There's No Business Like Show Business - Part 2
(Tears Before Bedtime)
Written by Norma Williams - Illustrations: Sadie James
We pay a brief visit to the fastest County Show on Record; George tries his hand at child rearing - but has he met his match? Gilly and Sid enjoy a nice lunch; there's a nasty nip in the air for the Major; and Brian the bird dog arrives with some very peculiar habits. Gordon and Jeremy go shopping, Zanti goes hunting and Mother is completely lost in the woods.
"I could hardly have told you my name. That must be the great hold that hunting has over people, especially stupid people; it forces an absolute concentration both mental and physical." - from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.
All horsey people are superstitious and the day of the county show got off to a very bad start when Mother was attacked by her lucky knickers; They had leapt out of the drawer, gone for her, hissing, and had then shot off down the stairs with George in hot pursuit, whereupon all had vanished into the garden in a cloud of dust.
* * * * * * *
George swore and kicked the coalhouse door, then seeing this would have no effect, pushed his nose underneath.
"Come out you little sods."
"Get lost granddad," said a squeaky voice - it had a Birmingham accent and sounded very young indeed.
"Go and stick your head up a badger's bottom," said another squeaky voice, it then dissolved into piping giggles and said to someone -
"Did you 'ear me? … I said" … it snorted helplessly … "I said … bottom.." There was much unseen merriment from the coalhouse. Another voice said
"Bottom - now I've said it too." This was followed by complete giggly collapse and three juvenile voices chanting, "Bottom, bottom, bottom."
George sat grimly outside. The baby weasels were now about ten weeks old. This is roughly the same as a six-year old human child and there are many similarities. Their behaviour had even appalled George. All they wanted to do at the moment was learn as many rude words as possibly. He tried another tack.
"You want a day out don't you?" he wheedled.
There was a considering silence then a surly voice said, "Might do."
"Give them back, or she won't go."
More silence. Then …
"Teach uth another word, then you can 'ave 'em back."
"I don't know any more," snarled George.
"Yeth you do," piped a voice.
"An' it's got to be bad."
"Ever so bad."
George dragged the suffering undergarment into the kitchen and dropped it on the tiles.
"I can't wear those! Look at the state of them. What on earth have you done to them?"
Jim said that many women of her age would be delighted to have their knickers covered in teeth marks, she ought to consider herself lucky, and if they were going to the Show then they ought to be off, as she'd now lost her last conceivable excuse to back out.
* * * * * * *
George sat on the front seat and glared into the distance. He had failed to take into account that peculiar part of the psyche which turns the female brain to mush at the mention of the word "baby" and he was, for once, being outmanoeuvred.
His charges had lost no time in demonstrating their new vocabulary to the humans.
"Where on earth do they learn words like that!"
"Uncle George taught uth," piped up Diesel Weasel. (Diesel has an annoying lisp.)
"We didn't know it was bad," said Teasel Weasel, opening her eyes wide and making her bottom lip tremble (this is very difficult for a weasel).
"No, we didn't know," echoed Weasel Weasel. "We're only little babies," he added pathetically.
"Well Uncle George has been very naughty."
And the babies all said, "Oooh," and grinned at each other in triumph.
* * * * * * *
Sid and Gilly sat neatly on the back seat with their little rush picnic basket between them. Sid said smugly that he could have told George those Weasels would be nothing but trouble. As George seemed inclined to try and throttle Sid for this little bit of advice, Mother quickly asked what was in the basket. Sid said it was a nice lunch of woodpigeons eggs, and a fillet of field mouse on a bed of fennel and parsley. The basket sneezed and everyone jumped. The mouse must have hay-fever, explained Sid, the fennel was setting it off. Mother opened the basket and saw two bright eyes and a set of smart twitchy whiskers.
"It isn't filleted!!"
"It isn't lunchtime yet."
* * * * * * *
The drive to the show was a bit difficult.
"I can't see the road," complained Jim, "Henry's pervy bats keep getting in the way."
Gordy and Jerrers were hanging from the mirror like two sinister fluffy dice. They had insisted on coming - Gordon wanted to offer sartorial advice to Mother who, he said, had the dress sense of a woodlouse.
"Not the green tie, dearie," he'd said, "not with your complexion." And he'd screamed at the sight of her riding breeches. "Lycra. You shouldn't even dream of lycra at your age… Look at 'er bum in that," he'd said in an aside to Jeremy and Jeremy flapped and twittered in agreement.
"Keep the buggers still or we'll be off the road," roared Jim, "and tell that bloody chicken or whatever it is, to keep its head down."
Barry looked affronted. They shouldn't be going to the show at all, he said, not with Mother in her condition. And he fell into a sulk too.
The only happy member of the party was Sid's Lunch, which was sitting on the dashboard washing its whiskers, thus conclusively proving, once and for all, that ignorance really is bliss.
* * * * * * *
They pulled onto the showground and Mother gave a little whimper of terror. The whole village was there, plus nearly all her horsey pals and absolutely every single one of her enemies. They all looked frozen, but cheered up no end when they saw the Land Rover. The entertainment had arrived.
George managed to give the baby weasels the slip almost as soon as they arrived, he watched them trot off and fervently hoped he'd never see them again. Henry and the bats trotted and flittered respectively to the trade stands - Gordon wanted to check out the latest fashions and the aromatherapy stand.
It soon became obvious that Barry's egg was going to hatch at any minute. It was rocking and twitching and making scratching sounds. It is of course absolutely vital for a baby bird to imprint and identify with the first moving thing it sees after it hatches. It would not have been a good idea for the chick to see either a human or, worse still, a horse. It was time for the proud father to do his duty. The egg was placed in the trailer and Barry was given orders to watch it closely. They did not have to worry said Barry, he was going to be the best father in the history of the whole wide world, and if it was a boy he would call it Brian. They could push off and leave him to it.
Tasteful chamber music was playing over the public address system, this had been arranged by the Vicar's sister Mildred who was determined to raise the tone. She had also acquired a dog, as it was quite obvious that the only passport to social acceptability was an animal. She had paid a vast amount of money for a cocker spaniel which she had called Charles Dickens, who was always referred to by his full name in order to ram home the literary allusion. There had been an instant clash of personalities. Charlesdickens was what you might call a dog's dog. His habits were very dog and some of them were gross. He and Mildred lived together at the Vicarage in an atmosphere of mutual dependency and loathing. He sat morosely by the ringside with a blue bow tied round his neck.
"Morning Charlie," said George.
"Mornin' ferret," said Charlie gloomily.
They watched their respective womenfolk - Mildred was berating Mother for her total lack of interest in the Women's Institute, and the latter was trying to keep an eye on Sid who was creeping up on his hapless lunch which was sitting enjoying the sunshine.
"I 'ate 'er," moaned Charlesdickens bitterly looking at Mildred. "Can't do this, can't do that, can't bloody well do anything." He snuffled at a flea, then continued wistfully, "there's a smashing little collie bitch in our village just coming into season; can I get anywhere near, can I 'eck as like. Can't even wee up a tree without 'er going bloomin' mental."
Mother was now having a violent argument with Sid and was pleading for the life of Lunch to whom she had grown attached.
"What's her problem?" asked Charlesdickens, "why's she trying to steal that stoat's food? Is she mad?"
It was more or less a rhetorical question and George did not dignify it with an answer.
"Gawd 'elp us," said Charlesdickens. Then he cheered up.
"I 'ear your brother's taken up with two poofy bats - all your family that way are they?" He leered.
George was saved the trouble of answering as a fight broke out between Mother and Sid. Sid said that Mother should get her own meals - there was, he added, no Bunnies 'R Us in Bog Wood, nor was there Fieldmice.to.you dot com (this was a scathing reference to Mother's slovenly habit of shopping via the Internet). He could not sit on his bum and wait for his meals to be delivered. Mother was a lazy old cow and should get her own food.
The senior weasels took the opportunity of the row to slip out of the trailer and vanish onto the showground. The fox had had a jolly good feed of sandwiches and was still sleeping it off.
Mildred said wasn't it all just too, too lovely with all these little woodland creatures - just like "Wind in the Willows". The Vicar said doubtfully that it looked more like "Silence of the Lambs" to him - Sid had pounced on Lunch and despatched it with a quick nip to the back of the neck and was now filleting it with quick little snittering motions of his sharp white teeth. Mother gave a howl of anguish and had to be dragged away and pushed onto Zanti.
* * * * * * *
Barry stared glassily at the egg, which was still twitching. Raising a family was very boring her thought. A smell of curry wafted in from the catering tents and he sniffed appreciatively. It was well known, he thought, that you could spend too much time with children it rotted your brains. He sniffed again.
* * * * * * *
Mother had treated George and the babies to a huge hamburger with onions and mustard of which George is particularly fond. He chomped happily on the juicy meat and hoped he'd never see the baby weasels again. That had been his first and last venture into child rearing he thought, never, ever again. Then the public address system crackled into life and the Major's bleaty old sheeps voice said jovially.
"I've got three young - er - persons here, who've lost their Uncle George." He chuckled, there was a squeaky interruption.
"What's that you said young man? Speak up, speak up."
"He'th abandoned uth," said a horribly familiar voice sadly.
George sat bolt upright.
"In the woods," piped up another voice.
George looked round furtively.
"And we're only little babies," said a third voice.
There was a collective "Aaah" from all the women spectators and the Major said sharply, "well your Uncle George must be an absolute rotter."
"Hear, hear," said all the men.
Mother appeared from nowhere and pounced.
"George! How could you? Give me that food and go and fetch those little babies - this minute." She flounced off bearing the hamburger.
George watched her go with an intensely evil expression on his face. He would get her for that. No one took his food away from him and got away with it, he would make her sorry she'd ever been born.
Sid and Gilly watched with interest. Sid said she'd never learnt to see it coming, that was her trouble, there would be Tears Before Bedtime, he added primly. Gilly said, yes, and they all knew whose.
* * * * * * *
It was nearly time for Zanti's bid for glory. Mother sat sickly in the collecting ring. No one spoke to her, except for Horace who strolled past and kindly enquired after her piles.
The background music had noticeably changed during the last hour or so - ever since the Weasels had arrived, in fact. It was now extremely loud and consisted mostly of disco music of the lowest kind. The Birdie Song had been played about 10 times, then most of the works of Abba (Gordon had given a spirited - but totally inaudible, rendering of "Dancing Queen", and had been booed off the stage).
Mambo Number 5, the most annoying tune of all, had now been playing continuously for about 20 minutes. The Major, who was in charge of the music was standing rigid in the middle of his little stage.
"Why's the silly old fool standing to attention?" asked Jim.
"it'th becauth of our Uncle Walter," said Diesel Weasel.
"What's you Uncle Walter got to do with it?"
"He'th down hith trouthers," explained Diesel gleefully.
"An' if he don't play the right music…"
"He'th goin' to nip 'im."
* * * * * * *
Zanti's class began quite well. Even Mother had not fallen off or been sick and all the horses were behaving very nicely - right up until the moment Barry wandered out of the catering tent and flapped onto one of the show jumps to watch. "Don't worry," said Zanti to the other horses, "it's only our Barry." But the other horses did worry, and most of them went berserk. In about five seconds only Mother and two other riders - tough hunting men whom no horse could shift - were still mounted. The other competitors watched as their mounts headed for Cannock Chase at a flat out gallop.
With only three horses left, there was nothing else for it, the Judges had to give Zanti a rosette. Mother's eyes glittered with greed as she reached out for the yellow ribbons. No one could ever be rude to her again, she thought, not now - she'd won third prize at the County Show.
George watched from the ringside, his eyes narrowed as he watched the moment of triumph. It was time to act, he thought. The trick was of course was not to get caught.
Charlesdickens was still droning on.
"You know what I'd really like?"
George couldn't imagine.
"A nice roll in some fox mess," said the dog wistfully. "I did it once," he added, "and then I went 'ome and rolled on 'er carpet. Corblimey, you should 'ave 'eard the bloody fuss…"
George's eyes lit up. It was strange, he thought, how fate so often gave you that little bit of help.
"Funny you should say that," he said smoothly - "See that blue horsebox over there?"
The fox jumped out of the door kindly held for him by Charlesdickens and sat in the sun and had a nice scratch. Then he looked up. Coming right for him were 10 couple of foxhounds, followed by the hunt staff in their best clothes.
What followed was very interesting and extremely fast. The Bog Wood Fox took off like a rocket, with hounds in hot pursuit. They were closely followed by every single horse which was still on the showground and every single exhibit from the dog show. Zanti, who loves hunting, was well in the fore, and Mother was twittering with terror. Soon the showground was completely empty - all that was left of the show was a cloud of dust and a yellow rosette lying in the grass.
George trotted off to find his hamburger.
* * * * * * *
The horsebox smelled beautifully foxy and Charlesdickens had a nice roll, he wriggled and rubbed his scruff into the floor, then got up and shook himself happily. There was an egg in the corner. He sniffed at it. The egg cracked open and a hideous chick popped out, it was wearing eggshell like a horrible wig and its head lolled back and forth.
"Woof," said Charlie, backing away in panic.
The chick focused on him blearily.
"Woo?" it said doubtfully. "Woof, woof??"
Mother and Zanti were soon hopelessly lost on Cannock Chase. They had also parted company, quite violently, at a stream - "You know I don't jump water" - and Mother was soaking wet and very, very hungry. She had clambered back onto Zanti, who was hopelessly excited. All horses knew, she said that there were bears on the Chase - "Big brown buggers," - a Welsh cob in the next village had told her. She began to snort and buck.
"There's one, there's one!"
"It's a litter bin, not a bear - it's got "Staffordshire County Council" written on it."
"That's the worst sort."
"I'll die soon if I don't have some food."
"Try some grass, it's jolly good."
* * * * * * *
The family was finally reunited by a call from Stafford Police Station at midnight. Mother had been found scavenging for food in the litter bin and had been arrested for vagrancy. She had also assaulted a police officer. He had asked her how old she was and had been kicked violently on the shins for his trouble. There was also a bill for £23.50 for three portions of fish and chips and a bale of hay. Gordon had been arrested for shop lifting in the trade stands and he, Jeremy and Henry were in the next cell - Gordon had had a hissy fit at the police officers and then, quite overcome with excitement, had a funny turn and had to lie down.
George looked very dignified when he and Jim arrived at the police station to bail them out. He sat on the counter and behaved beautifully. Everyone agreed that he was a smashing little ferret.
"It's always the families that suffer," said a nice police officer. "She ought to behave herself at her age."
"I'm awfully sorry George," said Mother humbly.
"As long as it doesn't happen again."
* * * * * * *
The Vicarage party drove home from the show in silence. Mildred was furious. She'd been trying to get the Major up to scratch for months, and when she'd last seen him he was being carried off on a stretcher by the St John Ambulance Brigade. He'd been screaming and clutching at his nether regions wildly.
Matrimony was, quite obviously, the last thing on his mind. She was freezing cold too - all the car's windows were wide open - Charlesdickens sat reeking on the back seat with his chick. It was peering up at him adoringly and making enticing, soft little barking sounds.
Brian the bird-dog did not stay at the Vicarage for long. Much as he tried, said the Vicar, to love all God's wonderful creatures, he also had a duty to his elderly parishioners - his job was to prepare them gently for the great adventure in front of them, not to petrify them with a demonstration of its grim realities. The sight of a large bird of prey chewing a bone on the fireside rug was unsettling to say the least. Where he obtained the bones, too, was a worry, said the Vicar indignantly, and while he admitted that all dogs dug for bones, Brian was doing it in the Churchyard. He had flapped through the village only that afternoon with a huge thighbone that old Mrs Blenkinsop had recognised as belonging to her late husband, Bert. The bone had sentimental value and Mrs B. wanted it back. She had whopped Brian over the head with her brolly and then complained to the Bishop.
There was a problem with cats too. Brian chased cats. He invariably caught them and what he did then was not very nice. They were trying to attract visitors to the village, said the Vicar grimly, not repel them - and the sight of Brian hunched by the side of the road disembowelling a ginger tom helped nobody. Brian, said the Vicar must live in the wild, and the sooner the better.
* * * * * * *
Jim had said that was it - no more horse shows ever. Mother said it hadn't been all that bad - she was sure she'd get her name in Horse and Hound. George said it was more likely to be The Police Gazette.
Gilly lay glumly in her little bed. Her family were an absolute disgrace she thought. She was fed up with the lot of them.
"At least," said Mother happily, "I know none of it was George's fault."
And they all went to sleep - except for Brian who was perched on the gatepost waiting for the postman.
* * * * * * *