Earlier this week, Chris and I went down to Norfolk for a few days spending time with some long-standing friends. It was great to catch up, suitably socially distanced of course, and we are all doing well despite Covid, which is excellent. Two of the friends were responsible for Chris and I getting together, although M swears she wasn’t matchmaking. It just seems a bit suspicious that the two of us were the only guests at that dinner party nearly 30 years ago…..
Our return journey in the car takes us across Norfolk and up the length of Lincolnshire to the Humber Bridge. It’s a journey we have done quite a few times over the years since M and K moved to Norfolk. One of the things that has always tickled my funnybone is some of the names of the villages we pass en route. To me they read like characters in a Victorian melodrama, something set in a ramshackle country house somewhere. So I started inventing characters…..
For example, just off the A15 not far from Sleaford, lies Brigadier-General Sir Boothby Graffoe (Retd). A widowed military gentleman with a large moustache and something of an embonpoint, who comes across as rather stern but is actually rather likeable on better acquaintance. I think he owns the country house, and is hosting a weekend party to try and get his daughter (and heiress) into a little more society – except that he has mainly invited people of his generation, so she is rather bored. I think his daughter ought to be called Matilda Jane.
One of the guests is Miss Amelia Stanton-Morley (near Norwich!), who is a distant cousin of the Brigadier, and has been asked to be Matilda Jane’s chaperone. Matilda (and her father) thinks she is a staid and sensible blue-stocking, but she has a secret rebellious streak, a bloomer outfit at the back of her wardrobe and a bicycle in the stables. She and Matilda will hit it off enormously once the brigadier leaves them alone together.
Another of the Brigadier’s guests is Mrs. Maud Bracebridge-Heath, an elderly widow whose husband died under mysterious circumstances. She has designs on the Brigadier’s fortune, so she doesn’t want Matilda to marry. Instead she wants to marry the brigadier herself.
Then we have Bishop Norton (both the last two are near Lincoln). He is a slightly sinister ecclesiastical gentleman, who seems to be encouraging Matilda to take the veil. He is actually an imposter, and has designs on her himself, intending to carry her off to Gretna.
Not quite on the direct route, but also near Lincoln, is Norton Disney. He is a large, loud, American tycoon, probably manufacturing something fairly dubious. He looks like a gangster in a posh suit, but is actually very shrewd and can read the other guests like a book. He is visiting the brigadier because he wants his son to marry into the English gentry, but the son has done a runner because he is actually more interested in a (male) friend he met at University.
Terrington St-John, known as Terry, (near Kings Lynn) is a younger son of minor English Aristocracy, who has been invited to ‘meet’ Matilda. He is actually the friend that Norton’s son met at Oxford…..
Quadring Eaudyke (Yes, honest, it’s near Boston!) is a French Émigré, of dubious provenance and no fortune, but is passionately in love with Matilda since they met at Brighton last summer. He knows he has no chance because of his poverty, but cannot keep away.
It has always amused me that we pass a turning to a village called Penny Hill, because I have an old embroidery friend who is called Penny Hill. However, if she will forgive me, she will actually fit beautifully into my scenario as the quiet ‘Miss Marple’ type sitting in the corner with her needlework, seemingly absorbed, but actually observing everything and everybody, and solving the mystery in no time flat. She is actually a writer of horror fantasy novels. The Mrs Penelope Mysteries series, perhaps….
And finally we have Tydd Gote (near Long Sutton). I’m not sure about him. Chris tells me ‘Tydd’ means something in Welsh, but I can’t decide if he is an elderly and gnarled Welsh gardener, who everyone overlooks, but is actually Mrs Penelope’s greatest ally, or a younger hunk with serious abs, who is actually the son of a Welsh aristocrat, and is on the lam (I’m not sure why, but his name is Tydwal Gote-Glyndower), who will save the day, and possibly Matilda’s life, and end up marrying her.
Does anyone fancy coming into partnership with me to write this deathless epic? It takes place in a country house deep in the fens, with lots of bogs and dykes nearby where people can go missing, and probably has smugglers, or mysterious fisherman at least, and several inept policeman with very deep Norfolk accents.
The things one does during a long car drive!