En route to Cheltenham (our hostess was sponsoring one of the events at the Literary Festival), I fell into a pleasing reverie: the courtyard ablaze with lights from mullioned windows, the noise of a brace of Irish wolfhounds dismembering some unfortunate villein in the outhouses, flaming torches on the castle's ancient frontage, ancient oaks past which one's limo grandly sweeps, a gruff word of welcome from Borage, the gnarled but loyal butler, and one's lovely hostess framed in the doorway: "John, how lovely. I've put you in the Japanese Room..."
Bafflingly, no limo greeted one at the station so, encumbered by briefcase and overnight bag, I hailed a cab. As we speeded the 10 miles that lay between me and an evening of tinkling laughter and chaps offering you snuff, I realised I was starving. And it was 8.30pm and I was gasping for a drink. Ah well (I promised my reflection), 15 minutes from now, you'll be drowning in Kir Royales and haloed in Passing Clouds.
We stopped at an uncompromising gate, chained and padlocked and bearing a message that people with deliveries should consider delivering them somewhere else (Stroud, say). The driver opined that I would have to walk. Certainly not, I said, kindly drop me off in front of the castle, beside the mullioned windows etc. No chance matey, he retorted, it's here or nothing. So, briefcase and overnight bag in hands, I set off on the mile or so to the castle, whose lights you could see as a spectral gleam through the trees.
It was hellish dark, illuminated by fitful moonlight that turned the trees into silhouettes of huge animals throttling smaller ones. I thought of Dana Andrews being pursued by a fiend on a forest in Night of the Demon. My footsteps rang with diminishing confidence as I got near another gate, a much larger one like at the entrance to Citizen Kane's Xanadu. It was festooned with barbed wire. It didn't actually say "Trespassers will be shot", but the message was clear. I took an adjacent pathway that, instead of leading towards the castle, kept steering you away from it. And every time you thought to climb the fence, it became all businesslike, with saw-tooth wire and spikes.
The pathway disimproved into a muddy track. The moon disappeared, as did my chances of a Kir Royale. I climbed one fence, then a stile in a patch of nettles. I tried whistling "I Got No Strings To Tie Me Down" to keep my spirits up, but no sound came (thirst, you see). My spotlessl brogues had started to resemble tournedos en croute. Finally a huge fence loomed, beyond which lay a car park - and, in trying to manoeuvre both bags over the fence while raising one leg, I snagged the fake Armani trousers on razor-wire. It was at that moment, as I hung suspended by a single thread, lost, bemuddied, knackered, luggage-burdened, starving, kir-deprived and keeping an eye out for a mastiff or a sign saying "Beware Ferocious Bull", that it came to me: I was living in a comic novel. Not Tom Sharpe, more like Wodehouse. I'd become one of those foolish young men from town arriving to pitch some woo at Lord Emsworth's pretty nieces.
An hour later - de-muddied, slaked and fed - I turned to the lady on my right. "I hadn't heard of Sudeley Castle," I said. "Is it Norman?" "I've no idea," she said, "but I'm sure you know it was the original of Blandings, don't you?"
Overheard the other day by a friend in Hatchards of Piccadilly (bookshop to the gentry): female assistant at cash register says pleasantly to chatty account customer, "Oh yes, we get all sorts in here. Why last Friday, in the space of one hour, we had the Duchess of Kent buying gardening books... and General Pinochet buying books on Military History and Diplomacy". And taking tea and fondant fancies together in Fortnums afterwards, I'll be bound. (Now that would be a story...)
Remember the little American boy who was accused of sexual harrassment for kissing a little girl in his class? Well in Connecticut, they're now trying to arraign a dog for unmannerly conduct. What's more (oh joy, oh bliss), the owner of the accused is a judge.
According to my copy of Dogs Today (I get it for the marrowbone recipes), a Superior Court Judge named Howard Moraghan habitually brings his golden retriever Kodak to the court. While hanging around the clerks' office, Kodak, who is possessed of a lively and rather, um, direct personality, habitually goes up to women wearing skirts and nuzzles them. But rather than greet the dog's overtures with the traditional strangled laugh and a bit of squirming, one of Kodak's victims is suing him, via his owner, for "aggressive nuzzling". On at least three occasions, a Ms Barbara Monsky complains, "the dog has stuck its nose under the plaintiff's skirt and pointed its snout upwards towards her crotch". The poor plaintiff is claiming "emotional distress" and that she is being discriminated against because of her gender - Kodak, it seems, has no interest in male crotches (and who can blame him?). She says the judge only smirks at her distress - and he says the threatened action is "preposterous". I tend to agree. You simply cannot go around accusing dumb and friendly animals of being hostile cunnilinguaphiliacs just because their noses are at the same level as somebody's gusset.
Seeking to help the defence's case, the editor of Dogs Today, Beverley Cuddy, called in the advice of Dr Roger Mugford, an animal behaviour specialist, who said: "Dogs greet each other that way. It's a rich source of information. Their superior noses can tell age, sex, health - even what has most recently been eaten..." Excuse me a moment. Feel a bit queasy.Reuse content