Tag Archives: Uncle Winthrop

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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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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