I was about to search the baskets of the Bedlington terriers in pursuit of an old bone to suck when the lady wife threw open the door and said:
“You have a visitor. And would you please remove that gilbert dangling from your moustache.”
I did so immediately and into the room was ushered Miss Roebuck of the dog biscuit shop.
The lady wife glared at us.
“If you’re thinking of hanky panky, I beg you to think of that fine old English precept which has kept this nation pure and great over the centuries of our stirring history – do it out of sight of the dogs.”
She slammed the door behind her.
Miss Roebuck blushed.
I am bound to confess that to this very day I am still not certain as to Miss Roebuck’s comprehension of my true marital state.
I am a happily married man.
My wife is everything a man could desire in a consort – she is an avid member of the Folio Society and has been on many of their coach trips to the seaside, she knows how to work the new electric kettle and is a more than competent fielder in the leg trap.
Yet on this morning Miss Roebuck had obviously and patently made an effort.
She was dressed in a brand new pink angora twin-set and a kilt of the Black Watch tartan.
She wore a diamanté brooch in the shape of Mr Richie Benaud’s mouth.
She had applied a brand new dressing of Polyfilla to the acne spots on her chin, her eyelids fluttered free and painted behind her rimless spectacles and she had doused herself liberally with after shave lotion.
“Shall we go for a walk?” she said. “I’ve put my flatties on special.”
Tales from Witney Scrotum was Peter Tinniswood’s eleventh book in only seven years, and the seventh of these to feature The Brigadier. As such, there’s again not much to say about it, except that the book is about the Brigadier and not by him. For the most part it is narrated by Tinniswood, in propria persona, in his capacity as official scribe of the Bi-Centenary.
Because the conceit of this slim volume, published in the year of the MCC’s 200th Anniversary, is that Tinniswood – usually addressed openly as Vileness, or occasionally Emaciated – has been instructed to cover the year of the celebrations of the Bi-Centenary of Witney Scrotum Cricket Club. Which is actually older than the MCC due to a stationery oversight not rectified for forty years.
So Tinniswood comes down to Witney Scrotum, sleeping on an uncomfortable camp bed in freezing condition with nothing but a half-sucked zube, concealed in the ticket pocket of his thermal blazer against such an exigency. He mingles with the Brigadier, takes in the minutiae of villge life in this hidden Somerset village with its… unusual… but strangely familiar inhabitants as they prepare for the arrival of the hairy and unwashed Australians for the great day.
Though the book is only 125 pages in length, that’s still too many to stick with the theme throughout, and we get diversions on such subjects of the MCC Mole, the despairing life of Phil Edmonds, married as he is to ‘that woman’ and Tinniswood’s thoughts upon his own Half Century.
It’s more of the same, dense with puns, allusions and deliberate misunderstandings, and as usual Tinniswood is sharp and crafty. He’s built an entire world up and the characters of his, or rather the Brigadier’s imagination, are consistent components of it, sketched caricatures that remain faithful at all times to their designation, and which are brilliantly painted by reference to the originals.
But this is the seventh time, in as many years, and the twists are but small ones that do little to conceal that this Universe has fixed and ultimately narrow boundaries, that are incapable of breach or expansion.
There would be no Tinniswood book in 1988, and the gaps between books would begin to expand, with only five more yet to be published over the next decade. What expanded to fill their place was work for radio. Tinniswood was already established on Radio 4, but from this point his work would begin to proliferate. He would be a stable component of the Radio 4 schedules throughout the Nineties.
The effect of this new phase of his career would begin to show when he next returned to print.