Posted by: Chris Wright | August 8, 2008

The Happiest Days…

Mr. Gideon Gambit Gore leaned forward, conspiratorially. His long fingers steepled, the shaven dome, the tweeds, the ruddy windblasted cheekbones, still the schoolmaster, the unflinching disciplinarian.

“You see, Margaux, Peregrine was an unusual child – never seen anything quite like it, he responded badly to school life, never really embraced the opportunity…seemd to want to fight us…frightful rubbish of course for one so young..there was one particular incident I remember….”

It is 1934. Peregrine Percival Oatenshaw, aged seven, creeps as quietly as possible along the rubble strewn surface, taking care not to place a foot between the beams. Shafts of sunshine capture motes of dust in mid air, cartwheeling madly away from his footfall. The distant sound of the other children playing in the grounds floats faintly through the gaps in the roof.

He pauses to look at an old newspaper, long discarded, a photograph of a bearded gentleman, posing with cricket bat and pads, fragile and faded, the yellowing paper disintegrating in his hands. Pressing on, he comes to the door. He stands, intently listening, a distant creak, as if of a floorboard. The boy freezes then silently creeps into the shadow of the darkened stairwell, down a few steps and still, quiet. Nothing.

Through the door, high above the school grounds; Gore  barking orders floating up to the gothic ramparts. the boy is free, high up in the sky he scampers across the roofs, arms spread like an aeroplane. Now crouching he spies from above, the little head bobbing above the ramparts. The break bell chimes.

Inside the attic, a footfall, unmistakeable, announces the presence of the intruder, the boy’s eyes widen in fear, he is sure the heartbeat pounding in his ears will give him away. A long shadow cast across the attic blots out the light, then moves, across the dusty floor., pausing only yards from where he is concealed. Moving now, back to where he had come from.

The boy waits for thirty minutes or more, straining to hear anything other than the chatter of his distant friends. Nothing, still he waits, he has no sense of time…

Creeping back across that attic floor, an impossible distance with no hiding place, one step at a time, step, pause, listen; past the newspaper, at last, the darkness of the stairs in reach. Past the large footprints, the small ones already indistinct. The boy stops, motionless, listening. Silence.

Down the darkened steps, one at a time, step, pause, listen. The bottom of the stairs and only one door stands between the boy and the rough and tumble of school. Trembling hands on the iron door knob, turning slowly a millimetre at a time, opening, ajar, making himself thin, he is invisible, wafer thin. Only the curtain now. Willing himself to calm down, one quick step and he would be back in the school, back with his friends, filing into class.

The curtain explodes, rending the air. Exposed, Peregrine blinks in the unbearable light. A hand reaches in and grabbing him roughly by the hair, pulls him into plain view. Gore glaring, shaven skull and thin lips drawn tight across stained and yellowed teeth.  The shocked faces of the friends freeze, Finger and bony thumb, gripping the child by the ear as he is dragged wincing to the headmaster’s study.

Waiting outside the green baize door for the headmaster. Minutes pass, the school subsides once more into silence. The boy waits, anxiously, his heart beating, ears straining. A distant door slams, the sound of voices. Presently the creak of a floorboard announces the approach of the headmaster, heavy tread across the gallery, the smell of cigars and sweat.

“Wait here Oatenshaw.”

Minutes pass, no sound from within, the boy knows about this moment. He prays to some personal deity.

The punishment is swift and brutal, the cane swishes through the air, each stroke overloading his senses, the pain flashing like lightning. the boy does not cry. He will not cry.

Gideon Gore sits back, finishes his drink. “Margaux, it’s been a pleasure, so sorry to hear about Peregrine’s troubles, still Ad astra per aspera’ what!” Flexing his knuckles, he stands, knees cracking like whips, straightens, turns, positions his hat carefully upon his gleaming dome. A slight inclination of the head and he is gone.

Posted by: Chris Wright | August 2, 2008

Duck!

The teacup rattled in its saucer. Earl Grey slopping over the rim as Colonel Meridew Musters roared delightedly, his mirth echoing through the house. The kitchen staff, plucking fowl in preparation for dinner, smile to themselves, all’s well with the world.

“Bloody man’s dropped dead!”

A perusal of the obituary column was a traditional mainstay of a weekend at Muster’s country retreat, great amusement was to be found in accounts of the deaths of sundry despised school friends and business rivals.

Musters’ rubicund features appeared around the edge of the Times, mustaches quivering with ill suppressed hilarity.

“About bloody time! Did I tell you, Perry, about the time we took Algy for a trip to the marshes? Damn fool wouldn’t know one end of a gun from another!”

I was warming my buttocks in front of the roaring log fire in Musters’ Drawing Room. Spreading my coat tails for maximum warmth. Rising onto my toes for adjustment I shook my head, murmuring some blandishment in encouragement. My eye was taken by Marion Musters, the Colonel’s nineteen year old niece, down for the weekend from Chelsea. Algy was her fiancée. I’d been on the shoot, but that wouldn’t stop Musters. Marion caught me looking, blushed and looked hurriedly away. Chuckling, I sauntered over to the table taking care to admire myself in the mirror over the fireplace as I did so.  A touch of grey to be sure, but distinguished, adding gravitas.

“Turned up at dawn, dressed up like a blithering idiot – I’ve never seen such a sight in all my life – nearly set the dogs on him!”

“Dearest Algy,” I read, over Marion’s shoulder “It has been weeks since I wrote, I can hardly believe how time flies…”

“Damned impertinence” ranted Musters, “kept mumbling about vegetables…wouldn’t touch the kidneys…Hah! kept asking Maisy for ‘Green Tea’ have you ever heard such ruddy nonsense?”

The shoot had been dismal that morning, shaking with cold and barely kept alive by regular recourse to the flask Maisy had slipped me at breakfast. Musters had blasted away like a man possessed, birds, beaters and dogs crouched whimpering with fear as one gun was exchanged for another, the barrels too hot to hold.

“…I really must apologise for Uncle Merry’s abominable behaviour, he’s a darling really, but the accident was unfortunate, it must have hurt horribly ….”

Musters’ features had darkened as he warmed to his tale, now glowing a threatening shade of puce.

“Took him out to the marsh, the damned fool started fiddling around with a camera! I ask you! Wouldn’t touch a bloody gun!”

“..the look on your face, when you got back from the hospital though was quite priceless, I thought I was going to die laughing…”

“Well, you know what I think about photographers…damn fools the lot of ‘em!”

The Colonel. Bilious, belligerent and quite possibly barking.

“The bloody idiot went wading about in the water, next thing we knew he’s hopping about like a ruddy imbecile…”

I remembered the scene too well, freezing bloody cold, I was crouched in some godforsaken hide with Musters’ ancient, stinking spaniel, flask empty of armagnac and the prospect of two more hours untroubled by birds of any hue. I’d peered out through the early morning murk and seen Algy poncing about with a tripod, too good a chance to miss.  I’ve never laughed so hard in my life, though Algy failed to see the funny side of it, brand new breeks, blood soaked and ripped to shreds by the hail of 30 gram number 6 shot.

“Hah!”

Musters suddenly choking, Earl Grey everywhere, hands gripping the chest. Marion, on her feet like a startled deer.

“Perry do something! For God’s sake!”

I stroll casually over to the Colonel, taking my time, then hoist him upright and slipping round behind him, clasp both hands around his chest, raise him then the sudden drop, squeezing the ribcage. There is a convulsion, dentures exploding across the room, landing with a satisfactory plop in Marion’s teacup, where they lay, partially submerged, grinning vapidly back into the room. Musters coughing now, tears streaming down his cheeks, cook summoned with a curative glass of Glenmorangie, which I eagerly quaffed.

“Thank God you were here Perry, he might have died…”

Posted by: Chris Wright | July 25, 2008

Tiny Tears

Stretched between the pear trees lining the avenue, the nets were alive with birds.

Dinner at the chateau is an experience worth braving the frightful rigour of the cross channel ferry for and having lunched on an evil tasting ‘croque monsieur’ with Margaux, my only hope of salvation lay in the legendary hospitality of the Marquis Daniel ‘Dangerous’ de Lyon.

Maurice  paused to catch his breath, a rheumy wheeze rattling his chest before he carefully plucked the exhausted buntings from the net and dropped them into a canvas bag, slung around his sloping shoulders.

Pointing the nose of the Bentley into the drive, the magnificent roar of the four mighty cylinders reverberates through the early evening sunshine. Picking up speed, the unfortunate incident with the Citroen 2CV is pushed to the back of my mind, if not that of the gendarme who with excruciating attention to the ravings of the excitable occupants issued me with a stern warning to report to ‘Le Gendarmerie’ in the morning. Margaux is studiously ignoring my attempts at humour, raising a sardonic eyebrow and promising dire consequences with her continued silence.

Maurice reached into the bag and retrieved a single bird. His gnarled hand enveloped the tiny creature and he stroked it reflectively with a grimy thumb before opening his clasp knife and applying the point with surgical precision, removed the bunting’s eyes. Tiny crimson tears wiped carefully away, the head tenderly stroked before the bird was deposited into its cage with a large bowl of millet.

A hand of whist and a quite magnificent glass of Amontillado from the Marquis’ capacious cellar keeps starvation precariously at bay, Margaux shooting me a blood curdling look as I surreptitiously replenish my glass, while depositing the crumbs of a ferociously unpleasant oatmeal biscuit into the nearest plant pot. I ruefully reflect that the Marquis is as famous for his miniscule portions as he is for the magnificence of his cellar and resolve to supplement this meagre ration with furtive visits to the decanter on the rare occasion that Margaux’s eagle eye might be diverted.

For several days, Maurice replenished the corn, talking to the birds, stroking them as they fluttered sightlessly around the cage. Gradually the fowl grew fat and the fatter they grew, the happier Maurice became. By the fourteenth day he was ecstatic,  whistling a tuneless version of Le Marseillaise between discoloured and broken teeth. He filled a jug with Armagnac, and after helping himself to a generous sample, immersed the birds, one at a time, holding them under the surface until they stopped struggling and lay soaking in the rich and aromatic vintage. Placing a cover on the jug, he sauntered contentedly to the door and spying Anne-Marie, the kitchen maid in the herb garden, chuckled grimly to himself, moving with painful deliberation towards the box hedge enclosure.

In the kitchens, Slaughter manoeuvred his considerable bulk past the empty birdcage to the ovens where he bent with great difficulty, wheezing and cursing, and retrieved the row of buntings, roasted in their own fat for precisely seven and one half minutes from the depths of the roaring ovens. Arranging them carefully in a row, sweat pouring from his forehead, each two ounce bird precariously upright, Slaughter poured the smoking fat from the dish carefully over their tiny blackened heads.

Sitting around the table in the dining hall, the ancestors gazing approvingly from the walls, a spoon rapped on the table for attention. La Marchionesse delivers a prayer, my impatient belly rumbling in eager and increasingly urgent anticipation. A silver bell is rung, twice, the almost inaudible tinkle carrying down the stone flagged corridors to the kitchens. My appetites surge at the prospect of imminent and memorable satisfaction. The dish is brought to the table, the pale yellow fat sizzling and spitting.

The napkins are unfolded and with great care placed over our heads, for each guest, forming a tent over the bowl. Within the dark confines of this makeshift cathedral, a communion is in progress. The bird is picked up and placed whole, into the mouth, only the beak protruding. The jaws begin to slowly grind, the beak deposited into the bowl, the skull, brains, meat and intestines slowly masticated into a salty, savoury paste, tiny pockets of spirit releasing their exotic fumes into my flaring nostrils. I munch for several minutes, my heavy jaws smashing the bones, I am in direct communication with God. As the delicate, incomparable flavour of the fat floods my senses, my eyes fill with tears for the love of creation and the infinite invention of the master chef.

Stretched between the pear trees lining the avenue, the nets are alive with birds, the ortolans are tired now and Maurice spits a shred of tobacco from between his teeth, rises stiffly to his feet and shuffles forwards.

Posted by: Chris Wright | July 16, 2008

First Blood

A superlative feast of eggs, rashers and toast being dispatched, the Manchester Guardian freshly ironed in the pantry, the banter with Molly, a giggle and a promise of something hot for tea.

I am resplendent in Colonel Cormorant’s finest, canary yellow vest, black coat, hunt buttons, the boots gleaming, crop smartly tapping as I stride briskly out to the courtyard.

The horses wheeling and stamping, Major Meredith Motley, master of the Borrowdale hounds checking the time, cursing roundly as he trips over my casually outstretched boot, depositing him arse first in the mire.

Motley looking up blinking as Baroness Millicent Merryweather, an irritable grimace creasing her formidable features, extends a gloved hand : “For God’s sake Motley it’s only breakfast time, do try and remember there are children present…”

Motley staggering red faced and furious to his feet, the Merryweather progeny’s smug smirking faces only adding fuel to the fire – God! how he hated the Merryweathers, a stinking shower of idle arrogant gobshites, not a day’s work in any of them. He stamps the muck off his boots and barges roughly past the odious offspring – Oliver, jumped up little prig.

The Merryweather minxes, Miranda and Merlin, pretty little things, their first hunt, trotting primly in the rear, poking fun at odious Oliver, so grownup, so bossy. Here he comes now, fifteen going on fifty, upright and aloof. The girls giggle and Oliver flushes angrily, wheels and canters back to the pack.

Out in the field, the fox, streaming across the ghyll, a fleeting flash of red. The imbecile hounds catching the scent, trampling through the stream, horses flying over them. Mr Darcy Dickinson, suddenly separated from his mount, hurtling, flask firmly fixed to lips, through the crisp autumn air. Horse galloping on riderless.

The fox doubles back, into the Winn, tongue lolling, panting, creeping back out of the wood, trotting brazen across the open fields as the pack pursue shadows, heading safely away to the North.. The hunt gather in the lea of the wood, revise strategy, drain flasks, make arrangements.

I spot the divine Miss Middleton, Marcia to her friends, an exclusive set whose ranks I am keen to join. Spurring the nag. I trot briskly over, raising the hat “Miss Middleton, I say what fabulous sport!” She flashes her delightful smile. Leans into me, “Peregrine – you wicked man! Join us for sherry at the hall?”

Major Meredith, moustaches merrily twirling approaching from the starboard, a twinkle in his eye – The dowager Duchess of Northumberland views him with a frankly suspicious air. Mrs.Marjorie Major, blushing, “Well yes, it is frightfully cold, perhaps a little nip” accepting the proffered flask, coughing as the unadulterated spirit brings a tear to her eye. The Major guffawing “Tip top, keep the weather at bay, what?” The poor girl now crimson faced and choking, slipping sideways from the saddle.

The bugle abruptly sounds, the scent has been picked up, bitter cold forgotten, all hands to the pump – the children heading the field as the ponies bolt, hysterical and hands free, first one, then the other propelled head first into the briar, odious Oliver smirking behind.

The pack making up ground, the fox in the open – the dogs snapping at the brush as it spins this way, that way, eluding the slavering jaws by a hairs breadth. The fox twists and rolls, tries every trick, every last desperate one.

Dogs are upon him now, jaws snapping, tearing and wrenching – the riders catch up, Major Motley lashing out with boot and whip, driving the dogs away – with a knife cutting the brush from the still warm corpse, dipping it into the bloody guts steaming on the trampled gore soaked ground.

Baroness Merryweather approvingly smiles as the Major approaches Oliver, a peculiar grimace, painting a thick stripe of stinking sap across each cheek.

“You’re blooded now boy…” Standing back, savouring the moment “Welcome to the sport of Kings!”

Tears welling up as Oliver, fifteen not fifty, projects his breakfast onto the sodden crimson ground.

Posted by: Chris Wright | July 9, 2008

The Blessings

The following tale is taken from the journal of my very dear friend Mr. E. Flavius Mercurius. Posted to me in a plain brown envelope, some weeks after his incarceration it appears to be an account of a day out we may have enjoyed in the company of the Gael. I can make no comment regarding its veracity, because I was, put simply, quite extraordinarily drunk.

“God Bless you Sir” the beggar adroitly plucks my spinning coin out of the air, “Blue Yonder in the 3.30”. The sunglasses reflect my startled gape, a split second, a connection. White stick, a shabby mutt, capful of meagre change.

Tipping my hat, I plunge forward into the riot of noise and colour; Galway Races, giddy and gay, the search for the craic. The thunder of hooves and the roar of the crowd as the grandstand rises to salute the winner. The jeers and curses of the dispossessed, downstairs the bookies shrug, already chalking up the odds for the next race.

Drawing back the canvas, entering the tent; Peregrine in full flow, lighting up lives with bombast and infamy, a steady supply of Armagnac, the flexing of the elbow, the drawing of breath, the raucous laughter, the return to the tallest of tales. The ladies laugh and bat their eyes, how deliciously wicked! The husbands groan and count the cost. Waiters scurry, clearing glasses, perhaps another? just the one…

Outside the smart money is piling up: “Perfect Scoundrel” a three time winner at Cheltenham, ridden by champion Byron Lautrec. The nags skitter, steam and slide, Byron crouched precariously in garish pink and green. The bookies shorten the odds as the cash piles up. “Blue Yonder” sits stable at thirty to one, a rank outsider. Down at the enclosure, cast an appraising eye. The dozy look and leaden step, the jockey catches my ghastly stare, tips his cap, connects.

Hand on my shoulder a familiar, belligerent presence; Peregrine, handfuls of crisp notes, the small matter of a winner in the 2.15, the bet placed on behalf of Mrs. Millicent Magnificent Malefica.

“But of course! Dear boy, we’ll put the bloody lot on ‘Blue Yonder’, show these pettifogging lickspittles the meaning of plenty! Splendid idea!”

My heart sinks like a millstone in the harbour, Peregrine a man on a mission of unprecedented importance, surging like a destroyer, striding through the tidal flow, I’m heading for the rails, the worthless slip of paper clutched safe in my hand.

Major Malefica accompanied by cronies large, mobile and muscular, barging roughly through the crowd, Peregrine throwing the first punch then away, bounding over obstacles, coat flying out behind, beard jutting, elbows pumping – the henchmen on bicycles in hot pursuit.

The horses appear from behind the stand, Lautrec wielding the crop indiscriminately. The neighboring jockey catches the brunt, launches himself both hands outstretched, the pair of them rolling over and over as the hooves thunder around them. And in third place, wild of eye and tooth, ‘Blue Yonder’ thundering down the home straight, the terrible sound of the field gaining, galvanizing this most hopeless of nags into one final lunge, the winner by a neck.

Peregrine in his pomp, the paycock; in torn and bloodied clothing, counting out the notes one by one. Licking the finger, handing over the readies. Tipping the staff, pocketing the rest. Mrs. Millicent Marvelous Malefica, the Major glowering grim faced behind. The cronies grasping Guinness with bruised and broken knuckles.

“God Bless You Mr Oatenshaw!”

Peregrine grimaces, gestures, a sea of discarded slips, each one a hope, a prayer.

“These” he says, through broken teeth “…These are the blessings…”

Posted by: Chris Wright | July 2, 2008

A Visit to The Footbinder

Mr. Cornelius Clinch emerging from the back of the shop, neat and impeccably shod, an expression of conspiratorial expectation etched upon his features.

Owner of ‘The Footbinder’, purveyor of shoes and hand tooled suitcases to the gentry of Muswell Hill and the surrounding countryside, Cornelius had plied his trade in my father’s day and, it is rumoured his father’s day. His real age was the subject of earnest debate and it was thought that at some stage in the august establishment’s life, proprietorship had passed from father to son – nobody could say for sure when.

“I can recommend a Jeffrey West for a gentleman such as yourself – not a shoe for everyone, but a man of your bearing…”

“Thank you Cornelius, I was rather thinking a brogue, perhaps Loake’s?”

“A brogue sir? For you sir? Loake is a very traditional house, a good shoe, one of the best – suspect temperament on occasion…”

“Good god man! I’m purchasing a pair of shoes, not a wife!”

“Sir..”

The smell of new leather, reminding me of childhood, my father’s shoes laid out in the scullery, Jackson, the butler, shirt sleeves rolled up, applying the polish with vigorous strokes of the brush. Molly, giggling in the pantry, rosy cheeked and rumpled clothing.

“Elbow grease…”

“Sir?”

Cornelius at my elbow, a box, tissue paper spilling over the sides, a pair of outstanding brogues, unsullied and factory fresh.

“If Sir would observe, the storm welt, a shoe for the big occasion, a shoe that will guide sir through the dismal passages, a shoe that will roar in the face of adversity and …”

“Really Clinch, please try and exercise a modicum of restraint – I want to purchase a shoe that I can walk in, not one that will pick a fight …”

“Sir”

This good fellow, sorrowfully disappearing behind the curtain at the back of the shop, the creak and groan of a stepladder and the slow climb of an old man. The sudden curse, the slow collapse, curtain bulging outwards then billowing as Clinch’s descent, more rapid and less deliberate than the climb ends. Clinch emerging, one collar awry, dust besmirching the impeccable black jacket, long strand of hair escaping the crown, creeping down across the shoulder.

“For Sir, the last pair, Church’s, a prince amongst men sir. The cobbler of choice for your father sir…”

Seated now, the silver handled shoehorn, the loosened laces.

“The 73 last sir, welted leather sole…”

The chestnut brogue the same colour as Hermione’s soft curls, the leather embracing my feet. I stand, observe my stance in the mirror – the shoes, perfect and the knife edge crease of my trousers breaking at the front, settling at the heel behind.

“Clinch, I’ll take the Church’s, have them sent to the Mews, this afternoon.”

“A most excellent choice sir – and how will sir be settling his account?”

“Cash Clinch, Cash”.

Outside, the world a poorer place, a shell suited urchin racing past on shoes that light up – I spin the umbrella, a swift jab, a hook and natural order is restored. Justice is done. I stride on, briskly up the street, hail a cab.

As the cabbie performs his turn, I lean forward and in the pale yellow light of the early evening sun, Cornelius Clinch holding a Samuel Windsor to his aquiline nose, his nostrils flare and a little point of colour appears on each pale cheek as he breathes in the sumptuous perfume of the hand crafted split welt shoe.

Posted by: Chris Wright | June 25, 2008

Half Cocked in Hampshire

Wild eyed and raging, forcing something called a Nissan into the ditch as I roared through Fleet was the most notable achievement of a depressingly damp days shooting with the Major. The occupants cheerfully waved, the fingers spread into an unlikely V, in recognition of the expensive roar of the Bentley’s 4.5 litre engine as I hurtled towards the Lismoyne.

Sweeping into the gravelled driveway I was confronted with a class of motor car I normally associate with the vilest of travelling salesman and my spirits sank still further when, on striding into reception, the Purdey tucked safely under my arm, a whey faced gentleman with the abject look of a librarian flung himself to the floor screeching incomprehensible gibberish concerning the mother of god.

Ignoring him for the imbecile he undoubtedly was, I marched up to the desk and firmly rang the bell for attention. A bespectacled face rose slowly above the level of the counter, bottom lip quivering tremulously.

“Oatenshaw” I announced. “Have your man take my bags up to the room, and look sharp – I’ll take a large brandy in the bar”

“The gun sir” stammered the girl, blinking like a halfwit.

“Gun? What the devil are you talking about?” I exclaimed, suddenly concerned that there may in fact be some substance to the librarians hysterical raving.

She pointed with trembling finger to the Purdey. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” I responded “This is a James Purdey, 12 Bore, Underlever shotgun – have you never seen one before?”

Her mouth opened and closed, but no words emerged, the disgusting sound of a man sobbing drifted up from the region of my ankles. A door opened and a black suited creature emerged, wringing its hands as if in supplication, I stared, wondering if I had strayed unwittingly into the grounds of a lunatic asylum.

“We have a rule sir, about guns that is… the fact of it is…we don’t allow them in the hotel…” he blathered.

I raised the Purdey to show him, but the blood drained from his face and he leapt backwards, cowering behind the desk with a shriek. Growing tired of this charade I snatched up my key and marched briskly up the stairs, a well aimed boot just failing to connect with the head of the snivelling librarian on the way.

Locating my room, I opened the door and entered, colliding almost immediately with the opposite wall. Fearing that I had mistakenly entered a broom closet, I fumbled for the light switch. The feeble illumination afforded by the single bulb confirmed the presence of a bed, no doubt intended for a manservant and a door to the side, suggesting the presence of a master bedroom.

With a sigh I threw open the door and strode through it – the resultant collision with what turned out to be a shower cubicle left me with a black eye and the Purdey with both barrels smoking, having demolished the Shanks water closet in a close range hail of Crockats No. 2 shot. My spirits sank a little lower as my ringing ears discerned the sound of footsteps, running along the corridor.

As the door burst open, I wheeled, suddenly furious “Have you seen the state of this bloody room?” I demanded. The gaggle of chambermaids shrank back as the housekeeper pushed her way to the front. I was startled to see a familiar face “Hettie!” I cried.

“Mr. Oatenshaw! What on earth… you poor man, you’re bleeding…” She set the maids bustling about the room and taking me down the corridor installed me in a room that whilst just as small, was at least equipped with a full set of bathroom furniture.

As this glorious country disintegrates around my ears, it is greatly reassuring that the good will of the working classes is still something to be counted on. Reclining on the bed, admiring Hettie as she pinned up her hair, I reflected on my good fortune.

The sound of a distant siren, faint but growing unmistakably louder, barely intruded on my thoughts.

Posted by: Chris Wright | June 18, 2008

Perry Gets A Shave

There are few things in a gentleman’s life more bracing than the close encounter with naked steel afforded by a visit to Rutherford’s Hairdresser. A traditionalist in every sense of the word, this trusty barber goes about his business with brisk efficiency at the bottom of the market place next to the sweet shop.

The doorbell chimes as I enter the confectionary to equip myself with a range of fudges and peppermint bullseyes. The one legged proprietress wields the scoop with a dexterity belying her dreadful injuries – apparently sustained one harvest on the estate. Rumour has it that the right quantity of cider adds a certain sparkle to the eye – unfortunately for poor Beatrice, it was the wrong quantity of cider. The fall into the threshing machine was precipitous and her life was only spared by the timely intervention of Greaves, the farm labourer who in those days was a nimble chap, if absent minded and as Beatrice was to later attest, generous to a fault.

Equipped with the Racing News and a bag of Beatrice’s superb fudge, I enter the barber’s with keen anticipation. Rutherford approaches nervously, as unctuous as ever, possibly mindful of the time he unwisely offered me ‘a little something for the weekend’ and found himself on the receiving end of his own infernal electric trimmers. Sergeant Bullivant was very understanding at the time and the magistrate sympathetically recommended me to something called ‘Anger Management’ classes.

I’d never heard of such a thing and I was certainly not inclined to tolerate being patronised by a pack of perfumed window-dressers purveying nonsensical drivel at the behest of the nanny state. Miss Harbottle though was charm itself, arriving on a moped she insisted on referring to as ‘Percy’ she rattled through the lesson in double quick time and then suggested we repair to a local hostelry, there to imbibe a rather splendid cognac.

The Corvoisier Initial Extra apparently contains eaux-de-vie, the mix of aromas redolent of mushrooms with cigar leaves and the merest hint of oriental spices – Miss Harbottle insisted on cinnamon, but acknowledged the presence of vanilla and amber after several attempts. Memory failed me at some point that afternoon; suffice to say, on waking, my head throbbed in a manner reminiscent of my time on the Somme and of the divine Miss H there was no trace except a solitary garter festooned around my nethers.

Ensconced in the barber’s chair, the Racing News to hand and the comforting sound of Rutherford stropping his razor with grim determination in the background, I take the opportunity to survey myself in the mirror. A little greyer than last year certainly, but the pride and joy adorning the top lip is lustrous, vigorous and manly in every aspect. Sensing that all is right in the world I sit a little taller in my chair, relax and abandon myself to Rutherfords careful ministrations.

Posted by: Chris Wright | June 7, 2008

Perry Meets His Match

Relaxing after a hard day of upholstery testing, I was swirling a Pirie Estate 2005 Pinot Noir around the glass in preparation for the first draught of the day, when a knock on the door distracted me from my deliberations. Remembering that Margaux would be returning with the weekly shopping, I arranged my features in what I hoped would pass for an expression of beatific good will and threw open the front door.

A tall gentleman loomed out of the rain, his rheumy eyes gradually focusing, a bundle of damp yellow leaflets clasped in one hand, a network of broken veins criss-crossing his nose and cheeks. I eyed him suspiciously.

“My Dear chap” he cried. “What a wonderful example of Edwardian architecture!…I say – is that a Pinot Noir? Splendid length, what?”

I raised one eyebrow, my suspicions hardening into something more like prejudice; surely this fool could know little of the spicy black cherry aroma so characteristic of the Relbia region?

“Fact of the matter is” he continued, “we’re doing a survey of all the houses in the area, absolutely gratis and free of charge, we’d like you to take this leaflet and simply give us a call when you want to talk to somebody about the manifest erosion in the brickwork. These houses won’t stay up for ever you know..”

Accepting the leaflet I cast a curious eye – true to form, a singularly inept portrait of an artisan, toiling to effect a new roof on some nebulous structure. Odd Jobs, Garden Fencing and a freephone telephone number printed large across the bottom.

“So” he persisted “When would you like us to call? Your neighbours..” an expansive sweep of his arm, unbalanced him momentarily and he staggered into the side of the porch, dropping several leaflets into a puddle that was beginning to gather under his dripping sou’wester “…have wisely elected to have us visit in the evening…”

He gazed at me expectantly, pencil poised above a calandar that was quite obviously empty.

“As a matter of fact, I’d prefer to have a think about this and come back to you when I’m ready, that is if that’s all the same to you?”

“Is there a problem?” he responded, a little querulously “it’s only a phone call.” he continued, a flush beginning to creep across his already mottled complexion.

“All the same, if you don’t mind…”

“I see…” he shot back, “well if you don’t mind, I’ll have my leaflet back – you won’t be hearing from me again…”

And with that this good fellow spun on his heel and marched briskly and with great dignity back into the rain….

Posted by: Chris Wright | May 18, 2008

Perry Gets Scammed

On a splendid spring morning there is little better than a breakfast at Richeaux on Piccadilly, followed by a quiet hour or two taking in the paintings at the Royal Academy. As Margaux and I trundled along the North Circular to Finchley in the Morris, my thoughts turned to lunchtime and the promise of a chilled bottle of Rully from Edouard’s excellent cellar.

As we approached East Finchley Underground, my mood darkened in unison with the traffic’s turgid tumult, my heavy sighs doing nothing for familial accord, Margaux shooting me one of her ‘looks’ – after several eons spent creeping along the High Street, the traffic opened up in front of us next to the car park entrance, Margaux attracting the opprobium of fellow travellers by creeping gingerly across the several lanes of traffic and dawdling slowly into the environs of the underground station.

Out of nowhere, a cry and a thump indicated a sudden and painful arrest – my view of the station obscured by as unpleasant a pair of youths as I have seen outside of a television documentary. Scowling faces pointing accusingly at the Morris, red rimmed eyes and grimy fingers stabbed at Margaux. Reluctantly extracting myself from the comfort and safety of the car and carefully adjusting my spectacles, I approached the youths with caution. My cheery “Top of the morning” was responded to with a volley of abuse and promises of instant and painful retribution “this bike cost £5,000 – you’ve fucking ruined it you clumsy old fart”

On the ground, a shining new bicycle, front wheel mysteriously out of kilter. “That looks dangerous, you really should get it repaired before you cause somebody a mischief” I offered.

“We’ll cause you a mischief you ponce – he’s broken his fucking wrist!” the elder of the two stepped forward and began poking me in the chest in a most provocative manner.

“Much as I’d love to spend the morning engaged in a battle of wits, I make it my rule never to do battle with an unarmed adversary.” I replied, hoping my good natured banter would diffuse the tension that was now beginning to threaten my prospects of lunch in St. James Park.

Blank looks were exchanged “That wheel will cost £400 to replace you cunt” the elder of the two eventually relied.

At this, Margaux, who is gifted with a mysterious ability to empathise with the lower orders, suggested we sally forth to the bicycle shop around the corner, there to get the damage made good. More blank looks were exchanged and the youths retreated to a safe distance, to telephone their parents for advice – if any child of mine were to address me as ‘mate’ they’d get short shrift, but eventually they returned; “Sorted” the younger declared – baffled by this I raised my eyes to heaven and was about to recommend the immediate purchase of Gleason’s ‘Linguistics and English Grammar’ when Margaux dug me viciously in the ribs.

We arrived at the bicycle shop a few minutes later. If I was expecting a grubby shack, reeking of puncture repair outfits, attended by enthusiasts vigorously debating the benefits of variable-ratio transmission system gearing, the reality was startling in the extreme, rows of shining bicycles covered every inch of space; more, suspended from the ceiling made progress difficult for the vertically advantaged though the youths managed to navigate with ease. Unfortunately my plus fours became entangled with the multiple sprockets that I later learned characterised the Derailleur gear and I was unable to progress more than a couple of yards into the shop. I was however able to hear the conversation that ensued.

To my great surprise, the shop owner estimated the repair work to cost no more than £150 and breathing a sigh of relief I extracted my wallet from my sports jacket and began counting out the notes – suddenly St. James Park didn’t seem so far away and my mood lightened. It was not to last – a youth emerged from the back of the shop and whispered something to the owner – “We can’t do the work until the end of the month” he informed Margaux and the youths – “Well that’s no fucking good to me” quoth the urchin “but I’ve got a spare wheel at home, give me the cash and we’ll call it quits”

The owner then declared “There is just one other thing, the chassis number on the bicycle appears to have been filed off – I think the machine is stolen” Pandemonium ensued; snarling threats and bodily harm if my hearing does not deceive me, the youths seized their bicycle and barged past me, snatching my wallet and toppling me into the row of bicycles I had only just succeeded in detaching from my gaiters. Margaux sniggered in a most unhelpful fashion and with a muffled cry the proprietor leaped forward to help, tears streaming down his cheeks. Once the bicycles had been returned to an upright position he began stroking the saddles and murmuring soothing words in a manner suggesting an unhelpful prioritisation of the bicycles wellbeing over my own.

The police had to be called and sitting in the police station opposite Sergeant Bullivant I began to feel there was more to this escapade than met the eye. Sucking on a stub of a pencil, the sergeant made extensive notes – “and what make was the bicycle that was ensnared in your trousers?” he queried, I felt that we may possibly be straying from the germane in this line of enquiry, but grateful to have somebody listen to me without simpering like a halfwit, I assisted his enquiries for several hours.

Later, nursing a curative glass of Chateaux de Castex 14 year old armagnac I resolved never to visit East Finchley again.

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