Tag Archives: MI6

A woman is like a tea bag . . . (episode 58)

mole

January 25 1999

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

My Dear Ralph

I came across the above quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt the other day. It is completed by the sentence: ‘You can’t tell how strong she is until you drop her in hot water.’

And this reminded me of my rise through the ranks of MI6 – and final promotion to director general in 1990. Of course, at that time, I could neither confirm nor deny that I was under consideration for this position: the Secret Intelligence Service was, after all, not officially acknowledged to exist. But exist we did, in the building known as Century House, which was located near Waterloo railway station. Along with the existence of MI6 itself, the function of Century House was one of London’s worst-kept secrets. We felt observed – and pointed out – by every taxi driver, tourist bus, and passing KGB agent! Even worse, the building had been recently audited as ‘irredeemably insecure.’ Constructed largely of glass – and with a petrol station located at its base – this was self-evidently true.

I have never been a showy kind of woman. I enacted my role as assistant director with analytical thoroughness and attention to detail, never, quite possibly, feeling fully at ease with my colleagues. I am not good at small talk, despite – at times – demonstrating a quite coruscating sense of humour. Amongst my strengths, however, was an imperative drive to challenge any decision which I felt was weak or wrong. This did not necessarily earn me friends amongst some of my (often male) colleagues. Don’t forget dear, this was still at a time when a woman’s – equal – capabilities could be resented and before equality of pay was introduced. And although I have worked with clever, strong, and decent men, there were, nevertheless, frequent occasions when I had to suffer a chummy paternalistic arm slung around my shoulders and words akin to, ‘Ho ho ho E! You don’t really think that do you?’

Finally, in 1990, the post of Director General became vacant. No-one applied because it was not then customary to do so. And it was not advertised because, in the eyes of the outside world, we were not supposed to exist. One was simply appointed. I still recall the shock I felt upon being told, as there is quite some difference between being one of a cast of hundreds – coming and going – and being head of an institution whose function it is to counter foreign intelligence and terrorism!

Matters were not assisted when it became apparent that the national press had got wind of my promotion, proceeding to besiege me with requests for photographs. I must admit pet that – after the initial consternation had worn off – I thought, ‘To hell with it. Let them have them.’ And that is how articles got into the Lambeth Echo (amongst others) to the effect that the Secret Intelligence Service had appointed ‘a scruffy English woman’ to the chief post and that ‘I might apply a lick of paint’ and ‘attend the hairdressers from time to time!’ I was mortified dear, as you may imagine. In fact, ever since, and certainly after I met Pom-Pom, I have never ventured forth without being immaculately accoutred or, indeed, disguised.

I hope you can tell from this Ralph, that I have not been the weaker sort of teabag. And that, when steeped in hot water, I turned it into the deeper sort of gold.

Yours

Aunt Evangeline

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Capture net . . . (episode 36)

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401B Concrete Shacks
Walthamstow
LONDON E17 4VK

July 7 1997

REFLECTIVE DIARY: DAY ONE

I have been asked – here at the drug rehabilitation project – to keep a reflective diary. I am assured that no-one will be creeping into my room to examine my efforts, but I don’t know if I believe that! (I think I may have to have the ‘official’ version – laid in a conspicuous place – and this one). They still haven’t given me back my mobile phone . . .

Aunt Evangeline visited yesterday. I could hear her dulcet tones cutting through the air at the front-of-house ‘sentry post.’ I am used to her diminutive stature but was completely unprepared for the immaculate vision which materialized before my eyeballs. I mean, I am used to seeing Auntie’s French Pleat (in honey blonde) but this time the colour was a more delicate and, if I may say it, age-appropriate silver. There was also no sign of the plum nail extensions, magenta beads, and slightly-too-short skirt! My jaw flopped open. Auntie was decked out in dark grey, knee-length, skirt and an ivory silk blouse. A restrained-looking gem ruby glittered at her neckline. And whereas her fingers are normally bejewelled in a selection of rather garish-looking rings, she was only wearing a Carnelian signet on the third finger of her right hand. I know she has spent decades ‘under cover’ – and maintains a ‘front’ – but this is the first time I have seen her accoutred in a costume befitting one who has occupied the position of ‘C.’

Auntie gazed round at the project sitting room – equipped with a number of well-sat-upon sofas and a bulky television set – and suggested we repair to the garden for a more private conference. I didn’t even know the project had a garden (gardens are not spaces I have much interest in) but Auntie must have sighted it from the controls of her ‘Little Bird’ helicopter the other evening. We did have to ask a project worker if we could exit the premises for a stroll around outside and, after a slight (over-suspicious in my view) moment of hesitation, he did agree.

“Well. Favourite nephew,” Auntie said, gazing all about her, “And how are you?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but Auntie appeared to be racing off over the brambles and stinging nettles towards a tree which was set in what should, surely, have been a mown lawn. I may have pursed my lips slightly at this point, because I do find it hard to understand this mania for horticulture. There are far too many nasty – biting – insects outdoors in my opinion, and I am more prone than most to getting bitten by them. However, by the time I had this thought, Auntie was nose-to-nose with the tree and getting a magnifying glass out of her handbag!

“Look nephew,” she said. “A Snake Bark Maple!” They are really quite rare you know. Look at the stripy-green bark and the hanging tiers of foliage!”

“Come back here Auntie,” I called, from my position firmly upon the path (what remained of it). “Whatever will people think!” And, luckily, Auntie managed to unglue her eyes from the Snake Bark Maple and return to my side. “I was just about to say,” I said, “that I fear my contributions to Role Play and Group work may have brought about unwelcome consequences. Miss Fothergill appears to think that I am not yet ready for release.”

Auntie looked pensive. “Can you not just keep schtum Ralph? I know it’s difficult but, under semi-prison circumstances like these, people like Miss Fothergill have all the power. And – if they can’t relate to your particular manifestation of the self – they may abuse that power.”

“I know Auntie,” I said. “But she is talking about psychosurgery for the non-compliant Benzodiazepine addict. And I don’t know if she can actually make that happen. There was some mention of a radio-active implant into the ‘nerve cells carrying disordered behaviour’ – and part of my brain could be permanently ablated! I need to hang on to my own self Auntie. I don’t know when I shall need it! My capacity to achieve something creditable – or even to express my own, inimitable, self – could be completely taken away from me here. It’s not as if I don’t have insight. I know that Dad – with his competitive ways – destroyed any hope of my developing self-esteem. And that this happened at a very young age. But I have found out now what I am good at. I know that I want to represent others. Whether or not this could be as a union shop steward – I can’t see me straying far from the politics of the vulnerable – or something else, I don’t know. Please help Auntie. I feel in danger here.”

There was somewhat of a pause while Aunt Evangeline absorbed this information. And then she said, “Would your friend Kev be willing to help? For I should need someone to operate the helicopter’s metal-weighted ‘capture net’ should we transport transport anyone abroad for a spell in the Gobi desert – and a long trek back! I should think this could be accomplished in a week or two. I should have to have the electronic winch serviced of course. I presume that Miss Fothergill is not actually resident on the premises?”

I assured Auntie that Miss Fothergill did indeed leave the premises promptly every evening at 5pm. And there the matter rested.

I think I’m going to have to flush this version of my ‘reflective diary’ down the toilet forthwith! It is not an item that I can afford to have hanging about in my room with a whole ‘army’ of snoops in the vicinity!

Interpol are looking for you . . . (episode 16)

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

April 19 1997

My Dear Ralph

Thank you for your enlivening letter pet. It is always of interest to receive an account of your activities over at Concrete Shacks! I am wondering if you have any further news regarding your commission as paid informant within the British All-White Party? I would be very careful if I was you. As you know, these ‘smiling suits at the front door’ espouse a political ideology which – at its worst – approaches that of outright Fascism. I know you would be paid to assess the degree to which local ‘cells’ would intend to dismantle the institutions of democracy/forcibly repatriate our non-white citizens, but sometimes high remuneration can come at significant personal cost. I will however say that – with your shaved head style of ‘hairdo’ and bicycle clip mode of transport – you may indeed become accepted as one of the flock!

My own activities have been considerably more pastoral. My chum Flamingo kindly invited to pay for luncheon at Short’s Arms the other day. She is recently back from a business trip visiting car manufacturing plants in the Far East and hinted at one or two items of ‘booty’ she had secured from the prestige establishments she has been staying in – and would be bringing along. We met up in the car park of said inn at around midday. I arrived first in the mud-bespattered Banger 0.9L but the impeccably turned out Flamingo rolled across the gravel shortly afterwards in her bottle green Triumph Spitfire Mark IV. This automobilie gleamed pet and, owing to sightings of the actual sun, she had the roll back hood down to reveal some tens of exciting-looking packages stashed on the back seat. We were thrilled to see one another! She hugged a bear-like woolly figure clad in a plaited blue hat and I hugged an elegantly-accoutred form draped in streaming pink scarves and glittery black leggings.

Greetings over, we traipsed into the inn and – ensconcing ourselves in a darkened corner – we examined her offerings. I ran my fingers over the nap of luxurious hand towels (marked with navy blue insignia), bars of rose-scented soap, and exquisitely marked bottles of spirits. The colours, scents, and textures were delectable dear – especially to one equipped with rough-looking towels and basic bars of simple soap back at Forsythia Grove! One last item was of especial interest and it was nestling in a small box of tissue paper. It was a ring and Flamingo declared that she had come across it under a bed at the Grand Palace Hotel.

“It looks as if it might be valuable,” I said. “Do you think anyone is missing it?”

“Oh no,” said my chum. “I think it is a large chunk of cubic Zirconium set in a silver band.” We looked at it dubiously.

“It could be on a list somewhere,” I said, looking straight at Flamingo, who was not looking at me.

“You live near a silversmiths don’t you?” she said. “Couldn’t you get it valued?”

“I could,” I said, “But it is rather close to home don’t you think?”

The long and the short of it pet, is that I dropped it off at the Marcus Emporium of Silverware, on my way back to Outer Hamlet, and requested an examination of said piece.

I am not altogether sure, dear, whether I should be getting involved in activities of this kind? After all – if a new government is indeed elected in the next few weeks – I may accept any offer to be Chair of the country’s ‘Internal Security Committee.’ And there is also the (tempting) prospect of being appointed to the position of Life Peer in the House of Lords. As Baroness Evangeline Tankful DCBE, I could hardly be associated with any form of shady goings-on, could I? I may even have to terminate my connection with yourself nephew!

Anyway, back home after a long – delaying – conversation with one of my acquaintances in Economy Fare, I discovered that I had a message on my telephone answer phone. It was a message I could unfortunately not decipher, owing to a fault on the line which manifested itself as a loud, crackling, snow storm through which almost nothing could be heard. However, I did think that I could pick up one phrase and that was: “And Interpol are looking for you . . .” Dear me pet. Whatever next! I could almost wish that dear Flamingo, Isadora Duncan-like, had been suffocated in one of those long scarves that stream out behind her in her Spitfire – and that this had happened before she reached Short’s Arms!

Yours

Aunt Evangeline

P.S. No further word from Interpol (so far). Perhaps this is because my telephone line has now gone completely dead, with not even yesterday’s snowy crackle to fill the air . . .

Extensive aquifers . . . (episode 11)

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

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?

Mum

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 10

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

April 10 1997

Dear mum (in law)

Thank you for your letter which was heart-rending in its effect. I cried for ages after reading it. It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how an awful trauma like that can be stored up in your head – and still express itself so powerfully – so many years later. But I’m not sure I’ve got your strength . . . I don’t feel able, at the moment, to ‘discover the truth’ regarding Austen. Suppose what I found out was so terrible that I had to do something? What effect would my actions have on the twins? (I know they have left home now, but still.) Would I be able to cope with life alone and outside the political fold? I like our house; we have lived in it for nearly fifteen years and I like to think that the colours inside and the plants outside have something to do with my own style and tastes. Where, after all, would I go?

It is sunny this morning and a bit warmer. I have been walking round our garden looking at the ‘yellow’ border I planted some years ago (before things got on top of me as they did). There is a variegated Privet; a Mahonia; a variegated Euonymous; a silver-leaved Potentilla; a Phlomis; a Broom; a Berberis, and two Hypericums – all with yellow foliage or flowers!
And also a low Box hedge I planted to form a border all along the edge. Daffodils are blooming in it at the moment and it is beautiful. Now I am sitting in a reclining chair, just inside the patio doors, with next door’s cat on my lap and the sun dozing on my eyelids. I am just having a Lady Grey tea and watching one of those American TV movies that seem to be on most mornings.

I wonder what Austen is doing?

Your loving daughter (in law)

Harriet

Wake up screaming . . . (episode 9)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling
TRACKLESHIRE TR2 4PN

April 8 1997

My mind explores its own labyrinth Harriet. I will tell you what happened between Sir Charmer and myself. And then I will tell you about my relationship with Austen: my child and your husband. This is what seems most logical. Also, I must say, since beginning to talk about these events – buried deep in the personal archives of my brain – telephones have started ringing in my dreams (telephones which, when I have lifted the receiver, have no-one at the other end) and I wake up screaming.

Like yourself, I accoutred myself in unobtrusive clothing on the morning I decided to follow Sir Charmer – and his two golden retrievers, Barkis and Peggotty – out on his walk to Netherton woods. Sir Charmer set off at a hot, licking, pace and I was hard put to keep him in sight on the darkness of the paths surrounding our country seat. On my mind was his latest set of odd remarks, which included: ‘there’ll always be the next one’ and ‘slowly slowly catchee monkey.’ I was luckier (or unluckier) than yourself because, after we had gone a mile or so, we started to approach the point where the path from the village joins the path from our house. And on it, without any question of an error, was Sindie, the young animal groomer from Netherton village. Her flame-red hair shone through the sapling birch trees which separated the paths at this point, and she was accompanied by her long-haired dachshund, Mitzi. Actually dear, at this point, I couldn’t bear to continue and stood rooted to the spot for quite some minutes – minutes during which I could hear low murmurings, and giggles, filtering through the foliage. I’m afraid I went back home Harriet for I loved Sir Charmer – much as you do Austen – and probably for similar reasons.

When he did return home, an hour or so later, I confronted him. I said, ‘If you don’t tell me the truth Charmer, I will carry on looking for evidence one way or another.’

And he said, ‘Alright. I have been seeing her. It’s hardly anything. Try to distract yourself . . .’

I said, ‘Is that the truth?’ I think I was so confused about it all – and so hoping that none of it was true – that I gave him this foolish get out.

Sir Charmer immediately reversed himself and said, ‘No. I hardly know her.’ And there matters rested.

I carved up the house Harriet (metaphorically speaking) and removed myself to the other end of it. I slept in the small room next door to Austen’s nursery for the rest of my married life and carried on my duties around the house with as little contact with Sir Charmer as possible. I’m afraid I never spoke to – or acknowledged – the girl from the village who, for some months, persisted in trying to wave to me from behind the steering wheel of her new Mini. But I was having none of it and eventually she gave up. I feel slightly bad about that now, I must say, because I realize that – living with her mother, who had schizophrenia -she was probably a vulnerable individual who simply succumbed to the attentions of the predatory Sir Charmer OBE.

To revert the subject back to Austen, I do, there again, feel slightly guilty. Austen was the most ravishing child; equipped, like his father, with the most bountiful good looks and the same Cerulean blue eyes. In the absence of a husband to whom I could turn, I simply gave my attentions – and affection – to the child. I’m afraid I lauded him for his beauty Harriet, when I should have developed his character. And perhaps he learned that, with such looks and charm at his disposal, there was simply no need to develop a character.

I should add, I think, that Austen was actually quite a creative child and it was the Dowager Lady Tankful who brought out this side of his nature on her weekend visits. I remember that he produced a very creditable knitted tea cosy, wrought in blackberry stitch, and also one or two Fair Isle boy’s jumpers inlaid with patterns of tall ships, passing. (I think the Dowager Lady Tankful – an individual with frustrated mathematical talents – must have helped him a bit with the latter!) I don’t know what happened to this hobby in later childhood for I’m afraid he was sent to boarding school at the age of seven. By then, my career with the Service was taking up more and more of my time and, in 1959, it was very common to send children from the upper classes away to school. Who knows exactly what has to happen for a child – and then the adult – to go wrong.

Well I’m tired now darling (and not a little upset). I am packing for my return to Forsythia Grove, so please can you address your next correspondence to my demesne there.

Yours

Mother (in law)

Lapping at sauces . . . (episode 8)

3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

April 6 1997

What happened next mum? You can tell me now. Don’t wait!

I did put on a brown-and-green clothing ensemble for my effort at tracking Austen across Hyde Park, and also a blue head scarf to blend me in with the waters of the Serpentine! And then, timing it carefully, I set off five minutes after him at 7.45am. The weather was cloudy thankfully; I think the sun and a clear blue sky might have made me feel floodlit under the heaven’s attentions! I entered the park at the Victoria Gate feeling quite beside myself with anxiety on the one hand, and quite ridiculous on the other. I could see Austen some 100m
ahead on a parallel path and about half of his right arm, which appeared cut off at the elbow. It suddenly occurred to me that he must be holding a mobile telephone and also that he was talking to someone on it. I remember a time (not so long ago) when these phones were around the size of a house brick, but Austen has obviously got hold of a more modern, smaller, one and not mentioned it. It was round about then that I bumped into Joyce, from Stephenson’s Antiques, who was coming the other way. Luckily, I don’t think she can have seen Austen or she would have said. Well I had to stop mum; I couldn’t just rush past going apparently nowhere, without even the dog as a suitable prop. So I stopped to chat and, all the while, Austen was getting smaller and smaller on a path ahead. He seemed to be heading for a rather remote clump of London Plane trees at the edge of the park, but it was impossible to tell really. And by the time I got away from Joyce, and up to the trees, there was no sign of him. The stress of it all quite wore me out anyway!

In fact, the whole twenty-two years I have spent married to Austen has quite worn me out. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but it has been like spending time with a hologram. You put your hand out – apparently towards physical substance of some kind – and it passes straight through him. I am not at all sure that Austen has a definite personality (with definite values) all of his own; it seems to warp and bend with his mood and the particular circumstances of the moment. One minute he is exhibiting a ‘hail fellow well met’ style of demeanour and the next his facial features seem to resemble that of a maggot wiggling at the end of a hook. It’s as if any apparent strength is just a fluid skin of some kind that can strip off at any moment. I don’t think that is the case for most of us is it mum? My own self and values feel pretty immutable and I am always ‘me’ wherever I am and whatever the pressures I feel under. Maybe I am a bit weaker if I am being opposed but I never quite feel that I am actually fragmenting and becoming a void. Whatever it is, I find it frightening because I never feel that a whole man is coming towards me and tackling all those issues that any marriage must face if it is to call itself healthy. Austen is someone who doesn’t want to face anything difficult; he is a man who wants to spend his life running away.

Of course, he is a delight in the kitchen as you know; he seems to have innate – and wonderful – skills in the arena of haute cuisine and hardly ever needs to consult a recipe in order to produce a gustatory masterpiece. He is a man of the senses and is never more appealing than when he is supping upon soups, lapping at sauces, and imbibing fine port. His whole body flows across the cooking space and exudes a quite unmatchable warmth. And, of course, that’s why I’ve stayed with him: joy after joy in the arena of the senses. Joys, I suspect, that very few other men – and only other sensualists – could match. But, as for Austen himself, there is no self or only a self that considers itself and none other.

I’m sorry to say all these awful things about your own son. Forgive me!

Your loving daughter (in law)

Harriet

Days were darkened . . . (episode 7)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling
TRACKLESHIRE TR2 4PN

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!

Yours

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.

Cerulean blue eyes . . . (episode 6)

3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

April 1 1997

Dear mum (in law)

Thank you for your advice. I will try. I think I am afraid of what I might see, if I cross Hyde Park just after Austen.

I am sitting here at my dressing room table and looking into my mirror. My face is forty years old now and may be looking slightly baggier than it did ten years ago. I still have my long black hair (pinned back this morning by fuschia clips) and the same (I know I shouldn’t say this myself) beautiful body and black-lashed blue eyes. Austen – as you know – is the same age, but perhaps men wear better than women. What do you think mum?

Perhaps we married too early. Eighteen is very young. But when Austen was wheeled into the ward of Streamford hospital (having, as you know plummeted out of his ‘halls’ window en route to a tryst) all I could see – indeed any of us nurses could see – was debonair charm and a lock of blonde hair swinging back from his face. I think he knew, even then, how to engage his beautiful voice, and Cerulean blue eyes, in the seduction of women. Where did he learn this mum? Do they do this to you somehow at boarding school?

I think I hoped, when we married, that I would have a companion in whom I could trust and who would always adore me. That must sound very naive. But the reality of Austen is that he seems to think only of himself and, more than once, he has uttered the words, “My way or no way.” It is difficult to know what to make of a statement like that. Up to recently, I think I have always wanted to think the best of everybody – indeed I may have been projecting goodness for my whole life so far – but perhaps the question I should (finally) be asking myself is: is Austen really a good man? It is still difficult to think honestly about that because Austen, when he suffers some kind of setback from behind the scenes (a setback he would never discuss with me) he is just about as endearing and lovable as any man on the face of the planet.

The counsellor at the alcohol rehabilitation centre seemed to think I might be suffering from a condition called ‘thrall’ which appears to mean – when all is said and done – that I have turned into some kind of doormat who lives only to please my husband. But even if this is, to some degree true, I have been ably assisted in it by Austen – who has always extolled the practice of motherhood and abhorred any sign of interest in anything else. That reminds me mum. The twins went up to university last September and (so far) all seems to be going well.

I must go out and walk Ferris now; he has grown into a fine dog. People are always saying that Labradors (especially black ones like him) have coats which gleam in the sunlight – and this is certainly true. Thanks for all your news about cats by the way; I have always liked them as you know.

Your loving daughter (in law)

Harriet

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 5

mole

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling
TRACKLESHIRE TR2 4PN

March 31 1997

Your letter moved me Harriet, more than I can say. I have thought long and hard about my advice and it is this: find out the truth. Once you know that, I may be able to offer further assistance. In truth, your missive reminds me of the time I was a young mother (Austen was only two) living in our country seat in Martonshire. I won’t go into what happened then because it might be completely different to what may be happening to yourself. We will see.

Here at Wilderness Row, one puzzling event has been the advent of a note – clad in a home-made envelope – which appeared on the door mat yesterday morning. It was from my glass-clanking neighbour, resident next door. This lady – for it is a lady going by the name of one Miriam – seemed to be asking me to go along next door to feed and clean out her foster cat, Basher, who is apparently whiling away his days in a wire and wood premises located in her garden. (Loud bursts of howling have been emanating from that direction in recent days.) Miriam wrote that she had had an urgent call to attend a sick relative in the town of Carter-in-the-Woods and would be back by the end of next week. That is nearly seven days away dear! In return, Miriam is promising a magnificent feast and several demijohns of her home-made cider . . . She then went on to explain that she had left a fencing helmet and leather gauntlets outside Basher’s pen and that I was certainly best advised to outfit myself in them, before opening the door! Also that, should I acquire puncture wounds of any description on any part of my person, I should immerse the affected part in any available alcohol for as long as I can bear. Basher does give some slight warning of an impending attack apparently: he narrows his eyes. I don’t know pet. Perhaps even the appearance of Carstairs, bearing a club hammer in his glove, might be preferable to the scenario described in this note!

Well, naturally, I had a stiff nip of something fortifying – in addition to partaking of actual breakfast – as a way of preparing myself for this task. And then, clad in several layers of clothing, I arrived at the exterior of Basher’s pen. These premises are equipped with two exterior doors (wired and bolted) and the purpose seems to be to allow a visitor through one door, bolt it, and then proceed through the next door without any possibility of the inmate exiting into the local countryside! I couldn’t find the fencing helmet anywhere – just a pair of stout gloves – and I came to the conclusion that perhaps Miriam was joking. What do you think dear? I couldn’t see Basher at this point and my main impression was that I was actually surrounded by a rather eerie silence. An armchair – piled with magazines and newspapers – resided in the covered walkway leading to an elevated wooden compartment and, since there was nowhere else to be, I had to assume that Basher was inside it. I hovered, Harriet . . . And then I decided to sit down and leaf through the magazines; after all, poking one’s nose into someone’s darkened, private, bedding space hardly seemed the wisest, or the most tactful, method of approach. I thought perhaps that I would attend to any feeding/cleaning out activities after a decent period of mutual (if invisible) acquaintance. Well the magazines, containing all sorts of colourful photographs of sterling work in local gardens, were quite relaxing – not to say soporific – in their effect and I started to feel my eyelidsd droop a little. In fact, they drooped so much that I believe I was soon fast asleep! (It has been hard to relax in my own demesne owing to one or two springs – rusty – poking through the mattress on the downstairs sofa.)

When I woke up, after God knows how many minutes had expired, it was to a quite unusual sensation. Someone, or something, appeared to be applying a rasping pink tongue to my face and nose and, do you know dear, an actual paw was resting on my shoulders. I cracked open an eyeball and, opposite mine, was a yellow iris with a vertically-extending black pupil. Basher was engaged in the act of washing my face – and doing a very thorough job of it I must say. I naturally thought it prudent not to move a muscle for I have read that a damaged cat’s emotions can turn on a sixpence. I kept my hands to myself and my eyes closed. And then, after five minutes or so, I felt something curl up on my knees and soon Basher himself was snoring on my lap with his eyes shut. This keeping yourself to yourself certainly seems to work with a cat like this and I did, eventually, succeed in both putting food in his bowl and cleaning out his litter tray – emerging unscathed in the process.

I must say that I am hoping I will hear from Sergeant Blackstone (of the Inner Hamlet cop shop) today as it sounds like progress is being made towards the capture and arrest of Carstairs. And once that occurs, I will be able to return to Forsythia Grove! I am rather missing this latter demesne dear; life is so much easier when one doesn’t have to drag water up from a well and engage in making paper firelighters!

Chin up now darling

Mum (in law)