WHO LAUGHS LAST


At Tatton Park, Cheshire – where herds of red and fallow deer

graze studiously beneath the take-off path

of Manchester Airport and are seemingly deaf

to climbing Airbuses and 737s – the so called Tenants’ Hall

was previously the last Lord Egerton’s private museum,

its four walls adorned with mounted heads of,

for example, wildebeest, giraffe, black rhinos, lions –

all killed by Maurice himself.

 

In the ‘20s, with the Tatton rents keeping the jackals,

as it were, from the door, he settled permanently

in Kenya’s Central Highlands.

 

He settled for the game, the social life, the deferential servants

and the perfect climate for agriculture,

with its plentiful rain, clement days, cool nights –

something the unsurprisingly resentful Kikuyu had known

for the many generations they had been settled there.

 

He founded the Egerton Farm School – for white youths keen

to till and own the African earth – now Egerton University

for black, mostly affluent, students.

 

He was a natural member of the Happy Valley Set –

that well-bred, well-heeled, history-free and somewhat

unhinged club of cocktail racists, profoundly deaf to irony.

 

He built a six bedroomed house and invited his – to this day,

seemingly unknown – English fiancée. She decried the place as

‘small as a chicken coop or a dog’s kennel’.

 

Over the next sixteen years – 1938 to 1954 –

he built the fifty three roomed Egerton Castle

with imported stone, oak panelling and tradesmen

and invited her (apparently the same one) again.

And still she spurned him – ‘a museum.’

 

He was eighty. From then, all women, chicken and dogs

were forbidden, literally on pain of death, irrespective

of class or ethnicity. Notices were posted, on appropriate trees,

to that effect.  He dined alone – and continued to play tunes

by Vivian Ellis and Ivor Novello on the Steinway grand

in the castle’s unpeopled hall for his remaining four years.

 

Heirless, he left the castle and the school to the Colonial Office

and his Cheshire estates to the National Trust and the county council.

Perhaps he realised the game, as it were, was up – despite

the brutally illegal suppression of the Mau Mau  –

and saw the empire and all its varied works as finished.

As usual, he would not have been wholly wrong or entirely right.

 

Egerton Castle is now a wedding venue – like Tatton, where,

for all such events, floor-to-ceiling net curtains

are drawn across the stuffed, severed heads.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by (theinkywriter) - May 28th, 2013 at 12:03

    Great ending – I love it!

    ‘…floor-to-ceiling net curtains
    are drawn across the stuffed, severed heads.’

  2. #2 by John Huddart - May 28th, 2013 at 22:29

    History contains more strangeness, character and irony than literature. Oh that one had got one’s 2:2 in that! I like that ending too!

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