Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapter 14


“Well, Biffers, I think we’ve learned something from our little trip into the
bowels, anyway……..”

It’s a pleasant ‘after-luncheon’ moment on the day following the tunnels
adventure. One muses as is one’s wont. Corrie and I are sitting under the great
Cedar on the South lawn at Amblewick – on deck chairs rather than our pine-
needley childhood rug. That loyal item is still in evidence, though – acting
as a carpet under foot and chair, and getting all the more pine-needley as a
result. At least it’s still with us and we’re rather grateful to it for the memories
it stores for us……. Terribly important to talk to your ‘things’ – let them know
they’re appreciated – last for ever, if you do – well, for a good long time,
anyway. Always say ‘goodnight’ and ‘thank you’ to my shoes and socks and
shirts and things before they slip onto the floor. Last pair of shoes Parsons
bought for me at the Harrods sale are still going strong – one just has to be
grateful to them – no limit to the miles they’ll walk.

We’re funny, I suppose, we Amblewick folk – a little out of sympathy with the
world beyond the borders of the estate Too much waste, too little quality,
these days. Purchase something today and within a week it’s out-of-date.
Good Heavens! When we were sprogs things were built to last - what counted
was craftsmanship and the ‘feel’ of things.

Cars are a case in point. In our day they could be expected to last for fifty
years or more. You knew which car was which and who was who, from a mile
away. Today they’re all the bloody same – and plastic – no chassis and last
five minutes. Guess that’s why I still drive the Pater’s ’38 Wolseley 25/30 –
plenty of room for the dogs, and something between you and the lunatics who
monopolize the highway these days– still do a cool 85-90 mph, too. She’s a
bit waspy with the old fossil-juice, mind you, but that’s a small price to pay for
comfort and a sense of character and, well, ‘presence’.

People seem to have forgotten how to walk. At Amblewick we walk the estate –
and when motorized, it’s often on the old Fordson and trailer filled with fencing
gear, or whatever Gillingwater needs for the pheasants. Just the right sort
of ‘togetherness’ on that trailer - chance to hear the estate news and keep in
touch with the real world – all our bones shaking in unison, don’t you know?

Never could understand the De Barry woman at Netherwick – fine enough
house and a good 10,000 acres to play in – and the silly old coot decamps to
foreign parts for most of the year – no connection with history at all. I suppose
it takes some time before you appreciate what you have, and she’s only been
in situ for about five minutes!

Corrie butts into the old reverie

“Are you listening to me, old chap?”

“All ears old thing…. just off on a bit of a daydream, don’t you know?”

“I was saying that we’ve learned something from our little adventure in the
entrails, brother-mine.”

“And what might that be, old dear?”

“If you remember, we always used to be a bit afraid, as kids, when we explored
the house and its secret places – footsteps just behind us in the darkness –
slamming doors, creaking floor-boards, and so on……”

“True, oh Queen of childhood memory - and so?”

“Well, we thought we were alone in the house, didn’t we – felt sort of

“Yes, I suppose we did, in retrospect…. Big old joint the Castle when you’re
knee-high to a toadstool and just getting to know it all, what?” I re-ignite
the Dunhill. “So what fresh insight did we gain when you and ‘Our Jules’
disappeared into the guts of the place?

“Well, at the time I was petrified, I have to admit. All the same old nightmare
sounds and atmosphere – pretty unsettling – even Jules was subdued by the
end of it.”

“And that has to have been revelation, indeed….”

“Just when we were about to panic – there was Parsons enquiring about the
dinner menu.”

“Sounds pretty standard Parsons’ predictability, really.

“I think it told me something, though…..”

I take a swipe at a midge perched on my specs and try to look intelligent.

“I’m sure, now, that we’ve never been alone at Amblewick – just allowed to
pretend we were – to play in peace. In reality Parsons has always been there,
in the background, to make sure we’re safe.”

“I’ll buy that, old dear, Parsons is always with us one way or the other – even
when he’s up at Fortnums - and I mean always. Faithful old chap and utterly

There is a subtle clink of ice on glass from a little way behind us.

“If I’m not mistaken, he’s approaching at this moment - bearing sustenance.
Bless his thoughtful heart…..”

Indeed he is. A glowing salver, and nestling upon it my post-prandial glass of
Talisker and Corrie’s Turkish coffee and a snort of Green Châtreuse - ‘to lend
substance to the beverage, Lady Constance…’

I take a modest snoot-full and enquire, rather more for something to say than
anything else…..

“Julian recovered from his expedition, has he, Parsons, old thing?”

“Indeed, Milord - and currently he is profitably employed cleaning the silver –
particularly attached he is to the George IV service.”

“Seems rather a wet-weather operation for such a lovely day, Parsons, dear…,
Wouldn’t he be happier getting some fresh air into his lungs?”

“Indeed not, Milady. Just at this moment, extracting him from the teapot would
only spell resentment. As I said a little earlier, he is profitably employed.”

“Quite remarkable, Parsons, old wheedler of the best in people. What’s the

I confess to feeling pleasantly surprised and rather comforted.

“The secret, Milord, lies in the word ‘profit’. When first I mooted the possibility
of his lending me support in the silver department, I admit there was a certain
degree of resistance – nothing seriously mutinous, Milord, but an unspoken
reluctance was discernable.”

“And now you say he’s unwinkle-able from the pantry, what? There has to be a
secret weapon in play here, does there not?”

“Yes indeed, Miiord. I discovered it at the heart of a little phrase the young
man employed – almost as an after-thought…..”


“’Slip us a fiver, Mr P?’ he speculated when all else had failed to persuade him
wholeheartedly to embrace my request for active support. It was a moment of
enlightenment, Milord.”

“And did you ‘slip’ him one?” Corrie was entranced.

“No, Milady, I ‘slipped him a tenner’ - on the principle that investment should
always be made with an eye to the future.”

Before we could fully digest this Parsonian pearl of wisdom there was an
unscheduled interruption from the garden doors of the conservatory – a
supremely vulgar wolf-whistle.

“’Ere, Mr P! There’s water pissin’ through the ceiling!”

Julian appeared to be highly exercised by this development and high-tailed it
back into the house like a jack rabbit.

“Ir would appear, Milord – Lady Constance – that my presence is required
elsewhere. I shall retire to discover the source of this inconvenience, and to
ascertain the extent of any damage which may have resulted from it. I fear we
shall be further obliged to inconvenience the insurance company, Milord – and
I am uneasy as to that corporation’s reaction to such additional resort to its

With a measured inclination of the head in our direction, old Parsons takes his

“Have you noticed, Biffers,” Corrie remarked intelligently, “that these
insurance companies – banks are the same – keep on pushing new ‘products’.
All too often when one has purchased the ‘product’ one discovers that the
whole thing was just hot air – no substance at all except recurring charges…..”

“Damned impertinence, really – should be a law against producing nothing
and getting paid for it ‘ad eternum’. Con-artists, the lot of ‘em!”

“And butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths – until you’ve signed along the
dotted. That’s when the small print kicks in…..”

“Ah well, such it all is, me dear. S’pose we should drift inside and cast ‘a
dyspeptic’ over the damage. Quite sure Parsons will soon have everything
under control, but duty calls a dash, don’t you think?”

“And hopefully always will……..” said Corrie with a little smile……..

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