Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Chapter 4 - The Right End of the Stick

'Tea and crumpets?' I ask, sticking my head around the dining hall of the Manor. The girls have been busy decorating for a couple of hours now and I'm in need of a break from writing, so the kettle is on and the crumpets are toasting.

'Thank you,' says Miggins. She stands back from the newly papered wall to admire her handiwork. Mrs Pumphrey is lying spread-eagled across the trestle table fanning herslef with the pasting brush; I can't see Mrs Slocombe.
'What do you think?' says Miggins.
I survey the flock rococco wallpaper and the paintwork glistening wet with Heritage Gloss 'Crushed Mulberry.'
'Very nice,' I say. 'I especially like the way you've blended the sideboard into the scheme by papering it onto the wall.'
'That was Mrs Slocombe's idea,' says Mrs Pumphrey from the trestle table. 'Something to do with the elephant in the room. I, myself, have never noticed an elephant in the room. I mean, you would, normally, wouldn't you? Something that big and stompy.'
'Not to mention the piles of dung,' says Miggins.
'You promised you wouldn't mention the dung,' says Pumphrey, reproachfully.
'Sorry,' says Miggins, although I'm not wholly sure she was.

'Anyway, Mrs Slocombe said the sideboard was the elephant in this room,' continued Mrs Pumphrey in order to divert the conversation away from the subject of dung. 'She said the sheer enormity and ugliness of the piece needed addressing. She reckoned that guests are too polite to say anything about what an appalling example of 18th century furniture design it is, so in order to save us from any future social embarrassment vis a vis out taste in dining hall furniture, expecially if a reknowned antique critic should happen to come to supper one day, she was going to camouflage it.'

'Well, she's certainly done a good job,' I say, for in order to see the sideboard now, you would have to stand at a certain angle to the window with the light behind you. 'And how does Mrs Slocombe propose we access the dinner service and finger bowls, now she's covered the whole thing with wallpaper?'
'Oh, it's okay, she's already thought about that,' says Pumphrey. 'She's on the phone now, ordering a second sideboard from the MFI bankrupty stock.'
'Oh goody,' I sigh. I can smell burning crumpets. 'Would you like your tea and crumpets with Andy and I in the study, or shall I bring them here for you?'
'In here,please,' says Miggins. 'I daren't let these two leave the room until we are finished. They're very easily distracted, you know. It was a bit of a risk letting Betty go to make her phone call. But,' she finished, lifting up a piece of string, one end of which is attached to her leg by a round turn and two half hitches,' I've got her tied to this. If she isn't back in ten minutes, I'm giving it a good hard yank.'

I return to the kitchen, butter some crumpets, pour five mugs of tea and load them onto a tray which I then return to the dining room. I leave three mugs and half the crumpets with the hens, warning them not to eat too fast or their beaks will clog up and we all know what that means, don't we? Then I continue to the study with the remaining tea and crumpets, where Andy is deep in important rescue work via his computer. It looks very heroic, this essential resuce work, even though the damsel in distress requiring his assistance has unfeasibly large and pert bosoms.

'Thank you,' says Andy, as I place his mug on the desk beside him. 'How goes the decorating in the dining hall?'
'About as well as can be expected when one leaves one interior design decisions to poultry,' I say.
'Good, good,' says Andy. His eyes are glued to the screen before him. I think, this rescue work must be very complex. I wonder if he realises he's just about to take a bite from a floppy disk. I consider making a cunning swap of disk for crumpet before it reaches his mouth but decide it will be interesting to see if he actually notices the difference for himself.

'Bit tough, these crumpets,' says Andy.
'Hmmmm,'I say. I pick up my mug of tea and take a sip as I flick through the local paper.

All is quiet, as is the case when one is eating crumpets.

And then...

'Oh GOOD LORD!' I say, slamming the newspaper down in front of Andy. 'Will you just take a look at THAT!'

Because it appears I have just deleted the rescuing of the buxom wench, Andy has no choice but to focus on the object of my disgruntlement.
'What am I looking at?' he says, popping the last piece of floppy disk into his mouth.
'That,' I say, jabbing the newspaper with an angry finger.
'Cat Crochets Its Way Into the Record Books?' says Andy.
'NO!' I say. 'There, look, under the picture of that pompous windbag of a property developer who shut down the local scout hut and built a lap dancing club around the old flag pole.'
Andy scans the article I have highlighted with my finger, giving me time to build up a good head of steam.
'What does he think he's doing?' I say. 'I mean, how does he get away with these things? Aren't there planning laws he has to abide by? This is typical of the two faced bureaucracy we have to live with in this area. Remember when we wanted to put a gazebo in the dell? And all the planning hoops we had to jump through before the council allowed us to go ahead? And then only if we changed the colour we wanted to paint it. I liked that 'Tangerine Orange' we found in Homebase. It was cheerful. But on no, they wanted something 'more sobre and in keeping with the area.' Do you know, for two pence I'd move Much Malarkey Manor from this area and go somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where we wouldn't be got at and we could all live our lives in peace and quiet.'

'BREATHE!' yells Andy, because sometimes I forget when I'm having a lengthy rant.
'Well! I say. 'This guy is being allowed to concrete over swathes of our countryside without so much as a by-your-leave. It's not fair. People are going to suffer because of this. Two thousand more houses? What do we need another two thousand houses in this area for, answer me that.'
'I can't,' says Andy. 'But we'll be okay. It won't affect us.'
'Maybe not physically,' I say, 'but it will affect me here, in my home-grown Kentish lass heart.' And I give my chest a good thump.

It takes a while to recover from the coughing fit. I do a fair amount of rolling around on the floor in a spectacular fashion because the thump has displaced a nibble of crumpet that wasn't quite up and wasn't quite down so really couldn't make up its mind where it was heading.
'Feeling better now?' says Andy, when normal colour has returned to my face.
'Yes, thank you,' I say. 'I think I'll go for a run. Get rid of some of this pent-up aggression.'
'Good idea,' says Andy.

And downstairs in the dining-hall, Mrs Slocombe is panicking, and Mrs Miggins is trying to unpanic her by giving her beak a good slap.
'Calm down and tell us what's happened,' commands Mrs Miggins.
'Concrete...houses...Much Malarkey Manor...we're all DOOMED!!!' pants Mrs Slocombe.
'What are you talking about?' says Miggins.
'We've got to move the Manor,' says Slocombe. 'I heard them talking. Denise and Andy. The Manor is going to have two gazzillion house built over it, in concrete, with flag poles and clubs of an unwholesome and dubious nature. No planning. It's just going to happen!'

Mrs Miggins holds Mrs Slocombe at wing's length. 'Are you sure?' she says. 'This is exactly what you heard being said, is it? You have had your pills this morning, haven't you?'
Mrs Slocombe nods. 'Word for word. Denise was rolling around on the floor in hysterics over it.'

Mrs Miggins stared at Mrs Pumphrey, still recumbent on the trestle table, who shrugs her shoulders.
'If it's true, we have to do something about it,' she says. 'Much Malarkey Manor is our home. We can't give it up without a fight.'
'Indeed,' says Miggins. She raises herself up to her full nineteen inches, and puffs out her chest to its full twenty five. 'Never,' she begins, 'has a hen been called to undertake a task as gargantuan as this. We shall fight them on the building site, we shall not be beaten. For we are poultry, strong of beak and stern of beady eye. We are descended from the velociraptor, one of the most feared of all dinosaurs to walk this earth, this reptiled isle. Stand up with me, fellow hens, 'gainst the injustice to be meted 'pon us...stand up with me, wing to wing, strange leathery foot to strange leathery foot...stand up with me and...'

'Ahem,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'What?' snaps Mrs Miggins, who doesn't like to be disturbed when making a rousing speech.
'I would, under normal circustances, be proud to stand up with you,' begins Mrs Pumphrey.
'So what's stopping you now?' demands Miggins.
'I've glued myself to the trestle table,' says Pumphrey.

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