“A HORSE, A HORSE, ETC……”
I’m supping the last of the post prandial ‘1876’ in the library as I await the gathering of the congregation on the second evening of our ‘Saga’ readings programme – logs a-flicker in the fireplace, lamps aglow, and so on.
Parsons is shimmering about, dusting and generally putting things in order -
as is his conscientious wont.
I gather Corrie’s still ‘en route’ to our literary tryst; having been delayed at Pangleton - so Parsons informs me - by a wearisome telephone call from that bubonic pestilence, Sharon Watts, of ‘Cuddlesome Corgis’ fame.
Julian is delving somewhere amongst the library clutter and, uncharacteristically, is not immediately ‘in evidence’, as they say. Could well be scouting out the elusive pomegranate – or was it a pineapple?
In short, all seems peaceful on the domestic front.
There is a tinkle from the blower on my desk and Parsons does the honours.
“Good evening, Sir Charles. Yes indeed, sir - I think I can say with some confidence that all is well with the household here at Amblewick. Thank you, sir. I believe that his Lordship is in the Library. If you will bear with me for one moment, sir, I will inform him that you are on the telephone……”
Discreet pause - to permit transit from the nether regions, no doubt – and Parsons, who is already within spitting distance, tactfully covers the receiver and transmits his message.
“Sir Charles Peyneer is on the telephone, Milord. Do you wish me to connect you?*
Charles? Good Heavens! Of course, connect away, what?”
Parsons, for all his sometime antediluvian attitudes, is a great believer in modern technology when he feels that its employment is life-enhancing in the affairs of Amblewick. He flicks a switch, and Charles and I are connected at full blast – no need for scrabbling about with the handset, and so on.
“I’m putting you through to the library, Sir Charles. Good night, sir…..”
The old baronet’s stentorian ramps its way round the library for all to hear.
“Biffo, you old fool, where have you been all my life?”
“Bit of an ‘exadgers’, old prune, what? We met at that Diamond Jubilee thrash a couple of weeks ago – if you can cast the mind back…….?”
Charles isn’t exactly senile – but a dash selective in his recall. Remembers what directly concerns him - his appetite for good fare, and his dogs – little else.
“Did we, indeed – well if you say so – had a bit of a gut-full that evening, I daresay….”
“I imagine that may well have been the case, old thing. But was there something special you wanted to natter about, or is this a one-orf social-outreach situaggers?”
Unlikely – both Charles and I eschew the social niceties whenever we can get away with it……
“Yes, there was something – slipped my mind for a moment – ah, yes, “The Definitive History of England” – do you remember that little volume I scribbled when we were up at Eton?
“Indeed, I remember – how could I ever forget – damned nearly got us both sacked, if you remember. ‘Gross lack of good-manners, damned impertinence, and abuse of the nation’s heritage’ - or some-such outrage, so the Headman said….. Entire interview engrained forever on one’s arse, if you remember?”
“Well, be all that as it may have been. Anyway, I was snatching a bite of luncheon at the Savoy Grill the other day and bumped into our old chum Freeda – you know, Freeda Prizners used to bunk off to London with us from Bedales – glamorous little puss- cat in those days – still pretty saucy today, I can tell you…..”
“Quite sure she is, old thing, but how does she fit into the ‘History’ narrative?”
“Don’t interrupt, old chap – puts me off my stroke. Now where was I? Ah! Savoy Grill. Yes, well anyway, she – Freeda that is - joined me for luncheon – usual dose of the old rib and a bottle of house plonk. Just cantering our way through the pudding – ‘Poire Belle Hélène’, as it happens - when she popped a question – unusual question, rather. Turns out she’s morphed into some kind of literary agent – you know, sort of hobby thing to mask her real job, as a spy, and so on. Rather dashing, being a spy, don’t you think, eh, Biffers? Remember Morton – boy with the Mk V11 Jag? Well he………..
I always reserve Charles’s little detours and footnotes in mental parenthesis as I await resumption of the subject in hand. Sometimes a nudge can help.
“Freeda, Charles – you were talking about Freeda.
“Was I? – ah, yes, Freeda. Why was I talking about Freeda, old boy?
“Literary agency, perhaps?
Yes, of course I was – stop putting words into my mouth. Well anyway, Freeda pushes books and stuff that appeal to her, if you get my drift. She remembered the fracas about the ‘Def Hist’ and asked me for the manuscript. Well, to prune the proverbial shaggy a dash - she’s re-launched it!”
“I say old boy, that’s a whiff of good news, isn’t it? Never understood why it went out of print in the first place….”
“Got squashed, didn’t it? Fifties, you know - lot of bigots in the fifties.”
“How’s the re-launch going, though?”
“Freeda seems happy - says she’s getting positive feedback for the most part - should help with the old crispy crunch before long, she hopes.”
“Folding still on the short side, eh? Same story this end - Parsons not at all happy with the Fortnum’s situation – resents having the wings clipped in that department. Your news sounds pretty heartening, though – not before time, eh?”
“No, indeed – but ‘many a slip’, as they say. Bit of a problem rearing its ugly – that’s what I telephoned you about…….”
“Blasted critics lousing up the soufflé again – same stuffy old crap from the so-called ‘literary élite’. One of them described my logical addition to Shakespeare’s version of King Richard III’s last words at Bosworth Field as, ‘ignorant, valueless - puerile disrespect and self-advertisement’.”
“I say, that’s a bit rich – always enjoyed the DHOE, for all the furore about it – spiffing good read – refreshing, really….”
I’m floundering in the details a bit at this point I have to admit…..
“Nudge my memory, old thing, what was your minor addition to Mr Shakespeare’s text?”
“I merely stressed the urgency of the situation at the Battle of Bosworth – and the long-maligned monarch’s desperate situation - by the addition of ‘fucking’, to mere ‘horse’. Hang it all, at moments of extreme stress, we do not say just ‘horse’, now do we? Not if we want to make matters clear, anyway. We’re not detailing a family picnic here, for Heaven’s sake. We’re reliving an event of world-shattering consequence not only for the benighted Dickon III, but for the Empire – triumph of the taxman, suburban attitudes, the counter-jumper and so on. Critical moment in ‘Happy Isle’ history, what?”
It isn’t everyday that I find myself totally in sympathy with my old sparring partner and sharer of the Juniper, but this is one of them.
“With you entirely, old thing – had I been faced with King Richard’s fate – to be maligned and dishonoured by a parvenu and his cohorts and hangers-on for so many centuries – I also would have insisted upon your rendering of the urgency. Quite sure I would have reacted as did you. ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a fucking horse’, would have been the only possible way to express my desolation.”
A faint wheeze of approval from my old friend.
A familiar and determined chain-saw yelp cuts keenly through the library shadows.
“Dead right, Guv! I vote for yer old mucker, an’all – ‘You ’ave to call a spade, a fuckin’ spade’ - that’s what my lot say, innit…..?”
“Out,” I muse almost joyfully, “of the mouths of babes and sucklings……..”
No reprimand from Parsons, either – a hint of resignation on his ‘non-committal’ tells me that, for once, he could not, for all his brilliance, have expressed the matter more succinctly himself………