Another world

5: 35 AM: Crumpetworthy Park

Up at The Hall with its dark labyrinthine corridors, the residents sleep. The only sounds, the hiss of the steam pipes from the beast, a gargantuan early-Victorian boiler deep underground. Even the steaming tiled bathtubbery with its exotic plants is silent.

Outside, an owl hoots behind the gardener’s hut. Mr. Doggy Doofus, on some nighttime mission of his own, stops sniffing the ground and howls in return. Dog and owl have much to say to each other in the dark.   

Beyond the trees, and down Crumpetworthy Park’s long driveway, there is a light on in the gatekeeper’s lodge.

Inside, old Ken Hopkins, resplendent in his hand-made nightcap and gown, puts the kettle on for his first cup of tea and lets the cat in. He lights a fire and settles down in front of it to make a list of all things he won’t do today.

6:00 AM: Fately Hill

The wind wails on the heath. The villagers rarely venture up there—especially during darkness.

Thee stone cottages in a circle, inside each, a Weird Sister sleeps deeply. They’ve been up half the night at The Cauldron. And they’re going to be late for work at The Tea Room in Warmsley.

6:12 AM: Ms. Pettigrew’s School of Manners

With bodice-ripping intensity, Ms. Pettigrew dreams. She rolls over in her soft pillowiness and breaths a deep sigh. Now in her dreamy-dreamland, she is cantering sidesaddle across open country to where Brandon Manly, in riding jacket and extraordinarily tight breeches, stands beneath a vast oak tree, his strong hand gripping the reins of his still-panting black stallion.

6:45 AM: Dingle

Above the wool shop, Maxine Watson rises before dawn to do her exercises. Her flat is small. But there’s just enough room for a zero-gravity chair in which she now reclines and concentrates on the slow path to not much. She is making progress.

7:55 AM: Nitwittington-on-Thames

The golf club secretary, Julian Makepeace, finishes off the last of his toast and marmalade and considers what he should say at the memorial service for Arthur Sprocket later today. Another fatality in such a short time, he thinks. Major Blister died after being lost for nine days in the wood on the 14th. Muriel Robinson died of boredom, waiting for her husband to tee off on the 8th. And now Arnold Sprocket, struck by lightning in mid-swing. The golf club’s cemetery is getting full.

10:30 AM: Tea break at the Groundskeepers’ Lodge, Crumpetworthy Park

As usual, Ted Brinkley has spent the morning talking to his cauliflower in the greenhouse. He now puts the kettle on for tea as the rest of the crew arrives. After all, they deserve a break after working for more than an hour and a half.  

Fred (technically Ted Brinkley’s boss) has spent his working morning removing a pebble from his boot. Still, he’ll be ready to get mobile right after tea-break, or after lunch at the latest — probably.

Fred recounts the same joke he told yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

The crew giggles dutifully.

Cautiously, Stanley, the under-gardener, examines his lunchbox for a mid-morning snack.

Relief! Audrey has made him a cheese and pickle sandwich— something he recognizes.

Audrey’s day off at home. She stands at the sink cup in hand. She thinks how Stanley just doesn’t feel the same way about food as she does. He likes predictability.

But she seethes with an unrequited culinary desire. She tasted a French Macaron last Friday at The Cauldron and she knows she will never be the same again.

Stanley will want baked beans on toast when he comes home from work later in the afternoon. She finishes cleaning the kitchen.

11:00 AM: Ms. Pettigrew’s School of Manners

Ms. Pettigrew, 42, now fully awake, is simply dressed in a black Jaeger pleated drape dress. She addresses the girls in the lecture hall. She dispenses advice on the dangers of hurrying and the importance of deportment. Ms. Pettigrew will not tolerate poor posture in her school.

Relaxing properly, she tells them, will allow them to discover their own mellow vocal tones. They must avoid all nervous strain and practice minimal effort in speech, thought, and posture.

Ms. Heather Braithwaite, chief relaxologist at the Institute, will visit the school that afternoon.  All the girls have read her book The Pleasure of Slow Relaxing. It’s required reading.

11:45 AM: The Tea Room in Warmsley

Upstairs from the Holistic Employment Agency, the place is all dark wood, heavy curtains, and thick Turkish carpets.

Hebe and Chloe meet for a pot of Weird Sister Tea. The two women talk of Bill Boom, property mogul. Rumor has it he’s looking to build a high-security golf course for the criminally insane on Fately Hill.

The Weird Sisters and people like them have lived on Fately Hill for generations. But does Bill Boom know enough not to get on the wrong side of a Weird Sister? And certainly, not all three of the partners in the Tea Room, a seemingly quiet place for tea, scones, cream, cucumber sandwiches, and a few unique specialties.