The Man with Bowler Hat

Arthur Surtees RN (ret).

Arthur lives at The Mansion nr Priddy. He always wears a three piece suit, only taking his jacket off to dig his kitchen garden. He carfully hangs the jacket on a spare garden fork before setting to with fork or spade to work the soil.

He is a tall man, and, as all tall men, slightly stooping. In his early 60’s he is still active, he often walks down the gorge to Ebor to collect his newspaper and mail. Out of habit, he still wears city clothes and carries briefcase and umbrella even in the hottest months of the year. He is an ex-naval Commander and worked in the Civil Service for many years after he left the Royal Navy. I never discovered his exact role in the Civil Service, but I imagine it was something to do with intelligence.

At first I contented myself with observing him through binoculars as he walked up or down the gorge. Each day, for several weeks a chose a slightly different place to observe him. I never actually followed him, but worked out his route by changing my observation post. I discovered that the lived at The Mansion nr Priddy after the second week. So I turned up on his doorstep one Sunday morning in my hiking gear and knocked on his door to ask directions. I told him that walking was my favorite occupation and that I had take a cottage several miles west of him, but had got lost while trying to find thhe top of Ebor Gorge. My map is back at the cottage.

He invited me in; showed me his map; pointed me in the right direction. Before I had the chance to thank him, he offered me coffee and that’s when we got talking. He told me of his naval career: as a commander he had never seen action, but he had navigated the Indian Ocean, been through the Straits of Malacca, past Singapore, round Borneo and up into the China Seas. Of his Civil Service career he said little. He told me that he had been based in the City (that is to say the City of London not the City of Westminster). He had no knowledge of Whitehall, and I had no knowledge of the Civil Service in the City.

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