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Authors: Tom Sharpe

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The Midden

BOOK: The Midden
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The MIDDEN
by Tom Sharpe

In fond memory

of Montsé Turró

and with thanks to

Jaume, Maria Carmen,

Pep and Kim

and everyone at the

Hotel Levant, Llafranc

Chapter 1

It was Timothy Bright's ambition to make a fortune. He had been brought up in the belief that
every Bright had made a fortune and it seemed only natural to suppose he was going to make one
too. All his life the evidence of the family's success had been around him, in the houses all
Brights he knew lived in, in the furnishings of those houses, in their acres and ornamental
gardens, in the portraits of Bright ancestors on the walls of Bright mansions, and above all in
the stories the Brights told of their forebears whose exploits over the centuries had amassed the
wealth that allowed contemporary Brights to live so very comfortably. Timothy never tired of
hearing those stories. Not that he fully understood their import. And he certainly didn't
understand that twentieth-century Brights, and in particular his father's generation, had done
practically nothing to increase or even maintain that wealth. In fact, thanks to their public
school education and the smug conceit this engendered in them, they had done a great deal to
waste the family finances and influence. They had also done the country no great service by
wasting themselves. While the older and politically influential Brights had used their peculiar
talents to ensure that wars were almost certain to take place, the younger members of the family
had died with courageous idiocy on the battlefields. Whether this had helped the family finances
no one could be entirely sure, but what wars and their own preference for playing games and
killing birds instead of thinking and working hadn't done, death duties and indolent stupidity
had.

All this had been hidden from Timothy Bright. One or two elderly aunts grumbled that things
weren't what they had been in their day, when apparently every house had had a proper butler plus
a great many indoor servants, but Timothy hadn't been interested. In any case the few domestic
servants he had occasionally seen sunning themselves in the desultory sunlight against the wall
of Uncle Fergus's fine old kitchen garden at Drumstruthie hadn't impressed him. This was hardly
surprising. The rest of the family disapproved of Uncle Fergus. He was an exceptional Bright and
a very rich one. Thanks to a life of unstinted service in various unhealthy and inexpensive parts
of the world (he had been Vice-Consul in East Timor and had even been considered for the
Falklands) Fergus Bright had been prevented from sharing in the financial fiascos of his brothers
and cousins. His last appointment, as the Governor of the Royal Asylum near Kettering, had been
most rewarding and, thanks to the discretion he showed in the matter of his extremely
well-connected patients, he had been handsomely rewarded. In spite of this, and perhaps because
of his strange parsimony, Uncle Fergus had been held up to Timothy as an example of boring
rectitude and of the social dangers of a good education.

'Uncle Fergus got a First at Oxford,' Aunt Annie was fond of saying to annoy her brothers and
was always rewarded by a shout of 'And look where that got him East Timor' from the other
Brights, only a few of whom had been to university. So, in spite of the wealth that allowed him
to keep up Drumstruthie, the example of Fergus was a negative one and Timothy had been encouraged
to find his heroes in Uncles Harry and Wedgewood and Lambkin, all of whom played polo and shot
and hunted and belonged to very smart clubs in London and who spoke of having had jolly good wars
somewhere or other and who seemed to live very comfortable lives without having to think about
money.

'I just don't understand it, Daddy,' Timothy had told his father one day when they had gone
down Dilly Dell to watch Old Og, the handyman, training his new ferret by setting it down an
artificial warren after a pet rabbit because, as Old Og said, "They ain't no real coneys about
what with this MickeyMousitosis like, so I has to make do with a shop-bought one, see,' which
Timothy Bright did understand.

'But I still don't understand money, Daddy,' he persisted as the ferret shot down the hole.
'What is money for?'

Bletchley Bright had taken his protuberant eyes off the unnatural world of the warren for a
moment and had studied his son briefly before going back to more important things like dying
rabbits. He wasn't entirely sure that Timothy's question was a proper one. 'What is money for?'
he repeated uncertainly, only to have Old Og answer for him.

''Tis for spending, Master Timothy,' he said and gave a nasty cackle which, like his archaic
rustic language, took him a lot of practice. 'Spent by thems that has it and stole by thems what
ain't.'

'Well I suppose that is one way of looking at it,' said Bletchley uncertainly. His only act of
public service was to be a Magistrate in Voleney Hatch. The discussion was interrupted by the
emergence of the young ferret with a bloodstained muzzle.

'He be a little beauty, bain't he?' said Old Og affectionately and was promptly bitten on the
thumb for this lapse. Stifling the impulse to say anything more appropriate than 'Lawsamercy' he
stuffed the ferret into his jacket pocket and hurried off to get some Elastoplast from the
Mini-Market in the village, leaving father and son to wander home for kitchen tea.

'You see, my boy,' said Bletchley when they had gone two hundred yards and he had had time to
marshal his thoughts. 'Money is...' He paused and sought for inspiration in a muddy puddle.
'Money is...yes, well I don't quite know how to put this but money is...Good gracious me, I do
believe I saw a barn owl over there by the wood. It would be wonderful to see a barn owl,
wouldn't it, Timothy?'

'But I want to know where money comes from,' said Timothy, not to be so easily distracted by
nothing more than a pigeon.

'Ah, yes, where it comes from,' said Bletchley. 'I know where it comes from. It comes from
other people paying it, of course.'

'What other people, Daddy? People like Old Og?'

Bletchley shook his head. 'I don't think Old Og has very much,' he said. 'You don't if you do
odd jobs and things like that. Of course, he's very happy. You don't have to have money to be
happy. Surely they've taught you that at school?'

'Mr Habbak earns ninety-one pounds a week,' said Timothy. 'Scobey saw his payslip on his desk
and he says it isn't much.'

'It's not a great deal,' said his father. 'But then schoolmasters get their board and lodging
and that means a lot, you know.'

'But how am I going to get money? I don't want to be like Mr Habbak,' Timothy persisted.
Bletchley Bright looked dourly round the faded winter landscape and finally revealed what was
evidently the family secret.

'You will make money by becoming a Name,' he said finally. 'That will happen when you are
twenty-one. Until that time I would appreciate it if you would never mention the topic of money
again. It is not a subject at all suitable for a Bright your age.'

From that moment Timothy had been sure he was going to make a fortune because he was Timothy
Bright and his name entitled him to one. And since this was so certain, he didn't have to think
too much about how he was going to do it. That would come later in some natural way when he was
twenty-one and had become a Name. In the meantime he had some of the problems of adolescence to
cope with or enjoy. Having developed a taste for blood sports with Old Og he underwent a
temporary religious crisis during what the school chaplain, the Reverend Benedict de Cheyne,
called 'his sixteenth year to Heaven' in an explanatory letter to Timothy's parents.

'We frequently find that sensitive boys do tend to have fantasies of this nature,' he wrote
after Timothy had decided to reveal all during a confessional hour with him. 'However I can
assure you that the impulse towards undue holiness tends to pass quite rapidly once the initial
sense of sin wears off. I shall of course do all I can, as Timothy's spiritual adviser and
consort, to hasten this change. We shall be taking our holiday in a cottage on Exmoor at Easter.
I have often found that this period of isolation is helpful. Your obedient servant in God,
Benedict de Cheyne.'

'I must say I find his emphasis on sin disturbing,' Bletchley told his wife when he had read
the letter several times.

'What do you think they are going to do on Exmoor?' Ernestine asked. 'It gets so terribly cold
there at Easter.'

'I prefer not to think,' said Bletchley, and left the room before she required him to discuss
the nature of Timothy's fantasies. He shut himself away in the downstairs lavatory and tried to
exorcise the memory of his own adolescent lusts by studying photographs of a collection of mole
traps in The Field. He'd have liked to use one on the Reverend Benedict de Cheyne.

But Mrs Bright raised the topic again at dinner that night. 'Of course I blame Old Og,' she
said as they sat down to scrambled eggs.

Bletchley's fork paused. 'Old Og? What on earth has Old Og got to do with it?'

'Timothy has been exposed to...well, Old Og's baleful influence,' said Ernestine.

'Baleful influence? Nonsense,' said Bletchley. 'Old Og's all right. Outdoor sports and so
on.'

'You may call them that,' she went on. 'In my opinion they are something else. To allow a
sensitive and delicate boy like Timothy to be exposed to...well, Old Og.' She stopped and looked
down at her plate.

'Exposed? You keep using that expression. If you're telling me Old Og exposed himself to...'
Bletchley shouted. 'By God, I'll thrash the blighter...I'll '

'Oh, do shut up,' Ernestine said. 'You're making an absolute fool of yourself. You're not
capable of thrashing him. No, that dreadful creature exposed Timothy to two terrible
temptations.' She paused again. Bletchley was about to rise from his chair. 'One was that awful
animal with blood on its snout killing a pet rabbit '

'He had to,' Bletchley interrupted. 'There weren't any wild rabbits about and he had to train
it on something. And anyway it was not an awful animal. It was Old Og's young ferret, Posy.'

'All ferrets are awful,' said Mrs Bright. 'And as if that were not enough to turn the child's
mind, Og had to take him to some frightful girl in the village and expose him to...'

'Expose him?' Bletchley said. 'He didn't do anything of the sort with me. He exposed her. Ripe
as...Now, what's wrong?'

'You are a vile, disgusting, and hopelessly impotent man. I can't think why I bothered to
marry you.' And Ernestine Bright left the table and went up to her room.

'I can,' Bletchley told the portrait of his grandfather, Benjamin. 'For money.'

But in due course the Chaplain's forecast proved correct. Timothy Bright came off Exmoor with
all dreams of a religious life quite gone. He had a different attitude to the Reverend Benedict,
too. Instead he followed the usual course for boys of his sort and failed his A-Levels.

'Bang goes your chance of Cambridge, my boy,' his Uncle Fergus told him when the results
arrived Timothy was up at Drumstruthie for the summer 'There's nothing for it now. You'll have to
go into banking. I've known an awful lot of fools who've done remarkably well in banking. It
apparently doesn't require any real thought. I remember your Great-Uncle Harold was put into
banking and you couldn't wish for a bigger fool. Dear fellow, as I remember him, but definitely
short of the necessary neurons for anything else. Not to put too fine a point on it, I'd say in
the modern jargon that he was so mentally challenged it took him twenty minutes to do up his tie.
But a fine fellow for all that, and naturally the family rallied round to train him for his new
profession. I seem to think it was your grandmother's Uncle Charlie who found the way. He owed a
bookie at Newmarket rather a large sum and in the normal way would have avoided the fellow for a
bit. Instead he got the family to put up the necessary cash and Charlie did a deal with the
bookmaker. He agreed to pay up in full immediately provided the bookie took Great-Uncle Harold on
and showed him the ropes. Bookie thought Harold was an idiot and accepted, and when he'd
graduated Harold went on as a banker in the City. Did damned well too. Ended up as Chairman of
the Royal Western, with a gong. They said he had a knack of knowing what a chap was thinking just
by looking at his hands. Extraordinary gift for a fellow with no brains to speak of. I daresay
you'll do very well in banking and the family could do with some financial help just now.'

Inspired by the example of his great-uncle, Timothy Bright had tried to persuade his father to
put up the money to apprentice him to a Newmarket bookie, only to meet with an adamant refusal to
waste money.

'You've been listening to Uncle Fergus's tommyrot,' Bletchley told him. 'Uncle Harold wasn't
such an idiot as all that, and what Fergus forgets is that he was a mathematical genius. That's
what accounted for his success. Nothing to do with watching clients' hands. From what Fergus says
anyone would think he was some sort of tic-tac man.'

BOOK: The Midden
10.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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