(As remembered some 40 odd years later)
I got to know Mick Bennett through my friendship with Clive Palmer and John Bidwell of C.O.B. of which he was also a member and also through his various visits to the Folk Cottage in Truro and Pipers Folk Club in Penzance both of which I was Resident Singer at.
Somewhere, somehow, I loaned him some money, we’re not sure now how much, either a pound or a fiver, but most likely a fiver. This was 1972/3 so not an insignificant sum given also that I was unemployed at the time. I can’t remember how long the debt lasted but one cold winter’s night we both had met up and were drinking in The Market Inn, Truro.
We’d had a few and were chatting, getting along quite nicely until when it came to Mick’s turn to buy another round I noticed he had a bulging wallet and was obviously ‘in funds’. As I was relatively brassic as usual I suggested this might be a good time for him to settle his debt to me. In my recollection some detailed discussion followed about how I was in desperate need of money and Mick was of the opinion that he might not have enough to settle the debt and pay his way until a further lot of funds came to him. I was quite insistent that debts, and in particular this one, ought to be settled expediently. Mick pondered on this a moment or two then came to some decision. He pulled out and held up a bank note.
“See this,” he said “this is the debt that lies between us.” He then took out a match from the pile in the frog of the brick ashtray on the bar and scraped it along the brick until it lit. Staring straight into my eyes he touched the flame to the bank note. It lit up quickly creating quite a bit of smoke as it burned and turned into ash which Mick then tossed onto the floor. A stray fragment settled onto the piled matches and these too went up in a sudden and sustained burst of flame and smoke. This additional conflagration seemed somehow significant to Mick, a sort of positive sign that the burned note and the matches all combined to create a harmonic whole.
“There,” he said, “the debt is gone. It is no more.”
I was astonished at this action. I was certainly not in agreement with Mick that the debt had been eliminated. In my firm opinion the banknote had gone, but not the debt. I told Mick this and he seemed quite unimpressed. I elaborated on my theme, Mick offered his thoughts on my statements but clung to the position that in being burned out of existence his debt to me was now fully discharged.
So, inevitably, our voices got louder, there must have been some cursing from me too, and maybe it was this element that caught the attention of the landlady who then also became aware of the large cloud of smoke still hanging in the air where Mick and I still stood in heated disagreement.
She was one of the no nonsense type of landladies and she marched up to us.
“Now then,” she asked sternly, “what’s all the noise about?” Then she sniffed as she eyed the burnt matches and the blue cloud hovering over the bar. “And who’s been burning things up here?” Mick owned up immediately and we were ordered to finish our drinks and get out of the pub. We did this and lurched unsteadily along the pavement behind the City Hall in the direction of the next available pub still in heated debate about the money owed. My temper got the better of me in the end and I grabbed Mick by the lapels of his coat and banged him up against the big wooden rear doors several times physically emphasising that I wanted my money repaid in coin of the realm with each thrust into them. In retrospect I suppose it might also have been the fact that the decision had been taken for me by Mick and his unwavering implacable refusal to shift his point of view that got my blood up. Things certainly were not helped by Mick guffawing his very distinct and loud laugh as we swayed back and forth and he met the wooden doors each time with a thump. During a lull in the proceedings Mick looked at me and said.
“Look if you’re going to hit me, then hit me.”
I knew I couldn’t hit him; I liked him too much so I let go. Mick straightened his clothes, pulled out some notes from his pocket and gave me my money. It was past closing time by now which was probably fortunate.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked him.
“Don’t know,” he replied, “I’ve nowhere to stay tonight.”
“Don’t be daft,” I told him, “you can come back to my place.” I was renting a cottage near Trispen with my then girlfriend Joy. Mick stayed with us more than a few days and on one of those we drove out to visit Ralph McTell at London Apprentice but didn’t quite make it having first detoured to Barney Potter’s place –
but that’s another story.