Herodotus - The Gnome of Sofia

Herodotus - The Gnome of Sofia

Status: Finished

Genre: Mystery and Crime



Status: Finished

Genre: Mystery and Crime



Against a backdrop of political change in South Eastern Europe, the story embraces disgruntled communists, cold war warriors, intrigue, deception and finally murder. Sir Arthur Cumberpot has an unspectacular career which is swiftly drawn to a close when he is appointed British Ambassador to Bulgaria. Due to some unforeseen mishaps his wife Annabel is accused of being a spy and sent home to their house in Watlington while her background is checked by MI5. Annabel is guilty of nothing, other than being the biological daughter of Jim Kilbey, Britain’s most famous spy. It seems that a jealous god has sought to visit the sins of the father upon her, but so has everyone else. She is the victim of serendipity, but also of cover ups, the duplication of thin evidence and exaggeration. But she is also heartless, treacherous, self indulgent and without shame.
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Against a backdrop of political change in South Eastern Europe, the story embraces disgruntled communists, cold war warriors, intrigue, deception and finally murder. Sir Arthur Cumberpot has an unspectacular career which is swiftly drawn to a close when he is appointed British Ambassador to Bulgaria. Due to some unforeseen mishaps his wife Annabel is accused of being a spy and sent home to their house in Watlington while her background is checked by MI5. Annabel is guilty of nothing, other than being the biological daughter of Jim Kilbey, Britain’s most famous spy. It seems that a jealous god has sought to visit the sins of the father upon her, but so has everyone else. She is the victim of serendipity, but also of cover ups, the duplication of thin evidence and exaggeration. But she is also heartless, treacherous, self indulgent and without shame.

Chapter1 (v.1) - Herodotus - The Gnome of Sofia

Author Chapter Note

Against a backdrop of political change in South Eastern Europe, the story embraces disgruntled communists, cold war warriors, intrigue, deception and finally murder. Sir Arthur Cumberpot has an unspectacular career which is swiftly drawn to a close when he is appointed British Ambassador to Bulgaria. Due to some unforeseen mishaps his wife Annabel is accused of being a spy and sent home to their house in Watlington while her background is checked by MI5. Annabel is guilty of nothing, other than being the biological daughter of Jim Kilbey, Britain’s most famous spy. It seems that a jealous god has sought to visit the sins of the father upon her, but so has everyone else. She is the victim of serendipity, but also of cover ups, the duplication of thin evidence and exaggeration. But she is also heartless, treacherous, self indulgent and without shame.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: February 17, 2013

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: February 17, 2013




Part One  

The Beginning 1975 - 1999

Chapter 1

1996 Sofia

Sir Arthur Cumberpot hardly noticed the gray vista of Moskovska Street. If he looked out of his first floor office window at all he knew what to expect. There would be a dreary line of Lada’s and Moskovitch; Trabants and Wartburg, puffing out the same acrid blue smoke which had been poisoning the atmosphere of this little Eastern European capital for years.

Sofia in 1996 had hardly improved, despite the alleged political changes. The local newspapers liked to refer to these changes as ‘The Silk Revolution,’ but this was a sham. The same people still pulled the strings in Bulgaria much as before and for the most part, the wool over Sir Arthur’s eyes.

Sir Arthur was far more preoccupied with the routine of embassy life. It was incumbent upon him as the British Ambassador to oil the wheels of diplomacy, something he did with consummate ease, but with little effect. His favorite catchphrase was ‘Constructive Inertia,’ since it was clear to him that the British Governments policy towards ex-communist countries was largely infallible, especially if one didn’t do anything at all. He was once moved to remark to his wife Lady Annabel,

‘Did you know Annabel, if you actually do nothing at all, you can’t do anything wrong!’

To this end his appearance as a leading light within the Bulgarian diplomatic community was sensibly reserved for occasional visits to cocktail parties and diplomatic receptions. With Ned Macintosh his Foreign Office advisor at his side – known fondly at the embassy as Dirty Macintosh – he would occasionally make rousing although quite futile speeches, denying his ability to assist almost any needy cause through the famous British Know How Fund. Leaving his audience without a glimmer of hope, it was clear that knowing how and actually doing something were a very long way apart. In order not to seem totally ineffectual he would usually end his address by assuring his audience that Great Britain would support them through thick and through thin and would never let them down.

Gordon Brown had once suggested in a speech in the House of Commons, that most British Embassy’s could be replaced with a room in a three star hotel and a laptop for all the good they served! But the Foreign Office had greatly scorned his views on Value for Money in order to pursue a policy of progressively increased spending, especially on embassies abroad. This meant that the ambassador’s residence in Sofia had only recently reopened, after a Two Million Pound renovation and facelift.

Sir Arthur mused that it was only right that a Foreign Office mandarin such as himself, should end his illustrious diplomatic career in a luxury mansion surrounded by servants. Despite his humble beginnings, Sir Arthur now enjoyed the remnants of a colonial life and the trappings; often taken for granted by aristocrats and plutocrats, that he had so often envied in the past. Regarded as a hardship posting by the Foreign Office, his extra pay was squirreled away each month in its entirety, into the Watlington branch of the Halifax Building Society.

Sir Arthur could still remember the semi-detached house where he was born in the suburbs of London. Croydon was all that he knew then, a place where he too rarely looked out of the window, knowing full well that his suburban street was no more than a predictable line of Morris Minors and the occasional Ford Anglia.

In order to support his doting family his father Norris Cumberpot had willingly surrendered his budding artistic career as a potter, by taking a job at the local Gas Board where he had been the District Manager for a number of years. Any clay pots he made in recent times were either kept in their integral garage, if they were passably good, or - if they were dreadfully misshapen - in the garden shed.

Many of his father’s better creations were given as Christmas presents – to friends and relatives – who took out these ashtrays and wobbly nut bowls on the rare occasions that they were visited by the Cumberpots. This also went for his wife’s knitted pullovers and jumpers. Christmas was often festooned by wooly wasp-like people who wore her lovingly knitted creations secretly indoors, and absolutely never in the street for prying eyes to see.

Norris and Myrtle Cumberpot devoted their lives to young Arthur, and in the modest post war surroundings of suburban Croydon, they had very little choice but to send him to the local grammar school to complete his studies. His sister Pricilla – according to the standards of the time – was groomed and destined for motherhood in the vain hope of her marrying a doctor of medicine, or at the very least an estate agent.

Sir Arthur never talked about his humble beginnings, and remained in denial of all things south of the river Thames – except MI6 that is!  These days his talk was about his retirement in Oxfordshire with perhaps a little studio flat in Ebury Street. This was to be close - as he put it - to his relatives, by which statement he tried gamely to elevate himself but to ignore his cousin Ted who had a fish and chip shop in Wandsworth High Street. What was unclear about him was why he was in Sofia in the first place. But whatever diplomatic sin Sir Arthur might have committed in the past would have to remain a mystery for some time to come.

In common with many in the seventies and eighties, Croydon Grammar did not necessarily send its star pupils to a red brick university. Education was free then, and many gifted scholars found themselves walking amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford, or through the hallowed cloisters of Cambridge.

Kicking a football around the back garden of his home, or bouncing the ball of the garden shed - which made his father’s pottery rejects rattle on the shelves inside - his future successes remained just a distant hope in the hearts of Myrtle and Norris.

When Arthurs ‘A’ level results were finally declared, everyone was astonished. Four good A Level passes would take him to Oxford! And he accordingly found himself amongst the elite of English academia and the study of History - Ancient and Modern. Thanks also to his ‘O’ Level Latin and a battered copy of The Histories by Herodotus, he made his way to Beaumont College and three years of bliss. That is except for the one thing that his parents did not predict. The problem was that Arthur’s diction rather let him down!

Many young people at the time – or baby boomers as they are now generically referred to – had developed a kind of Essex boy accent rather like Mick Jagger or Terrence Stamp and that was also true of some at Oxford, but it was still the norm for the elitists to have a posh accent if they were to progress into the City of London or the Civil Service, although today this is not as important.

So Arthur started to change his ways and speech, to try to fit more easily into the chattering classes, student clubs and political associations, together with amateur theatrics and the famous alternative comedy.

First he bought a pair of tightly fitting cavalry twill trousers with slanted pockets and turn-ups, which he wore with a Harris Tweed jacket - a silk handkerchief in the top pocket - and suede shoes. This was de rigueur student attire at the time together with a college tie, scarf and student’s gown. Astride a battered bicycle, he now believed that he had finally discovered a world in which he could dwell for eternity. But what about his father Norris and mother Myrtle? They of course went from being a part of the solution, to being a part of the problem.

The problem was that nomatter how proud they were of young Arthurs achievements he was no longer very proud of them. All his newly acquired friends had big houses and he found himself preferring to visit other people’s posh abodes rather than visiting his own loving and doting family in South London. Had he become a snob or was it just an expression of his youthful exuberance? The truth was most likely to include both factors.

Sir Arthur sat behind his reproduction Chippendale partner’s desk and gazed rather mournfully at a faux copy of a Constable oil painting hanging on the opposite wall, and in so doing he pressed a button on his internal telephone.

‘Edwina, I want you to bring me the petty cash book please, it seems we are spending far too much money on tea and biscuits and I have to write a report to the Foreign Office.’

1975 Oxford

Having spent his youth with his nose firmly attached to an academic grindstone, university life for Arthur was like the sudden removal of the cork from a champagne bottle. His pimply world suddenly exploded into a fizzing bubbly party, where mutual admiration and academic achievement went hand in hand with his sudden self awakening. From being a nerdy youth and a sluggish caterpillar, he now saw himself to be a beautifully enlightened young man; a butterfly with all the attendant mores and desires brought about by his recent morphosis. This of course meant girls. But the self awakening process also introduced the young Arthur to politics, and so as most undergraduates he was inclined to review the political choices on offer.

Being a student his attention was first drawn to Marxism and the Labor Party, whereupon his often duffle coated fellow students would regale him with the fundamental achievements of current socialist realism. Hadn’t the slums of Liverpool and Manchester been cleared of infested capitalist hovels from the Industrial Revolution by the building of good solid system built thirty story panel flats? Weren’t these the brainchild of The Soviet Union, heroically bringing modern living standards to the masses and improving the workers lot? Wasn’t the present Labor party represented by a bunch of pipe smoking losers, peppered with blue rinse bluestockings with wobbly bottoms? What would put the great back into Britain was a centralized government with five year economic plans; surely he realized that?

Smoking roll ups made Arthur cough, and as a matter of fact he was now actually beginning to doubt that a carping and shiny faced socialist hag could ever fulfill his domestic ambitions! Because Arthur – heavily revealing his practical lower middle class aspirations – was beginning to make plans for the future. He was not sure he could care less about the workers, let alone actually becoming one of them, and as to having a relationship with a card carrying member of the Socialist Workers Party, that was never going to happen. So the sea of idealistic and evangelistic shiny faces and their attendant political doggerel fast became a matter of personal history and gradually faded away altogether.

Because history was what he seemed to be best at and to love the most, he wondered how the gesticulations of a rabid trade unionist could possibly compete with tales of the Peloponnesian War, how the idealistic witterings of Carl Marx could ever compare to the dreamy stories from the Iliad or the historical accounts by his favorite historian Herodotus. The stones of Drama beckoned, and the oracle of all knowledge now seemed destined to be a comfortable middle class one, with no cloth caps or ferrets, and no Jarrow marches either!

Arthur then turned to the more comforting views of the Conservative Party, which by any yardstick seemed far more palatable. No more shouting about and unnecessary threats, just the comfortable ease by which young people - used to enjoying authority - quietly discuss things, and take the reins of power with total confidence and occasional indifference.

This was more his style, and anyway; in the company of these often seemingly bored young people, he enjoyed their complacency and assumptive thinking. He also noticed that the women were much more confident and better presented. Far removed from the passion of the streets, these creatures exuded poise; not just self assurance through their political views, but also in their view on life as well.

Arthur was still very naïve - despite being the veteran of the occasional hanky panky in the back of a Morris Minor with a bit of the local Croydon totty - he had never really met such sophistication in women who were quite unlike his mother Myrtle. She read novels by Neville Shute and watched Victor Sylvester on their monumental TV set, still with a giant magnifying glass attached.

And his father? Well he was usually to be found in the garage making clay pots with wonky bits, which finally ended up in the garden shed.

Did he enjoy the Dadaist painters, what did he think of Lenny Bruce and what were his views on Nihilism, or was he a Humanist? What did he think about the Cold war? Questions and more questions followed until one day a Latin scholar casually spoke to him in the college bar about his views on Communism. Arthur was quite adamant, stating that if a load of horrible thirty floor leaky flats in Liverpool had anything to do with it, the Soviet Union could sod off! He never spoke to him again.

After about a year, and during the annual Oxford summer ball, he found himself standing on the lawn next to a very tall and imposing woman, who introduced herself as Annabel. Undoing his white tie and collar stud, he offered her a cigarette from his rather pretentious orange box of DuMaurier, which she smilingly accepted.

The weather was very warm for an English summer and standing there gazing at the river Thames – with the sound of the Edmundo Ross orchestra playing in the background – he looked into her deep blue penetrating eyes with interest. What was she studying?

Although she was very secretive about her life, at the time Annabel Pergamon was deeply engulfed in the Humanities, and held many views about her studies, all of which she relished daily. Was Arthur a postmodernist in his views? What did he think of Wittgenstein’s confusion theory, and did he understand Kierkegaard’s views on ethics and logic.

All of this and another DuMaurier cigarette led Arthur to see that he was finally and firmly ensconced in academic society and at the centre of world learning. He reasoned that if he were able to bed this rather large but not unattractive female scholar, it would mean the end to all those banal discussions about football which he detested, and the other blokey subjects expected from him on his occasional Friday night visit to the Stoat and Radish public house in Croydon. Because, what has not been mentioned so far, is that Arthur Cumberpot was a total wimp!

At just over 5’2” tall, many people called him Ronnie behind his back because of his likeness to Ronny Corbet the comedian, and the similarities didn’t stop there. With his national health horn-rimmed glasses, his grimy teeth, and a tendency to procrastinate he seemed much older than his years and rather schoolmasterly in bearing. 

He also had developed an effete slur in his speech, much against his voice tutor and speech therapists’ instructions, because he wrongly believed that it added to his indolent middle class image all of which was totally fictional. 

‘Mind your P’s and Q’s!’ Miss. Prendergast would tell him, as she phonetically explored his nasal cavity, for any sign of the home county’s.

Despite his social pretentions and his physically challenged appearance, once again he was approached in the college bar. This time it was by a tough looking red faced man with a hearty laugh. 

‘Collingwood’s the name,’ the man said, pumping Arthurs hand with unreasonable force and considerable strength, ‘Have you ever thought about rowing?’ To which the perplexed Arthur said ‘No, never,’ and left it at that.

‘Well we are looking for a cox for our second eight, and you seem to be the right size and weight for it. Ever been on the river have you?’

Historically Beaumont College was the first college to take to the Thames in boats, although times had changed and sleek Polish manufactured plastic light weights could be seen daily anywhere on the Thames from Letchlade to the Thames Barrier. And it was also the Beaumont crew who would normally challenged the Cambridge rowers at the annual Boat Race in London.

What Collingwood was offering Arthur was an opportunity to win a Rowing Blue by participating in this very English sport, something he would never have dreamt of achieving in the normal course of events.

At grammar school he was confined to acting as a long jump judge, and his only claim to fame was coming second in the throwing the cricket ball competition, for which there were only three contestants. Now the thought of adding sportsman to his rather thin CV was sufficient for him to agree to test for the position as cox for the second eight.  

He was immediately accepted, much to the surprise and amusement of his fellow students, but it also became one more reason to distance himself from his parents and the ladish incumbents of the Stoat and Radish. He couldn’t have them turning up on the river bank cheering him on.

In his weekly letter home he mentioned nothing of this event, preferring to moan about the treacle pudding or brussel sprouts served up at table in the historical dining room of Beaumont College. In common with many from similar humble beginnings, he was quick to complain of any minor infringement of culinary skills which did not comply with his mothers exacting standards and the stodgy overcooked food of his most recent past. For reasons which are clearly self-evident, Arthur was also rather inclined to expect perfection in others, despite his rapidly improving self esteem.

What about Annabel, where did she fit in? Despite their difference in height disposition, and as it turned out her foggy background, they somehow become entwined as their studies progressed. By the end of the second year and out of college digs, they now shared a small but comfortable studio flat on the Headingly Road in Oxford.

Although she occasionally missed the friendly community of Lady Mary Hall and the pretty views over the river Cherwell, she was pleased to be able to have what she perceived to be a normal life. This was something which she had never really known in the past, and to be away from the constant activities and sounds that are the characteristic of college life, also seemed to be a great blessing.

And Arthur was also happy to be away from the cosseting and old ways associated with two years of Beaumont, the personal restrictions and the male only free for all. With blissful weekends and constant companionship they soon became an unusual but devoted couple.

Annabel Pergamon had spent much of her young life away at school, far from her adopted parent’s family home at Hambledon. Never the less she still had occasional glimpses into her past, a vague and almost legendary early childhood. It seemed her real father - working in either the Foreign Service or as a journalist abroad - had rarely been a proper father to her or any of her siblings. Nor in all likelihood, a proper husband to her strangely distant mother. On the rare occasions they were together he was impossible to talk to, and seemed to have great difficulty in answering even the simplest question; but still he was her father.

She was barely three years old, and her father – always known to everyone as Jim – spent more and more time abroad, until one day he simply went away forever. She never saw him again. When her mother died and she was effectively made homeless, she was sent by relatives to live with a family friend in Hambledon. The Pergamon’s told her that her father was also dead – which wasn’t true - and that it would be wise for her to change her family name to theirs. And so the childless couple adopted her.

When she was a little older, Lionel Pergamon explained to her that there had been some talk of her natural father being a Soviet spy. He told her that because there were so many unkind reports of her father’s activities, it would have affected her future had she not been given a new identity. From that moment onwards Annabel realized what it was like to be an orphan, with all the subterfuge it involved.  When she was entered at 11 years of age into Roedean junior school, she was entered as Annabel Pergamon.

Arthur knew very little about this part of her story, after all she too had become used to secrets and simply didn’t tell him. She told him that her real mother was now living in Argentina, but she didn’t know where, and had lost touch with her. This just left her brother John, who she described to Arthur as a carpenter and who now lived in London with his family.

Little more was said about it. When it was absolutely necessary she would tell people that she was the ward of a distant uncle who was a book publisher. Rather conveniently Arthur was also disinclined to discuss his family, but for quite a different reason.  

Consequently the days passed, and life seemed very blissful for this strange couple. With particular pride and happiness it would also be the year which Arthur Cumberpot would describe as the best year of his life.

1996 Sofia

The phone rang. ‘Hello, British Ambassador speaking.’

In a split second the supercilious look of self satisfaction disappeared from his face, to be replaced by one of groveling supplication.

‘Oh! It is you dear; I thought it was Dr. Lind the Swedish Ambassador. We are having some important discussions at the moment concerning the Bulgarian import tariffs on cheese. I errrrrr!’

He abruptly stopped in mid sentence, which was not unusual these days, while the receiver barked out some onerous instructions causing him to hold the receiver about half a meter from his right ear.

‘Well the diplomatic container has not arrived yet dear, but I will have a look in the stores to see if there is a spare jar of Marmite.’ The barking continued.

‘Yes, of course, and did you say Branston pickle too, of course my dear right away; I will organize a comprehensive search immediately.’

His unsteady hand quietly replaced the receiver and composing himself, the supercilious look gradually returned to his face and once more he pressed a button on his internal phone.

‘Edwina, have you heard any more about our embassy container? Lady Cumberpot is expecting some parcels, and I am told that I also have a special delivery from my father. Oh yes! He is much better now he has retired to the country, it gives him so much more time for his pottery, and he tells me that he is also busy with his sculpture too.’

It was a great problem for him to discuss his family, and an even greater one to keep them away from the embassy. But this was not so when it came to friends in the diplomatic service and his many foreign office colleagues. Annabel very successfully managed to keep them all away, with her bullying personality, her barking voice and her appalling cooking.

‘School food is the best food,’ she would declare, ‘Never did my family any harm. None of that foreign muck for us, thank you very much!’

1978 Oxford

The Isis is a tributary of the Thames and is the name of the Oxford University boat club.Made up almost entirely by Beaumont rowers, membership was extremely agreeable to the now maturing Arthur and to Annabel on those occasions when ladies were also welcome at the rowing club soirees. These days Annabel and Arthur were becoming as synonymous as cheese and biscuits, although on some occasions it was noted that the couple were becoming more like Brahms and Liszt, as the evenings drinking progressed. Because Arthur could not hold his drink at all and Annabel – who was quite a Tomboy –never touched a drop.

Often during these seminal moments she would become over aggressive by joining in the more boisterous rough and tumble games which the young rowers enjoyed as the evening progressed. From a distance her booming voice was often heard above the rest, her raucous retorts easily identified by her cry,

‘You rotter, I will get you for that!’

And so the year progressed, and all these occasions were fondly noted in their shared recollections. Henley and Shiplake, Wargrave, Reading and Putney Regattas, were duly attended with gallons of bubbly being guzzled on the footpath and elsewhere. Striped blazers, boaters and white trousers, were everywhere to be seen littering the beer tents and the champagne and oyster bars along the towpaths.  

That year proved to be a very successful year for the rowing team, and Arthur was regarded as a considerable asset, and despite his size and disposition he managed to bark loudly enough at his crew to keep them on stroke and remarkably well motivated.  

Annabel’s tuition in the ‘barking department’ was invaluable, as was Miss. Prendergast’s diction and rounded vowels. In the end Arthur finally got his rowing blue and a medal for participating in the University Boat Race. And Annabel? Well, she became pregnant!

Academically, things were not so glittering for Arthur, due to the many domestic and rowing distractions. The rippling Thames and the rolling bed had to be reconciled somehow, and it was clear that their beautiful sunny view was destined to be distorted by a few dark clouds. Not so much a storm or a tempest but rather more, a damp summer’s day!

The reality was rather a poor degree for Arthur, but a surprisingly good First for Annabel, due no doubt to the domestic downtime she experienced whilst Arthur took to the water. It was said that in the absence of his Rowing Blue, his degree might well have been absent altogether.

But none of this mattered if academia was to be bypassed by Arthur, and there were no internships or research opportunities for one with a lower second. There was however an outside chance for Annabel to go on to further her studies and to get an MA or even a DPhil. It rather depended on whether she could continue to prevail upon Lionel Pergamon her somewhat obscure adopting father and silent benefactor.

In fact it was without doubt a very convenient solution for the up and coming Cumberpot family’s continued existence. She could continue to pursue her studies at Oxford, whilst Arthur took the civil service examination, which was his only real remaining option.

The long summer rolled on, but by now the willows of the Thames represented a lonely picture for Arthur, with the pressing reality that he now had to make a living to support his newly acquired family. It was also becoming a great dilemma for him as to how he might explain matters to his doting family and their tribe of unfashionable and uncouth friends and relatives.

Arthur was not about to squander three years of social subterfuge any more than Annabel, but for two very different reasons. Although never a word was exchanged on the matter it was clear that both would opt for a quite wedding without too many contempories swooning around them, and with just a few college friends and close family.

The result was a quiet and discrete service at St. Giles church on the Woodstock Road. For the young Cumberpots the venue was a particularly cogent one, due in general to their respective interests in art and history, and so the small and select congregation met in Lady’s Chapel to celebrate the wedding of Arthur and Annabel and their yet unborn infant son; soon to be named James Norris Lionel Cumberpot. And so the first chapter of their young lives was concluded in a shower of confetti, but with considerable apprehension.

Myrtle and Norris Cumberpot stood largely ignored on the periphery of the wedding reception, as did the decrepit figure of Lionel Pergamon. He seemed to know Annabel far less well than had been presupposed, and appeared to be someone she treated more like a bank manager than her adopting father. But he was cordial towards the Cumberpot parents, and expressed his support and pleasure in their sons newly found union. He also said that he was in a position to help the young couple, being the trustee of a legacy bestowed on her some years before.

‘Was it from her real father?’ Norris Cumberpot inquired innocently.

‘No no, nothing is from him! Nothing is ever from him Mr. Cumberpot, and we never ever mention him!’ Lionel Pergamon was not going to be dragged into any further explanation.

The wedding reception was held at the miniscule White Hart pub in Broadstreet and the wedding party was mostly a student affair. The enigmatic Lionel Pergamon shuffled off towards the crowded bar, returning with two pints of draft St. Austell Tribute beer and a Babycham for Myrtle.

‘He was a bounder, I’m afraid, and I would rather not talk about him if you don’t mind.’

And they didn’t mind, because as the celebration pressed on it was time to squeeze around one of the tiny tables in the bar, and a very large plate of fish and chips. Next to them a red faced man called Collingwood seemed to be very friendly.

‘Extraordinary chap that Arthur. Never seen a boat before in his life, or even been near the river,’ he guffawed, ‘Mind you, he kept throwing up a lot in the beginning I seem to remember! Anyway we have no complaints at all because finally we won the race, and all was well. Jolly good chap that Arthur!’

The Cumberpots senior were increasingly baffled by the constant babbling, the talk of rowing, and the mystery woman who their son had married. After the lunch was over, they made their excuses, and returned to their room at the Randolph Hotel. As they left the pub they could hear Annabel’s voice booming out.

‘They have proper English grub here, you see.  None of that foreign muck! That’s what we need; good traditional fare, just like we had at school!’

1996 Sofia

When the diplomatic container finally arrived, there was quite a lot of excitement amongst the embassy staff and the Ambassador seemed greatly interested too. He knew that there were some important items for his wife; including articles of clothing from Harrods and Marks and Spencer, and some riding apparel destined for home from Barkers of Kensington.

The rest generally consisted of the sort of condiments one might associate with the average working man’s café. But they were enough to temporarily satisfy Lady Annabel’s culinary needs, and would also help to explain her undoubted siege mentality.

According to the Ambassadors wife, little seemed little worth buying from the ever multiplying shops in Sofia which were generally described by her as being full of overpriced Turkish rubbish. To Lady Annabel, the British Embassy in Sofia was the bastion of all things western including culture language and of course good plain food.  

Sir Arthur wondered what had happened over the intervening years, during the long passage from Oxford to Sofia. What had changed the aspiring MA History of Arts student from those far off days? Where had this overbearing know all come from? When had things started to change?

Struggling through the door to his office his assistant Edwina arrived carrying a bulky parcel. Firmly wrapped up in copious amounts of bubble pack and brown paper, it was firmly secured with duck tape, and attached to it was a sticker saying ‘Extremely fragile, open with care.’ The parcel was from his father who was now fondly referred to by the embassy staff as the sculptor!

‘Phew, that is heavy,’ she said, ‘I think it is from your father Sir Arthur, he mentioned it to me on the phone the other day. It’s very strange though because it comes with some secret instructions from MI6 marked Top Secret! This is most mysterious.’

It was quite a difficult matter to open this very well wrapped parcel and Sir Arthur had to clear his desk, and to find some scissors and a handy Stanley knife in order to do so. When he finally removed the last layers of bubble pack, what lay before him was a hideous garden gnome.

It had a red hat, a blue coat green trousers, and yellow shoes with orange pompoms. It also had an inane and absurd grin, and a very lengthy list of instructions concerning where to put it in the Embassy garden. The missive ended with Love from Daddy and a PS saying: Please Follow the Instructions Carefully.

‘I know where I would like to put it,’ mumbled Sir Arthur.

Sir Arthur Cumberpot was so appalled at this horrible shiny grinning symbol of suburban naffness, that he immediately called Dirty Macintosh to his office in order for him to explain the connection between his father’s ghastly gnome, and Dirty Macintosh’s beloved MI6.

‘Well’ said Macintosh, ‘It seems that this is the newest gadget from GCHQ. It’s an advanced communicator and the first of its kind in the world!’

They all stood round the gnome and quietly stared at it in wonder! Why was it so special?  This was something they were soon to find out.

© Copyright 2017 Patrick Brigham. All rights reserved.


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