Big Shout to Malmy Hatchman
By Anne Hill Fernie
Location: Manchester Town Hall
[Malmy: of a loamy character, or soil formed from disintegration of chalky rock; Hatchman: a scullion caretaker]
Get near and listen up because I haven’t much time. I’ve been watching you for a while but hear me out and I think you’ll understand. I’m Fenton who used to be an architect at the Town Hall and I’m going to tell you about Hatchman the odd job man there all those years ago. Truth is nobody really knew what Hatchman was all about. He was a creature of that brick warren; its covert entrances, spiked gates, portals and hidden rooms behind the bookcases. A rare sighting, heralded by the slow drag of his feet, would excite comment.
‘I saw that Hatchman just now sloping off to his lair but I collared him to get me a brew. D’y think a tanner was over-egging it a bit?’
‘Nah, he’s an old soldier. Let him be…’
Not quite Town Hall mascot – more an elemental or a ‘familiar’ like those pier-end spiritualists used to talk about. Hatchman had a shonky leg – actually I think that’s how he ended up at the Town Hall, by being a batman to some Herbert in the War. ‘Services rendered’ and all that. Give the lad some tin and a token retainer now we’ve lamed and broken him.
You could tell he was a man who’d fought to keep his sanity. He’d just about managed it but there was something about the way he cleaved to the earth that made you think it was a desperate struggle for him not to cast adrift and float away, thoughts bobbing and whirling like thistledown, bouncing on the Albert Square cobbles, catching on the stone whiskers of Mr Bright or Mr Gladstone before floating free and away over Manchester forever. That’s why Hatchman’s slithering, shuffley feet never left the ground when he walked: he was afraid. When he reached the steps he’d hesitate and peer about as though gauging how long he would be suspended, one foot free of its anchor, then with a perceptible girding of his loins he’d be off, skittering from step to step like a spider.