Peacocks

Now then, my dear, I really don't know what to make of all this, but it rather looks like I'm in a spot of bother. Thing is, I was sitting in my study the other day, flicking through the racing pages and wondering whether this is going to be a good season for me, when Ransom, my butler, pops his grizzled old noggin around the door and tells me that there is a chap at the door demanding money with menaces. And when I enquire further, Ransom can tell me no more than that this chap is a rather frightful fellow and he's carrying on at such a rate that he's in fear of bursting a blood vessel. Well you can't have coves popping their corks on the old doorstep, so I tell Ransom that he'd better show the fellow in.

Thing is, I have never had occasion to doubt Ransom's judgement - and this was certainly no exception, for my visitor was a rather unpleasant chap indeed and went on at some length about money being owed, and writs being issued and all sorts of dreadful sounding gobbledygook, and I'm afraid I couldn't make head nor tail of it. Naturally I sent for Doyle, my secretary, to act as a sort of interpreter. Doyle's got a head for this kind of stuff you see: facts and figures, ins and outs, and all that kind of thing. Personally I find him a rather cold fish, but whenever a job needs to be done, Doyle is the one that does the doing.

So anyhow, once Doyle arrives and starts to work his magic all begins to brighten and grow clear, and I come to understand that apparently my caterers have not been paid for the last six years. Now, it is my habit, once a month, to throw a bit of a bash for a few hundred close friends. It's all in the interest of maintaining one's place in society and ensuring that one's influential chums remain chummy. Obviously you can't cut corners on occasions like this, and one must simply hold one's head high, grit one's teeth and shoulder the expense. I had found these wonderful little catering people down in the village who prided themselves on providing a spankingly good nosh up. None of your curly sandwiches and stale crisps. These people 'had stuff flown in' which is always a reassuring thing to see on an invoice.

That said, and speaking of invoices, it seems that I had rather neglected to take care of one or two, or possibly more. A simple matter, easily overlooked, and so I felt it was rather unnecessary for this red-faced gentleman to come storming up my drive in the manner of someone about to single-handedly lay siege to the old pile until his demands were met. A simple note would have sufficed, I advised him, whereupon he informed me that they had already sent many such notes, followed by demands, followed by letters before, during and quite possibly after action, and evidently all had gone the same way of the pizza menus, double glazing offers and window cleaning flyers that briefly take up residence in my hallway before being hauled away to be recycled into lampshades, or some such other frippery. Mea culpa. An error, I assured him, which we would now correct with a simple stroke of the pen, and I instructed Doyle to issue the fellow with a cheque.

All good, except that at this suggestion Doyle turned white. That is to say, he was already white, but turned positively wraithlike, to such a degree that had I not already enjoyed half a bottle of port, I could have sworn under oath that I could have seen the sideboard through him. At his request for a word in private I asked the catering chappie to wait out in the hall, and Doyle proceeded to inform me that there was 'a problem'. It seems I was fiscally 'inconvenienced'. I failed to understand him and requested that he elaborate. I was potless, he told me - which I instantly knew to be wrong, as I could see several pots from where I was sitting. I was ruined, he further explained, penniless, destitute, insolvent and - in a word - broke.

Got it. The penny dropped - or at least it would have done had I had access to such a sum. All the same, I took great umbrage at being told this by my own secretary. I have never liked the man and when he went on to inform me that he had, for some time, being trying to find a way to persuade me to 'economise' I nearly struck the man down. I will not have that kind of language used in my house. I mean, I'm all for tightening one's belt in these straitened times, but a fellow must not be allowed to let his standards slip. I suppose I could have let one of the footmen go, but I've always been brought up to believe that six is the absolute minimum. Neither could I spare any of the gardeners. After all, you can't expect a fellow to mow his own lawns. And who's going to feed the peacocks?

One thought: it occurred to me that I always had the option of dispensing with Doyle's services. Lord knows there had been many a time when I felt like seeing the back of him, but it would have felt wrong somehow. Love him or loathe him, he had been in my service for seventeen years now. That's longer than the dog, and I certainly couldn't get shot of him even if he does have a habit of sticking his cold wet nose in my crotch when I'm least expecting it. Doyle, that is - not the dog. I've always thought that that was a strange sort of thing for a secretary to do. I've been meaning to have a word with him about it but then... I don't know. Since the wife died, they've been the only real moments of intimacy that I've experienced.

So anyway, sorry if I came over all emotional there, but the reason I'm addressing you now is that I desperately need your advice. Yes, yes, yes - there are the debts and the bailiffs and all of that, of course. But what I really want to know - you legal boffins being abreast of this kind of malarkey - what I want to know is can I sack Doyle? In fact, would you do it for me? I can't really look him in the eye. And if you can do this for me I'm sure I can help support the wonderful work you do here. Not financially, of course. As we've already established, I'm a little strapped for cash. But you and your people here are all welcome to come to my next bash. They're always rather jolly affairs, I'm sure you'll love it. Of course, I'll have to find new caterers. You don't know of anyone, do you? Or perhaps you might be interested? Tell me, how are you with canapés?

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