Rain was still coming through the decrepit slate roof in places, but that was a minor problem; at least the cracked window was now sealed. What a great idea it had been to use that old oil painting, by some guy called Turner, which had been taking up space on the drawing-room wall since his grandfather’s time. Wedging it across the broken glass pane certainly did now keep the rain at bay. Of course it meant you could no longer see out the window; but that was of no consequence, compared to the usual puddle on the floor.
Phineas gave himself a pat on the back (well, of course, he didn’t actually pat himself on the back. That’s just a figure of speech, familiar to all great writers like myself). Then he settled down at his accustomed place of work. The room was low-ceilinged, with rafters; the building itself dating from Elizabethan times, it being the Redux family’s proud boast that not a single item of repair had ever been carried out on the structure since its foundation. On the street side were two low, square, diamond-paned windows; one of which had jammed shut 120 years earlier and had never been opened since. The other was the one now concealed by the oil painting. “Thank goodness for paint-daubers.” Phineas thought happily as he sat down, “If they hadn’t spent so much time splattering paint all over canvases, where would he be now?”
The desk was actually a reclaimed kitchen table, though made of oak. It had been varnished with exterior brick-sealant some time in the past; and now if a book was laid on it for any appreciable time it tended to stick in place. Phineas, in his brilliance, had vanquished this difficulty by laying a couple of pieces of floor linoleum at strategic places on the desk, so that problem was solved; though it did nothing for the harmonious styling of the desk’s appearance. At his elbow as he sat on the rickety chair, itself a refugee from the kitchen, lay an ink-pot and quill with goose feather. He had indeed heard of such new-fangled devices as typewriters and carbon-paper; but Phineas had a deeply ingrained reverence for the old traditions. What had been good enough for his great-grandfather, Quintilian Redux, was still good enough for him.
Ah, he thought parenthetically (look it up, must I do everything?), as he fidgeted on his chair trying to get comfortably settled, dear old Great-Grandfather Quint, what a guy. One of the most successful authors of Boys Stories and later, under the pseudo-moniker ‘Atalanta Carter’, Girls’ Stories as well in the middle of the 19th century; who, at one point, had kept no fewer than five weekly magazines (or Penny Dreadful’s, as they were then called) in profitable business at the same time.
Writing ‘Xena; Warrior Princess’ stories for his part, Phineas mused or cogitated (no, it isn’t illegal or vulgar; you must be thinking of something else!), was so difficult to get just right—the present-day audience being so demanding! This regularly made him consider why he had not chosen more mainstream Heroic claimants to his literary exertions. Why hadn’t he taken Gladys Mitchell’s advice, that time they had shared vodka ‘Red Hunter’ cocktails at the ‘Mystery Writer’s’ Club, back in the ‘50’s. The Grand Old Lady (probably a non-PC term nowadays, Phineas gloomily thought) of the mystery tale had knocked back her second cocktail with all the graceful aplomb of a Lady of Quality and nodded wisely. “ ‘Sapper’ was your man, Phin, old cock. H C McNeile knew his blood and guts. After all, wasn’t he a commissioned officer in the First World War, who went into No-Man’s Land regularly to do awful things personally to the Hun? He knew how to put a really good ‘Knock ‘em About’ story together. If you must write stories around some other author’s characters Phin, you old blister, then ‘Bulldog Drummond’s your man.”
Wise advice indeed but Phineas, seeking greater more adventurous fields for his endeavour, had pooh-poohed this helpful guidance. Telling Gladys what he thought of her helpful hints, and ‘Bulldog Drummond’ in particular, using strong manly short Anglo-Saxon terms—and receiving back from the Grande Dame, on her part, some unrestrained and authoritative suggestions as to his next course of action—he had tottered out into the Pall Mall twilight three sheets to the wind, ‘Red Hunters’ do that to you, and collided with the personification of England’s Law in human form, ie, a policewoman in uniform; who had immediately sorted his hash by knocking him down with her baton—an entirely proper action in the circumstances. A night in the cells; an appearance at the Morning Session of Bow St. Magistrates Court; the forced separation between him and one of his most treasured and beloved £5 notes; and the business was swiftly concluded to everyone’s satisfaction.
Phineas meandered homewards,—looking for all the world like a bedraggled out-of-position sailor loitering along to the Pool to see if his next ship had come in—cudgelling his brains, or what euphemistically passed muster for them, trying to come up with a really good subject for his writing skills. But later in the day when Time, an ice-pack on the forehead, and calm reasoning had all fulfilled their combined reason d’etre, Phineas recognized the sad reality of his situation. There was nothing for it but to keep the blue devils at bay by watching that DVD Aunt Clytemnestra had sent him last Christmas, from the depths of Patagonia where she kept her hacienda. A lost cause if ever there was one, but with no hope left Phineas pushed the appropriate buttons, settled back on his broken-springed sofa, and prepared for an uncomfortable hour in front of the seven-inch screen monochrome 1948 goggle-box which, surprisingly, was still in working order.
But what’s this? A tall dark-haired woman riding a white horse, flailing a nasty looking sword the while. Accompanied by a delicate petite blonde girl with a sweet smile, and a snappy attitude and tongue that’d call forth admiration in any group of fishwives you’d care to assemble. Set in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Modern America, Old China, the Steppes of Russia, snowy mountains in Norway, Classical Japan; in fact, just about everywhere, and in every possible time you care to mention! Let’s see, Phineas thought or ruminated, as he pulled the tattered copy of ‘Weekly TV Schedules’ from where he’d kicked it under the sofa last Wednesday. Ah, here it is—‘Xena; Warrior Princess’, hmm, seems worth looking at—let’s see what it’s about.
An hour later and Phineas had seen the light. Xena and Gabrielle were his gals, and fan-fiction was his game. What this franchise obviously needed was a battalion of really determined sincere dedicated fan-fiction writers. And why not be among the first, thought Phineas; sitting at his desk and stirring the stodgy ink in its stone bottle with the point of an old quill; arranging the pile of loose sheets of paper to his right-hand side; and placing firmly on his head the woollen cap he favoured when under the influence of his Muse (it kept his ever-increasing bald spot warm, y’understand). So then, how should it go —
‘The camp-fire had scarcely begun flickering in the wan morning light before the crowd of banditos, hiding in the surrounding bushes, ran out to overcome the two women. In a flash there were screams of fear, crashes as bodies hit the dirt, horrible noises as limbs were wrenched painfully out of alignment, and scuffling sounds as the survivors ran for the horizon.
“Just another morning, Xena.” The fair-haired small woman bent down, to carry on putting eggs in the now slightly bent frying-pan.
“Yep, just another day. Gives me an appetite, though.” The tall dark dangerous woman grinned widely at her companion. “Good job we got six eggs; two for you, an’ four for me.”
“Har, Har, Warrior Princess.” Gabrielle was having none of it. “Separate me from my third egg an’ you’ll be sorry, baby!”
1. ‘Red Hunter’ cocktail— 1 part vodka; 1 part Single Malt 12 year old Scotch whisky; a smidgin of Green Chartreuse; a dash of Angostura bitters; and several grains of pure sea-salt. It is of course always shaken, never stirred. It is also strongly advised to write your Will before drinking.
2. The Pool. An area of the Thames where cargo ships anchored at numerous wharves.
3. Blue devils. Immaterial visions attributed to extreme gloom, despair, or melancholy.
4. goggle-box. British slang for television set.
5. General chronology may be somewhat dubious; but Hades, where would all the fun be if everything were boringly straightforward—it never bothered Xena and Gabrielle in their adventures, you’ll recall!