Saturday, 28 March 2020

Classic Blue

Hello! It's me again - newspaper typhoon Darcy Fielding.


Yes, I know the word should be tycoon, although that's not really accurate either. Calling me a typhoon is a family in-joke. When my son Daniel was small - well, "smaller" as he isn't exactly tall - he got the word wrong when he was describing me to his teacher. Bridget heard about it and thought it was hilarious, saying it suited the way I whizzed about. But I digress.

There's been a minor delay to the preparations for the Melting festival - something to do with changes of plans regarding the provision of music. I understand that Alex Periwinkle is in charge of this but he may need some help, and I suspect he may call upon Jackson. True or not, I took the decision to fill in again so that Jackson would be available.

So, what have I got to tell you?

It's a small anecdote about my friend Samuel Stamp. He is one of the postmen here in Mellowdene.


He collects stamps. Yes, I know - a postman called Stamp collecting stamps is funny in itself, but we're used to it. He started in a small way, but when different villages began to produce commemorative issues, things started to get out of hand. With limited space in his apartment at Minestrone House, he decided to concentrate solely on blue stamps.

So what, you may say. Well it turns out our other postman - Pete Petite - also collects stamps, and he went through a similar journey in that his wife persuaded him to stick (there I go again) to a particular range of stamps. That's why he's addicted to the "Classic" range. They're not as common, and the collection won't take up all the space needed in the room they use for Jeremy's nursery.

The problem occurred when Barton Skunk - a fellow collector elsewhere in Sylvania - sent our pair of posties an envelope of stamps to share between them. All was well until they came across the last stamp. Quite rare, it emerged.

A Classic Blue.



o 0 O 0 o

Sammy told me of their discussion following the discovery. He and Pete Petite were in the sorting office in sight of the Pink Post Office, the stamp sitting on the table between them.


"But it's an important one in the Classic range," said Pete.

"Look at the colour," countered Samuel.


"Pale indigo?" suggested Pete, but not with much hope.

"Blue."

"It's slightly purple."

"Blue."


"Oh, alright. But there are lots of other blue stamps. Not as many Classics."

"So I've got more omissions to fill."


"Hmm."

They paused to think of other reasons to claim the stamp. Pete was the first to speak.

"Maybe Barton intended it for one of us in particular."


"You think?"

"We could pop next door and get someone to phone him. Who's on switch duty?"

The sorting office was connected to the telephone exchange that dealt with long-distance calls.

"Pearl Babblebrook, I think," said Samuel after a moment's consideration.

"I'm on counter duty if anyone comes to the post office. Do you want to go and ask?"


"You trust me?"

"Don't be daft, Sam. 'Course I do."

"Right. I'll be as quick as I can."


o 0 O 0 o


Pearl had just come back from washing her teacup. She was finishing her shift within fifteen minutes, but was happy to try and contact Barton. Gladly, he was available.

"No, Samuel. I just included any stamps that I thought would be relevant to either of you. I didn't have anyone in mind for particular stamps."


He made a humming noise. "A Classic Blue, eh? How are you going to decide who gets it?"

"No idea, Barton. That's why I called."

"Let me know how you figure it out," he laughed.

Pearl scrutinised Samuel as the phone call ended. "Success?" she asked.

"Not yet."


o 0 O 0 o

"We could toss a coin," suggested Pete.


"Seems a bit trivial for such an important decision. It would be over in no time. Could you bear to lose by such a random event?"

"Clearly you don't. What do you suggest, then?"

"Who completes their postal delivery the quickest?"


"We'd need to devise routes that are comparable in length, and have similar numbers of letters and packages. The weight of packages could be a handicap system. Apart from that, one of us would be on a bike..."

"No to that idea, then."

Pete mused. "A race?"


"Don't we walk enough?"

"Yeah. Scrap that."


Samuel scrunched his nose. "How about we share it? You have it a month, I have it a month, and so on."

"Could work," said Pete, stringing out the sentence.


Then he shook his head. "But if you're like me, you wouldn't feel you really owned it. Handing it over every month would be..."

"...an effort. No, you're right. We're collectors."


The two colleagues fell into silence, watching each other. Minutes passed, until they spoke simultaneously.

"You have it." -- "What?" -- "Are you serious..."


They laughed, then Samuel sighed. "This isn't going to work. We need to sit down and think about it."

Pete agreed. "It's nearly lunch time. Let's close up the post office for half an hour and discuss it over a snack."


They pushed the Classic Blue to the side if the table just as Mabel Periwinkle came through the sorting office to take over the shift on the telephone exchange switchboard.


"Hello Samuel, Peter," she said, a pleasant smile on her face. "Going somewhere?"

"Hello Mabel," said Pete, "Just a quick lunch. We've got a key."

"Oh. Do you want me to watch the post office?"

"No, thanks. We'll lock it for the short time we'll be away."

o 0 O 0 o

The two of them had coffees and sandwiches at the Blackcurrant Café. The quandary of the Classic Blue was put on hold whilst they ate. This must have allowed Samuel's subconscious mind to mull over the problem. And for a possible solution to bubble up.


"Pete, I've been thinking. There's a tiny room at Minestrone House that's too small for anyone to live in. I think we could rent it for next to nothing. How would it be if we combined our collections and kept them there. We would both collect blue stamps and the Classic range. We'd both own the Classic Blue."


"It's a novel idea, I'll give you that."


"And your little Jeremy won't be a baby forever. He doesn't need much space now, but when he grows, you'll need to convert the nursery into his bedroom. Where will your stamps go then? The room at Minestrone House is the perfect solution."


Pete smiled. "I think we have a way forward."


o 0 O 0 o

They were laughing and joking when they returned back to work. They raised the shutters on the Pink Post Office, and went into the sorting office. There was a sack of letters and a parcel leaning against the wall. Mabel Periwinkle popped her head around the connecting door to the Exchange.


"Ah, you're back. You chose a good time to disappear! The post-van came whilst you were gone. I let the postman in to leave the sack, and he emptied the out-of-town pillar box. You've just missed him."


"Oh, sorry about that, Mabel," said Samuel. "He's early."

"I thought he was. Just as well I was here. I was able to give him my letter."



"Well, that's good then."

Both Samuel and Mabel were startled when Pete yelped.


"Goodness, Peter," said Mabel, "Whatever is the matter?"

"The Classic Blue! It's gone!"

Samuel ran to the table in a hope to contradict his work mate. But it was true.


"You're right. Where could it be?"

"Where could what be?" said Mabel, coming forward to join the two distraught postmen.

"There was a blue stamp here on the table," said Pete in a choked voice.


"Oh that," said Mabel. "I needed a stamp for my letter and the post office was locked up." She reacted to their aghast expressions. "I left some money for it."


o 0 O 0 o

So the Classic Blue was on a scented envelope, in a sack, in a post-van, trundling along the coast road, getting further and further from Mellowdene.


Samuel told me that he and Pete went to the Bear Pit that evening in the hope that a drink and some relaxing music would calm their mood.

It wasn't the solution either of them wanted, but it was the one they had. They resolved not to be in this position again. I hear that they've rented a tiny room at Minestrone House...

o 0 O 0 o



Monday, 16 March 2020

A Work of Artifice (Part 3)

I had no idea what had happened. No idea if Cecile had caused Angelica's rapid departure. No idea where Angelica had gone. Maybe Rowan could suggest an answer to that question.

"I don't know, mate. I can tell you that, after we talked, she wondered if she could fix things. But she'd not thought of anything earlier this morning."


I sighed. "I wish this hadn't happened."

"I was thinking the same, but I had an additional reason for that. I was going to have a quiet word with you."

"Well, we're in limbo until Angelica returns. You may as well tell me what's on your mind."

"Yeah. Okay," he said, then lapsed into silence.

I had a sudden memory. "Is this the advice you started to ask me about before Christmas?"

"I guess so," he mused, and then continued, "I'm worried about Figgy."



"Figwort? Why? He's not ill, is he?"


Rowan waved his hand dismissively. "We all had a medical check up with Henry when we moved into the village. No, it's... well, what do you think of him?"


I felt put on the spot. What did he want to hear? No point in being anything but honest. "He seems a lovely lad. A credit to you. Polite. Quiet. Maybe a little shy?"

A tight nod. "Yep. They're the outward signs."

"Suppose you tell me the problem rather than having me guess."

"Fine. Well, I've said before that the main reason we settled in Mellowdene was to give the children stability. During our travels we had stopped in assorted places to give them opportunities to associate with other children, but that was only for a handful of weeks each time."


"And you now think that wasn't enough?"

"Yes. No. Maybe. I noticed that, while Aster tended to settle within days, Figgy was always more reserved. He'd join in activities, but his heart never seemed in it."

"What did Angelica think?"

"She didn't think it was a real problem. 'Different personalities,' she said. 'So he takes longer to warm to people than his sister. He's a loving little boy with us. And it's not as if he's ignoring the other children.'"

"And?"

"And I let it continue. It's not as if I was exactly a stable little boy myself."


"That sounds a little harsh on yourself."

"No. It's true. By the time I was Figgy's age, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn't know what. There was a year when I wasn't very well-behaved, but Cecile covered for me. I eventually realised I needed a little excitement in my life, and that's when I started to gently wind people up. Play little jokes on people, but always careful not to go too far."


"It sounds like you've thought about it a lot."

"I have. It's also what gave me the desire to go travelling. Experience new things; just a tiny bit of excitement."

"And how does this fit in with your concerns about Figwort?"

"About a year ago I caught sight of him, standing, looking into the distance, so I went to up to him. It was then I recognised the expression on his face. I'd seen it in the mirror when I was a kid. Something was missing in his life."


"What?"

"No idea. But travelling around wasn't fixing it for him. I decided that we needed to settle. Give him a chance to find what he needed without the distraction of new places every week."



"And now you're settled in Mellowdene?"

"Aster's happy. You saw her with Beverley. And Angelica likes it here. Although she loved travelling too, I guess I always knew she was doing it mainly for me." He gave a little laugh, but there was no humour there. "And my travelling had simply become a habit. The urgency I felt when I started out has long since gone. My time in the Land of Men... well, I know you don't..."

"Forget it. Not important. What about Figwort?"

"We've been here months, and despite family, school, a network of potential friends... he's still doesn't seem totally settled. I don't know what to do."

I looked at my brother-in-law. The jolly, upbeat demeanor was nowhere to be seen. He was worried. Noticing my attention, he met my gaze.

"I thought you may have some ideas. You've had a similar situation," he said, then, noticing I didn't follow, he prompted me. "Orton? Wasn't he also sort of isolated with his parents?"


"Orton? Right. Well, I don't think that really compares, Rowan. Orton knew exactly what he wanted. When he lost his parents, all he wanted was family. And he ran off, even stowed away in order to achieve that aim."

"But now he's settled. Brendan treats him like a brother."

"I know. But the point is, Orton wasn't searching for a purpose. He had one. If you believe Figwort is still searching, then it's not quite the same."

Rowan slumped. "No, I suppose not."

"Have you had a word with Cecile?"

"I didn't want her fussing, giving Figgy more reasons to feel bad. That's why I wanted to speak to you. You're one of my oldest mates, you're family, and I know you won't overreact."

I warmed at the compliment and smiled at him. "I'll give it some thought. We'll sort it out, pal."

The conversation changed after that. We chatted about various unimportant things until we heard someone at the front door. Angelica had returned.


o 0 O 0 o



When Cecile brought Angelica into the room, they were not alone. Ramsey Nettlefield accompanied them. I moved forward to shake his hand.

"Hello, Mr Mayor," I said.

Ramsey chuckled. "Why so formal, Jackson? Didn't you once call me Ram's Bottom"?

"And you called me Jackfruit Butternut, I recall," I laughed, "But we're not schoolchildren any more."


"True, true. But speaking of which, I'm here to have a word with your lovely daughter. Is Beverley about?"

"I'll get her," said Angelica, and she slipped out of the room before anyone could decide otherwise.

"Would you like to sit down?" suggested Cecile, but Ramsey shook his head.

"I won't be staying long," he said. "I understand that you're about to have a meal. But after Mrs Ivory explained the mix-up I simply had to come and settle young Beverley's mind. I don't like to think of her being upset."

"Mix-up?" I said.

"Oh, I do hope I've not spoken out of turn. Perhaps I'd better explain."

"This'll be interesting," said Rowan, quietly so that only I would hear.


Ramsey cleared his throat as if he was going to make a speech. Maybe he'd prepared what he was going to say. We waited in anticipation.

"I have been a little foolish," he began. "You may not know, but I am a great admirer of Lucian Frogg's art. When I heard he was coming to Mellowdene, I admit I got a little carried away. As a consequence, my talk of expanding the Melting Festival around Mister Frogg's visit was not my best idea. And now I think about it, inviting all those rocky pop musicians and sideshow stalls would have been a disaster."



He paused to assess our reactions. We nodded solemnly, which seemed to satisfy him. He continued.

"I had already started to have second thoughts when little Beverley came to speak to me." He smiled at both Cecile and me. "She's a credit to you, you know. Anyway, when she informed me that Lucian would be horrified at a big event, it came as a big relief. An excuse to cancel the whole idea. The fact I could be given a painting by him was a bonus."


I started to speak but Cecile shook her head. I let the mayor continue.

"When Mrs Ivory came to see me half-an-hour ago, she told me about her mistake. She was so embarrassed that she'd been wrong that Lucian would give me a painting. She was also sorry that she'd passed that misunderstanding on to Beverley, and consequently on to me."

I looked at Rowan and he shrugged. The mayor was talking to Cecile.

"When I heard how upset Beverley was about telling me about the error, I felt so sorry for her. When I was then told how Beverley intended to make amends by painting me a picture herself... well, it almost brought a tear to my eye. I had to come and thank her personally, and tell her everything's okay."


"I'm sure that'll mean a lot to her," said Cecile in that warm voice she uses to assure the children that all is well in the world.


With perfect timing, Angelica appeared, ushering Beverley into the room. In their wake, Aster, Figwort, Brendan and Orton followed to see what was going on.


Ramsey Nettlefield brought his palms together as if he was going to applaud but had decided against it. "Ah, there she is - my little artist - and there's young Orton too. It's good to see you."


Beverley smiled awkwardly. Orton waved, and Brendan grinned, nudging him. Aster and Figwort circled around, Aster to the left to get a better view, Figwort to the right but I could now see that he was merely going through the motions.

Ramsey looked at Angelica. "Did you tell her?"

Angelica held her paw out, waggling it horizontally. "Just the first part. I explained how you know about the Lucian Frogg error and that you're not annoyed with her. I thought I'd leave the last bit to you."


"Wonderful." He addressed Beverley. "Well, my dear. I was so touched that you're doing a painting for me, I want you to know - once you're happy with it, we're going to get it framed and it can hang in the mayoral chambers. What about that then, Beverley?"

My daughter stared at Ramsey, her eyes as round as the life belts on the Marita May. "I don't know..." - she turned towards me - "Daddy?"



Ramsey chuckled. "It's alright, Beverley. Think about it and let me know. Jackson, Cecile? Thank you for your time. I hope I haven't delayed you too much. I'll be on my way. No - I'll let myself out so you can attend to your meal."


There was an enigmatic smile on Cecile's face as she watched the mayor leave, hearing the front door close. Beverley shook herself and dragged Aster out, presumably to discuss what had just occurred. Brendan and Orton joined Figwort, who had migrated to the opposite end of the room.


Rowan drew his wife closer so that he could lower his voice, avoiding young ears.


"You lied to the mayor?" he said, "Always a surprise, Angel."

"Minimally. And even then I wasn't comfortable doing it," she said, "but it was the only way I could ensure Beverley wasn't compromised."

"I'm not criticising, love," Rowan said, nodding in unison with Cecile, "but after devising the Lucian Frogg scheme..."

"Oh no," said Angelica, a hint of amusement on her face, "You're not shifting the responsibility on to me for that. My crime was being foolish and blinkered. Blinkered enough to take forward something that should have remained a young girl's hypothetical solution to an interesting puzzle. The whole work of artifice was Beverley's idea. That's Ivory thinking, and I'm only Ivory by marriage, not by blood."

Rowan nodded. "I suppose that sort of lateral thinking is more an Ivory trait."


"Ah, yes Angelica," I persisted, "but you did figure out how to fix things with the mayor. Maybe that rubbed off as a consequence of living with Rowan."

"What makes you think it was my idea?" said Angelica, her head on one side.

Cecile winked at me. "Perhaps it's another example of Ivory thinking, Jack."

I stared at her. She smiled widely. "Let's go have lunch."


o 0 O 0 o

Thursday, 12 March 2020

A Work of Artifice (Part 2)

When I told Cecile about the situation concerning Beverley, Angelica and the mayor, her reaction was much as I'd anticipated. A mother with fire in her eyes, wanting to protect her baby. She was gearing up to a confrontation with Angelica, but I blocked her way.


"No, Cecile. I don't put my foot down often, but I need to stop you doing something you'll regret."

"I need to talk to her," she said through clenched teeth. I'd not seen her so angry in a long time.

"You will, my love. But not until you've calmed down and have it clear in your mind how you can best proceed."


She glared at me, so I continued. "Remember how you felt when Rowan returned to the village? How worried you were that he was going to leave again? Angelica is his wife and he loves her. Do you really want to put your brother in a position where he has to choose between the two of you?"

"But Angelica is in the wrong."

"Doesn't matter. It will still affect your relationship with Rowan."

"So what are you saying? I can't leave things as they are."

"You won't. We won't. You didn't see how this affected Beverley."

Cecile's paw went to her mouth. "What am I like? I need to see her."


"Fine. But leave it a while. She is intent on finishing her painting; it is a good distraction for her."

After nodding slowly, she fixed me with a gaze. "I'm so angry, Jack. What should I do?"

I had already thought about this. "First of all, remember the Bake Off and how you felt about Rudolph Patissier. How you regretted your hasty action. You have to force yourself to calm down so that you're in control when you speak to Angelica."


Cecile looked away. The incident of supposed "un-Sylvanian behaviour" was still an embarrassment to her; I hated bringing up the subject but she had to realise that she was capable of acting contrary to her best interests. She sighed and turned back to me.


"You're right Jack. It wouldn't help anyone if I started shouting and saying unforgivable things."

I relaxed. "Good. We have to think about what Angelica was trying to do. She may not even realise how this has affected Beverley. In fact, until she came to realise the consequences of her actions, Beverley probably thought she was being the saviour of the Melting."

"Then you don't think Angelica was simply being manipulative?"


I shook my head. "Like you, she's a strong woman. And maybe she also needs to better consider the consequences of her actions before she implements them."

"You think I'm a strong woman?"


I had to laugh. "Like that was ever in doubt."

There was a hint of a smile about Cecile's lips. A good sign she was calming down. She adopted an earnest expression. "I still need to talk to her. Soon."


"I know. But remember that they're coming to lunch tomorrow. Sleep on it. Maybe that will give you some insight on how to proceed. To let Angelica know how all this has affected our daughter."

Cecile reached out and squeezed my paw. "Thank you, Jack. Now leave me so I can make our tea, then I really must go and give Beverley a hug."


Giving her a sideways glance as I left the room, an involuntary deep sigh escaped my lips. I wondered what tomorrow would bring.

o 0 O 0 o

A sunny morning revealed a much-changed Cecile. She was back to the serene, in-control rabbit that most people see. She bustled around the house, making preparations for the meal alongside other jobs each of which she seemed to complete within minutes. Such tasks alone would have taken me half a day to do.


Almost magically, everything was done and Cecile was relaxing with a glass of lime and mint cordial when the Ivory family arrived.


Beverley greeted Aster with a hug and they disappeared up to her room. Brendan informed Figwort that Orton had set up a board game for the three of them to play, and ushered him out too. As Eliza and Merlin were kindly looking after Russell, that left four adults remaining. But not for long.

Cecile smiled sweetly at Angelica. "Would you give me a hand in the kitchen, dear? I'm sure Jackson and Rowan can entertain themselves for a short while."


I shot a concerned look at her, but she simply smiled and blew me a tiny kiss. I watched the two women disappear through the door. And there was a definite silence when they left, broken by Rowan.



"Beverley?"

I swung around to meet his amused face. "You know?"

"'Course I know. Angelica told me all about it."

I sat down beside him. "And?"


"Well, I wish she'd told me before she did it. Then I could've advised her to think again." He nodded towards the door. "I'm surprised Cecile wasn't spitting feathers, knocking down our door. She does know all that happened, doesn't she?"

"Oh yes. Although I only found out from Beverley yesterday. I told Cecile when she came home."

"Wow." He blinked. "She seems oddly calm. Emphasis on the word 'oddly'."

"You're not filling me with confidence, Rowan. I thought I'd defused the situation."


"Hmm."

"What?"

"Nothing. I expect Cecile has a more mature outlook than back in the day when I benefited from her beetroot bubble bath."

I imagined Rudolph Patissier with an icing crown and I wasn't too sure.

"Angelica doesn't mean any harm you know," said Rowan. "It's just that sometimes she gets an idea in her mind, only sees the positives, and runs with it. I guess that smattering of unpredictability is what attracted me to her. You know how I like a touch of adventure in my life."



"I get that. But sometimes the negatives..."

"...need to be appreciated. And when they can affect people you care about..."

"...or anyone else."

"Yeah, sure. Anyone else. But no-one wants to hurt family."

"Beverley only realised the consequences yesterday."


"Poor kid." Rowan peered again at the open living room door.

Through it, I heard the front door open and close. Cecile briefly popped her head into the room.


"Angelica's had to run a short errand. She should be back before lunch is ready."

And with that, Rowan and I were alone again.

"Now what?" I said.

"Nothing to spoil in the oven, I hope."


o 0 O 0 o

(To be continued...)