Archive for December, 2014

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall – epilogue

December 17, 2014

Epilogue

‘I had the whole thing sussed quite early on,’ I assured Noddy and his son later on, as we sat in his study, toasting crumpets in front of a roaring fire; Noddy and I sipping whisky, Noddy Minor enjoying a mug of cocoa (into which, yes, I admit, I had surreptitiously splashed a nip of whisky).

‘I briefly toyed with the idea that McPortillo was behind the whole thing, but a quick chat with the pink-kilted groundsman soon assured me he was oblivious to it all.’ I still wasn’t convinced that he hadn’t accepted the shilling from the ghastly women for help somewhere along the line, but sadly nowadays we can’t accuse without proof in this wretched politically correct world we live in.

The past few hours had been a hive of frenzy. The culprits were, as I suspected, my ex-wife Abigail and her lover, the soi-disant witch Pam. The local Plod had been called – and an ambulance – and we all helped to haul the wretched Pam out from under the debris. The silly woman was lucky she hadn’t been killed in the plummet from the ceiling, but apart from a few broken bones, concussion, severe scratches, a perforated eardrum, a dislocated hip and a splinter in her eye, she was unhurt.

Abigail was hysterical – I think I actually preferred her as the implacable human tank of a Matron – and it took a couple of slaps before she could calm down and explain the plot to us. And, I am afraid to say, it was partially my fault.

A while back, the pair of them had asked me to look after the dogs while they hunted for a house in which to set up a retreat for sapphic witches. I’d refused, pointing out I was taking the high road to Bonnie Scotland for my trip to Scarhelldeath Hall. The dratted pair must have squirreled themselves way in my library at the Rectory – my old home which I had been forced to bequeath to my ex-wife – done some research and concocted this dastardly plan to frighten poor old Noddy into flogging the Hall to them for a pittance. Obviously, Pam’s previous life as a magician’s assistant helped her stage all the little son et lumiere which had so astounded everybody. Except for Old Stirling who swiftly saw through the whole sorry masquerade.

When I’d telephoned Cilla the previous night I had asked her to rummage around in Noddy’s family history, and it transpired that there was no proof whatsoever that his papa had dipped his wick illicitly, and even less evidence that ‘Dorcas’ was his half-sister – or even an accredited matron! In fact, there was no verification she even existed.

The ex-trouble-&-strife had been led away from Scarhelldeath Hall in handcuffs (yes, there had a been a twitch downstairs, not that she and I had ever indulged in anything other than ‘lights-off obligation rumpy,’ all due to her latent inclinations as opposed to any deficiency in my expertise in the trousers-off department ).

The ghastly Pam had been carted off in an ambulance with a muffled cry from beneath the bandages of ‘And we would’ve got away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling pensioners!’

I’m not sure what they’ll be charged with. Harassment? Fraud? Impersonating a ghost without a licence? I merely hope that Abigail sees through the malignity of the odious Pam and finds a nice sexy lady to settle down with. And lets me watch.

And so I prepared to take my leave of Scarhelldeath Hall. The boys had all left for their hols, as had the surviving staff. Noddies Major and Minor invited me to stay for the Yuletide festivities, and while I was tempted, I am of an age where the comfort of my own bed, central heating and a decent bar being in the vicinity is more important than family and friends. A draughty, damp pile Scarhelldeath Hall may be a adequate for young children, but not for grand old gentlemen of letters! Besides, if the ex-wife gets banged up in chokey, then I may reclaim ownership of The Old Rectory – and the dogs, Rommel, Lucan and Aspinall – again.

Before I buggered off, I imparted simple words of advice to Noddy Minor on the thorny subject of Bullying, and they amounted to this – ‘No-one else matters except you! As long as you get what you want , that’s all that counts! And if someone’s in your way, then propel them out of it! The good Bully makes the victim realise that they are Boss with as little effort as possible. Although a little violence now and then is not to be sniffed at.’

And I think that is wise counsel we should take to heart in all aspects of our lives.

Yuletide felicitations!

To hear Sir Desmond at work go tohttp://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

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Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 6

December 16, 2014

Chapter 6

Panic ensued. Boys fled to the back of the hall where Matron had somehow rematerialised and was, inexplicably, blocking the exit.

Both Noddies approached me, fear in their matching eyes. ‘What can we do?’ asked Noddy Senior. ‘Perhaps I should have let the boys perform that exorcism?’

‘You don’t need an exorcist,’ I told Noddy, grimly. ‘You need a witch-finder.’

My keen eyes, on top of the brainstorming in which I had indulged in the previous night, had already spotted a solution to our problem. Just needed to buy some time. I positioned myself so that I was standing just below the chandelier.

‘I say, Jethro,’ I called up to the pestilent ghoul. ‘Merry Christmas, old chap!’

The spirit of Maestri snarled and waved his cane with great gusto. A fine layer of dust landed on my shoulders. I turned my head and blew it off.

‘I’ve worked out your little plan, you know’ I continued. ‘And it won’t work. You won’t frighten fine upstanding old Scarhelldeathians like the Nodworth-Holders. Or me, for that matter. War hero and all that. I’ve faced Nazis, poltergeists, traffic wardens, demons, socialists, TV producers, warlocks, agents, Satanists, critics… Even my own wife abandoned me for a witch. Did I let it crush me? Did it buggery! Of course, when I say witch… She was a hairdresser really. Blue rinses and bad perms for frumpy old bags a speciality. She’d do their roots, listen to their problems, seduce them… And that wasn’t even her real job. I rummaged around in her background and I discovered she had for many years been… guess what? A magician’s assistant. Yes, some dreadful third–rate act who ploughed around the lower depths of the variety circuit. The Boggling Mr Stupendo and Pam. Or was it The Stupendous Mr Boggle and Pam? He died in mysterious circumstances apparently. Choked to death on his own rabbit. She sold the act and used the money to open her hairdressers. But she must have picked up some useful tricks though, particularly if she wanted to convince people she had genuine magical powers.’

For some reason this little spiel of mine enraged old Maestri and he shook his solitary fist at me.

‘Now, you wouldn’t be able to do that if your arm hadn’t grown back in the after-life,’ I mocked him.

Maestri, overcome with wrath, started to swing back and forth on the chandelier. I tried one last tack.

‘I don’t even know what my wife saw in her. Face like a baboon’s arse, frankly. And one presumes, an arse like a baboon’s face.’

The incensed spectre howled with fury – and the whole chandelier wrenched itself away from the ceiling and plummeted to the floor. I had anticipated this and had leaped nippily out of the way just beforehand.

At this disaster, Matron screamed and thundered from the doorway she was blocking to the debris. She clawed her way through the wreckage, flinging chunks of plaster over her shoulder.

Both Noddies looked at me blankly.

I reached down, grabbed Matron by the shoulders, and hauled her up to face us.

‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘Meet…’

With one hand I seized Matron’s hair and tore it away from her scalp. With my other hand I grasped her cheek and tugged… Both Noddies gasped, but fell silent as I showed them the wig and mask.

‘… the wife!’ I continued, triumphantly.

Continued here…

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 5

December 15, 2014

Chapter 5

I was awoken the following morning by a rat-a-tat-tat on my door. I bid the knocker enter, and a small boy peered nervously around the door. He informed me that my secretary was on the blower. I hastily broke the frozen crust on the surface of my water jug, and splashed myself with molten ice to waken myself. I then hauled on the old togs. Daylight seemed particularly dazzling through the windows, and when I quickly glanced outside, I discovered that a thick coating of snow had covered the ground overnight. It made the bleak locale seem almost cheery.
I took my telephone call in Noddy’s office. Matron was hovering, but I shooed her away with the excuse that the call may require foul language on my part. She snorted and left, presumably to torture a child somewhere.
What Cilla revealed was very interesting. The tone in which she told me was frostier than the weather outside, but the content thrilled me greatly. I thanked her, and promised her I’d slip her a big bonus for her trouble. She threatened to report me to for sexual harassment. I will never understand women.

I eschewed breakfast, donned my coat and steeped outside. The snow crunched delightfully underfoot, while the freezing air stung my eyes and caused the old bladder to constrict sharply. I could see that the virgin of the snow had already been sullied yellow by boys attempting to write their name, so I decided to do the same. I unfurled the old John Thomas and had barely got to the end of ‘Sir’ when I became aware I was being watched. I spun a round. A curious chap, middle-aged but youthful in a suspicious way, with big bouffant hair and a pink kilt was standing a few feet away, clutching a hoe.
‘You must be McPortillo,’ I said. I tucked myself away and held out my hand. He wrinkled his nose and gingerly held out his own.
‘Yon must be this author fellow?’ he asked.
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘How long have you worked here?’
‘All my life, man and boy. But not necessarily in that order.’ He giggled humourlessly.
‘There are a lot of grounds for you to work on.’
‘Aye,’ he agreed. ‘But nothing grows in this soil except weeds, and I get the wee boys to tug them up when they’re sent to me for punishment.’
I decided to cut to the chase. I produced the dolly from my pocket. ‘Did you make this?’
He took the doll from me, put on the glasses which were hanging from his neck via a chain, and examined it. ‘Och, well, it’s one of mine alright, but I didn’t do all the fripperies. They’re very poor. I take far greater care with my frocks and accessories for my wee dolls.’
‘Do you make many?’
‘Quite a few. I sell them at the Sunday market each week. My auld granny taught me. Sometimes I make them to order of specific people. But this…’ He handed it back to me disdainfully.
‘Who do you think bought this one?
He shrugged with his hands, rather pansily, I thought. ‘Nae idea.’
‘Do you ever get asked to make one with…’ I struggled, ‘ For example, something of the person whom it represents? Such as.. a strand of hair? Or a fingernail’
He frowned. ‘Gross! Why on earth would I do that?’
‘Voodoo!’ I exclaimed.
He gave me a look, the same look I have seen BBC costume staff give me when I ask them if they can iron my cravat.
‘Are you Sassenachs all this soft in the head?’ he picked up his hoe. ‘Some of us have work to do. Excuse me.’
Before I could point that with a name like Stirling I could hardly be a Sassenach, he had flounced off, moving with a curious upright gait as though he had a broom-handle inserted up his Khyber.
Once he had left, I restarted my micturations and contemplated the encounter. Was he telling the truth? Had the amendments to the doll of Noddy been done after it had left his hands – or was McPortillo the mastermind behind the uncanny proceedings at Scarhelldeath Hall?

I sat at the Head Table in the Dining Hall pondering the events of the past 24 hours while Noddy gave a frankly dull speech. Boys don’t want that motivational nonsense; they want the prizes to be given out so they can cheer the winner and sneer at the losers, then start the journey home for the hols. Kilcarcass is in the arse-end of nowhere so they all had a long trek to make. I recall it would take me 2 days just to lug my trunk to the nearest station. Boys were known to die of exposure before they had even bought their train ticket – which at least meant their parents didn’t have to claim for a refund.
I heard my name and realised it was the turn of yours truly to take centre-stage. I bounded to my feet. I had prepared a few words, but nothing too interminable.
‘First of all, gentlemen,’ I said, ‘May I congratulate you all on surviving another term. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – and nowhere is this truer than Scarhelldeath Hall. In my day, many boys popped their clogs during each term, but frankly, they wouldn’t have lasted two minutes at Big School so it was all for the best in the end.’
I could see Noddy Junior in the front row, watching me wide-eyed. I had obviously become his hero, and, frankly, he couldn’t have chosen a better role model, particularly if he wanted to be a top-notch Bully.
‘I won’t lecture you on the importance of prizes. You know that already. If you don’t win then it’s a blot on your life which it will take many years of compensation to erase. Would Monty have been such a great Field Marshall if he’d actually won that Prize for Best-handwriting? Could Churchill have cause such inspiration and loyalty if he hadn’t failed his Latin exams? Would Freddie ‘Parrot-Face’ Davies have striven to bring so much light and laughter to our lives if he’d not failed his Eleven Plus?’
I had no idea if any if my examples had indeed committed such educational faux-pas, but they all seemed a good choice of coves to inspire young boys.
I was about to announce the first prize – which was for Best Tweet in Latin – when I felt something light land on my shoulders. I brushed it off, and there was a viscous substance on my fingers. Before I could look upwards, my eyes met those of Noddy Junior who was looking above my head in horror. He glanced at me and frantically waved at me to move forward.
My old soldier’s reflexes haven’t been dulled over the years, and so I leaped to one side, my legs leapfrogging over the table. I heard a gasp from the boys. I landed with the dexterity of a parachutist – albeit with some clicks and crunches from the knees that hadn’t been there before – and spun around to see what had happened.
The spot on which I had been standing was now drenched in the most disgusting heap of muck. I glanced up, and hanging from the ceiling had been the most enormous – and presumably raw – Haggis which had obviously burst open, disgorging its intestinal contents on to the poor mugs below. Not me, obviously, thanks to the quick-wittedness of Noddy Junior, but the rest of the teaching staff, including Noddy Senior were now engulfed in uncooked entrails. I soon became aware that Matron had not been sitting with us at Head Table, but standing at the back of the Hall.
Noddy Senior wiped the tripes from his eyes and spluttered, ‘Don’t panic, boys!’
The boys, far from panicking, looked as though they were struggling not to openly guffaw at this sight.
One would’ve have expected Matron to thud to the rescue of her brother, or even to enjoy admonishing the boys, but when I glanced at her again she was no longer to be seen.
Unexpectedly, one of the boys screamed. The candles all flickered out again. Although it was daylight still, the Hall was gloomy, the only light now that which was reflected from the snow outside, giving the room an eerie glow. I heard a rattle of chains from above me. I looked up, and there perched on one of the chandeliers was the spectral figure of the Rev Jethro Maestri!

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 4

December 14, 2014

Chapter 4

Out of the shadows came not the expected spook, but a small boy. It was Nodworth-Holder Minor.

‘Hello, lad,’ I said, ‘ What on earth are you doing up that this hour? Kitchen raid?’

He shook his head. ‘Have you come to save us, sir?’ he asked.

I sat down on one of the stairs and gestured to him to perch next to me. I would have offered him a toffee, but didn’t have any so I proffered the whisky bottle. He looked at it nervously and then took a swig. I sat back and awaited the inevitable spluttering. But no, he swallowed, smacked his lips, then took another. Hmm, this boy wasn’t quite the softie I had erroneously presumed him to be.

‘Looking forward to Christmas?’ I asked him.

He shrugged. ‘We’ve got to spend it here. Apparently, we can’t afford to go anywhere else.’

I commiserated. ‘And what are you hoping Father Christmas will bring you?’

He gave me that look of disdain children give to grown-ups when they have to humour them about still believing in the old gift-deliverer. ‘Record token probably. Father never has a clue about presents.’

‘’So what do you need saving from, Noddy Junior?’

‘The ghost,’ he whispered.

‘Oh, pish,’ I told him. ‘If that ghost is genuine, that I am the Empress of India. The monarch, not the pub,’ I clarified.

The boy didn’t look convinced.

‘Tell me about Auntie Dorcas,’ I asked him.

Noddy Minor pulled a face. ‘When did she show up?’

‘Just before the beginning of this term,’ he told me.

‘As recently as that?’ Interesting.

‘Everyone hates her,’ he whispered, having looked around to ensure no-one else was listening. ‘The boys like Pater, and some of the other masters are ok, but since she’s been here, everything’s gone down the dumper.’ He looked at me quickly to see if I was going to admonish him for talking dirty. I simply offered him another swig.

‘So where have all the missing boys gone?’ I asked.

‘Home, some of them? Other have gone off to find their fortune.’

‘Where, for heaven’s sake?’

Noddy Minor shrugged. ‘The sea, King’s Cross station, anywhere there’s a seminary…’

Noddy Minor then said something very interesting. ‘The Buster-Jet twins claimed that Matron had actually lent them the money to get a train down south.’

‘Did she indeed?’ I pondered. I rummaged in my pocket and produced the item I had found earlier.

‘Ever seen anything like this?’

Noddy Junior took what I proffered him. It was a small featureless doll, made of some crude material, probably Plasticine. Despite its rudimentary nature, it was obviously intended to be a representation of the boy’s father, comb-over and all.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘McPortillo the Groundsman makes these and sells them at the Sunday fair. But they’re usually of animals, not people. I don’t think many people would buy a dolly of Pater.’ He giggled, the first glimpse of any joy I’d seen on a boy since I had arrived.

I slipped the doll back in my pocket.

‘Well, I think it’s bedtime for you now, young man.’

He licked his lips and looked thirstily at the whisky bottle. ‘Can I have another..?’

‘Certainly not! You’ve had more than enough. Can’t have a hangover on Prize-Giving Day.’ Besides, there wouldn’t be any left for my nightcap.

Noddy Minor stood up. We shook hands. ‘Good night, sir.’

‘And perhaps tomorrow we’ll have another chance to chat and I can give you some top notch bullying tips.’

His eyes lit up. ‘I’d like that.’ He looked at me shyly. ‘I’ve read all your books, you know.

‘What? All 279 of them?’

‘Well, the spooky ones at least. I read out the dirty bits to the other boys’

My heart so swelled with pride that I almost thought I would weep. Surely to furnish young lads with their masturbatory fantasies is the pinnacle for all writers?

I was abruptly woken from a jumbled dream about Bexhill and illegitimate children. At first I couldn’t tell what had broken my slumber, but I felt cold, even colder than when I had first undressed for bed (and, I’m ashamed to admit, broke the unassailable Gentleman’s Code by keeping my socks on).

I then became aware of a light emanating from somewhere. My candle had long flickered out of existence (not a euphemism, I hasten to add, I am more than proficient still in that department). I sat up and examined my surroundings, The glow was seeping from underneath the door. It got brighter and brighter until I was quite dazzled. I shielded my eyes until I felt they had become accustomed to the illumination.

But I already knew what I was going to see.

The incandescent apparition of the Rev Jethro Maestri stood before me, his face clenched in an evil grimace, his cane held aloft.

‘Stirling Major!’ he howled.

‘Oh, do be quiet, old chap,’ I retorted. ‘Don’t you realise what bloody time it is?’ I was unconsciously echoing what Cilla had said to me earlier.

‘Language, boy!’ Maestri snarled.

‘Oh go away,’ I wittily retorted.

‘I have come to inflict your long overdue punishment!’

‘Come back in the morning, there’s a good fellow,’ I said, yawning.

‘Take your chastisement like a man now, or suffer eternal torment in the After-life!’

‘Eternal Torment?’ I replied. ‘Yours truly? Hardly. My war record alone has guaranteed me a place in the Elysian Fields, if not centre-row stalls alongside the Almighty Himself.’

The glowing spectre pointed a very bony finger at me. ‘I will show you all the points where you went wrong in your feeble excuse for a life, and if – only if – you repent, you will be spared the perpetual anguish of Hell!’

I sighed, grabbed my dressing gown and got out of bed. ‘If you’d read my memoirs – The Devil Talks the Hindmost, available for Kindle here – you’d realise what twaddle you are talking.’

The radiant ghost sliced the air in half with its cane and let out a frightfully Scottish shriek.

I opened the door and gestured for the ghost to leave. ‘I’m being polite, old chap. I could expect you to walk through the wall, but I’m not that mean.’

The gleaming phantom was silent for a moment. ‘Tomorrow I will return, and woe betide this wretched school. The only prize given will be that of ceaseless anguish. And you, Stirling Minor… be prepared to face the thrashing of your pointless life.’

‘Now look here, Maestri,’ I’d had enough of this belly-aching phantasm. ‘Your canings weren’t all that, you know. You didn’t have the bicep power and your angle of trajectory was all wrong. I’ve paid good money over the years to have spankings administered to me by the best whores in the world, and frankly, even the most petite of Korean lasses pack a more effective wallop than you.’

That shut him up. He floated to the doorway, turned, looked as though he were about to say something, changed his mind, then started to leave…

Just as the shiny banshee was about to depart, I said, ‘By the way, congratulations on the right arm growing back in the after-life.’ No reaction. ‘I’ve noticed all the countless paintings of you show you in profile, so one doesn’t easily spot that both arms were actually mislaid. Still, no ‘arm done, eh?’

And on that top-notch joke, the burnishing fiend buggered off. The door slammed shut after him, and I was left in darkness.

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 3

December 12, 2014

Chapter 3

And so it was! This spectral phantom was none other than that of our long-dead headmaster, the Rev Jethro Maestri! Heaven knew how many donkey’s years it had been since he’d popped his clogs, but here he was again – from beyond the grave!

The glowing ghost turned its baleful eye in my direction. ‘Stirling Major!’ it ululated. ‘Wretched boy! Still showing ye little boabie for thrupence to the other boys’ in the bushes, eh?’

I was outraged. Can one sue the dead for slander?

‘When I’ve finished with it, ye posterior will be hotter than the depths of hell!’ the grisly apparition snarled.

‘And you’d know, I presume, Maestri,’ I retorted, irked by its defamatory imputations.

The shimmering ghoul pointed a bony finger at Noddy. ‘Ye will leave my school, ye feeble Sassenach, ‘it wailed. ‘All of ye. And if ye don’t, I will set all the smoking demons of hell onto ye, with their pitchforks and red-hot pokers and emery boards and very sharp scissors. Ye will suffer a doom ye can only dream about in your worst nightmares.’

‘But why?’ I asked. ‘Why should Nod… Reverend Nodward-Holder leave? What’s he done to upset you?’

The luminous spook didn’t reply specifically, but let out an unearthly wail. ‘Begone! Begone! Before ye regret it.’

At this, the ghost stopped glowing and we were left in pitch darkness. Someone lit a candle on the Head Table. Even by this feeble light, we could see the ghastly fiend had vanished.

No-one spoke. Noddy stood up, his legs obviously wobbly beneath him. ‘Go to bed boys,’ he commanded. ‘And remain there until morning. I will find out who is behind this… ludicrous joke and they will be punished.’

The boys fled, all fighting each other to be the first through the doors.

Noddy turned towards the Masters at the head table… but they too had left, even the decrepit old boy must have hauled up his gown and scarpered.

‘Matron, if you would kindly check that the boys are tucked up.’ Matron, sphinx-like as ever, stood to go. ‘And maybe best if you lock them into their dorms, eh?’ She nodded and left.

Noddy looked at me, despair in his watery eyes, his mutton-chops drooping with the angst of it all.

I poured Noddy and myself hefty glasses of Scotch. Not the best vintage, I noted, and Budgen’s own brand. Noddy’s study was reasonably cosy, but the furniture was threadbare, and the room was lit by the omnipresent candles. Did they even have electricity in the place, I wondered? Did we even have it in my time? For the life of me I couldn’t remember.

A small fire flickered in the grate, but by the feebleness of the flames, it had less than an hour’s life left in it unless fed with a small tree at the very least. Another portrait of the deceased – but not resting – Rev Jethro hung behind Noddy’s desk. The rancid heathen must have spent half his life posing for artists. No wonder the old narcissist refused to lie down dead.

We sat in frayed armchairs in front of the fire and supped our Scotch. Inferior booze it may have been, but by God, it hit the spot.

‘So what the hell is going on, Noddy?’ I asked him.

‘Oh, Puffball,…’ he started.

‘None of that,’ I warned him. I never cared for that nickname back in the day, I certainly wasn’t going to tolerate it now.

‘Sorry, Puff… Stirling.’ He took a deep glug. ‘Frankly, Scarhelldeath Hall is dying on its arse. Parents just don’t want to send their little buggers to schools like ours any more. Can’t blame them. I wanted to make the place more progressive, but Dorcas won’t let me. Says it’s our duty to keep the faith, and that brutal discipline and cabbage is more vital than ever.’

‘I don’t remember you having a sister back in the day, Noddy.’

‘Oh, I didn’t. Noddy poured us both a another generous helping of the filthy muck. ‘Half-sister actually. Result of one of Pater’s illicit leg-overs. We only connected recently, long after the old man bit the dust.’

Interesting.

‘I’d worked here since after the war,’ Noddy continued. ‘Worked my way up from the bottom – PE and games – to Deputy Head. Did a correspondence course to get my Reverence which was a pretty crucial title if one wanted to be a Head back then. No intention of staying long-term, but I got stuck, you know.   Old Man Maestri died without issue…’

‘What happened to that odd sister of his?’

‘Oh, that poor creature had long since gone to meet her maker. Smallpox, I believe. I bought the Hall from his estate. For a song. My plan was to make success of it, do it up, sell for a profit, then bugger off to warmer climes to see out my days supping Pina Coladas in a hammock while my thighs were caressed by dusky maidens.’

‘Didn’t work out like that.’ He sighed. ‘And I expect you’re wondering about Nodworth-Holder Minor. Much like Dorcas, he was the by-product of a crafty knee-trembler. Local girl. Pretty. Worked here as a cleaner. Christmas party, too much Scotch, kilt ended up over my head – mine, not hers, unwise fumble in the pantry, she ends up with a bun. I offered to marry her, but she declined. Shame, she was nice. Upshot was that as soon as the boy reached school age, she parcelled him up and posted him to me, then vamoosed. Last seen auditioning for one of these ghastly talent shows on the box. An acrobat, I believe.’

I stared at the hideous painting of Maestri. He was in full Highland dress, his foot on a dead stag which he’d obviously bludgeoned to death, judging by the blood-soaked shillelagh. Impressive thing to do with no arms.

Wait a minute, no arms….

‘And Jethro? When did he pop up again?’

‘A couple of weeks ago. On top of everything else – diminishing customers, electricity being cut off, the roof of the east wing being blown off in a storm – his manifestations were the final straw. A third of the boys just scarpered. Can’t blame them really. Boarding school’s bad enough without the supernatural giving more grief.’

Personally, I think the paranormal would have enlivened my own schooldays up no end, but I didn’t have to heart to contradict him.

‘Anyway, this is the end.’ Noddy slurped down the last of his drink. ‘End of term tomorrow. I’ll write to the parents telling them not to bother sending the little buggers back after Christmas. Then I’ll sell. Won’t get much, but hopefully enough to buy a small maisonette down south. Bexhill perhaps?’

I shuddered.

He stood up, slightly uncertainly. ‘Bed now. Hmm, that whiskey has given me courage. If I encounter that wretched phantom in the corridors I shall bally well give him a bunch of fives. Got everything you need?’

‘Yes, thank you, Noddy. I’m coming up myself.’

‘That’s a clever trick for a chap of our age.’

‘Ah, there’s the old Noddy,’ I thumped him on the back. He staggered. ‘Trouser on, old chap, it’ll all work out in the end. I say, mind if I use your phone before I climb the wooden hills?’

‘Be my guest. Bit late though.’ He giggled. ‘Late night banter with your latest bit of stuff, eh?’

‘No, just a quick word with my secretary.’

‘At this hour?’

‘Oh, she won’t mind.’

I made my up the stairs to bed, diminished whisky bottle in hand, lugholes still ringing from the blasting that Cilla, my secretary, had just given them. Just because I telephoned her during ‘the jungle’ – whatever that is.

I’d enjoyed a brief snoop around after Noddy has left me. Well, as much as one can snoop in a building in which every single floorboard creaks. Even my stealth training couldn’t overcome that. What I’d found had intrigued me, one object in particular which was now nestling in my pocket. My suspicions were aroused.

My only light was by a half-used candle. The dripping wax had already scalded my hand twice. The guttering of the flame caused shadows to dance on the gloomy walls. I was taken back to midnight raids on the kitchen in my childhood, although then we dared not use a candle lest we been seen by any prowling teacher. To be honest, none of us were ever so hungry that we wished to brave the long and spooky trek to the kitchen in the dark, but either one would be dared to do so, or an older boy would demand a midnight feast be brought to him – or else one’s head would be dunked in the outside privy.

I suddenly heard the squeak of a floorboard behind me. I ground to a halt, stood very still and listened. Another very faint creak.

I spun around. ‘Show yourselves!’ I commanded.

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 2

December 11, 2014

Chapter 2

The Guest Suite was a bare room with a solitary bed, a candle, a chest of drawers on which stood a jug of ice-crusted water, and, opposite the bed, a portrait of the late Reverend Jethro Maestri in his usual yellow-eyed fury. A more suggestible chap than I would have sworn the eyes glared at me with unusual vivacity, but I put that down to the candlelight and incipient hypothermia.

I unpacked my slight luggage – travel light, I learned that in the SAS – and decided I needed to thrust Thomas at the Twyfords. I rummaged under the bed and found an antique Edgar Allan.

I must have dozed as off as I was woken by a knock on the door. I found myself in pitch black so dusk at the very least had fallen. I groped my way in the dark – my owl-esque vision honed by many nocturnal missions during the War, but schtum! – and opened the door. A small boy stood outside, blue of knee, clutching a candle which guttered in his shivering hands. He looked familiar.

‘Sir Desmond?’ he quavered. ‘I am Nodward-Holder Minor, I have come to take you down to dinner.’

‘Give me a moment to refresh myself, lad,’ I told him. ‘Been snoozing.’ Before I abluted, I handed him my awash Edgar Allan. ‘Empty that, there’s a good chap.’

I hurriedly splashed cold water on my face, combed my still magnificently-full head of hair, and checked my nose hairs. There would be minimal female presence so I didn’t waste any of my precious Limited Edition Brut Classic by Faberge.

I followed the boy downstairs. ‘Nodward-Holder, eh? Any relation?’

‘The Headmaster is my father,’ he told me.

‘Old Noddy’s sprog, eh?’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘That must be the purple pim. Ribbings from the other boys, I expect, eh?

‘Yes, Sir, but I have just been appointed Bully, Sir.’

I looked the little squirt up and down. Not promising bully material, I thought. One puff of breath and he’d flap away into the horizon. Unless he is the brain and has a certain amount of back-up muscle of dopier boys? Perhaps he just cheats and uses his Pater’s clout to endorse his threats which, frankly, wasn’t on in my book.

The stairway was very dark, lit only by young Noddy Minor’s candle.

‘Someone needs a shilling for the meter?’ I jested.

‘Electricity is restricted, order of Matron.’

‘Good Old Auntie Dorcas, eh’

He didn’t reply.

Even in the gloom (not helped by the impenetrable condensation from my breath fogging my vision), I could see that Scarhelldeath Hall had barely changed since my day. The same splintered and creaking wooden flooring, and I doubted that a single lick of paint had graced a single surface in the previous century. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the dust was still the same. I recognised all the paintings too, mostly various ancestors of the Maestri family. I wondered if Jethro had been the last of his line. I didn’t recall a wife. Indeed, we boys often pondered if his arms were the only appendages shot off in the war.

There was a half-hearted attempt at festive décor – the odd tattered string of tinsel, sprigs of half-dead holly, even faded paper chains hanging limply from the ceiling – but these emphasised the gloom rather than dispersing it.

I peered through the door into the Dining Hall. It hadn’t changed much either. Still lit by candles, albeit hanging from several cobweb-coated chandeliers dangling high and precariously above the tables, connected tenuously   to the ceiling by somewhat antique and rusty chains. I lost count of how many boys were injured in my day having to clamber up ropes to light them all.

The same aroma of burnt cabbage filled the air, and the draught was sharp enough to slice lemons. Which reminded me – I had been hoping for a warming G&T before convening for dinner. Drinking in front of the boys would not be the done thing. When I was a lad, being caught boozing by Masters was most unwise – they’d pilfer your grog for a start.

A large Christmas tree stood in the corner, lit by a small handful of candles, its branches drooping sadly in the draught, a dead-eye angel slumped atop, the bough entering her skirt and exiting through her neck, much like one of the victims of Vlad the Impaler.

Boys were already sitting at the lines of table, silent and still. None of the exciting whispering and fidgeting which usually took place when I was here. I also couldn’t help noticing how many empty places there were at the tables.

Nodward-Holder Minor tugged at my sleeve and whispered in my ear. ‘Wait here and Father will introduce you.’ With that, he slid away into the Dining Hall.

A few minutes later I heard the noise of chairs being scarped back. I glanced though the crack of the door and could see that all the boys were now standing. I presumed that the staff were arriving at Head Table.

I strained my ears to hear. There was the muffled & echoing sound of a voice, but I could barely make out what was being said. My hearing is absolutely 20/20 so Noddy should have learned how to project, what with being a head beak and all.

Suddenly, I heard the word ‘Stirling’ followed by a weak round of applause. I took this as my cue and I marched in. I walked up to Head Table acknowledging the applause which was perhaps not as enthusiastic as I am used to, but after all they were small boys with small hands.

Noddy stood in front of Head Table, holding out his hand, seeming genuinely pleased to see me. In fact, I could swear I spotted gratitude and relief in his eyes. He hadn’t changed much in the intervening decades, still being thin, bespectacled, balding, but with what remained of his hair scraped over his pate like liquorice over a boiled egg. He still affected enormous sideburns, carefully primped out like bushy mudflaps. I had forgotten that these had first manifested in our schooldays, teased out from the earliest traces of his incipient bumfluff. It only occurred to me at that moment that his young lad was so closely resembled his father when we were at school together. It then flitted across my brain: wasn’t Noddy a bit long in the tooth to have sprogged such a young offspring? The old goat!

Matron Dorcas had her usual ‘Sea Elephant with a Prolapse’ expression clamped to her face, but I had already decided I was going to pay her as little attention as was humanly possible.

I glanced at the sprinkling of teachers who comprised the rest of the Head Table. The usual reprobates, failures, ex-jailbirds and pederasts who taught at this level of Prep School. An exceedingly elderly master dozed, his mortar board slumped across half his face as he dribbled onto his gown. Proud Old Boy I may be, but I was under no illusion at Scarhelldeath Hall’s status in the educational firmament. Not even Royalty sent their more idiot offspring here.

Noddy called for silence which frankly had already fallen.

‘Boys!’ he said (squeaked, if I was going to be harshly critical). ‘We have a very special treat for you. As you know, tomorrow is Prize-Giving day!’ Noddy paused for some sort of response. There was none. Well, except for what sounded like a gentle fart, but that may have been from the snoozing old master.

‘And to hand out the prizes we have a very special guest. An Old Scarhelldeathian who attended this very school many, many years ago…’

One too many ‘manies,’ I thought.

‘…and has gone on to be the most acclaimed British novelist of his generation.’

I should be, but I’m not. Even after darling Dickie Francis popped his clogs I still wasn’t.

‘I wonder how many of you have read his books?’ continued Noddy. More silence. Under the bedclothes, maybe, I thought, but they are hardly likely to admit to that in front of their teachers!

‘So a big Scarhelldeathian round of applause for the esteemed author and war hero, Sir Desmond Stirling!’

I acknowledged the boys’ clapping while noticing that the Matron didn’t join in.

‘Thank you, Boys’ I said. ‘It is a great honour to be asked back by here by my old schoolchum Reverend Nodward-Holder to hand out your presumably much-deserved prizes tomorrow. Remember, it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s the winning. There’s no shame in not winning, just humiliation and regret. Both of which will hopefully fuel your drive to succeed at all costs in later life.’

I noticed Noddy subtly gesture to his watch, so I wound up the proceedings.

‘I won’t keep you now as I’m sure it is past your bedtime and you have books to read under the bedclothes…’ I gave a theatrical wink, ‘But be prepared for a hefty dose of the Old Stirling wisdom tomorrow at the Ceremony.’

More applause, but still not enough. I made a mental note to have a word with Noddy about teaching the boys the necessary clapping levels.

Noddy was about to dismiss the boys, when Matron coughed very pointedly. Noddy’s face fell. ‘Matron?’ he asked, nervously.

Matron mouthed something at him.

Noddy gulped. ‘Oh yes,’ he muttered. Come on, Noddy, man up, I mentally willed him.

‘Ahem,’ he actually said. ‘It’s been brought to my notice that boys have been attempting to perform exorcisms.’

My ears pricked up at this. Not even my form did that and we were rather feral, hence the high mortality rate.

‘And I believe the ringleader is…’ he paused, ‘ so I gather… erm… Bollywood Major.’

There was a stir amongst the boys and they all turned to stare at the named culprit. The aforementioned Bollywood Major tried to shrink into his chair.

‘Approach to the Head Table, Bollywood Major,’ Noddy instructed him, unhappily.’

The boy, a small Indian cove who didn’t seem old enough to be off the titty yet, scrambled off his chair and, knees quaking, tentatively made his way to the Head Table. He stood in front of Noddy, staring up at him, saucer-eyed, his mouth twitching. Even as the staunchest supporter of corporal punishment, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the little lad. However I didn’t imagine that Noddy was a fraction of the brute that the Reverend Maestri had been, so I suspected that Bollywood Major’s behind wasn’t in too much danger of GBH.

‘Now, ah, Bollywood Major,’ continued Noddy, ‘You know very well that exorcisms, indeed any form of occult rituals, are strictly forbidden under school rules.’

‘But, Sir,’ whispered Bollywood Major, ‘The Ghost…’

Now this was jolly interesting. We never had the supernatural during my time here. Hardship, hunger and violent death, but ghosts..? No such luck.

Noddy actually showed a bit of fire. ‘There are no ghosts at Scarhelldeath Hall!’ he declaimed. ‘Now, Bollywood Major, how shall you be punished, eh?’

Matron instantly produced a cane, a vicious-looking instrument of torment. And so was the cane! Guffaw!

Bollywood Major looked as though he were about to faint. So did Noddy.

‘Ah, the cane,’ said Noddy, feebly. ‘Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s absolutely…’

Matron swished the cane viciously through the air, causing Noddy’s Combover to ripple in the air currents. She then forcibly thrust it into Noddy’s hand.

‘Yes, well, erm, very well…’ said Noddy, sadly. ‘Bollywood Major, bend over the table.’

Bollywood Major, green about the gills, tried to do as instructed, but was too short to do so without the aid of at the very least a step-ladder.

Noddy, looking equally queasy, tried to swish the cane too, but failed to make the air crack in the required fashion. I was a bit out of practice, but I contemplated offering to do the job myself.

Matron huffed. I half expected her to retrieve the cane and beat the poor little blighter herself.

Noddy took a deep breath, raised his arm high into the air…

… and all the candles in the Dining hall were snuffed out by a terrific wind. Some of the boys screamed. The elderly teacher jerked awake with a surprised snort.

‘Silence!’ roared Matron. Noddy lower the cane and said, rather feebly, ‘Now, boys it’s just a draught. Knockout Minor, relight the candles.’

But before anyone could budge, the door to the Dining Hall crashed open, and there stood the most bizarre figure. It was a teacher, in full gown and mortar board, a kilt and sporran adorning his lower half, empty left sleeve pinned to his jacket, a cane held aloft. But in the darkness caused by the snuffed candles, this unexpected apparition was glowing!

The Hall fell silent. All stared open-mouthed at this uncanny spectacle. I snatched a quick look around. Noddy seemed aghast; the teachers even more gormless than usual; only Matron’s face was implacable.

The door slammed shut. A couple of the older boys raced to escape the Dining Hall, but they were unable to open the door, although whether because they were panicking or if it was jammed I couldn’t tell.

The luminous spectre was halfway up the aisle by now. Its macabre face was a grimace, eyes burning as it stared fixedly at Noddy. It slashed the air with its cane. I could’ve sworn sparks flew off the cudgel with each swish.

‘Nodworth-Holder Major,’ the spectre cackled. ‘Prepare to meet thy doom, boy!’

‘Oh Lor’ wheezed Noddy.

The shimmering banshee bared its yellow gnarled teeth ‘Your dismal behind will be like haggis after I’ve finished with it.’

And then I recognised the figure. ‘Noddy!’ I called out. ‘It’s old Maestri!’

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST

Christmas at Scarhelldeath Hall Part 1

December 9, 2014

Chapter 1

A tedious rain-saturated journey on the M1 – enlivened only by darling Eddie Elgar on the wireless. Oh, and being stopped three times for speeding by Plod – each of whom happily accepted a few crisp oncers in return for a blind eye. I finally arrived at the sleepy Scottish village of Killcarcass at which I had spent a vast chunk of my childhood. I dread to recall how many decades had passed since my last sojourn here. Even so it had changed little; a sprinkling of television aerials, and a Budgens being the major changes I noticed on first glance.

No, Killcarcass was the same typical Scottish village I remembered from my long-distant youth. Small stone cottages dwarfed by brooding mountains and a scowling grey sky. A small high street of the necessary shops; an off-licence, a MacHaggis takeaway, Kilts’R’Us, approximately seventeen pubs, and of course, no sign of a green-grocer. A string of tartan-coloured tinsel flapped in a criss-cross from street-lamp to street-lamp, while lights in the shape of whisky bottles dangled forlornly from telegraph poles as they waited for the interminable night to draw in.

As I drove up the high street, an old cove, his kilt billowing in the wind, doffed his tam-o-shanter and waved his cromach at me. I pulled over, wound down the window of the Rolls and asked him the directions to Scarhelldeath Hall. I was fairly sure I’d remember the route, but I wanted to be sure. He made some noises with his mouth which were of no use to man nor beast, but he gestured in what I had deduced was the correct direction., so I tossed him a half a crown for a tot, and drove away.

No sooner had I left the high street than memories flooded back and I found myself recalling the route one took when returning to school from a no doubt illicit trip to the village to stock up on sweets, the latest escapades of Tiger Tim, and, if one could bribe a local, a wee dram.

What had oft seemed a long trudge when a small lad was no distance at all when in a top-of-the-range Roller, and in no time I was pulling into the extensive driveway of my Alma Mater – Scarhelldeath Hall!

The school stared balefully at me as I neared it as if preparing to administer a damn good thrashing for some misdemeanour of which I was unaware. I shuddered involuntarily. I had loved my years at Scarhelldeath Hall, but fear, punishment, hunger, cold and death had been my 24 hour companions. Several of my fellow pupils had died during our schooldays, but no more than the national average for prep schools in those days.

I parked the car and approached the big wooden front door. Whilst a pupil, it was strictly forbidden for any boy to use the main entrance at pain of a very sore bottom indeed, not to mention the ensuing gangrene. It felt both wrong and victorious to take this route now.

Did I mention the weather was viciously cold and wet? Or does that go without saying? The sky was pendulous with clouds, with that curious yellow tinge that usually foresees snow.

I rang the doorbell, producing a sonorous chime, the same clang I recall raising futile hope in our young breasts? Perhaps the visitor was for us? A delivery of tuck from home, or a parent come to visit or even, oh fruitless optimism, to extract us and whisk us back to the bosom of the family?

I scanned the vicinity. The grounds were unchanged; ruthlessly neat, but joyless in the lack of aesthetic flora. I knelt down and examined the gravel of the drive. It used to contain tiny fragments of glass not only to discourage any bare-foot activity, but to make surreptitious escape impossible. The slightest unauthorised crunch and the headmaster, the Rev Jethro Maestri, a man who’d lost both arms in some Victorian skirmish or the other, would unleash the dogs of war – or at least two elderly Alsatians and his spinster sister, Prudence, who would chase after the fleeing youth and drag him back by their teeth. And, by God, that woman had strong teeth!

I was awoken from this nostalgic reverie by the sound of the door being slowly opened to a long-forgotten deafening creak. A small boy stood there in that familiar uniform, peering owlishly at me from behind what must surely have been unnecessarily strong spectacles. He was undoubtedly bullied mercilessly by his peers, I thought, or would’ve been if I’d had anything to do with it.

‘Hello, young feller-me-lad!’ I exclaimed. ‘Sir Desmond Stirling here, now run along and tell the Reverend Nodward-Holder I’m here.’ The boy gapped at me, foolishly. ‘Chop chop, lad, if you don’t want to feel the Head’s strap on your behind!’

The boy fled.

I stepped into the vestibule and breathed in the heady aroma of my childhood: cabbage, socks, dust, urine, tweed, sweat, stale blood, Dettol, chalk, feet, kippers, carbolic, and fear.

If only they could bottle it..

I gulped a hefty lungful and then…

‘Can I help you?’ boomed a Scottish voice.

A fierce-looking woman marched out of the gloomy corridor towards me, her fulsome eyebrows creased into a frown, her impossibly black hair scraped forcibly back into a bun, her lips set implacably into a declaration of war. I glanced at the uniform encasing her ample rugby-playing body.

‘Ah, Matron!’ I exclaimed, switching on the old Stirling charm which never fails to woo the lassies.

Except this one, it seemed.

‘May I ask who you are?’ she barked, hands on hips, her impressive biceps revealed through rolled-up sleeves. She had stopped right in front of me, like a tank ready to mow down a Bolshie dissident. She was at least an inch or two taller than yours truly, and that wasn’t entirely due to her brogues.

I quickly gave name, rank and number. ‘Is Noddy around?’ Her face darkened.

‘The Reverend Neville Nodward-Holder,’ I elucidated. ‘The Head, don’t you know. Old school chum. He invited me.’

‘I am Dorcas Nodward-Holder. The Reverend is my brother.’

‘I don’t recall Noddy ever mentioning a sister.’

‘And neither did my brother mention a guest.’ She spat out this last word the way a civilised person might say ‘socialist.’

‘I’m dishing out the prizes, apparently. Best essay, best…’ I floundered as I couldn’t for the life of me think for what else one gave the little buggers anything. Best crying? Best bed-wetter?

‘You’d best come in then.’ The charmless Matron narrowed her eyes and gestured for me to follow her.

‘So where’s Noddy then?’ I asked her not inconsiderable buttocks as I followed her up the stairs.

‘The Headmaster,’ she corrected me, ‘is taking a class. Geography.’

I let out a bark of laughter. ‘Geography? Old Noddy? Are you sure? He could never find his own arse without an A to Z.’

Matron’s behind quivered with disapproval, but she didn’t break stride.

After two flights of stairs, Matron let out a roar which, frankly, could’ve felled an antelope. ‘Giggle Minor!’

A short spherical boy rolled out of the shadows, looking terrified.

‘Why are you skulking?’ Matron growled.

‘Please Matron, I was on my back from the lavatory?’

She thrust out a gnarled and calloused fist. ‘Chit?’

He fumbled in his pockets and produced a crumpled piece of paper. Matron scanned it, cuffed him around the ear – I swear I could see the birds tweeting around his head – and said, ‘Go to this gentleman’s car, and bring his luggage to the Guest Suite.’

‘I say, Dorcas…’ I said.

‘Matron,’ she insisted.

‘Matron,’ I protested, ‘the nipper’s smaller than my suitcase.’

She ignored me and held out her hand for my car keys. Reluctantly, I handed them over. She hurled them at the boy and he scarpered sharpish. Couldn’t blame him, the old bat was beginning to terrify even doughty old Stirling!

‘He won’t drive off, will he?’ I asked her, only half-jokingly.

She flashed me a look of contempt, but as this seemed to be her usual expression, I didn’t take it personally. I wouldn’t fancy being dependent on her TLC if I was poorly.

‘He wouldn’t get far,’ she replied. ‘McPortillo the Groundsman is armed.’

Continued here….

To hear Sir Desmond at work go to http://www.whatnoise.co.uk

Read my memoirs THE DEVIL TALKS THE HINDMOST