Excerpt from Chapter III
And so the great day dawned when we set off to the depths of Gloucestershire to visit my uncle and aunt. Ellingham loaded the car with all of the necessary clothes and equipment a young gentleman would need on a country visit. Or at least he assured me he had, and I had no reason to doubt the man. We started just after lunch in weather that set the heart aglow, or should have done had I not had the feeling of dread of which I have already made mention. On occasions like this we are more like old friends than employer and employed. We were bowling along merrily passing the time in idle chitchat, as one does when time isn't a pressing concern, when a thought occurred to me.
'I say Ellingham?'
'You did remember to pack the Quacking Duck?'
I've always thought that the best way to stay young is to do childish things from time to time, especially away from prying eyes. My own indulgence happens to be bath toys. Having got totally fed up with the plastic warships, I bet if you've got them you've found as I have; they all sink to the depths at the slightest wave in the bathwater, except of course the submarine which manages to stay afloat even under the weight of a wet flannel. And so my latest novelty is the aforementioned Quacking Duck. If you've not come across this one, I can highly recommend it. It sort of sits on the surface as any rubber duck but then every so often, seemingly at random, it dips its beak in the water, tail up as duck will, then returns to the float again making a loud quacking sound, as infectious as that laughing policeman thing one puts a penny in at the fair.
'I had anticipated that you would require it, sir, and it is packed away with the miniature flotilla, sir.'
'You may discard the boats at your earliest Ellingham, I have tired of them, they are surplus to requirements. You may distribute them among the poor.'
'As you wish, sir.'
I changed the subject.
'So what do you think to "Ramona" now, Ellingham? I asked.
'Do I assume correctly that you have given the vehicle that name, sir?'
'Your assumption is without fault Ellingham, fits her rather well don't yer think?'
'It is perhaps, a name a little too much on the lines of Jezebel but suitable enough, sir. From a passenger's point of view I have to say the ride is most comfortable, sir. However, as I have not yet had the pleasure of driving the vehicle I cannot offer more in the way of an opinion in that direction, sir.'
'You'll have your chance Ellingham. When the love affair is cooling; you'll get your chance.'
'Thank you sir, I will look forward to it. In the mean time I would value your thoughts on the vehicle sir.'
A bit patronising I suppose, but the man was probably only trying to regain lost ground with regard to past problems so I let it go.
'It's hard to put into words, but I suppose it's as though they have tied up all the loose ends; it feels, I don't know, sort of clean if you know what I mean?'
'Indeed, sir, you were perhaps thinking that the vehicle has come of age; become almost part of the driver's own body, sir?'
'I say, that's rather good Ellingham. That's exactly it, complete and finished and like I said, clean, somehow.'
'I understand sir.'
'Talking of clean, or rather cleaning; that stuff, er, Kleeno, have you tried it yet?' I asked.
'The occasion has not as yet arisen when I have found the need of your kind gift, sir.'
'Well try it when we get back. Its expensive stuff Ellingham, I'd hate to think of it going to waste,' I said.
As you wish sir, perhaps I could deliberately burn a pan so as to be able to properly ascertain its cleaning properties, sir?'
'That's the spirit my man. Give it of your best.'
'I will attend to the matter the moment we return home sir.'
As you see all was sweetness and light when all of a sudden there was an almighty bang and "Ramona" lurched from side to side, across the road, this way and that, and we near as damn it ended our journey in the ditch. A front tyre had blown and we were miles from anywhere.
'Front tyres gone Ellingham,' I pointed out in case the matter had passed him by.
'So I had ascertained, sir.'
'We're miles from anywhere.'
'As you say sir, the last village is some three miles back and the next one a similar distance ahead, sir.' He no doubt pointed it out, in case the matter had slipped my attention.
'Suppose we'll have to change it?'
'That would indeed seem to be the case, sir.'
'Could you do that Ellingham?'
'I have no first-hand experience of such matters, sir. However there is, I believe, in the glove compartment, a bound document explaining the sequence of events on these, and similar occasions. I could if it would be helpful read the relevant section for you as you carry out the procedure, sir,' he said, making it quite clear that in this matter I was on my own.
If you've ever had occasion to find yourself in the middle of the country with a motorcar that's thrown a shoe, you will know that it is a tricky matter to put right. The first thing you need to do is to find the bally toolkit; this is of course located below all of the luggage you, or in this case your manservant, has carefully stowed away for the journey. Having eventually found them your problems begin. If you are aware of these things you won't need me to tell you that the sporty wheels on the Tolson Mk14 Super Sports are held on by one of those pretty chromium spinner things in the middle, which you need to bash the right way to make it undo, put the jack in a suitable place, and so on. Anyway to cut a long story to the bare bones it was the best part of an hour before we were again on our way. I had badly scuffed the toe of my right shoe, torn the knee of very nifty pair of trousers, somehow got grease on the shoulder of my favourite jacket and received several badly barked knuckles in the process. Ellingham had received a rather nasty paper cut from one of the pages of the owner's manual. Hah, serve him jolly well right what?
We pulled up outside The Willows a good bit behind schedule as you might imagine. We always eat early when at The Willows, due to my uncle's digestive system needing a goodly length of time to deal with his last meal before retiring. My aunt herself was at the door; doing the face like thunder, arms folded, foot-tapping routine.
'You're late, and why, may I ask, have you arrived at my door looking like a down and out scarecrow?' she asked.
'Had a bit of a problem with the old jalopy Aunt, rather in need of a bath I think.' Though I'm sure the matter had not escaped her attention.
'Be gone foul beast.' She miss-quoted then spoke to Ellingham. 'I've put the young idiot in the green room again, above the tack room, though no doubt you remember. Dinner is in twenty-five minutes, have him washed and scrubbed, do not spare the scrubbing. I wish to see much raw flesh, and have him in presentable form by then Ellingham.'
'I will of course see to the matter, madam.'
'See that you do,' she said and waved us on our way.