Woodland Voles

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Stephen is at his horrible house, answering the door. He wears a cardigan with leather patches. He smokes a pipe which has a stitched leather bowl holder. He opens the door. Hugh stands without. He is dressed in similar fashion. These are people with whom John Major would have a great deal in common. Hugh is holding a hosepipe reel.

Stephen John!

Hugh Afternoon, John. I'm returning the hosepipe you so kindly lent me.

Stephen Decent. Very decent. In you come, for heaven's sake.

Hugh Thankee.

Stephen I was just rearranging my collection. I don't know if you've ever seen it.

Hugh Collection? Now there's a thing. What do you collect exactly?

Stephen Well, it ain't stamps.

Hugh It ain't stamps. Coins, perhaps?

Stephen It ain't coins.

Hugh You find me intrigued, John.

They are walking into John's den.

Stephen Follow me into the rumpus den, John and all will be revealed.

Hugh Lead on, lead on.

Inside the rumpus den there is a large collection of plates with woodland creatures painted on them. There are statuettes called "Spirit of the Dance" and glass figurines of robins. You have never seen such a disgusting collection in all your life. It is spotlit and the joy of Stephen's life.

Hugh My word, John. My word, my heavens, my goodness.

Stephen The plates are mostly the work of the artist Elizabeth Bridwell, ARA; one of the leading artists of today.

Hugh (Examining a plate) I can see that she is one of the leading artists of today at a glance, John.

Stephen She captures the spirit of woodland creatures in a variety of heritage series that you will want to keep for ever as a lasting joy and investment.

Hugh Investment, John?

Stephen For surely sure investment, John. Only a very limited edition of these is produced; ensuring rarity and individuality.

Hugh (Holding a saucer) I am bound to say, John "what a marvellous thing to possess".

Stephen The mischievious expression on that hedgehog's busy, enquiring little face as he snouts for black- berries is beautifully rendered and brings vividly to life the atmosphere of our heritage native woodlands. I bought a hundred of those.

Hugh A hundred, John? I am gobsmacked. Simply gobsmacked.

Stephen I instantly destroyed ninety-nine. In this way I have increased the rarity of this beautiful object considerably. Only forty-nine others exist.

Hugh And where are they?

Stephen In the hands of other connoisseurs, I must assume.

Hugh Connoisseurs who also read the Mail on Sunday?

Stephen In a nutshell.

Hugh John, if you could track down these other tasteful readers of the Mail on Sunday and offer to acquire their saucers of the busy enquiring mischievous ...

Stephen (Correcting him) Mischievious ...

Hugh Mischievious, I do beg your pardon. If, as I say, you could acquire the remainder of these heirloom heritage pieces you would be sitting on the only mischievious hedgehog left in the world.

Stephen Such is my ambition, John. Who knows what this saucer would be worth should that be the case?

Hugh When you think, John, of the amounts fetched by painting by Picasso which do not have a tithe of the character, saucy mischieviousness and enquiring business of this little heritage hedgehog ...

Stephen It's quite a thought, John. And that is just one saucer. There is a series of statuettes here in frosted glass entitled "Spirit of the Dance" by John Petty C.R.A.P.

Hugh John, they seem to crystallise in lovingly ground glass the movement, grace and gossamer freedom of a great ballerina.

Stephen That they do, John. In spades. I bought two hundred of each in the series and ...

Hugh Destroyed one hundred and ninety-nine of them?

Stephen Precisely.

Hugh (Very serious) John.

Stephen Yes?

Hugh I do hope you are properly insured. There are international art thieves around who ... if they got so much as a whisper of what a trove you have in this rumpus den ... well ...

Stephen I know, John. Believe me I know. I'm well protected, believe you I.

Hugh I do believe you I, John. I do. Tell me a thing.

Stephen Gladdingly.

Hugh What does Joanie make of these. She paints, I believe?

Stephen Ah now. Now. Joanie is rendered speechless. I sometimes find her in here staring at these objets with her arm sort of flung up in front of her face.

Hugh As if unable to comprehend such talent.

Stephen Exactly. I think she comes in to draw inspiration. Sometimes though she can't bring herself to look at them at all.

Hugh As if dazzled.

Stephen As if dazzled. I'll call her in. (Calling off) Oh Joanie.

Joan (Off) What?

Stephen Could you come in a second, my love?

Hugh Is she at work at the moment?

Stephen She is, yes.

Enter Joanie. She is still holding her palette and is obviously still at work. She enters the room sideways, as if trying to avert her gaze from the collection. Stephen and Hugh catch each other's eyes and mouth the word "dazzled" to each other with triumphant confirmation.

Joan Yes?

Stephen You remember John, don't you Joanie?

Joan Oh. Hello.

Stephen We were talking about the collection.

Joan emits a little squeak.

Hugh You're a painter yourself, of course, Joanie. You must marvel at this kind of artistry. Joan starts to make little retching noises. All the more so when you consider the rarity of these pieces.

Joan Yes. (An idea begins to dawn) As a matter of fact John, I was going to tell you ...

Stephen Yes?

Joan I tracked down a man in Carshalton who has a collection exactly the same as yours.

Stephen No!

Joan Yup. Piece for piece.

Stephen If only he would sell ...

Joan He will! I've ordered the whole collection: it's on its way here.

Stephen Marvellous. That is marvellous.

Hugh Oh, congratulations.

Stephen All I have to do is destroy it and this will be worth even more.

Joan Or of course ...

Stephen Yes?

Joan (Trying to be casual) You could destroy this lot and keep the one that's on its way.

Hugh True.

Stephen Well, there's no need. These are in place.

Hugh Be fun though wouldn't it?

Joan (Almost hysterical) Yes! Think what fun it would be.

Stephen All right. Let's do it. Joan, like a savage animal, unleashes herself on the collection. Hugh joins in. Stephen too, slightly puzzled by the incredible ferocity of Joan and Hugh's attack. Soon it is all in pieces. Joan is frenzied with joy. (A little doubtful) Well. There we are. Can't wait for the new set to arrive.

Hugh Congratulations.

Joan Thank you.

Stephen This calls for a drink I think. Fancy a gin and ton, John?

Hugh Hoo, why not?

Stephen Coming up.

Exit Stephen.Joan waits for him to go and then falls into Hugh's arms.

Joan Thank you, John. Thank you a million times over.

Hugh Think nothing of it. Sometimes a public duty can be a private pleasure. But for God's sake cancel that subscription to the Mail on Sunday.

Joan I have.

Vox Pop

Stephen Used to be this chap at my school called Richard Braine. You'll never guess our nickname for him. We used to call him Rick Brain. Oh no, that can't be right.

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