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
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
“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
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……….