Christmas is supposed to be a time of merriment and good cheer. But this year your friend has fallen on hard times, forced to sell off the family home, which is now a ‘centre’ for young people. The two gentlemen who now own the estate have moved themselves into the piano nobile and converted the ground floor into unisex dormitories for the poor wretches from urban squalor who visit the house. The formal flower beds are now football pitches, the shrubbery a car park, and the woodland walk has been turned into a BMX trail [whatever a BMX is]. Oh the shame of it all.
Issue One - 2004 The new owners [Middle Easterners of course] now live the life of country squires, paid for out of taxation collected by left wing inner-city councillors bent on wealth re-distribution who erroneously believe that the Levy brothers are charitable benefactors. And this is supposed to represent a caring society? To protect my faithful staff, I did elicit a promise of no redundancies. But oh how it breaks my heart to see the butler mowing the lawn whilst cook prepares burgers & chips on plastic plates.
Issue One - 2004 Losing your ancestral home is bad enough, but to read about it the local press is almost too much to bear. Where will I be next year? A caravan? For the foreseeable future I will be living at 155 Spearing Road, an ex-council house in High Wycombe a house with a number!!, in a road!! The shame, the indignity. I hope that you will still think kindly of me now that I can no longer invite you for weekends in the country with sumptuous dinners, masked balls and the chance to meet the great and the good of the county. All that is left are treasured memories of elegant soirées attended by the landed gentry of Buckinghamshire. Oh the shame of it all.
Issue One - 2004 Despite my financial predicament and depressive demeanour, I can still summon enough goodwill to wish you well at this time of the year. Seasons Greetings from a once happy man
Issue One - 2004 This bad news has been sent early as I could not bear to think that your Christmas card to me might be marked
Last year I told you of my sad descent into penury. Regretfully, over the past months, things have got even worse. You may remember that I had moved into an ex-council house but in August, missed mortgage payments allowed the bank to foreclose on me. They sold my house to a man who seems to have plenty of money despite not working.
Issue Two - 2005 There are rumours that he has converted the attic for ‘horticultural’ use but I don't know anything about that. Anyway he has agreed to let me use the garden shed as a temporary home. He calls it the gardener’s cottage. Strangely, he doesn't ask for rent but only asks that I keep an eye open for unwelcome visitors. He seems particularly worried about the police, maybe he had a bad experience with them but I don't know and it’s not my business.
Issue Two - 2005 So, back to Christmas…... With only a camping gas stove it’s not easy to cook a traditional meal. My neighbours have offered to let me eat with them but being Asian, it would probably be a curry and as they don't celebrate Christmas it would be rather ‘run of the mill’. No, I shall do my own thing. The Mini Mart has turkey sandwiches & individual sherry trifles and a bottle of their own brand whiskey should help to keep out the cold. I'm not complaining though.
Issue Two - 2005 I have many good memories of Christmases past and I am positive about the future. Adrian, my landlord, has promised to run an electric cable to the ‘cottage’ in time for next winter so at least I’ll be a little warmer by the time I next write to you. So, once again, I wish you a happy Christmas and ask not that you pity me but merely that you think of me on Christmas morning.
Issue Three - 2006 How proud I used to be when sending out those personalised Christmas cards from Woodrow High House. You don't realise how many joyful hours were spent with the butler, the under footman and myself, trusty Hasselblad in hand, selecting suitable scenes for the cards. But that has all gone these many years. Thankfully, after losing first the house then tenure on the shed in High Wycombe [the drug squad raided the landlord and took him and his prize indoor plants away] I have found solace on a friend’s estate in Devonshire.
Issue Three - 2006 This time it is an estate of considerable size - not a council estate. Lady Barbara Gainswin, the estate owner, has given me a lifetime lease on one of her caves. It is quite large and not without charm, although it is without gas, electricity or sanitation. However the ample wooded areas of the estate provide fuel for heat and enough hidden places for sanitation. This will be the first Christmas in my new home &, as Lady Barbara will be spending the holiday in her London House, I shall celebrate alone
Issue Three - 2006 She has kindly left me a hamper, a disposable BBQ, and a bottle of bubbly, which, with the small fir tree from the wood will make it quite festive. It is good to know that the upper classes continue to look after each other! If you have been courteous enough to send Seasons Greetings to my old address, the police have said they will forward them to me care of Lady Barbara.
Issue Three - 2006 So friends, don't pity me and do visit me when the weather is a little more clement. May you have a happy [and warm] Christmas, your affectionate friend, Keith, Faeries Hall, Buckfastleigh, Devonshire
Issue Four - 2009 I’ll wager that you thought that was the last you would hear from me. Well, think again. When the Lady Barbara returned to Devonshire early in 2007, she found the cave empty of all human presence. Her Ladyship thought, probably like yourselves, that I had simply faded away as there was no evidence left of my habitation. She had known me for many years and it was not out of character to suddenly lose contact with me.
Issue Four - 2009 So, where did I go? Let me explain. That Christmas, back in 2006, alone and huddled up close to the fire sipping the last drop of the 12 bottles of Chateau Margaux, [I had purloined them from the Hall via a propitiously open window in the buttery], I heard voices that appeared to come from the back of the cave. Not ordinary voices but the sound of what I can only call monastic chanting. [I found out later that is was the Gregorian Schola]
Issue Four - 2009 In my befuddled state I went to the far reaches of the cave whilst all the time the chanting became louder and louder. Strangely, there appeared to be a flickering of light coming through a small crack on the wall. Fortified by the claret, I clawed at the wall making the crack big enough to peer through. What I saw was truly amazing.
Issue Four - 2009 Twelve monks in brown habits were chanting whilst swinging incense burners [reminded me of a party I attended in the 60s where some drag queen’s handbag had caught fire, but I digress]. Frantically I called out to them to help me. To this day I don’t know why. I wasn’t in any danger and I had never been drawn to the Catholic faith. Anyway the monks, looking puzzled as to who or what had disturbed their ritual, came closer to the wall and one by one peered through the hole. At this point in the story I must explain something that came to my attention later.....
Issue Four - 2009 These monks were from Buckfast Abbey which is a mere stone’s throw from Lady Barbara’s home, Faeries Hall, and there is a network of tunnels under the sandstone hills upon which the Abbey was built. These date from the time of the original monastery which was founded during the reign of King Cnut in 1018.
Issue Four - 2009 The tunnels were dug originally as store rooms for barrels of the excellent Buckfast Tonic Wine as the temperature and humidity remained constant all year round. The monks have produced this fortified wine for millennia and it is still their main source of income. The close proximity of these storage tunnels to the cave where I had been abiding was unknown to all until that fateful day in January 2007.
Issue Four - 2009 A darker secret concerns the Preparatory School for boys aged 7 to 13 that the Abbey operated from 1967 until 1994. Some say that the tunnels were used by a secret society within the school dedicated to the teachings of Socrates & Plato in their widest possible sense. I cannot comment on that besides noting that two former Buckfast monks were later convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing boys during this period.
Issue Four - 2009 Events that happened next were truly life-changing. The monks quickly made the opening large enough for me to crawl through. Despite my bedraggled appearance they obviously recognised my aristocratic bearing and dignified speech as being that of a gentleman and not a tramp. Within a few moments I had explained my journey from stately home to a Devonshire cave. They insisted that I follow them back to the Abbey to tell them more. Once there, they listened in enthrallment
Issue Four - 2009 I admit that the story may have been a tad ‘embroidered’, as my tongue had certainly been loosened a little by the claret and you will know that I always like to ‘play to the gallery’. When I had finished, Brother Julian [for we were by now on first name terms], asked about my future intentions. I said that I had no plans, apart from a determination to one day reclaim Woodrow High House from the clutches of the evil Levy family.
Issue Four - 2009 Brother Julian poured a large glass of Tonic Wine and asked if I would consider becoming a postulant. I thought for a minute or so before agreeing. I didn’t want them to think me ignorant so I didn’t tell that that I had no idea what a postulant was. By this time the effects of the claret were wearing off only to be replaced by the euphoria caused by the never ending supply of Tonic Wine. My eyes were closing and I was intermittently drifting into somnolence. Brother Julian suggested that I sleep in his bed whilst he would sleep on the floor.
Issue Four - 2009 The next morning I awoke to find that I had signed a postulancy [the monastic equivalent of a contract]. [for those of you who are unaware of the term, it means someone who has made a request to be admitted to a monastic order both before actual admission and for the length of time proceeding their admission into the novitiate. It is also used to describe the ecclesiastical status of a person who has discerned a call to the priesthood]
Issue Four - 2009 I argued that I had signed under duress [and the effect of the Tonic Wine] but to no avail. The Benedictines are very short of priests and they weren’t going to let me out of the contract. There is no telephone at the Abbey and I was allowed no contact with the outside world save for watching the public through the glass walls of the famous ‘Bee House’ where the last remaining colony of Buckfast Bees is kept.
Issue Four - 2009 I was allocated the duty of trainee Bee Keeper, meaning that whilst working, I could see the public but not communicate with them. How was I ever to leave this place? Although the monks were always kind to me and the food wasn’t too bad [they grow everything themselves], I missed the bonhomie found in an English country pub. Drinking Tonic Wine with a room full of silent monks is no substitute.
Issue Four - 2009 One day, after the visitors had gone and I was sweeping up the detritus that tourists always leave behind, I found a mobile phone. I quickly secreted it inside my habit and made my way to the quietist part of the Abbey. Once there, I made the most important call of my life. It was to the Lady Barbara. I told her of my two years of imprisonment and begged her to help me once again as she had done before. She immediately spoke to her friend, Sir Hartley-Bumgardner, owner of the local paper, the South Devon Clarion. Sir Hartley is a distant relative of the Rev Pat Bumgardner, the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
Issue Four - 2009 Sir Hartley made one telephone call to the Abbott at Buckfast. Intimating the damage that could be caused by Pat Bumgardner calling for an investigation into suspected goings on at Buckfast was enough. I was released back into the community the following day.
Issue Four - 2009 How lucky it was that the Abbott wasn’t aware that the Reverend Pat has been an active campaigner for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people for many years and would certainly never have called for such an investigation and he probably doesn’t even know of the existence of Sir Hartley.
Issue Four - 2009 So all is well that ends well. I have moved back to High Wycombe and I’m living with Adrian as he has now finished his period of detention. He no longer has ‘horticultural’ interests but prefers to purchase all his needs on the open market which flourishes on the estate. He is helping me in my plans to regain Woodrow High House.
Issue Four - 2009 I hope that next year’s Christmas card will once again bear the famous crest of my ancestors and be adorned with a picture of myself at the front door of Woodrow High House.
Issue Five - 2010..I say almost. Please don't amend your records just yet. Whilst I am now back in the family’s ancestral seat, things aren't quite finalised in the legal sense. Whilst those scruffy London urchins were away on a ‘personality improvement’ weekend to another stately home that the Levy brothers had acquired, I sort of ‘moved in’.
Issue Five - 2010 The term ‘squatter’ has been used in the local rag but that is not the case. This is my home for God’s sake, it has been in the family for generations. Cromwell’s wife was given refuge here during the civil war. My family have done their bit for King & Country over the centuries [maybe not during the civil war. That was because my ancestor, Sir Horace Woodrow, thought that Charles would lose the war as well as his head and that he would be succeeded by King Oliver. So, in a perverse way, Horace could still claim that the family were royalists]
Issue Five - 2010 As I said in my card last year, my lucky escape from the clutches [and crotches] of the evil monks at Buckfast enabled me to return to my horticultural friend, Adrian, who is now back in society, courtesy of Kenneth Clarke’s money- saving initiative. [Adrian had made a handsome donation to the Tory election fund, but that in no way affected the decision to release him]
Issue Five - 2010 Adrian is currently replanting the orangery with his own seedlings. He refers to them as ‘SIR’, apparently an acronym for Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis which means nothing to me. What matters is that he assures me that it will produce a cash crop that will more than pay for the legal costs I shall face when the bailiffs arrive with an eviction order. Understandably, I don't ask too many questions.
Issue Five - 2010 I hereby serve notice to all who will listen—I AM HERE, AND HERE I SHALL STAY. More news next year I promise. In the meantime, Seasons Greetings to you all.
Issue Five - 2010 Woodrow High House as seen on a sunny winter’s day from the site of the proposed croquet lawn.
As you will remember, last year I returned to the family seat at Woodrow High House with my friend Adrian the horticulturist. In early August, whilst I was doing the weekly shop, the local bobbies arrived and carted Adrian away with his prize pot plants, muttering something about ‘pot’ having two meanings.
Issue Six - 2011 Anyway, his promise to help defray the costs of the pending eviction case has now gone up in smoke [literally]. Within days I had another surprise. A coach load of youngsters arrived for a training weekend organised by the gay campaigning group, Stonewall. I had to hide, but where? There was nothing I could do to avoid detection except to join the crowd and pretend to be one of the Stonewall staff.
Issue Six - 2011 From the Bucks Free Press - August 2011
Issue Six - 2011 It took until the allocation of sleeping quarters before it was realised that there were 32 bodies and 31 beds! So, rather than be ‘caught out’, I ‘came out’ and declared that I had been a lifelong but anonymous supporter of Stonewall for years. That did the trick and no more questions were asked.
Issue Six - 2011 It’s now December and I am still here while the court considers my umpteenth appeal against eviction. There are drawbacks as the power lines have been cut. I am sure it was the bailiffs but I cannot prove it. Still, no harm done as the woods provide all the fuel I need to cook with and heat the place. With Adrian away again for a lengthy period I was afraid that I would be lonely but it was not to be.
Issue Six - 2011 One of the Stonewall staff asked if she could move in as she was having emotional problems with her partner. I agreed [no questions asked, no explanations given], and things have worked out ok. She’s almost as useful as a man when it comes to chopping the trees down, but no comfort in any other way - can’t cook and doesn’t know what a vacuum cleaner is for.
Issue Six - 2011 She said she was a fan of Vita Sackville West of Sissinghurst fame so I had hoped for some gardening tips. Turns out she’s more interested in Vita’s love affair with Virginia Woolf. Only to be expected, I suppose. Till next year then, Seasons Greetings to you all.