carwyn's hair congealing the slime on his head.

The girl behind the counter looked up. "Bidding number?" she said and sniggered.

Jean showed her the number. They waited for the invoice to be printed.

"Not all the auctioneer's notes have got to the office yet. You'll have to wait. They won't be long," said the girl fighting to conceal her amusement.

Minutes passed. Carwyn picked dried mud from my eyebrow. People queuing behind then mumbled impatiently. The office girl doodled with a biro, drawing a line of matchstick men across her blotter. She picked up a brown pencil and added trousers and a shirt to one. Jean rolled her eyes. The printer made a noise and spewed out their bill.

"Two hundred and sixty-four pounds and twenty-six pence," said the girl.

"What! For six bloody hens." Carwyn snatched the invoice from her.

Jean turned to face the audience behind us. "Oh dear. I seem to have a rubber arm. It just wouldn't stay down," she declared in a stage whisper.

"A rubber arm! You've bought forty hens, sixteen ducks and a rooster. Don't tell me, he's called Rocky... Where are they all going to live?"

"You can build houses for them," said Jean cheerfully. "It won't take long. Did you buy the trailer?"

"No," snapped Carwyn. "You had the bidding number, remember? Anyway, I thought you didn't want me to buy it."

"I just thought it might be handy to get the birds home," said Jean. "Still, look on the bright side."

"The bright side? I'm covered in mud. We've spent a fortune on hens we don't have hen houses for. Jean, you've bought enough ducks to start a wet fowl centre when we haven't got a pond. What bright side?"

Carwyn was ramming poultry into the back of the car when a pickup, driven by the tall man with the stick, cruised slowly across the field and stopped beside him. The man wound down his window. "Thanks for your help. I got it," he said and pointed to the iron bath on the aluminium trailer he was towing. As he drove away the pickup began to slip. He gunned the engine spinning the wheels, showering Carwyn with mud. The box Carwyn was holding slipped from his hands, split open and out popped the rooster who, with a jubilant squawk, made good his escape across the field.

"So what is the bright side?" asked Carwyn.

"We didn't buy Thomas," said Jean and pointed to a young couple struggling to lift a large cage containing a malevolent looking Thomas into the back of a van. The turkey, unhappy with being sold, was having none of it; flapping and squawking. It lunged forward and pecked the woman's hand.

She shrieked, let go of the cage and yelled, "I told you not to buy the bloody thing."

"Look, they're wearing shiny new wellies," sniggered Jean and got into the car.


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