Last week I went in search of a cannon ball. Not just any old cannon ball but one supposedly fired by John Paul Jones, the scurrilous Scottish pirate or, if you’re a US patriot, the brave heroic scourge of those snotty, tea-swigging English.
It is rumoured that during the War of Independence he used to sail up and down the English coast, harrying shipping and every now and again firing a cannon ball at the local gentry’s houses. One such missile is said to have landed and thereafter resided, in the garden of a country house not too far away from where I live.
Since I’m writing a feature about the adventures of JPJ, I thought I would try to establish some facts and, if possible, get a photo of the cannon ball if it really exists. So, notebook in hand, camera over shoulder and my latest vanity – a biz card that declares I’m a writer – tucked in my bag, I went in search of my quarry.
The house in question is one of hundreds of minor mansions that dot the British countryside. This particular one is inhabited by a peer of the realm,thought to be somewhat reclusive and/or eccentric. Aren’t they all?
Be that as it may, cap in hand and forelock ready for tugging I drove up the winding gravel drive to the imposing front door. There my nerve fled as the shades of his lordship’s ancestors rose up in anguish at such an intrusion. I snuck around the back, looking for (no sniggering please) the tradesman’s entrance.
Before I could track it down my ears were simultaneously assaulted by that cut-glass English accent so beloved of cliché-ridden 1950s films shown on daytime TV and the twanging of an acoustic guitar coming from an outhouse.
“I say, twang, what are you doing, twang, twang twang?
I was confronted by a scruffy figure holding a guitar, wearing torn jeans and trainers that that looked as though they’d gone a hundred rounds with Mohammed Ali. His face, like mine, was all saggy but, unlike mine, he had what those who know would describe as a “good bone structure”. I explained my mission and handed him my card which he scrutinised for a tenth of a second before stuffing it in a pocket.
Then he sneered and I must admit it was one of the best ever; the Full Monty in fact – the raised eyebrow, the look-you-up-and-down glance, the scornful eye and the precise, clipped speech.
“Now let me see, have I understood correctly? You are almost certainly one of those new Kindle writers. What do they call you now, self-publishers is it? Was a time when it was called vanity publishing and produced the most appallingly written rubbish – “Memoirs of a Country Bore”, “The Reticulation of the Cabbage White Butterfly” – all utter fatuous, unreadable rubbish. Am I right? Am I right?”
His voice rose an octave as he almost danced around me. At one time I thought that his guitar and my head were about to meet in unholy union. I backed off a little but take credit for almost standing my ground and I repeated my enquiry about the cannon ball.
“Ha! Never heard of it. You’ll have to come back at the weekend when the house and gardens are open.”
He turned to go and I could see I wasn’t going to make any progress so despite the urge to cripple him with one of my devasting ripostes, I said politely,
“Well thank you for your time, your lordship. Perhaps I will come back at the weekend then.”
Without turning he gave me a dismissive wave and then, just before he disappeared back into the outhouse I heard him mutter,
“And I’m not his bloody lordship either. I am his lordship’s bloody butler.”
Just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted these days.
Oh how we self-publishers suffer for our art.