It is not without a certain feeling of trepidation - not to say sheer, mind-numbing horror - that I lift my appendage on this auspicious night. My fingers - and various other parts of my anatomy - are stiffening at the epoch-making news I am about to impart to you via my humble keyboard. My eyes, like most of my other orifices, are moistening with nervous anticipation. My right wrist, normally so pliant and flexible whenever those qualities are called for, is peculiarly flaccid and unresponsive, as if it had a mind of its own. Which would make for a very interesting wrist, you must admit.
What is it, I hear you ask, that is making my bodily functions baulk. (Lovely word - baulk.) I can keep you in suspense no longer....
A few memorable days ago, Jean-Marcel Sergio O’Shaughnessy - our friendly local postman and ratcatcher - knocked vehemently and persistently at my entrance until I was roused. Upon seeing me resplendent in my mauve, terry-towelling Singapore-slit bathrobe, he thrust into my palm something unexpectedly large, throbbingly robust and suspiciously pink - then ran down our ginkgo-lined driveway, strewing subscriptions to Which? and final reminder gas bills as he went.
After withdrawing to my boudoir I hesitantly opened the envelope...
My dear truckshunters. I have received a letter from...her. No ordinary her; no run-of-the mill, world-and-his-wife her. Oh no. By ‘her’, I mean ‘her’.
As I type, I am gently sucking a Fisherman’s Friend and remembering those heady days ten years ago when the Lady Euphemia Overall-Burke first crash-landed in my life. Her inimitable, and occasionally illegal, contributions to Paul’s Saturday Quiz will remain forever in the warped and wafer-thin minds (and queasy stomachs) of those who heard them. Her disarming, and disgusting, descriptions of life at Burke’s Corner (her copious seat near Esh Winning) were unforgettably nauseating; her faithful retainer Tossit; her cultured son Sebastian and his friend Malcolm (both of them huge fans of Thai food and Thai cinema); her rugged but moody gardener Clint (forever strimming at the edges of Her Grace’s ha-ha); her inventive and pestilential housekeeper Shivers; and, of course, the local vicar, exorcist and snake-charmer - the Rev Unseemly Dogposture.
And we will have to draw a veil over her mysterious sister Hortense - whose Facebook page was recently closed down by order of the Child Protection Agency - and her husband the Lord Algernon Overall-Burke, once big in treacle but now, alas, departed from this world and living with a barmaid in Swansea.
I reproduce below (a phrase often used by Euphemia herself) the text of Her Grace’s missive. I don’t think it needs any enlarging by me (also a phrase frequently used by Her Grace).
'My dear esteemed Mr Robinson,
I’ve had a most terrible job getting this darned email thing working. Finally Lord Dogposture tried his “log in” and it was so much better.
Yes my dear….greetings from the resplendent Burkes Corner, which you know all too well, having had the pleasure of my country seat on more than one occasion.
Life here is much the same. Rumour had it that I was now bedridden; well that’s partly true …about 3 times a week by Lord Dogposture.
I still have my splendid family around me. There’s my most charming son Sebastian and his friend Malcolm….shall we say they are not ‘ladies' men’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word.
Then there's my darling sister, the Lady Hortense Pinky-Bavington, who has just returned from the Far East (Hartlepool Headland).
My faithful old retainer Tossit is still here too…. it’s good to know that in hard times he’s always there to fall back on. He attends to all my little foibles…he’s absolutely marvellous! Everyone should have a Tossit.
Shivers the cook always has something on the boil, and can always be found bending over a hot ring.
Then there’s my ever so macho gardener Clint. I think designer stubble looks so sexy on a man…unfortunately not where he’s got it. Really, that man's been in more beds than Percy Thrower's trowel. He is rather moody and those who rub him up the wrong way will come to a sticky end. He’s presently in his greenhouse, sorting out his bedding plants...I believe he’s pricking out before hardening off.
Sebastian is still in the menswear department at Isaac Walton's, and following recent promotion is now quite big in the trouser department. Sebastian and Malcolm have recently taken up swimming and enjoy a few lengths, 3 times a week.
We still have our afternoon soirees, when my dear friend Boothby Pagnall plays his cello to accompany me on the pianoforte. Just picture the scene - Boothby scraping away at that huge instrument between his legs. He is of course a most talented violinist and has enjoyed fiddling with Nigel Kennedy on several occasions. Yes he is a most fantastic musician…but as he is always reminding me ” you didn’t get far in the trombone section of the Boys Brigade without a good wrist action”.
Well my dear Mr Robinson that brings you up to date with our lives here at Burkes Corner. You must call in for a pot of tea and a few fancies, and bring that nice Mr Wopshop from your radio programme. I always had a long felt want for him…still there’s no accounting for taste.
We live by the river; feel free to drop in sometime.
Your dear friend,
This is the text of my reply.
'My dearest Lady Euphemia
Thankyou for your letter - and on scented paper, too! (What exactly WAS that scent, by the way?)
You find me in rude health. In fact, receiving your letter made my health even ruder. Now that I am no longer casting my seed abroad, I am filling my life with good works. For instance, I spend Sunday mornings at church at North Shields riveted to the spot by the Rev Thong and his choirboys' well-filled cassocks. Then I dash down to the fish quay where I have volunteered to clean out the fishwives' smelly boxes once a week. Apparently, no-one else will do it.
Afterwards I spend my Sunday afternoon on the lookout for seamen. Many of the charitable institutions thereabouts may have closed but I know people - such as the Rev Thong - who have access to many of the area's back passages, even if they have to be forced.
I'm so glad that Tossit is still performing well for you; if I remember correctly, he always came up to scratch. Shivers, too, remains in my memory - I was constantly amazed (and sometimes even shocked) at what that woman could do with a stick of celery and a batter whisk.
I think it must have been your darling Sebastian who measured me up at Isaac Walton's the other day. He insisted on taking his device to my inside leg even though I only wanted a tie. So thorough!
Anyway, I must dash now. It's my night on duty at St Everard's when I spend the entire night scouring the streets and back alleys (mostly in Sunderland) looking for young men who have wandered off the straight and narrow so that I can save them. Would you like me to save YOU one?
I will be sure to call into Burke's Corner for an iced finger when next I am in Esh Winning. In the meantime, please pass on my best to everyone - it will be arriving under separate cover shortly.
Your affectionate correspondent
Ah, happy days.