I was interested to note, when solving today’s cryptic crossword in the Grauniad, a felicitous conjunction of words. The column containing 7 and 19 down, third in from the right, reads INFERNAL GAZEBO. Indeed it was both felicitous and a jaw-dropping coincidence, for it had long been my intention to write today about the infernal gazebo at Plunkett Hall.
On our last visit to that grand baronial edifice, we learned how, one afternoon in the eighteenth century, Baron Plunkett confronted the Evil Thargon. It was several weeks later when the events historians call “the strange events in the infernal gazebo at Plunkett Hall” took place. There are a number of books and pamphlets and tracts and hysterical blood-stained ravings on the topic, all of which are worth reading, if you have the time and inclination. I have neither, to be quite honest, what with all the other calls on my attention, birds, ponds, smokers’ poptarts and what have you, so what follows is frankly ill-researched and possibly wrong, wrong, wrong in all particulars. But bear with me, because I think you will find it rewarding, in a Radio 4 Thought For The Dayish kind of way.
The gazebo in the grounds of Plunkett Hall was plonked upon one of the magnificent lawns not far from the ha-ha. Architecturally, it was an unremarkable gazebo, having been designed by the unremarkable architect Baffles Chippy, and built by a gaggle of snaggle-toothed and sullen labourers hired for a pittance from the derelict godforsaken villages thereabouts. None of these men of peasant stock had an inner life, which was just as well, or they might have been haunted forever after by the gazebo they built. Baffles Chippy did have an inner life, and a monstrous one, riddled with imps and demons and incubi and succubi and all sorts of other awful phantoms of hell that don’t bear thinking about. But think of them the architect did, constantly, to the point of phrenzy. And so, whenever he was commissioned to design a building, be it a gazebo or a folly or a seaside chalet, he strived to make it, in his words, “a home fit for heebie-jeebies”, the latter a catch-all term he used for the fiends throbbing in his demented brain. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – Chippy was a somewhat cackhanded architect, and the buildings he designed rarely if ever reflected his intentions. They might be twee, or gingerbread, or stumpy, or base and brickish, but seldom did they look like the ghastly horrors he had in mind.
So it was with the Plunkett Hall gazebo, which, when finished, looked pretty much like any other eighteenth century gazebo in the grounds of a stately home. In spite of this, Chippy insisted it be called the infernal gazebo, and so it was, by all and sundry.
One afternoon in the eighteenth century, the ancient factotum Ned Slop came panting and staggering into the library of Plunkett Hall.
- Lawks-a-mercy!, baron, he croaked, There’s a right to-do over in the infernal gazebo by the ha-ha.
Baron Plunkett looked up from his book.
- Must you pester me, Slop, when you can see I am making a series of learned annotations in my leather-bound Pontoppidan?, snapped the baron.
- I beg pardon, baron, b-b-but…, said the factotum.
- Whatever the to-do is, I am sure you, with your untold decades of service and drudgery and fawning and drainage ditch draining can cope with it, Slop. Now be off with you, before I ring for the pincers-man to come and have at you with his terrible pincers!
And so Ned Slop bowed and staggered out of the library and along the corridors and through the great baronial hall and out into the magnificent grounds. He tottered slowly across the lawns towards the infernal gazebo. He was shaking more than usual, and dribbling with fear. But then he remembered he had seen the baron shake a stick at the Evil Thargon, just a few weeks ago, and that had seemed to do the trick. So he veered off towards a mighty yew and picked from the ground a fallen stick. Waving it in front of him, emboldened, he entered the infernal gazebo.
It was infested with bats and owls and moles and otters. And there, in their midst, stood the unremarkable figure of Baffles Chippy. Only now there was something remarkable about him. He was wearing a cape and a pointy hat and had sprouted horns and a tail and his feet were naked and cloven as those of a goat and his eyes were black black black globules of fathomless doom.
Poor Ned Slop waved his stick, but Chippy, or the thing Chippy had become, roared. It was an awful, deafening roar, and the stick burst into flames in Ned Slop’s wrinkled and cadaverous hand.
- Lawks-a-mercy!, he cried, not for the first time that day.
In his moth-eaten armchair in the library, Baron Plunkett scrawled a learned annotation in the margin of his leather-bound Pontoppidan. Had he not been as deaf as a post, he would have heard distant rumbling. A to-do of cosmic proportions was taking place at that very moment in the infernal gazebo. When it was over, there would be nothing left but a few owl-feathers and an otter’s shrivelled head and the charred remains of Ned Slop’s stick and a yawning crater, full of fire and vapours and shrieking, black and bottomless, the maw of hell.
The next day, apprised of the pit, Baron Plunkett ordered that the area be surrounded by another ha-ha, and a filbert hedge planted all around it. A gaggle of snaggle-toothed and sullen labourers hired for a pittance from the derelict godforsaken villages thereabouts toiled and dug, with only a smattering of them toppling into the pit. And when they were done, the second of the so-called “strange events in the infernal gazebo at Plunkett Hall” occurred. The gazebo, blackened and burned but intact, rose up out of the pit, and hovered awhile in the air, and then it shot upwards, at inexplicable speed, and vanished in the aether. And ten minutes later, dressed in a spacesuit like Felix Baumgartner’s, the ancient factotum Ned Slop fell to earth, bumping down in a drainage ditch, quite unharmed, but with a brand new and alien brain pulsating inside his skull….