Monday, 19 September 2011

Monkey Jungle

Monkey Jungle

The next morning, I was up at first light, giddy with anticipation about our trip to Longleat Safari Park and Monkey Jungle.

I looked in to Lily’s nursery on my way downstairs. She was sleeping soundly, her long eyelashes fanning her rosy cheeks, oblivious to the excitement in store for her.

I pottered around the kitchen enjoying the early morning solitude. All was quiet. The sun had not yet risen over Bulbarrow Hill, the lawn was wreathed in mist, and the dogs slumbered in their beds by the AGA.

Betty the Bantam sidled in to say good morning, and watched beadily as I buttered bread, grated cheese and packed sandwiches into Tupperware boxes.

Lily appeared in the door way, trailing her blanket and yawning sleepily.

Mindful of Jasper’s pathological aversion to Monkeys, and aware of the possibility that he might attempt to extricate himself from what he clearly deemed as The Day From Hell, I diligently ensured that Lily was sufficiently wound up to a degree that precluded him from refusing to come.

Lily’s powers of persuasion are legendary, and having presented her with a plethora of Chimp videos on You Tube, and repeatedly informed her that “Daddy’s taking you to see the Monkeys! TODAY!” I was confident that she wouldn’t let me down.

By the time Jasper came in for breakfast, she was so excited that she was almost hyper-ventilating.

“MONKEYS!” she screamed, jabbing frenziedly at a video depicting a gang of loutish Chimpanzees plundering a Rover. The elderly driver and his Wife could only look on helplessly as their assailants wrenched off the hub caps, snapped the aerial, and in an unmistakeably measured and deliberate act of vulgarity, defecated on the windscreen before turning around to smirk at his victims.

As a boorish Alpha Male urinated on the bonnet before swaggering off with a section of roof rack, I registered Jasper’s stricken expression, and felt a small twinge of guilt.

“MONKEY WEE!” hooted Lily, shrieking with laughter.

“I’ve got a really bad head ache. I don’t think I’m well enough to go.” Jasper said, slumping in a chair.

“Don’t tell Porkie Pies!” I chided, putting a bacon sandwich in front of him.

“You’ll enjoy it once you get there. Hurry up, eat your breakfast and then we can be on our way.”

He looked utterly aghast as he chomped dolefully on his bacon sandwich. His pessimism had a deflating effect on my high spirits; as I put the cool bag into the boot of the car, I grumpily reflected that he might just pretend not to feel suicidal at the prospect, for mine and Lily’s sake. After all, I don’t mope about when I’m forced to endure three hours of mind numbingly boring Formula 1. Nor do I protest when he gleefully informs me that I can’t watch the film I’ve really been looking forward to because the sodding football’s on.

It was only Monkey Jungle for heavens sake! Anyone would think that I was forcing him to partake in a late night cycle through the dodgy part of Guatemala on a 3 seat tandem.

We’re going to have a lovely day, I thought stoically as I slammed the boot shut and strapped a delighted, babbling Lily into her car seat.

I was making a flask of tea and humming with determined optimism when Jasper walked in a couple of minutes later. He was literally shuffling, dragging his feet as though he were wearing shackles. I bristled crossly. He walked with the tragic faced, slump shouldered resignation of a death row inmate about to face the electric chair.

I finally snapped.

“Oh for Gods sake! What in the name of arse is the matter with you? You’re being totally ridiculous! They’re monkeys, not bloody Chechnyan Rebels. They’re not going to shoot us, or chop our heads off. Can’t you at least pretend to be looking forward to a nice family day out?”

“I can hardly wait.” He said in a dead pan voice.

“Don’t be facetious, it doesn’t suit you.”

With overwhelming reluctance, he walked to the car and flopped into the seat with a defeated sigh.

“Off we go!” I trilled as I started the engine.

My jolly smile was met with a withering stare.

A few minutes later we were driving through Sturminster when Lily suddenly started screaming in anguish.

“BARBIE! BARBIE! WANT BARBIE!” she bellowed lustily, kicking furiously at the back of Jasper’s seat.

I suddenly remembered seeing Barbie on the kitchen Island just before we left. Lily would be inconsolable until they were re-united, such was the strength of her devotion to the pint sized plastic slapper.

“It’s no good, we’ll have to go back.” I sighed.

Jasper huffed and puffed and crossed his arms grumpily as I turned the car around.

“Can’t we just get this over and done with?” he tutted.

I could hardly hear him over Lily’s grief-stricken sobs.

“Do you want to drive around Longleat with her screaming in your ear?” I snapped.

He looked incredulous.

“I don’t want to drive around Longleat at all. Can’t you drop me off at the Happy Eater?”

I took a deep breath and feigned a lofty indifference. The rest of the journey home was silent, apart from Lily’s pitiful snivelling. Having been finally re-united with the wretched doll, she fell instantly asleep.

“And off we go again.” Sighed Jasper.

I ignored him and turned the radio up to drown out the frosty silence.

The journey was uneventful, although Jasper’s impermeable gloom lifted briefly after an impromptu trip to the Macdonalds drive-thru. He made a few witty asides about other road users, and even remarked that he was looking forward to seeing the giraffes.

I smiled inwardly, and silently thanked the Lord for the consoling properties of an egg McMuffin.

“Why are we stopping here?” he asked, as I pulled up outside a village shop.

“I’m going to buy some bananas.” I said breezily.

“What do you want bananas for?” he demanded.

“Duh! For the Monkeys.” I said, reaching over and scrabbling in the glove compartment for my wallet.

“You can’t! Feeding the Monkeys is strictly forbidden.” He shouted, making a wild grab at the £10 note.

Five minutes later I emerged from the shop brandishing three bunches of bananas. I put them on the floor of the passenger seat. Jasper was so cross he refused to look at them.

“You’ll get thrown out. There are rangers everywhere, watching people through binoculars.”

“I’ll be discreet .” I said soothingly.

He shook his head and muttered something under his breath.

Lily woke up. “Monkeys!” she trilled happily.

Jasper closed his eyes and sighed wearily.

I turned up the volume and sang gaily along to Dusty Springfield on Radio 4 in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

The song ended. The mellifluous tones of John Humphries announced the next song.

“And Barbara Thwaite from Norfolk correctly guessed the name of our next band. Well done Barbara – Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Monkees!”

“MONKEYS!!” screeched Lily, clapping her hands in delight.

This synchronicitous turn of events was too much for me. As the first twanging strains of “I’m a believer!” thundered from the speakers, I was consumed with the giggles.

Jasper’s disapproving expression only compounded my hysteria.

I convulsed over the steering wheel in a delirium of helpless mirth. Three hours of pent up tension came pouring forth like a burst dam. I snorted, whooped and shouted. I laughed until my sides ached and I couldn’t breathe properly. I tried to regain control, wiping my eyes and taking a deep breath.

“It’s not even that funny. “The Monkees.” Big deal.” He tutted.

I was still sniggering when we joined the long queue of cars snaking towards the entrance.

I excitedly handed over £25 to the lady in the ticket booth and slotted the CD into the stereo.

“Welcome to Longleat Safari Park. You are now entering the giraffe enclosure.”

At that precise moment, the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain. Visibility was reduced to zero, as the windscreen wipers struggled to clear the deluge.

Jasper snorted and shook his head.

“Just a passing shower.” I declared stoutly, as I parked next to the fence.

“Would you like to see the giraffes Lily?” I said excitedly.

Lily looked at me doubtfully before turning to gaze at the rain bouncing off the window.

“You’re not getting out in this?” Jasper asked incredulously.

“Bit of rain never hurt anyone.” I replied with a cheery smile.

Jasper looked as though he’d swallowed a pigeon.

I had already realised that I had failed to bring any coats or water proof clothing on our expedition.

Determined not to lose face, I grabbed a bin liner and leapt out into the down pour. I gasped in shock. The rain lashed down like icy needles, turning my white linen top transparent. Freezing mud oozed between my toes as I squelched round the car in my flip-flops.

I opened the door to get Lily out. She returned my grim smile with an expression of baffled disbelief.

“Come on, I’m taking you to see the Giraffes!” I trilled, lifting her out of the seat and into the monsoon. Her initial shock rendered her momentarily speechless, as I attempted to fashion a make shift umbrella out of the plastic sack, before making my way over to the giraffes barn. I slipped twice on the way there and almost dropped her. Her squawks of protest were drowned out by the sound of the rain bouncing off the barns corrugated roof.

I squinted through the deluge, into the barn. The giraffes were hidden from view. I gave a yelp of excitement as I made out a protruding section of hind leg.

“Oooh! Look Lily! See the Giraffe!” I squeaked, shivering as cold water dripped down my back.

Lily took a deep breath and started to howl.

“WET!” she screamed, arching her back and kicking wildly.

A gust of wind blew the bin liner away and she grunted in shock as the rain soaked her hair.

“DADDY!” she shrieked. “WANT DADDY!”

As I plunged back across the grass which was by now, muddier than the Glutton’s Circle in Dante’s Inferno, I noticed a gang of youths under a shelter, openly laughing at me. I scowled at them and carried on.

I got pack into the car, panting and shivering.

“I can see your bra.” Said Jasper helpfully.

I looked down. My black bra was indeed plainly visible through the almost sheer, soaking wet material. My painfully erect nipples protruded boldly through the fabric.

“Never mind.” I said through gritted teeth, reversing the car back onto the road.

“You are now entering the zebra paddock. These fascinating creatures are herd animals. ” Intoned the presenter.

There was not a zebra in sight.

“Look at the Zebra’s Lily, aren’t they nice?” said Jasper.

Lily peered out into the damp gloominess of the deserted paddock, and slumped back into her chair with a bored sigh.

“This is fun isn’t it Lily?” asked Jasper in a nauseatingly enthusiastic tone of voice, which was, I presumed, intended to be an impersonation of me.

“Shut Up.” I sighed.

We continued winding our way through empty stretches of grass land, until we reached Monkey Jungle. I felt dizzy with excitement as we pulled up in front of the huge double gates.

“Thank God it’s raining. Hopefully the little fuckers will all be up a tree.” Said Jasper

“Fuckers. FUCKERS!” said Lily.

“Well done Jasper.” I said tartly.

Jasper turned in his seat and looked at Lily. “No darling, you mu –“

“Fuckers.” Said Lily happily.

We edged towards the gates, which were festooned with the detritus of the Monkey’s previous acts of vandalism. A plethora of hub caps, windscreen wipers, roof racks, pieces of car bonnet, number plates; they were all up there. The Simian Equivalent of heads on sticks at the gateway to a kingdom, and a sobering testimony to their rampant appetite for destruction.

Much to Jasper’s dismay, the little fuckers were not sheltering up a tree. Clearly unperturbed by the torrential down pour, they were mooching about quite happily. A gang of juveniles watched our progress with bored expressions.

I had lifted Lily out of her car seat and put her on Jasper’s lap so she could observe them closely.

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open with astonishment, as a mother with a baby hanging upside down from her stomach, strolled out and sat in front of the car.

“Quick, get the bananas!” I hissed excitedly.

“Wassat?” Lily asked in an awed voice.

“It’s a monkey darling!” I told her,

“Monkey!” she whispered.

The Mother strolled towards the car and momentarily disappeared from View.

Lily’s crestfallen expression turned to horror as she suddenly reappeared on the bonnet and peered through the windscreen at us, her wizened little face alight with curiousity.

Lily gave a shout of fright. “Go away!” she screamed, head butting Jasper in her desperate attempt to turn round and scrabble between the seats into the back.

The monkey looked on impassively and scratched absently at its stomach.

Having managed to calm Lily down, and reassure her that the monkeys weren’t dangerous, she grudgingly consented to sit on my knee, although I noticed that she clutched her Barbie doll so tightly that her knuckles shone white through the skin.

After a few minutes, she relaxed, and having ascertained that there weren’t any rangers in the immediate vicinity, I wound down my window and opened the first bag of bananas. The Monkey’s eyes lit up as it spotted it’s favourite grub. It gave a small chirrup of recognition as it edged round to the window, snatched the proffered treat and stuffed it in its mouth whole.

Lily whooped with delight and clapped her hands.

The other monkeys noticed and came scampering over, chattering excitedly. Soon, the car was swarming with monkeys, all pressing their little faces to the window, as they waited impatiently for their bit of banana. It was all going swimmingly until the arrival of an Alpha male. Instantly the rest of the monkeys scattered to make way for him, as he hopped up and glared menacingly in at us.

He snatched his banana and ate it on the bonnet of the car, watching us appraisingly. Something pink and shiny appeared in his fur. A few seconds passed before I realised that it was his penis.

“Willy!” Lily shouted. “Willy! Willy! Willy!”

Still chomping, and never taking his eyes off me for a second, the Monkey grabbed hold of his erect member and with an expertise borne of long practise began to pleasure himself with long, measured strokes.

“Well this is nice.” Said Jasper.

“Wassit doing?” Lily asked.

“Spunky Jungle.” I sniggered.

Jasper tittered despite himself. The Monkey carried on, faster now.

“Get it off the car, Lily shouldn’t be watching that.” He said in a serious voice.

I turned the wind screen wipers on. The monkey leant forward, grabbed them, and wrenched them off before resuming his wank.

“Fucking hell! Little bastard!” Jasper exploded. He banged on the windscreen and waved his arms.

“Get off the car you dirty little fucker!” he yelled.

“Please darling, mind your language.”

“Fuck my language. Get that fucker off the car!” he bellowed, puce with rage.

Other cars had stopped to have a look. People were pointing and laughing. People were recording the spectacle on phones and cam corders. I slumped down in my seat, utterly mortified, as the depraved ape pushed himself towards the brink.

Lily peered closer, fascinated.

“Drive off fast and then brake!” barked Jasper.

“How? We’re trapped!” I hissed.

There was no way out. We were effectively surrounded on all sides by spectators.

“It’s going to spunk on the windscreen! Put the washers on!” he spluttered.

I did as he asked. Nothing happened

The monkey was reaching his climax. His long tongue had slipped out and his eyes had glazed over with erotic pleasure.

“He’s wanking over you.” Said Jasper.

“Erm, yes, I can see that.”

He shot me an accusing look.

“It’s not my bloody fault!” I shouted.

“Your nipples are on show.”

“Oh FOR God’s sake!”

Suddenly the monkey made a strange chattering sound and went rigid. I grabbed Lily and covered her eyes, just before it ejaculated liberally all over the windscreen. The people in the other cars were going ballistic. My face was on fire as the wretched animal jumped down and sauntered off.

“Get that stuff off the windscreen.” Jasper ordered.


“Put the wipers on.”

“I can’t. It broke them.”

Jasper made an undecipherable noise and covered his face with his hands.

The show was over. Gradually the cars dispersed, and we were made our ignominious way to the exit. We passed two rangers in a jeep, who smirked as we drove past with our semen splattered wind screen.

The whole experience left us feeling slightly dazed, and we decided to drive to Longleat house for a restoring cup of tea in the basement café. I queued up with Lily and Jasper went to sit down. His rage had given way to shock. He looked pale and shaken. I felt strangely violated.

An enormous American woman was trying to squeeze her elephantine proportions into one of the narrow seats. Her husband, a vertically challenged ineffectual man who was sporting a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to grow a beard, was looking on dispassionately at his wife’s cumbersome attempts.

“They make seats so small over here!” she whined, grunting and straining. Finally, she was wedged firmly in. With a sigh of relief, she shook the rain off her sou wester, covering Lily with water.

“Awww, I’m so sorry honey! Aw you are such a cutie pie!”

Lily stared mutinously up at her.

“Silly cow.” She said crossly.

The woman recoiled in shock and put her hand to her chest in dismay.

“I’m terribly sorry. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” I grovelled.

“Fat!” Lily said accusingly, pointing at the womans straining gut.”

“Oh God, I’m really very sorry.” I whimpered.

“Lily. Say sorry. SAY SORRY NOW!”

“FAT!” said Lily stoutly.

I abandoned the pot of tea I had ordered, grabbed Lily’s hand and shuffled towards the exit, the second time that I had left somewhere burning with mortification.

Jasper had already made a furtive escape, and was outside in the cloisters, puffing furiously on a cigarette.

Lily smiled up at us angelically and took hold of our hands.

“Well that was a fun day.” I said with a rueful smile.

“Definitely a day to remember.” He replied, giving me a hug.

“Next time, we’ll go to Peppa Pig World.”

I nodded in agreement and giggled.

He took my hand. “Shall we go home?”

“Yes, let’s go home……”

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Monkey Jungle here we come.

Ever since Lily turned One, I have been longing to take her to Longleat Safari Park to show her all the animals.

Much to my frustration, a devastating outbreak of Monkey Genital Herpes forced the closure of Monkey Jungle to the visiting Public for over two years, preventing our greatly anticipated trip. After all, what is the point of visiting a Safari Park if you can’t get in amongst the Monkeys?

For months, I have been sporadically checking Longleats website for news of the re-opening. I grew increasingly dis-heartened to be repeatedly informed that the hapless residents of Monkey Jungle were still strictly off limits due to their prolonged venereal disease.

I had all but given up, when one day, I was flicking absent mindedly through the Daily Mail, when I came across a picture of an old car swarming with monkeys, beneath the head line “LONGLEAT MONKEY ENCLOSURE OPEN AGAIN AFTER 2 YEARS!”

To say I was excited is an epic understatement. I almost choked on my tea at the sight of them scuttling all over the car, gleefully perpetrating acts of childish vandalism .

Having been bored witless for 24 months, deprived of the entertainment provided by the almost permanent stream of visitors through their enclosure, the head keeper deemed it wise to present them with a dummy car, on which to release their pent up excitement and adrenaline, thus ensuring that the novelty of flagrant vandalism had diminished sufficiently, by the time the first member of the public entered their Kingdom. They were clearly beside themselves with glee. Their funny little faces remained incongruously solemn as they snapped off ariels, ran off with hub caps and wrenched off bumpers and played tug o war with windscreen wipers.

What characters! I couldn’t wait for Lily to see them at close quarters. I excitedly pushed the newspaper in front of her and waited for her reaction.

“Oh dear!” she said in a shocked voice, pointing at a juvenile monkey , who was scampering away from the car wreck clutching a wing mirror in one hand, and bowling a hub cap along in front of him with the other.

She looked up at me uncertainly.

“Funny Monkeys!” I giggled.

She tittered, and peered in fascination at the bunch of gimlet eyed hooligans.

“Monkey Jungle’s open!” I told Jasper excitedly as he came in for breakfast.

“Oh Christ. “ Was his gloomy reply.

I stoically ignored his expression of poe face resignation as he came and peered at the scene of carnage.

“I thought they all had Gonorrhea.”

“They had herpes, but they’re fully recovered now and are open for visitors. We could go tomorrow. You’ve got the afternoon off. ”

He failed to suppress a look of fleeting panic.

“I can’t, I’m straw hauling.” He blurted.

“No you’re not. The Contractor’s coming in. He called this morning.” I said triumphantly.

“Okay, but we’re not driving into Monkey Jungle. Look what the little bastards have done to that Volvo.” He said grimly.

“Bastards.” Said Lily, looking pleased with herself. She clapped her hands delightedly.

“Monkey Bastards!” she hooted.

I pulled a morose face. “No darling. Daddy says Lily can’t see the monkeys.” I told her in a profoundly sad tone.

Instantly, Lily turned around and stared at Jasper with a heart rending expression of bewildered devastation.

“Monkeys!” she whispered pleadingly, her big blue eyes brimming with tears as she gazed up at him beseechingly.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see him scowling furiously at me.

Lily’s little hands reached out to him in supplication.

“Please Daddy! Monkeys!” she gulped.

“I wuv you!” she added shamelessly, and burst into tears.

Instantly, Jasper scooped her into his arms, and I marvelled for the millionth time at her astounding ability to play him like a fiddle.

“There there my little angel, of course you can see the monkeys.” He said soothingly, as she clasped her hands round his neck and snivelled pathetically into his jumper.

I stifled a snort of derision.

Two seconds later, she looked over his shoulder and shot me a conspiratorial smirk.

I gave her the thumbs up.

Monkey Jungle, here we come.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Eviction

I have just waved goodbye to two of the most delightful Bed and Breakfast guests I have ever accommodated. They were charming , appreciative and told me , as they left, that our home was the nicest place they had ever stayed at, and that the evening meals were “superb”.

Given that I have recently had the misfortune to host a deeply unpleasant pair of sour faced cretins, I found their kind words tremendously cheering; a tonic to my flagging spirits.

Jasper has no truck with unpleasant house guests, and has recently adopted a zero tolerance approach to rudeness. At the first whiff of animosity, the first inkling of a prickly or fussy personality, he politely tells them that if they don’t like it here, they are free to leave.

It is a sensible rule, and one that he enforced with surprising alacrity, shortly after the arrival of Mr and Mrs Blackiston, who booked in for a weekend break a fortnight ago to celebrate Mr Blackistons Birthday.

They seemed pleasant enough when they arrived. I had put a huge bunch of Roses in the bedroom window, made the big brass bed up with the best White Company Linen, and a tin of home made shortbread on each bedside table.

When they arrived, I showed them into their private drawing room, where they made themselves comfortable in front of the roaring fire while I made them a Pot of tea and bought in a Victoria Sponge which I had made that morning. I spent 10 minutes chatting to them about the usual subjects; the history of the house, the weather, the farm, the cows etc, before I excused myself and started to make their evening meal.

When the Blackistons booked, they expressed a fondness for fish, so I bought two juicy Salmon fillets from Waitrose which I cooked in a parcel of white wine, butter and parsley. I made a velvety hollandaise sauce and served it with jersey royal new potatoes, chantenay carrots and steamed asparagus. Marcus, a friend, was there when I served it up. “That looks fantastic. Lucky sods. ” he commented as I carried the plates through to the dining room.

Mr Blackiston was perusing the bookshelves when I entered. I noticed that he was peering over the rim of his spectacles reading the back cover of Martin Amis’s iconic novel Dead Babies.

I attributed his disapproving expression to the description of the characters being blitzed on drugs during an orgiastic weekend romp, in which they “reel in a hallucinatory haze of sex, acid and porn.”

Mrs Blackiston was looking at a Hunting print on the wall. A charming depiction of our local pack of hounds moving off from nearby Plumber Manor. As she turned to sit down, I noticed that her eyes had assumed a flintiness, and I shook off a feeling of vague unease.

Mr Blackiston put the Amis novel back on the shelf and wiped his hands on his trousers as though he had just picked up a dog turd. I noticed his library book on the coffee table “Steam Engines through the ages”.

He came and sat down at the table, I poured them both a glass of Sancerre and left them to enjoy their meal. I glanced back before I left the room. Mr Blackistons mouth was puckered up like a dogs bottom and he was staring absently at his plate. I told myself that he was probably supressing a fart, and thought nothing else of it.

When I went back in twenty minutes later, Mr Blackiston was nowhere to be seen, and Mrs Blackiston was sitting with her hands in her lap and wearing a prim expression. She didn’t return my smile, or comment as I took her empty plate away.

The atmosphere had altered perceptibly. It felt oppressive and strained. I hesitated uncertainly.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” I asked.

“Not really, no.” she said with a tight smile.

My jaw dropped open.

“No? Oh. Can I ask why not?” I said, staring with bewilderment at the empty plates.

“I don’t like asparagus. I find it most unpleasant.” Said Mrs Blackiston.

“Well you didn’t have to eat it. Did you enjoy the rest of it?”

Mrs Blackiston shook her head and pulled her cardigan protectively around herself.

I was baffled. It was utterly surreal. I was standing in front of a woman who was telling me that she didn’t like my food, yet had devoured every single morsel. I looked around for a doggy bag. Then I heard the loo flush in their en-suite, and wondered if Mr Blackiston had disposed of it that way. I had a sudden image of him trying to poke a salmon fillet and carrots round the s bend with a bog brush. I felt myself growing hot with mortification and confusion.

“Would you like your pudding now?” I asked her.

She nodded, avoiding eye contact, and I walked back into the kitchen.

“Empty plates. Good sign.” Said Marcus.

I shook my head and bit my lip to stop myself crying.

“What’s that matter? Are you okay?” he asked.

“They didn’t like it. They didn’t like any of it.”

Marcus looked like he’d swallowed a pigeon.

“What? What do you mean they didn’t like it? Don’t be silly. Look at their empty plates.”

“She told me they didn’t like it.” I said, taking a fortifying swig of gin and tonic.

“Arseholes!” said Marcus eloquently. “Shall I have a word?”

“No! Please don’t! ” I shouted In alarm. I have seen Marcus have a word before at a Hunt Ball. The man he was having a word with was dropped head first off a balcony into a rose bed.

I grimly dished up the pudding , took a deep breath, and carried the bowls through to the dining room. Mr Blackiston was standing whispering to his Wife. He turned around when I came in, drew himself up to his full height and glared at me. His expression of defensive hostility stopped me in my tracks. I stood there like a rabbit in headlights, clutching two steaming bowls of plum and apple crumble .

Before I had a chance to speak, he pushed his glasses up his nose and said “We’re not happy with what you gave us for supper. You advertise an Award winning evening meal, and that was clearly not. We’re very disappointed.”

I was lost for words. I stood there gaping idiotically at him.

After an awkward silence I managed to speak.

“What was wrong with it?”

“My Son is a Michelin Starred Chef, and I can tell you, the meal you just served is not worthy of an Award.”

“I’m not a Michelin starred chef, and I have never professed to be. The Meal Award was presented by the Tourist board, and with all due respect, you’re the only people who have ever complained.”

I could hear Marcus growling on the other side of the door, and dearly hoped that he wasn’t about to barge in and have one of his words.

At that moment, I heard Jasper come in through the back door. After a brief muffled discussion with Marcus, the door opened and he strode into the dining room.

“Good evening.” He smiled, shaking their hands. “Is there a problem?”

“Mr and Mrs Blackiston didn’t like their meal.” I told him, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.

“Oh, I see. What part of it didn’t you like?” he asked them in a pleasant voice.

Mr Blackiston coughed nervously. Mrs Blackiston was fiddling with her napkin.

Neither of them replied.

“They don’t think it was worthy of the Meal Award.” I whispered, brushing a tear away. I felt giddy with embarrassment and shame.

“Really?” Jasper said, looking at their sullen faces. “You did well to clear your plates then didn’t you?” he asked them with an affable smile.

“Excuse me .” He said, and disappeared up the stairs, leaving me with the poe faced horrors.

“We won’t be wanting dessert.” drawled Mr Blackiston, peering gingerly at the home made crumble with ill concealed disgust. You would have thought I had presented them with two tureens of steaming cat turd.

He tossed his napkin contemptuously on the table and strolled out into the back garden, followed by his prune faced wife.

I trailed feebly after them. “Would you like some coffee?” I croaked.

“I suppose so. We’ll take it out here.” He replied, gesturing to the table and chairs.

“We’ll have to stay here tonight, and look for alternative accommodation in the morning. It’s too late to leave now. I don’t want to drive round these lanes in the dark.”

We all jumped at a voice from above.

“You should have thought of that before you insulted my Wife.” Shouted Jasper.

We all looked up. He was leaning out of the landing window, looking thunderous.

He retreated. There was a brief moment of confusion, before a black microlite suitcase came hurtling out of the window like an exocet missile, shortly followed by a tartan dressing gown, two pairs of sheepskin slippers, a wash bag, a Catherine Cookson paperback, and a tube of Steradent, which Bandit promptly seized and trotted off with. Most of the things landed just inside the freshly cow manured flower bed. Only Mrs Blackistons cream nylon night gown failed to achieve sufficient velocity, and settled on the porch weather vane where it fluttered coyly in the breeze.

Mr Blackiston was chuntering in outrage , but his anger was dwarfed by the force of Jasper’s cold and measured fury.

“You will not stay here tonight. “ he told them. “ You are disgustingly rude and I want you off my property immediately. My Wife is an outstanding cook, and she served you a delicious meal. You are the ones with the problem. When I come downstairs in five minutes, I want you gone. And don’t ever come back.” He growled, slamming the window shut.

I stood, gawping up at the window, awed by the force of his anger. Given his notoriously passive disposition , witnessing such an undreamt of capacity for rage induced cognitive dissonance. It was like watching the Andrex Puppy turn into a Rottweiler.

Marcus appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking slightly stunned. Mr and Mrs Blackiston, looking suitably shamed, were scurrying about in the border, brushing pungent brown clods off their belongings.

Marcus was for once, lost for words as he used a long piece of bamboo cane to retrieve the nightgown from the weather vane.

In less than 2 minutes they had thrown their soiled belongings unceremoniously into the boot of the car, written a cheque for the evening meal and were reversing rapidly down the drive.

Jasper appeared and put his arm around me.

Marcus let out a slow whistle as he uncorked a bottle of wine.

“Fair play mate. You were awesome. The part when the suitcase came flying out….” He smiled into the distance, re-living the moment with evident relish.

We sat outside in the fading light, drinking wine, discussing the awful pair and voicing pity for the next person unfortuneate enough to welcome them into their home.

The phone rang. “Hopefully everywhere will be fully booked and they’ll have to stay at Sherborne Travel Lodge.” I said, as I went to answer it.

It was Jasper’s Mother, calling to ask us to dinner the following night. She sounded anxious. Having agreed and arranged to be there at 7pm, she gave a sigh of relief.

“Oh Thank goodness for that. Some Bed and Breakfast guests have just turned up you see, and they want an evening meal tomorrow night. Very odd couple. We can’t warm to them at all so we’d rather not have to sit round a table on our own with them.”

“What are their names?” I asked faintly.

“Oh, you won’t know them, they just turned up out of the blue. Mr and Mrs Blackiston….”