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“You are trying my patience a the moment, Jules”, said Adam, standing at the doorway of one of the bathrooms early the following morning “What are you doing up so early? It’s not like you at all”.
“I couldn’t sleep”, said Julian “So I got up to have a bath and what do I find? No bloody hot water!”
“I expect Ransey’s had it all”, Adam began.
“That stove should provide constant hot water”, said Julian “Provided somebody gives it a good poke every 20 minutes. And that’s just the problem isn’t it? You haven’t been doing that!”
“I suppose you want me to sit up all night poking the damn stove?” said Adam, angrily “Or do you want me to work out a shift system, purely so that we have plenty of hot water in case there’s a very slim chance you decide to get up early!”
Ransey emerged from the other bathroom, letting out a generous waft of steam when he opened the door.
“If I’d known you wanted a bath, Julian”, he said, snidely “I’d have left my water in for you!”
“Is this what I’m reduced to now I’m no longer Captain?” said Julian, causing Adam to groan and roll his eyes “Washing in your left-overs?!”
“Look, I need a decent scrub first thing”, said Ransey “I have to go out and do a full day’s work you know. I don’t get to lounge around in my pyjamas all day, smoking cigars and having sex! Much as I would like to!”
“Would you?” said Adam, in astonishment.
“Oh take no notice of him”, said Julian “He wouldn’t know where to start!”
“Shut up, Jules”, said Adam “And go back up to your room. It feels positively bizarre having you around at this hour! Ransey, old love, I’ll go down and make you some breakfast”.
“Just make it a bacon sandwich”, said Ransey “I haven’t got time for anything else. I’ll have to eat it on the hoof”.
“The town might fall down if you’re a few minutes late!” said Julian, sarcastically.
Adam rebuked him again. Julian retaliated by snapping at Farnol and Rumble, who had been watching the whole scene from their bed on the landing. As Adam passed Kieran’s bedroom door he saw Tamaz, in his underwear, preening himself in front of the shaving-mirror.
“You’re supposed to be in bed, Freaky”, said Adam “You have flu”.
“Look, look at these stockings”, said Tamaz, croakily, holding up a shapely leg. His black silk stockings sported a huge hole in one foot “That happened just walking down the street the other day!”
Adam chased him into bed and went on down the stairs to the kitchen, where Toppy was ironing a pair of Tamaz’s drawers, taking loving and meticulous care of the fiddly lace trim. Joby and Kieran were both sitting at the table, drinking tea.
“Get the pan on, Joby”, Adam ordered “Ransey will be off shortly. Patsy, clear out of here. You only distract him and hold him up”.
“All this fuss just ‘cos Ransey’s got a job”, Joby tutted, slamming the frying-pan onto the stove “The world ent gonna come to an end if he’s a few minutes late at the office!”
“He doesn’t like being late”, said Adam “He says it sets a bad example to the younger ones, and he does have a point there”.
“You never used to worry about things like that when we worked for you”, said Kieran.
“No, we’d be lucky if you got in before half-past 10!” said Joby.
“Yes well I don’t have Ransey’s diligence”, said Adam “But we have to respect his professionalism”.
“Now you sound like Bardin”,Toppy giggled.
“Concentrate on your work”, said Adam “If you burn Freaky’s knickers we’ll never hear the end of it!”
Ransey burst into the kitchen like a whirlwind, grabbed the bacon sandwich off Joby and prepared to leave. “I’ll send the clowns round with your lunch later”, said Adam “Try not to be too late home, not with goodness knows what lurking out there after dark”.
“And you all be home after dark too”, said Ransey, fiercely.
He went into the hall, looking in at the living-room on the way, where the tree stood waiting to be embellished. He groaned with the frustration of having to be a man of toil instead. There were a number of Christmas cards lying on the doormat. He picked them up and tossed them into the copper-bowl on the table, along with several already there. They would probably stay there, unopened, until it was time to chuck them out on Twelfth Night.
“Do I look interesting and haggard?” said Bengo, inspecting his face in the hall-mirror a few hours later “I should do, after my sleepless night”.
“You didn’t have a sleepless night”, said Bardin, vigorously brushing Bengo’s jacket “I had it for you!”
Adam came into the hall with the basket containing Ransey’s lunch. He instructed them to be home by dark.
“We’ll be home after dropping this off”, said Bardin “We’re going to spend the afternoon entertaining Tamaz”.
They stepped out into the street, which was cool but sunny, reassuringly so after the disturbing gloom of the fog the night before. The Administration Offices were only a short way down the street, just past the Town Hall. Although packed full of people, the building was deathly-quiet when they arrived, giving the impression that Very Serious Work went on here. Ransey’s office was on the first-floor, but the clowns were told to wait in the foyer, until someone could be found who could spare a valuable couple of minutes to show them up there.
“Grim isn’t it?” Bardin whispered, twirling his hat around in his hands, perched next to Bengo on a plastic bench.
“Horrible”, said Bengo, in an awed voice “I’d rather have a dozen pies chucked at me than work here”.
“Course you would”, said Bardin “You can wash the shaving-foam out of your hair afterwards, whereas having to wake up every morning and think you’re coming here … brrgh!”
“No wonder Ransey’s been grumpy lately”, said Bengo.
“I was just thinking”, said Bardin “Perhaps you should put your old cabin-boy costume on to cheer him up!” “Oh what made you remember that thing?” said Bengo, in dismay “I hated that old pirate sketch, I had nothing to do in it”.
“Except look sexy”, said Bardin, surreptitiously pinching Bengo’s thigh “I was telling Julian about it the other day, that’s what reminded me. He got quite turned on at the thought of you in your little striped jersey and those skin-tight breeches, particularly the heart-shaped detachable bum-flap”.
“Don’t remind me”, Bengo sighed “All I had to do was have my arse exposed, and have you pretend to bugger me”.
“I used to get very excited doing that”, said Bardin.
“No you didn’t”, said Bengo, crossly “You’re only saying It now ‘cos we’re married!”
“Honest truth, I did”, said Bardin “You looked so damn sexy”.
“Anyone could look sexy in those breeches”, said Bengo.
“Hoowie couldn’t”, said Bardin “He’s got the worst arse of anyone I’ve ever seen!”
“All flat as a pancake and hairy with it”, Bengo giggled.
“Yeah, revolting”, said Bardin “If we got Finia to run you up an outfit exactly like it, would you wear it for me when we got back to the Bay? It’d make a good fantasy”.
“No hang on, the ruthless brigand is MY fantasy!” said Bengo.
He stopped because a wafer-thin, pale, spotty-faced girl in a grey skirt-suit walked past giving them incredulous looks.
“What the hell was that?” Bardin whispered, after she had gone into a nearby room.
“I’m not sure”, said Bengo “An office-worker I think”.
A minion at last deemed that Ransey could be disturbed long enough to receive his lunch. Bengo went upstairs alone with the basket. He was extremely awed to find Ransey sitting in a glass cubicle at the front of a roomful of workers.
“Hello Bengo”, Ransey looked up from his desk and smiled “I wouldn’t have thought this was your kind of scene at all!”
“It’s eerie”, said Bengo, putting the basket on the desk “Are they ALL doing work out there?”
“Well I hope so!” said Ransey, unpacking the basket “Would you like a sandwich?”
“I-I’m not sure”, said Bengo “Bardy’s waiting downstairs”.
“Good, won’t do him any harm to wait a couple of minutes”, said Ransey “You should always keep Captains in their place. I learnt that when Julian was in charge!”
“What’s in all these files?” said Bengo, through a mouthful of egg-sandwich.
“Very little of any importance”, said Ransey, pouring himself a cup of red wine from the small bottle which Adam had packed for him “Or at least that’s the conclusion I’m rapidly coming to!”
“Who’s he?” said Bengo, nodding in the direction of a young man working in an even smaller glass cubicle next door.
“He’s my assistant”, said Ransey.
“You have an assistant?” Bengo exclaimed, as though Ransey had suddenly achieved godlike status.
“For all the use he is”, Ransey muttered “He’s not much cop to be honest”. “Perhaps you should have me and Bardy as your assistants”, said Bengo “Bardy’s really efficient, and I suppose I could make the tea”.
“You’d certainly liven the place up”, said Ransey “How are you anyway, after all your adventures last night?”
“I’m feeling a lot more calm today”, said Bengo “I’m really glad Julian beat me up!”
Ransey roared with laughter, which caused his assistant to look extremely alarmed.
“No it’s true”, said Bengo, unaware of the hiatus he was causing “Otherwise I’d have just got more and more worked up. Bardy says he’d have done it, but he thought I was too traumatised. He can be really sweet and sensitive sometimes”.
“And Julian never suffers from such ailments!” said Ransey, dryly.
“I’d better let you get back to work”, said Bengo.
“Yes, I guess you’d better”, Ransey sighed, despondently.
After Bengo had gone, Ransey’s assistant came into his office, intrigued by the visitor and the sudden outburst of laughter he had induced in Ransey.
“He’s a clown isn’t he?” said the assistant, contemptuously.
“I have a lot of respect for those little guys”, said Ransey.
“Really?” the assistant looked askance.
“Yes, because they put everything they’ve got into what they do”, said Ransey “They don’t accept any half measures, and often for very little reward. And also, without Bengo’s earning power in the old days, we’d have starved. Mind if I finish my lunch now?”
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have just gone and had a bowl of soup down Persephone’s”, Joby grumbled, as he and Adam walked into the foyer of Myrtle’s hotel.
“I wanted to give you a proper treat”, said Adam “This is the Indigo-ites’ Kitchen Staff Christmas Party when all’s said and done. You and I spend all year cooking for that bunch of ungrateful louts, often in the most primitive of conditions, so we deserve a bit of spoiling, and if we don’t spoil ourselves no one else will! Why are you shivering?”
“’Cos you insisted I had to put my best trousers on”, said Joby “And they’re a lot thinner than me ordinary ones”.
“Why do you keep rubbing your shoe on the back of your leg?” said Adam.
“I dropped ash from the kitchen stove on it and it left a grey mark, it really shows up”, said Joby, glancing nervously into the main posh dining-room “I suspect everyone’s gonna look at it when I walk in there”.
“Well it won’t matter, because we’re not eating in there”, said Adam.
“Eh?” said Joby.
Adam had booked a room for them upstairs, paying over the odds in order to secure it just for the afternoon.
“It’s rather cosy isn’t it?” said Adam, once they were alone in the white-painted bedroom “I must say Myrtle keeps everything scrupulously clean”.
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to have gone to bed at home?” said Joby.
“And not had any privacy?” said Adam “I don’t think so. Anyway, I got the idea in my head that I wanted to repeat the afternoon I had in the Marlsblad Love Suite with Patsy all those years ago, only with you”.
“This isn’t exactly the Marlsblad Love Suite, Ad”, said Joby, looking around him.
“No, but then all that velvet and lace and Gothic decadence suited Patsy, and his Catholic sense of theatricality”, said Adam “Whereas you’re more homely”.
“Yeah?” said Joby, warily, as though expecting a barrage of insults to follow.
“That’s one of the reasons I love you both so much”, said Adam “The contrast you present to one another”.
He lifted up the covers on the food that had been laid out in the room just before they arrived.
“Muffins”, he said, holding out a bowl “Sit down and tuck in. Relax Joby, I just want to give you a good time. I’m not Julian, I’ve left the punishment kit at home”.
“That wouldn’t necessarily stop you”, Joby laughed, sitting in the chair drawn up close to Adam’s.
“Do you know what my favourite film of all time is?” said Adam.
“’Zombie Flesh-Eaters’?” said Joby.
“No! ‘Maurice’”. “Never heard of it”.
“Philistine!” said Adam “I saw it for the first time when I was at a very young and impressionable age, and I had sexual fantasies about it for week afterwards”.
“What’s it about?”
“Well I suppose to put it succinctly it’s a sort of gay version of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. What I would like to do is to play Maurice, the uptight young … yes, alright it will require a bit of imagination! The uptight young toff, who discovers love and sexual fulfilment with Scudder, the under-gamekeeper. Oh Joby, don’t snigger, it’s most hurtful!”
“I can’t help it”, Joby laughed “It sounds more like Ted and Ralph to me! Are you sure you wouldn’t be better off with Hillyard doing it?”
“I can well imagine Hillyard as Mellors”, said Adam, testily “But the character of Scudder is altogether more subtle and not so brutishly robust. Scudder is sensitive and intense, he doesn’t just want to go stuffing his cock into the nearest orifice. Scudder and Maurice have a great and poignant love affair”.
“Alright, don’t get narked”, said Joby “I’ll go along with it for you”.
“I haven’t gotta wear wellies have I? Only I left mine at home”.
“I don’t think we have to be quite so purist about it”, said Adam, tucking into another muffin.
“Does Scudder have a first name?” said Joby “Or doesn’t the uptight young toff ever bother finding it out?”
“He’s called Alec. How does that sound?”
“A vast improvement on Joby! So what do we actually have to do then?”
“Well in the scene I’m thinking of”, said Adam “My character is sleepless in bed, wrestling with his innermost feelings and desires”.
“Does that take long?”
“Sorry. So what do I do then?”
“Scudder climbs in through the bedroom window, via a ladder”.
“A ladder?” Joby exclaimed “I didn’t know I had to use a ladder! I’ve got a lousy head for heights! You’ll have to get one of the clowns to do it”.
“I don’t think Myrtle would be too pleased if we started asking her for the use of a ladder!” said Adam “You can come in through the door, needs must and all that. But come into the room in a furtive fashion, like an intruder. I shall be undressed and in bed, waiting for you”.
“Now I can’t remember exactly what is said. But I lie there, looking thrilled yet anxious with anticipation, and you say, very slyly, ‘I know Sir’”.
“Know what?” said Joby.
“That I’m gay”.
“I should think that’d be bleedin’ obvious by now!”
“It will work, believe me”, said Adam “Scudder isn’t remotely deferential and forelock-tugging, in fact he teaches Maurice a few things about having concern for those less fortunate than himself”.
“Does he?” said Joby “Can we get Julian to play Maurice sometime?!”
“It wouldn’t work”, said Adam “The sensitive aspects of Maurice’s character would be beyond his capabilities!”
Kieran was miffed to be left out of this little pleasure-trip. No amount of telling himself that he wasn’t kitchen-staff, and so didn’t qualify for it, could convince him not to feel jealous. He had always felt this way when Adam and Joby went off and did things without him. During his Presidenting days he had had to put up with it all the time, because he was locked in heavy meetings, whilst his loving Consorts “amused each other” in another part of the Ministry Headquarters.
To try and work off some of his frustration he had gone down to the stables at the bottom of the garden to groom the horses, only to be interrupted by Angel, who had stepped abruptly out of the gloom like a demonic double-glazing salesman.
“I see they’ve gone off and left you alone”, he sneered “Can’t say I’m surprised”. “Sod off”, said Kieran, standing by the flanks of the white stallion.
“I’m paying you my annual Christmas visit”.
“Christmas is 3 days away”.
“I can always come back then as well”, said Angel “I bet you’d like to know what they’re up to at the moment”.
“Have you been spying on them, you little turd?” Kieran exclaimed.
“They didn’t see me”, said Angel “Too preoccupied. Joby having his arse poked and gasping ‘oh sir! Sir!’”
“Sir?” said Kieran, in disbelief “Joby?”
“They’re doing a bit of play-acting”, said Angel, triumphantly “It’d amaze you sometimes what people get up to behind your back that you know nothing about”.
“I don’t like you spying on them, Angel”, said Kieran, crossly “Everyone’s entitled to privacy, particularly at times like that”.
“Oh come down off your high horse, I bet you’d love to know all the gory details”.
“I expect they’ll tell me all about it themselves later”.
“You reckon?” said Angel, sceptically “That’ll be interesting to see won’t it!”
“What are you doing in here, Git-Face?” Hillyard bellowed from the doorway.
“The Devil’s popped round for a spot of mischief-making”, said Kieran, wearily.
“You shouldn’t encourage him”, said Hillyard.
“You think I want him here!” said Kieran.
“Clear out of it, Angel”, said Hillyard.
“Make me, Fat-Gut”, said Angel, sullenly.
Hillyard grabbed a pitchfork which had been resting against the wall and jabbed Angel in the backside with it. Angel screamed like an animal and sprinted out of the building. He vanished halfway across the lawn.
“That’ll give Joby a nice opportunity to say ‘I-told-you-so’”, Kieran sighed “For letting Angel live again”.
“Oh it’s not so bad”, said Hillyard “We don’t get nearly so much trouble out of him as I thought we might”.
“True”, said Kieran “I think he just gets bored, and so likes to liven things up by coming round here and goading me. After all, he hasn’t got much chance to create real evil at the moment. He knows that if he did, I’d tear his focking head off!”
“Yeah well, long as he doesn’t get anymore bright ideas about taking you 2000 years into the future again”.
“He won’t do that”, said Kieran “Although now I wish I’d asked him if he knows anything about that zombie last night, ‘cept chances are I wouldn’t have got a straight answer. You never do out of the Devil when he’s the one holding all the cards!”
“It’s so true that love can hurt sometimes in its intensity”, said Adam, lying on the bed with Joby pressed up close to him “The other morning I overslept and Lo-Lo came to wake me up. And as he spoke to me, in that distinctive voice of his, I looked up at him and I thought how much I loved him, and how there was no one else quite like him around”.
“Bloody good job really ennit!” Joby grunted.
“Ooh bitchy little monster”, said Adam, giving Joby’s naked backside a slap.
“No I know what you mean”, said Joby “Lonts irritatesthe shit out of me sometimes, but I love him too. It’s the way he always means so damn well all the time”.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of him. He’s so completely lacking in cunning or guile. He says exactly what he feels. Doesn’t play silly games”.
“Like Julian used to?”
“Oh I used to handle Julian all wrong. In my youth and innocence I used to try to appeal to his good side all the time”.
Joby laughed, cynically.
“Quite”, said Adam “And of course that only made him worse. You have to be tough with him always, even when he’s being vulnerable. Whereas with Lo-Lo, particularly now he’s all formidable and elder statesman-ish, I can be as weak as I want”.
“He’s been a good brother to me”, said Joby.
“Far better than your own”, Adam pointed out.
“I was just thinking what my own brother would say if he could see me here like this with you!” Joby chuckled “Then again we probably wouldn’t wanna know! I was thinking of him the other day. I was trying to explain to Hillyard what a toga-party was. We had one down our local boozer one Christmas, back in our time of course”.
“And me brother turned up and made a complete prat of himself. He wore no underpants underneath, and kept getting his dick out and flashing it at everyone. The jerk”.
“Your brother sounds quite a boy”.
“Yeah, must make you glad you were an only child!” said Joby “I’m surprised Hillyard hasn’t mentioned the toga-party to you, he was really taken with the idea. Said we should have one Christmas night. I told him we wouldn’t be able to find a bed-sheet big enough to go round him!”
“Oh I think it sounds rather fun”, said Adam, deliciously envisaging Lonts in a toga “And just think of Tamaz in a skimpy little slave-boy toga. He would be perfect for that, with his androgynous looks. Provided he’s got over his cold by then of course”.
“Yeah, toga’s can be pretty draughty”, said Joby, reaching out for his glass of red wine on the bedside table “Particularly round the short and curlies!” “The sun’s setting”, said Adam, looking out at the sky which was turning a deep pink “We’d better get home before it goes completely dark. Had a good time, Scudder?”
“Yes Sir!” Joby laughed.
When they got home they found Tamaz sitting on Hoowie’s back, being carried around the bedroom. Tamaz was wearing a camisole, drawers, stockings, and a honey-coloured fur-hat. He was carrying Julian’s riding-crop and taking random swishes at Hoowie’s naked backside, covering it with lurid red marks. This whole diverting spectacle was being avidly watched by Lonts, Toppy and the clowns.
Joby left Adam to chase Tamaz back into bed and went in search of Kieran. He found him with Hillyard in Mieps’s room, both of them were fascinated because they had found Mieps holding up a bolt of red silk material against himself.
“Did you buy that yourself?” Joby asked.
“I don’t see why Tamaz should be the only one in this house to have nice things”, Mieps pouted.
“No no course not”, said Joby, shaken.
“It’s his feminine side asserting itself”, said Hillyard, grabbing Mieps’s breasts in both hands.
Kieran suddenly grabbed Joby and forcibly bustled him into Adam’s room next door, as being the one nearest to them that was empty.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Joby “You seem a bit tense”.
“Oh I had a visit from Angel this afternoon”, said Kieran “He got up my nose as usual. Hillyard saw him off with the pitchfork”.
“Good for him!” Joby laughed.
“Did you have a good time?” said Kieran.
“Yeah, although I dunno why you ‘re asking me so aggressively”, said Joby.
“I can be curious can’t I?” said Kieran “We’re supposed to be partners after all. I take it you had a private room? What did you get up to?”
“What d’ya think?!” said Joby.
“Did you do anything you haven’t done with me?” said Kieran.
“What did you have in mind?” said Joby, in astonishment.
“Well … um … sort of fantasy role-playing, that kind of thing”, said Kieran, uneasily.
“How did you know that?” Joby blurted out.
“Oh you know”, Kieran shrugged “The old psychic intuition at work”.
“Mm”, Joby looked at him suspiciously “It was just a bit of harmless fun that’s all. He was the toff, and I was the under-gamekeeper. Yeah, go on, piss yourself laughing!”
“No no it sounds great”, said Kieran “Next time, could I join in?”
“What as, the scullery-maid?!”
“I dunno, the Irish poacher you catch in the woods, whatever!” said Kieran “You could be really fierce with me, and then take me up to the big house to be punished”.
“Oh Patsy, what a fantasy that would be!” said Adam, coming in “I’m going to change my clothes. You’d better do the same, Joby. We need to get started on the supper things soon”.
“Back to reality”, Joby sighed.
“I’ll give you a hand”, Kieran lunged at him and tore open his flies, scattering the buttons everywhere.
Joby wrestled him into the nearest arm-chair, and they slapped and pummelled each other, until interrupted by a hand-bell ringing from the floor above.
“Aagh!” Joby cried “It’s his ghost!”
“No it’s far worse than that”, said Adam “He’s still alive! You’d better go up and see what he wants”.
“What?” said Joby, in dismay “With me trousers torn? Why can’t you do it?”
“Because he’ll be as jealous as hell that we had our little adventure this afternoon, and will make my life a misery”, said Adam “I don’t feel like facing him just yet”.
“Then make Kieran go”, said Joby.
“He might want something practical doing”, said Adam, with forced patience “Anyway, whenever Patsy goes up there they embark on long, tedious, philosophical discussions, which usually culminates in them feuding with one another. No, you’ll have to go, and don’t be all night about it either”.
“Don’t forget to call him Sir!” Kieran shouted as Joby went out the door.
“Up yours!” said Joby.
Julian was ringing the handbell even more insistently as Joby climbed the stairs to the top floor.
“WHAT?” Joby roared, kicking the door open.
“I need some more coal putting on the fire”, said Julian, languidly reclining in an armchair.
“I spose it never occurred to you to do it yourself!” said Joby.
“Don’t go bringing any of your Marxist claptrap up here”, said Julian “And why are you clutching yourself like that?”
“Kieran tore the buttons off my trousers”, said Joby.
“Did he indeed?” said Julian, jumping nimbly to his feet and following Joby over to the fireplace.
“Get back!” Joby brandished the shovel at him.
“Had a good time with Auntie Adam did you?” said Julian, leaning on the mantelpiece “Did he buy you a balloon and take you to Santa’s Grotto?”
“Oh belt up, you jealous old faggot”, said Joby, putting the coal on the fire.
Julian then edged him over in the direction of the bed. Joby tried to escape by bounding over it, but Julian grabbed hold of him and pinned him down. He undid Joby’s shirt and then kissed his chest, occasionally glancing at him beguilingly.
“Don’t look at me like that”, Joby groaned.
“Why?” said Julian “And why are you groaning? You’re not going to be sick are you?”
“No, it’s just when you use that look I forget what a mean old bastard you can be”, said Joby.
“Good, keep on forgetting”, Julian kissed his fingers and sucked on the tips of them.
“Actually I feel a bit zonked out, Julian”, said Joby, helplessly “It’s all catching up with me. All that red wine, and it’s so warm in here too”.
He rolled over and promptly fell asleep, leaving Julian to look at him in bewilderment.
“I suppose I’m going to have to get used to you turning up for work in this condition over the next few days”, said Adam, disapprovingly.
“All of it, ALL of it is your fault!” said Joby “You ordered red wine for me …”
“You didn’t have to drink all of it!” said Adam.
“And you sent me up to see Julian with torn trousers”, said Joby “Knowing full well what he’s like!”
“Yes, but I thought you could see him off”, said Adam “You’ve done so loads of times before”.
“Not in the condition I was in”, said Joby “And I tried to remember what you said about being hard with him at all times, but he gave me that look. You know, the ‘please be nice to me, I’m not so bad really’ look”.
“Oh yes, I know it better than anyone”, said Adam, ruefully. He mixed up a hangover potion for him “Now drink this”.
“No I can’t, that stuff’s horrible”, said Joby, pushing it away.
“You’re not supposed to enjoy it!” said Adam, in exasperation “After the pleasure, the pain, and all that. Now don’t drink it in dainty little sips, knock the whole lot back at once. Go on, or do you want me to get you in an armlock and force it down you?”
“Alright alright!” said Joby “Oh God, I hope this isn’t gonna be the pattern for Christmas, me getting into one scrape after another”.
“Don’t be silly, you haven’t got into any scrapes”, said Adam.
Joby knocked back the potion, and promptly spat out some of it into the kitchen-sink.
“You are such a great baby sometimes”, said Adam, flicking through a recipe-book “Now calm down and give me your full attention, or I might consider putting you over my knee and walloping you with the wooden spoon!”
“Don’t do that, I’ve had enough excitement for one day!” said Joby, wiping his mouth and straightening his pinny.
“I’m trying to get new, exciting ideas for Christmas lunch”, said Adam “So I bought this book in town recently”.
“What’s wrong with turkey and all the things?” said Joby “I’ve just got the hang of bread sauce, and you wanna go doing summat else!”
“You can still do bread sauce if you want to”, said Adam, reassuringly “I didn’t realise you had your heart set on it so much! But there are some unusual ideas in here. How about roast goose stuffed with prunes?”
“That sounds disgusting!”
“Yes, I’m rather afraid it does, on reflection”.
“I don’t wanna spend the rest of Christmas Day on the karsey!”
“There’s a complete alternative Christmas menu here. For starters, cockles and mussels”.
“Alive alive-oh!” said Joby “Did Kieran invent this particular menu?”
“Molly Malone’s Christmas menu!” Adam laughed “For the main course we have … oh … bacon and mashed potato”.
“Hardly very festive. We have that sort of thing all the rest of the year!”
“Well I expect it’s done in some wonderfully innovative way”.
“It’d have to be! What’s for afters?”
“Cheese and coffee”.
“Yes, it doesn’t sound very adventurous does it?” said Adam “So much for nouvelle cuisine!”
“Then let’s stick with turkey and plum pudding”, said Joby “You can imagine Ransey’s comments if we served up mashed spud and bacon as Christmas nosh!”
Ransey came home soon after, looking pale and exhausted. He went into the living-room, where Lonts, Toppy and the clowns were putting the finishing touches to the tree. Ransey waded through the sea of tinsel and baubles to get to the drinks cabinet, greeting Finia on his way, who was threading twine through the baubles.
“Had a hard day at the abacus I see”, said Julian, who was now lounging on the sofa, along with Hillyard and Kieran.
“I’d like to see you do a full day’s work in an office”, Ransey snapped, pouring himself a whisky.
“What, and come home looking as wretched as you?” said Julian “No thanks!”
“Cheer up Ranz”, said Hillyard “I’ve got a good joke for you. Julian tried it on with Joby, and Joby fell asleep!”
“That happened today did it?” said Ransey, gloomily “Something else I missed”.
The door flew open and Tamaz, with his trousers on over his drawers, let out a joyous yodel. The younger ones of the gathering greeted him with rapture.
“You’re supposed to be in bed”, said Julian “You’re ill”.
“He’ll be alright down here”, said Bardin “It’s nice and warm here”.
“Bardin says I can stay”, said Tamaz, haughtily “And he’s Captain now, not you”.
“A fact of which I am constantly being made aware”, said Julian.
“Don’t be a loathsome brat, Tamaz”, said Kieran, whacking him on the backside with the book he’d been reading.
Ransey gave Julian a strange look, and then said he was going to the kitchen to see how Adam and Joby were getting on.
“You look the very image of the stressed-out executive at the end of a long day”, said Adam “Exhausted, with a tumbler of whisky in your hand”.
“I am a stressed-out executive at the end of a long day”, said Ransey, sitting down at the table “The walk home in the dark stressed me out more than anything though I think”.
“Then you shouldn’t have come home alone, you silly rabbit”, said Adam “Tomorrow I’ll send Hillyard to fetch you”.
“I’m not a little child!” said Ransey “I don’t need Hillyard picking me up at the school gates!”
“I absolutely insist”, said Adam, firmly. “What’s for dinner?” said Ransey, sulkily.
“Cold meat and pickles”, said Adam “But this isn’t just any old cold meat, as my assistant will now show you. Joby, fetch the ham!”
Joby went into the pantry and returned buckling under the weight o a huge, breaded ham on a plate.
“That is some ham!” said Ransey, taking off his spectacles and peering closely at it.
“Glynis sent it down”, said Joby “One of her prize porkers I expect”.
“You mean Glynis’s Christmas hamper has arrived?” said Ransey “I missed that too!”
“No that’s due to arrive on Christmas Eve”, said Adam.
“This had to come down separately”, said Joby “I expect it needed an air-buggy to itself!”
“I’ll slice you off a bit as a taster”, said Adam.
“Julian seems a bit down at the moment”, said Ransey. “Oh I expect he’s just missing the Bay, like the rest of us”, said Adam.
“No it’s not just that”, said Ransey “He seems as though he’s feeling a bit left out of things, now Bardin is Captain I mean, as though we’re all about to put him out to grass”.
“It’s just transition time that’s all”, said Adam “Christmas night should cheer him up. Hillyard and Joby are planning a Roman orgy”.
“Yes, I can imagine that’ll be right up Julian’s street!” said Ransey.
“You laughed at that!” said Joby, in amazement “Normally you’d be tutting and groaning”.
“I’ve just had a day with a roomful of accounts clerks”, said Ransey “A Roman orgy sounds heaven by comparison, even to me!”
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