Black Widow Spider, Bonnie Prince Charlie, bun fight, encomium, Eulogy, Existentialist, Hegel, John Fowles, Land Girl, Life of Pi, Lyme Regis, Meryl Streep, Richard Parker, Simples, Sliding Doors, Snodland, St Birinus, Steelite, The Cobb, The French Lietenant's Woman, Tupperware, Venus Flytrap, Wyvern Mote, Yann Martel
Augustus Snodbury rose to his feet in the Recreation Room of
Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry. He was about
to deliver the meconium, nay encomium to his ‘Aunt’ Augusta.
Her commital was over and everyone had gathered for the
‘bun fight’, or, to clarify the matter, the sausage rolls and cups
of builders’ tea, stewing in institutional Steelite crockery.
Murgatroyd Syylk had donated the sausage-meat from his best
two porkers, but it had not seemed appropriate for him to slay
The Emperor, since, before the re-sexing of the animal had
taken place, it had been named after the venerable lady herself.
There hadn’t been sufficient time for Gus to read his eulogy-cum-
end of life report at the crematorium, as the coffins had been
stacking up like planes at Heathrow.
It had been agreed that he would present the paeon back at
the nursing home.
Thankfully he and Dru were still on half term. The old girl had
been remarkably considerate in her timing of clog popping. The
mourners really only amounted to two: Drusilla and his good
Berenice, Augusta’s younger sister had pre-deceased her and
was buried in Venezuela, leaving a son, Hugo de Sousa, who
unfortunately was not in a position to leave the country.
That meant that it was only themselves and the staff and
residents of the home who had to be counted for catering
Gus had rehearsed and re-composed his tribute over and over
as Dru drove down to Kent. He thought he would write an
introduction, followed by the development of a thesis and
antithetical redress, in the manner of a discursive essay.
Perhaps he could throw in a couple of anecdotes- the episode
of her involvement in the missing Bonnie Prince Charlie chalice;
some wartime Land Girl reminiscences; some of her pithier
comments and so on? Then he should sum everything up and
make an evaluation of her life. Simples, as that annoying
furry animal says.
No, that sounded pompous. Who did he think he was- the
Recording Angel? Title of speech? ‘Augusta Snodbury- kindly
maiden aunt versus Alpha female?‘ Ambivalence was surely
of the essence. Quintessence, even.
He thought about the woman behind the mask of nonagenarian
vulnerability. They had been asked to instal a surveillance
camera in her room, after she had made accusations about
a male resident whom she alleged had tried to climb into her
She should be so lucky! was the only comment from a lady in
the adjoining room, when she had been interviewed as a
The cameras had shown evidence of shocking abuse, albeit
only of a verbal nature. They could never have believed that Aunt
Augusta was capable of such bullying behaviour to a young carer,
whose only crime was to have reduced the amount of gin in her
His ‘aunt’ reminded him of a Black Widow Spider; a Venus Flytrap…
something female and venomous. That was the antithesis.
The thesis was that she had supervised his education and been
in loco parentis, when his supposed mother, her sister Berenice,
had vamooshed to Venezuela, renaging on her paid agreement
with Lady Wivern: to wit that she, Berenice, should state that
the child was hers, the product of a liaison with Anthony Revelly.
This was a credible version of events, as Berenice had had a fling
with the tutor at Wyvern Mote, from 1945-7. However, Anthony and
Aurelia, Lady W, had commenced their affair thereafter. Although Lady
W was a widow, and technically a free agent, she did not want to
complicate matters for her two legitimate sons, Lionel and Peregrine.
Therefore, a deal had been struck. A monetary one.
And so it was that Augustus had been enrolled at St Birinus’ Prep
School, at a very tender and impressionable age, by his ‘Aunt’
Had she latterly discerned that he had discovered the truth?
Maybe he should expatiate and wax philosophical about alternative
narratives? Why shouldn’t he present varying outlines? After all,
John Fowles had done so at the end of his novel, The French
Lieutenant’s Woman. (Gus blushed as he recalled how he had really
fancied Meryl Streep. He used to go down to Lyme Regis and hang
about The Cobb, until one blustery day, he had nearly been swept
out to sea. That had taught him the valuable distinction between
Art and life)
Yes, he could construct an Existentialist Sliding Doors type of
scenario. Like that boy, Pi, from the eponymous Life of, he could
persuade the inmates to choose whatever biographical version they
preferred. How very Post-Modern! He hadn’t seen himself in that
I mean, he mused, am I Augustus Snodbury, the bona fide nephew
of the deceased? Or am I -say–a ‘Richard Parker’-type of clerical error?
Certainly, I am not using my real name. What constitutes identity?
As Yann Martel said: ‘I live in a society of ‘unpalatable realities, but
realities I prefer to face.’ So, maybe I should face them down now.
After he had uttered the bombshell that Augusta was not actually
his aunt, but that Revelly was his father, Matron’s jaw dropped at
the revelation. She had only recently taken delivery of Revelly’s
urn which was taking up an inordinate amount of space on the
mantelpiece in her office, along with other unclaimed remains of
yesterday and yester-year.
Gus concluded: I make no apologies for quoting Martel a final
time- ‘Life is a story…You can choose YOUR story.’
It could be argued that I became the man I am today as a result
of a synthesis. (He was pleased at this Hegelian transition.)
Unfortunately no one else noticed the logic of his coda, as
they were mostly asleep, except for one old chap who was
hoovering up the remaindered sausage rolls that Gus had
been hoping he could ask to be reserved in a doggy bag for
his return journey.)
C’est la vie, was all that Dru could comment. He thought that
was a trifle unsympathetic. But ‘trifle’: yes, Matron did put some
of the leftover pudding into a Tupperware bowl for him.
It would be strange not to be coming back to Kent.
They went out to the car park, carrying two clinking bags
containing bottles of Dewlap Gin for the Discerning Grandmother.
Both were filled with empties. They would have to find a bottle
bank en route to the motorway.
Did I do her justice? Snod asked as Dru pulled out of the
grounds. He wiped a greasy palm on his best suit
trousers. I missed out all the stuff about when she
was Hamish Diecast’s Muse on that island in The Inner
Hebrides. Did I dwell overly on her failings?
Let the enigma be. Perhaps all our lives are illusory.
We could all have been otherwise. All that remains of
us is love, Dru replied. I think you conveyed that
sentiment. Let them choose the better story and…
For Pete’s sake, don’t eat trifle in my car! She braked
suddenly, on seeing a re- cycling bank, and the custard
landed in his lap.
He could hear Aunt Augusta cackling: Serves you right!