This page contains most of the content from the main 'story line' characters. It is designed to allow an easy way of keeping up with the story on slow connections (or for reading later). It is, of course, no substitute for the real thing!
Cuppa with Shirley
Cuppa with Shirley (or Martin)
Oh, come on in and have a cuppa. I'm rushed off my feet. It never rains
but it pours. Not that you're not very welcome. I've got John out in the garden, trying to
cheer up his granddad. He's at University, you know and staying here for the summer.
And he's got every right to do so, though that's another story. Poor Martin is besides
himself right now. He's barely speaking. Tinsley's dad, the silly old fool, went and
picked his prize-winning Tennis Ball lettuce. He's just like his son, never a moment's
thought for other people's feelings. Two peas in a pod they are.
Not that I mind company. Miss Simmons and I made a proper feast for a couple of friends of Tinsley's that came to stay for the weekend. Served it in the Dining Room we did, first time in years there's been a proper meal in there. The wife was a bit stuck up and he seemed a bit of a wet blanket, but they liked my cooking. Ate it all up and asked for seconds evidently. Can't want for better than that. And that Chester was hanging around the other day, mooning over Ann. Tinsley better watch out, or he'll find a different bird in the bush. Not that I'm one to gossip.
Have you heard what's going on at the Church? The Reverend Banks has got them sponsoring a beer at the Village Idiot. Well it's not right, is it? Not that I have time for going to the pub with all I have going on here, or going to the church for that matter. Martin pops in now and again, the pub that is, not the church.
I know that Frank Churchill used to like his beer too, but he seems to be coming out of his shell, now he's got that young student around him. I don't know what she sees in him, quite frankly, all skin and bone he is. She come in here the other day and tells me the house is going virtual, "I'm putting it on the web" she says. Right, I said, and I'll make dinner with Martin's virtual vegetables. It's all nonsense really, isn't it? Well mouth's to feed, its almost getting busy in here. Still I must say it's let me earn a few pennies. I've got another one of those plates for sale, Jerry would be proud of me. Let's just have a cup a tea and then I'll get started.
Glad to hear that you and Simon are doing better. The money thing sounds scary. Have you hired a lawyer? Let me know if you need some impromptu advise--James has a law degree from UT Austin. I'm sure you'll screw those Lotto bastards to the wall.
How's the conference paper coming? I got my proposal sent off, and haven't heard anything yet. Of course I should be forging ahead on the assumption that Michaelson thinks it's brilliant, but instead I've rewarded myself for sticking to a schedule and have spent the past week hanging out and going to the beach. James and I went to a jump-up last night and heard a great new band from Antigua. Back to the grindstone soon...
I got a letter from Tia, my friend on St. Kitts, and she's working on Stoney Grove stuff. I should have something to send you soon.
On the England front, I'm thinking about sometime this fall. Sorry I can't be more definite yet, but it really hinges on how the proposal goes over this time. You know that you're always welcome to come stay with me if you want a change of scenery. Be good.
P.S. Finished another jar of olives.
Simon is at it again, and his father is here indefinitely. Ive been running all over the house trying to make him comfortable, and in the end he never is. Hes upset Shirley by telling her that pigs wouldnt eat her food, stolen the progeny of Martins award-winning lettuce (he competes in Large Vegetable competitions and won first prize last year in the Salad category at the mid-Sussex County fair) and scared the Hermit. He also "let slip" that his son was going up to London to meet for drinks with his old girlfriend Jackie. I innocently asked Simon about her over dinner, and he lied to me and said she was in Nottingham. I know you think I went off the deep end over Emma, so I'm trying to keep a level head. But he actually dated this one, for years it seems. His father keeps telling me what a fun girl she was, and how he was sorry to see it end. I'd like to kick both of them.
Whats worse, Simon is actually in London now, "on business." I hate that Ive turned into this jealous shrew. Why cant he be straight with me? What does he want with her?
Ive found myself spending more and more time with Chester, the building inspector. Hes a nice guy, and is really becoming a friend. In Simons absence weve been doing some work around the house and grounds along with John, Shirley's nephew, who has come to stay for the summer. Theres a stone temple down at the lake (actually two of them). A few days ago we finally got the door to one open and found a really beautiful marble tomb with a life-sized reclining woman. The wife of the man who built Stoney Grove died mysteriously, and someone placed this there as a memorial to her. Im thinking of cleaning her off and restoring the temple. Then again, weve got so many projects. Besides, Simon would probably start chatting her up too.
Before Simon left, we had a weekend visit from two of his friends, Phil and Caroline. Phil was the British equivalent of a good old boy, and his wife was kind of snooty. Still, it was nice to have houseguests and gave us a good excuse to show the place off.
Glad to hear your proposal is done. Ill keep you posted on the results of our lawyers meeting with the lottery officials. Thanks too for the invitation. If I don't get things straight with Simon, maybe I will come and see you...
Dear Miss Simmons and Mr. Tinsley,
The Friends of the Upper Puckering Parish Church have commissioned a number of fine ales as part of our ongoing campaign for the restoration of the Church. Friary Ales will provide brewing expertise, whilst the proprietor of the Village Idiot has agreed to act as distributor. We are certain that this venture will succeed in generating much-needed revenue for the project, in addition to creating a product that is uniquely Puckering.
We do hope that you can join us for a beer-tasting reception at the Idiot on Saturday, 24 July. Your support in this venture is vital for its success.
Reverend Nigel L. Banks
As you requested, the inscription on the temple memorial as best I was able to make it out-
In Memory of Fanny P. R. Blake, beloved Wife and
"Child of the sun, returned into shadow,
Ascend from the watery depths to life everlasting."
Erected this day on the tenth anniversary of her death by her devoted daughter Mary 15 April 1814
Looking forward to seeing you at the Idiot beer tasting on Saturday.
Dear Miss Simmons,
My sincerest apologies for intruding on your time once again. I regret to say that my uncle Roderick has gone missing. If you have seen him, I would be most appreciative of a note or phone call informing me of the circumstances. If not, let me hasten to say that he is rarely violent, though sometimes belligerent. I can be reached at 443761.
The police have been informed.
With sincerely thanks,
Congratulations on your order from Hava Havana bringing you the best selection of Cuban premiere cigars. Your introductory purchase includes:
A prime sampler selection including:
Cohiba 30th Anniversario (2)
Punch Diadema (2)
Sir Winston (2)
Bolivar Corona Gigantes (2)
A fine rosewood humidor (with hygrometer and humidistat)
Silver cigar cutter
Your credit card has been billed 585 pounds.
Relax, breathe deep and enjoy the best that life has to offer.
Greetings from the firm of McBeal, Cage and Thomas.
Rest assured we are on your case. Our office works so closely together as a team, it's almost incestuous. Believe me we'll be with you all the way, like a marriage, or more fun, like an affair.
You have clear legal title to the fund. We will be seeking an immediate release of the next installment and punitive damages. Threat of punishment is what we want to get them moving, a legal spanking! Of course, they are bureaucrats, they may like it.
So relax, go get a drink, we'll look after you.
I still have a hangover!
If you're going to be rich, you may as well enjoy it I say, and we did. Caroline is still a bit frosty, she won't tell me what I said when I came to bed that night, but evidently it was the wrong thing! She'll get over it. I heard her telling her sister about it all of the phone, how grand the house was and everything. She said you were still as irresponsible as ever, but that Ann seemed very nice and not at all stuck up, so there you are.
Sorry about the Jackie comments, I tried to change the subject. I think it still bothers her that I went out with Jackie for so long, but that's history now. Ann seemed very nice, a bit quiet at first, not what I expected of an American. You should make sure you don't screw this one up.
The house is incredible, I can see now that it's going to cost you a fortune to do it up. How do you know all that stuff about the history and architecture and what to do with it all? Sorry we didn't see more of your Dad, I always enjoy talking football with him.
So you must come and see us next. I'll get my social secretary to find a date when she's talking to me again, and maybe we can practice our wine tasting some more and pretend to be toffs.
If you manage to go over that horrendous bridge at Dartford (how can it be safe? I drive it with hands clenched and my eyes closed), you will head South on the M23 towards the Downs and eventually see a sign for Puckering. Go through Puckering (this is the place, not a command to Caroline!) and you'll see that the 'new' village is Lower Puckering and the quaint story book village is Upper Puckering. Actually if you get to Upper Puckering you've gone to far. Take a left at the Church and after a mile you'll see a brick entranceway which is the drive. Actually it's more like half an entrance, since one pillar is falling down.
You are now in Stoney Grove. Follow the road for about a mile through some woods and a hay field. The main road splits into three as you approach the house; go straight or you'll end up by the stables or the enclosed garden. If you find yourself dead-ened into a thicket of overgrowth and a crumbling brick wall, you've messed up (you could be at either garden or stables, actually). The house looked a bit like that when we bought it, but it's better now.
We'll be watching for you; haven't managed to find the right man for a butler yet.
By the way, try to avoid the subject of Jackie (probably best for both of us!). I had a letter from her and may make a trip to London to catch up. I don't want to mention it to Ann, there's nothing going on, but Ann seems a bit jumpy at the moment. She asked me about women's voices in the bedroom the other day and if Emma hadn't turned up with the hermit I think I would have been accused of spiriting her away to my dark tower and assailing her virtue. Actually Emma seems more than capable of managing her virtue. Anyway I think Ann is homesick, or something.
We have a new pub, did I say? The Village Idiot, which serves its own beer called the 'Flaming Monk', a dark brown colour and it's a little heavy but comes with a real kick. Not sure where the name comes from but it leaves a stain like a monk's haircut that won't come out!
See you soon,
You're welcome. It was great to see you again. Popping down to The Idiot for a pint of Monk before dinner almost felt like the old days. The next day felt worse though, I think we're getting older!
Dad told Ann I went to London to see Jackie. How the old goat knew is beyond me. I said that I had real business there (which I did), and that all that happened was that I had a drink with an old friend at lunchtime. You're married but you still have friends, right? Actually it was fun to see Jackie. The house, money and everything has been quite stressful. I really care for Ann, I want to stay with her and I wouldn't do anything to muck that up, but Jackie is Jackie and we had a laugh which has been in short supply here! She wants to visit but I put her off.
I may think about playing a game for the Puckering cricket team. I talked to someone in the village the other day and he sounded quite intrigued by my slow left arm spinners. Of course it's been a while, but I think I could still turn my arm.
Say hi to Caroline. It was good to see you both. Her hair looks good like that.
Dining Room Conversations
Transcript: Conversation between Ann Simmons and Chester Vyse, EK
Sound of door opening.
Chester: God, she's incredible. I feel like I've been struck by
lightning...Tinsley is such an idiot. (pause)
Ann, I'm in here.
Ann: Coming...What have you decided about this room? This had to have been the dining room, right?
Chester: Yes, you're quite right. It's one of the biggest rooms in the house, and it's composition is Corinthian. You know, that's the highest order; the most elaborate, of the original Classical orders. It was designed to impress people. In the eighteenth century, a lot of social display went into dining, and the room was as important as the place settings, varieties of food, that sort of thing.
Ann: Plus the entablature, from the Temple of Vesta. Even when there weren't guests here, the room was a family place, watched over by the goddess of the hearth.
Chester: It seems that goddesses are all around me here.
Ann: Hmm. Weren't you going to show me something you found across the hall?
Transcript: First Dinner in the Dining Room, hosted by Ann Simons and Simon Tinsley, guests Phil and Caroline Porkridge, EK
Ann: I hope this goes well. We haven't had a chance to entertain much and I don't even know them...
Simon: Don't worry. It'll be fine. You're brilliant.
Caroline (entering with Phil): It's very grand, and candles too. I'm sure you eat here every night.
Ann: Actually no, you're our first guests and this is the first official meal here. The candles are really because the lights kept flickering on and off. No idea why, they've been fine.
Phil: It's a bit posh for eating in though, isn't it? Do you have a butler?
Simon: Yes, right now Jeeves is destroying my Levi jeans and solving a tricky problem involving my old friend Biggles-Arnfart.
Ann: Shirley and I cooked. We have it here with plate warmers since the kitchen is pretty far away. I'm afraid we'll be serving ourselves.
Caroline: Oh, I much prefer informality. We do some entertaining ourselves. Every Thursday a different couple prepares a little something. My duck a l'orange with petit pois and steamed asparagus tips last week was considered something of a triumph.
Phil: So are you really having money troubles?
Caroline: Phil! The vegetables in the soup are enormous.
Simon: I think the money's secure in the long term, but the account's suspended at the moment because of book-keeping irregularities. This house just needs an incredible amount of money spent on it. We were a little naive when we bought it.
Ann: We've been over the house with the local historic buildings man, Chester Vyse. I think we'll need a full-time restoration crew here for the next couple of years at least. I'd also like to get a historical archaeologist to look at the landscape. I feel like we've taken on an obligation now and that we should fulfill it.
Simon: Chester was very attentive.
Caroline: It's so hard to get good help. We had our bathroom done and found a very nice man. He wasn't cheap, but you get what you pay for, don't you? I could find you his name but he's hard to get hold of, very much in demand. Oh, what an interesting sauce.
Ann: That would be nice, though we do have a firm who specialize in eighteenth-century repairs who are going to give us a quote.
Caroline: Well, let me know. It's always better to get a personal recommendation though, I find. So have you heard from Jackie, Simon? I know you two were always good friends.
Simon: No, no time really to catch up on old friends. Phil is really the only one I called.
Ann: Didn't you get a letter from someone named Jackie last week?
Simon: Yes, well just a short note, she's up North in Nottingham.
Caroline: Well I'm sure she'd love to see you. Nothing like old friends. If my memory serves me well, and I think it does, she was your first girlfriend, wasn't she? I mean after Fredericka in Abba.
Simon: Yeah, that's right. That was before she spent five years going out with Phil.
Caroline: Well that's water under the bridge. I've never been much interested in history.
Phil: So why don't you open the house to the public? That would raise some money.
Caroline: I always think these places belong to everyone, really. Well, the English, of course.
Ann: Well, we've considered it. It would allow us to apply for some loans and grant money. We want to do this right. Right now we have a graduate student, Emma Knytleigh, doing some research for us.
Phil: Right, the one shacked up with the old guy.
Simon: We're hoping we can open the house 'virtually' to start with. Emma is doing some web pages so people can visit from all over the world. I think the Hermit is holding her pen.
Phil: Or the other way around, nudge nudge.
Simon: Nod's as good as a wink to a blind man.
Ann: The hermit is called Frank Churchill. He taught English literature.
Phil: Still, if it's on the web people can come during work. Won't have to wait for their holidays. At least you won't have to worry about the loos! No need for toilets on the internet. And you wouldn't need a tea room either. Can't really have a house open without a tea room otherwise, can you?
Caroline: Well this was very nice. The strawberries were quite tasty. We've been buying the small ones from Frascati, Italy. Still you can have too much of a good thing, can't you? I think we should go to bed now though. After all it was a long drive. Phil?
Simon: Stop up a bit longer Phil. I want to show you this book on wine tasting.
Ann: Well I'm tired too. It seems Victorian, but shall we leave the men, Caroline?
Caroline: Thank you so much for a wonderful meal. I'll see you later Phil.
(note: women evidently leave, EK)
Simon: So I have this book on wine tasting. Under here, carefully disguised, are several bottles of France's finest. I thought we could spend a tranquil evening making a serious acquaintance with the fruit of the vine.
Phil: The French are good for some things.
Simon: Now it says we should warm the glass on the candle. Damn!
(sound of glass breaking, EK)
Simon: Ok, slightly warm and then just a third full, swirl, sniff and taste.
Phil: Where do I spit?
Simon: Just swallow it.
Phil: Oh, right, very nice.
Simon: It's says you should have a Bath Oliver biscuit with it, but I couldn't find any so I got digestives.
Simon: Plain. Now try this one. A delicate flavour with the hesitancy of a bloke on a first date, perhaps.
Phil: Deer caught in headlights?
Simon: This one is got a bit more oomph. Textured like sunlight through a dusty pane.
Phil: Perky yet cheesy, like the keyboards on a Doors song.
Simon: And this one very confident, like a horny hermit who's found a home.
Phil: Like the bounce and hope of an early morning erection!
Simon: Brash and bold, Gary Glitter accompanied by the Brighouse and Rastrick colliery band.
Phil: I think we ought to get drunk every night!
Fundraiser To Raise Spirits: In a surprising announcement, Reverend L.N. Banks confirmed yesterday that a local brewery, Friary Ales, will be sponsoring a selection of new beers to help with the extensive restoration project for the village church. The brew will be available at the 'Village Idiot' and a proportion of all revenue from the sales will go towards the restoration fund.
"It's not as surprising as you may think," said the Reverend. "There is quite a tradition of beer and the church, going back to the monasteries. Quite frankly, we really need the money."
The beer has not yet been named. Readers are invited to write in with suggestions (e-mail the Puckering Gazette at firstname.lastname@example.org). "We are looking for something with an ecclesiastical bent, something that is in keeping with the other main beer of the brewery, the 'Flaming Monk'," noted Reverend Banks. "We think this imaginative campaign will do really well for us."
Though he may be found in the Idiot, the vicar is proving he's no
fool when it comes to fund raising. Parishioners stopping in for a pint after work may be
sure they will find the vicar helping the sales along. -- Nigel Twicks
Puckering Profiles: Frank Churchill - A Hermit's Life
If you've lately felt beset by crowds and long for a simpler, quieter life, perhaps this week's profile will hold some appeal. Frank Churchill, a professional hermit for more than a decade, has begun to come out of his self- imposed solitude and recently agreed to talk to the Gazette about his unusual job. Frank accepted the position at Stoney Grove before the present owners arrived, but a codicil in the will assured him of a lifetime's seclusion. With the slow cadence of a man who has had little to say for quite a long time, he explained his role.
"It's a job with some strong historical precedents," he noted. "Many houses in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century had extensive parkland that included a number of buildings evoking Classical times. It was not unusual to include a hermitage among the temples and monuments that dotted the countryside. A few landowners took it a step further and employed a man to live alone and in basic conditions as a recluse. When visitors came they would show him off along with other aspects of the landscape."
Frank has lasted far longer than most of his historical predecessors. "Most of them got fed up after a few weeks and slipped off to the pub and got drunk, but I kind of like it. I don't really fancy being around people, and this way I don't have to meet many of them."
More recently Frank has been seen outside of the Hermitage and in the company of a young lady, a subject he refused to discuss. He did say, however, that he was thinking of branching out into prophecy and fortune telling. "I spend a lot of time in my house and sometimes I see things," he mused. "I knew England were not going far in the World Cup."
Prior to his present job, Frank taught English in a comprehensive school in London. The strain reputedly brought on a mild breakdown that led to his coming down to the country. "Montgomery Hall was a lovely man. He helped me a lot and gave me a place to cogitate," reminisced Frank. A man of few words, he had nothing to say on the present owners. --Nigel Twicks
Trial To Go Forward : Police say that Gerald Anderson has been co-operating fully with their investigation of burglary and theft charges against him (see Gazette Volume XXVII, No. 15). The case will be coming to trial in the next few months. Meanwhile Sgt. Archer is left with the task of figuring out where all the contraband came from.
"We do know that a lot of it is associated with Stoney Grove," he said. "We've had some inquiries from a Miss Knytleigh asking for some objects and papers that she feels relate to the history of the house. Unfortunately the wheels of justice turn slowly and we must do things properly. A crime has been committed and justice must be done." Miss Knytleigh has not been available for comment on the exact nature of the missing items. --Nigel Twicks