Fields of Gold

Periwinkle and co make it up with neighbour Twistleton-Penge before suggesting a solution to improve his cash flow

Chuffer, Tubby and yours truly were hanging about the Glamper’s Retreat one afternoon, playing some drinking game Tubby dreamed up and which obliged the loser to down Pimms Number 1 by the saucepan. Just when it looked like the paramedics should be called in, who should pitch up but that old war horse, Twistleton-Penge himself.

“Look chaps,” he said, after buying a round, “Why don’t we bury the hatchet? Start over, eh? I’m tired always being at odds.”

We all signed up to that (Pimms is known for encouraging conviviality, especially when consumed by the saucepanful). Everyone agreed that life was too short, and we all shook hands.

“The thing is,” said Twistleton-Penge after a while, “cash flow’s a bit tight right now, and I could use your consultancy firm to help me generate some extra ackers. Keep the wife in Chanel.”

I found it hard to sympathise. It was well known that were fiscal calamity to decimate the Twistleton-Penge fortune, the old buffer would still have been able to change his Bentley every time the ashtray in the old one started to overflow. But griping has been a trait of the Twistletons since Norman times.

“There was a time,” he said wistfully, “when I used to get my Turkish Delight flown in daily from Istanbul. Now, a redundant stockbroker from Plymouth delivers it in a Sainsbury’s van. I blame Brexit.”

It was indeed true that Chuffer, Tubby and I had set up a consultancy specifically to encourage hard-pressed owners of vast country piles to diversify. ‘Fields of Gold’ it was called, and at that precise moment we had not one single client.

Of course, that was before Twistleton-Penge’s appeal for help caused me to experience a sudden entrepreneurial thunderclap and I found myself saying “Bungee ropes!”

“I beg your pardon, Periwinkle?”

“Bungee ropes,” I said. “They’re all the rage again I believe.”

“I can’t see members of the Rotary Club throwing themselves over a bridge and paying fifty quid for the privilege,” Twistleton-Penge grumped.

“No, no,” I said. “In my scheme, the punters’ feet never leave the ground!”

“Look,” I said, “The bungee cord is attached at the waist and anchored to something solid. We’ll set up some of those sherry casks from your wine cellar along a hundred yard stretch of your lawn. On top of each cask we’ll put some of the junk you’ve had in your attic since VE day, Twistleton. Folks will think they’re antiques.”

“Not sure I’m getting this, Periwinkle” said Chuffer.

I pushed on. “At a given signal, the punter starts running along the line of barrels, grabbing prizes as he goes. The further he goes the more prizes he can get. But – and here’s the fun of the thing – the bungee rope makes it more and more difficult to gain ground as it stretches.’

“Sounds like The Generation Game,” said Chuffer.

“More like It’s a Knockout,” Tubby said.

“Or the Antiques Roadshow?” Chuffer again.

“We’ll call it ‘The Knockout Antiques Show,” I said. Boy, was I on fire!

Twistleton-Penge was as effervescent as a glass of liver salts at the idea. “Let me see if I have this straight,” he said, “We charge punters £50 a pop to run like a cheetah with its tail on fire to overcome the resistance of a bungee cord. The harder they run, the better the prizes they get?”

“That pretty much covers it,” I said.

“Brilliant!” he exclaimed.

Two hours later, the paraphernalia of the game had been set out on Twistleton-Penge’s six-acre lawn – 10 barrels at 10 yard intervals. Each topped with some item of antique bric-a-brac from the barn.

On the furthest away barrel sat a small oil painting of dubious provenance on its own little easel. The trouble started when Tubby decided that the worthless daub was in fact a missing Constable and ended up insisting on testing the game out in the hope that Twistleton-Penge had no idea about the painting’s worth.

Twistleton-Penge fired a starting pistol and Tubby took off as if he was being pursued by Auld Nick himself. By dint of superhuman effort, Tubby bagged the propane gas cylinder, a Georgian crystal decanter and glasses, and a pair of Wellington boots that once belonged to Queen Victoria’s faithful servant, John Brown. Only the splurge of oil paint to get.

The painting lay a quarter of an inch beyond the grasp of Tubby’s fat fingers. But, as exhaustion brought his legs to a shuddering halt at the limit of his physical endurance, Tubby reached out one hand to grab the painting. Nothing moved in that half-second as the forces of nature stood in sublime balance – the bungee rope’s pent-up energy matching the rapidly diminishing power of Tubby’s forward motion.

And in that yin-yang equilibrium, Newtonian physics took over. Chuffer later said that it was like watching that bit in Star Trek when the Starship Enterprise is about to enter hyperspace: one minute it’s there, the next it flashes into hyperdrive and vanishes in a blur.

The bungee rope shed its stored-up energy, rocketing Tubby backwards at warp factor four, arms windmilling, each of his hard-won trophies tumbling one by one from his grasp and smashing to pieces on the lawn. All he had left to cling to was the propane cylinder.

I suppose we got carried away. All that Pimms. No one had anticipated the ‘return journey’; least of all Tubby. Especially the bit where he, the propane cylinder and the bridge across the moat round Twistleton-Penge’s grange collided with sufficient force to blow them all to kingdom come.

Campstead