One of the incidental pleasures of reading the long-forgotten memoirs of obscure figures from our island history is to stumble upon fleeting mentions of that gruesome ogre of children’s nightmares, the Grunty Man. All of us, I think, can recall the shiver that ran down our spine when we sat at mama’s knee and she read to us tales of the fearsome Grunty Man, lurking in his cave and occasionally emerging into the light to grunt and grunt and lay waste the earth and grunt some more. Now we are grown we can look back with fondness on this loathsome fantastical creature, safe in the knowledge that he never really existed … or did he?
The other day, I was reading the long-forgotten memoirs of an obscure figure in our island history, the expatriate Hollander Joost Van Dongelbraacke. It is an unfathomably dull book, or I should say books, for Van Dongelbraacke managed to eke seven fat closely-printed volumes from what was, by any measure, a fairly uneventful life. I love this stuff and could read it until the cows come home. I was about half-way through volume three when, to my delight and consternation, I came upon this passage:
At luncheon that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding, but it had not been sufficiently boiled, or perhaps it had been boiled for too long, for shortly after digesting my third bowl-ful I suffered the most terrible mortification of the bowels and had to be carried from my place by the servants and deposited on an an ottoman in the smoking room where I moaned weakly and cursed heaven. Thereafter, to make recompense, when I was able to move I repaired to my private chapel and offered orisons to the Almighty that he might spare me from the horrors inflicted by skittish cooks.
I then determined to berate said cook, and had her summoned from the pantry, only to be told she was not to be found there. I strongly suspected her of being involved in unseemly canoodling with Mr Snippage, the gardener, and so I pulled on my out of doors boots and went striding through the grounds, past the filbert hedges and towards the ha-ha, where Snippage had his hut. While I was walking thus, waving my stick, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Grunty Man, darting between the elms.
When I reached the hut I banged my fist on the door, hoping to disturb the gardener and the cook. But there was no response, and when I opened the door to peer inside, I found the hut was empty. My mood was now tempestuous, so on my way back to the house I berated one of the estate peasants who was pushing a wheelbarrow full of dead toads from one pond to another. Shouting my head off did me the world of good.
Back in the house, I settled in the library and spent a profitable hour reading a collection of sermons by Parson Freakpit. Outside the sky was louring and there were hints of English drizzle. I closed the book and thought longingly of the canals of my homeland. These thoughts were interrupted by a servant who came to inform me that the cook and Mr Snippage had been seen boarding the mail coach heading for the coast. I cursed heaven once again, kicked the servant all the way along the corridor, and, feeling a renewed mortification of the bowels, shut myself in the Thunder Box until it was time for supper.
For supper that day I ate a goodly amount of My Lady Kent’s Pudding.