Antiques Roadshow, ATS, Buckingham Palace ballroom, Camilla, Colgate, Da Vinci Lady with Ermine, Duchess Cornwall, Gavin Maxwell, Inner Hebrides, Lady Denham, Land Girls, leather gauntlet, Martini, Nutkins, Prince Philip, Pugs, Queen Mother, Ring of Bright Water, Rupert Maas, Simon Bolivar, Sotheby's, St Vitus' School for Academically-Gifted Girl
Carrie had brought her mother-in-law, Ginevra Brewer-Mead the
Saturday newspaper while she had been out walking her over-
weight pugs, Algy, Pooh-Bah and Humbug.
She had to leave them in the porch, as Magda, the carer
detested them. Fortunately she was out shopping.
Suddenly the old lady put the newspaper down and sighed.
What’s wrong? asked Carrie.
Oh, it’s just an obituary for someone I knew. All my friends
are popping off.
Carrie picked up the paper and scanned it.
Augusta Snodbury…passed away in Snodland Nursing Home
for the Debased Gentry…..choked on an olive in her Martini.
Oh, she was the same age as you. How did you know her?
Actually, I knew her through her younger sister, Berenice.
Remember The Palace had afternoon tea for Land Girls in
2009? We met there. Got talking about The Queen Mother
and what kind of gin she preferred.
Was Berenice in Glasgow too?
No, no. She joined in 1942 under Lady Denham. Get me
that blue photo album out of the cabinet, will you? Third
See, said Ginevra, after flicking through a few pages.
There we are. Remember that fascinator I had? Got quite
a bit of use out of it. Augusta is on the right. I’m the rose
between two thorns…she giggled. Berenice looks the elder,
but that’s because she didn’t wear sunscreen in Venezuela.
Bolted to follow her dreams of Simon Bolivar, she told me.
She was boasting that she had once helped The Queen to
clean out an engine. You know, Her Majesty was 2nd
Lieutenant Elizabeth Windsor and a very competent mechanic.
I told Berenice she was a hypocrite. Can’t be a Royalist and
espouse Republicanism. Anyway, The Queen didn’t seem to
remember her, not surprisingly. She shook my hand.
Berenice just got Camilla. The Duke chatted up Augusta for
quite a while. He said he didn’t recognise her with her clothes
on. I didn’t get it at the time.
It says here that Berenice died a couple of years ago,
commented Carrie, trying to get Ginevra off her uncharitable
tangent. And it mentions that Augusta was Head Girl of St
Vitus’ School for The Academically-Gifted Girl. I must tell
Not strictly true, muttered Ginevra.
What do you mean?
They only added the post-modifying phrase fairly recently.
It’s not the school it once was. It used to be a fairly ordinary
dumping ground for genteel girls whose parents weren’t very
affluent. Anyone could go there if they had the dosh. It should
have been called St Vitus’ School for the Academically-
Challenged Girl back then, or for the Financially-Challenged
Well, it’s not like that now, said Carrie. Oh, it says here that
Augusta became the Muse and model for reclusive early
twentieth century artist and mystic, Hamish Diecast. She
went to live with him in a remote island in the Inner Hebrides,
but managed his sales to London galleries and helped to
establish his reputation. I suppose The Duke might have had
a portrait of her in his private apartments… He never forgets a
pretty girl, apparently.
Didn’t you see The Antiques Roadshow from Oban? Ginevra
asked. I think it was last year. That blonde chap, Rupert Maas,
identified a nude portrait that a gamekeeper brought along,
wrapped in an oilskin, as being Lady with an Otter, a lost Diecast
work based on Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. It went at
Sotheby’s for an enormous price.
Shameless hussy! She didn’t have a stitch on. Wouldn’t have
caught me holding one of those creatures without a leather
gauntlet and full body armour. That chap that wrote The Ring
of Bright Confidence…
That was a Colgate advert, Ginevra. Do you mean Gavin
Whatever. (Ginevra had picked up this insouciance from her
grand-daughter, Tiger.) He had an assistant called Squirrel
Nutkins, or something, who had parts of his fingers eaten by
Maxwell’s vicious little pet. Augusta was lucky she wasn’t scarred
for life, though she probably was, emotionally. Diecast was a
womaniser and a weirdo.
Anyway, she is at peace now, conciliated Carrie. You know,
I have just had a thought: isn’t there a Senior Master at St
Birinus Middle called Snodbury? I wonder if he is any relation?
Maybe he is the love child of Diecast and Augusta?
Shouldn’t think so, pronounced Ginevra. She was more
interested in power than sex. She wasn’t attracted to men
in that way. She told me.
While you were at the tea at Buckingham Palace ballroom?!
Oh, we old girls cover a lot of ground! I suppose there must
be a connection, but I wouldn’t think she had had a son. No,
not with him.
A key was rattling in the porch door.
‘ello! I am back. Oh, shut up, you stupid little dogs!
Carrie took her leave and went to rescue Magda from the
tangled leashes round her ankles.
I got your paper! she addressed Ginevra, triumphantly.
But her charge had already read it. It was destined for