Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Woolsey Herman Augustus Tinsellbaum IV

It came to me with something of a jolt this morning, that I have been most frightfully dilatory in fulfilling the requirements of a grandmother.
I was idling away half an hour or so scrolling through my news feed on Facebook. No, It won't do. I must confess at once that I am mentioning this only to impress you. It has taken me longer than I expected to gain ascendancy over the controls of the computer, and I admit that now I have understood some of the basics I can be unbecomingly inclined to brag.
Even so, you know, I was browsing in my Facebook news feed, disturbed as always by the number of my friends whose lives seem to revolve unrelentingly around what has been served them for dinner, and a perennial and tedious obsession with chocolate. But that was not what I intended to say. Where was I? Ah, yes.
What caught my attention this morning was a number of posts from other grandmothers, proudly displaying photographs of their infant relatives, describing them as cutie-pies and precious ones - and I could feel myself instantly uneasy.
Gus is a pleasant child - I think. His father, the third Woolsey Herman Augustus Tinsellbaum has a fine pigtail of which he is both protective and proud, and I believe it to be his intention to give young Gussie the opportunity to be the equally proud originator of his own similar pigtail.
The raw materials of this forthcoming pièce de résistance hang meanwhile in an impenetrable thicket descending to his upper lip. When Aurora and I took him to tea at Fortnum and Mason last Thursday, he seemed disappointingly uninterested in the marvellous array of little cakes the waitress brought to our table, until I bethought me to remove a kirby grip from my own coiffure and affix him a little top-knot, whereupon he gazed in amazement at first his mother and then me, then with a cry of 'AHAAAAA!' fixed his gaze on the cakes like a true Englishman.
So though I think he is a sweet-natured personality, it remains at the present time impractical to look with penetration into his eyes - 'the windows of the soul' as I'm sure you've read elsewhere. But we get along very well, even though expressions such as 'cutie-pie' and 'precious' have at no time been the vocabulary of my upbringing.
Anyway, seeing how assiduously my contemporaries were fulfilling their ancestral role, it seemed incumbent upon me to do my duty and make a visit to darling Aurora. I felt it had been a wise decision. How it lifted my heart to see their cheerful faces as they stood waiting to greet me in the doorway of their lovely abode.
It's not as if Aurora sits at home waiting to be visited of course. Such is Woolsey's prominence (obscure to me but, I am persuaded, very real) in the world of finance that little Gussie already has a position on the boards of three high street banks, and what with that and the Radical Mothers Front and Boobs Are For Babies, Aurora's little Porsche barely has the chance to cool down its engine.
She reads voraciously too, passing on to me any texts in which I have shown an interest. Even now on my bedside table I have a little stack waiting: These Sinister Apron Strings (winner of Year of the Child runner-up), The Umbilical Cord As Archetypal Shackle (an indispensible call to resist the New Pedagogy), Politics of Motherhood - an exposé of contemporary abuse, and 'Garry - poignant revelation of the world of the elective mute'. I must say they all look completely fascinating; so much so that I hardly know where to begin!
'AHAAAA!' little Gussy shouted as he saw me approaching the house. Though he can see very little and I am shockingly unsatisfactory as a forebear, I think we have managed to establish a remarkable rapport.
The use of the word (forebear) recalls to my mind an ancient Lay Reader who used to reside in our parish - this was some years ago, the man in question has been called home to glory some while since now. He used to be relied upon to preach whenever our rector was away on some other pressing business over a weekend. Our reader's sermons were sustaining but I have to say they did not sparkle.
His delivery was ponderous in the extreme, though his education at Harrow and then Oxford and finally formation in ministry at Ridley Hall must surely have seen that the content was utterly sound. I confess my mind used to wander a little. I hit upon St Paul's exhortation that women should ask their husband to explain the sermon when they go home, but every time I asked Henry he admitted to having dozed a little so his intake had become unhelpfuly fragmented.
I usually found myself able to concentrate at least upon the preamble. I recall one Sunday when he began: 'It was during the summer of '23, that my great uncle went to sea...' I was rivetted for a moment, thinking the entire presentation was to be in rhyming couplets - but alas I was wrong.
My fondest memory of his preaching was the sermon that started even more ponderously than usual - absolutely slow motion:
'Of... my... fore... ...bears... five were clergymen...'
Now I am a forebear (or possible a fivebear) myself, it has pressed in upon me that I must do my level best to shake off all frivolity and fulfil my duties with a consciousness of the responsibility and privilege that they are. And I had a jolly nice time with Aurora and little Gussie; though the southern drawl of his Tinselbaum ancestry is unmistakeably apparent in his rendering of the simple word: 'Bye!'
The 'AHAAAA!' has been learned, I suspect, from his mother, from whose library books startling revelations of neural psychology and the wiring of the infant brain tumble in unbelievable profusion.
Dear Gussie. I wonder what he will be when he grows up? Surprised, I suppose, as we all are.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

An Unexpected Glimpse Of Plunging Assets

This is not like me at all, but I have to confess; I am feeling somewhat fragile.

Dear Mrs Backfatt – my neighbour Gerda, from The Thieving Cow – arrived quite unannounced this morning for a visit that rather exceeded my stamina. The worst of it was, you see, that Ellis was not here. Henry has required him as a chauffeur this whole week long, which has tried the patience of all of us but couldn’t be helped.

Early last Thursday morning Henry drove himself to the railway station – or started to – but never actually arrived there because he had a little accident. Anybody could see at once that it was not at all Henry’s fault, and I fail to understand why the constable had to be quite so patronizing about it. Now that autumn is with us, on the days the Autumn Rains are not Clothing the Fields in Blessing (I am quoting from the Psalms) they are busy obscuring the lanes with mist; and so it was on Thursday.

Normally of course that is of no importance, had Henry not been reading his book about the Bates method of improving eyesight that (apart from drinking quantities of cider vinegar which is vile with or without the mother still in it) recommends dispensing with eyeglasses before any visual enhancement has actually taken place. Naturally this presents enormous challenges to any driver negotiating the Sussex lanes in heavy mist and intermittent precipitation, but Henry will not be dictated to, one can only watch and pray – or in Henry's particular case, just pray.

Quite apart from the mist and the absence of spectacles, I know from past experience how extraordinarily a bull’s head can resemble a grizzled old tree stump. Not until the creature moves does one's brain compute that this bulky object is, in the mammalian sense, alive – and then my goodness does it not give one a shock! Dear me!

The bull, the mist and the Bates method between them totalled the car: hence on Thursday morning when Mrs Backfatt called unexpectedly to introduce her dear friend Bathilde Gumbutts (at least that was how she said it though I suppose it could conceivably be rendered Gummbutz) visiting from the Rhein Valley, Ellis was somewhere completely else.

D’you know, I do wish people would check in the mirror before setting forth from their homes – I am forever having to remind Sybil of this – it would save so much unpleasantness if they would bother.

There are (too many) young ladies nowadays, we know, who wear their underwear as outerwear as a matter of course: it started with Grandad Vests in the 1970s and gained momentum in the extraordinary brassieres that Madonna identified as suitable attire in which to perform a concert (I still find that hard to believe), and now one is treated to vistas of adjustable strapping on every street corner. Why, even in church last Sunday, when a Christening party attended, underwear was ubiquitous in its most declarational manifestation. Christianity is defined as a revealed religion, and never has this been more evidently so than last Sunday morning two pews in front of mine. What puzzled me – and still does – is why a lady of considerable personal advantage, having arrived at worship in leggings and an entirely diaphanous blouse, beneath which very little is concealed from view or left to anybody’s imagination, should occupy herself throughout every hymn with obsessively tugging at her hemline to ensure that it has not ridden up the extra half inch that would lift it above the southern slopes of her buttocks. I tried to keep my mind on the Old Hundredth, but I must admit the view was too arresting to permit easy distraction. This irritated me a little, because I had intended to utilise my time at church worshipping God, not gazing in fascination at the depth to which elastic can sink within subcutaneous fat. My only consolation was the certain knowledge that under the reliable ministry of Coleshaw Grimm no Christening party has been known to make it back to the church for a second visit. But I digress.

My point was that Gerda can often be slovenly in just this department. Her neckline is often woefully décolleté, and the support mechanisms of her foundation garments frankly far from ornamental. But Bathilde Gumbbutz did not strike me as that kind of lady at all; on the contrary, I would judge it to have been her intention to dress with all modesty.

Ellis being absent, I had to call upon Mrs Swann to provide coffee, which she graciously did; and while we were waiting I drew the attention of our visitors to the vista of the lovely autumn colours through the drawing room French windows. And I have to admit I was baffled when Ponty, who for reasons of his own was still mooching about the house, remarked to me in a penetrating whisper laden with meaning: ‘Stock markets have fallen!’

How often and how ardently I have wished that Ponty might apply closer attention to the financial realities of life – but something told me this long-awaited evidence that fiscal awareness had finally dawned now might not be quite what it seemed at first – because why would anyone feel the need to whisper with regard to the stock market? We were not in church!

I looked at him blankly. With a curious twitch of the eyebrow and an incomprehensible jerk of his head, Ponty muttered through the side of his mouth: ‘Footsie One Hundred’s right down!’

At Château Mont-Choisi where I studied as a girl, my teachers reinforced what my dear Mama had always taught us: a lady must strive to feign interest in the conversation of her menfolk, addressing her attention respectfully to their pronouncements on the worlds of business, finance, sport, alcoholic beverages, war, cars and any other assortment of machinery, violence or personal achievement. This is now so ingrained a habit that for the moment I neglected my guests, directing a courteous smile in Ponty’s direction, with what I hoped passed for intelligent application to his remarks on the national economy. He appeared exasperated.

For a moment it crossed my mind to wonder if he might not have developed Tourette’s syndrome while I had remained completely unaware. After all, I have been very busy of late, taking notes at dictation in every available spare moment of Aunt Myrtle’s memoirs on providing wedding cake for her offspring in the Second World War. The principle ingredients seem to have been rhubarb and cardboard, which I found unexpected and evidence of significant levels of patriotic ingenuity. Talk about ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’! With multiple sideways jerkings of the head coupled with convulsive rapid-fire movements of his eyebrows, accomplished while alternately catching my eye and casting his gaze towards the floor, Ponty asserted: ‘Investments are plummeting on the emerging markets!!’

How I finally bethought me to catch his meaning I cannot account for now: I followed his glance and saw that, even as she gazed enraptured at the lovely reds and golds of our trees in the park, Mrs Gummbutts’ knickers had fallen down and lay in champagne silk folds around her ankles on the parquet. And she hadn’t even noticed.


Friday, 1 January 2010

A difficult beginning.

Oh dear, 2010 has really not started very well at all – I am quite distressed. I have asked Ellis to allow absolutely no visitors across the threshold whatsoever, and Mrs Swann is bringing me a cup of Earl Grey and two aspirins. Honestly, what a fuss; I do think Ponty was unreasonable.

Naturally he likes to go out with his friends on New Year’s Eve – I believe he was heading for Town with the intention of meeting up with some other young people in Trafalgar Square, where they were all intending to have a lovely time and possibly pop into a nearby hostelry for a little drink at some point. I did rather wistfully enquire if that Complete Saddho would still be of the party, but after staring at me in blank amazement for a moment, Ponty appeared to recover his wits and said with a guffaw that his friend had urgently to head East to quell a revolution. I must say Ponty does have some exciting associates, though I should have thought a political uprising is no laughing matter even at this safe distance.

Before he went up to Town yesterday he asked me as a favour if I would record a television programme for him – normally Eustacia would do that, but she was taking a nap and Ponty seemed in a hurry to set off, so Ponty asked me if I would do it for him.

I wish now that I had been sensible enough to consult Eustacia, and then I would never have made such a silly mistake. I suppose I felt proud that for once one of my dear children had seen fit to entrust me with something important, and had faith in my ability to master the management of electronic controls, which I realise has been shaky in the past. Results have been uneven, and I am the first to admit this.

But I was determined to do it by myself, if only to prove that I could: and I see now how foolish I was to act with such arrogance.

It was not that I failed to set the recording function. I got out the little booklet that came with the DVD recording machine, and followed the rather longwinded instructions with care and success, despite their being written entirely in Spanish.

I must confess I felt a little surprised that Ponty was so keen to avoid missing an episode of Supernanny. I might have seen the sense in watching it myself a few years ago, but Ponty has no children of his own – or at least – well, never mind; Ponty is not married.

So it was not until late this afternoon when Ponty, having returned from Town and slept in until after luncheon, emerged in his dressing gown to catch up on his programme, that I discovered my mistake.

With a puzzled expression on his face Ponty watched the first fifteen minutes of Jo Frost correcting the ways of a shockingly insubordinate three-year-old who was in the habit of exerting perfect tyranny over its cowering parents – and then erupted with a bellow of rage, showering upon my unsuspecting head the most blistering attack of really disgraceful expletives.

I was completely bewildered.

Eustacia enlightened me later, after she had come down to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently it was not Supernanny at all that Ponty wanted me to record, but Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny: but, honestly – how was I to know? It sounded like ‘Supernanny’ to me!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Complete Saddho!

I am just so excited!

Ponty’s friends do often leave so much to be desired, though it causes me great sadness to say so of my own darling child. The memories of last New Year’s Eve still make me shudder. And I fear even now he has not shaken loose from the frightful Débris Bonbon. Sometimes when he returns from his trips to London I see a smudge of white face-powder on the shoulder of his jacket, and a faint smear of garish rouge upon the curve of his jaw. And then I know.

For one thing, ‘Débris’ is a man’s name, surely? I would have imagined a lady should be called ‘Débrisse’, should she not? Such vulgarity of affectation. A young woman should be proud of her femininity. I can still see her today, making her way up the staircase to our guest suite, and hearing a faint ‘Oh, my Lord! Who the feck is that?’ emanating from Sybil‘s bedroom doorway. I am sure Débris is a credit to her profession as a ‘Sweetie Rapper’, but I am not convinced she has a place in my son’s affections or a hope of lasting connection with our family.

I felt obliged to have a quiet word with Ponty on the matter of his intimate circle as the Christmas festivities subsided and I felt the approach of New Year’s Eve press upon me like the lowering stormcloud of a threatening migraine.

He listened with some surprise as I expressed my reservations on the subject of the young lady’s character and background. ‘Good Lord!’ was all he said for a moment; then crossed the drawing room to pour himself a glass of whisky.

What he said next set my mind at rest. Do you know, I had simply no idea that Ponty had refined associates of a spiritual persuasion among his acquaintance, and I am so relieved he does. For my own part, I have given pride of place to the rather odd seasonal greetings card with the design in shades of dun and grey created from shreds of torn paper, bearing the sweet message ‘With love from Rowan and Jane’: but Ponty I felt sure had no such uplifting connections.

What was my surprise when he set down his whisky glass with decided emphasis upon my ormolu display cabinet and announced: ‘Mother; I’ll see what I can do. What say you to my bringing home my good friend the Nobh of Bhutta who happens to be in England at the present time? He has recently been ordained as a Complete Saddho and has come for a little holiday after his six months’ pre-ordination retreat and the ordeal of all the tongue-piercing and circumcision and so forth. Bring him over for afternoon tea, what? Only snag, he isn’t used to the dashed English damps and he had a touch of pneumonia when I saw him up in town before Christmas – so it might be all off. But you’d probably like him better than Débris. Completely teetotal – never touches a drop; never smoked a spliff in his life, eats nothing but cracked barley – and sky-clad except for high ceremonies.’

It is typical of Ponty to be drawn to the more exotic variety of cleric (and ‘sky-clad’ means nothing to me) but it is certainly a relief to discover that his circle of friends includes souls of serious and sober inclination.

I have asked Ponty to write down ‘the Nobh of Bhutta’ for me, so I can verify in Debretts how best to address him without inadvertently causing offence: I know all too well how sensitive on the matter these overseas dignitaries can be.

Perhaps 2010 will prove to be a more stable year than I had anticipated.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A shocking reversal of allegiance.

It is not often that I am shocked. Many believe that if one is so fortunate as to be comfortably provided for in this life, then one has no idea of adversity, cruelty or horror: but it is not so – not necessarily. Behind the dignity and reticence of the conduct of a lady may lie the most surprising tapestry of experience. I think I can say I have seen life, and had plentiful opportunity to observe human nature in considerable variety. I am not easily shocked.

At first when Ponty chatted about being a Buller man, the reference meant nothing to me. I initially assumed he was referring to his enthusiasm for Bull Terriers: a noble breed of dog unfortunately tainted by association with some aggressive and irresponsible owners. Later when Ponty mentioned in passing being part of ‘Bullingdon blinds’, I had hopes that he might have made investment in a worthwhile and steady business venture – he is a sensitive soul beneath a rather arresting exterior, and I thought that home décor might prove soothing and balancing to his spirit, but it turned out that his reference was to something else entirely.

Even when I had found out what the Bullingdon Club is, it was not Ponty’s membership of it that shocked me. A very exclusive dining club, known, I discover, for destructive binges – membership by invitation only. It goes without saying that its membership is restricted to the very wealthy, as new members are initiated by having their rooms ‘trashed’. The club holds an annual dinner, with occasional smaller dinners to welcome new members. Because they know they will not be welcome in any restaurant, the booking is made under an assumed name: at the conclusion of the dinner, either designedly or simply because the members are drunk, the young men attending the dinner set about damaging and breaking the tableware and furniture, breaking windows – generally destroying their dining environment. Because of their wealth, the members pride themselves on paying for the damage, often settling in cash on the night (so I am told). Even so, they are not welcome guests in any establishment.

I cannot pretend to be astonished to find that Ponty should be a member of such a club. In my eyes, Ponty will always be the wide-eyed little boy, full of eagerness and wonder, that once he was: but I recognize that in the world’s eyes he has travelled a long journey from where he started out. It is a prestigious club, a great honour to be invited to membership, so I have heard – and Ponty would find this seductive. He is naïve in some ways, though he pretends to sophistication.

I was not even shocked to discover that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson; our Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne; and our leader of the Conservative party and would-be Prime Minister, David Cameron, all were members of the Bullingdon Club. I was not shocked by the revelations concerning MPs expenses, and I am not shocked by this. What did people think human nature was like? What did they imagine went on when people were trusted and left on their own to tell the truth? How could anybody seriously be so simple-minded as to imagine that MPs were without exception upright, honest souls, beavering away industriously for the good of the nation, beacons of exemplary frugality, never opportunistic, sleazy or corrupt? I am disappointed to learn that George Osborne, Boris Johnson and David Cameron all coveted membership of a group whose sole purpose was destruction, debauchery, depravity, decadence and the distasteful flaunting of excessive wealth – but not shocked. They are all, underneath, a little like my Ponty; cheerful, well-meaning, not as bright as one might have hoped, wearing their morality like a Sunday suit to please the electorate – too tight in the collar, too starched and too slender-cut: a relief to remove at the first opportunity, in favour or something far looser, dirtier and more comfortable. I understand.

No. What has shocked me is this. My father, his father, and his father before him have all been staunch members of the Conservative party. In my family, to vote Conservative meant to vote for freedom, for the right to make what one could of one’s own life with one’s own money and one’s own effort: to protect and order one’s own family and land according to one’s own vision and standards. To rely on no-one, answer to no-one, and shake free of all these itching, biting, carping, infuriating entangling rules and regulations so beloved of the Labour party. To me, Gordon Brown’s proud announcement that the interference of Ofsted is to extend its suffocating tentacles even into the lives of the under-twos is not welcome. Is no baby to have a childhood, freedom to play, to explore, and simply dream? Is no teenager to be left with time to waste – to compose poetry and music, to play guitar and build tree-houses and camp in the woods, to rage against the system and conduct terribly dangerous scientific experiments, and sound-proof the barn with egg-boxes for a home-made recording studio? Are they all to be monitored and examined and driven at targets every second of every day? Whence will come our inventors, our explorers, our musicians, our playwrights and poets and philosophers once the Labour party has finished forcing every child into a health-and-safety shaped politically correct clone of a dreary respectable middle-management bureaucrat who feels free to sneer at any white middle-class Christian but is appalled at the notion of inadvertently distressing a militant Muslim?

What has shocked me, finally, after all these years, after so weighty and proud a tradition, even though I promised to vote for darling Ponty (I was so proud when I found he was to be an MP) – is that I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that, if it is true that David Cameron, George Osborne, and Boris Johnson were members of the Bullingdon Club; then, nanny state or not, Gordon Brown has my vote from now on.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The quick-witted and trenchant reaction to pandemonium of Dylan Pugh

The thing is my darlings, I have to say, I just don’t know how we would have got through last Thursday morning without Dylan Pugh. Indeed, I have still as it is been simply too distracted to write anything whatsoever, even here in my diary, which ought to be a discipline as I think you will surely agree.


It all started at about 5 o’clock on Thursday morning. Henry and I had just returned from our world cruise (only a short one – it’s such a small world nowadays isn’t it, as everybody keeps remarking) and we had intended upon a little lie-in.

Now personally I had not been disturbed in the slightest – that is until my sleep was shattered by a thunderous exclamation of ‘Sink me!!’ from the region of the balcony. I raised myself somewhat groggily upon my pillows. Groping for my lorgnette and simultaneously fumbling for my torch, I combined the use of these to discern and illuminate dear Henry’s scarlet dressing gown billowing wildly merged in with the voile and gold silk of our bedroom curtains upon the wave of an incoming gust of wind, the balcony window being apparently thrown open. Fearing the worst (though unclear what that might in fact be), I quavered ‘Henry?’ and he appeared,in the dressing gown, through the balcony window, inexplicably clutching what by squinting I discerned in the torchlight, moonbeams and beginnings of the dawn to be binoculars. They must have been to hand on the ottoman, as the things from our brief holiday were not yet all tidied away.

‘Were you taking a little air, my darling?’ I enquired.

‘Odds fish, woman!’ he boomed in response, which I must say I found a little terse, even given the hour of the morning: ‘Damnee, what do you take me for – a fitness fanatic?!’ (anyone who has seen Henry in nothing but a dressing gown would instantly discern the humour of this rhetorical interrogative)

‘No darling,’ I replied, with what I felt to be remarkable forbearance at so early an hour: ‘then what are you doing out on the balcony?’

‘The blasted garden’s full of sheep!’ said he. ‘I heard shouting “blehh” and “buuurrr” and “baaaaw” and got up to look.’

Have you ever been to Bolton Abbey Church? It is most amusing. There are sheep all round about, and during the sermon one can hear them. The effect bears an uncanny resemblance to Prime Minister’s Question Time at the House of Commons: ‘Hear! hear!... Booo… hahaha…. Hear! hear!’ and so forth. It’s hilarious: adds no end to the sermon. But I digress.

‘Come in, Henry,’ said I in crisp tones, being now sufficiently awake to be in command of the situation, ‘and don some more suitable apparel.’

So Henry, grumbling a little, put on his long johns and my cardigan, and rushed down to investigate the sheep. Feeling that some moral support could improve things, I threw a negligee swiftly about my shoulders, and without stopping even to pin up m hair, I made haste to follow him, dashing first up to the top of the house to bang on Mrs Swann’s door in case she could be helpful. It was still dark.

All this activity made a considerable amount of noise, and as I thundered down the stairs I glanced back to see Mrs Swann emerging wild-eyed and tremulous from her attic (I must ask her where she purchases those voluminous black night-dresses – so striking) at the same time as Eustacia and Ponty flung open their bedroom doors crying respectively: ‘Mummy! For heaven’s sake!’ and ‘What’s up, Mater? Burglars?’

I think Mrs Swann took the latter remark as an assertion rather than a query, because she began to scream hysterically. Then she missed her footing and fell down the stairs.

‘See to her, Eustacia!’ I commanded sharply: ‘Ponty – come and deal with the sheep!’

Ponty came rolling out in his Hawaiian boxer shorts and that ridiculous T-shirt of his that says 667 – NEIGHBOUR TO THE BEAST and bare feet. Well – to be fair we were all in bare feet except Henry who had on one carpet slipper like a terrible parody of Cinderella. Dimly, as we clattered though the front door into the garden, I heard Eustacia making a call on her mobile phone, saying loudly ‘Yes! Ambulance! Directly!’ It seemed a wee bit extreme and then I was seized with alarm – perhaps Mrs Swann had injured herself; possibly fatally?

The garden was indeed swarming with sheep.

Henry was creeping up on them, hoping to head them off towards that gap where they get in. Seeing his strategy, I sidled to the west, to block possible egress through the yews. In case you are having this read to you, may I clarify I am referring to topiary not females. All would have been well I believe, had Ponty not left the door open when he followed me out. He surged into the fray, whirling his arms energetically and shouting ‘Shooooooo!!! Shooooooo!!!’ This is never effective with sheep.

In the first glimmer of the dewy dawn, I saw the first signs of panic in their vague pale forms – then the flock broke and they began to dash crazily back towards the house.

Distracted momentarily by the sound of an ambulance siren and a blue light flashing in the lane, I did not see what caused Henry to bellow: ‘Confounded idiot boy! Nincompoop! You blethering incomparable half-brained nitwit!’ – until I turned round to behold the last woolly rump entering the house.

We dashed in after them. This panicked them even more. One ran downstairs and I heard a cry (Cook – I recognized her voice), most of them mobbed the drawing room: six tackled the stairs.

Taking two stairs at a time, even at fifty-two and in a negligee, I followed in hot pursuit. Gentle reader, when I breasted the rise and came level with the landing, on the left I heard Eustacia saying Hail Marys with Mrs Swann (she is Polish, I believe – Roman Catholic at any rate, and very devout), while ahead of me came histrionic bleating from our bedroom.

Standing in the doorway then, I surveyed the scene. All six sheep stood tightly together on our bed, facing me in a defiant phalanx. The curtains billowed dramatically in the night wind. An cloven ovine foot had inadvertently made contact with Henry’s projection clock that I gave him last Christmas, casting eerie purple data up onto the ceiling (5.21am).

‘Hermione!’ roared the voice of my beloved from the hall: ‘it’s the ambulance men for Mrs Swann!’

Dylan Pugh is not normally residential with us. I have no idea what he was doing in Sybil’s bedroom, and I shall not enquire. He is Henry’s personal secretary – a paragon of efficiency and unflappable in every circumstance. On this occasion he switched on the light in the passageway, and directed the ambulance men to Mrs Swann and Eustacia, who was calling ‘Here! We are here!’ in the near-dark of the attic stairs; then he appeared at my side, not as in his photograph at the top on this entry, but wearing an eau de nil silk wrap that is definitely Sybil’s. He gestured to me to move aside somewhat, in the direction of the wardrobe. I obeyed. Calling seductively in a low crooning voice, while rattling some kind of cereals in a bucket, he tempted the sheep. Nervous at first, and distrustful, they hesitated. But greed and curiosity overcame them, and they followed him like the Pied Piper of Hamlin down the stairs.

Pugh then took charge of the stray still blundering destructively round the kitchen, ejecting it through the scullery door into the yard, instructed Cook to make tea, and lured the drawing room party back into the wild.

He recommended Henry and me to adjourn until morning to the guest suite, which we gratefully did, and never have I so felt so deeply appreciative in sipping a restorative cup of Earl Grey.

Pugh dealt with Mrs Swann’s situation (she was shaken, but not injured beyond a degree of bruising), gave the ambulance men tea as well, and phoned out for a team of trouble-shooting cleaners to rectify the wreckage before elevenses, by which time Henry and I were ready to face the day (we took breakfast in our room on a tray).

I am so grateful to Dylan Pugh for his masterful intervention. He really is a gem. But though I expanded upon his incisive and enterprising action to Henry in the most glowing terms, I thought it best to gloss over how he came to be in our midst at five o’clock on a Thursday morning.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Thieving Cow

My neighbour came to visit me today. We are so very much out in the sticks here that hardly anybody just drops by – apart from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Reverend Coleshaw Grimm of course, upon whom one can rely absolutely for assiduous devotion to duty. The nearest building is the Thieving Cow at the end of the village, a public house that Hermann and Gerda Backfatt took over two years ago.

I believe they advertise home-cooked food as one of their attractions, and I think Mrs Backfatt first began to call here to purchase some of Sybil’s herbs for her chef. The cooking herbs I mean, of course, not the other ones – at least, I assume so.

And then Mrs Backfatt seemed to take to us rather, and pops in from time to time when her full schedule permits - for running a public house is indeed no small venture, and the Thieving Cow is immensely popular. She is very frank and sometimes surprising in her conversation. Last time she was here, she gradually inclined in my direction until she resembled the leaning tower of Pisa on the verge of a landslide and whispered in the tones of a coy conspirator that she had been to Knightsbridge to purchase a strapless brassica. I felt a little nonplussed for a moment, but I hope my face did not betray any bewilderment.

Today she was brimming over with excitement, wanting to share her news, poor thing – her husband is a more taciturn individual: approaching the concrete bollard level in fact; abnormally under-vivacious. Anyway dear Mrs Backfatt practically shoved Ellis into the door-jamb in her haste to enter the drawing room.

‘What do you think?’ she cried as she swarmed in my direction (Eustacia had to leap adroitly to prevent an upset of the tea-table): ‘Bärbel’s poinsettia has had nine puppies! Nine!’

Eustacia and I nodded and smiled in delighted amazement: ‘Nine is a lot for a poinsettia,’ Eustacia volunteered; ‘do you have any photographs yet?’

Eustacia can really be very tactful, when she tries.

Apparently there will be photographs when the bitch will let them near. Poinsettias, Mrs Backfatt assured us, can be astonishingly possessive.