Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chapter 6


A strangled, “Oh, shit!” from a goggle-eyed Julian draws Biffo’s attention to the
apparition in the sunlight.

Parsons, for his part, takes in the situation with a frigid stare. His voice is chilly, too.

“Milord, I apologise for this intrusion into the main house, it will not happen again, I
assure you. Julian – the pantry, if you please…….”

Julian feels the colour draining from his cheeks, but before he can act on Mr P’s
instruction, Biffo saves the day – and probably his bacon!

“No, no, no, Parsons, old thing, don’t be a spoil-sport, what? We were just getting to
know each other, at last……..”

This is a bit of an understatement, Julian reckons, bearing in mind their shared
wolfing of that rice pudding on the evening when Mr P was up in town and Mrs
Thingummy-Wotzername arrived to stick her nose in Amblewick business. But he
decides that any comment from him would render already turbulent waters positively
lethal. He closes his mouth like a Thames lock-gate.

“What the young chap needs, Parsons, old dear,” Biffo continues comfortably, “is
a dash of adventure – sort of Scott of the Antarctic – Shackleton, don’t you know?
After all, one did when one was his age, didn’t one, what?”

“Milord, it is with considerable difficulty that I cast my mind back over the ivy-
creepered bridges of nostalgia to the halcyon days of my youth – much water has
passed, as they say…. However, I do seem to recall a lingering sense of ill-ease
at the lack of ‘stimulation’, shall we say, in my own family circle when I was, as you
indicate, my Lord, of a certain age.”

As so often when Parsons waxes eloquent Biffo has difficulty in following the entire
flow of the narrative – but senses that their conflicting currents may be beginning,
just perhaps, to confluctuate a trickle, as it were.…… In high hope, he surges on…..

“But you know the feeling, don’t you, old thing? Jolly frustrating, if you cast the mind
back a dash?”

“Yes, Milord, indeed.”

“So, how did you deal with it all, old friend? Dash of rule-breaking from time to time,
like the rest of us – bunking off after lockdown, what?”

“Milord, I always endeavoured to please my esteemed parents in every way I could
- somewhat unlike the youth of today, which appears oblivious to the wisdom and
good counsel of its elders and betters……”

This barb is directed shrewdly in Julian’s direction.

“However, my Lord, I am aware that times have changed and I have no desire to be
a wet blanket, or in any sense ‘a cat amongst the pigeons’, so to speak. However, I
do feel obliged to point out that the ‘objets’ in this house are of inestimable historical
and intrinsic value. Perhaps it would be a little ill-advised to place them at the
unsupervised mercy of this young man - how can one express it best - too early in
his experience, not to put too fine a point upon the matter……?”

Although still somewhat submerged in the swirls and eddies of his retainer’s literary
wake, Biffo senses a faint calming of the waters – a warmth even? He swims on

“Get your general drift, old thing, but how in Dickens’ name did you cope with that
consuming urge to peck your way out of the old egg-shell, so to speak?”

“I resorted, Milord, to books….”

Biffo recoils.

“I am aware, Milord, that literature is not Your Lordship’s most preferred suit, as
they say. Would it, one wonders, be out of place for me to remind Your Lordship of
a certain Squadron Leader Bigglesworth and his heroic ‘chums’ – and their dashing
exploıts in the skies over England, and indeed the World?

“Good Heavens, Parsons! Good old Biggles. I say, fond memories flooding back,
don’t you know?”

Biffo re-ignites his pipe and tamps it down thoughtfully.

“Do you know, old sharer of the trough and vineyard, I believe you may have hit on
something there…….”

Parsons baulks at the familiar tone of his employer’s delivery, but the elusive smile
twitches at the corner of his mouth before retiring – carefully ingested.

“But would ‘Biggles’ be of any interest to our young tear-away here, do you think?”

“Perhaps not ‘Biggles’, Milord – times have changed and youthful tastes have altered
with them - in my view much for the worse. However, there is a volume in this library
to which, I believe, he might well be able to relate…..”

Not “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, surely?

No, Milord, I have always disapproved of that sanguinary and sectarian work. The
volume to which I refer is entitled, somewhat frivolously, I fear, ‘The Mouse and the
Gang Saga’”. Rather unusually, it is a work attributed to no known author - in fact to
no author, at all.”

Julian is looking bored to a crisp, but Biffo is all ears – cogs revolving fairly smoothly
for vintage gearing

“Good Lord, Parsons, I’d forgotten all about it – but then, I’ve forgotten a lot of things
I used to know. Corrie and I spent weeks and weeks in that book when we were
children – couldn’t get enough of it. Funny that, isn’t it? There’s the occasional story
which one doesn’t really read, but clambers right into, somehow…..”

“For once, Milord, we appear to be in total harmony. I, too, have taken the liberty
of ‘dipping into’ the work during the course of several months’ dusting of the library
shelves and re-aligning the many volumes. I rediscovered the work a week-ago-last-
Thursday when replacing “The Definitive History of England” in its customary place.
By chance, its position on the shelves is contiguous to the work we are currently

Julian has been trying desperately not to yawn - but something in the Guvnor’s
demeanour as he listens to Mr P, begins to get to him. There is a rare eagerness –
a ‘tickled-pinkness’ almost - in the old chap’s eyes. With the unerring keenness of a
border collie – which temperamentally he much resembles - the boy’s ears begin to
prick. After all, a subject which excites the old ‘geezer’ as much as had that cold rice
pudding, must definitely be worth ‘a butcher’s’…….. 1.

1.   ‘Butcher’s hook’ – ‘look’ – for the uninitiated, or blissfully ignorant.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chapter 5


“Cripes!” Julian nearly jumps out of his skin - twizzling round to face the music.

“I say, old chap, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to give you a start – well, not too much
of one, anyway – just couldn’t resist it, don’t you know?”

Biffo is grinning rather sheepishly and the familiar pipe-smoke – Fribourg and what’s-
it, Julian remembers - billows all around him. With an instinct born of 13-years skating round the rim of disaster, Julian assesses that he is in no immediate danger, but decides to proceed with caution just the same.

“’Ullo, Guv. Didn’t mean no ‘arm – just ’avin’ a butcher’s, like……”

“Do so understand, old thing – spent most of the time doing much the same when
I was your age. That’s the best thing about Amblewick – plenty of space to muck
about in - nooks and crannies to explore.

Julian’s mouth is hanging open rather. This is not quite what he was expecting.

“What, you don’t mind, Guv?”

“Not a scrap, old son – might do a dash of exploring together one of these days –
point you in a few interesting directions. Quite a lot of experience with the old place,
what? Discovered any secret passages, yet, have you?”

The mouth opens wider than ever.

“Coo-er! Secret passages, an’all, are there?”

“Oh, yes, I rather think there are….”

Biffo glances at a gilded pineapple set into the paneling to the right of the chimney
breast – and then thinks better of it.

“Might be a good idea to check this room out one day when there’s no one else
about. So much more fun ‘sussing things out’ for yourself, I seem to remember.”

“What, you mean I can come in here and muck about on me own, Guv?”

“Why ever not? The old house hasn’t had any fun since me sister Corrie and I were
forced to grow up and forget everything we knew. Except that we’ve never quite

“Ghosts, are there any ghosts?”

“So the stories go…..”

“Seen’em, ‘ave yer, Guv?”

“Afraid not, old dear. Corrie and I used to get strange feelings, though – shadows
and cold spots when it was hot and sunny outside – creaking floor-boards behind
us when the house was empty except for us….. One room in particular……. Who


Biffo winks, and Julian finally begins to relax – a little bit too soon, perhaps.

A dark shadow glides phantom-like from the Billiards room and stands silhouetted
against the late afternoon sunlight slanting through the French windows behind

Mr Parsons has materialised…….

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chapter 4


Mrs Fenner’s nephew, Julian, is ‘well-cheesed’ - to employ his own rich metaphor.
These so-called ‘’olidays’ at Amblewick are all very well, but the truth is that he
misses his ‘mates’ and the weekends ‘my lot spend down the social – them all
getting slaughtered and sussing last week’s scores and next week’s chances.’
Strange, but the author finds himself lost for his own words, He realises, with
only fleeting regret, that we’re never going to get to know young Julian ‘up close
and personal like’ unless we surrender to his rather more picturesque modes of
expression. ‘It’s a pretty catchy old rabbit, an’all’ – see what we mean?

The reader is going to have to sacrifice sacred cows like grammar, to permit, how
can one put it, colour and tone, perhaps? No apologies offered, we’re just saying
what we bleedin’ well mean………
Him and his gang gets a kick out of listening to the grown-ups and their rabbiting on.
What’s more, they’re always on the look-out for the perks they can score from the
jobs getting pulled up the West End toff areas.

We overheard a conversation Julian was having with one of the under-gardeners as
we were passing the conservatory one morning.

“Best thing what come my way was a BMX what they knocked off from a garridge
what they give a seein’ to, up South Ken. O’course, they never says where the stuff
comes from, do they – not direct like?. It’s all sort of, nudge, nudge, say no more a
nod’s as good as a wink. Yer sort of, well, yer just use yer nous, don’tcha. Nearest
they get to the facts is yer talk about lorries - and stuff fallin’ off the back of’em.
Amazin’ the number of lorries what sling stuff out up the West End, innit…...?”

We reckon he’s remembering something of similar hilarity, today. Anyway, he’s
grinning to himself - happily enough, for someone ‘what’s cheesed’.

“Best things what comes out of Amblewick is yer hallmarks on the silver in the still-
room cupboards – right back to yer William-an-Mary – worth a bob or two up the
Silver Vaults, that lot - and there’s Auntie Fenner’s ‘Choklit Mouse’, o’course – that’s

We can only try to imagine what’s going on in his clearly rather fertile mind as he
climbs the broad main staircase and turns right onto the Long Gallery landing.

“Come to fink of it, there’s other brill things abaht Amblewick, an’all. His Lordship’s
a bit of alright - sort of comical and, well, bit of a card, innit? Cor! That bleeding rice
pudding, and the two of us wiv our fingers in the trough - just like real people, eh?”

Do we detect a slightly puzzled pause?

“Always thought ‘is Lordship and ‘is likes is s’posed to be the spooks for us lot, ain’t
he? Don’t really add up, that, do it?”

He shakes his head, as he says he always does when he wants ‘to clear out stuff
what makes me brain hurt’ – and then the dream goes on….

"The other things about Amblewick what’s cool are all the mammoth rooms and all
that gear to check out – and the moat, and the punt, and the ‘orses, and the dogs -
and all the people just like me - ‘cept their accents, mind you – double-dutch most of
the time, that Partridgeshire lingo……”

This time, a rueful grin…..

“Mr P’s cool, an’all - if yer keeps on the right side of ’im, that is…..”

By the time he’s thought all these thoughts Julian has reached his destination - the
Library. Truth to tell, he’s not at all sure how today’s mission fits in with ‘keeping Mr
Parsons sweet’ – ‘but there yer go, eh?’
The thing is, he’s had his ‘beady’ on that cabinet full of knick-knacks ever since the
rice-pudding party – ‘and ’specially ‘them horse pistols on the bottom shelf – not to
nick, mind you – course not, no - just to get me ‘ands on’em - that once.’

And again, we can only guess, to dream…..

Julian’s dreams are a very different world - no longer the world he’s stuck with
every day – but a land of radiant colour, adventure, thrills, spills and, yes - that
most precious of freedoms – the freedom to believe that he really is as he is in those

He opens the towering mahogany doors a chink and holds his breath – no one there
– he knows from the ‘empty feel’. Warily, he slips inside. In a trice he’s at the cabinet
doors twiddling the little golden key. The doors swing open silently and he reaches,
breathless, for the gleaming pistol butts…

“Stick’em up – money or your life!” says a deep, but not unfriendly voice from

immediately behind him………..

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chapter 3


It occurs to Parsons that he seems always to be polishing the Cellini flagon when
matters ‘of note’ are on the horizon. He smiles at the memory of the “His Lordship’s
Asparagus” interlude - and its sequel.

“Not the easiest person in the world, that Mrs Huntington-Smythe. No, not by any

He notices from the corner of his all-observant eye that the amiable young Julian
is glued, as ever, to what he refers to as, “The Telly” – and more insidiously, to a
programme called “Dinner Ladies”. Parsons winces wearily, and sighs the sigh of the
conservative when confronted with diminishing national values. It also occurs to him
that his Lordship is a case in point. A few evenings earlier, he had discovered his
employer glued, as is Julian at this moment, to “Eastenders”, no less!

“There is a dangerous likelihood of further descent into the cultural abyss." He
observes wryly to himself. “Something has to be done to save the Amblewick
residents from themselves before all is lost.”

But what?

“Books, are clearly the only hope…..”, he muses mournfully, “but how in the name
of all that is sacred am I to get the wretched youth to read them - let alone His

Another thought occurs.

“The Castle Library! Books by the thousand! Must be something amongst them to
engage the boy, surely?”

And then a further thought.

“Julian and his Lordship appear to share a taste for the pedestrian in their television
viewing. However, if my memory serves me correctly, there was a time when His
Lordship, as a child, did read books. “Biggles”, and the endless works of Harrison
Ainsworth were his most preferred flavours, I seem to remember. Nothing pedestrian

He flickers his leather over the Cellini patina thoughtfully…..

“Possibly a little dated for our Julian, though – too rooted in His Lordship’s privileged
background. We need something to which the boy can more readily relate, today
- monsters, mystery, impossible dreams, and adventure with oneself as the hero –
fantasy with teeth – and fun. I shall have to rummage through the shelves – try and
rattle his Lordship’s cage a trifle, too – might even get him weaned from the second-
rate, as well - one really never knows ………”

We, alone, perched as we are on top of the “Telly”, can observe the shy smile
attempting to invade Parsons’ impassive countenance.
We are fascinated by the possibilities - but pretty sure we know exactly how things
will proceed – but then, you see, we are the characters in the books which Parsons
seeks - all of them. We know which book has Julian’s alter-ego embedded in it,
waiting to be recognised – Biffo’s too – and even Parsons’…….

“Its name is…….. But you’ll discover that when Parsons’ plan begins to gel!
Your dream may well be there, as well, dear reader – if you have ever truly flown,
that is.......