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.”

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