In Filkins Allotments, Oxfordshire
Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
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!
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Burns' Night, Caligula, Commonwealth Games, D-day celebrations 2014, emoticons, Eskdale Hotel. Langholm, Glasgow School of Art, Henry Moore's King and Queen, incontinence pads, Kagyu Samye Ling, Land Girl, portable catheter, Sauchiehall Street, Snodland, Tibetan Centre, Usain Bolt, whippersnapper, Willow Tea Rooms
It’s gone! It’s gone! Murgatroyd’s face was ashen.
Calm down, dear! Diana took control. She was used to his
But it was here last night when we had the post-concert
drinkies. And the glass hasn’t been smashed. We didn’t hear
the alarm. I don’t understand it.
The niche where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s chalice had been
displayed was now empty.
What a shame! The concert had been a triumph and there had
been some surprise visitors. One, in particular, had caused
consternation and a re-shuffling of the sleeping arrangements.
Aunt Augusta had shown up in a taxi, gleefully proclaiming, Have
portable catheter. Can travel!
The taxi driver sheepishly unloaded the packs of incontinence pads
from the boot and waived the tip of an obsolete half crown.
When reprimanded about the staff at Snodland Nursing Home for the
Debased Gentry being frantic with worry, the rogue aunt merely
shrugged and said: That old chap escaped for the D-day celebrations
in Normandy, so, as a Land Girl, I wasn’t going to be trumped by some
whippersnapper of a male. You can phone and tell them I’ll return
after I have heard my great-niece in concert. I’ll be back on Wednesday
as it’s the day I have my corns done. Tell them not to strike a medal; I
have enough of them at my age.
The other unexpected members of the audience were Maxwell
Boothroyd-Smythe and his delinquent, but artistically-talented daughter,
Juniper. Thankfully her pesky little brother had been taken to some kind
of trendy boot-camp by his mother.
Juniper had been photographing the burnt-out Glasgow School of Art, where
she had been promised a place if her predicted grades were achieved. Her
father found that checking out possible accommodation for the Autumn term
was nigh-on impossible, as The Commonwealth Games‘ crowds in Sauchiehall
Street were overwhelming. The chance of having a cup of tea in The Willow
Tearooms was as slight as Usain Bolt failing to win a gold medal.
Finding the city too crowded, they had set off for The Borders, hoping to see
Henry Moore’s King and Queen sculpture and to visit the Kagyu Samye Ling
Tibetan Centre which Juniper had been harping on about for months. Goodness
knew, her father had been seeking inner peace for some time. So, he agreed.
They had been eating a bar snack in The Eskdale Hotel, Langholm, when
Juniper’s observant eye focused on a flyer advertising a clarsach concert.
Dad! Let’s go to that! It’s that form teacher of mine. She’s playing at some
kind of a tower house near here. That nerdy guy who’s John’s form teacher-
the one they all call Caligula- is singing. It should be a laugh.
When is it?
But won’t you put them off?
No, Miss Fotheringay is well-used to me surprising her.
Maxwell studied the mini-poster. He recognised the woman. She had scrubbed
up quite well. Probably Photo-shopped. Yes, he had danced Strip the Willow
with her at the PTA Burns’ Night.
Okay. Okay. But I’m not phoning ahead for tickets. We might get lost.
Probably hardly anyone will turn up, so we can buy tickets on the door.
I knew there was something going on between those two, whooped his
Juniper was already texting her friend Tiger-Lily, using a full range of
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Bosphorous, clarsach, communion chalice, Head Teachers' Conference, hypogonadism, Inklings, lacrosse, Land Girl, lost Faberge egg, model railway club, National Trust, Pele Tower, seamed stockings, Simon Bolivar, Snodland, St Birinus, St Vitus
Candia: You think it would be useful?
Brassica: Well, a lot of people have come in on the action
mid-plot, so-yes- why not offer them a synopsis?
Candia: Okay- they can skip it if they have been following
since Snod’s story took off.
Here it is, folks:
SYNOPSIS: Snod’s Law
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master and Acting Head of St Birinus’ Middle School
is ripe for retirement. He loves comfort food, the Model Railway Club and Latin.
He is a role model for Junior Masters, but a bête noire for other staff.
For his entire life, he has taken for granted that he was the product of a liaison
of socialite and erstwhile Land Girl, Berenice Snodbury and A N Other.
Berenice’s sister, Augusta, took on responsibility for the child when her sister
ran off to Venezuela, following romantic dreams inspired by her hero, Simon
The original Augusta, the girls’ mother. had not set them a terribly orthodox
example, as she herself had run around the Bosphorous with an itinerant rug
Snod’s lonely, institutionalised existence is interrupted by a climactic revelation
that an affair which he conducted with the ‘lax’ (lacrosse) mistress of a
sister establishment many moons ago engendered a child. That ‘child’ is now
a Housemistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted Girl, the school
in which her mother originally taught. (In fact, Gus has unwittingly met his
daughter on a number of occasions, at joint educational functions.)
The reason that his relationship broke down was owing to a Hardyean
twist of fate. A missing communication which contained his marriage
proposal now re-surfaces during re-furbishment for a school let. Diana,
the retired lax mistress, is exposed as having been deceitful.
She married ‘on the re-bound’, foisting her child on Murgatroyd-Syylk,
picture dealer and restorer. The pair subsequently divorced and now
Syylk is completing a restoration project of a Pele Tower in the Borders.
Drusilla, the Housemistress, attempts to encourage her parents to meet.
Will their romance re-ignite? Initially, it is a damp squib.
On Berenice’s death, a mysterious package arrives at school. It contains
a signet ring which Augustus’ apparent half-brother was asked to send
over to England. It bears an insignia associated with Wyvern Mote, now a
National Trust property.
Drusilla and Gus visit Great-Aunt Augusta and take her out of Snodland
Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry for the day, partly to introduce her
to her great-niece, and partly to investigate Wyvern Mote. There they see
a photograph in the schoolroom of two of the original heirs, with their tutor,
Anthony Revelly. The facial resemblance is clear: Gus is his offspring; Revelly
his father, rather than Lord Wyvern.
Lady Wyvern had had the child by her sons’ tutor on the death of her
husband. The tutor was permitted to live in a grace-and-favour apartment
in the stable block, for life, when the property was handed over to The
Berenice, who had been a Land Girl in the vicinity, had been paid an
undisclosed sum to acknowledge the child as being her own. A good time
girl, Berenice had tired of the responsibility, eventually absconding and
leaving her sister to arrange his schooling at St Birinus. Augusta had
once been Head Girl of St Vitus’, so knew of the boys’ prep school
establishment and its reputation.
Now Hugo, in Venezuela, has to be disabused of his belief in his
relationship to Gus. They decide to leave Aunt Augusta in the dark.
The latter gave her ‘great-niece’ a present of what resembles one
of the famous missing Faberge eggs. It turns out to be a fake and
yet, Dru’s visit to her step-father in the Pele Tower makes up for her
disappointment, as she is promised a communion chalice which Bonnie
Prince Charlie used before his fateful final ride south, on Syylk’s decease.
(The Pele Tower turns out to have been in Lady Wyvern’s family in the
past, so there is a neat circularity about Drusilla’s future inheritance of
the restored property, as Murgatroyd’s sole heiress.
The Head Teacher of St Birinus’ had an unfortunate ‘turn’ at the Christmas
Eve Midnight Service and was diagnosed with hypogonadism. His mid-life
crisis leads to him taking time off in order to make a motorcycle trip across
The Sahara, much to his wife’s relief. Unfortunately, Gus has to ‘stand in’,
but when his previous boss decides to abdicate, he does not apply for the
permanent post. Nevertheless, a position of Deputy Head is created for him,
in order to boost his pension. Poskett, Milford-Haven and Drusilla Fotheringay-
Syylk apply for the Headship, but are unsuccessful. Will the latter two decide
to throw over their careers and try to make a musical success of their lives
Drusilla has shone in various musical concerts, by playing her harp for both
schools. She has been the focus of attention from Nigel Milford-Haven, the
rather wimpish Junior Master who is beginning to sing solo tenor in some
school productions and Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster. She seems to favour
Nigel, since she has asked him to come to the Borders with her in the school
holidays, to stage a concert for clarsach and voice.
She hopes to raise money for Murgatroyd’s roof repairs. Nigel is nervous, as
his mother usually draws on his decorating expertise in the school holidays
and she is not going to be too pleased at his bid for independence.
Meanwhile ‘Snod’ has settled into a friendly relationship with Diana, the mother
of his child, who has sold her cottage and moved back to the Suttonford area,
in which both schools are situated. However, his attention has been attracted
to Virginia Fisher-Giles, the widowed seamed-stocking-wearing PA. An invitation
for coffee chez elle after she has run him to a Head Teachers’ Conference
turns out to be more intimate than either anticipated.
Will he succumb to a projection of future domesticity with Virginia? Will he
resurrect the corpse of his relationship with Diana, or will he continue his
‘Inkling’ existence of bachelor bliss?
The lure of retirement is like an ever-receding pot of gold. He has a year
or two to serve as Deputy Head under the new regime. Will he be able to
preserve the old ways, or will the introduction of a new system create a
tsunami of bureaucracy that will threaten to engulf him?
Bisto, Clegg, Conversation box, Del Monte, dildo, Dress up as favourite Character, fire extinguisher, fire watch, Fruity Friday, hand blender, hand-bell, induction loop, Land Girl, latex allergic, Mindfulness, Miss Havisham, Onward Christian Soldiers, Pele Tower, Rummikub, Songs of Praise, T-switch, Tea dance, Thine Be the Glory, Wear a Hat and Tell a Story
Aunt Augusta wasn’t as devastated by Drusilla’s letter as her correspondent
Dru had written to her so-called ‘great-aunt‘ to explain that she would be
unable to visit Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry at Whitsun,
as she was planning a trip ‘oop north‘ to visit her step-father, Murgatroyd
Syylk in his renovated pele tower.
She received a reply by return of post:
Although naturally disappointed that you are unable to visit, I have to advise
you that things are very hectic down here at the moment.
My co-ordinator has drawn up a tailor-made activity programme, or should I
term it a regime?- for me. She hopes to boost my cognitive skills and minimise
potential depression. It is supposed to heighten my sense of achievement.
I informed her that I already feel a high level of satisfaction at having out-lived
most of my peers.
On Mondays I have to reminisce, using a Conversation Box. It is a chair-based
activity and the only reason that I co-operated was that it is preferable to
playing Rummikub with a bunch of old codgers whose flies are undone. I pulled
out a hand blender, but shocked the woman by identifying it as an electric
dildo. Well, they didn’t have these things in my day- blenders, I mean.
On Tuesdays I have a Mindfulness session where we are encouraged to live
in the moment. Well, I don’t think I will be too present in the future, if you
see what I mean. As for the past, who said it was another country?
On Wednesdays I am moved to the television room where most of the
aged programme presenters seem to be standing trial for their behaviour in
the Seventies. Someone once tried to put his hand on my adolescent knee,
but that was where my grandmother’s hat-pin came in very handy. There
was an example in the Conversation Box and I think the co-ordinator woman
was shocked when I told her where I’d put it in a darkened cinema. I tried to
demonstrate, but she said it was a bit of a dangerous weapon and shouldn’t
have been in the box. She found a cork and embedded its point safely. She
wouldn’t tell me where she got the bottle.
Songs of Praise is full of goody-goodies and you can’t hear the hymns properly,
as our resident hand-bell ensemble always strike up in an accompaniment to old
favourites, such as Thine Be The Glory or Onward Christian Soldiers. I turn off
my T-switch and then I don’t have to be bothered by the induction loop.
Wednesdays are devoted to Wear A Hat and Tell a Story. I wound a scarf
round my head like a turban and entertained the troops with a few saucy
tales from my Land Girl days. The spoilsports wouldn’t give me a cigarette
for verisimilitude and I got into trouble for introducing the ladies to gravy
browning faux seamed stockings. The laundry couldn’t get the stains off
the sheets and they thought it was something else.
My packet of Bisto was confiscated from my locker. They’ve no right to
go poking around in there and they took my gin as well. Killjoys!
Fruity Friday isn’t what its title promises. It isn’t exactly The Man From Del
Monte He Say ‘Yes!’ It’s just an idea of the co-ordinator to put lots of exotic
fruits in front of us, as if we don’t know what a Kiwi is. You can be sure
that they haven’t had the wit to read my medical notes first, or they would
know that I am latex allergic and will peg it pronto if a fruit with the latex
protein comes anywhere near me. I suppose you could sue them and make
a bit out of my demise when the time comes. (I blame all those rubber
suspenders.) We never had tights.
So, you can see that I have to be on my toes and on the alert constantly,
or they may inadvertently kill me. It’s so tiring. Like being on fire watch
during the war. You never know when an incendiary incident might break
At least things have been quieter on the nocturnal admissions, not to say
That old gent who tried to get into bed with me seems to have disappeared.
Perhaps he had latex allergy too and they gave him banana custard. I
wouldn’t put it past them.
At least I won’t be partnered with him at the next Tea Dance. He would never
have been my choice of beverage. He looked like one of Berenice’s old flames.
If he’d come near me once more, I’d have sprayed him with the fire
Have a lovely time and do send me a postcard, so I can look popular with
those on the outside. We have a bit of a scoreboard here. The resident
with the least postcards in any month is called a Clegg.
Just going off to my costume fitting for next week’s Dress Up as a Character
from Your Favourite Novel. I’m going as Miss Havisham, so I need to collect
a few cobwebs. I suggested that there might be some in the cellar, but
they won’t let me be wheeled there. They thought it was an excuse for me
to go looking for drink. They might have been right!
Have a lovely time. Wish you were here- instead of me!