It is good to acknowledge how well the group of readers was shepherded by Priya during the absence of Joe, a testament to the lasting worth of communal reading that every committed member of KRG feels. For Joe's part the absence was more physical than mental, for his mind would keep coming back to how he could contribute from afar. It is now established that the simple use of the Dropbox enables full-fledged participation at a distance, barring only the real-time interaction.
Priya, Pamela, Zakia, Shoba, KumKum
Humour has been a part of the annual reading at KRG, and some of our readers have a predisposition to this genre, which makes people laugh about absurd situations and improbable causes. Those have been the most enjoyable sessions, though who could miss the abundant humour in novels such as Herzog? As Dickens said: There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.
Priya, Pamela, Zakia
We congratulate Shoba who has been appointed to the Alliance Française in Kochi and will assume her job there from Oct 2016. We hope she remains a faithful reader at KRG. We are sad to bid goodbye to Gopa, a diligent reader who left Kochi to join her husband, Michael, in Bengaluru, after an ailment. Raksha will miss her even more than we do.
Preeti wearing costume jewelry her sister designs and markets
KumKum has been a cheerleader for KRG events and her being on Whatsapp has increased the intensity of exchange between readings. Her readiness to keep in touch with the readers has been a source of convivial togetherness which I want to acknowledge.
Sunil. Zakia, Thommo, KumKum, Priya, Shoba, Pamela, Preeti, Joe
Tom Sharpe - The Gropes
Full Account and Record of the Reading on Sep 23, 2016
Author Tom Sharpe photographed in 2004 for the Daily Telegraph - he died in 2013 at age 85
Nine of us met for reading The Gropes by Tom Sharpe, a comic novel selected by Thommo and Priya. Chocolates were handed out by KumKum to acknowledge a happy return to the bosom of KRG from a long sojourn abroad.
The dates for the next readings were fixed as follows:
Tue Oct 18, 2016, 5:30 pm – Poetry
Fri Nov 11, 2016, 5:30 pm – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Fri Dec 2, 2016, 5:30 pm – Poetry
Flowers for writer Tom Sharpe, at Throcklington Church
Thommo introduced the author, Tom Sharpe, saying he is the P.G. Wodehouse of the current era. In his comedies the police are habitually made to look like buffoons. His characters are a motley assortment of people, each of whom has a kink of some kind. The Gropes' estate in Northumberland is much like one of the lordly manors in which PGW set his farces. And the blowsy Vera Wiley is similar to Aunt Agatha. Wilt is his best novel so far, said Thommo who has a copy, but the present one came so late in his career that even Al Qaida is mentioned. For an interview with Tom Sharpe, see
On how Sharpe earned his seat at the high table of campus humour, read this from The Guardian
Tom Sharpe was against apartheid in the heyday of S African colonialism. The dedication to doctors in Catalunya shows he fell ill there and was saved by their medical intervention. Thommo learned that Catalan is a mixture of Spanish and French by reading this novel. It is quite close to Latin.
Shoba, KumKum, Sunil, Thommo
KumKum mentioned Indira Outcalt, former KRG member, being 'surprised' that this novel was chosen and asked who selected it. Why surprised? At KRG we read all kinds of fiction, not classics alone. Thommo pointed to all the unread books in the CYC library around us and rhetorically questioned the interest classics hold for moderns. We had another modern-age humorist, Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim, Dec 2011), also selected by Thommo and Priya.
Priya pointing to KumKum and Joe said it was “so nice to have you back in the reading.”
The passage chosen by Thommo was from Ch 5. Horace Wiley recoils from his son's likeness to himself (“mirror image of his youthful self, awash with burgeoning manhood”). Returning home one evening from an extended session in the pub, he takes up a knife to stab his son, Esmond. Vera, his wife, thinks he suffers from delirium tremens, but a close encounter with his breath confirms he's merely sloshed.
The number of laughs elicited among the listeners as Thommo read confirmed the novel was indeed comic in sketching situations that are improbable and that is the source of its humour. Moreover, in such a gathering one chortle by a listener suffices to set the whole group erupting in chuckles. At least six phrases in the passage caused such perturbations!
Suspicion about novel completion falls upon readers who choose to start on page 1. Sunil, however, showed that Ch 1, about how the House of Grope is said to have originated, lets loose the humour of Tom Sharpe from the very outset. It is a historical fact the Nordic invaders pillaged the monasteries and nunneries of England, Scotland and Ireland for the unguarded wealth they held in the form of sacred gold vessels, but from that to the launch of a new tribe ( “Ursula insisted that Awgard the Pale save her honour as an unraped nun and do his duty by her”) requires the wild imagination of a Tom Sharpe.
Preeti, Priya, Pamela, Zakia
The number count of giggles in the audience was even higher in this passage. No doubt Tom Sharpe as a novelist knew how to make his beginnings count and draw in readers. The fact that the female line prevailed among the Gropes has an analogue in classical Nair customs in Kerala where matriarchy was the norm, and matrilineal inheritance the custom. But Nair women did not have to mud-wrestle suitors into acquiescing for service. The practice of Sambandham essentially gave a Nair woman the liberty to initiate, consent to, or terminate a sexual relationship with any man.(http://historyofnairs.blogspot.in/)
Vera Wiley is under a misapprehension in Ch 17, imagining she has her husband Horace locked up in his room, when in fact he has taken the chance to escape forever from bondage to bank job and wife, and secure his freedom from the 'ever-lurking' look-alike son, Esmond. Meanwhile her sister-in-law, Belinda drives through the night to make it back to Grope Hall and refashion the matriarchal society she was born into. Not a laugh in this passage, even one set off by an unmindful titter among the listeners. Here's a contrast with PGW whose every page gleamed with some nonsense or farcical situation. Tom Sharpe is often reduced to writing fillers for continuity.
Shoba, KumKum, Sunil, Thommo, Preeti, Priya, Pamela, Zakia
This passage from Ch 25, in which the police fumble and fume while trying to make sense of Vera Wiley's deposition, rang with group laughter in the reading. Well chosen! Tom Sharpe brings out the obtuseness of the police; he also has hilarious barbs about the euphemisms with which sex talk is ordinarily clouded.
Preeti, Shoba, KumKum
It is a kind of idyll on which the novel ends, the retreat of Belinda Ponson to Grope Hall, recreating the old ways there. Esmond the wayward lad, her nephew whom Belinda wants to take in hand and have children by, grows up and develops a sort of cunning never foreseen. He wants to be the master:
“You're never going back there, Belinda,' he began, adopting a stern look. 'You're going to stay here and you're going to damned well do as I say from now on.”
Magically he succeeds in inverting the centuries-old male-female power structure and at the end Belinda complies willingly:
”Well, you're the boss, my love. You make the decisions.”
And with that the novel concludes. Thommo pointed out that in ancient times a good part of Europe was matriarchal, though not necessarily matrilineal. He cited the book Volga se Ganga by Rahul Sankrityaan:
It is a collection of short stories about travels the author undertook, throwing light on societies he encountered.
The passage is a fine example of an inspired imagination taking off on a commonplace subject. The obscene drawing on the wall of the lavatory of the Wileys' house expands in terms of the consequences: the art grows as the visitor sits on the pot, the painting cannot be obscured even by seven coats of emulsion, the visitor's husband manages an overdraft at Horace Wiley's bank by threatening to reveal the lewdness going on in their house, and finally the anatomical part gets named! It wasn't abstract art after all, but very realistic representation. But where did Esmond get his inspiration?
Architect Zaha Hadid's Al-Wakrah stadium in Doha has been compared to a vagina, but she dismisses the claim
Priya chose the passage well, for cackling and chortling peppered the reading throughout, and Joe not catching a word had to ask for a reiteration twice. Ah, what fun, jejune but fun.
Pamela mentioned that many mothers trot out their children before visitors to show off their attainments in music, singing or recitation. Thommo said the piano is okay, because even if the tot can't play with any feeling for the music the notes are there on the keys; but with stringed instruments it can grate something awful if a untalented kid is told to scrape away to entertain visitors.
From there to nicknames for people. Sunil said in his time there was an Anglo-Indian lady, so wide that they called her 'Almari Missy' (lady as wide as a cupboard); another was called 'Cut-puff' because mutton puffs would be quartered before serving to visitors in her house; a foreigner called David McCarrick was called 'Makri sahib' (frog gentleman) on account of his visage. Joe chimed in that the late father of a person he became acquainted with was called 'Tavala Cherian' (frog Cherian) because he had established himself in the frog-legs export business. Sunil recalled there was in Kottayam a schoolmaster called 'Itto-sar' ('put it sir') because he got incensed in class at a pupil and threatened to put a black mark against his name, when back came the answer 'itto-sar!' Later the schoolmaster's son was called 'Koch-itto' (small put it). Pamela said when she tells her name to Malayalam speakers they call her either pām-ela (leaf of a palm tree) or plāv-ela (leaf of a jackfruit tree).
Thommo referred to there being tons of Koshy jokes, and at his former company to distinguish between two Thomases with initials AM and PM, one was called Morning Thomas, and the other Evening Thomas; the Thomas with initial WC was labelled 'Kakoose' Thomas, i.e., Water Closet Thomas in Malayalam.
The passage comes from the end of the novel when Horace Wiley signs off with a flourish in the company of Elsie in Catalunya. Priya and Zakia laughed, having guessed that's where Joe would go to read!
Elsie was in it for the fun, not for the money. Priya asked: are deaths during love-making common? Titillating laughter greeted the question. But it is a germane concern in a senior milieu. Joe said there is, in fact, an asymmetry regarding sexual activity in older men and women — men's risk for cardiovascular disease increases while women's risk decreases. He promised a reference for Priya, and here it is cited from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior at
Thommo added that he has heard of people dying from taking Viagra. There is a literature on this too. It is a prescription drug and needs to be administered under medical supervision. But Thommo opined that it was a good day for Horace's taking off, seeing as he experienced more orgasms on the one day than he had during a lifetime of staid existence by Vera's side! Would it have been more dramatic if he had keeled over in the arms of Elsie?
Reading this book one comes to appreciate how difficult it is to write a comic novel that will make the reader laugh, or at least smile, throughout. There are many scenes that a standup comedian could employ to make people laugh by narrating it, such as the demise of Horace after his arduous love-making with Elsie, but it is light fluff as you read it. Similarly, the Fall of the House of Ponson would make a hilarious scene in a film, but somehow it doesn’t provoke mirth if you are merely reading it on a page. I think the novel lacks knock-out punch lines that would make you fall backwards in your chair, or cause your bed to quiver like jelly if you are reclining while reading.
However, there is magic in reading humorous passages with congenial people for company. Being with KRG folk made reading the few chosen passages from The Gropes a completely different experience for Joe than reading the whole book privately in silence.
One concludes that Tom Sharpe is not sharp in this novel in a comic vein if you are just reading the book; unlike his hero Wodehouse who never fails to amuse on every page. At most you can say Sharpe is a satirist, e.g. poking fun at the mores of society by inverting the male-female roles within the Grope matriarchy, or making the police out to be incompetent morons. The ending is flat, as though the author ran out of juice and hastily wound up the novel to make it ready for the publisher. Thommo maintains Sharpe's novel Wilt is much better ('A very antic novel by the very funny Tom Sharpe'). For those interested here it is:
Preeti made her entrance just in time before we closed the proceedings and read us the passage where Esmond comes into his own and discovers his metier in Ch 29 on the Grope Farm.
Ch 5 – Horace Wiley's reacts to his son Esmond, a mirror image of his youthful self, and tries to stab him when more than mildly in the cups
Horace Wiley had in recent weeks developed some slight affection for his son - a boy who could provide him with the means of silencing so voluble a wife, even if this required obscene drawings in the downstairs toilet and the expense of replacing the plaster and redecorating the place, could not be all bad.
He even forgave him the appalling din of the drums. They had, after all, driven Horace from the house early enough in the morning to avoid the rush hour and provided him with a perfectly legitimate excuse for coming home late in the evening with his morale reinforced by a couple of large Scotches at the Gibbet & Goose, the local pub. And now that he came to think of it, Mrs Wiley's encounter with the Noise Abatement Officer and the threat of being prosecuted had been no bad thing either. It had lessened Vera's sense of authority, as had the scandal of the 'growing' whatnot in the lavatory and Mrs Lumsden’s account of her experience there.
In short, Horace Wiley had come to appreciate Esmond's destructive gifts, so far removed from his own cautious and fearful existence. His early revulsion at finding the lad who could, to all intents and purposes, be his double lurking about the place was replaced with a new warmth towards the boy, coupled with a deep admiration for his spirit.
And so it was that when these early signs of rebellion had dissipated themselves and a reformed Esmond instead began to model himself once again on his father, Mr Wiley's new-found fondness entirely evaporated.
Being himself was bad enough, and indeed Horace had always found looking at his face in the bathroom mirror while shaving an especially dispiriting experience. But then to look up from his plate of porridge at breakfast and see a younger version of himself, a dreadful replica, seated across the table duplicating his own actions and even eating porridge in the same way and with the same sort of reluctance - Vera insisted that porridge was the healthiest food for his heart - did nothing for his state of mind.
Or, for that matter, for his health. Never good, Horace Wiley's body now reacted to this mirror image of his youthful self, awash with burgeoning manhood, or manhood as burgeoning as one would expect from a burgeoning bank manager in Croydon, by plunging paradoxically into premature old age, as if to escape the torment of this unwanted recognition.
At forty-five, Horace Wiley looked sixty, and a year later had so much the appearance of a man of sixty-five that a visiting manager from the Lowland Bank's head office went so far as to enquire what he intended to do the next year when he retired. That evening, Mr Wiley returned from the Gibbet & Goose with six double Scotches inside him instead of the usual two.
'Of course I'm drunk,' he told his wife with some difficulty when she accused him. 'And you'd be drunk too if you could see yourself like I do.'
Mrs Wiley had been understandably furious.
'Don't you dare talk to me like that,' she shouted. 'You married me for better or for worse and it's not my fault I am not as beautiful as I once was.'
'True, very true,' said Horace who found the statement peculiar. He had never found her beautiful so he couldn't see why she should raise the issue now. Before he could puzzle this out and find a kitchen chair to slump into, she went on.
'You should take a look at yourself,' she snapped.
Horace peered at her and tried to focus. There appeared to be two of her.
'I do. All the time,' he muttered, making for the chair. 'It's unbearable. It's awful. I can't escape looking at myself. I'm . . . he's always there. Always bloody there.'
It was his wife's turn to peer. She wasn't used to dealing with drunks and in any case she had never seen Horace more than mildly in his cups before. To have him come home in this awful condition only to insult her and then, slumped in a kitchen chair, to start talking about himself in the third person suggested more than mere drunkenness. Something more organic, perhaps even dementia, briefly crossed her mind before a whiff, in fact a veritable blast, of Scotch hit her as Horace struggled to his feet with an ashen face.
'There it is again,' he screamed staring wildly past her at the kitchen door. 'And now there are two of me. And what are they doing in my pyjamas?'
Mrs Wiley glanced apprehensively over her shoulder. She had DTs on her mind now. Perhaps Horace had been a secret drinker and the stuff had finally caught up with him, sending him crazy. But it was only Esmond, lurking. Before she could point out this seemingly obvious fact Horace started again.
'Out, damned spot! Out, I say!' he yelled, the overdose of Scotch evidently combining with vivid memories of a school trip to the Old Vic. 'One, two: why then, 'tis time to do it. Hell is murky!'
Grabbing a carving knife, Horace drunkenly advanced on his son, lunged at him and fell flat on his face.
'What's up with Dad?' Esmond asked, as Vera knelt by Horace and removed the knife.
'He's not himself,' she answered. 'Or he seems to think someone else is him. Or something. Leave off lurking, Esmond, and help get your father sorted before I ring for an ambulance.'
Together they dragged Horace up the stairs and put him to bed, by which time Vera had decided not to call the doctor after all. Instead she phoned her brother Albert who said he'd come over in the morning.
'But I need you now,' Vera insisted. 'Horace has just tried to stab Esmond. He's out of his mind.'
Albert kept his thoughts about his brother-in-law's mental condition to himself and put the phone down. He was over the alcohol limit himself and he had no intention of losing his licence for no better reason than that Horace Wiley had tried to do what any sane father would have done years ago.
Ch 1 – How the House of Grope is said to have been created.
It is one of the more surprising facts about Old England that one can still find families living in the same houses their ancestors built centuries before and on land that has belonged to them since before the Norman Conquest. The Gropes of Grope Hall are one such family.
Neither rich nor titled and having never excited the envy of their more powerful and influential neighbours, the Gropes had kept their heads down, worked fields still bearing the same names as they had in the twelfth century, and had gone about their business without taking the slightest interest in politics, religion or anything else that could have got them into trouble. In most cases this was not due to any deliberate policy. On the contrary, it had to do with inertia and the determination not to be burdened with ambitious and able offspring.
The Gropes of Grope Hall can be found in the County of Northumberland. They are said to be able to trace their ancestry back to a Danish Viking, one Awgard the Pale, who had been so seasick on the voyage over the North Sea that he had deserted the raiding party while it was sacking the nunnery at Elnmouth. Instead of raping nuns, as he was supposed to do, he had thrown himself on the mercy of a skivvy he had come across in the bakehouse, who was trying to make up her mind whether or not she wanted to be raped. Not being in the least beautiful and having twice been turned down by Viking raiding parties, Ursula Grope was delighted to be chosen by the handsome Awgard and led him away from the appalling orgy in the sacked nunnery to the isolated valley of Mosedale and the sod hut in which she had been born. The return of the daughter he had hoped he had seen the last of - and in the company of the enormous Awgard the Pale - had so terrified her father, a simple swineherd, that he hadn't waited to find out the Viking's real intentions but had taken to his heels and was last heard of near York selling hot chestnuts. Having saved Awgard from the horrors of the return journey to Denmark, Ursula insisted that he save her honour as an unraped nun and do his duty by her. It is thus that the House of Grope is said to have been created.
Awgard changed his name to Grope, and so alarmed were the few inhabitants of Mosedale by his size and awful melancholy that Ursula, now Mrs Grope, was in time able to take possession of their thousands of acres of uninhabited moorland and eventually to establish the Grope dynasty.
As the centuries passed, the family legend and the dark secret of their origins encouraged succeeding generations of Gropes to keep themselves to themselves. They need hardly have bothered. The strain of melancholy and aversion to travel that had so afflicted Awgard continued in the Grope blood.
But it was the Grope women whose influence was most profound. To be twice rejected by Vikings, not normally discriminating in their choice of victims, as unworthy of violation had clearly left a psychological scar on the Founding Mother. Having secured Awgard she was determined never to let him go. She was also determined to hang on to the thousands of acres that his gloomy aspect and dangerous reputation had secured. That the Viking was in fact a deserter and terrified of the sea made both tasks easy. Awgard was always at home and refused even to go to the market in Brithbury or to the annual pig-gelding fair and mud-wrestling on Wellwark Fell. It was left to his wife and their five daughters to drive hard bargains at the market and indulge in the dubious activities at the fair. Since the daughters took after their father in size and strength and had inherited his red hair while combining these assets with the unprepossessing looks and determination of their mother, the result of the said mud-wrestling matches was never in doubt. Here, as in all matters involving the Grope women, the female line prevailed. Indeed, whereas in every other family, the eldest son succeeded to the estate, with the Gropes it was the eldest daughter who took over the Grope acres.
This became such a firmly established tradition that it was widely rumoured that, on those infrequent occasions when the firstborn was a boy, the infant was strangled at birth. Whatever the truth, it was certain that over the years the Gropes produced an unusually large number of baby girls, though this may have been due less to male infanticide than to the fact that either by choice or the Grope women's overt masculinity, the men they married tended to be somewhat effeminate.
Following the tradition laid down by the Founding Mother, the bridegrooms were forced to change their names to Grope. All too frequently they were forced into these marriages themselves. No ordinarily virile man would willingly have proposed to a Miss Grope even in his cups, and it may well have been as a result of the Misses Gropes' insistence on challenging local bachelors to a bout of mud-wrestling at Wellwark Fair that the event lost its attraction and finally died out. Even the most stalwart wrestlers hesitated before accepting the challenge. Too many young men had emerged from the ordeal half choked with mud and unable to deny that in the contest they had proposed to their opponents. Besides, the Grope girls were too formidably united to brook any denials. On one dreadful occasion a fiancé who had the temerity to say, when he could get the mud out of his mouth, that he would rather die than go to the altar and become Mr Grope, was hurled into the mud pool and held under until his determination was fulfilled.
Chs 17 & 18 – Vera Wiley decides Horace is not worth the trouble of remaining married; Belinda Ponson comes home to Grope Hall
Vera Wiley remained miserably awake. She had lost her love child to the Ponsons and, with unusual insight, she realised that they were bound to lead him into bad ways. It was all Horace's fault. For the first time in her life, Vera lost her faith in the fantasy world of the romantic trash she had marinated her mind in for so many years. The only thing she could hope for was that Horace would come to his senses so that Esmond would be able to return home as soon as possible. In the meantime she would keep Horace on short rations and let him suffer. She hadn't bothered to give him supper and she had half a mind to let him go without his breakfast too. He was going to learn not to drink himself into a nervous breakdown, and if he didn't like it, he could divorce her. She wouldn't care. She no longer had any illusions about him.
Belinda Ponson had no sooner left the garage in the Aston Martin than she realised she had made a mistake in taking the car. It was far too conspicuous for her journey So she drove to Albert's second-hand car lot, grabbed the keys to a Ford from the office cupboard and, after a bit of a struggle, managed to transfer the still-comatose Esmond to the back seat. There were several similar cars in the lot and it was unlikely to be missed immediately To confuse the situation still further, she then drove the Aston Martin to the hospital car park where she abandoned it, before walking back to the car lot.
Esmond still lolled as she had left him. The time was ten forty-five and she had a long drive ahead of her. As she drove, she laid her plans. She would stick to side roads to avoid the CCTV cameras on the motorway, and go across country rather than direct. This would make the journey much longer, but it was worth it. Nobody, particularly Albert, must know where she'd gone. And so she drove through the night without tiring and kept well within the speed limit.
It was just as the eastern sky was beginning to lighten and full dawn was soon to break that the old Ford breasted a long steep hill. Belinda cut the engine and sat still until it was possible to see the landscape far below. Its bleakness was entirely as she remembered it from her childhood holidays. She had been happy then and that sense of happiness now flooded back to her. Nothing had changed. In the distance she could make out the looming shape of Grope Hall. In her own way she was coming home.
Ch 25 – The chief inspector of police is perplexed questioning Vera Wiley as to why her husband, Horace, tried to stab his son, Esmond
Vera Wiley, who had been sedated in A & E, had recovered completely by the time the superintendent arrived at the hospital. She sat up in bed and demanded her clothes. The superintendent told the doctor to move the bed into a private room and the doctor was only too happy to oblige. The other patients in the ward cheered. They were sick to death of Mrs Wiley screaming she wanted her darling love child Esmond back.
'Who is Esmond? Is he your husband?' asked the superintendent who had just been rung up by the Home Secretary's top assistant calling to tell him that the job of the police of whatever rank was to arrest criminals and not to destroy houses. He rang off before the superintendent could answer.
'He told me, "You can leave that to al-Qaeda,"' the superintendent told Vera.
'You mean my brother. He's not called Kyder. His name is Albert Ponson. Where's he got to? I left Esmond with him and he's supposed to be protecting him from my husband who tried to murder him.'
'What a pity he didn't succeed,' murmured the superintendent, thoroughly sick of the lot of them, and then immediately regretted it. Vera leapt out of bed and hurled her full weight on him. As his chair fell back onto the floor he landed on his back and slashed his head on the edge of the bedside cupboard. A doctor and two nurses carried him on a stretcher to have ten stitches in Accident and Emergency.
The chief inspector took over when several policemen had managed to force Vera back into bed and put handcuffs on her ankles.
'Try leaping out of bed with them on and you'll break your blasted legs,' she was told.
Vera lay back on the pillow weeping. 'I want to know what my brother Albert has done with Esmond. My husband tried to kill him. I've told you that before.'
'You mean he tried to kill Mr Ponson. Why did he want to do that?'
'Because he said there were three of him.'
'Three of him? Your husband has a twin brother? I mean, he has two twin brothers, like he's a triplet, is that what you're telling me? How do you know who's making love to you if that's the case?'
'I don't know what you're talking about,' screamed Vera.
'That makes two of us. Oh, of course, your husband tried to kill three bloody Ponsons. Well, I can't say I blame him. One Al is crooked enough.'
Vera stared at him dementedly.
'I didn’t say that. You're putting words in my mouth,' Vera whimpered, wishing he could put some sensible ones in.
The chief inspector did his best to clear his mind and then started again.
'Just tell me who tried to kill two people. That's all I want to find out.'
'And Horace is your husband?'
'Of course he is. We've been married for twenty years.'
'OK. I've got that. So now he's gone down with some illness and you say he tried to kill Esmond. And Esmond is your only son?'
'Yes. He tried to stab him with the carving knife.'
The chief inspector came up with what he thought was a reasonable question.
'And was Esmond his real son? I mean, you hadn't been having it off with another man and got a bun in the oven from this other bloke?'
The expression was not one Vera knew.
'How could I have? I was cooking supper at the time. '
I mean, had you been having a love affair with a man who wasn't your husband and got pregnant when he ejaculated?'
'When he what?' asked Vera, whose romantic reading had limited her vocabulary.
'When he came his load.'
'Load? What do you mean?'
'All right, let's just say making love.'
'But if we were he'd have had to be there. Not that we were.
'Oh never mind. What I am trying to ascertain is why your husband tried to stab your son. That's all. He must have had a reason.'
'He said it was because Esmond was exactly like him.'
'I should have thought that would have reassured him you weren’t having an affair with another man,' the chief inspector said.
'But I've told you, I'm not like that. I've always been completely faithful.'
The chief inspector could well believe it. Even a sex maniac wouldn't have been attracted to Mrs Wiley. Her husband must be utterly hideous himself. On this note he stopped the interview and went to see how the superintendent was getting on. He wasn't. The stitches hadn't taken and were having to be redone.
'It's bloody hell. Much more of this and I'll go off my rocker too.' 'Makes two of us. This is the weirdest case I've ever tried to understand.'
Ch 39 & Ch 43 the end – Esmond plots to ensure that this new-found happiness will continue at Grope Hall, but he inverts the male-female power structure there after eliminating the possibility of bigamy.
At Grope Hall, Esmond was happy too and was busy plotting to ensure that this new-found happiness continued. His previous existence had nothing to offer compared with his new life here. He could scarcely believe he was the same person when he thought back to that insipid fellow lurking around the place and imitating his weakling of a bank manager father for want of anything better to do.
The one thing that still puzzled him was the prospect of having to marry his Aunt Belinda. He wasn't at all sure that he really wanted to and, moreover, he really didn't understand why, or even how it could be done.
Despite Belinda's claim of having divorced his uncle he was sure she was still married. Besides, she was a lot older than he was - she must be in her late thirties or even forty
- and he'd always imagined he would marry someone his own age and not someone who was actually old enough to be his mother.
Belinda had said they'd get married in the little chapel by the rose garden. He'd been into it several times and it was quite pretty with three stained-glass panels above the altar - not a bad place to get married at all. Something about the single grave in the chapel did puzzle him. It was longer than any grave he'd ever seen in a church and the gravestone had sunk several inches at one end. It was strange, but then everything at Grope Hall was odd. The fact remained she was almost certainly still married to that drunkard Uncle Albert. If he wasn't her husband and they had got divorced he was sure his mother would have mentioned it.
If they were still husband and wife then Belinda would be committing bigamy if she took another husband and that was a crime. He'd learnt that from his father who had been doing the crossword in TheTimesseveral years before. He had tried 'bigot' but that was too short and 'bigotry' which had been too long. Finally he had found what he needed in 'bigamy'.
'What's bigamy, Dad?'
'It's spelt with an "a" not an "o", boy. And if it were not a crime I would happily commit bigamy to get away from . . . Oh, never mind. Go and find something to do. Life's difficult enough with your mother around, the last thing I need is you lurking around the place.'
On the other hand, Esmond really didn't want to have to go home again. He liked life at Grope Hall and enjoyed working on the thousands of acres around it. He felt himself to be a power in the land he was supposed, as Joe Grope, to run. He was absolutely certain that there were more advantages to be had from his new name if only he could think of exactly what they might be. And of course if he could make sure that neither Belinda nor that old hag Myrtle got in the way of his plans.
The key thing was that he definitely didn't want to go back to Croydon - or, worse still, to Essexford - and to the suffocating sentimentality of his mother, let alone his mad and murderous father.
Lying on his side beside the piglets' run, Esmond found his thoughts strangely returning to the consequences of bigamy. As Joe Grope married to Belinda, might he be in a position to have her sent to prison for bigamy? And actually, now he came to think of it, for kidnapping him as well? After all, he hadn't asked to come out to this empty landscape. He'd been too drunk at the time - in fact, he'd been unconscious.
The more Esmond thought about it, the better he liked his power and position and the more he liked his plan. He'd go through with the marriage and once that was over he'd put the boot into Belinda. To add to his innocence and her guilt, she had stolen the car and had then insisted it was buried in the coal mine. And Myrtle had collaborated, by ordering Esmond and Old Samuel to carry out the crime.
With a degree of confidence in himself he had never felt before, Esmond crept close to the wall surrounding the yard and made his way unseen until he was under the kitchen window where he could hear what was being said inside.
'Well, you're a very rich man now. You can do what you like, buy what you like, go where you like. You can - '
'Balls!' Esmond exploded. 'I know what I'm going to do, or rather we are. We're going to go halves. You found the stuff which is more than I could ever have done in a million years though how the hell you knew it was there I can't even begin to imagine.'
Jeremy laughed. 'Think of that iron slab and the inscription on it in lousy verse. That told me there was something more than a skeleton with a spade down there, though I didn't expect it would be a fortune in gold sovereigns.'
'Which we're splitting because of our genuine friendship. And now I'd better be getting back to the Hall. I've something to say to my new bride.'
Esmond found Belinda in the garden with a large bunch of red roses which she was putting in a bowl.
'Isn't it wonderful to be here,' she said. 'I loved it as a child when I visited in the summer but it's even better now I've escaped from that dreadful Albert and his horrible bungalow. You've no idea how I hated living there.'
'I can imagine,' said Esmond who, now that he thought about it, really could imagine how dreadful life with his uncle must have been. Even more alarmingly, the very thought of Belinda in another man's arms made him feel quite ill. Whatever had come over him?
'You're never going back there, Belinda,' he began, adopting a stern look. 'You're going to stay here and you're going to damned well do as I say from now on. I've been thinking about it and I love the peaceful natural life I have here and I'm going to stay and be a farmer but I can't hold with you slipping me sleeping tablets and telling me what to do and say all the time. I want a proper wife: one who looks after me properly else there's going to be hell to pay. And what's more Old Samuel isn't going to be called Old Samuel any longer. It isn't even his name. He's going to be called Jeremy, Young Jeremy for now and then when he's old, Old Jeremy. And what's even more, Old Samuel - I mean Young Jeremy - isn't going to work for us any more because he and I are going to go into partnership. He's come into some money and we've decided that we're going to go into business breeding bulls as well as running the farm. You're to have nothing to do with any of it although you can feed the piglets from time to time if you've a mind to . . . And, and . . .'
'Well, you're the boss, my love. You make the decisions.'
Ch 3 – Esmond lurks, develops musically, and decorates toilets with parts of a woman's anatomy
At ten and even eleven years, Esmond was a singularly quiet child who communicated, when he spoke at all, only with Sackbut the cat, a neutered (a symbolic act on Mrs Wiley's part and one that had more to do with Horace Wileys lack of performance than with Sackbut’s personal propensities), obese animal who slept around the clock and only roused himself to eat.
Things might have gone on this way for ever, with Esmond conversing only with the impotent Sackbut and lurking in Croydon corners and never going near Northumberland, let alone any of the Gropes, had puberty not had a peculiar impact on the boy.
At the age of fourteen, Esmond suddenly changed, and in direct contrast to the timidity of his early years took to expressing his feelings with a vehemence that was deafening. In fact, quite literally deafening. The day before Esmond's fourteenth birthday, Mr Wiley, returning from an enervating day at the bank, was appalled to find the house reverberating to the sound of drums.
Defeated in the matter of her son's musical development, Mrs Wiley still persisted in her belief that the newly transformed Esmond was naturally artistic. However, after he had expressed himself visually with an indelible felt-tip pen in the downstairs toilet, even she had some reservations about him becoming a painter. Mr Wiley's reservations were total.
'I am not having the house desecrated simply because you think he's Picasso come back from the grave, and the cost . . . when I think of the cost of redecoration! The repairs will come to several hundred pounds thanks to that damned felt-tip pen.'
'I'm sure Esmond didn't know it would permeate the plaster like that.'
But Mr Wiley wasn't to be diverted.
'Seven coats of emulsion and it still showed through, and where has he seen a woman's whatnot like that? That's what I'd like to know.'
Mrs Wiley preferred not to look at it like that.
'We don't know it was what. . . what you think,' she said, drawing him into a trap. 'That's just your dirty imagination. I didn't see it as any part of anyone's anatomy. I saw it as purely abstract, as line and shape and form and - '
'Line and shape and form of what?' demanded her husband. 'Well, I'll tell you what Mrs Lumsden saw it as. She - '
'I don't want to hear. I won't listen,' Mrs Wiley said, and then saw her opportunity. 'And how do you know what she saw? Are you saying Mrs Lumsden told you she thought it was a . . .'
'Mr Lumsden did,' said Mr Wiley as his wife ground to a halt before the unspeakable. 'He came in to the bank to ask about extending his overdraft and just happened to mention at the same time that his damned wife had been fascinated to see the drawing of a woman's fanny on our lavatory wall when she came round for coffee with you the other morning.'
'Oh no, she can't have. It had been painted over by then.'
'So it had. Twice but it still came through the emulsion. Mrs Lumsden told her husband it actually grew as she sat there.'
'I don't believe it. How could it grow? Drawings don't grow. She's invented the whole thing.'
Horace Wiley said that was hardly the point. The point was that Mrs Lumsden had seen the . . . well, the bloody thing growing . . . all right, not growing, appearing through the emulsion as she sat there, and that scoundrel Lumsden had the nerve to try to increase his overdraft by threatening to let it be known that the Wileys, or more precisely Horace Wiley, made a habit of drawing vulvas, - yes, to hell with whatnots and fannies, let's get down to nitty-gritties - on the wall of his lavatory and that being the case
'You are not going to let him? You can't possibly allow him . . .' Mrs Wiley squawked.
Horace Wiley seemed to look at his wife for the first and, possibly, the last time.
'Of course I denied everything,' he said slowly, and paused. 'I told him to bloody well come and check for himself if he didn't believe me. Which is why the plasterers are arriving to repair the rest of the damage tomorrow.
'More damage? What damage?'
'The damage done by a litre of Domestos, a hammer and a blowtorch I paid twenty-five pounds for. And if you don't believe me, go and have a look yourself.'
Mrs Wiley had already gone and from the silence that followed Horace knew that for the first time in their married life he had achieved the seemingly impossible. She had nothing to say and the question of Esmond's artistic education was shelved for good.
Ch 38 & 41 – Horace Wiley signs off with a flourish in the company of Elsie in Catalunya. 748 words
p.214 They went up in the lift to end of ch 38
p.225 from beginning of Chapter 41 to ‘effect of his sudden death.’
They went up in the lift and Horace was surprised that Elsie nestled up close to him although there was no one else with them. As they entered his room he was even more surprised when she locked the door. The next moment she'd taken her blouse off and was busy removing her bra. He gaped at her and groped for the Glenmorangie. She stopped him.
'That's for afterwards,' she said.
He sat down on the bed. The whisky was taking effect.
'What do you mean, afterwards?' he gasped. 'After what?'
'After what we've both been longing for. You don't imagine for a moment that I don't know what effect a pair of binoculars staring every day at semi-naked girls and practically salivating over them can have? Oh yes, two people can buy binoculars. I followed you and was watching you when you bought them and the moment you came out I went in and bought an even more powerful pair.'
She laughed as he stared at her.
'But where were you? I didn't see you.'
'Of course you didn't. Look over there at that red umbrella. I cut a hole in it and I look through it every day with a towel over my legs to keep the sun off.'
Horace stared at her even more intensely. She was lying on the bed with only her panties on.
'Why did you pick on me?' he said.
She smiled. 'Because you're an innocent, my dear. Because you are a typically English innocent - and shy with it. One thing I am certain of: you're not going to hurt me. I've had enough of sadism. Now get undressed and we'll make love.'
Horace went into the bathroom, had a quick shower and came out naked and pink. As they clasped each other and Elsie squeezed his scrotum gently, Horace had his first glorious orgasm for many years. He rolled off her and knew he had fallen in love. By the time they went down to an excellent lunch he was made happier still by the knowledge that he finally knew what passionate love was and that Elsie's room was not far away.
In his room in the Catalan hotel, Horace Wiley was having a wonderful time. He had made love in a few hours more times than he had in his entire married life, and while he was now so exhausted he could no longer achieve yet another orgasm, he still had an erection and could fondle his lover's buttocks and kiss her breasts to his heart's delight.
Eventually, and with some reluctance, he broke off to go downstairs to the dining room with Elsie. Lunch was a splendid affair since after all his lovemaking Horace found that he had a huge appetite. He devoured a large plateful of Iberian ham and followed it with an enormous pork cutlet and finally a double ice cream and three coffees. Feeling pleasantly full, Horace and Elsie left the dining room and returned to his bedroom. Horace had just undressed and was about to climb onto the bed with the thought that this was heaven when he slumped to the floor with a terrible thump. Elsie jumped out and knelt beside him to feel his pulse. To her horror she couldn't find one in his wrist or neck. Horace Wiley was dead.
Ten minutes later Elsie had dressed and, having checked that there was no one in the corridor, was about to scurry off to her own room when she realised the bed was in a desperately crumpled state that would indicate all too obviously what had caused his heart failure. It looked exactly as though two people had been making the lethal love on it that Horace and Elsie had. So many people had seen them at lunch together that it seemed certain that she would be implicated.
Elsie relocked the door using a handkerchief and made the bed before turning back to Horace. If she could get him back onto the bed, preferably with his clothes on, the situation would be far safer for her. In fact, considering the enormously fatty lunch he'd had, his death might seem perfectly natural.
But Elsie's attempt to get Horace back into his trousers and shirt failed hopelessly. He was far too heavy. Exhausted by her efforts, she sat down on a chair to get her breath back and only now started to feel the frightful effect of his sudden death.
Ch 29 – Esmond satisfies his hankering for blowing things up and enjoys looking after the pigs on the Grope farm.
Esmond was fascinated. He'd always wanted to blow something up. He went back to the barn and fetched the old Ford. It fitted easily into the tunnel and while Old Samuel's back was turned Esmond climbed onto the bonnet and carefully checked that the cases were fully pressed up into the holes he'd drilled. In fact, they fitted exactly and only one of the two needed extra wedging with a sliver of wood. Meanwhile, Old Samuel had fetched an electric generator and was waiting for Esmond, whom he called Joe or Mr Grope, to help him bring down some bales of barbed wire.
'Not that we'll need it but it's best to be on the safe side. We'll explode the roof first to make sure the powder works as it should do. After that we may have to get an iron gate. That will deter people coming in, not that anyone's likely to. Those black bulls keep them away from the house in any case. Oh no, Grope Hall is known for being a place to avoid. From what I've heard in the kitchen you're safe here. Mind you, no man has ever got away from here unless they want him to, "they" being them in the kitchen.'
'I don't want to,' said Esmond, surprising himself with the sudden realisation. He'd always had a hankering for blowing things up and he'd discovered how much he enjoyed looking after the pigs. Above all he felt free. The thought of going back to the house in Croydon sickened him. Out here, wherever 'here' was, he felt he could be himself instead of having his mother suffocating him and calling him her darling, never mind his father attacking him with a carving knife. Looking back over his life he was conscious that he had never for a moment really known who he was. Here in this wild countryside he felt he finally did. Even if he wasn't entirely certain quite what he was called.
'Might as well see if the cartridges work,' said Old Samuel and attached the main copper wire to the electric generator. 'Stand by, I'm going to start it now.'
He turned the generator on, and a dull rumble came from the side shaft along with a cloud of powdered earth. When it had cleared they went in and peered at the result of this improvised explosion. There was no sign of the old Ford.
'Better get the flashlight, Joe. It looks as if the whole roof is down. Mind you, that will save us using the barbed wire.'
All the same Old Samuel was taking no chances. That night he painted a large warning notice which read 'DANGER. BEWARE FURTHER ROOF FALLS' and fixed it to a post beside the entrance.
'That ought to do the trick,' he said.
And so for the first time since his arrival, Esmond was given no sleeping pill and slept happily.