Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910
Justin at The Tar Baby Festival, Horncastle 2009

Monday, 31 December 2007

Christmas Newsletter 2007

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

Thank you so much, as always, for your e-cards and newsletters. They really help to make the season bright. Well, here’s another year gone by already…

January –Oscar has engaged in a therapeutic project to get his mind off his romantic disappointment of last September. It was something Justin suggested to him. He wants to turn the Mabinogion into a series of Bollywood musicals, done in early medieval Welsh (so even a Welsh audience will need English subtitles) and dubbed into Hindi. He says it’s time Britain had her own all-singing, all-dancing Mahabharatam. The working title is ‘VerNana KaraNa’ (which, I’m told, is Hindi for ‘Mabinogion’). I must say the stories seem extremely silly and unpromising. He wants to start with ‘Pwyll Pendaran Dyfed’ which is some ridiculous story about a hero marrying a horse from another world, then follow up with ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’ where the suitor and his exasperated friends (including the entire retinue of King Arthur’s court, King Arthur himself and a Celtic god or two) end up killing the bride’s father only after doing about a hundred impossible things to get him various treasures and curiosities by way of a bride-price. Then he wants to conclude with ‘Math ap Mathonwy’ where a wizard makes his unmarriageable son a prosthetic wife from flowers but she transfigures into an owl after having an affair with a lover who turns her husband into an eagle by killing him when he’s getting half-clothed into a bath which is floating on a river. At least, that’s what I think he was telling me but I was only giving him half my attention because when he was burbling enthusiastically to me about it, I was trying to get everything sorted out for the Wren Hunt. Roger quite rightly refused to fund it (the musical, not the Wren Hunt) but Oscar has written to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a grant and is currently touring the Home Counties for rich Indian Gallophile backers. And for all we know, he might even make a go of it: the Tristan and Iseult story has already had the Bollywood treatment by Subhash Ghai in ‘Pardes’. I know this because we had to sit through a showing of the whole thing the other night. So far Oscar’s review blogs have failed to stimulate much interest but at least he’s not moping around the place any more.

February – The plumbers have been in with a vengeance, replacing our old steam heating – and a number of concealed objects have been found. A mummified horseshoe bat in a bottle under the hearthstone of the Great Hall, an old shoe stuffed with moles’ skulls up the Old Solar chimney and in the wall of the New Buttery a perfectly dreadful dessicated musty leathery old thing that Roger says is an incunabulum, but Uncle Juan identified it from photographs as an incubacunabulum, a kind of medieval imp that sleeps on babies’ faces when no-one’s looking, in the shape of a cat. He said he thought it might be one of Charles’ familiars. If so, I said, it really is too much. Then I made the mistake of asking Uncle Juan what the difference was between incubacunabula and succubacunbula. Juan explained that succubacunabula are pre-printed books, manuscript codices not to be confused with incubicula, which are things found in bedrooms, which would include succubacula (monsters found only under children’s beds), whereas incubabula are modern printed works that have taken to their sickbeds, their burgeoning typographical errors being aided and abetted by computerized spell-checking, especially those resulting from the B key on the keyboard being next to that for N. The so-called ‘Wicked Bible’ (the one printed in 1631 that says: “Thou shalt commit adultery”), Juan said, was just one such early specimen of , like that grimoire from which the legendary Doctor Faustus was working when he made that awful pact and sold his immortal soul to Santa instead of Satan. It was only at that point that I realized he was having his little joke. With Juan, one hardly ever knows, and working in the Vatican over the past year or two has made his sense of humour even stranger.

March – We had all the concealed objects in the walls of the Great Hall, the Solar and the New Buttery exposed in glass frames. A colleague of Roger’s (Waitrose Professor of Visual Studies, apparently) from The University of Kesteven came to dinner one evening and raved about them. Before Roger could say anything, Justin offered to come round to his house, knock a square hole in one of his walls, insert something surreal like a dried turnip studded with rusty nails, then cover it with glass and frame it, for £25,000. Happily at that point Cetchewayo came in, dragging his latest canvas and fortuitously changed the subject to the use of banana and peanut butter as impasto media.

April – Julia has decided to continue her military career and has been accepted by the Fourth Regiment of the French Foreign Legion as an unarmed combat, airborne skills and PT instructor. We’re ever so excited, as she’s another first for us! The Legion’s very first female officer. She looks very smart in her new uniform, and we all went to Castelnaudary to watch her inauguration. So nice to think that she’ll be so close to home, comparatively speaking, after all that time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

May – Oscar, it seems, hasn’t given up on Morag. He’s disappeared off to some perfectly dreadful craft-weaving event on North Uist, called the Llama Tweed Festival, organized by the Euro-American Celtic Association. Apparently, people come to it from as far away as Patagonia (whence, I suppose, the llamas). I do wish he could find a Bollywood backer for his Celtic-Hindu epic.

June – After six weeks of incessant rain, Wragby Fen has surrounded Hatton and Panton, and starts at the end of our lane.

July – Uncle Igor rushed in the other day, in a state of great agitation. He spoke of never drinking sugarbeet vodka again, and – in the same breath - of seeing giant rats the size of mastiffs swimming about in Wragby Fen. He positively insisted we all go and look. Poor Uncle – he was sooo relieved when he found we could see them, too. We found out later that, with all the recent flooding, a family of capybaras have escaped from Wetland World at Louth.

By the way, I almost forgot – Tamsin got her First – Trivia summa cum Laude - from Bolingbroke College. We’re all so terribly proud of her, just as we are of Julia, head-butting her inimitable way into what was formerly an all-male preserve. She’s taken to smoking a pipe and wearing tweed jackets. She’ll be staying on for her Master’s Degree even though Porterhouse in Cambridge, Harvard and Moscow all sat up and begged to take her on. Justin suggested a six-figure transfer fee to the Senior Bursar at the graduation dinner, which nearly made the poor old chap choke on his Eton Mess. Tamsin’s dissertation, at Roger’s suggestion, will be an adaptation of her unpublished book ‘The Dawkins Delusion’. Yes – she found Richard Dawkins so absolutely repellent she’s become a good lapsed Catholic girl once more. Meanwhile, Uncle Juan asked to borrow the manuscript and between ourselves, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if we see a Papal encyclical on a closely-related subject some time towards the end of the year.

August – The floodwaters have receded, but the capybaras have chosen to stay in our moat. The swans are not best pleased, and neither am I. Like geese, they do help keep the grass on the lawns down but the downside is in the enormous whoopsies they leave in the process. However, the children find them perfectly captivating (the capybaras, I mean) and they’re far less of a worry, in their way, than hamsters. No chance of one of those getting lost under the floorboards.

September - Roger was horrified to find that most of our Lincoln Longwools seemed to have caught Bluetongue Disease – but – thank goodness - they hadn’t. Our stockman had been dosing them with Methylene as they’d been at the broad beans again, where we’d planted them as a cover crop in Old Hundred.

October – Many people have been asking whether the drum-playing gorilla on the TV advertisement for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate, is Cetchewayo. Of course it isn’t, sillies. Anyone can see the big chap on the drum kit’s not a silverback. The fact is, Cetchewayo failed the audition, and he’s been sulking about it ever since. He refuses to watch the television at all, and whenever he even hears anyone singing or whistling ‘In The Air Tonight’, he stomps off to the orangery to paint. And he hasn’t touched his drum kit since. Does anybody want one, before it goes on EBay? Or any baby capybaras? We found one enterprising mum had littered in the bathroom the other morning.

November – Huge uproar on the Parish Council after Ranby and Sotby Brownie Troop voted to call their new mascot Capybara Jesus. Several councilors have demanded the Brown Owl’s resignation. Justin, when he found out, said he thought that was too lenient by far: he says she should be imprisoned for fifteen days, given forty lashes and then beheaded. He wound a tea-towel around his head to tell me that, so I guessed he was probably joking. Meanwhile, Tamsin has bought a goldfish and named him God. Roger and I only found out by reading her Facebook page. I suppose she thinks it’s funny. Really, it’s all getting too silly for words.

December – A terrible mistake: we mulled our last bottle of Chateau Lafite 1947 for the carol singers. That meant we all sat down to eat our Christmas dinner with a bottle of Igor’s whortleberry and banana skin sherry. Fortunately we regained consciousness before the pudding boiled dry. The Strubby Turkey Racing was great fun as always.

The old prison hulk, L’Incroyable, has washed up again into Anderby Creek, after the storms and high seas: it had been buried in the sand-dunes around Mablethorpe for almost 80 years. The last time this happened, according to old Mrs Sausthorpe, was to announce the Great Depression of 1927, and before that, the Stock Exchange Panic of 1857 – so, she insists, this portends financial ruin for many. And to make matters worse, the snails are hibernating very low on the walls this year. And the cards are all coming up spades. Of course she’s 97, in a home in Ingoldmells and completely ga-ga, poor thing, and it’s longer than I care to remember since I believed Nanny was right about everything. Financial ruin? Let’s hope it’s just the Labour Party!

All our very best wishes for an otherwise uneventful but prosperous 2008, from all of us, to all of you!

As ever,

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