Monday, 16 November 2009
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
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.