Monday, July 1, 2013

Chapter 28


Amblewick is notorious for its cool with regard to all sorts of stuff that is, apparently, all the rage beyond the borders of the estate. Must seem a bit of a time capsule to those who’ve never experienced its subtle workings 

I mention this because Parsons has just popped in with a somewhat 
unusual request…..

“Milord, we may have an unfamiliar situation on our hands…..”

I raise the eyebrows encouragingly.

“In a few words, Milord, young Julian has a school friend in London and he would very much like to invite him to Amblewick for a day or two. I understand that the young man has never been to the country before – his family being resident abroad, Milord, and living as he does with an elderly aunt and uncle who are not wealthy…….”

“Foreign Office types, the parents, what? Should be all right for folding, shouldn’t they? But anyway, invite away, Can’t see the problem. Much more fun for our Jules to have someone from his own neck of the woods about the place - must get fed up surrounded by us old frights for company…….” 

I tamp down the Meerschaum with a teaspoon, and re-ignite……..
Parsons, for his part, is looking a dash pensive – clearly something bleeping on his scanner.

“Milord, I fear that perhaps I have failed to make matters altogether clear. The young man’s parents are not, as you have so reasonably assumed, in the Diplomatic Service. Somewhat of a far cry, I fear. He has, however, resided in London since he was very young. He hails, Milord, from a somewhat unsettled part of the world and his parents have entrusted him to the care of their relations here for his own safety and to ensure that he receives an education…….”

“Sort of refugee, what? Do with a bit of support, I dare say. Where’s he from then?”

“He hails, Milord, from Somalia……”

“Umh, had quite a few British Somaliland stamps when I was a young chap. Remember my stamp collection, do you, old thing?”

Parsons has that special non-committal look about him – the one he always adopts when I’m being particularly dense. He answers me patiently.

“How could I fail to remember Your Lordship’s dalliance with philately, Milord? My most vivid memory from that period is the plethora of discarded stamp hinges which appeared to infest the entire house. However, Milord, if I might return us to the topic of this morning’s conversation – I have spoken briefly with the young man, whose name is Anthony. I’m sure your Lordship will be relieved to hear that he shares the same somewhat picturesque turn of phrase as does young Julian, Milord.”

“Sort of, down-to-earth, what?”

“Indeed, Milord….”

Parsons still has that long-suffering look. As far as I can see everything’s perfectly normal – course the young chap will have the same sort of turn of phrase – school chums always do, don’t they? 

We always did. Some words were ‘in’, and some were stale news and were ‘out’, so to speak. Seems to me it’s Parsons who’s being a bit dense. However, to avoid any further misunderstandings, I follow through with the practicalities. 

“So, old man, when’s this literary acrobat destined to join us here at Amblewick?”

Seems a sensible approach, and Parsons comes down to earth immediately – as he always does when he realises that one’s foot is firmly down, as it were…….

“With your permission, Milord, he could arrive as early as tomorrow evening. There are trains from Liverpool Street, stopping at Babingworth, at regular intervals every day. I can arrange for Mr Richardson and Julian to meet him at the station in the Land Rover, Milord.”

“All sounds fairly tickety-boo, then, what?”

“Indeed, Milord….”  

Parsons begins to take his leave, but pauses at the door.

“Milord, I do hope that we have fully understood each other in this matter. I would hate there to be any misunderstanding which might, shall we say, cause initial friction or awkwardness.……” 

Whole thing seems perfectly clear to me, can’t imagine what’s got into Parsons – unusually stumped for words……

“As I believe we have already established, Milord, the United Kingdom is now a multi-cultural society and its citizens are representative of all parts of the Empire and beyond. Would it be too intrusive of me to enquire if your Lordship has ever met any Somalian citizens?"

"Can’t say I have, old thing, but I had a school chum from Nigeria – same form at prep school – black as the ace of spades – brilliant all-round sportsman – capital chap – used to call him ‘Canno’ – he called me ‘Honk’ – lot of laughs we had over the years. I wonder what happened to him…..”

My mind is off with the birds – funny how memories suddenly flood back, isn’t it? But I’m jolted back to the present by a discreet clearing of the Parsonian throat. The old chap is looking pretty chuffed for someone so inscrutable……

“I feel I should admit that I have, on this occasion, considerably underestimated Your Lordship’s educational and worldly experience. Please accept my sincere apologies, Milord.”

There is a slight but unmistakable catch in the old boy’s voice as he hands me this handsome accolade. Brushes away a tear, if I’m not mistaken…. 

“Most touched, old thing – not another word, what? Can’t wait to make the young chap’s acquaintance – important ‘first’ for Amblewick – not before time, what?”

“True, Milord – most refreshing, and as you say, timely.”

Parsons looks almost jaunty as he swipes his napkin at a dash of pipe-ash on my lapel.

“And now, Milord, with your permission, I will retire to set matters in train with regard to tomorrow’s visitor.”

He shimmers from the room and I am left with my thoughts and to my own devices. The latter guide my steps towards the drinks table – and a gentle snort. Largish gin, couple of chunks of ice and the merest threat of tonic seems best to fit the bill. I muse to meself as I prepare the prescription.

“World’s changed a lot really, hasn’t it. Twenty years and a whole world between us, Parsons and I. When I first went to school in ’48, the Empire was winding down – more hope than glory, don’t you know? Mind you, most of the world was still red on the atlases - but India had gone.   

S’pose I’m really a sort of post-empire war-baby, and Parsons stems from the thing itself – pre-war so to speak, and built to last. I think a lot of our attitudes and way of seeing things were born because of how things were when we were young and subject to all-knowing grown-ups whose opinions we regarded as superior to the Oracle of Delphi because they were English and therefore right about everything. The values for which they stood were instilled and indeed beaten into us so effectively that they have stuck like superglue.”

I tinkle the chunks and take a modest and exploratory drizzle of the tincture. As the restorative winkles its way through the tubes, I am reminded once more of old “Canno” at school, and of one of our favourite ditties – something along these lines if my memory serves – Noël at his playful best.

‘Yams and clams and human hands and vintage coconut wine – the taste of which was filthy, the after-effects divine…..’

“Hmm….. Pure Empire, and laughing at itself – missionaries and so on. Have to trill it to Parsons - when the time seems right, of course…..”

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