Simon's Blog - Life in a country castle
I'm not sentimental about animals. They really need to have a defined purpose to find a place in my affections. Our Labrador is, albeit nominally, a gun dog although her lack of talent for fetching and returning is matched only by my inability to hit a moving target at any range. Our cat does catch mice, the hens lay eggs and the pigs will be bacon. So, I have little time for our daughter, Emily's rabbit and guinea pig. Far too many rabbits digging up the garden already and frankly, what is a guinea pig anyway? Apparently they eat them in Peru but Emily found that piece of knowledge too much to swallow if you'll forgive the pun. I can't bear to tell her that her Godfather, whom she worships, spent time with the catholic church in Peru and dined on the creatures nightly. I've pressed him for a recipe but he is reticent to oblige as I think he suspects my motives.
In terms of maintenance these two creatures demand more time than all our other productive livestock put together once you've factored in time spent catching them following an audacious escape attempt during hutch cleaning, hooking them out from under the bed and once, against my better judgement as I was all for letting the natural order take it's course, wrestling the guinea pig from the jaws of a visiting Jack Russell. But, they are part of our life as I am a sucker when it comes to indulging my daughter's fancies. And so it is that we find ourselves ready to go out to lunch and keen not to be late for one of Miss Worth's pre-luncheon sherry receptions at The Old Rectory in the next village when there is a howl from the garden. Molly the guinea pig is dead. Still warm but definitely dead.
Happily Emily is a very stoic eight year old and after she has recovered from her initial indignation that a guinea pig should have the temerity to die announces that there must be a funeral immediately. It's November, the ground is frozen solid and I explain that we really don't have time before lunch and that Miss Worth wouldn't understand if we were late. She seems to take this all surprisingly well and agrees that Molly will come to no harm lying in a shoe box until teatime. Miss Worth is of the old school. She wears hats: a church hat, a hat for the shops and one for the WI. They are not interchangeable. She issues written invitations to luncheon and tea and expects the same courtesy in return. Any modern form of communication would be unacceptable. The telephone, she says is for emergencies only and not for idle correspondence. But while she may seem formidable, children always seem strangely drawn to her.
We arrive a few minutes late (Emily had forgotten something at the last minute) but decide it easier to weather the look of disapproval that to explain the reason for our delay. I had suggested flipantly to Wendy we might text ahead with an outline of the incident. But we thought better of declaring in txt shorthand, Guinea Pig (GP) croaked (XX), keep sherry (SHZA) on ice (err... ICE). CU L8R. Of course not a word is said on our arrival, sherry is served (warm) and we are soon being seated for lunch.
There are thirteen of us for lunch and, being a superstitious old sort, Miss W has laid a fourteenth place at which she has seated a rather moth eaten old teddy bear. Emily makes a bee line for the teddy and sitting in the place next to it, starts to engage it in conversation. Anyone who knows Em will would not bat an eyelid at this. But then, quite suddenly and noiselessly the reason for her last minute dash from the car as we left home becomes clear. From where I cannot say, she produces the corpse of Molly the guinea pig which she lays beside the teddy at the table. Richard, a rather rotund country solicitor who is sitting next to me, and having arrived in good time to tank up on the sherry, simply exclaims, 'By God there's a stiff on the table.' But Miss Worth ignores the whole episode and it is clear we are to carry on as normal. Emily, oblivious to the effect of her unannounced introduction to the table continues a three way conversation with Teddy and Molly.
The rest of the afternoon passes in a haze and it is with relief that we return home to find the ground sufficiently thawed to dig a shallow grave. My daughter is happy to lay Molly to rest and produces the body wrapped in a handkerchief monogrammed with the initials HW. 'Miss Worth gave this to me before we left,' she says, 'she said it would help Molly sleep better underground.'