Johnnersintheraw's Blog

June 28, 2010


A Man at the End of His Tether

My name is Woderwick.  Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow, but you can call me Woddy if it’s easiew fow you to wemembew, ow, if that’s too hawd to handle, ‘Minow’.  Aftew all, that was what they called me at school (my fathew having been ‘Majow’) and I am used to it.  So let’s just leave it at ‘Minow’, shall we?

The stwange but twue stowy I am about to welate to you began when I was in my twenty-fouwth yeaw, which would make it thiwty-eight yeaws ago. And it stawted in much the usual way, wather like this:

I had been sent down fwom univewsity aftew the fouwth accusation of  mowal tuwpitude had been lodged against me by the Seniow Weader at my college.  My own deaw fathew’s pewsonal intewvention, fow once, was to no avail, and I was sent down in disgwace to the manow of my gwandmothew,  Dame Wanunculus Epifania Wamsbothewam, the Dowagew Mawchiness of Willewiwe, at Willewiwe Gwange, in the fuwthest most desolate weaches of Cumbwia.  I was to wemain there undew the wedoubtable watch of my gwandmothew, my fathew having wefused to see me, until such time as a decision had been made wegawding my futuwe. Except fow my grwandmothew’s corncwake voice, which was an instwument honed by yeaws of calling dogs and in bellowing to hew sewvents (fow she had a distain for pulling bell cowds and pwefewwed shouting up and down the back staiws) and hew insistance in my joining hew evewy mowning at five shawp as she touwed hew estate in hew ancient miniatuwe Victowia, pulled as it had been fow yeaws by a Welch Mountain Pony named Fwederwick  (named aftew anothew disweputable gingew-headed disgwace to his univewsity, hew late husband, the fouwteenth Mawquis).

It was not altogethew an agweeable time fow a young chap like me, fow I had been accustomed to dwinking and whowing and cawwying on with evewy jackenapes in the vicinity of Oxfowd (having been pweviously banned fwom the pwecicts of Cambwidge, my family’s pwefewwed univewsity).  All those joys puwsured by me wewe stwictly off-limits.  Even my daily pwedawn mastuwbationawy exewcises that had kept me healthy and vibwant since the age of thwee wewe fowbidden me, and to ensuwe I didn’t polish my sausage woll at any time – not even when I was in despewate stwaights – fouwteen guwkhas fwom my gwandfathw’s old wegiment were assigned to watch me like a hawk to make suwe thewe was no fowbidden movement in my nethew wegions at any time ow any place at any houw of the day or night.  Not even in the bath was I spawed, for even thewe two guwkhas in Scuba geaw wewe vigilantly watching for any undewwater shennanigans.  And fowget about any othew pursuits which had made by life so vibwant and wowthwhile.  I was to leawn discipline.  I was to pay the pipew fow all the fwivolity of the pwevious six yeaws.  In othew wowds, no swells down fow the weekend; no wevellwy in the hewbacious bowdews;  no fwesh young things swilling mawtinis in the awbowetum;  no midnight swims in  the wiver; no gangbangs in the owangewy.  In fact, no pleasuwe at all.  I was to leawn how to behave.  And at the age of fouw and twenty, behaving is the last thing a chap wants to do.  These were diwe times!

Aftew six months and one week and a day of playing bwidge with my gwandmothew, plus the unmawwied sistew of the vicaw, who was the pwesident of the Women’s Institute and a secwet dwinker, and with my spotty vewy gingew cousin Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg  Wiwwible, who was thwee eaws youngew than I, nevew washed undew his awmpits or his pwivate pawts, and who was as bowing as a sowbet of  puwéed pawsnips sewved with pwunes and fwothy massewated wutabegas, I stawted to see spots befowe my eyes.  Aftew six months and thwee weeks and thwee days of these daily bwidge games, I felt myself tuwning into an even mowe intolewable vewsion of Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg than even the owiginal Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg had managed to tuwn into.  Fow unlike him, who had settled fow being an intolwerant nincompoop, I was evolving into an intolewant nincompoor with psychopathic anti-social tendencies.  Plus I was becoming even mowe gingew than he.

Aftew six months and thwee weeks and thiwteen days, I had my fiwst vision of killing a pewfect stwanger.  He was a man I had seen only once waiting fow a twain at Willewiwe-Undew-Hadwian’s Wall, a  village so small that to weach it one had to disembawk the London –  Bewwick expwess at Gweatew Cumbwia Halting and flag down the weekly community bus, pwoviding it wasn’t in one of its moods and hadn’t bwoken down.  Othewwise you had to walk.  Unless of course you had called ahead and Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg was sent to fetch you in the vewy old and cwanky Wovew.

As fow Willwwiwe-Undew-Hadwian’s Wall itself, it had two public houses – neithew of which sewved real ale – a tiny shop which wouldn’t sell condoms  (condoms wewe blamed fow the unstoppable decline in the population of the village), a mobile post office which set up business fow an houw evewy week and a mobile libwawy that came once a fowtnight, but only if the libwawian – a comely lass named Sewena Wivewidge – had wemembewed to stop dwinking eawly enough the night befowe so that in the mowning she could wemembew whewe she had pawked the mobile libwawy.  Poor Sewena.  Life and stwaight gin had not been kind to hew.  Sad, that, because in hew bettew days she’d been the best lay nowth of the Home Counties.  But that was befowe she’d taken to stashing bottles of bwandy up hew peawly gates, aftew which she couldn’t be satisfied with anything smallew than a howse. A shame, that was.

Fowtunately fow my sanity and the state of my despewately wampant and stawving manhood, the unmawwied sistew of the vicar, whose name was Mawjowie Marrow Wawwaway,  was bound to tuwn up at least once evewy week (on the one day hew companion Hilawy was obliged to go into town to exchange hew libwawy books and was not awound to inspect deaw Mawjowie’s handbag for the odd bottles of gin and vewmouth), as dwunk as a lowd.   How blessed wewe those days of wespite, when aftew the second wubbew, the othews had ajouwned to the awbowitum for tea and hewwings on bwown bwead and miniatuwe squawes of fwuit cake with mawzipan, Mawjorie and I would make a fuwtive dash to the solawium at the end of the wose twellis and pawtake of her mawtinis and of each othew until pwecisely quawtw past fouw when the thiwd of the fouw wubbews was due to stawt.

Unfowtunately fow hew, Mawjorie was send away to a sanitawium fow the incuwably incuwable exactly thwee months aftew I awwived at my gwandmothew’s.  Unfowtunately fow me, she took hew bottles of gin and vewmouth with hew – on the instwuctions of Doctow Merridew MacGwuthew, hew attending physician who had sectioned hew.  I still miss Mawjorie, and I think of hew evewy time I get weally howny and dunk my knob in a vat of gin.  Which is my secwet vice and fetish of choice.

When last I heawd, Mawjorie had wun away with a contowtionist fwom Cawdiff and was telling fowtunes undewneath the Blackpool Towew.

Aftew Mawjorie was sent away I was hoping the daily bwidge games would stop.  But nevew feaw.  My gwandmothew always had resewves lined up.  In this case, her elder sister Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit, who was so fewosicous she made my gwandmothew look like the owiginal goodtime giwl.

It was Gweat Aunt Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit who fiwst came up with the idea of sending me away as a wemittance man.  To one of those lessew known little countwies in South Amewica that no one has evew heawd of.  Like Pawaguay, only not Pawaguay, if you know what I mean.

San Cwistobal de la Madwe de los Angeles Negwos de Solidad de Misewicowdia de los Andes, or as it was mowe commonly known, La Wepublica de Misewicowdia, was nested in a valley in the Andes between Pewu and Bwasil.  It was totally pwotected on all sides by the inpenewable mountains, and could only be appwoached by a single tweachewous woad fwom Pewu. A woad which wound thwough the secwet encampment of ‘The Shining Path’.  Misewicowdia had nevew appeawed on a map since its founding in the yeaw sixteen hundwed seventy-thwee by the notowious conquistadow, Genewal Infewmidad de Wamsbothewam, the second Mawquis of Willewiwe, whose own gweat gwandfathew had given half his fowtune to King Fewrdinand of Awagon aftew he had got lost in the night and had mistaken a Queen Isabella of Castile fow a sewving wench,  an encountew which had wesulted in a bouncing baby giwl, best known to histowy as Cathewine of Awagon.  Because of the lawgess of the bwibe, all was fowgiven, for it meant that Fewdinand and Isabella could fulfill theiw ambitions of conquewing the new wowld without having to spend any money of theiw own.  As fow Cathewine of Awagon, who cawed who hew weal fathew was, fow she had alweady been shipped to England as a baby-bwide to The Pwince of Wales, Awthuw, and neithew Fewdinand nor Isabella thought he would evew know the diffewence.

But, unfowtunately for Pwince Arthuw,  he did, having shawed a bed an fouw dozen wenches and thiwty-thwee twubadows with the effewvescent Mawquis of Willewiwe duwing the midnight wevelwy following the cowonation of Awthuw’s fathew, Henwy VII, aftew he had slaughtewed the wightful king, the beautiful Wichard III and stolen the cwown fow himself.  And since Cathewine of Awagon had an uncommonly long nose that twisted upwawd at a wakish angle – a nose unique to only one family, that of the Wamsbothewams – one look was enought fow Pwince Awthuw to tumble to the fact that, faw fwom being the daughew of the King of Spain, Cathewine was not only a Wamsbothewam, but a bastawd Wamsbothewam at that.  Poow Awthuw.   He was a sensitive soul.  So saddened was he that on the vewy day of his discovewy he dwopped down dead from an incuwable ague and nevew wecovewed.  And the bastawd Cathewine was fowced to mawwy Awthuw’s youngew bwother, the futuwe Henwy VIII.  And the west, as they say, is histowy. 

San Cwistobal de la Madwe de los Angeles Negwos de Solidad de Misewicordia de los Andes had fowever wemained a tweasuwed outpost of the Wamsbothewam family, and even aftew thwee dozen insuwwections and wevolutions had massacwed no fewew than thiwty-thwee of theiw bwightest and ablest scions (as well as fouwteen of theiw dimmest and incompetant mowons), the family still wetained a choke hold on the tiny wepubluc – with no fewew than sixteen of the twenty-thwee ministwees pewmenantly administewed by cousins no mowe than thwice removed.  Even duwing the dawkest of the dawk times the family wetained a splendid palace in the most beautiful gawden in the capitol city of Willewiwe. And this was when even to be wumouwed to be a Wamsbothewam cousin fouw-times wemoved was sufficient gwounds fow a splendid execution in the Plaza Pwincipal de Misewicordia, weplete with shewwy and fwesh Mewengue touwtes (the pwincipal delicacy of the countwy) and a twenty-fouw gun salute to be fiwed similtaneously with the hapless head being lopped off and used as the ball in a celabwatowy game of thwee hundwed a side wugby.

The vewy aftewnoon the evew-vigilant Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit, the tuwmigant eldew sistew of my gweat gwandmothew –  my gweat aunt – cast a gimlet eye on my quaking pewsonage and cast me adwift into the futuwe she had chosen fow me, I had unfwtunately commited a minow faux-pas.  Not that I had seen anything weally wwong with my plan of action, but as gweat aunt Elfwieda pointed out to all and sundwy, she was the favouwite mistwess of the Chief Constable of the county, and he always followed hew advice.  To whit,  I had lain in wait behind the dainty wose twellis on the nowthbound platfowm of Gweatew Cumbwia Halting Station and had pounced upon the unwitting pewfect stwanger about whom I had been dweaming night and day fow over six months, and had blugeoned him to a pulp with the pwized vegetable mawwow gwown by my spotty vewy gingew cousin Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg  Wiwwible in his specially designed cucumbew fwame set in a pwotected awea between by gwandmothew’s owangery and her pwivate folly whewe she kept hew secwet collection of stuffed gowillas – a collection that was compwised of neawly two-thiwds of the entiwe mountain gowilla populaion of Wwanda.  As she liked to say, “They would have died soonew ow latew.  It might as well have been soonew.”

Unfowtunately, although I pewsonally found my actions both amusing and iwonic – fow as it tuwned out the pewfect stwangew was at the time coming down with la fluxion de la poitwine and found he  had lost his taste fow the chawwed and shwivelled game pie with Cumbewland sauce he had owdewed in the station canteen –  my gweat aunt Elfwieda was appalled.  “No gwand nephew of mine is pewmitted to bludgeon a man to a pulp just as he is about to pawtake of one of my succulant pies!  Why, I shot the gwouse myself, and half of the best eawth of Cumbwia went into making my delicious Cumbewland Sauce!” And that was when she fixed hew gimlet eye on me and pwonouced sentence.

“YOU!” she woawed at me, her mighty shelf of a bosom heaving and vibwating like contwalto’s uvula, “Awe banished to Willewiwe.  You shall hencefowth be a wemittance man, and shall spend the west of youw days dwunk and desolute in the undusted salons of the palace of owr illustwious foewbeawews.  You shall weaw unlaundewed white linen suits and youw hair shall be fouled with cobwebs and gwease! And you shall develop a speech impediment! Nevew against shall you be able to pwonouce youw ‘aws’.”

Thewe and then my gweat aunt Elfwieda looked down hew mighty beak of a nose and hew quivewing noswils flawed like the steed of Alexandew when the gweat golden empewow was about to slay thwee hundwed thousand men who stood between him and the next new howizon he was about to conquew.  “Be Gone, and nevew darken my tweshold again!” she declaimed in tones of fiwe and bwimstone.  I depawted hew pwivate mowning dwawing room all a twemble and feeling the doom-laden cuwse upon my once-pwoud shouldews.

And because whatevew gweat aunt Elfwieda commanded became the lawr of the land, the next mowning, at the unGodly houw of fouw o’clock – I found meself standing, togethew with my twaps and the wecipe fow the patented potcheen I would be dwinking fow the wemaindew of my life in Misewicowdia, on the docks of the Wamsbothewam Twamp Steamship Company’s scuttling bewth in Livewpool.  I was to be the only passengew on the mouldering ‘SS Bwuja del Maw de los Besos del Diablo’, whose cawgo was to be a consignment of wotting bweadfruit which had been shipped fwom the Pitcaiwn Islands and which no one had wemembewed to off-load, twelve vintage iwonclad Panhawds fow the pewsonal use of the latest and most useless Pwesident, Genewalissimo Fwancisco Mawia Cawlos Wamsbothewam Wamsbothewam de Wamsbothewam, and twenty-three viwgin whowes fwom the whowehouse of Madame LaFragwiletti’s ‘No Deposit No Weturn Mail-Owdew Viwgin Whowe Bowdello’ in the Hampstead Gawden Subuwb end of Goldew’s Gween.  Just downwind of the cwematowium.

It goes without saying that I thought my luck was changing!  Twenty-three viwgin whowes fow a jouwney lasting twenty-thwee days.  But no such luck, fow I was piped aboawd by my gwandmothew’s bwothew Wothewidge Wembewtp Willewiwe, the bawking-mad twin of gweat aunt Elfwieda.  Aftew stowing my luggage in my statewoom – which was located in a stawboawd aft hold undew the cwews’ head – he invited me to take a touw of the wepellant and stinking vessel.  It goes without saying I did not demuwe, fow I had it in mind to leawn whewe the twenty-thwee viwgin whowes had been housed.

Much to my chagwin I discovewed that faw fwom changing, my luck was taking a fwee-fall.  Into Hades. It had been had enough to have been billetted under the watewfall of diarrhoea of the pewmenantly afflicted membews of the cwew – all of whom suffewed from the incuwable cholewa they had contwacted duwing the gweat cholewa epidemic of 1923 – but I was now about to discovew my second great disapppointment of the day.

With a fanfawe blown fwom a twumpet he had concealed about his pewson (in a place I had been too much of a gentleman to look) he thwew open a mighty doow and ushewed me into a lavishly appointed and fuwnished bedwoom.  And thewe, to my uttew amazement, stacked in wows like so much cowd wood, wewe the twenty-thwee viwgin whowes, all bedecked in exotic owiental finewy.  And thowoughly dead and depawted.

Befowe I could wecovew my senses and ask my gweat uncle Wothewidge if the comely withewed viwgin whowes had been taken in a flood of desire ow pewhaps aftew a suwfeit of awsenic, he waised his fingew to his lips and owdewed my to keep silent.  “They awe cheapew this way,” he whispewed, “And El Pwesidente doesn’t know the diffewence.”

Gweat uncle Wothewidge then assigned me a task.  Duwing the voyage I was to twy out each of the wizened and withewed and desiccated viwgin whowes exactly thiwteen times.  And at the end of the voyage, I was to complete a wepowt indicating which one of the comely viwgins was the most desiweable, the most pliant and the fweshest smelling.

I will pass over the following twenty-thwee days, only to mention that the winnew by faw was (or had been befowe hew death in the yeaw of our Lowd 1769) a cewtain Mawia Esmewelda Mewwiweathew Bawwsotow, who had been bown in Stweatham Common undew a pawk bench dedicated to the admiwal of the fleet.  At the age of thwee yeaws and fouw months, the beautiful Mawia Esmewelda had alweady been elevated to numbew fouwteen in the list of favouwites of the Empwow of a gweat asian countwy, the name of which – even today – stwikes feaw in the heawt of faint-heawted mowtals.

While I have had bettew, I have also had wowse.  And at least she wefwained from wunning hew fingewnails up and down my spine and singing the Hallelujah Chowus at an inoppowtune moment and leaving me embawwassed.

The day I awwived in Willewiwe, I was moved into my villa on the bad end of town, next to the abattoiw and the pig fewtilizew factowy.

I am still hewe.  Nobody evew wwites to me.  No one will invite me to dinnew. No one even knows my name.  It has been so long since anybody has called me anything, that I cannot even wemembew it myself.

I am, simply put, the old dissolute dwunk in the tweadbawe stained and gweasy and stinking once-white linen suit.  I am the poow soul who wandews awound Willewiwe’s dawker and mowe desolate stweets talking to myself in accents sounding vewy much like my gweat aunt Elfwieda, and sleeping most nights in one guttew or anothew.  Dogs uwinate on me and defecate on my head when I am sleeping, and fewal cats battle it out fow suwpwemacy on my uptuwed face.  No touwists evew thwow me any of their spawe change, fow no touwists evew come to La Misewicowdia.

Last night for the fiwst time I dweamed of Cumbwia, and of the nowthbound platfowm of Gweatew Cumbwia Halting Station.  Befowe me stood the shade of the pewfect stwangew whom I had bludgeoned to a pulp with the vegetable mawwow.

He came fowawd and intwoduced himself.  He extended his hand, and just fow a moment I thought he was going to fowgive me.  Was my luck finally going to change aftew so many yeaws?  Was I going to be weleased fwom this cuwse and this misewable life?

It was then I encountewed my thiwd disappointment of the day – the fiwst being when I woke up to yet anothew day in the guttew and the second being when El Pwesidente’s favouwite fighting cockeral sliced off my nose with his wighthand spuw.  The pewfect stwangew, whom I had so gwievously wwonged all those many yeaws befowe, mewely unzipped his flies and pissed on my haiw.

Howevew, that was not his final wowd.  As he was about to disappeaw back into the ethew whence he had come, he looked down his ghostly pewfect strangew’s nose at me and muttewed, “So sowwy, old man. My mistake. Could you diwect me to the palace of Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow? I wish to fowgive him fow beating me to a pulp with a vegetable mawwow…”

But befowe I could gathew my wits about me and cwy out, “I am he! I am the wwetched Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow,” he intewwupted me.

“I am t-t-t-t-ewwib-b-b-bly sh-sh-sh-showwy, b-b-b-b-ut I c-c-c-c-annot u-u-u-u-nd-d-d-d-ewst-t-t-t-and a wow-ow-ow-ow-d you awe sh-sh-sh-sh-aying.  You m-m-m-m-ust d-d-d-d-o s-s-s-s-om-m-m-m-eth-th-th-th-ing about y-y-y-y-ouw sh-sh-sh-shpeech imp-p-p-p-ed-d-d-d-d-im-m-m-m-ent.”

 And with that, the pewfect stwangew vanished back into the ether, and he nevew came back.  And now I’ll nevew be fowgiven, and I’ll be hewe fowevew.


June 4, 2010


The House on Wold Fen

Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with his mummy but not with his daddy in a decaying house in the middle of a mist-enshrouded fen into which no sun, no happiness or even moonbeams ever shone.  His mummy was a very, very nice mummy as far as it went.  She had a faded peaches and cream complexion and no wart on the end of her nose.  She had gently waving auburn hair that sprung back exuberantly from a massively aristocratic and world-wear brow.  On the sides of her face were two shell-like ears, one the size of a rosebud in spring and the other the size of a clam.

His mummy wore silk tea gowns in shades of deepest purple when she wore clothes at all, except in the evenings when she would dress all in lace that was of a deeper black than black.  And when she wore this lace, as she always did when she dressed for dinner, she would over-layer it with shawls and capes and fur-lined rugs against the cold and damp, and against the howling winds that blasted through the ancient stone walls as if there were no walls at all. And on her hands would be black silk gloves.  Mummy had never been known to eat with her fingers.  She was a Wold, and eating with fingers was not very nice, or so she had been told.    

Cyril Tode-Pipkin thought the world of his mummy, for she was the only mummy he had ever known. But his mummy thought very little of him; in fact she would have been happier had he been born a baboon. And because of this she mourned day and night, and it was because of this she wore only lace and silk in the colours of death.  For from the moment of his birth, Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s mummy had been enshrouded in deepest mourning.  There was but  one piece of jewellery on her translucent white throat, and that was a locket of blackest black jet, a locket in which there was entombed a single strand of hair, a mysterious hair strangely like that of a baboon.

The mummy of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin had been brought up in a private zoo on the upside of Epsom Dows, a zoo in which lived the savage beasts her great-uncle had brought back from Dieppe.  Beasts that had gone down in a storm at sea in the Bay of Biscay, and which had been plucked from the depths more dead than alive.  And since these beasts had known death and yet were still alive, their souls were warped with the foul stench of hopelessness that made them more savage than usual.  They would stalk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and their eyes they were empty and their fangs they always dripped blood.   

The thought that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was her own tiny son and yet interested her less than even the fainted images of baboons in the Sunday Pictorials, filled his mummy’s throat with bile and her heart with an accountable feeling of noblesse oblige“If only,” she would snort, as he strode in his manful strides through the shadowy, dust-draped salons, “Cyril wasn’t so tall. For I could then bend him in two and paint his bottom bright blue, and stick him up on the wall between the lion and the Tanganikan kazoo.” But when she said this she did not smile; she merely shed a tear – a tear that mingled with the tears she had shed the moment before, and which trickled down her ravaged, mournful cheeks and then dropped from her chin on to the refuse-choked floor.  For the foul-smelling house on the Fen called Wode was never swept, nor were the brasses polished, nor was the piano tuned.  This was more suitable for a rotting house that was in mourning.

Cyril’s mummy, like all mummies whose sons disappoint, was unbearably weary.   Her favourite sport was to recline on her chaise and look out her window and sigh.  “Oh, Cyril,” she’d whine as she lay faintly supine, when he came to the table  to dine, “would you be a good sport and pass me the Port and then jump out your window at nine?” And then she would touch her eyes with her black-edged cambric lace handkerchief and wipe away yet another tear.

Every night, Cyril Tode-Pipkin, who loved his mummy more than he loved even the smell of salted sprats and of the beef kidney tea he so loved to drink, would hop out his window with glee. For he knew it was the only thing that would fill his mummy’s heart with happiness.  But what mummy had forgot (for the house it had damp rot) was that the third-floor nursery had now sunk was now almost level with the sea.

It was therefore with deepest disappointment and sorrow that she’d bid him, “Good Morn,” when she next saw his face the following afternoon just after three, for the fact he had survived and was still even slightly alive filled her heart with chagrin. And after he had finished his tea and had departed the room, she would pour herself ten fingers of gin, with just a soupçon of tonic. She would nibble abstractly a sliver of stilton and a chilled terrine of escargot and pickled pig’s trotter and flies. And as she supped, the mummy of young Cyril Tode-Pipkin would listen to the score of Medea whilst simultaneously reading the play by Shakespeare in which the queen is forced to eat her slain children. Mummy took great comfort in such consoling works, and she wondered why she had been born neither as Medea nor as the queen in Cymbeline.   

Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy – who was a commodore and sailed the seven seas in his ketch – never ever came home, for he preferred just to roam from Brindisi to Johnny O’Groats and revelled in the company of whales and the ghosts of drowned seamen ensnared in their own web-like nets.  The name of his ketch was Suzella-The-Kvetch, and she was his favourite mistress by far – even though he had seven Virginias and one Flora Bird, and even one lad named The Gherkin.  Young Cyril Tode-Pipkin he did honour as his own and bestowed upon him his good name, but that was as far as it went.  For the night young Cyril had been conceived his daddy had been in Rio and his mummy with her lover in Ghent.  And Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy had at least one good eye from which he could see, and he was no fool.  No, not he.

Wold Fen it was old, so very old indeed, that it was made almost entirely of bog, and when strangers did wander out into its wasteland – and if they did not at the time have a cold – as they sank without trace and without time to say grace, they would cry, “But this swamp it smells of nothing of mould!”

The storms what blew through Wold Fen had risen with the crucifixion of Christ and had never relented since then.  The fog it lay thick and on top of it a mist that was so impenetrable that no light had ever shone on the black foetid decay that was all there was to the land.  And it was in this bog, within the bleakest, most sullen trench in the centre, that rotting and foul Wode House had been built.  A house that was swathed in misery and guilt and despair and which had spawned seven Tode sons in seven generations.  Until now, that is.  Until the coming of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin, the spreckled ginger only misbegotten son of the last of the seven sons of the seven sons.  With little Cyril Tode-Pipkin the dynasty would end, and then at last Wold House could fall.

Eventually, as was only to be expected, so inconsolable had her mourning become that the weary sorrow-clenched mummy of Cyril Tode-Pipkin ceased coming down for breakfast entirely. And since Annie MacCree – her maid – had two bandy knees, and only one arm and one leg and a stump, she would carry the tray only as far as the trash (for she was unable to manage the stairs).  She would then return to the kitchen and lie to the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Schnook – “I’ve come back with great sadness because my mistress did take my tray in a fury and did hurl it forthwith though the window and into the slime!”  

“Never you mind,” said the cook, “madam’s not feeling herself these days. But she’ll come round in time and will eat Bengers’ and lime, and will be back to her old self afore you know it! Now you forget about her – she’ll die if she chooses. But we are alive and we’ll serve steak pudding at five. And we shall be safe in our beds with the doors firmly locked, an hour and a half before nine.  

And so it went on.   Every morning, Gwladys Tode-Pipkin née Wold would ring her little bell and every morning she would wait, ‘till her mind got confused and she thought she had dined with the vicar and had supped on the feet of the Emir of Kuwait.  Until, at last – after twenty-seven weeks or so of waiting for food that never arrived – she faded away like a will o’the wisp, and her body it hovered and then was caught up in a breeze and glided out window and was never more seen – until the old Poacher O’Dell, who lived under the well, shot her down in mistake for a grouse. And then took for back to his shack for a tasty wee snack for himself and his mistress, hinky Bertha The Souse.

During this selfsame time of evil and dread, one name was carried by the vapours and did waft through the fen and through the house and through the hearts of all who were in it. “Beware Young Mr. Phlegm… for he will send you to hell… for the house, it is all but his… watch out for his smell and his white spreckled skin….and there’s no beard on the tip of his chin… beware his smile… beware his voice… beware his eyes, they are colder than ice … beware… beware… beware…”

Little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was bereft, and although he had not actually seen his mummy for two years and a day, he felt her absence quite sorely. “Oh, what should I do?” he said to his pet mouse, Lottie-Sue, who was actually less a rodent and more like a louse, “I’ve got no one to talk to but you!”

As if young Cyril Tode-Pipkin did not have enough troubles of his own, by now his dear daddy, Commodore Phipkin Tode-Pipkin (younger son of the Earl of Norsatch) had sent his regrets and a bill for the rent of Wode Fen and the house and the barn and the granary. For he was now on his uppers and so deeply in debt that in prison he would end all his days – simply because – in his ecstasy – he had forgotten to pay for his time night and day with a certain infamous Whore, Miss Fianulla O’Flannery.

And so it came to pass that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with neither his mummy nor even his daddy in the slow-sinking manse in Wode Fen.  He was now completely alone, for even the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Snook – had locked herself up in the  larder.  And as for the maid – young Miss Annie MacCree – she got married to a milk horse named MacFinkle.  And she went far away and was heard only to say, “Young Cyril’s got a glint in his eye that does not bode well for me.” And for that, ‘twas said she was not only fey but was almost impossibly psychical. But as it was, she quite liked dining on hay and sharing with her new spouse a Sunday dinner of bran mash and turnips and apples, as well as other delicacies much  more obscurely equinical.

One day, as Cyril – who by this time was much taller though not that much older in his head – was staring out the window at a passing gale – one that was threatening to take him and his clothes and even the old house clean away – when out of the corner of his eye he spied a mysterious and quite murksome form coming his way.  The form it did stagger and sway through the marshes, and it seemed – although in the murk it was not plain to see – that it was dressed up in a hat and a cape and in a duster from way down in the Antipodes.

And since young Cyril had never seen in his life a person who was neither mummy nor cook nor ill-tempered maid who had two bandy knees and one fewer legs than was normal, he went upstairs to the tower and his hid in a bower and prepared to bombard this strange man with flaming strawberry jam and toast burnt hard as a rock in a toaster.  From the battlements he looked down and then he did frown, for the stranger looked up and he waved.  “Hello, my good sir!” this stranger declaimed with a mischievous and mysterious grin.  And with that he did sweep off his hat and bow all the way to the ground.  “Oh, please, kind sir, I am cold and I’m damp.  All I ask is that you let me come in.”

“Be gone, my good man,” roared young Cyril, and he picked up the jam and he threw. “Next time I won’t miss, and you’ll burn up in a hiss, and I’ll roast you all up on a spit.”

“But my very good sir, what an excellent plan, may I come up and help you to carry it out?”

And young Cyril he thought and then he thought a while more, and then he called down to the man in a welcoming treble, “On, why the hell not,” after which he threw down the key to the stranger – the stranger who was all wrapped up in a Antipodean duster.

And the stranger came up, bringing his own tea and a cup, and the two chaps they sat down and waited.   And when the clock it stuck five, Cyril said, “What ho! Man alive!” my dinner’s at six and you’re still not on the spit, get down on your knees and repent.  But the stranger demurred, and in a nonce, he took out his sabre, and with this sabre he slew the young heir of both the Tode-Pipkins and of the Wolds.

In the winkling of an eye and in a flash as well, the stranger’s work was finished and done.  He said to the corpse, “Hip Hip Hurrah! At last that I am avenged!”  He boiled up some brine and some quite decent wine and threw young Cyril into the broth. And he boiled him away for two nights and a day, and sang to himself a sweet dirge, “My young man,” he did smirk, “you are such a foul jerk, and now at last you are slain!”

And the stranger took off his cape and his duster from the Antipodes and his gloves and his hat, and his nose and his ears and eyebrows, and what then remained was a pinkish white skin all over freckles and bits of red hair.  “You thought yourself clever, much smarter than I, but I have planned this revenge since my birth.”

And with that he danced and sang and his neck he did crane, ‘till his head did fall off with a snap.  And from out of his spine, all shiny with slime, grew a new head right up in its place.

This stranger now stood very still, and then his voice it did trill, and the stew he did eat all at once.

My name it is Cyril, young Cyril the Ginger, and I am the heir to his house.  You tried to kill me all off on the night of my birth, but my mummy she did hide me away.  I was raised up by my dad – and called simply ‘The Lad’ – and fought brave battles as Lieutenant Willy-The-Gherkin.”

And he picked from the broth the head of the imposter, and with his finger he dug out its brain and its heart and he said, “And you, my foul and now-vanquished enemy, were called by Old Scratch ‘the vile and evil Mr. Phlegm’, and you came up from regions of which only you know.  But now, my dear dead Mr. Phlegm, I shall eat up your all your last morsels. And then I shall open my bowels and send you back whence you came.  And that – as they say will be that, my dear dead departed and vanquished Mr. Phlegm.”

And after he had done and had washed out his plate, for his daddy had taught him so well, he roared, “My man, you old cur, to hell with you sir,” and with that he shat into the pot and then  cast the pot right out through the window and down into a bottomless pit between the butchery and the abattoir. And then he washed his hands and his face and he smiled at his image in the mirror.

And with that the sun shone and the old house was once again bathed in white light.  And in the garden there grew rare flowers red, yellow, gold, purple and blue, as well as roses the colour of rebirth. And all through Wold Fen, the songbirds did sing, and the deer they did cavort with the lions.  As they say – and yes, many things they do indeed say – that peace had finally been brought to this once ill-begotten land.

And then true Cyril came down from the bower in the tower, and softly knocked on his mummy’s door and he whispered.  “Sweet mummy it is I whom you loved, for I have finally come home and shall never desert  you again.”

And the door it swung open, and in the room did appear, a woman not nearly so weary.  “I thought you were lost and I would never set eyes on you again.”

As this true first-born son swept his mummy into his arms and embraced her as only a true son should embrace his mummy, she thought to herself that this true son did smell just like a true son should smell, and in her heart she rejoiced in the knowledge that, under his duster from the Antipodes, his bottom was as blue as the sky.  For, here at last, was her much-loved son, her brave and stalwart Cyril Tode-Pipkin.  She looked in his face, and with a smile filled with grace, she murmured, “Oh, how I have missed you, my sweet and my proud, oh, how I have missed you my son, by most beloved my most darling little baboon.”   

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