Monday, February 25, 2013

Chapter 10


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’….…..!”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chapter 9


Biffo is parked on his favourite wing-chair within reach of the fire irons. Corrie and Julian are
on the sofa opposite him, and Parsons is hovering a little uncomfortably behind the ‘poııf –
aimost centre stage between them.

Biffo ruminates.

“When these reading sessions were first mooted I wasn’t at all sure they wouldn’t
end in disaster. Still not quite sure how it’ll all pan out, mind you. No doubt about it,
we’re a fairly motley little crew, aren’t we?

As for me own part in the proceedings? Sort of whipper-in–cum-kennel-huntsman,
I suppose - in a politically low-key, drag-hunt kind of way. ‘Tact’ rather than ‘Talley-
ho!’ would seem to be the order of the day. And tact is a skill one learned at an early
age from delicate negotiation with schoolmasters, trustees, bankers, lawyers, Cousin
Marguerite and other low life – avoidance of thrashings, winkling of funds, Fortnum’s
budget, and so on….

Truth be told, Parsons is really by far the best-qualified to take the lead in this project
– as in just about everything. Predictably, he’s refused – on the principle that ‘such
protocol infringement is unconscionable, Milord’. And that seems to be that!

Corrie’s turned up, as I knew she would – champion wolfhounds in train. Just been
the usual riot with the dogs all greeting each other - caperings, leapings, boundings,
sniffings, the odd smashed glass and general mayhem……..

Needless to say, this all goes down a treat with our Julian.

“Cor, Miss, where d’yer get them monsters? Flippin’ ‘eck!”

Predictably, Parsons endeavours to inject ‘propriety’ into the proceedings.

“Julian, please. We address Lady Constance, as ‘Lady Constance’. ‘Miss’ is a term
used for unmarried women of, conceivably, more marginal consequence.”

Corrie squashes that one as only she knows how.

“I think we should all relax and stop being so stuffy, don’t you, Parsons, dear?
Everyone calls me Corrie, and I really much prefer it.”

She smiles seraphically and draws Julian neatly into the mix.

Is that OK with you, Julian? I know it must be tricky for you with all of us old fogies
breathing down your neck – but I’d like it very much if you’d call me Corrie, too.”

“Yea, alright Corrie - OK by me – always called me Mum ‘Tricksie’, an’all.

He glances uneasily at Parsons, whose disapproval is palpable – eyes aloft and
duster flickering spasmodically.

Corrie disarms the impending rocket with consummate ease.

“Every time I pop over to Amblewick, Parsons, dear, I’m lost in admiration at the way
you keep the old place so spick and span – and single handedly…. The Cellini flagon
looks finer than ever – quite beautiful – and how very wise of you to display it in the
Hall – quite lost in all the Drawing-room clutter, wasn’t it?”

Parsons is gratified – and stumped.

“We endeavour, Lady Constance, at all times to maintain those standards to which
we have long been accustomed at Amblewick. Thank you, Milady.”

No doubt about it, if he was your average sort of bloke Parsons would be blushing.
In any event, the fight seems to have gone out of him and ‘forms of address’ are
parked, temporarily at least, on the back-burner.

“So, Biffo,” Corrie surges on cheerily. “bumbling our way forwards to second
childhood, are we? Good-oh! Merciful relief after all those bitchy, doggie women
in London, I can tell you. That dreadful Sharon Watts woman was perfectly odious
about the ‘Wufflums’, on the benches at the LKA. Can you believe the gall of it? ‘Bit
of a handful for you, these days, aren’t they, Corrie?’ she said, in that simpering
voice she puts on for the judges. Silly old cow!”

I note that Julian is already feeling a lot more at home – grinning like a ‘Cheshire’, in

“Cor!” he announces happily and helps himself to one of the paté sandwiches
Parsons has laid on for the occasion.

”Back to the “Saga”, is it, Biffers?” Corrie enthuses. “Loved that book in the old

She gathers up the tome from the side table and flips through its pages - almost
hungrily, I note.

Soft, indrawn hiss of disapproval from Parsons.

“Lady Constance, the pages are very fragile – oxidization, I fear…..

“Dear, oh dear, Parsons, I wonder what can have caused that?”

Julian and I titter – a dash nervously, it has to be admitted.

Parsons wisely keeps his own counsel – his charges are clearly ‘out to lunch’ and education
must wait until another day.

Only guessing of course, but I’ll wager that the stratagems of ‘the estimable Pyrrhus’,
and possibly ‘the French’, will be featuring fairly prominently in his private self-
justification for his temporary withdrawal from the lists……..

The biding of time is one of Parsons’ strongest suits.

“Well,” says Corrie, “and how are we going to read the book? We need to know what
we’re doing before we start, don’t we?”

“I always starts at the end – wiv comics,“ Julian essays. “If the end’s all right, then
p’raps it’s worth ‘avin’ a butcher’s at the rest of it…..”

“I’m with you there, Jules,” Corrie intervenes, “so many books put one off before the
story even starts, don’t they – all that damned waffle?”

Julian looks ‘well-chuffed’, so Corrie blasts on.

“What I suggest with the “Saga” is that we old blokes do the reading of the first part
- like getting you into the story, Julian. That way, you can zizz-off if it all gets too
boring. Then, when we get to the real adventures you can join in. How does that

“Coo! Sounds great – never ‘ad a bedtime story a’fore…. You goin’ to read an’all,

He addresses me a little doubtfully.

Before I can answer, Corrie’s straight back in.

“You bet he is, Julian – the Guv’nor’s brilliant at reading aloud – always used to read
to me in the nursery.”

Corrie’s a serious genius – picking up on, ‘the Guv’nor’, like that is a master stroke!

“Cor, brill!” votes Julian.

For all his doubts about ‘forms of address’ Parsons is clearly impressed by Corrie’s
deft handling of the game-plan.

“May I congratulate you, Lady Constance.” he says, “Rarely have I had the honour
of hearing such a sagacious solution to what might well have been a difficult trail to
navigate, if your Ladyship will pardon the safari reference?”

“Pardon just about anything,” I think to myself, “just to get this first hole tee’d orf.”

“What would be even more delightful, Parsons, dear,” Corrie cruises on, “would be if
you were to kick off the reading - as the father-figure, so to speak. Hmmh?”

As we said earlier, old Parsons simply doesn’t blush – but his ears are twitching, as
they always have when he’s seriously tickled…….

‘Check’, I observe to meself - and ‘Mate’, if I’m not too far off-beam.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chapter 8


Parsons’ departure into the realms of physics leads Biffo to feel that the conversation
is becoming a dash too technical. He drags it back to levels he can follow - adroitly
changing the subject.

“I say, Julian, old scout, do you read, at all – during the ordinary course of things?

“Well, I can read, Guv – if that’s what yer getting’at. Read comics most of the time –
books is all too long and boring.”

“What books have you had a go at, old chap?”

“Well, Auntie Fenner gave me an Enid Blyton for me birthday one year. Couldn’t
understand a word of it – about a bunch of posh kids, it was. Wasn’t real - like where
I come from, at all – too la-di-da and toffee-nosed, them kids.”

Get your drift, old chap. Miss ‘Blithertown’ was never my idea of a riot, either….”

But Julian’s literary waters were clearly going to need a snoot-full of ale to make
them palatable. Biffo pulled thoughtfully on the Meerschaum.

”You’ll probably find the “Mouse Saga” a bit challenging to start with, old chap,” he
advised, “but you’re getting used to grand old houses by now - and fairly unusual
characters, too, I imagine. Thing is, the young heroes of the “Saga” are Turkish for
the most part - that might seem a little strange.”

“Turks is OK by me – best friend at school’s a ‘Döner’ - lots of’em up our parish.”

“I say, old thing, are there now? How jolly interesting. Well, I never did! Did you know
that, Parsons, eh?”

“Milord, we no longer live as we used, in an Anglo-Saxon enclave. Ours has become
a multi-cultural society – a mosaic of world civilizations, if you will.”

“Yea, we’re all Brits together, innit?” Julian seems fairly well in favour, at any rate.

Biffo decides to leave historical prejudice at the gates of Vienna where he assumes it
properly belongs.

“Jolly good show, what? Anyway, keep bashing away at the “Saga”, old chap, and I
believe you’ll find a lot to think about.”

Julian likes to get things clear in his mind from the start.

”If that book’s so good,” he enquires sensibly, “why didn’t anyone write it?”

Parsons looks rather as if he is about to launch into serious literary criticism……
Biffo hastily forestalls him.

“Maybe that’s part of the whole mystery, old chap.” he says quietly. “You’ll find a
lot of surprises in that book – might even find yourself there, too, if you stick at it.
There’s a bit of everything. Parsons is in it, that’s a promise. So are quite a few other
characters you wouldn’t expect. Only guessing, mind you, but I think that by the time
you’ve ploughed through the three volumes you’ll want to climb straight back in there
all over again – that’s what happened to Corrie and me, anyway - and just maybe,
you’ll have a rough idea who wrote it, too. You can hear his voice in the background,
sometimes, as the adventures tumble along…..”

Parsons is both impressed and somewhat taken aback by his employer’s unusually
perceptive words. They inspire in him an unfamiliar sense of ‘Carpe Diem’ – of devil-
may-care, almost. For a rash and uncharacteristic moment, he surprises himself by
diving recklessly into realms inconceivable a few moments earlier.

“Milord, it has just occurred to me that, maybe, and it is a mere foolish thing of the
moment – an ill-considerted trifle, if you will – that it might be beneficial for Julian
if he read the book here, in the library, with you – you being a lover of the piece –

There being no immediate negative response to this suggestion, Parsons plunges
deeper – warming to his theme.

“I’m sure we could organize a suitable timetable for the readings – one which would
not compromise the young man’s household duties – as in the cleaning of shoes
and silver - and, of course, the washing-up. There is nothing, Milord, so conducive to
the appreciation of books, as atmosphere. The Amblewick library offers just such a
stimulating ambience, would you not concur, Milord?”

“Oh, yes, indeed, rather!”

Julian is well and truly hooked.

“Cor! Yea – can we, Guv? – It’d be wicked!”

Biffo’s agreement is whole-hearted – but comes with a modest rider.

“One of the best ideas you’ve ever had, old purveyor of unlikely solutions. I have only
one condition, dear old friend. If we are to congregate here to read the “Saga”, your
own august presence must be a part of such a congregation….”

“Milord, I hardly feel that such would be a…..”

“Over-ruled, me old darling! All excuses vetoed absolutely! No Parsons – no
readings. Final word, what?”

“Oh come on, Mr P, you’ve got to do it, pl-e-e-e-a-se!”

“One down, one to go.” Biffo muses contentedly.

That heartfelt, ‘pl-e-e-e-a-se!’, is a shaft too keen for the worthy retainer to withstand
and with a sigh he buckles under it.

“Very well, Milord, ‘Ours is not to reason why…’, as the saying goes. It shall be as
you insist. However, I must beg you, young Julian, to excise the watching of that
depressing television series from your viewing schedule - as a personal favour to

“What, “Dinner Ladies”?

“The very same.”

“OK, fair do’s. Mr P - it’s a deal – tonight’s the last episode, anyhow……”

Biffo is impressed at the way things are panning out. All that remains is to establish a
mutually acceptable hour every day for the readings to take place.

“Any thoughts about time, Parsons? To suit you, of course…..”

Parsons, who has, as the reader may recall, certain cultural reservations with regard
also to his employer’s television viewing, sees a window of opportunity through
which to mingle timetabling with his own devices.

“It occurs to me, Milord, that nine o’clock every evening, after the breakfast table has
been laid, would be eminently suitable.”

“Jolly good show, splendid! Nine o’clock on the dot every evening – good, that’s
settled then. Going to buzz Corrie right away. She’ll be over here like a shot now the
LKA’s out of the way. Did I tell you, Parsons? She got Best of Breed, this year.

“My congratulations to Lady Constance, Milord – most well-deserved, I am sure.”

But, Parsons is looking thoughtful.

“Milord, I fear that the hour we have specified may entail, how best can I express it -
a small sacrifice too far, on your part, perhaps…….?”

“Well, it’s after the post-prandial, isn’t it? No problem there, surely?”

“I fear, in retrospect, that Your Lordship may have overlooked a slight, but possibly
pertinent detail….”


“Nine o’clock, Milord, is the time, every evening, when ‘Eastenders’ is screened – it
occurs to me that, perhaps……?”

Barely a moment’s pause.

“Bugger ‘Eastenders!’”

“Coo-er! Cor! Just like ’ome!”

That, without question, is Julian.

“Two birds with a single missile…….”

A silent pǽan of praise - definitely Parsons - and he really smiles, at last……..

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chapter 7


As the ‘young tear-away’ mulls the possibility of his conversion to literacy, an answer
to the conundrum is vouchsafed to him.

“Julian, old chap,” Biffo butts back into his focus, “to the right of the fire-place, second shelf up from the bottom, tenth book from the left – between ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘The Definitive History’ – can you locate?”

Rather to his surprise, Julian leaps into action and retrieves the volume – just like
that! Parsons is, in turn, amazed – though not so much by Julian’s agility as by his
employer’s effective long-term memory.

“Remarkable recall, Milord, truly remarkable. May I make so bold as to enquire as to how you were able to pinpoint the position of such a, dare I suggest, unprepossessing volume, amongst so many thousand in your library – and after such an extended period of time, if your Lordship will forgive reference to such a personal detail?

“No mystery, Parsons, old thing, no big deal, at all. Some things just stick - even when one’s got to the point where one can’t find the specs on the end of one’s nose. As you of all people must be aware, old guardian of the family secrets, Corrie and I were never of a literary caste, what? When we did chance upon the odd few exhilarating volumes we popped them all together for ease of reference, so to speak – always there when we wanted them, sort of thing. Possibly the reason for all that fuss from the librarian about ‘chaos in the shelving catalogue’…..”

“I imagine that you may well be correct in that last supposition, Milord….. What I do find difficult to understand, Milord, is your mention of Mr Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ – and how it came to take its place amongst the ‘exhilarating’ tales from your childhood?”

“Can’t see why it shouldn’t have, old thing – just an earlier version of the only story ever told, don’t you know? Good and evil, courage and cowardice and a happy ending. When Christian arrives at the city of his dreams it’s a bit like Amblewick – but floodlit, don’t you know? First book I ever read after lights out – must have been six or seven, I suppose - ripping good yarn, what?”

“Indeed, Milord, ahem…….”

Parsons is not entirely comfortable with his employer’s existentialist view of the Heavenly Kingdom and retires, a little defensively perhaps, into his customary preoccupation with matters in hand. He occupies himself in re-dusting the volume Julian has retrieved. It is somewhat the worse for wear, he observes, as he flutters gently through its pages.

“Page edges somewhat oxidized, Milord. Care should be exercised in its handling.”

“What‘s oxy-whatever-it-is, Mr P?” Julian enquires with some temerity.

“It is a process of degeneration not far dissimilar to rust in certain metals, my boy. Here, however, we are dealing with paper rather than, for example, iron. You will observe that the paper of which this volume is constructed has become somewhat discoloured and brittle. This has occurred perhaps as a result of exposure to humidity over the years. It is a rare item, and careless handling will damage it beyond recall. This would be a great loss to the library collection – and conceivably to the world literary community.”

“Yea, right….” says Julian doubtfully. “Does that mean we can’t read it?”

There is a hint of hope in his voice.

“I don’t think there’ll be any problem about that, will there, Parsons?” Biffo interrupts politely, “Damn it all, Corrie and I used to read it with a torch under the bedclothes after Nanny turned the night-nursery lights off…….”

Parsons has by this time recovered from his theological trauma, and strikes lightly, but with surgical precision.

“A procedure, Milord, which may well have been the cause of the volume’s deteriorated condition. Human breath is known to be highly corrosive in confined spaces……..”