The Ambler

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Whither And Why: April’s Fool

HH-and-Honk

HH and Honk: Beau-Nasty and nice

I have had a lengthy and turbulent history with the annual occasion of April fool’s Day. Many was the occasion where my dear wife Lillian, after spending some weeks locked away in the greenhouse, has worked throughout the night of March 31st creating ever more elaborate and fiendish plots to deceive my wits. On one occasion, she came screaming into my study and convinced me our satellite dish was receiving a greeting message from an alien planet. It was of course a cleverly recorded video she had made using hand-puppets, green jelly and a variety of silly voices. Another time one was led to believe that the Home Secretary had made an emergency stop at the house and was sleeping in the spare room. I had waited outside that door with my autograph book for six hours before deciding to enter, discovering the truth of reel to reel tape machine playing snores on a loop.

This time, however saw through it immediately. No Health Service would ever send out leaflets advising “Inactivity” and “hourly bowls of Lucky Charms” as part of a healthy lifestyle. I had feigned my surprise at the artifice and congratulated Lillian on her efforts; we would laugh and settle down to our day’s routine of boiled eggs and soldiers. However, this normally jovial square on the calendar took a most serious turn when, this year, my morning of ferreting in the office was interrupted by the sudden appearance of my friend, the jocularly jentacular, Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn.

“Honk,” he said as he loped towards the tattered sofa, brushing away my ferrets as he approached, “I have been led astray.”

I swivelled my chair in the direction of the sofa, where HH had collapsed, and from behind the damp flannel from his forehead, I could pick out the merest hint of a recitation from my friend. It appeared to be the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

“HH, you only quote modernist canon when you are in the highest stages of distress. What seems to be the problem?” I asked from my chair.

“Well,” he replied from the sofa, “the wool has been pulled over mine eyes!”

I carefully removed the flannel from his forehead.

“Ah!” my friend exclaimed. “That’s better. Terribly grateful, Honk, I’ll just be off – “

“HH, you had an issue to deconstruct?”

“Ah!” my friend exclaimed again. “It begins thusly. I was taking Bismarck for a stroll with the intention of making a pit stop at the village store for a packet of Skittles, when my eyes settled on a pair of snake-proof leather boots walking with intent to close the distance between us.”

“I presume they weren’t walking all by themselves…” I ventured slowly.

“Absolutely right” my friend erupted “They had a poodle with them!”

“A poodle was wearing snake-proof leather boots?!”

“No, no, Honkers, don’t be daft! What a mad notion. Someone was wearing the boots, someone beautiful, someone – irresistibubble, with lip-smacking taste in corduroy and eating… Tangfastic Haribos!”

I knew it at once by the way he said ‘Tangfastic Haribos’, he’d fallen head over heels in love again. I’ve heard many of these before and most were quite entertaining. I sat back into the chair, the tips of my fingers touching and let my chumpanion continue in his gushing narrative.

“Anyway, we met and I introduced myself. Well actually Bismarck introduced himself first and then I caught up with a whirl of apologies and picked her up from off the verge. She said her name was April and I felt all foolish when I gave mine as ‘Bismark’ but I swiftly corrected the error and she agreed to join me on the remainder of our walk.

“We took a punt but sheepishly had to return to the jetty as we hadn’t paid for the hire. I did the honours and off we went, the still waters giving way to the prow. Did you know, it turns out there is a bylaw that demands boaters must be worn when punting? Something to do with the Skipper’s Union wanting punt users to be distinguished from real boatmen, I think. Oh, and you can’t wear a Captain’s Hat if you are on a punt, except on Trafalgar Day, when it is every Englishman’s duty.”

“Er, I’m sorry Nairn, this can’t be true. For one, what you’re saying doesn’t even make sense. I’m not even sure there is a Skipper’s Union and anyway you’re only barred from wearing elements of uniform if you intend to pretend you are a member of the Armed Forces.”

“Poppycock!” He retorted. “It’s all legal and above aboard. Ahaha!”

Sighing visibly at this apology for a joke, I allowed him to continue.

“So then, we were just bobbing along…”

“Bobbing along?”

“…at the bottom of that beautiful tidy area of the river, The Stanners I think it’s called when she suddenly jumped up, tossed her boater landwards like a Frisbee and yelled ‘C’mon Hilly, last one in is a Beau-Nasty!” and smartly dived into the wet stuff!”

“Nope.” I declared. “This is a bit far-fetched for me. No one has ever or will ever call you ‘Hilly’ dear friend. Not even in most mortal or desperate of circumstances, the kind that has all hope pinning on the unlikely outcome of a Gnat defeating the Darkest Devils imaginable. No. Admit defeat old chap, you’ve been sussed.”

“But dear Honk, that’s not even the half of it!” he said picking an errant ferret from out of his turban.

“There’s more?” I uttered with some noticeable shuddering.

“Gosh, yes! I leapt in after her, even though one had already been declared said forfeit, and we swam to the bank. Well she swam, I waded, she’s very petit. By this time the two dogs had already passed us by in their punt and were, it seemed, heading for some white water down river at the weir. I must tell you Honk that a boater looks very handsome on a Boarhound but quite frankly does nothing for a poodle.”

Another clue but I let this one slip by. Bismarck is a remarkable animal and highly talented. He plays Bridge, has driven a tractor and he does occasionally wear a Deer Stalker in winter time. This element of the tale held up. No, the real giveaway was that no other dog could possibly have tolerated being left in his company for more than a few minutes and would surely have bolted as soon as he began doing his Keith Chegwin impersonation.

“Well, we were wet through and so of course I offered my premises as a place to canter to for drying purposes. As some compensation for the earlier spill I bought a multipack’s worth of Tangfastics which we devoured on our walk back, exchanging our opinions on our favourite denizens that dwell within the little bags. Funny thing; she kept looking over her shoulder as if looking for someone. I paid it no real mind. Looking for her pooch I expect.

“We chose not to bother Mrs. Clutterbutt who was busy ironing something for luncheon. I escorted April up the main stairs, gave her an enormous towel and pointed her in the direction of the best shower in the house. I parked my soggy boots in the upstairs warm room and headed towards my bedchamber. Running up the stairs, and completely dry was…April!

“That’s impossible!” I croaked. “My dear Nairn-a-rooney, there’s no way she could have gotten dry that quick let alone get from the shower at one end of the wing and then appear coming up the stairs at the other, not without you seeing her.”

“….Incredible. I said those very words, how could you have known I said that? Where you there too? Are you a part of this conspiracy? My oldest and dearest friend?”

He rose quickly in a panic and seemed quite put out.

“There never was a ‘there’ because it’s all a story to wind me up. Anyway, why ‘conspiracy?’ What is this leading to now?”

The next stage of this maddening farce seemed to warrant being acted out with serious gusto and I picked up a few of the ferrets for their protection. He intimated via movement and thrustings of verbosity, that there were, in fact, two Aprils: Con trick twins who make a living in crime by defrauding wealthy gentlemen whom they hope fall for their looks and lip-smackingly good taste in corduroy.

Nairn’s nonsense tale put him accidently encountering the other twin, who had followed them both back to the home and via some massively implausible “twin-tuition” knew which shower her sister was meant to be using and was hoping to make her way to replace her undetected. Whilst our Byronic narrator was seeing to his change of clothes and taking of a stiff cocoa, the original April was already piling whatever silver and gilt she could lay her paws on and would make her escape as the second April “towelled down.” Part of that plan had failed. The rest was fantasy on a scale I never thought dear Nairn would ever conceive:

“…and then the breaking of glass and a woman’s scream. Bismarck and the poodle come crashing through the entrance window on a wave of white water, their punt buffeted by its power, their boaters in tatters, a third, clanking passenger face down in the middle. She was identical to the April on the stairs before me and when she finally got up, the bulging towel she was carrying gave way and several silver candelabras, rare stones and a portrait of Mother Nairn, clattered to the floor. Needless to say one was most bewildered by it all.”

I sighed and said “Bewildered is too soft a word. Then what?”

“They both sort of shrugged really and said it was a fair cop or something. It turns out the poodle was an undercover policeman.”

“HH?” I asked tentatively. “Have the past four hours merely been a needlessly extensive prelude to you bellowing ‘April Fool’ and throwing pocketfuls of Skittles across my study?”

HH hastily removed his hands from the pockets of his smoking jacket. He produced another flannel from the interior of his left sleeve and hid his face underneath it. I removed the flannel and repeated my question.

“Well…” he replied, “yes. April Fool, Honk, old thing! I fooled you, didn’t I! Splendid!”

“Not particularly, HH,” I said, picking Skittles out of my hair, “considering I was questioning the validity of your story from the off.”

“Yes, I fooled you spectacularly, for yet another year. Dear me, Honkster, will you ever learn?”

HH rose from the sofa and began to exit the room. From the doorway, however, he turned and added, “I am getting married, though. Nothing to panic about, just a small do at St Lawrences. Invites in the post. Will tell all tomorrow. Ciao!”

I chuckled to myself. My friend was certainly persistent. I glanced quickly at my pocketwatch. It told me April Fool’s day had thankfully passed for another year.

HH was a jester, but he was a stickler for the rules. No Fooling after midday. I took a moment to allow the ramifications of this to sink in. Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn’s bachelor days were soon to be over.

“Lillian?” I called. “You may require a new hat…”

 

HH and Honk will return in ‘Love Beyond Skittles’…..

 A Beau-Nasty is a 17th Century term meaning “A slovenly fop, well dressed but dirty.”

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