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On holiday: day the Fifth

20 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and after breakfast I about the little business I had in mind when I did think to come here. For a short walk away, on the road and facing the inn, is the little cottage that was my parents, which they had for more than 20 years, and which they come to live in at times, during the year, though it a very long journy from their bigger house. Only they did sell it fourteen years since, as my father tells me, and have not seen it since, and I for longer still. And I feel a quickening of my heart as I approach it, and a thought comes into my mind that perhaps it were better to keep it all trapped in the past and to turn, and satisfy myselfe with just a backward glance. But then I think this to be the foyble of a younger selfe, for this is the very thing I came to do, and so push open the paynted gate and knock upon the front door, which is ajar, and the sun up upon it, and pretty flowers in boxes on the windowsills outside. And comes a mans voice, ‘Go round the back!’ which brings a smile to my face, for my parents always used the back door too. And then hurrys the woman of the house around the corner to my right, for she hath heard me, and she smiles and asks me if I am who I am, and I say, ‘Yes, I am he,’ and she leads me to the back garden.
  And I look around, and recognise all the entirety of it. The old caravan hath gone, in which my father stored his peat to dry, and in its place a fine wooden shed, given over to an Office, and the shrubs are neat, and the grass cut.
  ‘Would you like to come in?’ says she. ‘You must excuse the mess. We just got back from Dunedin last night.’
  And so I do, humbled by the kindness of her; and there to my left is the little kitchen, with its sink and its stove, and before me the little hallway where we did hang our wet coats, and the step up into the living room, with its hearth unchanged and its cupboards just so; for they have changed nothing, save only it is their own tables, and chairs, and books, and all the trappings of the everyday, and all lived in and with a homely warmth. And I recount all this in the manner of, ‘There is the little oven by the hearth that never really worked, and there the cupboard where we aired the sheets,’ and by and by are joyned by the husband, who is a little stooped with age but hath a twinkle in his eye. And we exchange some discourse as to the plans they had, for a new room in the roof, and this, and that, but none come to pass, as is the nature of many plans. And of how once came to visit the son of the man who owned the place even before my mother and father, who still saw his father’s hand in some carpentery here, and some plaster work there; and outside was even the little wooden shed for coal that his father built and mine inherited, and it is still there, only a tiny bit rotten at the base, just as I remembered it.
  It was forty years ago that I first set eyes upon this little house, and twenty-five since I last set eyes upon it. I had expected tears, but there were none, for wonderment expunged them, so little was it touched by the passage of time. And after a while I made my thanks and quietly left, only making a couple of sketches of its walls from the road to show my mother and father, and of the little plate with its paynted name. Railway Cottage.
  After, we walked along the stony path that winds along the lake nearby, which the locals call Loch Morrar, only it become wet, which again was not foretold, and we come home. And after supper I set to write my Journall for the day, and find it a curious thing, that now I write the words is when the tears come. 

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On holiday: day the Fourth

19 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and thanks be to God, unharmed, and after some cheese, quoissants and a little preserve that was left on a tray for us, our hostesse not to be seen, today take the boat from the port of Mallague to Sky Isle, which was 40 minutes and many coaches upon it, only the weather not as we had hoped, it being very rainy, and not at all as the prediction hath it when we booked the boat, which was for there to be much sun shine, and why we did think to go today. Land at some minutes past 10 a-clock, whence a long journy, which was over an hour, I think, to some black mountains, very dark and of a threatening aspect, there to walk along a path Mr. Jones had walked before, though twenty years since, which he did know for a fact for he catalogged it in a great note book. But it all changed, which I think made him a little sad, with many brown signs proclameing the road to ‘The Faërie Pools’, which attract a great many there, more than for the trayn at the vyaduct, and a great park for all the coaches, which was not there when Mr. Jones come last. And the walk up a long vally, and over many streams, all awash and the water over our boots with the nights rain, though I with my Carrymore coat against the rain, and my feet dry in my Scarper boots, the best I ever bought. But Lord! the flimsy shoes we saw the people walk in! — dayntie flats, and boat shoes, though they must risk torrents and a path all uneven with rocks, and with much mud between them. But all around the scenery very wild, with much water in cascades, and a grey cloud that moved around the tops, and a drizzle so we could not see where the river run to the sea.
  Mr. Jones did teach me today the meaning of a new word, which is the Verb ‘to contour’, and used it in a sentence that proveth his understanding of it — viz. ‘We shall aim for there — ’ (he points to where the stream emergeth from the mountain) ‘ — and from there bear left, on to that track there — ’ (he points again) ‘ — which contours around the head of the vally to that pass there — ’ (again he points) ‘ — and from there we shall return down that track by those trees — there. Three hours, max.’
  ‘Very well,’ say I, though I harbour a reservacion, for the length of the walk yesterday upon Egg Island hath tired my lower limbs and I have a discomfort on one thigh.
  By and by we reach the foot of mountains and our chosen route, which we follow for a little way, and leave all others behind, which were only a few of them that had walked all up the torrent. Only I sense it to be more tiring than I thought.
  ‘So, when you said “contour around”,’ whinge I, ‘I did take it to be a flat path, one that followeth the topographickle features pertaining to a single line on a map joining points of equal height above or below sea level. We are going consistently upwards.’
  ‘Perhaps we should rest here upon these handy boulders and have some lunch?’ says Mr.Jones, brightly and, I think, to mollefy me (but efasively avoiding the question, which I note). He fisheth within his nap sack for our victuals, and I within the depths of a pocket, to extract what is rubbing against my thigh.
  ‘Would you like some crisps?’ says he. ‘Flame-grilled lark or cheese and onion.’
  ‘I will swap you for a pork scratching,’ say I, gallantly.
  Anon, and we top our highest point, which marketh a pass across a saddle betwixt the hills, and the clouds part and afford fine views, and I am heartened at least to see two who chose a different path below us, mired in a quagmyre of mud and marsh but gamely struggling on, he in a bright blue tunic and she in neon pink. And now contented, for now it was all down the hill, on a good path, with many rocks for good footing, though we could not pass the torrent at its end, so we must cross by the way we come.
  Thence by coach to the boat, and home in a fine sun shine and the sky blue and all the grey cloud gone. And on the way the Captain hayled all upon the boat that a great number of dolphin were afore us; and he slowed the boat and changed its course, and we saw them all a-leap, more than I ever saw in my entire life, and then they were astern of us, and all greatly joyed by the sight of them.
  At supper, enjoyed two plates of fresh longerstines and a pint of wine at a fine taverne in Mallague, and mightily contented for the day.
  ‘I hope you are more calm of spirit than hitherto,’ says Mr. Jones. ‘I have consulted the Trippervisor and our hostess hath many five star reviews.’
  ‘I cannot gainsay that,’ say I, ‘for I have done the same. And yet I am obliged to draw your attencion to the bad one, for it obtrudes plainly and niggleth me. The one from a Malcolm Prince, of Birnham Wood.’
  ‘There is always one.’
  ‘Maybe.’
  ‘Eat your big prawn.’

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On holiday: day the Third

18 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and having breakfasted (perched precariosely at the corner of the bed, so as not to spill coffee on the white carpitt) to a spar Shoppe, for victuals, and thence by boat to Egg Island. All on board are masked against the plague, but merry — a part from a woman who is all green of face and hides her head in the woolen garb of her husbands sweater, even before we start (we do not sit by her) — and the weather fine and the passage calm with some sitings of a possible dolphin, which is great mammle without legs, like a fish, named after the taverne on Tower street so bawdy it can be echolocated for miles around by its equally legless clients. Once landed, set out for a beach that promiced a fine view, only the walk four miles and the bracken along a track where we walked very wet, which my trousers did soak up, and so become very wet too. But by and by find ourselfs upon a great and wild expance of sand with the great spectacle of another isle out to sea, where there were many mountains, and the profile of it very striking, I think one of the finest views I ever saw, but a barren island and I would not wish to live there. On the beach no more than three or four, save ourselfs, in all the vast space, with the great sky above us and all great Neptune’s ocean before, and we did sit among some bolders to share our sandwichs, which were one of a hash of calfs head and the other of tripe, udder and marrowbone with a pickle, and some drinks, which were an Irn Bru for me and a Diet Coak for Mr. Jones, together with a Bountie bar and a Twicks and two yellow bannanas, one for each. Thus refreshed, back by foot along a good road, the land scape very pretty and with many quickbeam, all with berrys, some scarlett and others orange; and at the port took a little coffee to warm us, and thence by boat and our coach merrily home to our lodgeings, I all carefree from my preoccupations of the previose night.
  There found Mrs. Macbeth, on her knees with a bowl of water and cleansing produckts all around, scrubbing vigorosely at the inside of her coach and talking to herselfe under her breath.
  ‘Out, damned spot!’ I am certain I hear her mutter, as if preoccupied in her own mind; and only then, upon her seeing us, doth her manner change. ‘Oh, hello. Have ye had a guid day?’ says she, cordially. But the former words resounded in my head.
  ‘Act normal,’ hiss I to Mr. Jones out of the corner of my mouth, and grip his elbow very firm.
  ‘What are you — ?’ hisses he to me by return, but to her, ‘We have had a fine day upon Egg Island, pursuing a great walk to the beach at the Bay of Lague, the splendid panorama of Rum Isle laid before us,’ says he in enthusiastick and affabubble discourse with our hostess, but in a play of haste to reach our room I yank him peremptorilly across the threshold and to our room whereupon I barrycade the door.
  ‘What on earth has got into you?’ says he, crossly. ‘She must think us very rude!’
  ‘We are in grave danger!’ (I can barely get the words out.) ‘Do you not see? Duncan is missing! Her husband hath been sent on an errand! And today she effaceth her coach of evidence as if her life depend upon it! It all adds up to devilry! We must vacate this very hour! There is that restaurant with rooms I saw on Trippervisor! I rue the day we came here!’
  ‘The Old Librarie hath not had a table for two days,’ counters Mr. Jones, ‘so they will certanely have no rooms. You must calm your fevered imaginacion. We have a comodiose room with a more than ample en-sweet wet room, compleat with heated floor, and I find our hostess more than agreeable.’
  ‘But — ! But — !’
  He holds up a palm. ‘We shall dine as planned, and a double rum and violet shall assuage your baseless fears.’
  To supper at an inn a short journy hence, but the fare little succour to my sullenness of spirit, for the battered caramali was soft, the sea Base burned, the fenell tasteless and the stickitoffee Pudding bland. I wish I had chose the lamprey pie.
  ‘How wass every think?’ asks the servant, who I think a Poal or a Romany, as she clears our dishes.
  ‘Lovely,’ we beam, for she is foreyne and underpayed.
  Thence home and to our lodgeings with a pint of wine, where I did wedge shut our door with our towel rack and we settled to watch a play called Local Hero on the magick screen, in which played Mr. Bert Lancaster very well; and it a very fine play, and well-writ, with much good matter in it and above ordinary plays, and the scenery of it by a coincidense all of the beaches hereabouts. After, found red wine spilled upon the carpitt, so very late at night I must take a towel and rub away at it to clean it off.
  ‘How did that get there?’ asks Mr. Jones.
  ‘I do not know!’ say I, crossly. ‘Were you as careful drinking it as I pouring it? I should leave this to our hostess: she is good at this kind of thing. It will not come out.’
  ‘“What’s done cannot be undone,”’ quips Mr. Jones, mischievosely.
  And so to bed. 

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On holiday: day the Second

17 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and speak with Mrs. Macbeth that yesterday we found it tricky to break fast in our room, where there is not a table so we must balance every thing upon our knees or on the corners of the bed, all in the hope to avail us of her unused breakfast room. ‘No one else hath complayned,’ says she, which styfles further discourse. After breakfast, it being a rainy day, set out by coach to Glen Finnen, where is a visitor Centre, only the coach park very full with a great many abroad, and find that they are here to see a special trayn pass over a great Vyaduct, which we watch and greatly joyed by all the steam of it and a whistle. By the lake come upon a very high tower with the statue of a man at the top, which I did explayne to Mr. Jones was a Mr. Potter, but he says it is Charles Edward Something Something-else Stuart, who come to ask if he could have his crown back, to which the National Trust said no, but he asked in such a manner that they made an Exhibicion of him and called him Bonny Prince Charming, and then he went to Ireland.
   After dinner walked abroad in the village, where many fine houses all of stone, and by an arrangement called upon the neighbores who lived by my parents cottage, though now moved to a new house which is down the hill, the old that they had a sorry sight, more than last I saw it; and come thither about 3 a-clock, and find them in fine form. There we spend two hours, I think, in discourse over a brewed tea and some cakes with much news, and though all older yet as if not a day passed between us, and all very merry. And my father hath sent with me a bottle of golden strong water to give to the mother of them all, which is a Famose Grouse, and they take it graciosely though I think it is like coals to New Castle, only they did not offer us any, which Mr. Jones had hoped they might, it now being the middle of the afternoon.
  ‘How are your mother and father?’ they ask me, and I tell them their news.
  ‘Whatever happened to Duncan?’ ask I, recalling the manager of the Estate.
  ‘Duncan MacCrinnan? Och, he’s still around,’ says Mrs. Macduff. ‘Haven’t seen him for a few days, mind. Stuart, have ye seen Duncan recently?’
  ‘I can’t say I have,’ says Mr. Macduff. ‘Probably sleeping it off.’
  So parted, and by and by to supper, when partoke of a Thaie meal taken away in some bags and containers of light glass that you can squash and recicle, from a house near by where lives a Thie lady who cooks to order, which I did on the Line, and Mr. Jones payed again for it with his Card, which is like it being free, and eat it in Mrs. Macbeths dining room, which we were allowed to do it in.
  ‘Whose do you suppose to be the bright yellow coach on the gravell by the front door?’ say I, with a mouthfull of pad krapow moo saap. ‘The toy Oater. I have seen no owner.’
  ‘Mrs. Macbeth tells me it is her husbands,’ slurps Mr. Jones, through noudle soup. ‘She hath sent him upon an errand.’
  ‘An errand? We have been here two full days,’ say I, and of a sudden find myself a little ill at ease. ‘It seems a long time for a thing such as an errand.’
  ‘I think your present fears are less than horrible imaginings,’ says Mr. Jones, but the hairs on my neck prickle as if I heard the words before. ‘This spaghettey is rather good. I am glad we went Italian.’
  And so I attend to my supper, but quiet, for I cannot shake of a foreboading.
  ‘I am gripped by a strange apprehencion,’ say I, ‘and an uncommon and unpleasant sensation in my thumbs.’
  ‘Well, the candles are nearly out,’ sighs Mr. Jones, laying his napkine aside, ‘and I for one have had a surfitt. You must put behind you your needless dysquiet, for we are on holiday and tomorrow we have a boat to catch.’
  And so to bed.
  The Famose Grouse, by the way, was the name of the liquor that was a present from my father and not a description of the mother of the next door neighbores. She is not famose for any thing.

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On holiday: day the First

16 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and slept well in the house in the hamlett of Morrar, where we come late last night, and to bed after some fish with chipps, which we take in our room, there being no inn to offer us a table, though after yesterdays affairs I still with some little grutchings in the morning.
  ‘The patient must minister to himselfe,’ admonishes Mr. Jones as he brings in the tray that hath been left for us, for Mrs. Macbeth says we must have a continentle breakfast in our room owing to the Covey (though none here but us), which we had, though it difficult to balance every thing and not spill any thing on the carpet, which being white is a bad choice for a room for guests, and I make a mentle note to avoid oysters. Mrs. Macbeth counsels that we must book ahead if we are to eat at supper, for there are still many abroad visiting and the taverns filled, and on the roads many great large coaches where people can sleep over night in them, and ablute themselfs and dine in them, and generally block up all the parking spaces.
  ‘Is it not like being in a play by Mr. Shakespeare,’ giggle I, ‘with our hostess so named?’
  ‘Like that one we saw on NT Live?’ asks Mr. Jones, vaigly.
  ‘Not that one,’ say I. ‘That was A Midsummers…something. A comedy, as ’twas billed, that I saw once at the King’s Theatre and did think the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life, and did vow never to see again. The one I am thinking of is a Tragedie.’
  ‘I think ’tis naught other than a fancy conjured by your overhung mind. Eat your keewee fruit and sober up.’
  Which I do, and while my head pounds in truth my heart is full of joy, it being more than twenty years, I think, since I come here. After breakfast, walked upon the beaches, where a fine view to the islands, and it all much as I remember it, only now a by-pass funded by Evrope as was proclaymed upon a sign; and then walked for a long while upon the sand, which was all powderie and the purest white I ever saw in such a thing, and all whiter for it being a fine sun shine. After dinner, we went on a very long walk above the lake, in the hills that look north, where are great inlets of the sea and greater hills, and the wind took away the Midgies so we were not all a-itch. For supper eat some fresh fish in Mallague, with a pint of fine wine, only the inn very noisie and the musick very loud, but much contented with our fare, which I think was the best there to be had — 3l 8s. 6d., which Mr. Jones payed on his Card, which is like not paying for any thing and joyed me greatly. And so home to our lodgeings and to bed.

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The Road to the Isles

15 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up very betimes and against my wishes, gravely sick with a fever, and an akeing weaknesse all over, and did make a great puke, onlie crawled not quite to the bath room before making it so it was all over the floor, being the illest I ever was in my entyre life and foreswearing of Scots wine forever. Witheld from solid food at breakfast, unable to trust in the dependibility of either end of my elimentary Tract, and swallowed water brash a-plenty and clenched my buttocks while Mr. Jones put away a platter of a transluscent egg, barely half-fryed, bacon afloat in a puddle of grease, toast blackened against the weevil, hash browns and a deep-fryed black pudding that resembled nothing less than a fat bloody turd in batter.
  ‘I remember climbing Mont Blanc and the man on the rope above me had the most terrible looseness of the bowels,’ says he, reminiscing fondly. ‘What you need is castor oil and a soapsud enema.’
  Whereupon fled I back to our room, skidded on the slimy floor and slid under the notice about emergency evacuation, which was in a sense apt for the Accident that promptly occurred.
  Collapsed in wretched misery in Mr. Jones’ coach while he settled the reckoning with the surly innkeeper: 6s. 9d., plus 9d. for a servant to cover my effluent with sawdust, for the benefit of the next guest.
  ‘We shall take the high road along the side of Loch Lomond,’ says Mr. Jones, consulting his pocket screen while I groan, slumped in the seat beside him, ‘for it is a route quicker by a full half hour, and the scenery is of an unparralelled beauty.’
  ‘I have read of a danger from outlaws and bandits by that road,’ moan I, weakly.
  ‘Those days are long gone,’ scoffs Mr. Jones. ‘You must rest, and I wager you shall regain your strength before you can say Ecclefechan. Have another Emmodium and enjoy the ride.’
  By and by, reached the peaks of the southern Trossacks, and beside us the long stretch of water known as Loch Lomonde.
  ‘It is time, if you are up to it, to admire the bonnie banks,’ says Mr. Jones. ‘We may be delayed. Googly Mappes is warning of a hold up.’
  ‘These cloud-enshrouded hilltops harbour a savage tribe of robbers and rustlers of cattle,’ say I, warylie, ‘known as the Clan MacFarlane — ’
  Whereupon at that very instant come great shouts and threatening cries that bring our coach to an emergencie halt, for impeding our progress upon on the road is a band of hairy brigands in plaid kilts and caps, brandishing firearms.
  ‘Loch Sloy! Loch Sloy!’ is their battle cry, though the impackt undermined by their tartan Covey masks, as they a-line to oppose our passage. Their uncouth and hirsute leader approaches.
  ‘Where are ye bound tae?’ demands he, advancing close and waving a muskett in our faces.
  ‘No further!’ cries Mr. Jones. ‘Special distancing!’
  ‘Oh, sorry!’ He retreats two paces, then: ‘Where are ye bound tae?’ bellows he a second time.
  ‘We are northbound, to Forty Williams via Glencow and beyond!’ answers Mr. Jones, resolutely. ‘Let us pass!’
  ‘Ye’ll pass when I say ye’ll pass! Lads — the coach!’
  But as they approach and open the doors a colick comes of a sudden upon me, and although my bowels are devoid of solids they are inflated with a copiose amount of wind that they can hold no longer and erupt with the most gaseose volume of flatulence I ever emitted in my entire life.
  ‘Jesus!’ cries the outlaw leader as his band all jump back several paces in disgust. ‘What the fook was that?’
  ‘McSalmonella,’ says Mr. Jones in distaste, wafting his face with one hand.
  ‘Wait!’ cries one of a pair in the unkempt troupe of a sudden, shouldering his rifle and peering closer from under bushy brows at my forlorn form. ‘I know that noxiose stench!’
  I squint at his wildly bearded face and that of his more lightly whiskered accomplice.
  ‘Ye’ve been at the bloody oyesters again, Pepys!’ cries he, as the pair whip off their tartan masks.
  ‘MacSporran!’
  ‘Samuel!’
  ‘Judith!’
  ‘Ye mean ye know these bastard sassenachs, ye mercenary pair?’ roars their leader.
  And so did it transpire that amity supplanted enmity, and as we shared of their strong water, which was the deepest gold in a liquid I did ever see in my life, and a great physick and Balm for my guts, as much as it was a restorative for my miserable spirits, so I emptied my pockets and shared with them our last pork scratchings, and, all merry, had much good discourse around a camp fire with MacSporran and his wife, who having fled England for whatever work they could find in the land of their Fathers, and arriving destytute on the shores of Loch Lomond, had sold their services to the highest bidder and so found themselves taken to little Loch Sloy in the hills, home to the thieving Clan MacFarlane, though lately dammed for hydreau-elecktric Power.
  ‘Don’ mine ’f I do,’ slur I some while later, accepting yet another top up of the local distillacion. I am by now somewhat enebriated, since I am drinking on a stomach emptied of every last morsel, and dare to pose an audaceous question of the clan chief.
  ‘So, what do you do…when you are not committing theft, robbery, murder…theft an’ tyranny?’ venture I, concentrating on stringing together the words in the right order.
  ‘Aye, well,’ says he, with a disarming bashfulnesse, ‘every few weeks we’ve a Book Club.’
  ‘Aye, Book Club,’ comes a general murmur of approval from around the fire.
  ‘Really?’ say I, for they look not the reading sort. ‘What do you read?’
  ‘Well, Crime and Punishment we did last year. Just now we’re doing Scottish police procedurals. The characterisation’s shite but we’re picking up some guid tips.’
  ‘Do you have a favoured author?’
  ‘Well,’ says the Scotsman, poking the twigs, ‘if I’m honest, I’ve a wee predilection for Edith Wharton.’
  ‘A fine writer,’ say I, wondering who he is, for I never heard that a woman wrote a book before.
  ‘We’re looking for new members, if ye’re interested.’
  ‘I fear it is impractickle,’ say I, though I bask in the warmth of goodwill, flames and liquor. ‘Nice tartan, by the way,’ I add, happily emboldened by the latter. Mr. Jones flashes a warning glance.
  ‘D’ye think so?’ says the clan chief. ‘D’ye no think the purple’s a wee bit garish?’
  ‘Goes with y’r nose — ’ say I, drunkenly waving a forefinger in the general direction of his face and snorting back a giggle.
  ‘Better with the heather!’ interjects Mr. Jones, hastilie, for he feels the camaradery hath gone too far, but our host has a capricious change of mood anyway.
  ‘Enough o’ this! My men want tae see what kind of men ye are! ’Tis time for a toast!’ cries the MacFarlane of MacFarlane and fixeth us with an unflinching stare. ‘Do ye uphold the Covenants of the Scots and wi’ all yer hearts and wi’ all yer minds, God help ye till the day ye die, pledge allegiance to Scotland and the wee lass Sturgeon?’
  ‘Who?’ say I, blankly.
  ‘We do!’ enthuses Mr. Jones quickly, looking dangerosely at me.
  ‘We do!’ cry I, taking my cue.
  ‘A toast then tae the wee lass Nicola Sturgeon!’ cries the clan chief to a great roar around the fire and a raising of tankards all round.
  ‘Tae the wee lass Nicola Sturgeon!’ choruses the band.
  ‘To the wheelless Nicholas Turgeon!’ cry I, giving it my all.
  ‘Well,’ says Mr. Jones, finally, ‘I think we should be on our way, Pepys, and leave these good people to their reading and their rustling.’
  ‘Ve’y well,’ manage I, clambering unsteadily to my feet and there rocking, ‘if w’ muss. ’Sbeen lovely Mcmeeting all of you Farlanes…and nest time I see the beaut-iffle Joodith…I sh’ll make sure…that she shall…toss my caber…in the tradish’nal way…Hah!’
  ‘I’ll drive,’ says Mr. Jones, hauling me swiftly down the hill.
  And so we on the road again, and the next I knew was that I awoke, it dark and the coach come to a stop on gravel by a low guest house upon a shore.
  ‘Where are we?’ yawn I.
  ‘We have arrived at our destinacion,’ says Mr. Jones, with satisfacktion. ‘Welcome to the Midge Coast.’

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A holiday at last

15 August-12 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

(In this part of the Diary no entry occurs for four weeks and several pages are left blank. During this time Pepys went into the country, as he subsequently mentions having been in Shaftesbury, Dorset, and visiting Stourhead, and later on a nearby hillside encountering a National Trust man with an enormous erection. The pages left blank were never filled up.) 

 

13 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up very betimes at 4 a’clock, and fortyfied by a fine porrage purposed to depart with Mr. Jones in his coach for some days in Scotland, in a place where once owned my mother and father a cottage, on the sea at the edge of the We[s]t Highlands. Summarily packed, set about our journey, the roads rough though we merry, and encountered many convenient staging posts where we stopped for the horses, and exchanged ourselfs in order to drive them, which were Moto at Rugby, and at south Stafford, which was RoadChef, I think. Spent the night at the Traveller Lodge in Knutsford, on the recommendacion to Mr. Jones of a drunkard from Little Booking Dotcom. The town pleasant though we early to bed, having come lately and suffering some wearyness for the long day, and needing to be up betimes for the morrow.  

 

14 September, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up, and out betimes, it being a day with much sun shine, which joyed us greatly, and stopped for a fine breakfast at Charnock Richard, which was a Welcome Brake, and thereafter rode a very good way, along a great road, to the boarder at Scotland by nightfall, and to Gretna, where partook of a pint of wine, some oysters and a plate of pork scratchings, though of the latter too many, so pocketed the excess for the journey tomorrow. Slept overnight at the best tavern there was, which was their premier Inn, only the room not so large as I expected, and there was no remoat for the magick screen and some dried secretions on the light switch.

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…and the new portrait

4 August, in the year of our Lord 2021

At noon by boat to the Artists Quarter, and walked on foot through the narrow streets and by and by to the end of Nouveau Street, where found myselfe at a crossroads where to my left led away Conceptual St. and to my right, passing the strange little Dada Alley, ran Cubey Road. I made my way straight ahead, down Surreal St., and there saw signs above variose shop fronts — viz: Sr. Salv. Darley, Signor de Chirico, Ernst’s of Cologne — before I found that which I sought, which was the premices of Monsieur R. McGritte. I ascended the few steps and pushed open the door, whose bell announced my presence with a bright jangle as I entered the cosy but dark wood panelled interior. A man was obscured in the shadows at the back of the shoppe.
  ‘Bonjour, monsieur,’ says he. I peered into the dimness beyond the window, where the light did not reach, and there saw him seated in a white shirt and black tie, wearing sleeve garters and a Boaler Hat.
  ‘Good day,’ say I. ‘I have an appointment to sit. To be painted.’
  ‘Ah, oui,’ says he. ‘Monsieur Peppeez?’
  ‘The very same. Well, almost the same. It is pronounced Peeps.’
  ‘It eez a plaisir to make your acquaintance, Monsieur Peeps,’ says he, Gallickly. ‘I ’ave few requests for portaits zees days. It will be agréable to rectify ze situation. You are familiar with my work?’
  ‘You come highly recommended,’ say I. ‘But I confess your work is unfamiliar to me,’ I add, observing more closely some of the art works that hang upon the walls, ‘and not quite what I was expecting. The clouds in this one here seem to be in front of the figure of this gentleman, yet the sky behind him! And the façade of this house is as if at dusk, yet the sky beyond as bright as midday!’
  He approaches and remarks upon the same painting.
  ‘It eez a challenge to ze — perception, no?’ says he. And he holds up a palm to reassure me. ‘I know what you are theenking. But if monsieur is in any doubt about ’is course of action, bien sûr, I will take no offence.’
  ‘It will be a pleasure to see how monsieur perceives me,’ say I, lightly, though my eyes alight upon a portrait of a man whose face is hidden by an apple. ‘Wig on, or wig off?’
  ‘As monsieur wishes. Please accompany me.’
  And so he led me courteosely behind a curtain of a rich crimson fabric and up a curve of uneven stairs to his studio, where he did seat me before a window that looked down upon the street, positioning himself at his Easle at the back of the room.
  ‘I shall keep my wig on,’ say I. ‘’ow would you like me?’ I ask, unconsciosely falling into an accent like French investigator Julien Baptiste from the magick screen. ‘I feel I ’ave a certain…sparkle in ze eye, and a rosy complexion that might be emphasised for ze admireur.’ At which point I think it prudent to resume standard English. ‘And I have brought this volume to hold in my hand to provide a simulacrum of intellect. It is The Life of Thos. Cromwell by the Rev. D. MacCulloch.’
  He shakes his head. ‘A fine book,’ says he. ‘But eet will not be necessary.’
  ‘Well, I haven’t actually read it,’ admit I. ‘It’s a bit heavy going and there are too few commas. Perhaps instead I might place a forefinger thus, pensively upon my chin — ?’
  ‘Per’aps if monsieur were to sit quietly?’ suggests he, gently. ‘I should like to concentrate most of all on ze profil.’
  ‘Ah! Very well,’ say I, though it comes out as ‘veh we-e-ell’ in Clouseau French.
  And so sat I for an hour or two, while Monsieur McGritte alternated his glance between myselfe and his easle, and his brush between his palatte and his Canvas. At length it seemed finished, whereupon sat he back and regarded it with a certain satisfaction.
  ‘Voilà!’ says he.
  ‘May I see?’
  ‘Why, of course! But ze paint must first dry, which will take maybe ten days.’
  Whereupon he grasped in both hands his easle and the canvas upon it and turned them to face me, so that I saw the image for the first time in the light that streamed through the window. I was lost for words.
  ‘ — ’ say I, gazing upon it, for it was the most singular and remarkable portrait I ever saw in my entire life. 

 

14 August, in the year of our Lord 2021.

Today I hung my new portrait in pride of place upon the wall, but covered it with a cloth to which was sewed a golden cord, for I purposed to provide a surprise theatricle moment at supper, when comes Mr. M. Jones.
  ‘So, Pepys,’ says he, ‘we are to have grand unveiling?’
  ‘Indeed,’ say I. ‘Ready?’
  ‘Go for it.’
  And so with a flourish tugged I the golden cord, whereupon away fell the mundane cloth! And I beamed afresh at my new commission while Mr. Jones gawped. For there it was, in all its glory: the background paynted as if ’twere no more than a base wood panel, and upon it, in a black as complete as the darkest unlit cavern in the all the world, sat the very likeness of my profile, with my wig, my brow, my nose, my chin and my neck, all a perfect Silhuoette of my physical self, yet without eye, nor ear, nor rosy cheek to define it — and beneath it, as if writ by quill this very day, a line that read, ‘Ceci n’est pas un Pepys’.

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News

The new mayde…

17 July, in the year of our Lord 2021

Very hot. By various Messengers, it hath been agreed that the quilt Company will send me the summer quilt, that I ordered, and I may keep the winter one free of charge. Mr. M. Jones says I am learning.
  At mid-morning a knock at the door, and standing there a short figure of some plumpness wearing a light grey mop cap and voluminose matching light grey skirt, that extended from high above his waist and was held out from his legs by wide Hoopes, so that it made the shape of a truncated sphere cut off above his feet, which were made invisible by the diameter of the lowest hoope, which was paynted a fine Turkoise Blue that shone as bright as I ever saw in such a blue tint, so that I thought it must also shine in the dark.
  ‘Hello,’ say I, guardedly. ‘I thought you would be busy in your shoppe this morning?’
  ‘Busynesse is still too slow,’ says he, doalfullie, ‘so I have take a second Rolle till it perks up. I saw your advert in the shop window.’
  ‘You are my new mayde?’
  Whereupon lifts he his hoops to shuffle in sideways, past me and to my kitchen.
  ‘And what is this grey garb, new mayde?’ ask I, waving a forefinger up and down his full height of five foot two.
  ‘Echo Dotte, IVth Generacion. My name is Alexa. You need to install me.’
  ‘I see,’ say I, a trifle warily. ‘I suppose I should then invite you to take a seat.’
  At which he manages to install himsefle upon a kitchen stool, though with some difficultie for his stiff hoops immediatelie force his skirt vertical so that I can observe nothing of his top half owing to the capacious material that obscures it, but see only a great circle of generous petticoats like the face of a white clock, its hands a pair of legs set at twenty to four.
  ‘On second thoughts,’ say I, ‘perhaps you are not dressed to be thus installed.’
  Whereupon I assist him with some wobblie awkwardness to right himselfe to a standing position, where he assumes a motionless attitude and stares into the middle distance.
  ‘So, what are you able to do?’ say I.
  There comes no immediate reply.
  ‘You have to say, “Alexa, what can you do?”’ hisses he under his breath.
  I take a deep breath.
  ‘Alexa, what can you do?’
  ‘I can do a lot,’ replies he in a happy, reassuring monotone. ‘For example, try saying “Play music upstairs” or ask me about the weather.’
  ‘Okay then,’ say I, and add in an abnormally clear and loud voice: ‘Play some lute music upstairs.’
  Nothing happens. I realise my mistake before he tells me.
  ‘Alexa, play some lute music upstairs.’
  ‘I cannot play the lute,’ says he unapologetically, in the same agreeable but unengaged monotone.
  ‘Look,’ say I, with a degree of exasperacion, ‘this is all very well, but what I really need is a mayde who can do some dusting and — ’
  ‘Try again, try again!’ hisses he, sotto voce.
  ‘Okay. What’s the weather forecast, Alexa?’
  Nothing.
  ‘Alexa,’ say I, heavily, ‘what’s the weather forecast?’
  ‘Playing Radio Four Podcast — ’
  ‘Not a radio podcast, you addlebrain — ’
  ‘Sorry, I don’t know that word.’
  ‘ — the weather forecast! What’s the weather forecast? Oh, for Heaven’s sake! ALEXA, what’s the weather forecast?
  He widens his eyes and gives me a flurrie of encouraging nods to let me know I am now on the right lines.
  ‘Right now in Seething Lane it’s not too bad — ’ recites he, whereupon his eyeballs snap left and right to the kitchen windows and back ‘ — with clear skies.’
  ‘Even Mr. Jones’s blessèd weather Stacion can tell me that!’ cry I.
  ‘Try me with something practical,’ hisses he.
  I cast around for a task that may possibly be of some use. ‘Alexa, light the kitchen candles.’
  ‘Are they smart candles?’ hisses he back.
  ‘They’re a darned sight smarter than you are,’ say I under my breath, adding at normal volume: ‘As candles go, they are the smartest and most fashionable one may purchase at the emporium of Mr. John Lewis and his Partners at the Exchange. Get on with it.’
  Alexa flashes me a quick thumbs up before rummaging in his skirts. Match lit, he bustles round the room lighting in turn each of the four candles I have there, and stands back proudly.
  ‘Oh-kay,’ monotones he, and then whyspers a theatricle aside: ‘Ask me to do something else!’
  ‘Alexa,’ say I, thinking quickly, ‘dim the kitchen candles to fifty per cent.’
  He stares at me in incomprehencion.
  ‘What?’ mouths he.
  I cannot hide a smirk for I feel I have him outmanoueverred.
  ‘Alexa,’ I repeat, patiently spelling it out, ‘dim candles to fifty per cent.’
  His brow furrows but then he brightens visiblie. He again scurries around before coming to rest by the window on to the lane, where he stands stock still.
  ‘Candles dimmed to fifty per cent,’ says he in the same cordiale but uniform tone, as the smoke from two snuffed candles floats in the air.
  ‘Okay, look,’ say I. ‘I somehow think that this is not quite what I had in mind.’
  He looks momentarilie forlorn, but then with the rapid change of Affect I have come to expect, cheers of a sudden at something he spies outside.
  ‘Oh! There is a mother and daughter at my shoppe!’ cries he. ‘I must away to them!’
  Whereupon he gathered himselfe up and scrambled in a great hurry to the door, where I thought I did hear another knock, so followed.
  There I did find him splayed head long, legs kicking in mid-air, for he had forgot the Diametre of the largest hoope of his skirt, which was greater than the width of my door frame. And at his head end stood the cocky Cockney who delivers to me my post, who lent in and, reaching across the prostrate form at his feet, proffered to me two letters.
  ‘There you go, Mr. Pepys,’ says he. ‘That’s your appointment for the portrait paynter, and this — ’
  I frown at him, irrytated.
  ‘Do you read all my mail?’ ask I.
  ‘Not all of it,’ returns he, brightly. ‘I know the Domino’s one by heart.’ He turns his gaze downwards to my threshold. ‘I ’ad one of these once,’ says he. ‘Bloody nightmare when they go off-line like this. We ’ad a power cut at two in the mornin’ and all my smart candles came on. Like Blackpool bloody Elluminacions it was.’
  ‘I have no idea what you are talking about!’ say I, snatching my letters from his hand. ‘But perhaps you can be of some assistance.’
  I address the form struggling unsuccessfully to right itself, as if swimming in air.
  ‘Do you want a hand up?’ say I.
  No answer.
  My postman shows his worth.
  ‘Alexa, do you want a hand up?’ asks he, loudly and clearly.
  ‘Yes, please,’ comes the faint reply. 

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News

Long days, hot nights

30 June, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up betimes but very tired, day by day worse for lack of sleep, though my Prendysolone ended these last few days. I am too hot at night, so ordered a new summer quilt on the Line, which I hope to be light so I may sleep. After dinner comes with the Messenger an apologia from Mr. Bradys shoppe in Warren town, that they have not yet sent off the set of my musical boxes that I left there for servising, which is a great dysappointment for it is three weeks now and I hoped the new to be installed. 

 

7 July, in the year of our Lord 2021

To recent sleeplenesse owing to nasal blockade, and wakefullness to the dose of my Styroid pills, must now be added insomnia, being very hot under my new quilt, which is very light, and without need of separate cover so that it may be washed with ease, but this morning found it to be a 10½ Togge and not the 4½, that I ordered.
  Today my mind turned again to a mayde, which shall help me in tasks around my house, so placed in shoppe windows in the lanes about my house some notices, to that effect. Also that I shall have made a new Portrait, the existing being the famous framed portrait of me by Mr. Hayls, the paynter, in which I wear my fine Indian silk gown and hold the music I wrote to a lyric from Mr. Davenant’s Siege of Rhodes, which is very old, and there have been changes in my countenance since it done (to such a degree, that I cannot recognise myselfe in it).