The board of trustees at Runton Hall are mainly comprised of an offshoot from the Gurney family, who own most of East Anglia. The Gurneys came over with the Conqueror*, made a fortune from the wool trade, built Norwich, and then invented the commercial banking system, whereupon their already gargantuan fortune took on interstellar proportions. It has continued to grow ever since, incidentally, hence the phrase ‘as rich as a Gurney’, in common use around these parts. Under ordinary circumstances, a couple of washed-up chancers such as ‘Anton’ and I are unlikely to cross paths with bona fide English aristocracy such as this; however, Runton is not an ordinary place, and these are not ordinary times. To this end, we met two of them at the Old Servant’s Quarters on Monday for tea in the sort of semi-informal sit down that will henceforth be a feature of life at Runton, as discussed last time. The Gurneys are firmly in the top 10% of people who own everything, a point made obvious when they arrived with a Swiss roll instead of biscuits. In their situation, I’d have gone classic with digestives or Bourbons, whereas ‘Anton’, who is very common, would probably have bought a six pack of Wagon Wheels and already had two of them. Swiss roll, though. That’s old money for you. All the Lottery wins in the world won’t buy that sort of class.
It’s worth mentioning that although the Trustees are part of the Gurney family, Gurney is not their surname. I couldn’t tell you what that surname is, because they inhabit a strata of English society so well-heeled that it appears to be speaking a different language, even to native English speakers such as Anton and I. Thus, when the man introduced them it sounded like he said ‘I am After Lunch, and this is my wife, Falafal For Lunch, and we like your dog’. My dog, Archibald el Fantastique is an enthusiastic animal, and after saying hello and running up and down the stairs a few times to show he fast he is, retired to keep an eye on proceedings from atop a pile of curtains in the corner. All the curtains in the Old Servant’s Quarters have been taken down for spring cleaning, and much of the place is to be wallpapered before Easter, when bookings start coming in in earnest. Wallpapering was the reason for the meeting as, along with myself, ‘Anton’, After Lunch and Falafel For Lunch, there was a wallpaper consultant present. She was necessary because if you’re restoring a mid-nineteenth century building, you can’t just have a feature wall and put inspirational canvasses up everywhere else, as is the way of twenty-first century interior decoration. There are too many walls in this country with ‘You Are Capable Of Amazing Things’ or similar obvious untruths written across a polar bear on them, and I will not be part of the problem. I’m sorry but I won’t.
I wish I’d heard of wallpaper consultancy before deciding to pursue my new career in barbering though because, unlike barbering which is a skill both complex and subtle, wallpaper consultancy involves sitting at a table with a pile of wallpaper samples and saying ‘There’s this one, or this one’ over and over again. Occasionally I would say ‘Is there that one?’ to amuse ‘Anton’, who asked if there was anything with Snoopy on it. The wallpaper consultant replied rather sharply that Snoopy was not in keeping with the mid nineteenth century. I asked if there was anything depicting increasing urbanisation and the golden age of European imperialism, which certainly would be in keeping with the mid nineteenth century, but she said no, then got her face out and gave me a look with it. I ignored it, because I know from Runton gossip that she met her husband in a threesome. Anyway, Falafel For Lunch wanted to have a pale neo-classical motif throughout, I agreed with her because she is posh, and our consultant was sent away to liaise with the good people of Bradbury and Bradbury in California at a horrifying expense thankfully not being incurred by ‘Anton’ and I. I will, however, be putting the valuable new wallpaper up because, despite having no training whatsoever, I have always been good at paper hanging. I put this down to evolution, and suspect we can all do it these days.
‘Anton’ and I spent the next half hour chatting with After Lunch and Falafel For Lunch, becoming accustomed to their whip-crackingly clipped tones. They were nice people, all tweed and shotguns, who seemed to think I was related to Joe. I said that we had been lovers once and that Becka was just a beard, which they found amusing, and went on to explain how we had worked at Camden before he came to Runton and that I had been the vicar at their wedding, which is literally true, except that I am not a vicar or to my knowledge ordained by any religious group. I also explained that Joe had basically rescued Anton and I when the markets collapsed.
‘And here you all are,’ said After Lunch, ‘a bit like the A Team’.
‘Anton’ replied that although this was true-ish, the difference was that when the A Team were accused of crimes, they were innocent, which is a fair point. They departed, and we took Archie out for a gallivant around the now snow-free East Field. The Lunches had left their Swiss roll behind, and it being in our possession meant that for a tantalising moment we were gaining on the super-rich. Then like idiots we ate it, so must remain poor for the time being.
*William the Conqueror, but also a plausible name for a sex toy or male stripper.
Main: Joe’s wedding, on a boiling August afternoon in the west country, ten years ago. Joe second from the left, myself in the centre. It was lovely hazy afternoon, and I those of us making up the Away support, being on Joe’s side of proceedings, deported ourselves well, especially considering we had got trashed before kick off on the minibus between Bristol Temple Meads station and wherever the ceremony took place.
Inset top: Archie, nonplussed by recent snow. Being of a breed favoured by Persian nobility, he is not cut out for a European winter. That said, his paws have especially thick pads to protect them while running for long distances on hot desert sand, and I think they took the worst of the cold away, too.
Inset middle: My old pitch at Camden, the best in the East Yard. The Goat Bag Man had it for a while when I left, before he migrated to the other side of the steps where Bibbsy used to be. Now selling skirts and whatnot, by the look of things. Odd that it’s so different now, but it was busy when I visited and that pleased me.
Inset lower: East Yard again. Many Camden notables have worked this pitch, most notably Supertone, with whom I invaded the east and south London markets when it was the done thing for Camden traders to do, circa 2009. Who’s van this is I have no idea, but this sort of thing is always a sign that the managers are running out of ideas.