Bradford on Avon, ergonomic stool, Gap Year student, John Hurt, Kim Kardashian, l'enfer c'est les autres, maxima culpa, moveable feast, penny dreadful, QE2, Sartre, The Inferno, Thornton's chocolate, Underworld
Drusilla Fotheringay, Housemistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-
Gifted Girl lifted the post from the entrance hall. There was a personal letter
addressed to her in spidery writing. She felt curiously excited, as when she
had anticipated a pound note, or a book token on her birthday, as a youngster.
It was so rare to be sent snail mail. The stamps were curiously lumpy.
Obviously they been steamed off and re-used. They depicted the QE2.
Hang on! They are pre-decimal! How did she get away with that? Dru
Fortunately she had a free period before the onslaught, so she sat down in the
office and looked at the postmark. It was from Rochester, Kent.
Aunt Augusta! she sighed. She had been meaning to write to the old bird, but
had been so busy. No doubt she wanted her to visit, but she was supposed to
be clearing out her things in Bradford-on-Avon before Mum handed over the
cottage to its new owners. Thank goodness she had already moved her harp
into the boarding house.
There was no pound note, but there was a Thornton’s voucher for a discount
on a second Easter egg, if you bought more than one.
Dru supposed that it was a hint that she should bring some chocolate down
with her on her next visit. Easter might be a moveable feast, but there wasn’t
going to be too much leeway as far as dutiful attendance went.
A newspaper cutting fell out of the envelope. It was headed The Rochester
Messenger and dated the 30th March, 2014.
Dru cast her eye over the column and nearly fell off her ergonomic stool.
Wasn’t that a bodily excretion peculiar to vegetarians? No, don’t go there!
The cutting was an obituary for Anthony Revelly, the man whom they had
identified as being her grandfather. They hadn’t had time to work out a
strategy for revealing the information they had pieced together on their visit
to Wyvern Mote.
Yes, dear. Why are you phoning me now? Aren’t you at work? Are you all
Mum, I’ve just had a letter and a cutting from a local penny dreadful from
You mean Great-Aunt Augusta, don’t you?
Whatever. (This lazy way of speaking was rubbing off on her from her
teenage charges. It was technically called convergence, according to the
pedantic English teacher) Mum, Anthony Revelly is dead.
The Anthony Revelly from the nursing home? Your-em-grandfather?
He died at the end of March. Aunt Augusta has enclosed his obituary.
Did she know..?
No, we hadn’t told anyone, so that’s why we hadn’t been informed.
Why is she sending you the cutting then?
Because…well, it’s a bit awkward. The truth is..
..that she complained because he was suffering from dementia and wandered
around at night and attempted to get into bed with her. He obviously thought
that she was her sister, Berenice. They were so alike.
Tragic, said Diana. I bet he didn’t get a very good reception. From what you
said, she seemed to have never really cared for men.
She seemed to have never really cared for anyone, Mum, though she is rather
keen on herself naturally! To be fair, she cared for Dad practically when he
was at prep school.
Poor old Revelly was lonely, vulnerable and frightened.
It’s so sad and final. Suddenly Dru brimmed over. I never got to know him.
Diana felt guilty. If only she had been honest about Dru’s real father being
Augustus, instead of fabricating her deception which had taken in Murgatroyd
Syylk and led to his honourably, if unwittingly, taking responsibility for Dru as a
She had deprived Augustus of paternity rights and kept her daughter from her
grandfather. There must be a special circle in Hell for women such as herself.
(She had just been listening to a Radio 4 adaptation of The Inferno. She
thought John Hurt was rather good in it; he was rather good in
Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa, she beat her breast. Ouch! She might
have to share a gyre, or spiral thingy with Kim Kardashian. That would be
a just punishment. Who was that Kardashian woman again? Someone she
knew instinctively that would make her repeat Sartre’s statement: L’enfer
c’est les autres for all eternity.
Mother and daughter sobbed together.
Dru! Come over to Sonia’s. We need to sort this out.
But I have to teach at ten o’clock. How am I going to cope?
You tell them that you have just had notice of a bereavement and the rest is
their problem. They can double up the little blighters with another group.
The Gap Year student can make up the extra adult presence, surely?
But she’s got a mental and emotional age of fourteen, Dru protested.
Just do it! She’s got the edge on them by a couple of years and at that age,
it’s a gulf never to be bridged. Oh no, that sounded like a geophysical
feature of the Underworld again!
Okay, Mum. I love you.
Sonia’s already worked out what’s happening, Diana soothed.
Well, she is supposed to be a clairvoyant.
Never mind that now. Just get over here and we will think of how to
tell your father.
Okay, Dru sniffed. She would just about have time to call into Thornton’s
on the way.
Boy, did she need some chocolate.
Andrew Graham-Dixon, Baltic cruise, Basingstoke, Beam me up.., bingo, Bradford on Avon, Bridge, Bridge Mints, Catherine the Great, cribbage, Dame Edna, David Cameron, deviation, Estonia, Faberge, fly fishing, geophysicist, George Clooney, George Osborne, hesitation, Inner Hebrides, ISA, Jeremy Paxman, Kit-Kat, Knights in White Satin, Lamborghini, Madge, Martini, Missing Amber Room, Neil Oliver, Nick Clegg, pasty, Poleconomy, Potemkin, Putin, religious affairs broadcaster, repetition, St Petersburg, Tallinn, The Hermitage, Tuck shop, Waldemar Janusczak, White Nights, Winter Palace
Diana Fotheringay-Syylk was feeling like the fishy guest who putrefies after
three days. Not that Sonia had hinted that she had a sudden need to reclaim
her spare rooms, but it was just that both women required their own space.
Diana felt that it was a bit like sharing The Winter Palace with Catherine the
Great, and it sometimes felt like a similar temperature too.
Diana’s estate agent was frantically sending her texts, reporting on the
positive viewings on her cottage in Bradford-on-Avon. Prospective buyers
adored the quaint windows- as far as she could recall there were none.
Couples loved its tranquil position in a quiet village. ‘Bustling town‘ was how
she would have described its location. And why did they mention the river
after the worst flooding in a century? She was in an elevated position and
hadn’t had a teaspoonful of groundwater in her cellar. So far there had
been no second viewings. Still, it wasn’t Easter yet.
Sonia kept wanting to play Cribbage, Bridge or a variety of Bingo every
evening. Diana didn’t care for these games and would have been happy to
provide the canapes for the occasion, if only George Osborne, or
Nick Clegg could have dropped by, so that she could sit the session out, like
some kind of Madge to Edna’s grande dame. She had a sneaking
suspicion that Sonia would have eaten the politicians up as efficiently as
she disposed of a box of Bridge Mints and that she would probably have
preferred Potemkin to drop by unannounced for a game of Poleconomy.
Apparently the Chancellor and the Deputy PM love Bingo– so much so that
they were right behind tax reductions of 50% on the game. (David Cameron
was less enthusiastic. He prefers a night in with a pasty.)
Just as well that Sonia had given up driving, after she embedded her car in the
frontage of Costamuchamoulah, must-seen cafe. Otherwise she might have
been tempted to cash in her annuities to purchase a Lamborghini to roar up
Diana could imagine other old biddies, such as Ginevra, being all too keen to
make a black hole in their pension funds in order to subsidise a Martini habit,
It wouldn’t take too many cashed-in ISAs to buy a toy boy and it would
probably be more short term fun than having to fund an Eastern European
Diana was beginning to realise that she wasn’t as young as she had been. She
had been planning a Sagbag cruise to somewhere culturally interesting, such as
St Petersburg. It would have been something to look forward to after the
house sale and removal stresses. She quite fancied listening to some minor
celebrity rabbiting on about Faberge eggs, or leaning over the deck rail with a
George Osborne lookalike..(No, she meant Clooney, surely?), night after White
Night, or Knight after White Knight, not necessarily in white satin, or even
Now Putin had put paid to that Baltic fantasy.
Really someone should put the ‘Ras‘ back into his name. She held him
personally responsible for preventing her from viewing The Hermitage. How
one small man could spoil everything was very irritating. If he had been a
pupil in her class, she would have told him not to be so greedy. The lion’s
share was not his to grab. She would have made him put it back and go to
the end of the queue.
He would have to have said, Thank you, Mrs Fotheringay-Syylk, with no
repetition, hesitation, or deviation. And if she had detected any hint of
sarcasm or impertinence in his tone, then he would have been the last to
leave the classroom and may have even had to stay behind to help her
tidy up Lost Property. (But how do you tidy up Crimea?)
Sanctions! She knew all about them. Charging round the hockey pitch
twenty times would have sorted him out. As for the Tuck Shop– out of
bounds till the end of term! Or maybe till the end of time.
She absent-mindedly bent down to pick up the mail from the doormat.
There were two letters, both addressed to herself.
There was an envelope stamped with the estate agent’s logo.
She ripped it open. She was being offered a record price for the cottage!
Bingo! Drusilla had been right. It had flown away.
She opened the other missive. It was from Sagbag Cruises and included a
published list of floating lectures. Geophysicists, Religious Affairs
Where was Bendor Grosvenor? That was what she wanted to know.
Maybe he didn’t do Sagbag. What about Neil Oliver?
Oh, wow! Waldemar Janusczak on The Missing Amber Room. A cruise to
Tallinn. Sign me up, Scotty! she screamed. I’m definitely going for that one,
whether he was born in Basingstoke, or not. I must ask Drusilla if she wants
to go too. I mean to Estonia, not Basingstoke. Imagine sailing round all those
roundabouts! You’d feel seasick!
I can’t understand why Dru prefers Andrew Graham-Dixon. He showed himself
up on University Challenge. No, even Jeremy Paxman giving his fly-fishing tips
on a nautical jaunt round the Inner Hebrides isn’t as good as Waldemar on a
And by the look of the price offered for my erstwhile humble abode, I can
treat my dear daughter too.
Mum, said Drusilla, talk about bad timing for a house sale.
The weather couldn’t be worse!
I know, I replied, but though Bradford-on-Avon was partially
submerged at Christmas, we appeared to get away with it,
being further up the hill. And, anyway, prices seem to be rising
and there is a little flurry of activity.
The estate agent said we should have no trouble come the
Spring, as lots of people want to live in the Avon Valley. Some are
even converting a property in the centre of town into a Buddhist Temple
and two monks are going to live above the meditation room, with their
saffron robes etcetera. And talking of saffron, I saw a few crocuses
raising their little heads today and there were a couple of daffs too. So,
maybe the worst of winter is over. Or maybe not. Hmm..
Anyway, Dru, I continued on the phone, the agent says the house
You mean like the Santa Casa? she laughed.
Oh, Mum, don’t you remember we visited that monastery place in
Prague and they said that a building there was the house of the Virgin
Mary, where she received the Annunciation? Apparently it had transported
itself from Nazareth by miraculous propulsion.
Oh, yes- vaguely. No, it was a replica of one which had been moved,
stone by stone, from Nazareth to Dalmatia and then to Loreto, Italy.
Because the name of the family who transported it was Angeli, people
thought it had literally been moved by a heavenly pantechnicon!
That’s right. Hey, you could move the cottage to Suttonford and then
you’d have the house you want in the location you long for.
Good idea, Dru, but I don’t think it’s logistically possible. I’ll just wait
for the Easter peak in house sales and it should shift itself.
Sonia is enjoying having company and isn’t throwing me out-yet!
Dru made a few remarks about guests and fish going off after a few
days, but didn’t really mean it, I felt.
Good, she concluded. Look, I’ll try to see you on my free afternoon. Don’t
throw out my knitted Eeyore in your bid for minimalisation, will you?
No, of course no, darling. As if I would! See you soon. ‘bye.
I replaced the handset.
Yikes, I wonder if Sonia can still knit? I’m sure I
left a load of ancient soft toys out for collection by Barnardos and it would
have been included in the bag. I’d better buy some grey wool asap or I will be
under a permanent cloud, eating thistles for the rest of my life, no make that
I think I’ll need a little purple too and a pattern from the Internet. Drat!
Bradford on Avon, Burns Supper, Calais, clairvoyant, cliche, Dalrieda, diaspora, estuary, Heraclitus, Immortal Memory, lacrosse, Mary Tudor, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, New Year Resolution, parsing, Robert Burns, St Vitus, straightjacket
Not ‘lax‘ in any moral sense, you understand, Dear Diary. Just an
abbreviation for that energising and energetic sport which I once
taught all those years ago when I was a fresh-faced sports
mistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted Girl, that
educational establishment now served by my one and only
Lacrosse, how indebted I am to you for my trim figure in late
middle- no, change that-early middle age.
My New Year Resolution was to record in your pages an unfolding
record of my life as I turn my back on Bradford-on-Avon and return
to Suttonford, or environs thereof. I could castigate myself by
declining to add a preposition in the final position of a sentence,
but, Dear Inquisitive Reader, I am not allowing such an intrusion
into these highly personal pages. I can assure you that ‘thereof’
is actually an adverb. So, Parse that! as my primary teacher used
to say to me.
Apparently all that pedantic wrangling and linguistic strait-jacketing is-
new hate word- ‘prescriptive‘, so we can write what the ….we like!
Having spoken to Sonia, my old friend, ex-colleague and godmother to my
child, I was persuaded to come and lodge with her while my cottage is on
the market. Diana, she urged, Feel free to stay as long as you’d like.
So, here I am in Royalist House, 3 3/4 High Street. Suttonford.
Will this new chapter of my life include Augustus? I should ask Sonia; she
claims to be a clairvoyant.
Gus has frankly been a bit of a bore recently. We were all three en famille at
Christmas and our pre-festivities Turkish trip was delightful, but since he
assumed this Acting Head harness, he has shown a distinct lack of
delegation. I don’t know what he expects his School Secretary to do.
Well, maybe I don’t want to know, Dear Diary!
Last night he was moaning on the telephone about the fixtures list having
been published on the Calendar he inherited. Apparently, he has been left
to fill in the subtle logistical details.
The Fundraising Burns’ Supper for the PTA is a current example.
He hasn’t even booked the speaker for The Immortal Memory yet.
Did I know anyone who could deliver it? I ask you. I’ve only just arrived
in the community.
Why should I?
It all leads me to question our compatibility. I am not that burbling stream
that he once paddled in and which scarcely covered the ankles of his
gumboots. No, the mighty river of my post-menopausal personality would
probably engulf his emotional waders, to continue an aquaeous metaphor,
and would sweep him off his feet, into a tidal estuary.
Maybe his Classical learning has influenced my subconscious and transmitted
some Heraclitean analogy concerning never being able to step in the same
river twice. We have both moved on, I fear.
We emerged from the house into the street and immediately were almost
knocked over by a child on an aluminium scooter. Sonia didn’t see that
Our physical evasion led us to bump-literally-into a neighbour of Sonia’s,
namely an interesting looking woman called Candia Dixon-Stuart. She was also
on her way to the infamous Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe, in order to
meet a friend, and so we fell into step.
Her Jacobite surname, albeit hyphenated, led me to the most serendipitous
I asked her if she knew of anyone who could give some readings of the Bard’s
works at an impending Burns Supper.
She immediately replied, I can, of course. Although I live in Suttonford, you
may detect a hint of the Caledonian in my genetic code. Prick me and do I not
exude a few drops of blue blood from the Kingdom of Dalrieda?!
I took this as an affirmative and she drew my attention to a clan badge that
she wore on her lapel. I did not know if this indicated an invitation to
remove it and plunge its pin into her soft and yielding flesh. I did not
doubt that, eviscerated, her remains would bear the motto: Nemo Me
Impune Lacessit just as indelibly as that other Mary had the word:
Calais stamped on her heart, or running right through her like a stock
of seaside rock.
Over a couple of cappuccinos, she introduced us to her friend, Carrie,
who turned out to be half Italian and half Scottish. Gosh, these Scots
certainly had some diaspora and spread their seed around like some
Carrie told me that her mother- Morag!- a stereotypical name- would have
come down had she not been performing at various Masonic associations
and venues north of the border.
Very kind, but somehow I think Candia is our woman and she will ‘step up
to the plate‘ to re-circulate a current, over-used metaphor: isn’t that a cliche?
I gave her Gus’ number and am half-inclined to allow him to take me along as
his guest of honour. There are bound to be some spare tickets and, frankly,
this new acquaintance intrigues me.
Angelica Kauffman, Anglo-Catholic, Bartolozzi, Borders, Bradford on Avon, Calvin, Calvin Klein, Coolidge, egg tempera, Freudian, Giclee print, Grey Gowrie, High Renaissance, Holy Family, Judge not.., Louis XVI sofa, Magi, magic bullet, Murgatroyd, Pele Tower, Post Tenebris Lux, silver bullet, Snap!, Tam Dalyell, The National Gallery shop, To Kill A Mockingbird, Valentine card, werewolves
Augustus Snodbury had returned to school early, in order to oversee
the logistics of the opening of the new term. This left Dru and her
mother to have a final girlie weekend in Bradford-on-Avon.
After the Christmas tree needles had been vacuumed and the baubles
and wreaths put away, Diana burned the card from her ex-husband on
the open fire. She always recognised who its sender was as, apart from
the calligraphic penmanship, the subject was always vaguely Anglo-
Catholic, High Renaissance and probably came from The National
Gallery‘s sale. The Holy Family or something deeply ironic, given
their own dysfunctionality.
She never returned the compliment.
Was that the one from that odious and oleaginous man who once lived
with us? Dru asked her mother, over a sloe gin. I often wonder why
you married him.
I often wonder that myself, but at the time, I didn’t feel that I had many
other options, Diana confessed.
What really happened, Mum? Dru leant forward, picking a pine needle
off the rug.
Well, I only married Murgatroyd on the rebound. You see, being in a state
of infanticipation, I was very vulnerable.
Why didn’t you marry Dad?
Wounded pride, Dru. I was mortified that I had sent him a declaration of
love in the form of a Valentine card, and he hadn’t returned one. It’s like
revealing your hand and no one shouting: Snap!
But we’ve been through that, Dru broke in impatiently. He had. You
just didn’t get it. Delivery malfunction.
I know that now, but, at the time I was distraught.
And so how did you become involved with that man? I’m referring to
the one who has ensconced himself in a converted Pele tower in the
Borders and is trying to live the aesthetic life of Tam Dalyell, or Grey
Gowrie, but sans the brain cells, or political acumen.
As for ‘Grey’- that sounds like a wolf, doesn’t it?
It’s a long story, but I suppose I should have told you ages
ago. Mind you, you never asked.
I’m asking now.
All right. The boarding house accommodation was rather bleak and
so I had attended a local mid-week auction on my free afternoon..
You had free afternoons then? Dru was amazed.
Technically, but it was rare for one to be able to take them. Anyway,
I bought a self-portrait by Angelica Kauffman, to cheer myself up. The
one over the mantelshelf in my bedroom.
But it’s only a print, Dru observed.
Yes, but I liked the frame, though it required a bit of restoration.
So you took it to Quarto Street, to Syylk, for re-gilding?
Precisely. I stood in a short queue, waiting to see the restorer. I
thought he’d be an elderly gentleman, since it was his name over
the shop. As it was, it turned out to be his son’s business.
I began to feel queasy and faint and he sat me down on a Louis XVI
repro sofa (everything was fake about the man, as I subsequently
discovered) and he gave me a glass of water.
He identified my picture as a Giclee print by Bartolozzi, and said that the
title of the picture was ‘The Angel’, punning on the name of the artist.
He then flattered me by saying how appropriate the picture was for one
so angelic and other nonsense: ‘A charming image for a heavenly
Not Snod’s style then! He wouldn’t know how to be smarmy.
No. Syylk was so smooth that, after he had ministered to my
needs.. No, not in that way! Diana was shocked. He took me out a
few times in his open top Sports car and the proposal was rapidly
You accepted to spite Dad?
In a way, but motivation is always more complex than the outsider can
interpret, Diana replied wisely.
Dru had been overseeing her girls’ homework on ‘To Kill A Mockingbird‘,
so she was familiar with the concept. You have to walk in someone
..before you judge them- yes.
I’m not judging you, Mum- except that it was harsh to expect a man to
bring up another guy’s child.
But, he never knew!
Then I am judging you, Mum! Heavens to Murgatroyd!
Well, I paid the price in an unfortunate marriage. At least Angelica
Kauffman’s husband died in 1795, but my ex persists.
Yes, he hung around too long- like an egg tempera which has gone off,
to use a technical term congruent with his profession. I will admit that.
I suppose that was your penance.
Oh well. ‘Post Tenebris Lux’, as Calvin said.
Oh yeah. Not Klein?
Not Klein and not Coolidge, nor a cartoon jungle feline.
What do they teach the teachers nowadays? Diana sometimes
despaired. She had tried to warn Drusilla off the teaching profession,
but she would bite the bullet, albeit a not too silvery one. Come to think
of it, she herself had bitten the silver one, but, thankfully hadn’t needed a
magic one. Maybe she should have had the one inscribed with the Holy
Family’s names, which was supposed to ward off werewolves such as
She looked down at her hands and realised that she was no longer wearing
her wedding and engagement rings. It wasn’t just all that washing up over
Christmas. Something Freudian was going on.
Augustus Snodbury settled himself into position in the carver chair at
the head of the table. He had only just made it to Bradford-on-Avon,
his prostate appointment having been cancelled and the queue in the
butcher’s having receded. He had battled through floods and gales to
bring-not the bacon, but the poultry- to his erstwhile lover’s cottage.
I’ve cooked your goose! Diana announced.
In more ways than one, he mused. However, he sharpened the knife
and set to, the stupid paper hat falling over his eyes.
Dru held out her plate and it was plenished with succulent breast.
She adjusted her cleavage and leaned back.
That’s plenty! she cautioned.
Diana gave the toast:
Here’s tae us.
Wha’s like us?
an’ they’re a’ deid!
Gus and his daughter pulled the wishbone and he won, but
coyly declined to reveal his deepest desire. Diana observed
privately that it might connote with him having a backbone too.
Wasn’t that the weirdest thing? Dru announced. At the looks of
incomprehension, she clarified: I mean seeing that Poskett chap in
the middle of our trip.
Well, I suppose these cultural breaks self-select, her mother
hypothesised. It’s a niche market.
I wonder how the other poor chap is? continued Dru casually.
Can’t have been much fun being hors-de-combat in the hotel.
Oh, Milford-Haven will be perfectly all right by now, opined Gus.
He’s probably gone off to be looked after by his mother in Cornwall.
Dru inhaled and some sage and onion stuffing went down the wrong
way. She downed some water as a distraction, in the manner of a shy
University Challenge contestant after he or she has finally answered one
Cornwall, she voiced inwardly. She fingered the gold harp on its chain.
So, it had been from Nigel after all. Ding Dong Merrily on High!
The phone interrupted their table talk, ringing insistently.
Typical! said Diana. Ignore it! Let the machine take it.
However, they could hear the rather desperate message, pronounced
by someone who sounded very like the school secretary to Snod, who
happened to be nearest to the handset.
He leapt up, spilling the redcurrant sauce over the antique linen
Oh do be careful! scowled Diana.
Gus pressed re-play and, to his horror, the tale of tragic woe played itself
Apparently the Headmaster had attended the Midnight Service at his local
parish church and he had keeled over before the seventh Lesson.
At first everyone, including his wife, had thought that he had merely been
prematurely carried away by the spirits of the season, but a member of the
St John’s Ambulance Brigade had detected a tell-tale sign of lopsidedness in
his expression and, before the congregation could snatch a subterfuge
and unmusical breath between ‘verily the sky‘ and ‘is riv’n‘, the Head had
been stretchered out between the pews and was on his way to A&E.
Ashen-faced Augustus sat down on the whoopee cushion.
What’s going to happen? Dru asked.
Yes, re-formulated Diana. What’s to be done?
I’m to be Acting Head, replied Gus. That’s what’s happening
and I wish it wasn’t. Oh, joy to the world!
Be careful what you wish for! Diana teased, but she wiped her lips with
her napkin when she saw his expression.
Balancing himself by gripping the edge of the table he recited with an
orotundity that matched the profundity of the occasion:
To die, to sleep-
…and by a sleep to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That flesh is heir to…’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
iIs sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action..
Dru found herself appalauding, but he continued:
No, who would fardels bear
[I’d rather}..bear those ills
Than fly to others that [I] know not of..
Here! Diana thrust a glass into his hand.
Have some Madeira, m’dear!
And so the spell was broken, along with his dreams of a
downhill, easy progression towards his retirement.
agapanthus, Bosphorous, Bradford on Avon, Caracas, City of Eternal Spring, dianthus, Dux, emporium, entomology, flying carpet, grandiflora, Istanbul, Iznik tile, Jesse Tree, kelim, National Trust, Panama, Simon Bolivar, Turkish Delight
Great-Aunt Augusta unwrapped the Turkish Delight as she sat
in her velours recliner in the private area of the Recreational
Room of her Care Home.
Now, are you sitting comfortably? she addressed her great-niece,
The exophoric reference wasn’t entirely lost on Dru, so she nodded
and gave the signal for the old bag to commence on the veritable
Jesse Tree of the family genealogy.
(Jesse Tree Chartres: Wikipaedia)
Now, your great-grandmother-also Augusta-was a bit of a goer, or
a flibbertigibbet, as I told you before. She bounced around the
Bosphorous with her rug seller for a number of years, before settling
down in Istanbul and establishing a kitten sanctuary, once her partner
had flown off on his flying carpet, to that large emporium in the sky.
Your great-aunt Berenice, my elder sister (God Rest Her Soul!), was a
bit of a gadabout too. In the genes, clearly.
She used to go to parties almost every weekend, in big, country
In Turkey? Dru looked confused.
No. We had both been sent to boarding schools over here. She used
to frequent the Wyvern Estate and that was her downfall. She GOT
Difficult in these days, no doubt. Dru sympathised, as well she
might, given her own personal history.
Not difficult at all. It happened all too easily. They were pressurising
Berenice to get rid of the ‘problem’. They offered her a lot of money and
a contact in Knightsbridge.
The family of the alleged father, of course. Augusta looked at
Dru as if she was somewhat dense. But I persuaded her to have
it- your father, I mean.
But who was..?
No proof, but someone with an interest in entomology.
Yes, Berenice was a social butterfly and he netted her. But he couldn’t
pin her down! None of us could. She wanted her freedom and so our
mother took the baby for a while, but she felt her own style was being
cramped, so eventually I arranged for your father to start prep school over
here as a full boarder, at St Birinus.
So, Father has spent his whole life at St Birinus?
Except for when he was at University- yes! He’s completely
What happened to Berenice?
We don’t know. She’s one of the disappeared. The last we heard
of her she was in Caracas, City of Eternal Spring. El Libertador
was one of her heroes.
Ah. Dru’s South American historical knowledge was rather
vague. Who paid Dad’s fees?
The Wyvern Estate and, once my mother passed on, her demise
hastened by an infected feline scratch, I inherited all the antique
kelims and sold them off, as and when, along with some Iznik tiles,
to cover his ‘extras’.
Fascinating. Did Berenice ever reveal the paternity of her son?
Not exactly, but she did take Gus to the estate very early on,
before she ran off, to meet some gardener or other.
He lived in a converted stable block at Wyvern Mote.
But that’s National Trust, surely?
Ah, yes, but I suspect that it was grace and favour ‘accommodation’,
in both senses of the word. He wasn’t much of a horticulturalist; didn’t
know his dianthus from his agapanthus, from all accounts.
Maybe he was a natural son of the old duke?! Dru’s eyes burned with
Peut-etre, surmised her great-aunt, who now looked more favourably
at her visitor. Look, she said, rummaging in a shoe box. Oh no,
that’s your father aged six months, lying on a sheepskin in his birthday suit.
Dru averted her gaze.
No, here it is! Augusta produced a faded sepia image of a man remarkably
like Gus. He was reclining in a striped deckchair, wearing a Panama hat and
he had a glass in his right hand. There was a large mansion behind him.
So this is possibly my grandfather? Dru scrutinised the photo. I wonder what
his name was.
Oh, I call him Eamonn Teabag Grandiflora, Aunt Augusta scoffed wickedly.
All these men in Panama hats look the same- ie/ better when they wear
one. Compare that Kermit MacDulloch who presented a ‘History of
Christianity’ and then the latest posho who is following him around,
probably with the same camera crew. They visit the same graffiti and
make identical comments. They are all clones!
Well, Seaweed Millefiore, or Hymen Montezuma. Whatever. Anyway, your
possible ancestor, whom I call Grandiflora, almost certainly spread his seed
around. Perhaps like the old duke himself.
So perhaps I have links to aristocracy?
Well, Miss Grandiose, I’d let bygones be bygones, if I were you.
But may I ask you one final question? Dru was conscious that a storm
was predicted and that she had a long journey back to Bradford-on-Avon.
Fire away! replied the elderly one, nibbling on a cube of Turkish delight and
not offering to share any from the box.
What boarding school did you and Berenice attend? Dru asked.
St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted Girl, of course. But in those days
it was just St Vitus’ for anyone who could pay the fees. My name is on the
Dux Board over the main stairwell. Surely you have seen it?
Strange. ‘Augusta Snodbury’. Why had she never noticed it? And was there
something in her own genes that constrained her to repeat history? She
And the way things were going, there may be a future titular amendment
to the establishment at which she earned her crust: St Vitus’ School might
end up as an Academy for the Academically-Challenged. Qui sait!
Drusilla was back in Blighty after her week in Turkey. Now she
had to post last minute cards and mark a load of mock papers.
Thank goodness her mother was doing all the Christmas cooking
down in Bradford-on-Avon. She was enjoying being looked after by
Diana, and her father, Augustus, would arrive for Christmas in a few
days, bringing a goose, apparently, as his festive contribution.
Added to the seasonal burden of activity, she had to make a visit to
Great-Aunt Augusta in Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry.
She had let her father off the hook, as far as accompanying her,
as he had a prostate appointment, but the demanding self-appointed
materfamilias really preferred to have a one-to-one session with her
new-found female relative, Dru suspected.
Dru telephoned the care home beforehand, to check that the old
battleaxe was still in the Land of the Living. No use in wasting petrol.
She spoke to switchboard and was connected to her aunt’s room
Yes, dear. Did you get that money? I never trust postmen nowadays..
Yes, thank you. I’ll be down on Tuesday afternoon.
You bought the Turkish Delight I asked you to get me?
Good. Edward Pevensie’s favourite!
Who is Edward..? (Maybe it was some old codger she played
Haven’t you read the Chronicles of Narnia? her aunt broke in.
I give sweet things to the staff here. That’s what The White Witch
did. Good for controlling minions.
Drusilla began to have serious doubts that she should have indulged
the old bat’s whims, especially if she was going to be manipulative
with the spoils.
Like The Queen of Narnia, her great-aunt had no children of her own
and was probably making a move to adopt her grand-niece. Great-Aunt
Augusta seemed to share the evil child enslaver’s regal propensity for
focussing on the negative aspects of others’ characters and playing
down any faults of her own. But the aged relative was actually openly
admitting to corrupting others by creating sugar cravings.
Dru realised that she was genetically linked to a witch!
The next thing will be that she starts to blame lying fauns for her
detected wrongdoings, Dru mused, while the old fiend rattled on.
I’ve looked out all the old photos, Aunt Augusta continued. There’s
one of your father lying naked on a sheepskin rug, aged about six
Can’t wait, lied Dru. Oh, someone’s at the door. Must go! See you
She wasn’t lying. A member of the allegedly untrustworthy Guild
of Hermes was holding out a contraption on which she had to inscribe
an identifying mark. He was standing in a veritable Laocoon of elastic
Merry Christmas, love! he smiled, holding out a padded envelope which
should have been able to have been slipped through the letterbox. He
was lingering just a fraction too obviously, in keeping with the time of
year. Ah no, to be fair, it required a signature.
Thanks! replied Dru. Same to you. And she shut the door somewhat
For once, the package was actually addressed to her and wasn’t for
the neighbours. It had been re-directed from the school boarding
house. Gosh! The office staff must still be working.
What could it be and who was it from?
At least the postperson hadn’t put one of those wretched cards
through the letterbox, necessitating a scurried trip to the office to
collect whatever it was.
She took a creased fiver from her purse and hurried out in her slippers.
He was easy to spot in his luminous waistcoat.
Merry Christmas! She tipped him just before he chalked some esoteric
symbol on their gate post, which would have meant that their mail
would possibly have been permanently re-directed to Lapland.
Cheers! he grinned, dropping a couple more elastic bands on the path
in his adrenalin rush of greed and pushing his trolley into the lane.
Oh well, Aunt Augusta’s over-generous paper flourish had come in handy
after all. Yet, every gift seemed to be a bribe of one sort or another.
She looked at the sender label on the back of the package. Cryptically it
only read: “Caligula” and was postmarked as having originated in Cornwall.
She ripped the padded envelope open. A little black velvet pouch with
drawstrings was revealed. She pulled the knotted strings and a fine gold
chain with a tiny gold harp slid into the palm of her hand. A card
accompanied the gift and it said:
To My Angel xx
What is the subtext? she asked herself.
Dru! Who was that?
No one, she lied. Just something for the neighbours.
Augustus Snodbury was cherishing his final few Saturdays before term
resumed. It had been an eventful summer, but he was a little concerned that
he might outstay his welcome at his erstwhile lover’s cottage in Bradford-on-
Avon. References to guests and fish past their sell-by dates and the impact of
more than three day visits loomed on the horizon of that giant of a mind.
Ablutions had to be curtailed in the mornings as there was only one bathroom
and their daughter, Drusilla, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on
waxing her moustache.
Snod had brought back several packets of his favourite Agen prunes from their
French foray. (I think he had also secreted some bottles of Armagnac, but to
our tale!) Though an aid to digestion, not to mention that other bodily
function, whose initial letter is also ‘d’, the wizened fruit meant that, at times,
there was a degree of urgency as to access to the ablutional premises. The ‘c’
word did not even come into it. The efficacy of these little time bombs could
be cataclysmic, nay apocalyptic.
In spite of all that, Drusilla and her mother, Diana, had become increasingly
relaxed in his company and he had learned to resist asking them a series of
questions which he then mentally scored and graded.
The weather had been superb in England and they had taken to sitting outside
in the evening in the small courtyard at the rear of the cottage, surrounded by
tubs of lavender and Diana’s carefully dead-headed roses.
The French cheeses which they thought they had smuggled onto the coach,
but whose presence was fairly obvious to anyone with a normal olfactory
function, ripened in the kitchen, once they had been taken out of the fridge
and the bottle of red was breathing freely after Diana’s Screwpull had
performed its act of liberation.
A bee-endangered species?-landed on the lavender and took only what its
hive required and no more. Snod began to silently word lines from The Lake
Isle of Innisfree by Yeats. But one bee did not produce a glade, nor an
individual pot of honey.
Honey! Wasn’t it Winnie the Poof- oops, a typo!-Pooh who had said that
although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment
just before you began which was even better than the activity itself?
Snod leant back on his chair. It was HIS chair now, he felt He picked up
Diana’s FT Weekend magazine and flicked through its pages in reverse.
There was her favourite article by The Shrink and The Sage. He must read it
to discover what it was that so charmed her. He could not believe what he
was reading. It coincided with his interior monologue.
Snod had had time to reflect on his life, when he had stayed in the monastery
guest house at Fleury. He realised that he did not have to grab happiness in
the clumsy fashion he had attempted at The Longs Arms, earlier in the year.
After all, he had waited thirty odd years for moments such as this. Why should
he become messily entangled in the lives of others? Relationships could slowly
ripen like the Camembert which was dripping over the cheeseboard like a Dali
He took his first sip of wine, not having noticed its arrival on the cast iron
table. Diana came out of the back door, carrying a interesting looking flan.
I hope you don’t mind, Gus, but I made a tarte aux pruneaux with those Agens
that you left in the kitchen.
He resisted his initial irritation and decided to optimise his enjoyment:
Servez-vous, he replied and corrected himself by using the tu form almost
immediately. Toi, he said. Toi. And it sounded very good.
And it tasted very good too.