At the Rogano with Sir Roger de Coverley
“Another glass of Chablis Muriel?”
“Well I really shouldn’t, but if you insist Roger and after all I suppose one owes it to one’s self.”
“Exactly, after all if one cannot feel something for the finer things in life then how can one feel motivated to save the country as we always say in the Service. Another oyster, there are plenty here and a little drop of tobasco and some lemon, here let me squeeze it for you we don’t want to make those hands all sticky do we. Really Muriel you do have the most beautiful hands has anyone ever told you that?”
“Many times, and of course my hand care routine is legendary in the exclusive West End of Glasgow where I have a full late Victorian villa with upstairs drawing room. You need not worry about lemon juice I regularly recommend sitting for an hour with the finger tips of each hand inside a half lemon. It is good for the nails especially if one can get those from the Amalfi Coast and of course one can always combine this with sipping a Limoncello at the same time”.
“Fascinating, but how do you drink the Limoncello, when both hands are out of action?”
“That is why they invented straws.”
“How true, how very clever.”
“Yes intelligence is a factor, but really in this case one has also to be a good organiser. It works particularly well if you do this in bed and have a tray on legs, with a book rest. The bowls containing the lemons sit comfortably nestling in the eiderdown on either side of you, with your hands inside; make sure you take the pips out. Have a good book on the stand you cannot go far wrong with a Jean Plaidy, Mazio de la Roche or Betty MacDonald. On either side place a tumbler of iced Limoncello with a straw in each.”
“Why do you need two glasses?”
“To exercise both sides of the neck muscles of course – read a little bend forward sip to the right, lean back , read a little , bend forward sip to the left, it makes sense.”
Like a Native
“I suppose it does. Tell me Muriel, out of interest do you still do the Argentine Tango? I remember when we used that as part of our disguise in Blackpool. Jasper did get rather cross!”
“In answer to your question – like a native of Buenos Ares. It has proved useful with some of those dreadful S.S. officers in the past; I could take a man out with my gancho. Nowadays I’m more restrained but when engaged in “the trap”, I decorate like a woman on a Fray Bentos production line. As to Jasper, he was rather frosty.”
“I can well imagine Muriel I have a very vivid picture of you dancing on the Left Bank of the Seine after the Allies entered Paris, they still say your molinete has never been bettered and I know that for sure. ”
Thoughts of France
“Ah beautiful Paris. I think of France often. I see very little of Dynamite Di these days since she went to be a researcher for Panorama, but that piece on the spaghetti harvest was particularly funny, I knew she would do well; she had such a way with fuses. I do of course see Winnie (she of the bicycle and the wool shop in Auchterader). Well perhaps I should re-phrase that, I did see a lot of her until you sent her to Suez on a reconnaissance mission, but she has really not been heard of since and she still owes me 6 balls of bottle green angora, which I have paid for.”
“Well yes Winnie, I am afraid, is a law unto herself, but she has her uses principally due to her complete ability to throw herself into the arms of any culture. She is still among the Bedouin and I believe she has ditched the China-man from the Govan Road and is currently enjoying the company of a sheik who is very taken with her Fuzzy Wuzzie.”
“Well who wouldn’t be? Her poodle range of soft toys in Fuzzy Wuzzy has been a best seller in Selfridges. I do worry about her however.”
“Oh Muriel I wouldn’t worry about Winnie, she can take care of herself and she is currently keeping an eye on some of our oil interests in the Middle East. We think oil is going to be a major issue in the next half century or so and may well destabilise the whole region.”
“Personally Roger I am not keen on unstable whether it be a table leg in Fuller’s Restaurant, a woman what does, or a geographical region. So cross making.”
A Mission for Muriel
“Exactly Muriel and it is on another destabilising issue that I wish to talk to you.”
“I am intrigued Roger, but I am also puzzled as to why you are here I thought Professor Sir Boozey-Hawkes, head of music here at the varsity in Glasgow was my handler.”
“He is in the main Muriel and you will see him in relation to the mission I have for you but he currently has a term’s sabbatical to write two important pieces, one on ‘Reflections of John Calvin in the Scottish Hymnal’, which will be a pop up song book for primary school children and a major piece on the controversy surrounding the Newton Stewart Variation in the Military Two Step which may well lead to a schism in the Scottish Country Dance Society and a possible bloodbath during Postie’s Jig.”
“Goodness me that makes the impending Middle East crisis over just about everything seem like a squabble over the last two well fired rolls in the City Bakeries. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes.”
“Fortunately he has special country dance shoes, which helps quite a lot. What about some magic lemon pudding to finish?”
“That would be splendid and I will have coffee to follow, now what is it you want to tell me? And by the way you still have traces of mascara.”
“Yes sorry about that; the light was not very good in Raymond’s stock cupboard, did you like my eye shadow? Elizabeth Arden.”
“That would have been my choice too especially with a powder blue two piece, very Jane Wyman. Now what was it? I do have to be back by 4pm Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does, has a rare tropical disease, apparently, so I will have to make suppa and be out in time for The Women’s Guild Beetle Drive. We are raising money for a Home for Maladjusted Boys, it’s Mrs Lottie Macaulay’s charity; you know she is married to the bungalow builder. She says it’s all to do with puberty going wrong, things going up instead down.”
“What, bungalow building?”
“No being Maladjusted! However, bungalow building comes a close second in my book!”
News of the Séance has Travelled Far
“Yes well I shall attempt to be brief, but it has come to our attention that you were involved in a séance recently with a Madame Clare Voyant.”
“Not involved exactly, it was organised by Mrs Travers, who apparently has an aura, and I happened to stumble into it. She thought I was out. I do not approve of such things, but to be truthful Roger she was led astray by one of our neighbours, the famous rural crime novelist Bunty Haystack, author of ‘Battered in the Bothy’ and ‘Choked by Cheese’ who is researching a new novel.”
“Yes Muriel I have read ‘Spring Drilling’, pretty gory although personally I preferred ‘Away in a Turnip Mangle and Other Tales for Christmas’, very seasonal.”
“Indeed she has quite a lurid imagination. I suppose you are going to tell me she is not who she seems to be and you want me to keep an eye on her.”
“Oh she is exactly who she seems to be, it is the medium that concerns us and the story about the murder of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland.”
“Of course I suppose he wasn’t murdered.”
“Oh indeed he was Muriel; he was poisoned at the Flower Show Lunch”.
“So Patience did kill him after all.”
“No she didn’t. She had nothing to gain by killing him. Indeed as you know his death meant that she lost the estate entailed to his nephew and began her descent into an amontillado fuelled binge and a job as a cinema usherette selling choc ices.
Then of course she took up with a surgeon who was really a deranged circus artiste who was divided into three by the Auchensuggle tram having arranged for lions to eat the Pentland-Firth heir and his wife. Now that was gory!”
Who Was It Then?
“So Roger, who was it? It must have been someone with a deep grudge. Perhaps someone who had never won the Best in Show for a single gladioli; or onions imaginatively displayed in a tray of silver sand; or the largest marrow; or the victim of some dirty doings over a jar of rhubarb chutney?”
“I know Muriel that in your world of rustic activities the complexities and rivalries that accompany the annual Flower Show would make the Treaty of Versailles pale into insignificance but it was none of these things.”
“Was it my American Cousin and financial backer, the entrepreneur and country singer Lulubelle? It would be terribly good if she were to spend a few years behind bars.”
“No; sorry to disappoint you. It was not your cousin; although the Americans in the form of the F.B.I. are open minded about the fate of several men who have enjoyed her company if not her singing over the years.
No Muriel it was “a foreign power”. You see the Rear Admiral, who was indeed a hero of Jutland, never quite got used to being on dry land and like so many who have sailed close to the wind and closer still to the edge, he craved excitement and money. Added to which the Pentland Firth Estate has not just become a financial disaster, it has been so for many years.
Where there have been poor investments you will find the Pentland-Firths have had an involvement from the Darien Scheme to the City of Glasgow Bank Failure. Their resources were badly hit during the 1920’s and the General Strike put pay to their coastal shipping interests, particularly with regard to the transport of coal. Through his mother, who was a Minch to her own name, the Admiral had a portfolio of railway investments but it turned out these were the sort of lines that went to the top of hills and no where else.”
“So how have they managed to keep the estate going, even to the extent they have?”
A Lucrative Betrayal
“Well the Rear Admiral found it was very lucrative to keep the comrades well informed about British naval developments and various spurious companies were set up into which funds were paid. All went well until a spurned mistress worked out what was going on and threatened to expose him and the comrades. So naturally they had to go.
He was disposed of before the judging which some might regard as a merciful release, given that the presentation of the “late”, trophies lasts some three hours, due to the many deceased villagers who have selfishly died in over a century or more. Things can only get worse. Unfortunately for the comrades she escaped and they have never been able to find her.
Muriel works it out with her rapier like mind
“So he is a traitor and let me guess she is the medium isn’t she?”
“Exactly, spot on as always Muriel.”
“Why is she trying to suggest that Lady Pentland-Firth is a murderess?”
“Well it is not easy staying in hiding for any great length of time and it is very stressful. The comrades have eyes and ears everywhere. She will think that by pointing the finger at Lady P-F, that an investigation will be inevitable and as the whole story comes out the comrades will be exposed and she will receive the protection of the British Government. What better way, at least from her perspective, to expose everything than through the work of a popular crime writer?”
“Indeed – Won’t she receive protection?”
“No, the government or should I say successive governments will not want to be seen to have failed so dramatically in the area of surveillance and national security, they would look very foolish indeed. Particularly as they are thinking of applying to join the European Economic Community and don’t want to give the French an excuse to say “NON”.
“Why would they say non?”
“Because we use salad cream and cannot make a soufflé to save ourselves.”
“Yes of course you can Muriel but your marvellousness transcends cultures. For most people the only French thing they know about requires a purchase from a barber on a Saturday.”
“What about the comrades?”
“Well they would be happy to see anything which prevents a growing European alliance; they have an interest in disunity. So we do not want them to know we are serious and will put on a show of complete British indifference if not distain for the European ideal.”
So what do we do?
“Very clever Roger.”
“I thought so too. Thus we will on the one hand endeavour to prevent any idea that we are positive about joining Europe and on the other we do not want to give the comrades an excuse to meddle by letting them know that we know the truth about Lord Pentland-Firth’s death. So we have to perform a delicate balancing act whereby no book is published implicating Lady Pentland-Firth, because a subsequent trial would no doubt lead to the truth and we would be forced to sacrifice an innocent in the name of Queen and Country.”
“Presumably the medium.”
“Exactly, Muriel or in extremis Lady P-F herself.”
“But you have just said she is innocent, I know she is annoying but she does not deserve that.”
“It would not be the first time Muriel that someone has been used to protect the greater good. Now she must be beyond reproach, the estate needs to be seen to flourish and she needs to be seen to be an accomplished woman organising these wretched Country House Concerts. The comrades do not need to be given the opportunity once again to undermine the aristocracy. So you must make this work and you must also make sure that the book by Bunty Haystack never makes it to the presses and that the medium is kept under control for she is a very loose cannon. Now another cup of coffee and then I will put you in a taxi, I must get back to Raymond’s I have a French pleat at 4.15.”
“Well thank you for lunch, will I hear from you again?”
“You may but the Prof will be your first port of call. Can I thank you in advance. H.M.’s Government will be eternally grateful, not of course that anyone will know.”
The country can wait; Jasper needs a pudding
“I will do my best Roger, now I must dash and perhaps the taxi could stop at a grocer. I need a block of ice cream I have promised to make Jasper, Soufflé Suprise”.
“As in the French soufflé we were talking about?”
“No this is a sherry soaked sponge with tinned raspberries, top and bottom, with a block of ice cream resting on top, covered in meringue which you place in a very hot oven for three minutes”. Then we are off to the cinema to see Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia. Something I am sure the comrades will not like, but then she goes from “terrified creature to “radiantly beautifully woman” and that will unnerve them just like a more successful Lady Pentland-Firth will stop their devious plans .