Once Corrie has inveigled the noble Parsons into kicking off the “Saga” readings, that should have been that, n’est-ce pas?
Not so, indeed….. There remains the tricky business of getting that worthy to park himself in Biffo’s wing-chair when he joins the party. This will be achieved, for the most part, by Biffo’s employment of his fail-safe weapon of last resort - ’tact’.
We have a moment or two to gather our thoughts before Mr P returns from his inspection of tomorrow’s breakfast table. The noble lord fills in the time speaking mostly to himself - as one does when soggy with nostalgia - and only incidentally to Corrie and ‘our Jules’.
“I remember when we had readings on Sunday evenings at me prep
school. Used to litter ourselves all over the floor of the headmaster’s study – eyes glued on the ‘Old Man’ as he read to us through clouds of cigarette smoke from the chair in front of his desk. ‘Wuthering Heights’was my favourite. Gosh, brings back memories, does that…..“
Rather to Biffo’s surprise, Julian is right on cue.
“Cor! Sounds cool, Guv’. Why don’t we do it like that, ‘ere?”
Suiting action to words he slides off the sofa and drapes himself across Ch.Connal of Fitztearlach – a ferocious-looking wolfhound – who doesn’t so much as twitch a velvet lug-hole.
“I say, why ever not?”
Biffo readily agrees, and with rather less ‘svelt’, manages to manoeuvre himself down onto the Bukhari rug in front of the fire-place - right next to ‘Tessa the Nose’ who gives him a tender slurp and sighs contentedly, stretching her paws.
They are all facing the empty wing-chair expectantly as Parsons shimmers in from the Morning Room. Pausing on the threshold he registers at a glance that he has been ‘outflanked’, so to speak.
“Where would Your Lordship prefer me to sit for the duration of this evening’s reading, Milord?”
“Fire-side chair, what? Perfect for us – all facing in the right direction – bit like Dickens and so on – gosh memories flood…..”
“Milord, I really will not feel comfortable sitting on Your Lordship’s chair. Most ill-befitting…..”
He heads for the pouf.
Over to Corrie.
“Parsons, dear, we want to be read to like when we were children. We can focus on that chair. The pouf’s hopeless – no atmosphere at all - come on, be an angel.”
“Please, Mr P – it’s only a game, innit? When the game’s over - we’ll all be back to normal - well, sort of…...”
“Julian’s right Parsons, old thing. It’s just to please the children, don’t you know? And don’t forget, old thing, we are the children for this evening, are we not? We can only go aboard the “Saga”’ if we’re properly in the mood, as, I believe, you will remember....”
Biffo’s last essay seems to have hit the mark with the worthy Parsons and he’s looking thoughtful - when Parsons is in pensive mood unexpected developments must always be expected
“I have no desire to appear ‘farouche’, Milord, and I have to confess that the book into which we are about to delve is more suited perhaps to the formula you have preferred, than to my preconceived idea of the decorous. You, Milord, and Lady Constance, have clearly been far more able to ingest the mood of the volume than have I, until now…..I shall endeavour to remedy my dearth of nuance and literary tone forthwith…….”
With which mysterious pronouncement the old devil hitches up his trousers and sits on the Bukhari with his back to the wing-chair. A mini-swivel from Biffo and Julian and the scene is set - a little semi-circle – well, a curving threesome facing Corrie on the sofa. Everyone can see everyone else, which they couldn’t before, and Mr P is still the focal point. Honour has been satisfied in all directions.
Biffo is entranced – he feels about twelve.
“I say, Parsons, coo-er! Just like the White Castle set-up, ‘cept the others aren’t here….. yet”
Julian can’t quite put his finger on it, but something is definitely up! But, not yet being privy to the Saga mysteries, he has no idea what that something might be. There is one little detail that has been niggling at him, though.
“What’s ‘farouche’, Uncle Parsons?” he asks, wondering how ‘Uncle’has popped out.
Involuntary twitching of the Parsonian shells-like.
“It means – in the sense in which I employed the word, Master Julian -‘shy’ – and sometimes, ‘sullen’, even ‘sulky’, in the company of people. It can also mean ‘wild’ or ‘savage’ – ‘menacing’, perhaps.”
“Right, got it, Mr Murgatroyd!” Julian turns to Biffo. “What ‘appens next, Guv’?”
Not a moment’s hesitation from Biffo.
“What we need is Cola – yes, Cola - and then we can be off.”
Julian glances across at Corrie who is smoking a very classy pipe – carved like a pirate’s head.
“Flippin’ ‘eck! What’s goin’ on?”
No answer comes and there is no time to ask again. There is a throaty roar and the double library doors crash open to admit a motor-cycle courier aboard a Vincent ‘Black Shadow’, no less, and a pall of delicious high octane smoke. He brings a tray of silver beakers brimming with fizzling Cola.
The incongruity of the Guv’nor drinking Cola as a beverage of choice does not escape Julian, but the entire evening looks set to be fairly whacko, so - rather unusually - he keeps his ‘trap’ shut.
“The trick,” says Biffo gravely, “is not to drink this devil’s brew, but to pour ourselves right into it…..”
From the moment they all gaze into the crimson, with the Guv’nor’s voice murmuring of whirlpools, oceans, tunnels and shining lights, the rest of the evening isn’t exactly a blurr for ‘Master Julian’ – but it’s certainly far, far, out!
The Guv’nor is suddenly the same age as him – all straggle-toothed and cheeky.
“Call me ‘Shrimp’”, he says with a grin.
Aunt Emmie stays the same – same as who? – and where the hell did ‘Emmie’come from?
Uncle Parsons is another Uncle – the same, but different – ‘Murgatroyd’ – Uncle Murg, that’s it……..
What the bleedin’‘eck is goin’ on?
In the end Julian’s brain begins to hurt and rather sensibly he gives up and lets the Secret unfold by itself…..
Doesn’t feel like a dream, so p’raps it ain’t? What did his Dad use to say?‘Dreams is bubbles of hopes and prayers – and sometimes when you’ve nearly given up – one of them gets through…..’
‘Daft, my Dad, but we had some laughs…’
Looks like this is one of them lucky bubbles – the colours are bright enough……
He and ‘the others’ - Mouse, Beetle, Murat abi, and some he can’t pronounce just yet - are all sitting together with Uncle Murg, in a semi-circle on the Persian carpet facing Aunt Emmie on the sofa - with her pipe, and the dogs, and a Persian cat all fluffy and yellow-eyed. A new world has happened – ‘Plop!’ - just like that! It’s a wild kaleidoscope of images and understandings he thought he had forgotten long ago – but they all seem natural and very real – so real ‘you ’ave to pinch yerself’. It’s, well, it’s mega-wicked, innit? How long’s it goin’ to last? Does this world have time like ours? Who knows? Who cares?
He’s dead sure of one thing, though. When Uncle Murg - no, it’s Uncle Parsons - well, Mr P – gently wakes him up, he’s bursting for a leak!
“Cor, Shrimp, I need a slash – can I use your lav?”
The Guv’nor swims sharply into focus and Julian addresses the old reality.
“I was dying for a pee at the Castle’, Guv’ – but I went all ’farouche’ with all them new people about and, well, I just couldn’t ask, could I?”
Privately Biffo rejoices – the boy has brains - a keen, retentive and exploratory mind. High hope for the future is born. But for now he deals with the emergency at hand……
“Off you buzz, old scout,” he says comfortably, “and make sure
you lift the bloody seat, or Parsons’ next ‘farouchery’ will definitely mean ‘menace’….…..!”