Thursday, 12 November 2009

Chapter 12 - Operation Speak Softly and Carry a Chicken

'What are they up to?' I said, peering down the gardens of Much Malarkey Manor. Andy and I were on the terrace, practising our synchronised kick-boxing. Andy was leaning against the Grecian urn, puffing hard, having been caught one too many blows in the gizzard.
'How do you mean?' he asked, once he had recovered his breath. I handed him the binoculars, the expensive ones we purchased for an ill-advised twitching trip to the Isle of Sheppey nature reserve, an experience we don't talk about now as some things are definitely best left in the past.
'Look for yourself,' I said. 'There. In the Japanese water garden.'

Andy squinted through the binoculars, adjusting the setting to accommodate his pirate patch, what with it being 'Dress Like A Pirate Day' and Andy being a keen maintainer of this tradition chez the Manor.
'What's that tent doing there?' he asked. 'It's casting a shadow over my japonica.'
'Never mind the japonica,' I said. 'What about that tarmacing lorry spreading asphalt all over the willow coppice.'
'Right,' said Andy, springing into action, because although he doesn't get riled very often, when he does it's best to stand well back and beware. 'I'm going to march down there right now and find out what those hens are up to.'

And off he went, stopping after a step of five to remove his pretend pirate peg leg, because peg legs don't make for very good marching.

* * * * * * * * *

'What are they up to?' said Mrs Miggins. She paused in her direction of the asphalt lorry as it reversed towards the newly drained pond and squinted into the distance, to the terrace at the back of Much Malarkey Manor.
Mrs Pumphrey pulled her opera glasses from her handbag and peered through them. 'I think they've been kick-boxing again,' she said.
Mrs Miggins sighed. 'Will they never learn?' she said. 'And isn't it 'Dress Like a Pirate Day' or something? Is Andy wearing his pirate peg-leg?'
'He is indeed,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And Denise seems to be getting tangled up in some kind of frilly shirt and waistcoat combo.'
Mrs Slocombe grabbed the opera glasses.
'Oh-oh,' she said. 'They're heading this way. Do you think they've spotted we're digging up the Japanes Water Garden?
'Quite possibly,' said Miggins. 'I think we'd better come up with an explanation PDQ, don't you?'
'Aren't we going to tell them the truth?' said Pumphrey. 'That we're creating a performance arena and car park facilities for the 'Save Much Malarkey Manor From the Clutches of the Evil Property Developer Cleverly Dangled' fund-raising concert?'
'No,' said Miggins. 'And I think we're going to have to come up with a snappier title for the event, too.'
'How about 'Ka-Boom?'' said Boom Penguin, appearing behind them. He'd been woken by the digging and noise, and the smell of damp tarpaulin coming from the huge performance marquee that was being erected.
'Ridiculous,' snapped Miggins. 'And since when did you start wearing yellow Lycra running gear?'
'Since this morning,' said Boom, sniffily. 'Honeybun thinks I need to lose a few pounds before the concert. She's worked out a running programme for me.'
'Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! laughed Mrs Miggins, until Mrs Slocombe slapped her. 'You? Running? This I've got to see.'
'I can run,' said Boom. 'And from what I've heard, you'd better start running too, if you haven't told the owners of the Manor what you're up to.' And he nodded in the direction of Andy and Denise who were closing fast on the rapidly disappearing Japanese Water Garden.

'Right! said Miggins. 'Leave it to me. Don't say anything stupid, especially you,' and she jabbed a wing at Mrs Slocombe.
'I can be discreet,' Mrs Slocombe objected.
'All the same,' said Miggins, 'leave the talking to the one with the brains, eh?'
And she turned and smiled, her mind searching frantically for a morsel of feasible explanation.

* * * * * * *

'Explain yourselves,' said Andy, sweeping his arm wildly across the scene before us, which, now we were closer, looked a darn sight worse than it had from a distance.
'Now, don't panic,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Everything is under control and I can explain exactly what we are doing.'
Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe took a tiny step backwards and folded their winds across their chests. This was going to be interesting.
'Explain away,' I said.
'The thing is,' said Miggins, 'is that we wanted to surprise you...'
'Oh, you've certainly done that,' I said. 'But do carry on.'
'You see, the other day, we were digging for worms. Mrs Slocombe has started eating feathers again, so we thought, we're not walking around with bare bums all winter, we'll have a worm banquet and boost her protein levels. And if that doesn't work, we'll have to get out the rubber band for her beak....again,' and Miggins glared at Mrs Slocombe.
'So far, so plausible,' said Andy, who was in charge of the more-than-one-syllable words this day.
'And whilst we were digging, we found this,' said Miggins, and she pulled a small piece of rock from the pocket of her dungarees.
Andy took the piece of rock from Mrs Miggins and examined it carefully.
'It's a piece of rock,' he said.
'Not any old piece of rock,' said Miggins. 'That is a piece of rare Bullion Shylock Marble.'

Andy and I stared at Miggins, then at each other. What? Rare Bullion Shylock Marble? In our Japanese Water Garden? It all seemed highly unlikely.

'What ARE you talking about?' I said, as the words 'Bull' and 'Sh*te' and 'Boll***ks' sprang to mind.
'It seems to me you've lost your marbles, not found them,' said Andy, who counted amateur geology amongst his many and varied hobbies.
'It's true,' said Miggins, 'Bullion Shylock marble is a very rare and very sought after type of stone. It makes marvellous kitchen work tops. We could be sitting on a fortune here.'

'Excuse us a minute,' I said and pulled Andy out of earshot.
'What do you think?' I said. 'Either she's sounding very plausible, or I'm suffering oxygen deprivation from my brain from all that kick-boxing whilst wearing pirate gear.'
'I don't know,' said Andy. He glanced back at the three hens, who responded with a coy wave of their wings. 'I think I need to Google this marble and see if it actually exists. Personally, that piece of rock looked like a fragment of the shingle I used to line the bottom of the koi pond with.'

We turned back to the hens, who eyed us with innocent, yet slightly edgy expectation.

'This doesn't explain the enormous tent and the digging and the fact a parrot dressed in yellow Lycra appears to be eaves-dropping our conversation,' said Andy.

Miggins had forgotten about Boom. Blimey, she thought, he's going to be harder to explain than the marquee.
'This is Professor Boombingoringo Penguinolla,' she announced, in as loud and brazen a voice as she muster. 'He is from the University of Rome. Archaelogy Department.'
'I am?' said Boom.
'Yes,' said Miggins firmly. 'And you have come to conduct an archaelogical dig on this site, haven't you, Professor?'
'Ah,' said Boom, catching on to the ruse surprisingly quickly for a sleep-deprived Kakapo. 'Si, si. I am 'ere from zee University of Roma to veeseet your bella Englanda. Zis is a vey, vey, mucha exciting find - La Shylocka dell Bulliona marbelo!'

For a brief moment, Miggins was stuck for words. For Boom's impersonation had taken her back to the days when they were still together, still in love, when Boom had whisked her away one weekend, for a romantic visit to Florence, where they'd toured the art galleries and eaten tutti frutti glaces in a tiny pavement cafe called Guiseppo's. Oh, how the heady scent of orange blossom and frangipani filled the air, how the world around them seemed to disappear. Oh, how she'd laughed when they'd fallen off the scooter they'd hired, because Boom's legs were too short to reach the pavement when they stopped. Oh, how she'd been swept away with the romance of it all...

'And where are my koi?' said Andy, suddenly realising the ponds were drained.
'They're safe,' said Miggins, shaking her head to rid it of memories of Italy. 'Only you won't be able to use your bath for a while.'
'So how long will this archaelogical dig take?' I asked.
'Professor?' said Miggins, who was feeling a bit weak by now and in need of a cuppa with several lumps of sugar therein.
Boom paced about in a thoughtful, professorial manner, the effect spoiled only slightly by a limp that was induced by the wedgie he was experiencing from his yellow Lycra running shorts.
'I sink,' he said, 'zat zee dig weel take, a few weeks. Maybe more. Maybe less. Maybe we be here for Noel....ahahahahahahahahahaha!' And then he leapt at me and grabbed my pirate scarf in both wings. And with his beak to my nose he said, 'You see, my Bambinette, art cannot and should not be 'urried. We take zee time wiz art. Capiche?'
I nodded, too startled to do anything else, and he kissed me gently on the nose, re-arranged my pirate scarf, and dropped to the ground with a thud.
'Now I run!' he shouted, and off he went, across the piles of muddy excavations and up the driveway to the lane.

'You keep some very weird company,' I said to Miggins.
'Says you, who's married to someone dressed as a kick-boxing pirate,' said Miggins.
'Shut yer face,' I said.
'Et tu,' said Miggins.

'That's what I like about chickens,' I said to Andy as we made our way back to the Manor for a late breakfast of croissants and Pernod. 'They're so affectionate and devoted.'

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