Tag Archives: humour

Extensive aquifers . . . (episode 11)

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet

April 12 1997

It’s alright darling. You will act (or not) when the time feels right. Even in an apparent interregnum your brain will still be working out what to do. If my recollections are correct Harriet, I believe you used to engage in the writing of poetry – and also that you were rather good at it? Isn’t there a local cafe you can attend, where you can read your musings out to a small audience of other poets? After all, whatever Austen is up to, he will find a way to carry on, and your sitting at home – with nothing to occupy your mind – will not stop him.

Meanwhile, I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am to be back here at my own demesne in Forsythia Grove. Partly this is because I can now access water from out of an actual tap; have a bath with hot and cold running water; avail myself of the facilities of an interior toilet, and flick a switch in order to access central heating! I don’t believe I have been fully connected to my own self up at Wilderness Row. Indeed, separated from my own, familiar, environment – and then plunging into a spate of the most distressing recollections – seems to have resulted in my exhibiting an altogether more serious turn of character in my correspondence than is my wont. It may be the case dear, that I have tended to detach myself from Life’s more serious, or worrying, considerations by engaging in a distinctly surreal style of writing!

In connection with Ralph, by the way, my hypothesis regarding his presumed abduction by a ‘far right’ political group has proved to be completely unfounded. I received the following missive from him yesterday:

“Hello Auntie, I am just back from my hols in the sovereign island country of Barbados. Accommodation was free – courtesy of the country’s extensive aquifers – although the constant ‘drip drip drip’ from the roof did dampen our spirits somewhat. We managed to evade capture by the Barbadian police however, and were even able to swell numbers on the ‘Keep our Coral Clean’ march through Bridgetown last week!

I hope you weren’t worried? I did mean to tell you I was going, but it was such a rush to get a late berth on ‘Sugar Cane Sue’ that you quite slipped my mind. Fond regards, your nephew, Ralph.”

Hmmph is what I think of that Harriet! Well take care dear. I hope all your more tempting liquid refreshments are long tipped down the kitchen sink?



Days were darkened . . . (episode 7)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling

April 3 1997

My Dear Harriet

I do realize that life must seem very bleak to you at the moment darling. But do try to believe me: you will get through it and, by the end, you will have become a stronger woman; indeed you will have become your own woman. I can say this with some assurance given my own early experiences at the hands of Sir Charmer Tankful OBE. The year was 1959 and, as I have said in my first epistle, Austen was only two. I myself was 24 years old and Sir Charmer – born as you may remember back in 1917 – was forty two. These should have been our halcyon years. Sir Charmer had enjoyed some considerable success as a (dashing) young submarine commander in the war and had taken up his seat in the House of Lords. And I myself had just embarked upon a career with the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS).

However, my days were darkened by Sir Charmer’s frequent absences and an increasing feeling that I was becoming marginalized at the edges of his life. When I tried to discuss my unease, he engaged in non-contextual remarks to the effect that I shouldn’t ‘fight losing battles’ and that he needed ‘stimulation and variety.’ And when I actually came out with it and asked him if he was seeing another woman I felt reduced to a state of confusion by his reply, which was: ‘You’re bizarre.’ Frankly darling, for quite some while, my mind moved like the black ooze at the bottom of a pond. Finally – feeling denuded absolutely of health, happiness, and sanity – I determined to find out what (if anything) was actually going on.

But perhaps I shouldn’t bore you with my own personal story at this point? It was, after all, so long ago and Sir Charmer has been (thankfully) deceased for over ten years now. Also, for all we know at present, Austen is attending a very early morning session of ‘pitch and putt’ in St James’s park!

Here at Wilderness Row, my neighbour Miriam has finally returned from her sojourn in Carter-in-the-Woods. And when she came round to invite me for supper yesterday evening – and a rubber or two of Bridge – I was in receipt of the news that her aunt had died and that she is due to inherit quite some considerable sum and the house! It turns out that a significant number – five in fact – of her aunt’s relatives have come to an unfortunate end recently: train wrecks, road traffic accidents, drug overdoses and the like. This quantity of unexpected demises does tend to offend the laws of probability somewhat, doesn’t it dear? I must say I feel quite fortunate that I am not a member of Miriam’s family myself. Still. She seems a chummy sort of character – in a bucolic kind of a way – and the possessor of quite a winning sort of persona manner. Sirens do, of course, rather go off in one’s mind when coming to conclusions of this kind about an individual’s character. The Service was always quick to point out that persons of this type should, if possible, be given a wide berth throughout life. And, failing that, they should be watched at all times – preferably with the aid of a microphone and a radio tracker!

Supper went off quite well – my head is still resounding from the after-effects of the cider some ten hours later – and our game of Bridge proceeded with the shark-like mentality with which it is usually invested. Miriam’s partner Onions (named thus for his cycle rides up and down the fells bearing strings of red onions) proved to be more cunning in his play than his looks might have suggested. And my own partner countermanded her age and physical minuteness with play of an unrelenting viciousness – even, I might add, having the gall to criticize my own capacity for memory, counting and concentration. I have always resisted the learning of this game. Sir Charmer was particularly keen on it – citing, I remember, the game’s opportunities for ‘hunting,’ but I felt that its values of calculation – and winning – sat uneasily with my own leanings towards creativity and, indeed, political groupings emphasizing the values of altruism and compassion. This was the era of Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament remember dear!

Good news regarding Carstairs by the way. He has finally been apprehended by the Corsettshire police and is currently interned at Small Cell gaol. I will be able to return home to Forsythia Grove – and its water from an actual tap – any day now!


Mother (in law)

P.S. In reply to your questions, I feel it may be the more narcissistic male who tends to age well; such individuals seem more immune to worry than the rest of us and so the flesh continues pink. And, as for boarding schools, I fear that time spent outside the bosom of a loving family may lead to a child becoming dangerously secretive and less able to form authentic bonds with others.

Air of intoxication . . . (episode 4)

3A Hyde Park Terrace


March 30 1997

Dear mum (in law)

Austen has told me that you have surfaced and are asking after me.  I’m not too bad.  I left the alcohol rehabilitation centre last year and the antidepressants the doctor has given me are helping (I think).  I did want to start having a hobby (as you suggested at the time) and thought I might start keeping budgerigars in an outside aviary.  However, Austen feels that there will be nobody to look after them when we go on holiday.  I don’t know when we last went on holiday.  You know how good he is at getting his own way.  It’s no good challenging him because he stops being endearing and lovable and becomes very cold (and sometimes angry).  Just recently he has started leaving home punctually at 7.40am for his walk across Hyde Park to the House of Commons.  He never used to leave so early (or on time).  Also he is sporting a sudden air of intoxication.  I don’t know what’s behind this.  I just know that I feel miserable.  What do you think I should do?

Yours loving daughter (in law)


A satisfied crocodile . . . (episode 3)


2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling

March 29 1997

Dear Austen

I think I glimpsed you on television’s ‘Parliamentary Channel’ yesterday child?  Parliament was debating fuel poverty in Martonshire and there you were – as MP for Middle Bit (south) – remarking upon the fact that some colliery towns in the 1970’s had refused to have mains gas supplied to their environs, owing to their loyalty to a local mine.  Of course, it was difficult to focus full attentions on your remarks owing to the intermittent snowy blizzard appearing on the black-and-white TV here and the fact that the screen kept revolving like a barrel on the roll.  I think this must be an errant ‘vertical hold’ control – a problem long since vanished from most television screens by the 1990’s.  However, despite the obscuring nature of the technology I was viewing, it did appear that you yourself rolled back in your seat in quite some state of somnolence.  It does tend to be a mistake to engage in the munching of creamy repasts and port in your club during luncheon, if I may suggest it pet?  Remember that the whole nation may be able to survey your closed eyelids, on screen, in this day and age and will not be admiring of any individual seated with the air of a satisfied crocodile on the back row!

I am penning today’s epistle because I am wondering if you would care to come over next week and partake of luncheon?  I am presently situated only 20 miles from the borders of your constituency (I presume you do attend the occasional surgery darling?) and so this should not be too inconvenient.  And, actually child, could you perhaps pack a hamper to bring with you?   My palate positively waters at the thought of savouring delicacies the like of which I may not have enjoyed since poor Pom-Pom lavished most of my MI6 pension ‘lump sum’ on the horses!  A hamper would additionally be most welcome as I am in-between post-retirement commissions – requiring use of my special licence – and funds are short.

Meanwhile, another day has dawned here at Wilderness Row and I have finally worked out how to successfully light the fires!  The not-so-seasoned Ash logs (split) are stashed in a sort of stone bothy at the back of the cottage, together with some kindling which resides in a basket.  Although the stone slate roof of this habitation seems to be intact, the interior (door-less) is dark and feels distinctly damp.  I have lumbered indoors now with several wheelbarrow loads of logs and these are presently steaming in front of the fire.  It helped a great deal, I must say, that I recollected my great aunt May’s instructions on how to origami firelighters out of sheets of newspapers and that the chimney appears to be open at the top!

Thank you for relaying the news of my recent resurrection to Harriet by the way.  I may write to her as I have some (feline) news which I know will not be of the slightest interest to yourself!



The water well . . . (episode 2)


2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling

March 25 1997

My Dear Austen

Thank you for your phone call yesterday evening child; it is some time since I have heard your bell-like tones chiming down the telephone cable.  I do wonder, however, at the reason behind your communication – as it is unlike you to engage in any completely selfless activity.  I think you may have been investigating my knowledge of your deceased father’s former contacts, with a view to securing personal advantage of some kind?  But, as you should know by now dear, I was always a very different animal to Sir Charmer Tankful OBE – and had very little to do with his activities in the sphere of golf, bridge, drinking, hunting and womanizing (especially the latter).  In fact, I developed quite my own, separate, group of friends and acquaintances – many of whom are quite indigent.  I actually don’t quite know what I’m doing on this antiquated computer here at Wilderness Row and hope my musings will be legible in your home at Hyde Park Terrace?

Meanwhile, I have been making one or two discoveries about my new domain.  One of my first surprises (not a very welcome one) was that the toilet facilities are situated some 20m beyond the back door near the end of the garden.  I did investigate this shack at my earliest ‘convenience’ and, seated upon a rough plank in the near-dark, I could discern (from the actual stench, forgive me darling) and from the fact that my nether regions appeared to be nearly lapping upon the ‘waters’ beneath, that effluent must drop into a cess pit – and that this facility requires emptying. My other – rather mortifying – find has been that water (for all functions) has to be lifted from a water well, also situated in the back garden.  This item has a waist high stone wall, arranged in the usual round, and a tiled roof from which the bucket is lowered, and raised, via a rope wound around a horizontal rail.  One winds a handle dear, in order to accomplish all this bucket rising and falling.  Gazing into the depths, I could initially only discern blackness and it was only by dint of dropping a half-red-brick over the side, that I could confirm that water was actually present at the bottom. Wild ginger seems to be the plant growing from the inside of the walls, near the apex, and its leaves are round and green and juicy.  I must remember pet, to keep the wooden lid in place on this facility after use, as it might be rather depressing to lose Chumley into its interior and to have to winch him out in the bucket.

It was positively a relief to retire to my bed yesterday evening – at the somewhat early hour of 10pm – I can tell you.  However, the bed at Wilderness Row does feel somewaht cramped compared to its king-sized counterpart back at Forsythia Grove.  Chumley, Meribel and myself seemed to be practically reclining nostril to nostril and my nostrils were, in particular, stuffed with recumbent furry posteriors as we turned throughout the night.  Sleep did not come easily as I could detect some strange sounds coming from the cottage next door.  These took the form of heavy glass clankings and then, periodically, a thump as if something even heavier had collided with the floor.  And I do believe I heard what might have been a burp!

In any event, dawn eventually came drilling through the window glass in the form of a continuous thumping sound.  When I rose to investigate, I could clearly see – without the aid of binoculars – that a lesser-spotted woodpecker was fastened to the trunk of an apple tree outside and rapping its beak against the bark.  I don’t know child.  I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that it wasn’t a cockerel crowing at 4am or a row of heavy freight rail trucks rattling past.  And also that I am still (miraculously) alive and able to enjoy a new day’s life – with its perennially attendant issues – at all!

Do give my love to Harriet won’t you?   I have heard nothing from her in recent years and hope she has moved beyond that phase where she, too, appeared to be engaged in – hidden – heavy drinking,  and the constant watching of day-time TV.   I am not at all sure what lay behind this domestic behaviour child, and earnestly hope that your own attitudes and behaviour had nothing to do with it?