Saturday, 17 July 2010

Hendrick's Horseless Carriage and the divine Saki

I had never seen a stuffed albino hedgehog before, nor indeed a bath full of rose petals with gin and tonic flowing from the hot and cold taps, but these things and more were waiting to delight the unsuspecting at Hendrick's Horseless Carriage at Buxton last week.  Part of the sheer joy of being a writer and being involved in all things bookish is that sometimes you are invited to partake in the ridiculous and extraordinary.  Sometimes it's the dull and worthy of course, but this wasn't one of those occasions, thank goodness.  So it was that I found myself in a converted train carriage parked outside the Pavilion during Buxton Literary Festival. Part of the 'peek & speak' session along with Jess Ruston, Alex Bellos and the master of all things ceremonial, Mr Barr. The stories we told involved Roald Dahl, a super egg and a tortiose...helped by simply lashings of Hendrick's gin and tonic.
The carriage was stuffed to the gills with things extraordinary, a Georgian pheasant feather tickling machine, a stuffed weasel, an elaborate birdcage housing cucumbers, a magic book that read itself, tempting piles of vintage luggage, and all the things that one hopes one will find in an out of the way shop of antiques, but somehow never does.  I wandered through it, absolutely entranced and felt sure that the divine Saki had somehow had a hand in this.  For who else could conjure up the magical domestic everyday stuff as surely and as swiftly as he did? I was dazzled by his stories the first time that I read them, and continue to be dazzled still.
Talking cats, Great Aunts taking tea under a cedar tree unknowingly being watched by a man eating tiger, an otter taking revenge on the hunt by ravaging the larder, Clovis taking the air in Hyde Park whilst Pan spies on him and small girls trapping an unsuspecting MP in a bedroom, filling the house with animals from a made-up-for-glee-and-mischievous flood for The Unrest cure are all written with such charm and wit, without a hint of whimsey or sentiment.
In The Boar-Pig, Mrs Philidore Stossen hasn't been invited to the garden party of the season, but she, clever woman that she is, has spotted that a door from the walled fruit garden leads from her own back lawn - once in, she and her daughter can 'mingle' unnoticed. So much less troublesome than to invent explainations as to why they weren't invited in the first place. So, she and her daughter 'suitably arrayed for a country garden party function with an infusion of Almanak de Gotha, sailed through the narrow grass paddock and the ensuing gooseberry garden with the air of state barges making an unofficial progress along a rural trout stream'.  Furtive haste and a certain air of perhaps wearing the wrong hats are spotted with glee by the thirteen year old daughter of the house, Matilada, who is perched half way up a medlar tree avoiding the garden party. 'They'll find the door locked and have to  jolly well go back the way they came.  Serves them right.  What a pity Tarquin Superbus isn't loose in the paddock.' And, after all, Matilda thinks, why shouldn't the enormous boar be given a treat by rootling around in the paddock? Mrs Stossen and her daughter are trapped, in their best clothes, between safety and a giant villainous looking boar.
'Shoo! Hish! Hish! Shoo!'
'If they think that they are going to drive him away by reciting lists of the Kings of Israel and Judah they're laying themselves out for disappointment,' observed Matilda from her reclaimned seat in the tree. She makes her presence know to the flustered ladies (after having locked any possible exit from them) and pretends that she is French, which makes the already flustered ladies lose any semblance of that language that they may or may not have mastered,  Mayhem, hilarity, knowing misunderstanding, and a very undignified climb up a plum tree ensues.  After having extracted ten shillings from Mrs Stossen (shilling by begrudging shilling) for the Children's Fresh Air Fund, Tarquin is finally lured away, and the dishevelled ladies released,
'Well, I never! The little minx, I don't believe the Fresh Air Fund will see a penny of my ten shillings!'
Mrs Stossen was perhaps a little too harsh in her judgement of Matilda, for very neatly entered in the ledger were the india inked legend - collected by Miss Matilda Covering, 2s.6d.

Oh, don't you long for a garden party?

The next best thing is to get to the Carriage of Curiosities and sip a gin and tonic...

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