Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chapter 19


By the time Archie and I have primed ourselves fairly generously and
graduated to the dining-room for the terrine and sundry delicacies sent up
by Mrs Fenner, via Julian, we are in convivial mood. A bottle of ‘Montrachet’
further oils the wheels. We reach a point of such delirious self-confidence that
the presence of Cousin Marguerite glowering at us through clouds of rancid
smoke from the window seat and projecting all her legendary malevolence all
but ceases to dampen our enthusiasm.

We are, as it were, at play.

“I trust, Archibald, that you will not have forgotten your offer to drive me home
when once you have exhausted your capacity for juvenile alcoholic binge-
drinking in the company of this congenital idiot?”

“No, indeed, me dear – just oiling the old cogs a dash – old car runs so much
more smoothly if well-lubricated, eh, Biffers, what?”

“Cheers, Arch, absolutely, what”

I readily concur, removing the beak from its crystal and coming up for air.

“More paté, old chap?”

An irritated gurgle from the Booth’s bottle fails to impress. At this juncture,
Julian enters bearing some sort of pudding confection. With considerable
courage, he proffers the dish to the hell-cat in the window.

“Nectrinz, Mum?”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I am not your ‘mum’ - and to insist
that you address me as Mrs Huntington-Smythe, you bloody and impertinent
little boy?”

“Yea, right Mum. Good nosh them Necs, though – fresh from the green’ouses."

It becomes clear to the blighted Cousin that the ‘bloody and impertinent little
boy’ is incapable of following any behavioural instruction. She backs off in
that direction and aims a shrewd broadside at Archie and me.

“You seem incapable of following any instruction I give you, boy. However, I
imagine you may be capable of following a simple order. Remove the glasses
from the dining-room table – luncheon is now terminated.

Jules doesn’t even hesitate.

“Can’t do that, Miss – not when the gents is still boozin’ – get me arse kicked, I
would. Streuth! Mr P’d do his nut, an’all!”

“Good, clear thinking, Jules.” I agree. “Can you toss over that decanter of
Madeira on the sideboard, old thing?” I add - as a constructive afterthought.
“Oh yes, and do you think Mrs Fenner could rustle up some coffee – for later,
in the drawing-room?”

“Yea, orlright, Guv’ – I fink she’s planned some of that Viennese fig stuff you
and Corrie drinks at Readin’s. D’yer need brandy glasses? Fink there’s still a
couple in the sideboard.”

“Fine, old chap, but can you pop them on the coffee tray in the other room?”

I know that the instructions will, faithfully, be followed.

There is a vicious hiss from the window seat.

“Disgraceful! God give me strength!”

I note that the Booth’s bottle is notably depleted in its liquid volume.

Funny thing, that. When Archie and I have a bevy or two, the light shines about
us and harmony prevails. The effect on the witch is entirely different. – she
becomes more and more unpleasant and focusedly malicious – slashes about
with her broom-stick, don’t you know?”

It is perhaps just as well that Parsons swans in before we can clamp our teeth
onto the Armagnac cork.

“Milord, I believe Mrs Huntington-Smythe is planning to relieve us of some of
the items which have been stored in the Coach-house for such an extended
period of time.”

He turns courteously towards the seething crone…

“İs it your pleasure, Madam, that once you have selected the pieces you
prefer, they should be loaded onto your” – careful pause here – “conveyance,

“I would have expected that to be the case – in a normal household, at any

She observes Parsons with one of her basilisk stares - you know, the sort that
cuts through barbed-wire like buttered crumpets.

“Where the Devil have you been, anyway? Supposed to be the butler, I
thought. Instead of which we are waited upon by that little guttersnipe – needs
a damned good thrashing, by the way. Whole thing totally out of control. Just
look at those two fools – off their heads. Quite preposterous!”

“Indeed, Madam?”

Parsons’ manners are beyond praise and it takes a great deal of pressure
before he reacts to provocation.

However, abuse of ‘his people’ is unwise. More than aware of all our faults
and failings, is Parsons - but for all that we are, I am proud to testify, ‘his life’.
When that ‘life’ is in any way menaced or called into question the old chap
deals surgically with the threat.

“I am employed in this house, Madam, not as a Nanny or a Preparatory
school headmaster. My brief is to ensure the comfort and convenience of
His Lordship and his preferred guests to the best of my ability. I am happy
to inform you that for the last sixty years I have done my best to fulfill that
brief. I am proud to be His Lordship’s man, Madam – and any criticism of my
fulfillment of his trust should be addressed to His Lordship, who will, no doubt
- and if he should see fit - acquaint me with it in private, entirely at his own
discretion and at a time of his choosing.

And now, Madam, if you have finished with that bottle of gin I will despatch it
to the waste-paper basket and we can repair to the coach-houses to upload
such items as you may select, to your transport.”

Riot quelled.

The old pterodactyl takes a heave on the Capstan, coughs and mutters darkly
to itself…..

“What are we supposed to do with my drunken husband – can’t possibly drive
me in that state…..”

From someone who’s just polished off a bottle of Booth’s, that’s a dash pot
calling kettle, etc, I muse. However, Parsons is still very much on course….

“Unfortunately, Madam, the Red Chamber, and many other rooms are
currently still damp from the recent floodwaters, and so, most regrettably, our
customary hospitality is, perforce, somewhat circumscribed. However, should
Mr Archibald feel the need to remain at Amblewick for the night we shall, as
always, do our best to accommodate him as comfortably as possible under the


Reading the runes, I observe that the dragon appears to have been vanquished
- temporarily at least…...

“Don’t worry about me, Parsons, old friend – I shall be more than happy in
a sleeping bag on the Billiards table – given the odd night-cap, don’t you

Archie strikes absolutely the correct note with Parsons whose ears twitch with


Extraordinarily, the old girl stalks across the dining room in a perfectly straight
line. Parsons glides to the doors and opens them in time for her to exit with a
flourish, and a final shot.

“You have not heard the end of this matter, Archibald. We shall speak when
you return to Market Harborough – I trust by train or bus - and not by Daimler

Parsons escorts her towards the staff exit in the West Wing – I note this with
surprise and a hint of pleasure.

Archie joined our ‘Readings’ that evening - after a jolly toothsome, Mrs Fenner
Steak and kidney pie and some of our nectarines bathed in Jersey cream.
Played a pretty creditable Colonel Gotha-Killit to Julian’s spirited ‘Bal’, he did.

Parsons filled me in, later, as to the Coach-house proceedings and the exit
of the Huntington-Smythe plague towards its storage laboratory in Market

“The brief conversation I overheard in the drawing room upon the lady’s
arrival at Amblewick, Milord, informed me that without prompt action, our
efforts of yesterday would have been in vain. I took immediate steps, Milord.
With the assistance of Mr Richardson and two of the under-gardeners we were
able to remove our ‘readily saleable’ items to safety in the game-larder, Milord
- where they await our attention when the Transit van arrives from the Neptune
this Friday evening.”

“Jolly good show, what? Everything went according to plan, then?”

“Yes indeed, Milord. It might be of interest to Your Lordship to know that Mrs
Huntington-Smythe selected the ‘Maples 1920’ chest, before all else. Assured
me that lt was undoubtedly a Sheraton piece, Milord. She seemed keen to have
it loaded onto her hearse post-haste - no doubt before we became aware of our

“Bet Jules laughed. Take anything else of interest, did she?

“Not consciously, Milord, no – a roulette wheel, some fencing swords and
various relevant accessories come to mind – oh yes, and a chest of nineteenth
century dental instruments, a riding crop, and an electro-plated tea service, I

“Got her on her way without too much protest, then, did you?”

“Yes, Milord. To my surprise the engine of her 1935 Austin ‘Big 6’ ran very
sweetly and did not smoke or back-fire in the manner of the Indian motor-cycle
combination she employed during her last visit to the Castle - at Jubilee time,

“’All’s well that ends well’ sort of finale, what?”

“On the surface, yes, Milord….”

“What do you mean by that, Parsons, old thing?”

“Milord, Mrs Smythe insisted that we not inspect the contents of the drawers
and other items of her choice – wanted to ‘explore’ them in the privacy of
her ‘home’, she said.”

“Did we miss anything, do you think?”

“I believe we may well have done, Milord….”

“Nothing crucial, I hope?”

“I saw nothing myself, Milord, but young Julian was better informed.

‘I hope Mrs Thingummy-Wotzername likes animals, Mr P.’ he said, with a
slightly dreamy look in his eyes, as the hearse disappeared from sight.


“I also enquired as to what he meant, Milord. His reply intrigued me greatly…”

“Go on, old chap, put me out of my agony….” I pleaded,, dragging frantically
on the pipe.

“The substance of his communication, Milord, was as follows…….”

‘Yer know them ‘Sheraton’ drawers, Mr P?’

“I nodded encouragement, Milord.”

‘Well, there’s a colony of mice in the bottom one – an’ a whole bunch
o’cockroaches, an ‘all!’

I was overcome with a strange elation and tapped out the Meerchaum on a
nearby Dresden Shepherd.

“I suppose, there is some truth in the assertion,” I said with a convulsive
snort, “that ‘all’s fair in love and war’, don’t you know?”

“Indeed, Milord – most apt.”

Parsons was doing the Talisker honours for Archie and me when Jules
accelerated in.

“Good ‘ere, innit, Guv’?” he positively crowed.

“Better than that, Jules – it’s bloody triumphant – be a good chap and get Mr
Parsons a snoot-full, will you?”

No protest from the magnificent Parsons. He raised his glass to all of us with
studied courtesy and poise.

“To Your very good healths, Milord – Mr Archibald – and on this very special
occasion, to yours also, Master Julian.”

He spoke quietly but with a subtle twitching of both ears.

“Farouche and masterful to the last, our Jules….” I murmured, smiling into my
beaker. “Such subtle menace……”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chapter 18


Amblewick Church - the Witch of Endor and her mate

Before we can get down to serious planning of the ‘Car-Boot Sale’, Sunday
intervenes – and Sunday involves ‘Church’. Tradition demands that we at the
Castle attend, and are seen to be present in the ‘Family Pew’. Parsons parks a
little behind us, and has despatched Julian to join the other boys in the choir
- which could be interesting bearing in mind the apparently somewhat secular
nature of the young man’s outlook.

“I believe it will be wise, Milord, to avoid any obvious connection being
observed between Julian and ourselves prior to the successful conclusion of
our first car-boot sale – local politics, Milord…..”

Corrie’s got similar duties over at Pangleton, so I’m alone in the Arbuthnot

“Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to
acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness……” and so on,
and on……..

Such is my blend of conditioned belief and good-natured and slightly
irreverent unbelief that, rather predictably, I yawn at this point, and reach
instinctively for the pipe.

I am reminded of my childhood understanding of this rubric. Amazing how my
rather sketchy command of vocabulary had so mightily relieved the crashing
boredom of the Church of England’s ponderous treatment of the ‘Office of
Mattyns’. The brief mention of ‘manifold’ was for me, invariably, a milestone in
the interminable service.

Manifolds! Now to those I could relate. They meant ‘cars’ – as in Bentley and
the old ’37 Frazer-Nash Beemer! With this one word the service came alive
for me – all that was missing was the throaty roar of the actual car snarling
up the drive with me at its wheel – under the somewhat bibulous supervision
of a certain Uncle Algie from my mother’s side of the family (described by
my proudly puritanical Great-Aunt Kike, as ‘a rotter’ – an appellation which I
construed as a major positive).

Why is it that children are so readily attracted to the dissolute? Where there
is adult disapproval of another adult there is a sort of anarchistic fascination,
I suppose. One longs to be present when the ‘Wicked Uncle’ defies things
like ‘manners’, which Nanny so consistently insists upon in the nursery.
When’s he going to belch, or fart, in front of the entire family and stick his
tongue out when they tell him off? The naughty grown-up is a perfect template
for how we think we want to be – bomb-proof.

In my day we were kept fairly well-to-heel. School was the vehicle for this –
one could say the driving and ever-present force. Contravention of the social
niceties was very quickly rendered temporary by a threat to ‘write to your
Headmaster.’ This was no idle threat either. When such letters were written,
swift and painful retribution was guaranteed within minutes of returning to that
august emporium!

Today, I find myself smiling a seraphic smile as the Rector winds up his
marathon performance.

‘May the Love of God and the meditations of all our hearts, etc….’

There is lightness in my step as I totter to my feet and head for the church
doors to greet the Rector and enter into brief and painless chit-chat with him
and such tenants and neighbours as have successfully withstood the Matinée
performance alongside me.

“Jolly good show, Rector – splendid sermon. When are we going to see you up
at the house for a tincture or two?

My reference to ‘the sermon’ is, of course, merely a common courtesy – one’s
mind had been coasting about in Frazers-Nash as that homily was being
delivered. But a dash of civility ‘never hurt anyone’ – as Nanny had always
insisted. My reference to ‘a tincture’ is a tactful reference to the Rector’s gentle
and civilised affection for Gin and – not Dubonnet like Her Majesty – but ‘Vino
Sacro’, which, smilingly, he refers to as ‘Gin and Altar’. His visits to the Castle
are infrequent, but always much looked forward to by all of us – Parsons
included…… Some of his clerical anecdotes are memorable.

One of my favourites is the tale of the funeral of a fellow parson conducted by
an overly Anglo-Catholic colleague. During the course of the obsequies round
the grave, and in an attempt to toss a little earth onto the coffin, a seriously
aged and infirm fellow cleric slipped and fell into the grave, as well. Removing
his biretta, and lifting his eyes heavenwards, the officiant stage-whispered
to our Rector, “Hardly seems worthwhile pulling the old boy out, does it,

To be fair to him the Rector has never once told the same story twice – even
after two, or even three, ‘Gins and Altar’.

But I digress – now where were we? Ah yes, we’ve survived the rubric and
are heading back to the house. Julian’s escaped the vestry and ‘wheelied’ on

Birds a-twitter in the hedgerows – Celandine a-bloom, and so on. Lovely
Amblewick early afternoon - one’s heart is light indeed. Something strangely
calming about the ‘after-church’ moment – almost transcendental, really.
Something to do with the wonderful familiarity of the ‘Book of Common
Prayer’ – so much more comforting than the horrendous travesty of ‘modern’
English employed by so many churches today in an attempt to establish
their ‘relevance’ to the contemporary world, don’t you know?

It’s as I emerge from the tunnel leading from the drive into the gardens that
Julian hurtles back on stage.

“’Ere, Guv!”

He bears tidings – but not by any standards, ‘tidings of great joy’.

“That Mrs Thingummy-Wotzername’s turned up!”

The old heart sinks – the Celandine wilts and the birds go silent. This woman
is Hell on steroids – vinegar on the edge of a knife - all things distasteful
and sour – absolutely not the visitation I require to sustain my post-ecclesial
moment of great joy. The World has turned to ashes.

“And she’s got her ol’ man wiv ‘er, an’ all!”

A small, but merciful relief, The presence of old Archie should at least be the
ghost of a shield against the old bat’s venom – if a very small ‘ghost’…..

“What’s the old girl up to, Jules?”

“Orderin’ Mr P about and swigging from that bottle in her scrag-bag…..”

“Is it my imagination, or has the sun gone in?

I almost whisper, as though we’re already overheard.

“Any idea what she wants, Jules?”

“Gassin’ on about furnytcher – didn’t ‘ang abaht to listen, Guv’. She’s come in
a bleedin’ ‘erse this time, an’all.”

“An ‘erse? What’s an ‘erse, old thing?”

“You know, Guv’ – a bone wagon - fewnral car – bloody great thing, black as
yer ‘at.”

“Ah, I see, a hearse. Hope we’re not on her pick-up list, old chap, what?”

I endeavour to make light of the invasion, but the mind is churning fretfully. An
invasion by Cousin Marguerite Huntington-Smythe is never a mere social call
– the old reptile’s after something, and this time it’s not control of the Diamond
Jubilee bank account. Vanquished her last time, thanks to Parsons largely, but
who knows what sort of revenge she’s planned for the return match.

We are met at the North Courtyard entrance by an impassive, but slightly
twitchy, Parsons.

“Mrs Huntington-Smythe is in the drawing-room with her husband, Mr
Archibald, Milord. At present she appears to be in quiescent mode, but the
direction of her conversation renders it essential that I take certain steps to
protect our immediate interests. With your permission, Milord, I will hasten to
the gardens and confer with Mr Richardson……”

Before I can enquire further as to the toxicity of the conversation in the
drawing-room, Parsons has evaporated.

Julian also decamps – urgent appointment with the ‘telly’…..

I am left alone to beard the virus on its petri dish. Stuffing the old pipe in me
pocket to avoid immediate censure, I take the bull between my teeth, as it
were, and teeter, I trust purposefully, in the drawing-room direction.

As I open the doors I am met by a rank blast of stale Virginian tobacco smoke
and hear Archie’s rather plaintive voice.

“I entreat you, my dear, do try to be tactful with Biffo….”

And the reply…

“Don’t lecture me, you old fool – more than capable of managing my cousin.
Horace will do as he is told….”

Forewarned is forearmed

I take a deep breath and surge into the snake-pit.

“Archie, old chap, lovely to see you – snifter, what? Could do with an after-
church tooth-full meself – Scotch and water isn’t it? Good Heavens! – Cousin
Marguerite! What a surprise! Snootful? Ah no, I see you come self-empowered
by the estimable Mr Booth…..”

The old pestilence sloshes a hefty slug of the yellow beverage into a tumbler
and lights a further Capstan Full Strength with a blast from her famous flame-

“Disgustingly fat, as usual, I see, Horace – further debauchery no doubt.”

She snarls through dragon smoke.

“As for you, Archibald, don’t let this imbecile lead you astray – you will be
driving me upon our return to Market Harborough, when once we have loaded
up the furniture and any smaller items I may choose from storage in the coach-

I become all too vividly aware of the way the cookie is going to crumble.

“Furniture, my dear?” I splutter into my Gordon’s.

“Your Father, my Great-Uncle Perceval, assured me before he died that I might
take my pick of the furniture and other items in the coach-house. Pointed out
that they were all surplus to his requirements but wanted them in the right
hands – for old time’s sake…. I have his letter with me – so I trust there will be
no dithering from you in that direction?”

The question mark lingers menacingly in the air in front of me.

“None whatsoever, me dear – if that’s what the Pater wanted, what?”

But my guts are curdling. How the heck am I going to stall the old reptile? She
clearly reckons she’s got me by the ‘Hockey pucks’, so to speak – and will
brook no shilly-shallying. Time - we need time – Parsons needs time. ‘Should
be able to gain us an hour at least - with a dash of careful management’ - I
ruminate querulously.

“Can’t do anything till I’ve had a spot of luncheon – you must both be starved
as well, what?”

“We have no need of any luncheon. Archibald eats too much - getting almost
as fat as you are - and I don’t eat it – ever…..”

We’re on familiar territory here. The old vulture is in bulldozer mode. I head for
the drinks table with my own and Archie’s hastily emptied glasses.

“Don’t mind if I do, old chap - hot day, what?” says Archie.

He appears ready to brave the witch’s curse for the chance of a further tooth-
full and a crack at the terrine.

“Tch!” and the gurgle of her bottle, from Marguerite.

I know from my experiences during her last visit - from which, thanks to
Parsons, I had emerged victorious despite the odds – that one has to be rock-
solid firm with this abrasive and tiresome woman.

“Cheers, Arch, old sport – Bungers, what?"

“Toodle-ooh, old boy.” Archie vacuums up a healthy slug.

I follow suit. Begin to feel a lot stronger as the G&T’s take hold. I come to a
critical decision. If she wants to rifle my coach-house, she’ll do so when I’m
good and ready. Archie and I have lots to catch up on – and several further
glugs to take on board. The two of us, fuelled with the old ‘turps’ and standing
loyally together, should be a whole lot more daunting than just one of us
impaled like a prawn on the business end of her hat-pin. Blast the old harridan
– she’ll simply have to wait!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chapter 17.


Having parked on the sofa in answer to Parsons’ summons, JuIian stuffed the
remains of his ‘sarnie’ into his face and enquired – with his mouth full and
ejecting the odd crumb……..

“Mornin’ Guv’nor. What’s the prob, Mr P? – by the way, ‘Arthur’s Sword’
romped home at 66-1 in the Amblewick Stakes – cleaned up, ‘ave yer?”

“Julian, I did not request your presence here, in the library, to discuss the
Fakenham race card – welcome though your news may or may not have
been….. We have important matters about which to confer, and your input
may, I believe, prove helpful.”

He flicked some crumbs from the arm of the sofa, deftly absorbing them into
his napkin.

“I recall a conversation we had the other evening, Julian – with reference to
the raising of what I believe you referred to as ‘the readies’.”

“Thought yer said it was a non-starter, didn’t yer, Mr P?”

“Opinions change as they mature, Julian. Now refresh my memory - what was
it you had in mind?”

“Well yer see, Guv, there’s a mountain o’crap in all the barns and coach-
houses, innit? Where there’s crap there’s cash….. All yer need’s a car-boot
sale – make a right killin’, yer would…..”


I was about to protest, but Parsons was in there like a ferret.

“Milord, a weekly car-boot sale open to all the tenants and those further afield
might well be the answer to ‘a maiden’s prayer! – if that maiden, in this case
Amblewick, happened to be a little short of ‘cash-in-hand’, at the time.”

“Not the heirlooms and things, surely? Never hear the end of it – Trustees,
Cousin Marguerite, and so on - out of the question, what?”

“No, Milord, the stored objects - furniture and so on - are not of such
distinction. They are items purchased by Your Lordship’s esteemed father
during an extended passion he entertained for patronising the local sale-
yards during the period after the war when so many estates were torn apart
by taxation and socialist zeal. He was gracious enough, Milord, to clarify his
motive in the acquisition of the numerous auction ‘lots’…..

‘I like to believe, Parsons, that by rescuing a few items from the Bolshevik
Hurricane I am keeping them in the right hands – at least for a little while.’

The result, today, Milord, is a surplus of by no-means worthless, but –
according to your Lordship’s very discriminating Grandmother, the then
Dowager Marchioness – ‘unnecessary junk’. However, the years between
then, and now, have permitted inestimable increase in the value of that ‘junk’,

‘I say, buried treasure, what? But how could we convert it all into serious
folding, though?”

Julian was in his element.

“Piece o’cake, Guv’. Stuff a little ad in the local rag – something along these

He produced a rather grubby scrap of paper from his jeans pocket and handed
it to me.

I construed, with some difficulty.

Come ‘n Get It!

Weakly Car-boot Sayl

Ambelwig Park Evry Saterday 10 am – 4pm

Bier Tent - Layhgt Rifrashmints, Free Parkin, ECT

Bring ‘n Bay

Mayk Yerself a

Bob or Too

I re-kindled the old Meerschaum and passed on the ‘doc’ to Parsons.

Do you think it might really answer, Parsons, old dear? Sounds a bit – well,
bizarre, don’t you think?”

Parsons briefly re-perused the proposal.

“Under certain circumstances, Milord, ‘needs must when the Devil drives’,
perhaps - and might I add, Milord, that ‘bizarre’ does not necessarily
mean ‘ridiculous’. Furthermore, Milord, fanciful spelling has little to do with
foolishness and often a great deal to do with Dyslexia……..”

Lost as usual - but when Parsons backs a cause it’s only a blithering idiot who
says him nay.

“Point taken, old thing – so how should we proceed?

“Rather more a question of from ‘whence’ we should proceed, Milord. The
various estate barns and buildings simply bulge with possibilities.”

“Why don’t we ‘ave a crack at the Coach Houses, first orf? Loads o’stuff in
there - an’ it’s just across the way…..”

Jules clearly had a particular, pre-investigated haul in mind – and I assessed
that it might be a fruitful one. The young chap’s stable, ‘up the smoke’, might
well have endowed him with an ‘eye’ for opportunity and profit.

“Milord, there are clean boiler-suits in the utilities room – I feel we should
avail ourselves of them - the dust will be extensive after so many years. There
will also be advantage in the anonymity such garb will afford us during the
preliminary investigative stages of our project.”

I confess to it – the idea of ‘disguise’ appealed to me no end – the old brat
inside was much energised.

So that is what we did.

Fascinating it was. I’d had no idea of the stuff there was - just dumped under
our noses when I was a small boy more than seventy years before. I suppose
that when you live surrounded by beautiful things, there’s no great urge to
wonder if there might be more.

Our current lack of funds added mercenary zeal to my unashamed juvenile
excitement. We worked as one, the three of us – terriers at a fox-earth……

“Good heavens!” I ejaculated at one point. “Bless my soul – those drawers are
Sheraton, aren’t they?”

“Nah, bollicks! – Maples 1920 – look at the linings – brasses ain’t orjinal,

Julian’s dismissal of my Sheraton diagnosis inspired me with even greater
hope. We were in good hands. The boy’s education, whilst somewhat eclectic,
indicated a broader experience than mere BMX’s ‘fallin’ orf the backs of
lorries’ – yes, indeed!”

Parsons made lists and gave instructions as to how we should separate
the ‘readily saleable’ from the ‘frivolous’.

“We have to make sure that the items we select, Milord, are readily available to
us on the evening before the sale.”

“You said, ‘car-boot sale’, Jules – What do we do – load stuff onto the

“Most unsuitable, Milord. It must never be thought that Your Lordship is in the
process of launching himself into ‘trade’. Paternal affability as you observe the
antics of the populace should be your contribution to the business in hand. I
will give the matter further thought….”

“What yer need’s a ‘Tranny’, Guv’!”

Once again, I indicated puzzlement.

“I believe that the vehicle Julian recommends is more properly defined as
a ‘Ford Transit van’ – often the vehicle of choice for the aspiring young
tradesman – and even for somewhat less reputable persons, as in ‘general
dealers’ and ‘petty crooks’, Milord. The ‘Transit’ formula combines
considerable carrying capacity with a degree of speed and comfort.

“Yea, for snoggin’ and stuff.”

A mine of useful information, our Jules.

“Thank you, Julian, that will do, I think. However, Milord, I believe that such a
vehicle would indeed be ideal for our purposes ……”

“Where are we goin’ ter get one, that’s the big’un, innit?” Julian wondered.

“As it happens, Milord, ‘Young George’ at the Neptune has just such a vehicle
which he uses exclusively for his restoration business.”

Parsons’ slightly prim stress of the ‘exclusive’ use for which the ‘Tranny’ was
employed was pointedly directed at our Julian, I suspected.

“Hire it, could we?”

“I will investigate, Milord, when I go for my weekly pint of Worthington “E” at
his hostelry – after ‘Readings’ on Friday evenings.

“Good egg! Sounds hopeful then, what?”

“With your permission, Milord, I will draft a notice for the press – endeavouring
to stress the altruistic nature of your offer to open the Park for such an
occasion – community cohesion, inter-communal out-reach, and so on…..”

At this point, I interrupted……

“Fine, old thing, but don’t overplay the ‘philanthropics’ too much – after all
we’re really only pulling this jape to rustle up a few quid on our own account,

“Milord, the very fact that you have opened your Park to the world and
his wife, and propose doing so for the foreseeable future will be proof
positive that your motives are as pure as driven snow. Your own interest
in that opening will be dismissed as negligible once the ‘people’ observe
your benign and smiling presence in their midst – quietly circulating and
expressing ‘welcome’ in your Your Lordship’s inimitable and heartwarming

Fulsome praise, indeed - caught meself grinning like a Cheshire.

“But who’s going to do the selling of our stuff if I’m wandering about being

“It was never my intention for Your Lordship to become involved in the
commercial side of this operation. I also shall distance myself from the fray
– observing from afar and controlling matters on Your Lordship’s behalf. I
believe we can leave the selling in the capable hands of Master Julian here. He
speaks a similar language to those to whom he will be ‘floggin’ stuff’, and has
a natural instinct for the ‘moods’ of people and for the depth of an individual

“Yea, dead right – know a con when I see one, an’all.”

“As an additional safeguard, Milord, I will instruct Blarney Grail to be in
attendance as back-up in the young man’s camp – resourcefui and loyal, our

“And the most notorious poacher on the estate, old thing – I like old Grail, but
he’s a crook.”

“Precisely, Milord, but one who has managed to retain a grand reputation
in our community as a result of his ability to supply game to the general
populace at ‘knock-down’ prices – at Your Lordship’s expense, no doubt - but
never forgetting also to keep us sweet, at the Castle, by his unwavering supply
to our game larder of the very best of his ill-gotten gains - a complex and
unorthodox character, our Blarney, but with a heart of pure gold, Milord. His
introduction into our game-plan will enable us to employ the ancient wisdom
of ‘setting a thief to catch a thief’. I will also enlist the support of Police
Constable Southgate with whom I have a congenial relationship – one shared
also, perhaps surprisingly, Milord, with Grail.”

I have learned to be guided by Parsons in matters strategic. To be quite
honest, I had no great desire to be seen to be active in matters commercial.
Things seemed well in-hand, so I gave the old ‘green-light’ to the Juliano/
Parsonian plan.

“Good-oh!” I said happily enough. “Who’s going to supervise the folding

“I will request the attendance of Mr Peak from the bank, Milord. I feel sure that
he will be happy to take responsibility for the cash - and any card or cheque
transactions, as they emerge.”

Damned nuisance, banks, but Peak is the exception which proves whatever it
is that exceptions are renowned for proving. Never forget the time when things
were hyper-stretched at Amblewick and he saved the day. ‘The bank has a
great deal of money, Lord Amblewick, and I see no reason why you should not
have access to some of it…..”

“May I suggest the weekend after this as a provisional date for the first ‘sale-
day’, Milord?”

“Talley-ho, what? Let hounds move orf, so to speak?

Little did I anticipate the nightmare which was going to transpire before that
date was upon us……..

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chapter 16


I surfaced as Mrs Fenner arrived with the tea and began sloshing about
with the bath-water and sundry bath salts. The dogs continued to snoozle
peacefully on various parts of the bed, ‘Mrs Cass’ in her favourite place, under

This was going to be an extremely tiresome morning. Perhaps I am a bit of
an old fool, but the intrusion of officialdom in any capacity into the calm of
Amblewick irritates me beyond measure – brings out the worst, as it were.

In the event, the insurance blighter was a dash more poisonous than I had
anticipated – not so much in his person, as in his verdict in the flood damage

He donned a boiler-suit and injected himself into the offending attic with
an agility suggesting years of practice – and, no doubt, an unwavering
determination to find good reason for denying the validity of any claim we
might be planning to make.

As things turned out we were not to be blessed even with a token opportunity
to make such a claim.

The inspector, blast him, emerged from his quest in the attics with a sheaf of
notes and a patronizing and rather oily smile on his snakelike countenance.

He was one of those individuals who never quite looks one in the eye, but
addresses thin air just behind one’s left shoulder. So keen was his focus on
that area that one readily believed there was someone there.

“I regret to have to inform you, Lord Amblewick, that no claim you might have
intended to make will be considered in this instance. The extensive damage to
the various rooms was caused entirely as a result of normal wear and tear –
and negligence in the matter of routine maintenance to the plumbing system.
In this instance my company will accept no liability for the damage incurred.”

Parsons endeavoured to clarify the situation.

“His Lordship has invested many thousands of pounds with the Partridgeshire
Premium Heritage Assurance Association over the years…..

He cast a withering glance over the inspector’s person – withering but in no
way invasive – merely deductive.

“The Amblewick Estate has been, ‘covered’, I believe is the word, by your
company since…..”

Again that comprehensive scanning of the inspector’s person – but more

“…..since well before you were born, Mr....?”


“Ah! Yes, indeed - Wellbeloved.”

I wondered, ‘by whom?’ – but said nothing – re-lit the pipe, and so on.

“Under such circumstances, Mr Wellbeloved,’ Parsons continued, “it would
seem reasonable to assume that your company would honour its policy in
this instance – perhaps with small adjustments to the terms of the policy,
thereafter, so that we at Amblewick are made aware of such revised terms and
can take steps to comply with them in future…….?”

The unlikely-to-be-loved-by-anyone streak of viper shit ignored the worthy
Parsons and addressed his comments to me – well, to that space just behind
my left lughole.

“I must reiterate, sir, that no claim against my company can be entertained for
any damage caused by negligence on the part of the householder…..”

I cleared the throat and looked down at my shoes in a vain attempt to appear
casual – hands in pockets and so on. Vain indeed - I had a nasty feeling that, in
my haste punctually to attend this blighted meeting, I had probably neglected
to do up my fly buttons. The viper’s cold-fish eyes glimmered for a moment
with – I can only imagine - sadistic glee. Again he struck…..

“Furthermore, I put you on notice that my report to Head Office will include
a strong recommendation that the policy on this house should not be further
renewed when the current contract comes to an end on the last day of this
month. The age and currently dilapidated condition of the entire property
renders it far too great an insurance risk.”

Well, the mind boggled and the eyes goggled like a tench. I was speechless
with rage and fury - and silent as a mouse, of course….

Parsons dealt frigidly with the morbid remains of the interview.

“I believe I can speak for His Lordship and the entire Amblewick Estate, Mr
Wellbeloved. There will not be any need for the services of your company as of
this moment….”

“Policy cancelled forthwith!”

I followed through shrewdly - feeling a lot better for it.

“And now, sir, if you have no further need to intrude upon His Lordship’s
valuable time, I will show you out.”

Parsons was livid, but retained his icy calm.

In turn, I summoned all the acidity I could muster.

"Good day to you, Mr Ill-beloved…...”

I smiled ashenly through my pipe-smoke, and added with some satisfaction…

“Oh yes, and as a general principle - any time you’re passing, please pass……
Should its subtlety render my message unclear to you, then perhaps ‘Bog off!’
would better express my sentiments.”

Honour had to some extent been satisfied.

By the time Parsons had seen the blighter ‘off the prems’ some of my
satisfaction had evaporated, as is all too often the case.. We were totally
uninsured – open, as it were, to the elements and without protection in the
event of accident or disaster.

Parsons was, as ever, a tower of strength in times of travail.

“It is now abundantly clear to me, Milord, that for these many years we have
been bamboozled by the word ‘Heritage”, have we not? However, I believe that
this apparent set-back may be turned very much to our future security, and
even, conceivably, our pecuniary advantage.”

Confess to having been a dash mystified by Parsons’ drift at that point -
tossed out a quizzical expression and waited for enlightenment.

“Yes indeed, Milord - if I may elucidate?

“Elucidate away, old thing, by all means….”

“I have a second cousin, Milord, who is Assistant Registrar at the College
of Arms. With Your Lordship’s permission, I intend to communicate with
that individual and elicit the names of reputable companies accustomed
to providing insurance cover to the Royal Palaces and other houses
of distinction – companies, Milord, accustomed to dealing with such
establishments and which regard antiquity as an assurance of the likelihood of
survival rather than as a risk factor. We have, for far too long, Milord, permitted
ourselves to be victims of what I think of as the ‘tinder-box’ mentality – a
mentality where feelings of inferiority fester and become enflamed, resulting in
a total inability to cope when in the presence of its betters.……”


I felt bound to acquiesce. The initial, ‘College of Arms’, suggestion seemed to
offer a sound solution to our long-term insurance problem – as to the rest of it,
I hardly felt qualified to comment. Had I been a more socially aware individual,
I might well have agreed with that as well. However, my first concern was of
a financial nature. Folding was, as always, in short supply and an increase in
the annual premium might well have proven terminal – and an extremely dodgy
area to raise with the Trustees, to boot!

“Cost, old thing?” I queried uneasily.

“In that regard, Milord, I am unable to speculate with any certainty – but my
feeling is that a company accustomed to dealing with Grade 1 Listed houses
- such as Amblewick - will have an awareness of the fiscal constrictions upon
the owners of such properties in this age of the mundane and the second-rate,
and will have learned how to spread their liability to a degree where premiums
will be affordable to their customers – as is clearly not the case with provincial

“Good-oh! Bash on, then old thing, what?”

But something far more immediate was bothering me.

“How the Devil are we going to pay for the immediate damage, though? No
cover, and could cost thousands, couldn’t it?”

“We should request an estimate from ‘Young George’ at the Neptune Hotel,
Milord. He is always most reasonable - if you recall the restoration work he did
on the East Wing recently? Furthermore he is a skilled craftsman who knows
the house well, and loves it. Thereafter, we shall know the worst and will be
able to address the immediate financial liability with more certainty…..”

“But we haven’t got a bean in the kitty, just now – can’t ask the trustees – all
too tiresome…..”

Parsons headed for the blower on my desk.

“Julian, would you be so kind as to grace us with your presence, here in the

Pause, and some twittering.

“Yes, young man, immediately – before, not after, the third race at

He returned in my direction.

“I believe, Milord, that Master Julian may well have a suggestion to make in the
ready-cash department which might meet with Your Lordship’s approval. He
mentioned it a little while ago – at first I dismissed it out of hand. Having given
the matter further consideration, however – and in the light of our current
dearth of funds – I can now descry certain advantages to his scheme…..”

Before we could further discuss the matter, the young chap coasted in – ham
sandwich in paw and mouth – throttled back, and parked on the sofa……….