Tag Archives: stories

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?



Mole intelligence: EPISODE 10


3A Hyde Park Terrace

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)


Wake up screaming . . . (episode 9)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling

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.


Mother (in law)

Lapping at sauces . . . (episode 8)

3A Hyde Park Terrace

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)


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.