Tag Archives: Uncle Edgerton

A bit of high-level intellectual colloquy

‘Fire away,’ I said to Augustus Sly.

‘Montenegro,’ he said. ‘Ah, Montenegro.’

We were in London.

‘Or Crna Gora, as the locals have it,’ he said. His pronunciation was just so.

‘Montenegro,’ I said, ‘since you are interviewing me on the subject, is a boost to creativity. Of course, as a country, you shouldn’t judge it by February. It was cold and it rained. It reminded me of the west of Ireland from the days when I used to go there. In Ireland it rained and the cold got you deep down. Ireland and Montenegro both, you would hunch in front of some electric fan heater so that your face burned and your feet still felt like ice. It couldn’t be as cold as it felt, to judge by the temperature gauge in the hired Corsa: I suppose that it was the damp that got into the house and your bones and could only be dispelled by living there.

‘The difference between Montenegro and Ireland,’ I said, ‘is twofold: the music and the gossip. In Ireland there is always music: furious music through an open door, as Mike Scott says.’

‘Waterboys,’ said Augustus Sly.

‘Just so. Room to Roam. In Montenegro, there’s also always music, but it’s Europop…’

‘Kurd Maverick?’ said Augustus Sly.

‘At best.

‘And in Ireland,’ I said, ‘there are always stories. There’s gossip about the people who live there. So and so has become a lesbian. So and so has become a potter. So and so was JFK’s real father, still alive, by God. Such and such a church is the oldest in Europe, celebrated in poems and songs now lost. In that valley they still talk Latin – away from the incomers and the tourists, of course. In Montenegro there are probably stories too, but they’re lost on me, not having the Serbo-Croatian. So I’m driven to making them up.’

‘Kurd Maverick?’ said Augustus Sly.

‘He’s real, actually – but I have made him do things that he didn’t really do. He’s cool with it. No, I was thinking of Apa’tman, the great Sixteenth Century warlord who put his enemies to the sword and then subdued the nation with the benign aid of kefir, but would not survive a Google search.’

‘Apa’tman,’ said Augustus Sly, ‘is not a happy creation. With respect.’

‘Please don’t say ‘with respect’,’ I said. ‘It nearly always comes across as either rude or smug.’

‘In my case?’

‘Smug.’

‘Apa’tman is wholly unbelievable,’ Augustus Sly said. ‘Like Dame Jenni ™ Murray, another of your obviously made-up characters that you lay on with a trowel.’

‘Do you think,’ I said, ‘that there is a danger of making the whole thing more self-referential that it already is if we continue in this vein?’

‘Were you planning to record our conversations?’

‘This?’

‘Yes.’

‘Post them?’

‘Of course.’

‘That was the plan: if your questions were sufficiently amusing. My readers like nothing more than a bit of high-level intellectual colloquy.’

Augustus Sly studied the end of his pencil. He was on his mettle now.

‘Great Secret Miss,’ he said.

‘Ah. Tricky, that.’

‘Where is it, do you think?’

‘I can’t of course say exactly where it is or it would be inundated by my thousands of Followers, which would spoil its peculiar ambience. Soho, I suppose, with The Kingdom further up towards the Euston Road. It has certain Magic Toyshop qualities, though, hovering between real life and the world of dreams. You may not be able easily to see it from the street.’

‘And Uncle Edgerton…’

‘Everyone hates Uncle Edgerton.’

‘No. No. The whole zombie thing. Fascinating. In a way…’

‘What I felt, I’d been very brave. Credit was due.’

Augustus Sly ignored that.

‘The whole zombie thing,’ I said, ‘as you call it. What’s your take on that, then?’

‘Oh,’ said Augustus Sly. ‘Post-ironic anomie. That whole thing. It’s a rather important element of my thesis, actually. Won’t say any more if you’re, you know…’

‘… posting. Of course. Internet piracy. You wouldn’t want anyone else stealing a march.’

‘I’ve been burned before,’ said Augustus Sly. ‘Peer review! Ha! Peer theft more like.’

‘Not on your alablague research?’

‘No. No. A thing on Barthes. Barthes: Roland or Simpson? Peer theft more like.’

‘I’m sorry to hear it. If I do a post about this do you want me to take out the bit about post-ironic anomie?’

‘Yes please,’ said Augustus Sly.

He stared at the end of his pencil again.

‘What will you call it?’ I said. ‘Your thesis?’

‘Before the colon or after?’

‘Ng?’

‘All titles of theses are split about a colon. Pilate Jests: Truth and Lies in the Alablague Blog. Barthes: Roland or Simpson? . That sort of thing.’

‘Is that it? There’s no Pilate in my blog.’

‘No it isn’t the title. That’s a secret. Of course there isn’t Pilate actually in your blog. That would be too blatant a channeling of Master and Marguerite even for you. ‘

Augustus Sly flipped his fingers into aerial quotation marks when he said ‘channeling’.

‘But ‘alablague’’, he went on, ‘ – ‘in jest’ in French; Canadian French anyway – is an obvious reference to jesting Pilate.’

‘Bollocks,’ I said. ‘It’s my surname.’

‘My daughter,’ I said, ‘like you an aspiring PhD, likes to drape her thesis titles around a semi-colon, incidentally, rather than the colon as more generally found.’

‘Bollocks,’ said Augustus Sly.

‘I suppose you’re not telling me the title because of the post-ironic anomie business.’

‘Bollocks,’ said Augustus Sly.

‘I’ll get it out of you.’

He fell silent and ruminated for a moment – figuratively, of course, on account of having only one stomach.

Or so I assume: our acquaintance is still too young for confidences of that nature.

Clearly he was working up to something.

‘Big one,’ he said.

I realised at once that he was not attempting to flatter me by using the vocative case. He meant, ‘This is the big one.’ It was usage I had come across before.

‘Mm?’ I said.

‘Who is Amy?’ said Augustus Sly.

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My Uncle Shall Not Die

I awoke. I was on the same bed. I felt drowsy all over, except in one particular. The woman was still there. She came into view. I was dressed, to some extent, I could just see my bow tie which had come rather rakishly undone, but she was able to inspect me briefly and then, apparently satisfied, went out of my vision again. Had I been restrained? I moved my limbs languidly. No, I was not restrained. I was just very, very relaxed, except, as I say, in one particular.

I felt rather cheerful about it all.

I heard the woman’s voice, as if from far away.

“…awake…..”

Was she talking to me? There couldn’t be anyone else, obviously, in my hotel room, except her and me.

“I’m awake, my dear,” I tried to say. I’m not sure what came out.

I giggled. Not to be able to say “I’m awake, my dear”! What had they put in that champagne!

Of course her spoken English, earlier, had not been fluent. Fluent enough to say ‘awake’ through, I reasoned to myself. I was reasoning to myself, I thought, with another giggle; things are not that serious. She came back into my field of vision. She was still wearing the lovely dress, sheer but immensely stylish, that had first caught my eye at the ball, hours earlier. She gazed at me.

If this is a honey trap, I thought, bring it on!

She was still in her lovely dress, but I noticed with surprise that instead of the long silk gloves that she had worn earlier she had on surgical gloves. The green clashed.

I awoke.

What was that?

It had felt immensely real – not as a dream that I was in but as if someone was talking directly to me.

But who?

I got up agitatedly and made myself some green tea to clear my head. I noticed that it was four o’clock in the morning – not a proper time for green tea. Back to sleep, I thought, getting into bed and placing the mug with the tea on the bedside table. In the other side of the bed the better half was sleeping soundly. Fortunately I had not disturbed her. But I couldn’t get back to sleep. It had been too vivid. I had a sudden thought. The only person who ever tried to contact me like that was Uncle Edgerton, though he’d been quiet for months now. Uncle Edgerton, of course, usually summoned me by using his familiar, P2, who would adopt the shape of a woman known to me and then convey me back in time. I checked the better half under the blanket. No, it was really her, not P2; with P2 there is always a certain skimpiness with the attendant detail.

Uncle Edgerton was in trouble. That gradually came to me and then I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was a most unlikely mise en scène for him, but, yes, it was his tone of voice. Silly, dirty old fool! I remembered with a flash that he was said to have died mysteriously during the War. These were certainly mysterious enough circumstances for him, far from Lewisham and the life assurance company. It came to me even more cogently: he’s got out of his depth and he needs my help.

Or my uncle was going to die.

I dashed, quietly, down to the kitchen and downed a glass from my home supply of kefir. It was essential to recover the dream, or whatever it was – and then I might know what to do. I soon slept again. What I now encountered chilled me to the bone. There was nothing to see and a plain unvarying electronic note. Had Uncle Edgerton flat-lined?

That underlined the danger but I realised that it needn’t be fatal. If I could get back, I could do so a minute or two earlier, and I could deal with the vamp and her accomplice, the one she’d said ‘awake’ to, before they did whatever unspeakable thing it was that they had done – or would do – to my uncle. Actually I could take Aubergine Small and he’d sort them out. He is, as readers may recall, much bigger than I am.

But how? How could I get back in time to what must be the 1940s? Uncle Edgerton had always dealt with that side of things before. He was, after all, an adept of the Order of the Drawn Sword (Third Level) and I wasn’t. I was not thinking straight. I dashed upstairs again and fetched the mug of green tea. It would counteract the effect of the kefir.

I drank it slowly. It was still hot. Green tea is quite delicious lukewarm or even cold, but hot is best, especially when you want to dispel the lingering narcotic effects of kefir.

This round of dashing up- and downstairs had woken the better half.

“What on earth’s going on?”

She was not pleased to be disturbed.

I explained briefly. I probably gabbled.

“And what exactly are you planning to do about it?”

“That’s what I’m cudgelling my brains about….”

“I don’t see P2. So you can’t go back in time.”

The better half, unnecessarily I thought, got on her hands and knees and shouted satirically under the bed:

“P2, come out! P2, are you under there?”

She turned to me again.

“What exactly did he say?”

I told her again.

““If this is a honey trap, I thought, bring it on!”?”

“Yes.”

“I very much doubt that they said ‘honey trap’ in nineteen forty whatever it was, and they certainly didn’t say ‘bring it on’.”

“You mean…?”

“He didn’t say it. You made it up. It was a dream. It’s half past four. Now go back to sleep.”

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Swimming

When I was young my parents would take us on holiday to Europe. This was relatively rare then. Flights were expensive, so we drove in my father’s elderly Daimler. Only once did we fly and that was an impossibly romantic stagger across the Channel with the Daimler in a Bristol Freighter, from Lydd Airport to Le Touquet, a service also employed by James Bond in Goldfinger, with, if memory serves, his 1930s Bentley. Lydd Airport is now called London Ashford Airport, because it is not located anywhere near London or Ashford, and it is no longer impossibly romantic.

We drove south and saw things that our school friends didn’t. We saw Naples when it was still controlled by deep-died ruffians, as opposed to Berlusconi-like smoothies. Indeed they broke into the Daimler as we were having a picnic and stole our passports. My identity was later used by a quite important assassin.

The only problem was the sun and the sea. My parents were sure that both were good for us. The sun burnt my pale post-War flesh. There was no such thing then as Factor 50, only some dubious and runny cream that you got from Boots. My parents were convinced that you couldn’t get burnt after three in the afternoon, and the sea into which they drove us washed even the dubious cream from Boots away. It was pure agony the first day. You knew that the second day it would mutate into a fierce itching, worst on that bit of the back that you couldn’t quite reach to scratch, and on the third the skin would come away in sheets; but this was usually academic as the second and third days were always renewed bouts of the first.

When I left home I resolved that whilst Abroad would still have its place in my life I would never again go on a beach or in the sea. I kept to this resolve until quite recently.

The better half prodded me into returning. On a visit to Amelia Island in Florida (as it happens) she was able to demonstrate that Factor 50 actually worked. I rolled up one trouser leg (rather like my Uncle Edgerton through with very different motivation) and she applied the lotion to my knee. I walked in a gingerly fashion up the beach for ten minutes and then back and was astonished to discover that, afterwards, nothing hurt.

The sea came next. First it was at night, and I still do like the reflections of the town lights in the waves as they break over me. Then I tried it in the daytime too.

Of course there was a setback. We were in Oman and staying at the Chedi. This is one of the most elegant hotels in the world and our friend Rob, who then lived in Oman, had persuaded someone to let us have rooms at an absurdly cheap rate, so cheap that the bill passed muster when eventually presented as an expense to my then law firm. Anyway, at the Chedi you felt immune from all danger, and that was where I went wrong. I let down my guard.

I wandered into the Indian Ocean. It was the temperature of momentarily neglected soup, which is how I like it. The water lapped about my thighs. Suddenly there was a fierce current and I was pulled under. I couldn’t locate the sea bed or the surface. I breathed in water.

His Highness Sultan Qaboos appeared to me. He was hovering there, shimmering, neither in the water nor out of it. He was fingering his khanja just the way he does.

Have strength, my boy, he said – or at any rate appeared to say.

Bugger me, a vision, I said to myself. Things are worse than I thought.

And with a last superhuman effort I broke surface and found myself once again knee deep in the benign and sultry waters that abut the Chedi’s private beach.

No one had any sympathy at all, but after that I steered clear of the sea again.

Rob, confusingly, now lives in Portugal. If he were fictional like Uncle Edgerton he would stay put but he isn’t and he doesn’t. Last week we stayed with him there – with him and his excellent terrier Joca, who kills snakes.

It was outrageously hot. The first day I accompanied Rob and the better half to the beach and got burnt in spite of Factor 50. They both discouraged me, as if I needed it, from swimming. The breakers came in from the Atlantic, they said and were big and cold.

For a couple of days when the others went to the beach I stayed behind with Joca, musing over some of the intractable problems of philosophy while he killed snakes. But on the last day I thought I’d try again. There were apparently compensations that the beach afforded above the intractable problems of philosophy. Portuguese woman are often sturdily built and dark-skinned. They lie on the beach, Rob and the better half reported, with gaily coloured string covering, more or less, their private parts – the latter accommodated as often as not in generous and well-oiled flesh. There were two in particular, I was told. They lie close together fingering each other’s gaily coloured string and laughing softly; we call them Bi and Large, Rob said.

Joca and I resolved to investigate this interesting phenomenon. As it happened, we never did. As soon as I got to the beach I got the feeling that Stuart Broad sometimes gets when presented with a row of Australian batsmen or Luke Skywalker when he turns off the machine. I would not fear the sun that burns or the wave that chokes. I would let the force be with me. I stripped to my togs.

Just going in, I said.

It was not cold. The waves broke about me in a manly way and in a manly way I faced them down. Suddenly the better half was at my side.

Do you need help at all? she said.

No thank you very much.

You can stand here, she said.

Yes, I said, I am.

A note came into her voice.

A wave, she shouted, pointing.

I gave her a look, infinitely loving but at the same time infinitely assured. I breasted the wave and swam some way towards Morocco.

A ghostly voice sounded in my ear.

Well done, my boy, said the Sultan.

Or at least I think that’s what he said: of course it was in Arabic.

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Standing up to Bullies

One thing I like about Amy, the better half said, is she’s so practical. The girls were giggling at the man’s small penis, you were intent on drawing some specious generalised conclusion and only Amy got the point, which was that the man was a bully.

Our friend Anthony Perry says that you should always stand up to bullies. Indeed he wrote as much in his book Love Me, Love Me, Love Me. It is a line that the better half often quotes, as indeed she did on this occasion.

And so Amy did, ruthlessly, I said. Stand up to bullies. As far as she was concerned the man’s penis was neither here nor there.

The better half was flustered. She had just got back from an evening out and it had ended badly. She spent the evening with two friends of hers. I think of them affectionately as Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal.

(Why Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal?

I explained the reference. 1 Corinthians 13:1:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Ah, she said. It’s not the same in Russian.)

Anyway, although they had spent the evening in a Wetherspoons pub next door to a Tube station on our line, Sounding Brass had insisted on driving her, not home but to some station where a train could be caught that would take her to another station at which an all-night bus (for it was now long past midnight) might be available.

Tinkling Cymbal, although the reverse of an assertive person, had secured that the meeting took place next door to where she lived, which was the other end of London from the others. She had walked home to bed.

I’m perpetually amazed at the arrogance of people with cars. As with bullies, we should stand up to them. So often a simple ‘No, thank you’ is all that is needed. Here we are, privileged to live in one of the great cities of the world, with the oldest and biggest metro system in the world, planned in the age of Napoleon, magnificently launched with steam trains a hundred and fifty years ago, not to mention our lovely red double-decker buses which are recognised in the most remote places where they have not yet heard that Elvis Presley is dead and don’t even know who Victoria Beckham is, and people like Sounding Brass insist in ferrying us around instead in their nasty Renault Meganes.

The better half was already on edge – who wouldn’t be – after hours spent in a Wetherspoons pub on the wrong side of London, but when she arrived at the station where the all-night bus might be found she was horrified to find herself in the middle of a Santathon. She rang me on her mobile.

Listen, she said. I’m in the middle of nowhere and there is a bloody Santathon.

I could hear that unlike the version that we had encountered last year, which was earlier in the evening and still relatively benign apart from isolated instances of bloodletting, this was unrestrained in its drunkenness and violence. I could hear sounds that, notwithstanding the uncertain acoustic qualities of the better half’s iPhone, could only be described as baying.

Buck up, I said. There’s a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet in the fridge, only just opened.

Heartened by that she made her escape and arrived home not long afterwards. She had read about Amy and the very small penis on the bus.

I notice incidentally that the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England now regards ‘sounding brass’ as a mistranslation and prefers the phrase ’noisy’ or ‘reverberating gong’. This is absurd. There is all the difference in the world between the sound that precedes Sunday lunch and that with which Joshua caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down. As regards the better half’s friend I mean the latter. I reckon St Paul did too.

In a pathetic attempt at relevance the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England also incidentally proposes replacing ‘tinkling cymbal’ with ‘twitter’. But like the very small penis of Amy’s client that is neither here not there.

The better half’s way with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet is as ruthless in its way as Amy’s with a bully, but unlike Amy she eases up with the second round.

Talking of all your strange friends, she said, I thought that there was some crisis with your half-witted and dead Uncle Edgerton. I thought that you were summoned back to 1934 and he had disappeared. That’s gone very quiet.

I thought I told you, I said.

No.

Oh, he was exiled into the future and his nervous system was strung out and bricked into the fabric of a disused monastery in Hendon. It was guarded by necromantic spells and zombies. Aubergine Small got him out.

Well that’s all right then. What about Uncle Winthrop?

Lost his wits. That turned out to be when it happened. Between summoning me and Uncle E’s return. Stress-related. As so often.

Well that’s all right then.

Yes. Only thing was, some distortion in the space/time continuum. When he got back to 1934 it was about a fortnight later. Had to take it as annual leave from the insurance company. Sick as daughter two’s otter, he is.

Poor Uncle E.

The better half spoke without conviction.

And what have you done with Thumper?

Ah. Thumper.

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Mechanics

Amy has been reading a novel – in English. She came to me slightly truculently as I sat on a divan at Great Secret Miss, her finger marking a page. I could see that she meant business, so I forestalled her.

I wiped my chin ostentatiously with a paper napkin. It had been provided by the management for that purpose and incongruously enough it bore on it an illustration of a cute Chinese rabbit.

Goodness, I said, this porridge is good. Just the thing now it’s turning cold at last. I do hope that The Porridge Man is not dead but sleeping, but, either way, what a bowl-full!

Amy ignored this, and indicated a page in her novel.

““Good God,” he sighed”, she said. What means ““Good God,” he sighed”? How?

I smiled sweetly.

How what?

How sigh and say ‘Good God’ at one time?

She attempted this feat. She got the sigh perfectly, but, as she suggested, the semantic element was compromised.

It doesn’t mean that. It means, “”Good God,” he said and he sighed” or ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice.” But I agree. I try never to do it myself. For one thing it breaks number three of Elmore Leonard’s essential ten rules for writing:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Mind you, ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice” almost breaks rule four:

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely

… “in a sighing voice” being an adverbial phrase.

There are worse examples. I particularly hate ““Good God,” he chuckled”. I’ll be the judge of whether there’s anything funny going on. ““Good God,” he gibbered” or ““Good God?” he asked” ought to be all right, but I wouldn’t use them. As I say, I always try to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules. Most of them.

What you mean, you follow Elmore Leonard’s rules?

Don’t you read my blog, Amy?

She looked embarrassed. She had forgotten.

I catch up every week, every two week. Busy with proper novel.

That hurt – twice. Amy, blackest and biggest in the tag cloud, could not be bothered to read what is in many ways her own blog. And then she compares it unfavourably with what was probably a badly-written self-satisfied great lump of fiction, no doubt with a beginning, a middle, a heart-warming end and the flashbacks that seem to be compulsory these days.

I muttered in Mandarin that I was singing to a cow. Because I was irritated I got the tones wrong and had to repeat it. When she finally understood she said:

Hah!

‘Hah’ is a good English word, but Amy brought to it a Chinese sensibility. As a result it bore no relation at all to the apparently equivalent ‘ah’. In Mandarin there are four tones in which vowels may be expressed, those that I had just muddled in my reference to singing to a cow. ‘Ah’ is delivered, even when one is speaking English, in the level ‘tone one’, but ‘hah’ in the more declamatory falling ‘tone four’.

In Pinyin, the tones would be written āh and hàh respectively.

Having delivered her “Hah!” she flounced off.

No doubt Amy’s so-called novel includes at least once the phrase: Never a dull moment!. I would never write that, because I also try to follow George Orwell’s rules for writing, number one of which is:

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

But Never a dull moment! is what I thought as a stunningly gorgeous transsexual entered Great Secret Miss and walked up to me and in a dark brown voice she said…

…but before she could, I interrupted her:

Lola!

P2 looked slightly crestfallen. I hastened to reassure her.

What a triumph, P2! And what a departure! So much more convincing than the lady in the Ridley Road market.

P2 fingered her crotch, with an air of purpose, but also I thought with an air of slight surprise.

There is not a moment to lose, she said.

It was the cellar room, familiar from so many trips before. The figure had his back to me.

Uncle E, I said.

He turned. It was not my great-uncle Edgerton. It was his brother Winthrop – and he looked grim.

They’ve got him, he said, and you must rescue him. There’s not a moment to lose.

The spine-chilling instructions that Uncle Winthrop then gave me I shall reveal at the appropriate time. Before I knew where I was I was back at Amy’s, on the divan, slightly winded.

I should like to be able to say that I sat there considering the enormity of my task with resolute determination. But you know how at moments of potential greatness irrelevant thoughts buzz round your mind like pernicious flies. So it was with me then. This is what I thought:

First, do I trust Uncle Winthrop? I knew that he lost his wits, but I didn’t know when. Had he lost them already by late 1934?

Secondly, I looked again at the paper napkin. I had used it to wipe The Porridge Man’s porridge from my chin but I had retained it in my hand. It had been to 1934 and back. Something had been nagging at my mind. It was the cute rabbit. The Japanese have cute rabbits but for the Chinese a rabbit is generally something for the hot pot. I looked more closely. Beneath the rabbit in cursive script it read ‘Thumper’. Was the poor lad trying to tell us something?

And lastly I thought, I wish that I understood, like P2, the mechanics of time travel as I try to understand the mechanics of writing.

I could have been a contender.

(Orwell Rule 1).

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Apotheosis Deferred

So many stories are working their way through to their conclusions: so many people are working their way through to their apotheoses.

The rain falls constantly. It feels uneasily like the approach of the end of the world. Maybe it’s the coming mid-winter solstice: maybe one of the minority cults is right after all and it is the end of the world. Like Karl Marx on speed, tragedies repeat themselves as farce and then back again to tragedy, all spinning by.

Last weekend we went to the cremation of Evelyn Williams, about whom I wrote recently. It turned out that that meeting was to be our last. The ceremony was enormously dignified, as befits her. God played no part in her imaginative life and didn’t get a look in here, but the occasion resembled more than anything a Quaker meeting, as members of her family and friends stood up to bear witness to the huge influence she, her love and her work had had in their lives.

Unlike most of us, who rely on the memories of others after we’ve gone to provide some sort of half-life, in Evie’s case there is her work. I hope that someone will show it: soon, often and into the indefinite future. Shamefully she was spurned in her lifetime by the Tate, which has different priorities – though it is difficult to guess what they might be.

The dog’s losing fight with cancer ought to be a case of stepping from the sublime to the ridiculous, but of course it isn’t. We commit so much emotionally to our animals that these things do matter, and in the case of this particular animal he is, on any objective assessment, a very good dog.

Others will attest to this.

As I write, he is stretched out asleep beneath a particularly monumental painting of Evie’s. He sleeps a lot these days. He still dreams and, to judge by the fluttering of his paws, still races in his imagination across the huge beaches of Dornoch Firth (his favourite place of all) even though the same paws now fail him when he attempts the stairs, a failure that he bears with dignity, even when he clatters down the bottom half of the flight and lands on his nose.

One effect of his illness is an absence of music in the house. In fact the house is entirely silent, as my beloved better half is away in Germany. When the dog needs to go outside he needs to go quickly and if the sound of Haydn (as it tends to be these days) drowns out that of his toenails tapping on the front door by way of warning to me, the consequences as regards the hall floor are horrid.

I first discovered the consolations of the visual arts over thirty years ago when daughter one as a baby made so much noise that listening to music, for different reasons, became impossible. Now those consolations are still available. So too, when Haydn is not there to divert them, are the fancies that tug unbidden at my sleeve.

Sometimes literally: I was in Ridley Road Market the other day. I was on my way from the bus stop to TLC, the Turkish supermarket which I have mentioned before. My attention was distracted by an Amazon, magnificent, haughty, kallipygous and clad in a dress of a colour and material both of which improved on the beneficence of nature. She was too good to be true. I stared greedily at her back (though also, I am glad to be able to report, appropriately, respectfully and excluding all possible elements of patriarchy, discrimination or condescension). To my astonishment she turned round and approached me.

She was too good to be true. Her face was sketchy, suggesting that after the attention bestowed on her bottom the imagination of her creator had flagged.

P2?

Come at once! Your uncle is in dire peril.

One of the lessons of Evie’s life, it has occurred to me over the past week, is that idiot distractions must be avoided if one is to achieve what actually matters.

Furthermore, I was depressed, and zombie-fighting demands a certain élan.

You know what? I’ll get back to you, I said, and strode on to the shop.

P2 disappeared with an exclamation of irritation and a slight but nasty smell, although the latter may have been the fishmonger’s stall with his pile of catfish which I was then passing.

There would be time enough for Uncle Edgerton.

If it was serious, I thought, as I entered the vegetable department in TFC, there was always Aubergine Small. I gazed unseeing for a second at a tray of the succulent purple creatures for which Small’s mother had presumably named him, unlikely close relations of both belladonna and the potato, so glorious to look at and so unpleasant to eat. No doubt it had sparked the recollection of my friend and comrade in arms.

It also mocked my cowardice.

But I promised apotheoses. There have been two, neither easy. I think however that they will be another story.

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World Leader Salutes Blog

The dog woke me with his barking just after dawn. There was someone at the door. It turned out to be a young man, bearded and wearing a dishdasha, his right hand resting lightly on his khanja and his left proffering an envelope and some flowers. I scanned his face but this time it was not my son.

From His Highness Sultan Qaboos, the young man said, so I asked him in.

I recognised the flowers. They are the intensely red desert irises that grow in the wadis near Nizwa in the rainy season. If you have ever spent time in the wadis near Nizwa in the rainy season you will know with what feelings of pleasurable nostalgia I took them and placed them in a suitable vase – glass, with the words ‘A Souvenir of Northants’ etched (or possibly marked by a process equivalent to etching) into the surface.

How is His Highness? Well, I hope.

Open the envelope, said the young man, with suppressed excitement.

First I extracted a press release. This is what it said:

World Leader Salutes Blog

His Highness Sultan Qaboos of Muscat and Oman has congratulated Mr Alablague on the occasion of the first anniversary of the initiation of his blog http://www.alablague.wordpress.com. He wishes it be known that the site is bookmarked on all the royal computers in all the palaces and even some tents and that there is nothing that His Highness enjoys more than reading a new instalment of the adventures of Amy, Aubergine Small and Uncle Edgerton (and the dog but less so) in the company of a young friend or two.

His Highness has enjoyed every step of the way from mendacity to outright fantasy. He feels that it has been a “Journey” that he and Mr Alablague have, in a very real way, shared.

His Highness commends the site to all well-meaning people – except those living in Oman, where internet access is restricted for their own good.

His Highness commends the struggle of The Jibjab Woman to beat the shit out of the enemies of Islam.

In recognition of the anniversary of the initiation of the blog http://www.alablague.wordpress.com His Highness is pleased to make two orders.

Mr Alablague’s son is freely pardoned from the open charges of piracy (well, privateering) and stealing a Lee Enfield rifle plus bullets.

Mr Alablague himself is admitted to the Order of the Falcon’s Tail, Third Class, and is welcome to collect the insignia personally at any of His Highness’s palaces, any time, whatever.

Mr Alablague said, “I’m chuffed to bits. I salute the benevolent rule of His Highness Sultan Qaboos, his encouragement of the enjoyment of the light classics and his aspirations to democracy, and I shall wear my gong with pride.”

All enquiries please to the Superintendent of Police, Muscat.

Contact details followed.

There was also a card and a personal note which I need not reproduce here. The picture on the card, incidentally, was a reproduction of a painting by our friend Julian Barrow of the goat market in Nizwa.

I gave the young man a cup of tea and a piece of fudge left over from daughter three’s wedding and returned to bed. Hours later the parcel post came and again the dog woke me. I signed for a tiny parcel and opened it feverishly. Inside there was a small piece of dried pasta. It was in a rather personal shape.

There was also a card. Its front read:

A Wish for You

And inside:

I hope that this stops you writing your sexist patronising patriarchal filth for at least six months.

Best wishes

Dame Jenni ™ Murray

“at least” was underlined twice.

It was nice of her to take the trouble. Naomi herself hadn’t.

Actually it was probably one of Naomi’s, left over.

Other people have also been very kind. You only have to look at the hundreds of touching tributes on the alablague Facebook site. It’s that sort of thing that gives you the strength to carry on.

His Highness calls it a ‘journey’, which is an idea that (much as I revere the man) I hate. Like Amy, I prefer the idea of ‘good unsought experiments by the way’.

Enough of that. When I went up for my after-lunch nap there was a message in soap on the shaving mirror:

Many happy returns! Good show!

E

How on earth could he tell?

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A Wedding; an Exorcism

Going into the church for the wedding of my lovely daughter three I noticed the dog – who was a page boy – shiver down the entire length of his body. Although the more extreme signs of his Satanism had abated over the last few days, he was clearly not right. I had heard nothing from Uncle Edgerton. Maybe the bad spirit was lying low. More likely the dog, who is very fond of daughter three, had made a supreme effort for her.

He lay there quietly, talking sotto voce with the grand-daughter. Only at two points were there signs of real distress. The first was when my brother and I played appropriate wedding music, and his disquiet may have had less to do with his spiritual allegiance than with his acuteness, as a dog, of pitch. But the second was when Father J stressed that this was not a secular occasion but a sacrament, and then he shivered again.

Afterwards we went on to the venue chosen for the reception, from which he was barred on the grounds of health and safety – barred as a dog, curiously, rather than as a creature possessed by a devil. The venue, to give credit where due, was The Canonbury in Islington, and they do a good spread, with lovely surroundings and food far above the normal standard of bulk catering.

Everything went very well, few people sat there swallowing their lips, and the only really sad thing was when the grand-daughter’s red balloon became detached from its attractively decorated string and set off for Germany. For a bit she was inconsolable.

Daughter two was a bridesmaid, without Parrott on this occasion but with her boyfriend Dan, another treasure-hunter. She whispered to me that she was standing by to be summoned whenever she was needed.

The time came for me to make a speech as the bride’s father. I stood up clutching my notes and surveying the sea of rubicund faces with some dismay. Would they be quiet? Just as I was about to embark on my first well-rounded aphorism a woman lurched into me. It was my brutal cousin Ella, from Denmark.

But – you weren’t invited…

Saved from speaking in the nick of time, said P2, and The Canonbury in Islington faded away.

You’ve been busy, said my Uncle Edgerton admiringly to P2, as the dog, daughter two and Parrot arrived a moment later. Daughter two and Parrot were soaking wet, daughter two in a wetsuit. I noticed that P2 was also wet through. Presumably she had had to venture under water to fetch daughter two and Parrot.

Whisked away just as we were closing in on treasure, said daughter two. Good wedding though last week. Enjoyed every minute.

Pieces of eight, said Parrot.

‘Last week…’. When did the dog come from, I wondered. He seemed anyway to be taking to the 1930s with his usual aplomb.

Only then did I notice another figure in the room, a vague tweeded man in middle age with a clerical collar.

Did you ever meet my brother Winthrop?

Uncle Winthrop! Of course I remembered him from my childhood. In the 1950s he was what is now called a person with Alzheimer’s and then senile. Retired early from the priesthood, he was kept impeccably tweeded and dog-collared by his wife but was incapable of getting a coherent sentence out. We loved to torment him. A real adult was a rare victim in those days. But Winthrop survived the War and Edgerton didn’t. That was not a discussion that I wanted to get into and I suspect that Edgerton didn’t either. I said nothing.

Can do it without a priest, but best with.

Uncle Winthrop squatted down by the dog and whispered to him in Latin. The dog responded in the same language. Both spoke in reasonable measured tones, sizing each other up.

If you have read the exorcism scene in Stella Gibbons’ masterpiece Starlight you would expect as I did to be in for the long haul; a trial of strength; the priest trying patiently to coax the spirit out, the spirit cornered and resisting. I settled back to watch. My second concern was whether good would triumph; my main one was whether the dog would survive.

As it turned out, it wasn’t like that.

Uncle Winthrop ran his hands over the dog’s coat. The dog bridled.

I say, he said, in English. What’s this here, under his skin?

I felt where he indicated.

It’s a little transmitter. Or receiver. Where he was indentichipped. By Battersea.

No, no. That’s on his shoulder. (In the weeks that followed I often wondered about that remark.) This one.

It felt exactly the same to me.

It’s no spirit, said Uncle Winthrop. He’s being controlled remotely through this. Satanists do that, especially in the Twenty-first Century.

Guessed as much, said Uncle Edgerton.

The liar.

With a speed surprising in one so vague, Uncle Winthrop, pulled a pen-knife from one of his pockets, nicked the dog’s fur and pulled out the tiny bug. With a speed surprising in one so mangy, Parrot seized it, swallowed it and flew away into the 1930s – a seabird possessed.

The dog turned on Uncle Winthrop a face briefly full of love, and the scenery vanished.

Half-way through an aphorism is no place to re-enter, and, as last time, I staggered slightly.

Give the old bugger another drink, shouted a raucous cousin.

I swallowed hard and returned to my theme: meditations on the institution of marriage illustrated by anecdotes from daughter three’s earlier life. I noticed daughter two, her face perfectly innocent. She still had the trip to look forward to.

I had wondered when the dog had been summoned from. When we got home it was apparent that it was not yet. He had chewed two plugs, one of them in situ, and vomited on my favourite Belochistani rug. When I entered the room he belched loudly and declaimed the last few verses of the Lord’s Prayer, backwards and in rather approximate Latin.

The denouement came a couple of days later. We were walking round the block when he staggered, and then looked at me with the look of love the start of which I had seen addressed to Uncle Winthrop. I squatted down by him and kissed his furry forehead.

He whispered to me, When I was under the control of Satan I was a bad dog, but now I’m a good dog again.

You are a good dog again.

And so he was.

Three days later daughter two rang me.

You owe me an otter, she said.

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Confidence in Young Bradman

Daughter two came round to see us. She brought Polish fudge for the dog. It is sold in yellow packaging with a smiling cow on it, and it has always been his favourite. For some reason they have stopped selling it in Sainsbury’s in London but it is still available in Southampton, where she lives.

She is an underwater explorer. Sometimes she does this in her guise as an archaeologist and hands over the goodies that she discovers to the University where she works, but at other times she is a treasure hunter and then she keeps what she finds. It is rather like doctors. You go and see them on the NHS and they bounce around enthusiastically on their beds, sing about Voldemort and take six months to send you the letter that says, yes, you do have cancer; so you go private and, just like in Hammer Horror films, it’s the same man sitting grinning across the desk, deadly efficient now and clocking up the charges like a manic runaway taxi.

She had on her shoulder a rather mangy bird.

What’s that bird, I asked.

It’s my Parrot.

It’s not a parrot.

I know it’s not a parrot. Parrots can’t swim. It’s called Parrot.

Is it one of those birds that swim on David Attenborough?

It’s very good when I’m treasure hunting under water.

You’d be better off with an otter.

Why she needs anything on her shoulder I can’t think and didn’t ask. Probably she’s jealous of her brother, the privateer, who often sports an exotic bird or two when at the wheel of The Jolly Thought and, less acceptably, when visiting his family in England.

Anyway the dog was the point of her visit and she was saddened to see him. He was listless and took little notice of his fudge. Previously he has always been delighted when she visits, but not today; he lay on his rug muttering and from time to time his head turned three hundred and sixty degrees.

Do stop that, I said whenever he did it, but to no avail. He fixed me with his new diabolical stare and said something in Latin.

I walked daughter two to the station. Something will have to be done she said, and I agreed.

I’m hoping that your great great uncle can help, I said.

Who?

Never mind. I’ll tell you if anything comes of it.

No sooner had daughter two descended into the Underground than it did. I was walking back along the pavement when someone barged into me.

My God, it’s Jessica Ennis, I cried. I’m such a fan of yours.

Stow it, said P2.

P2’s slang sometimes betrays her pre-War origins.

Much better than your Victoria Beckham, I said, recovering my dignity.

Pft, said P2, and disappeared, as did the whole King’s Cross mise-en-scene.

Just a quick one, said Uncle Edgerton. On my lunch break. From the insurance. What’s all this about exorcism?

I explained about the dog. I’m at my wits’ end, I said. Can you help? I can’t think of anyone else who can.

Uncle Edgerton stroked his chin, in a way no longer fashionable.

Yes. I probably can. Won’t be easy. Won’t be cheap.

He fell silent.

And?

Two things. It’s a bad spirit. We’ll need to drive it out.

It says it’s Satan himself.

Pft. They all say that. Satan wouldn’t waste his time on a pet dog.

I bridled. The dog is a much-loved Staffordshire bull terrier of good parentage. He wrote The Ride of the Valkyrie by Wagner.

It’s a bad spirit. We’ll need to drive it out and we’ll need something to drive it out into.

A person? A Z person?

No, for a dog it’ll have to be another animal. You fix that and await the call. You, the dog, the receptacle and we’ll do our best. Never certain, these things, but we’ll do our best.

Two things, you said, Uncle E. The other one?

Ah yes. We have a test series this summer.

Yes I know, I said, the 1934 Australians. Bent on avenging the Bodyline tour.

Tell me something I can use. You can use the shaving mirror again.

I smiled.

I don’t need to. The second Test is at Lords.

Of course, he said irritably. The second Test is always at Lords.

I smiled again.

Hedley Verity takes fifteen wickets in the match. Seven for sixty-one in the first innings and an astonishing eight for forty-three when Australia follow on. England win. The last time in a Lords test against Australia in the century – not that that helps you.

And the rubber?

Australia win two to one.

And young Bradman. Does he come good?

Oh yes, very good. Though not at Lords. The greatest batsman ever.

He looked at me sideways.

Looks like a busted flush to me. All right, all right. My people will be in touch.

Your P2?

Of course.

I staggered slightly as I reconnected with my body at King’s Cross in 2012.

Behave yourself, sir, said a nearby policemen. A Paralympian ® might see you….

I rang daughter two on my mobile.

How do you fancy meeting your great great uncle Edgerton in 1934?

Yeah.

She’s a brave girl.

The only thing…

Yes?

Parrot. He needs to come. And he needs to be very brave.

She was silent.

I’ll get you an otter…

OK then.

We arranged to await developments.

When I got home the dog had embarked on learning the Lord’s Prayer backwards, in Latin. I tested him on it. Whatever the outcome it might come in useful.

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Tinkerbell Towne and a Brush with Hell

It is clear that exorcising the dog won’t wait till after the wedding. Indeed I had a brief word about his problem with Father J and I didn’t get the impression that the priest relished getting his bell, book and candle out, wedding or no wedding. He was fretting about the vows and whether daughter three would ‘obey’ her Alex.

Fat chance, I thought; and anyway whether she does or not will not depend on what Our Mother the Church tells her.

It came to a head on Saturday when I went to Rye. Rye is one of my favourite places. I discovered it through the Mapp & Lucia books and then got to love the place anyway. It gets more and more precious, every retail outlet is either a second-hand bookshop or organic tearooms, but it’s still wonderful.

The painter Edward Burra, a hero of mine, lived there all his life. He wrote, “Ducky little Tinkerbell towne is like an itsy bitsy morgue quayte DEAD.’ (Orthography was not a passion for him.) Its centre was given over to ‘gyfterie and other forms of perversion’. But he never left; and I can see why.

I went by myself as the better half was away. She had been urgently summoned to Paris in connection with some important research that she is involved with into the effect on the taste of risotto of being liberally sprinkled with gold leaf.

I thought of taking the dog with me to Rye. Then I imagined a lovely country pub, a pie and a pint for my lunch, and in my mind’s eye I saw the notice on the pub wall:

No Smoking
No Fat People
No Dogs
Please Drink in Moderation
Foreigners admitted at Management’s Discretion
May contain Nuts

The dog is not welcome in Rye anyway since he once ran onto the village cricket pitch there during a match and shat on the wicket. Unfortunately it was just where the visiting team’s off-spinner was pitching the ball. Even after the dog’s deposit had been cleared away the residue still gave the bowler unpredictable turn and the home team lost. There was discussion at Council level of a dog exclusion order. It never came to anything but he is still given a wide berth in Mermaid Street.

So I left him behind.

It was a lovely late-Summer day. The sun shone mildly on fields and trees that, after all the rain, were still as green as Spring. The Marsh Train stopped to gather its strength by a field of young horses. They were gambolling as only young horses can. I watched them through the window and considered their future: French gastronomy perhaps; pulling the coffin at a mobster’s funeral with a silly black plume on the head; the moral cesspit of the Turf. There was no point upsetting them, but I thought it:

You’re living in a foals’ paradise!

I never got to the pub, as I received an angry text from the better half. She had learnt from her iPhone that there was thunder in London, thunder brought out the worst in the dog, and I was to go back at once. She had had to break off in mid-research and was not pleased.

The thunder was over when I got home but the consequences were there to see. The dog had eaten the television. And shat.

It may be remembered that thunder had earlier brought on the dog’s alcoholism, from which he had at length recovered, but this was of a different order. He stared at me, the remains of a mangled SCART plug hanging from his foul lips and said in an unnaturally deep voice, I am the Eater of Televisions and Destroyer of Worlds.

I looked at him straight. That was harder than one might expect. His irises were crimson and you could descry scenes reflected in them of abomination and filth: music, men dancing with women, people making free with the private parts of goats, and so on – or possibly not; it’s hard to tell with his cataracts.

Is that you talking, I asked him, or has your body been taken over by forces stronger than your own?

I am Lord Satan, he replied.

Well in that case you won’t want taking out again, I said, putting back his lead and plastic bag, and I cleared away his mess. He was reluctant to part with the SCART plug.

I affected nonchalance but I was uneasy nonetheless. What would the better half say if she came back from Paris girlishly enthusiastic to share her scientific discoveries and found the family home transformed into an outpost of Hell?

Something had to be done, but what? I locked the dog in and walked up to the presbytery. Surely Father J would have something to suggest? There was a notice on the door:

At tambourine practice. Back some time, whatever. God bless!

Isn’t that just the Church of England of today for you, I thought angrily, as I stumped back to the house. Through the living room door I could hear the dog chanting to himself in his new basso profundo:

Biscuits! Virgins! Cheese! Sodomy! Shitting on the hall floor!

There was only thing left that I could do. If anyone could help it was my doughty zombie-fighting Uncle Edgerton. I went straight to the bathroom, squeezed a little shaving foam onto the palm of my hand and wrote on the shaving mirror:

Do you know anything about exorcisms at all?

We would see what we would see.

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