Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

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

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas Newsletter 2008

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

As I sit down to write at last, my laptop perched precariously on the heaving, furry bulk of one or other of our capybaras – Bombur, I think: the no-longer-quite-so-little chap has quite taken to me, and is snoring on my lap in front of the parlour fire – a glass of Uncle Igor’s whortleberry vodka at my elbow, Hermione staring jealously up at Bombur(?) from her basket on the hearthrug, all the presents wrapped and heaped beneath the tree in the Great Hall, with Cetchewayo brooding up top in his tutu, Roger lost to the world in his spreadsheets, Justin and the twins out at the Sedge Bear Wassailing, Tamsin down from Bolingbroke, Julia up from Castelnaudary and Xavier out on parole and all three down the pub, with Wilhelmina safely plugged into her iPod and installed on her exercise bike propelling the electricity generator in the barn (it’s amazing what they can achieve with tricyclic antidepressants, these days), something approaching peace descends on our house and, on this very special night, with Ukranian carols playing in the background – A v’Yerusalymi dzvony at the moment - and Uncle Igor and the migrant farmworkers singing raucously along in the butler’s pantry, I reflect on everything the year has brought us.

Well, well – who’d have thought it? Nanny was right, after all. I didn’t believe her prediction last December about the sighting of the old wreck of the Incroyable meaning there would be an international banking crisis, but there we are - the global markets are in financial meltdown, though I must say our stall on Horncastle Farmers’ Market continues to go from strength to strength. Stranger still, old Mrs Sausthorpe has been receiving some very important visitors at her sanitorium in Ingoldmells, asking for all kinds of advice on how to salvage their national economies. Anyway, here’s the rest of our year’s news, which I know you’ll all have been dying to learn…

January – The capybaras seem to have adopted Hermione, who is nonplussed about it and seeks refuge in the airing cupboard. All of them are too big now to wriggle through the cat-flap in the airing cupboard door, so they all sit on the landing outside, squeaking for her. Funny little things. We have decided to name them Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Balan, Bilbo, Bambi, Bolivar, Buendia and Ernesto. (He’s the one the Ranby and Sotby Brownie Troop got into trouble for calling Jesus, last year).

February – The 27th saw another earthquake, centred on Market Rasen, just like the one in ’04 that emanated from Grantham, but bigger – a quite respectable 5.2 on the Richter Scale. This time, both dogs fell off the mantelpiece. Over at Wragby, the tremor caused a truckload of sugar-beet to spill its contents all over the road, and our Holsteins wandered over and stuffed themselves. It kept the Horncastle News in copy for all of March. That, and, on Shrew Tuesday’s Shrewing Fair, Wilhelmina prancing off with the Shrew Riband and silver ladle once again. I really must get her medication changed.

March – The Utterby St. Martin carnival was the usual riot, and when the torchlit procession down to the marshes ended with the customary ritual of 'Hanging the Frenchman', Cetchewayo, who had been asleep in the back of our Range Rover since we drove it out of the garage without realising, woke up and saw the landlord of the Three Legged Mare in his gorilla suit, apparently about to be lynched by a mob. Well, bless him, he waded in, in a spirit of selfless simian-specific solidarity, and laid four of them out before the police, in the ensuing confusion, bundled off the landlord to the cells in Louth police station and escorted Cetchewayo back behind the bar of the pub. It was quite a party. The case comes up at Sleaford Magistrates’ Court next month. It promises to be an interesting one.

April – It was, indeed. Roger dismissed the charge against the landlord for keeping a disorderly public house, seeing that the police custody sergeant had transferred him to the RSPCA shelter in Lincoln at the time, which was quite an alibi. Instead, the four complainants were all fined for ill-treating an animal, under a separate action brought about by Lincoln RSPCA.

May – The Lord Lieutenant’s garden party was beset by the vilest tempest that ever typified an English summer. No fewer than five inches of rain fell, horizontally, in a Force Seven gale, and the gazebo has not been seen since, though we heard afterwards that the Danish and German Air Forces had both been put on alert when a strange alien craft had been sighted over Flensburg two days later.

June – Showtime again, at the Lincolnshire Agricultural Show. Some upstart of a Norfolk Horn – from New Zealand, I ask you! - won the Dancing Sheep Competition with a sort of soft shoe shuffle, so I’m going to teach our Lincolnshire Longwools to tapdance for next year. One of our Tamworths did well by coming a close second in the pig racing event, though.

July – Lincolnshire Constabulary have launched a campaign against binge drinking by setting out a number of mannequins in high street shop windows showing people in a very unattractive and advanced state of intoxication, with the caption:“You wouldn't start a night like this, so why end it that way?". When poor Uncle Igor went shopping in Louth the other weekend and fell asleep in the window of Eve and Ranshaw’s, it took Roger ages to persuade the manager to give him up as he was one of our family.

August – So we finally discovered what became of the Lord Lieutenant’s gazebo. With a homing instinct uncanny in an inanimate object, it flew home to the source of its manufacture to shelter the Beijing Olympics under its wings. At least, the stadium looked to me an awful lot like some wretched cheap Chinese garden furniture monstrosity in a characteristic state of mangled collapse – don’t you think?

September - Oscar has finally given up on his project for a musical version of The Mabinogion. Now he wants to do it on ice. I despair. I really do.

October – Pope Benedict XVI's third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, isn’t going to come out this year after all because of the burgeoning economic problems, but Uncle Juan assures me that Tamsin is definitely down for Dame of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, since the manuscript of her unpublished book, The Dawkins Delusion, which Juan took with him to the Vatican last year, was such an inspiration to His Holiness.

November – The new Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate TV ad has sent Cetchewayo into another cathartic frenzy (you will recall last year he was shortlisted to play the drums for it but didn’t get the part in the end). This time, instead of throwing the drum kit through the orangery windows into the moat, he’s produced a very wild impasto work in purple, white and (mostly) brown, which Justin tells me is called Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Is Shit. Speaking of Cetchewayo, no sooner had the American election results come through than we got a call from his dealer in New York. Apparently the new First Family wants to improve the rather staid, colonial White House fine art collection with some new, vital work by an African painter, and a Zimbabwean refugee exile living in England ticks all the boxes for political correctness. Justin thought of renaming Cetchewayo’s latest work Uncle Tom’s Cabin To White House, but the dealer has settled for All The Oranges I Have Ever Slept With, and Neon Meat Dream Of An Octofish: A Tribute To Don Van Vliet. Speaking of the former, the Yellow Room will be big enough to take it (just), and regarding the latter…

December – … Tamsin came back from University intent on making another protest against what she calls the cultural kitsch devaluation of Christmas. It took the form of a giant squid done out in lights on the roof, with waving tentacles. She says it’s an ancient proto-Atlantean god called Cthulhu, and he has about as much right to be up in lights at this time of year as that old pagan Finnish trickster wizard Väinnämöinen, with his reindeer sled. One could see it for miles, until ISTAR at RAF Waddington made her take it down. Apparently NATO’s Allied Air Command (Europe) have had us under surveillance ever since the garden party in May. We decided it wouldn’t really be fair to charge Mr Obama for the paintings, so we’re going to ask for his old Senate chair, if it hasn’t already been sold. If it’s anything like the green leather House of Lords ones, it’ll look nice in the library.

I’m told by old Mr Benniworth that Blind Byard has been scaring lone cyclists, by jumping the A17 at High Dyke. Either it’s the ISTAR Nimrods are flying low in the fog, or Old Meg is abroad once more. Possibly both. You’ll remember the old rhyme:

“When winter’s fogs do cloak the fen,
And Blind Byard doth leap again,
Then Old Meg is come from her den,
To wreak the ruin of maids and men.”

In the light of last year’s prophecy, I was hesitant to alarm anyone so I thought I’d go and ask old Mrs Sausthorpe about it. You could hardly get near the place for Learjets and limousines and shifty-looking men in black suits. She said: “That nasty Mr Brown came for a tea-leaf reading, so I threw the pot at him. He wasn’t wearing a waistcoat.” And that was it. I was only allowed two minutes before the next politician with a pair of heavy suitcases came in. So this New Year’s prognostication is shrouded in mystery – perhaps that’s better for all of us!

Well, that’s about all our news. I can hear the Sedge Bear Wassailers meeting the Ukranians and the revellers back from The Green Man. By the sound of it, something made of glass has just broken and Julia is singing La Marseillaise. I’d better go and sort it out. And Aunt Olga and our Kiev cousins have just rolled up in a taxi. So – have a lovely Christmas and may everything in 2009 be a surprise!

As ever,

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