Tag Archives: spies

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!

Medieval lament . . . (episode 27)

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

May 8 1997

Dear Mum

Things have not been easy here. I have felt struck down by massive waves of rage, alternating with massive waves of grief, like nothing I have ever known in my life. Every time I stand up, I start to feel dizzy. It is unlike me to experience anger – either brief or sustained – and I simply don’t know what to do or how to handle it, short of buying a shotgun and disposing of Austen (who, apparently, has bought a flat with Ariel on the other side of Hyde Park, in Knightsbridge). He has moved in with her if what I hear is true.

However, I have now written my own version – in plain English – of the anonymous medieval poem, ‘The Wife’s Lament,’ This poem, mum, appears in the Exeter Book, which is a tenth century collection of old English poetry. And the poem itself has been translated from the original Anglo Saxon by someone called Richard Hamer. There weren’t any sheep in the primary version I must admit – and nor are there any in Hyde Park – but somehow I just felt like putting some in! Perhaps this is because it is Spring and we keep seeing lambs on TV – dotted about like cotton wool balls – in the fields. That is, we are seeing them now, before they are sent off for (invisible) slaughter.

Well here it is, the poem I mean.

MEDIEVAL LAMENT

I sing to myself of the days of my sorrow
since the loss of my faith and confidence
in him. It as been a long life, of much pain and many breaks
of my heart. Alone now, in the cave
of my house, the cave of my life, I suffer
the anguish of treachery, the dry dirt
of my path – a path which goes nowhere
lacks source and arrival, and winds on and on.

First my lord went off with another
and hid amongst sheep. I worried at dawn
and at dusk where on earth my horseman might be?
When I set out myself, in the pale light of sun
to follow his hoofbeats, his leather and fur
the whole world out hunting may have guessed
at my search. And thought to divide us
so that we would live far apart in this land
most downcast and sad. Longing seized hold
of me and I padded the earth.

My lord commanded me to take a far path
away from him. I had few loved ones and friends
to protect me, so I did as he bid me. Then
I found that my most fitting man had hid his real mind
and was plotting untruth, behind the smile
on his face. We had sworn in the past that only death
could divide us. But all that is changed now
and is as if it had never been. I feel the black looks
of the one who is dearest to me.

I have been forced to dwell in a burrow of earth.
It is dark except for the lightness of hair
and the ringing of bells and the sheep we all follow.
Only sometimes at dawn, in the sun, is there
some sign of green on the hills and blue in the lake
where geese flash in the sky and hiss in their death.
There are those who lie quiet and close in their beds
hands touching, skin upon skin. I am not
one of these and never shall be. I am an exile from this.

Let my lord have also lost thoughts at dusk
when blackness grows deep and dew forms
on the grass. Let him also have days under cliffs
chilled by north winds, and weary of mind.
There is no escape from cold stone and limitless water.
My beloved will suffer the cares
of a sorrowful mind; he will remember sometimes
the warmth of a hearth, the flame of heart wood.

Woe to the one who must pine for the loss
of the one that they love!

Anonymous

What do you think mum? Do you ‘like’ it? There was just something about it that struck me, somehow, as being the utterly perfect distillation of human grief.

Meanwhile, in the interests of getting away from it all, I have booked a berth on a cargo ship returning to Cuba. It’s one which is used to transport granulated sugar into the UK and agricultural machinery back to Havana. Ralph will certainly approve of the Socialist political regime there, won’t he? And I hear now that tourists are no longer kept segregated from the indigenous Cubans upon arrival!

I have negotiated a reduction on the price of my passage, on the understanding that I will perform evening readings from my poems. I don’t think they would normally have been too keen on this idea, but I convinced them in the end, by sending in a batch of my poems – with exciting content – in an attachment by email!

With love from your daughter (in law)

Harriet

Twinkly light settings . . . (episode 26)

mole

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

May 5 1997

I’d like to take issue with you pet, concerning your usage of the descriptor, ‘lady.’ To a woman of my years, and experience, this word is suggestive of someone decked out in pink and frilly attire, and who may also be defective in general intellect and competence. A ‘lady’ is someone men can put on to a pedestal, someone they can – at one and the same time – both idealize and despise. I am, of course, thinking of men of the ilk of Sir Charmer Tankful OBE and the Rt. Hon. Austen Tankful MP – my own (late) husband and son. So, dear, try to think instead of the term ‘young woman’ because this phrase does at least endow us with the status of actual human being and individual. Consign your ‘lady’ to the bin!

On a totally different note, my chum Flamingo kindly invited me to attend the Carlton Country Hotel’s health spa last week. It is so long since I engaged in a svelte experience of this kind, that I could barely remember what such facilities could offer! The drive there was vertically challenging and, indeed, I had forgotten that the adjacent county of Littonshire features such mountainous terrain. It did not help, I must admit, that the Banger 0.9L has an exhaust pipe which will keep bouncing up and down on the tarmac. It is also a slight worry that corrosion may have advanced to the point where I fear that the seats may altogether drop through the floor on to the road!

Eventually, however, I did arrive at the hotel’s (rather difficult) access point, which was on a distinct camber in relation to the hill upon which it is situated. The first thing that struck me about these premises was the very long, dripping, drive that passed through any number of cherry laurels and sawn-off tree stumps. If I was purchasing these premises, I think I might have to invest a capital sum in both hard- and soft-landscaping. Patrons will surely desire both a sighting of the valley view beneath and one of the actual hotel – complete, possibly, with the twining stems of a Virginia Creeper wending its way up the walls. I felt inclined to volunteer my (invaluable) services I can tell you! And this inclination was furthered by the sight of a team of gardeners on the hillside, toiling with what appeared to be a fallen log. Do you know dear, I think I may give them a ring . . . With my experience at multiple venues over the years, I do believe I might be snapped up!

Flamingo was, as usual, most punctual and attired – very snappily – in a brown cashmere cardigan and leggings which had a most fetching blank panel running up the back of both legs. I could only wish that I myself was more consistent in this arena and not attired (that day) in a pair of khaki dungarees and a scarlet head band! We repaired, anyway, to the foyer of the hotel – albeit somewhat held back by Flamingo’s insistence on transporting a voluminous suitcase on wheels along with her.

“What’s that for?” I hissed.

“There might be some towels left lying around,” she said.

“Towels?” I said.

“Yes. You know.”

“Oh,” I replied.

Sometimes it’s just best not to go into things too deeply with Flamingo and, certainly, we were equipped, ourselves, with some very plush towelling garments over at the health spa reception desk. We then proceeded to the changing rooms and divested ourselves of our outer garments. Flamingo, I must say, has kept the most ideal of feminine forms and, by comparison, I did feel a trifle portly. (Nowadays pet, I find it best not to engage in any lingering examination of self in the mirrors at public venues. The light tends to be altogether too honest.) I enjoyed the steam room in particular. I liked the twinkly light settings in the ceiling and the way the steam warmed us through to the marrow. It was a rare privilege, and a pleasure, to have an experience only usually enjoyed by those equipped with some actual funds! And then there was the pool – full of clean blue water – with an atrium at one end which afforded a view across sky and the sunlit valley below. One unfamiliar feature was the Aluminium ‘stretchers,’ arranged beneath water, which, upon pressing a button, bubbled wildly around the users. But I think the facility providers saved the best experience to last, for the corridors led to a whirlpool with a considerable vortex at its centre. ‘Just jump in,’ read the notice.

I gazed at Flamingo and said, “Good God. Are they serious?”

“Oh yes,” she affirmed. “It leads back to the changing rooms.”

Society has certainly advanced since my days in the Service dear. Hotels were much plainer establishment, even in the 1980’s.

Well we did emerge – intact – on the lower floors (the chute was a little fast for my taste) and re-assembled our garb, admiring our newly-rosy faces in the mirrors. It was a bit of a job getting Flamingo back to the car park, because she would insist on toiling along with her heavily-laden suitcase. However, she had at least parked behind a large Viburnum tinus and I don’t think even CCTV could pass through that!

Yours (steam-pressed)

Auntie

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 25

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401B Concrete Shacks
Walthamstow
LONDON E17 4VZ

May 4 1997

What ho! Auntie

I hope the dust has settled somewhat over at Harriet’s now?

Things on the domestic front here at Concrete Shacks continue to be a little fraught. Jayne’s cat is now exiting the house – for long jaunts of exploration round the neighbourhood – and after dusk, every evening, I can hear her bawling, “My Cat . . . My Cat . . . ” up and down the alley beneath my bedroom window. Personally, I think he may be trying to find more fragrant toilet facilities than the ones on offer here, because about a week’s worth of shit piles up in the tray before she gets around to emptying it! She has also, sadly, produced a boyfriend who frequently turns up in order to avail himself of my hot water. I hear him bounding along the passage from her room into the bathroom, and then he appears to jump into a full bath, shouting, “Bath time for Brucey!” And, frankly Auntie, I’m not sure that they are ‘doing it’ much because I keep finding the bathroom bin brimming over with sticky-looking tissues!

I did eventually go to a local meeting of the British All-White Party, which was held in a rather seedy-looking room in the Feathered Hen. It was attended by a small, but fervently nationalist, group of individuals who were very aggrieved that non-whites (and, increasingly, Europeans) were ‘taking over’ ‘our jobs,’ ‘our schools,’ and ‘our housing.’ One could almost imagine the UK as an island whose coastline was bristling with a six-deep row of spears. The main plan expounded was to ‘send them back’ (at least no mention of ethnic cleansing or genocide) and it does seem that members of the British All-White Party feel safest – and most protected – living amongst all-English white faces. Of course, it was Napoleon Bonaparte who tried to unite Europe by dint of main force and, nowadays, things are more civilized – it being realized that a united global community is likely to be a more pacific one (albeit at the price, perhaps, of having an individual national identity diluted somewhat).

The main highlight of the evening is that I did see a rather tasty-looking young lady waiting outside the pub on my way out. However, it transpired (as I heard her greeting him) that she was waiting for her Dad, who is a member of the British All-White Party! And, as alluring as her charms may be, I don’t think I could suffer any loyalty which she may have to her father’s ‘get ’em out of here’ views!

Toodle pip!

Your nephew Ralph

In flagrante delicto . . . (episode 24)

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

May 1 1997

Dear Mum

I waited up on Saturday night for Austen to return. I sat by our black marble kitchen table, sipping espressos, and wearing a pink candlewick dressing gown which I know Austen hates (but which I like). I waited until after it had gotten dark and, even then, I didn’t turn on the light.

When he came into the room, and turned the light on, he didn’t expect me to be sitting there, still, in what had been dark. He went into hearty male mode: “Hello darling. Are you still up?”

I said, “I know about Ariel. I want you out of here by tomorrow.”

He said, “Don’t be so ridiculous. I hardly know her.”

I said, “I’ve got proof” – and slapped the videotape you sent me down on to the table. It clattered on the top.

It was funny – as in odd – then because his face took on a creepy sort of look, the sick look of someone who’d been caught in the act of committing a murder. The phrase in flagrante delicto comes to mind – perhaps because, actually, it rhymes with ‘sick’ and is, in all ways. But also it means: ‘caught in the act of a blazing wrong.’

He said, “What proof? How?”

I said, “We taped you at your mother’s.” (I hope you don’t mind mum – because it’s true)! His face took on a purple hue at this point and a stream of invective followed which I find both hard to remember and you wouldn’t wish me to repeat.

“It’s not as if we’re still running about doing it all over the place,” he shouted – as if that was some kind of justification for God knows how many months (or years) of lying.

I said, “I mean it Austen. I want you gone.”

“I’m going to bed,” he said. “We can discuss it in the morning.”

“If you don’t go,” I said, “I’ll contact the press. You’ll be on the the news. And if your side wins the election, don’t even think of the Cabinet!”

He went quiet then and tried a more conciliatory, and oozing, tone. “You know I care about you,” he said. “There’s no need for anything drastic.”

“It’s too late,” I said. “It’s been too late since I don’t know when. I should have trusted my instincts. This isn’t the first time. I’ve had enough. You thought you wouldn’t bother to treat me with kindness – or honesty – or respect. And that’s done for you now. I’m going to bed.”

And I just left him there, standing with his briefcase by the table, looking like the cockroach he is. That’s the thing with Austen. All the while you want affection (or love) or sex, he’s got the whip hand. It’s only when you can give all that up – and want nothing more from him – that you’ve got any hope of holding your own. I’ve had to do it, even though I still love him, because there’s just no other way. If I run after him wanting affection, he’ll run rings around me – he always has. And if I try to oppose him, he’ll just take away warmth. It’s true what that film – ‘War Games’ is it? – says, ‘Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.’ Well that’s what’s happened here and I’m glad of it.

He went anyway, the next day, and now I’m here all alone. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t suppose I will know for a very long time.

With gratitude for all your help mum. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Love from Harriet (your daughter – in law – but not for much longer).

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 . . .

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.