So simply put Sleepy Hamlet is a fictitious village set somewhere in the English countryside. It is populated by a collection of the worlds oddest, eccentric, gossipy and hard-core fruit-cakes you will ever find. I have often said that there is no village like Sleepy Hamlet but everyone will recognise the characters within it as villagers.
These village idiots bumble, fumble and gossip their way through day to day life, oblivious to the outside world. They are insular, independent, fiercely proud of their community and consider anyone outside of their boundaries to be foreigners; with the possible exception of the nearby Village of Little Underwood; they consider them to be deep enemies and the cause of everything that has ever gone wrong in the whole wide world.
But for the first story I've decided to hit on their village idiotry as it main theme and take a few perfectly normal situations and show how quickly these little eccentrics get into a complete pickle of their own making.
Synopsis for the Night of the Village Idiots
How could the removal of a family painting, a childhood fear of thunder and lightning and the pub landlord's flu cause so much trouble?
Simple, add a dotty half wit Lord of the manor, place him next to his short fused and volcanic wife, refer to the butler, who is the very model of decorum and upholder the old ways, as the family pet, ignite the head cooks flatulent backside with a lightning bolt, have Mrs Heppleheimer: a crazy octogenarian Bavarian barm pot run the village pub and bring her own brain battering, soul sapping brew of the Norse Gods, get the villagers to try and get her drunk in an ill fated drinking competition which will eventually end up with the mass hypnotism of the village quoits team, while all the time have the incumbents of Hamlet Hall running around a darkened stately home that's been blacked out by the worst storms in living memory; have an old suit of armour nearly decapitate her Ladyship while she attempts to head her portly husband off in his search for a stepladder and something to remove a picture with, then add to the mix a nervous maid with a curtsying fixation and a concussed and amnesic head cook who's wondering around the house covered in fruit preserves and compotes, and you have the ingredients for a stormy night with a village full of idiots.
So sit back, choose a beverage of your choice and enjoy the first part of the Night of the Village Idiots. If you like it, keep coming back as I announce the release date and where and when you can purchase the whole story for yourself.
The night of the Village Idiots
The storms crashed and battered the bewildered village of Sleepy Hamlet. Winds howled off the hillside, dragging torrents of rain like curtains across the rooftops and waterlogged streets below. The village lights twinkled off and on as the power failed then regained its control.
The villagers stayed inside, placing candles at the ready for the inevitable blackout. Children looked from their bedroom windows in awe and scrambled and squealed to their beds as lightening turned the whole night a deathly white with its raw energy, and the rain beat mercilessly upon the window panes.
Villagers stared out onto the streets as the rain bounced off the pavements before joining the overflowing drains as streams of water coursed their way to the outlets and tributaries that fed the mighty River Brimsmal beyond. No one dared venture out on a night like tonight. All windows were locked; coal cellar doors battened down and gates shut tight. The village of Sleepy Hamlet was closed and curtained against the Blitz Krieg of a ferocious un-spring like storm.
Hamlet Hall had been without power ever since a giant Douglas Fir--- that had succumbed to both weak roots and a relentless battering from the elements--- had brought down the power-lines that fed this majestic country house. Jennings, the stately homes’ faithful butler, had managed to furnish all major parts of the house with candles while the maid had stocked the fires up so high that they roared light into the darkening rooms.
But no amount of candles or log fuelled fires could sprinkle light into the dark, brooding temperaments of Lord and Lady Hamlet.
Lord Hamlet was staring at his detested wife and Lady Hamlet was throwing back glances of the same ferocity. Neither, it would be fair to say, would care one bit if the other stated their urge to go outside and play in the lightening.
It has been said on many occasions, both between the present incumbents of Hamlet Hall and the village at large, that Lord and Lady Hamlet’s marriage was one of convenience that had turned rapidly into one of inconvenience. They had had their marriage forced upon them by ambitious parents who saw a match of land and position rather than love and affection and so the luckless, loveless miss-matched pair had been forced to tie the knot, when in reality they would rather have tied a noose. And from that day to this they had argued, bickered and generally made each other’s life a mire of misery.
By nature Lady Hermione Hamlet was a bossy, ambitious woman who wanted power and prestige but got a simplistic, lacklustre and vacillating husband, where as Lord Basil Hamlet was a wholly minded, eccentric who just wanted to be left to his country pursuits of drinkin’, horsin’, huntin’ and generally pottering around and not amounting to anything much; but he’d landed himself a bossy, over bearing harridan who wouldn’t stop meddling in his life. None, it was fair to say, had got what they had wished for in life. And as the tempest raged outside, storm clouds were developing over the heads of the love-lost couple on the inside.
Lady Hamlet sighed heavily in her husband’s direction, Lord Hamlet ignored her. She sighed again, this time with more gusto, but Lord Hamlet made a point of not rising to her argumentative bait. Then Lady Hamlet sucked in most of the air from her quadrant of the library and vented a sigh so loud and with such ferocity that it nearly blew the fire out; Lord Hamlet was forced to acquiesce and enquire as to what his wife wanted. He rolled his eyes heavenwards and asked
“What appears to be the matter, M’Dear?”
“THIS STORM!!” she roared as Lord Hamlet corrected himself on his chair, the sudden shock and force of her words almost upending him. He turned to the widow and looked out into the inky blackness beyond. He wasn’t sure exactly what she expected him to say, but he had a sneaky suspicion the rain storms that had ravaged the entire country over the past few days, were somehow going to be his fault.
“What about them, they’re not my fault, y’know?” he replied, airing his view on the whole blame culture that permeated throughout their marriage. Lady Hermione snorted a snort of derision and the flames flinched slightly.
“Don’t be stupid, Basil. Even you can’t be blamed for the weather. I’m annoyed because I can’t make it to the Local Landowners meeting over in Little Underwood”
Lord Hamlet took his turn to snort--- contempt leaving one nostril and derision the other.
There had, since time immemorial, existed a state of war between the villages of Sleepy Hamlet and Little Underwood. Every generation of Sleepy Hamleters had pinned the blame for every misfortune that had befallen them onto the villagers’ of Little Underwood; and it is fair to say that the venom and spite was no less reciprocal from the Little Underwooders towards the inhabitants of Sleepy Hamlet, and Lady Hermione knew this and used it as often as she could to wind her husband up.
“Why the deuce do you have to consort with those... those... those damned Roundheads?” seethed Lord Hamlet.
Lady Hamlet tutted in irritation, “Why do you insist on always referring to them as ‘Roundheads’ Basil, it is a perfectly silly epithet”
“Simple, We call them ‘Roundheads’ because they took the side of Cromwell in the civil war--- just because we were on the side of the King, AND,” he accentuated “because it seems to annoy them” said Lord Hamlet with a leering smile which irked Lady Hermione.
“I honestly have no idea why you and your silly ‘village idiot’ friends have such issues with the inhabitants of Little Underwood; they’ve always been very courteous to me and show a level of civility that I have yet to see bettered in this, my own village” She rested back and smiled through closed eyes, satisfied at her exercise in button pushing.
“YOUR VILLAGE” exploded Lord Hamlet “WHEN WAS THIS EVER YOUR VILLAGE?! IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED IT’S MY FAMILIES NAME ON THE HOUSE AND IT’S MY GLORIOUS ANCESTOR THAT HANGS IN PRIDE OF PLACE OVER THE MANTLE PIECE...” Lord Hamlet’s mouth opened as he looked to where his finger was pointing. His voice croaked in an attempt to say something but he was without the ability to do so. He blinked a few more times, hoping, presumably, that the vision before him would dissipate and the correct one take its place; but the scene did not change. There before the gawping and gapping peer of the realm, where the portrait of Lord Cecil Hamlet--- ship owner and gold magnate--- had always taken pride of place, stood a new portrait; a portrait of Lady Hermione’s detested, oily father. Time held its breath and the flames readied themselves for what was to come. Lord Hamlet pulled himself up to his full height (which really wasn’t much at the best of times), and detonated his emotions; caution leaving him and hurling itself bodily into the winds.
“AND WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THAT!!?” He raged, but Lady Hermione remained the very model of serenity.
“What is the meaning of what, Basil Dear?” she replied, pointedly refusing to follow his wagging finger in the offending portraits direction.
“THAT!” He bellowed, once again pointing at the picture, leaping up and down as he did so. Lady Hamlet turned slowly, opened her eyes to half mast, looked at the picture then returned to her previous posture of closed eyed nonchalance.
“Oh, that. That’s a portrait of my Father; quite fetching isn’t it?” Lord Hamlet’s complexion took on the brilliant shade of a red rose in full bloom; his temperament, it was only fair to say, did not match the delicacy of the petals he so perfectly mimicked.
“GOOD?! GOOD?!! IT’S A DAMNABLE ATROCITY!” he began “AN INSULT TO DECENCY AND THE EYE! IT’S A CRIME PERPETRATED BY A SEDITIOUS MIND...” Lady Hamlet’s eye brows rose at this last comment and a smile slightly creased her thin bloodless lips. This was topping any expectation she could’ve ever hoped for when she first dreamed up this exercise in annoyance. She settled back to enjoy the rest of her husband’s blood vessel popping exhibition. “IT’S A CRUDE RENDITION OF A CRUDE LITTLE MAN AND TO TOP IT ALL IT’S TREASON!!” Lord Hamlet was about to suggest the removal of his head when Lady Hamlet piped up
“I’d say that treason was a bit thick, Basil. It’s hardly a crime against the crown”
Lord Hamlet glared menacingly into Lady Hermione’s eyes and regulated his breathing. The heaving of his shoulders slowed a little until finally he was only snorting gently. He took a deep breath before prodding the air between himself and Lady Hamlet.
“For your information, dear, there was serious talk about a link between the young Queen Bess and Lord Cecil Hamlet.” Lady Hamlet’s eyes widened at this
“Oh for goodness sake, Basil, not the old illustrious- family- line chestnut again. How many times have I had to sit through the flights of fancy that you and your idiotic family trot out every time you gather for a soiree--- or a drinking binge, as I prefer to call it? You all sit around the table making spurious claims that have no validity or foundation other than the fact that it happened so long ago that no one can dispute your claims...” Lady Hamlet would’ve continued for some time in this vein if Lord Hamlet hadn’t, quite uncharacteristically for such a spineless mass of cowardly jelly like himself, cut in.
“There was talk of a child, a child that was whisked away and brought up by the Hamlet family. A dark secret of which we have been sworn to secrecy...” Lord Hamlet punctuated the air with his final point “so that picture is treason simply because it removed the father of the legitimate heir to the throne from his rightful and regal prominence”
“Utter balderdash, Basil, you are no more closely linked to royalty that any of your village idiot friends”
“That is where you are wrong, if it wasn’t for the Spanish Catholic threat, Good Queen Bess was set to marry Lord Cecil Hamlet and legitimise their firstborn.”
Lady Hamlet looked at Basil for a while. She was used to him wandering down daydream lane and knew it sometimes took herculean attempts to bring him back to reality; so trenchant were his views and beliefs in the family clap-trap that they passed off as the genuine article, that common sense seemed harder to grasp at that swirling smoke. But with a deep breath and a lungful of reason she set about the task of decoding his wobbly mind anyway:
“I will concede, Basil, that Queen Elizabeth I did have a secret lover. But that lover---although supposed to be secret—was well documented to be Lord Robert Dudley...”
“It was before him” Lord Hamlet stumped up with belligerence.
“Before him, how could it be before him, they were childhood sweet hearts, so unless they met in the womb I fail to see how?”
Lord Hamlet turned his nose up at this “It was during a summer when she and Dudley had fallen out. Queen Bess was upset and Lord Cecil Hamlet was there to comfort her; the comforting turned into friendship and the friendship into a blossoming relationship, the result of which was a little child.”
Lady Hamlet tried another tack: “But Queen Elizabeth was famous for her virginity, Basil”
Lord Hamlet gave that eye twinkling leer that men have when talking about ‘blokey’ doings, “’Was’ M’Dear, the operative word here is ‘was’”
Lady Hamlet held his ridiculous smarmy school boy look for as long as she could bear before shaking her head
“This is just pointless. Sometimes...No, all of the time, it is just impossible to talk to you, Basil---Fine, believe whatever you like, revel in your flights of fancy, I don’t care, have your family stories, go to your silly little grave believing every word of it--- I really have gone past caring --- but that picture of my father is staying there and that’s the end of it Basil!” and with the finality of a jutting jaw and crossed arms she threw herself into her chair with such force she moved a good four feet further away from her husband and his sense of impotency.
Lord Hamlet looked at the painting for a while. He turned his head on one side before shaking it.
“No, no, it simply can’t be done; it’ll have to go in the morning”
Lady Hamlet’s eyes shot open then narrowed “Why, what’s wrong with it---other than the fact that it’s not Lord Cecil Hamlet?”
“Well” began Lord Hamlet, “first off, as you quite rightly say, it isn’t Lord Cecil and that is Lord Cecil’s rightful place for the very historical ‘facts’ that I’ve just explained” Lady Hermione’s eye’s did a double flip and a triple somersault in unison with her tut tutting, but Lord Hamlet ignored her, “and anyway, it’s all wrong in the art”
Lady Hamlet sat forward “What do you mean, all wrong in the art?”
“Well it’s not even an oil painting. It’s a water colour, and everyone knows that a family portrait--- when placed on the walls of a great stately home like Hamlet Hall--- must be rendered in oils”
“It’s in water colour because I wanted it in water colour; I happen to prefer water colour to oil”
“Well I’m sorry M’Dear, but the idiot who painted it should’ve advised you about that. The chumps obviously a bally novice”
“For your information, Basil dear, he did advise me but I said no I wanted it in water colour”
“Deuce odd if you ask me: who was this bally idiot artist anyway?”
And this was the moment Lady Hermione Hamlet had really been waiting for; this was the moment that she was going to relish above all others, this was the moment that would tip her husband’s blood levels over the top.
She leant forward, malevolence swimming across her features before delivering the death blow, “A very talented artist from Little Underwood painted it” she said and watched the mixed emotions of shock, panic, outrage and disbelief ripple across her husband’s face like tidal flows.
Anyone outside of the palatial residence of Hamlet Hall on that dark and stormy night, and who happened to be passing at the precise moment that Lady Hamlet dropped her Little Underwood bombshell, could testify, quite readily, to the fact that the roof seemed to lift slightly off the main body of the house before settling once again; not unlike the way that a tanks turret would be lifted by a very powerful explosion from within.
So there you have it, the beginning of a very silly but never ending tale of eccentricity and tom-foolery in the English countryside. Hope you like it and will support my venture by purchasing a copy when it is released, hopefully by the middle of next month
Also, don't forget to come back tomorrow for the next instalment of the Brabbles & Boggitt saga
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