Author and bon vivant James Flounder, Winner of the Oxford Dickensonian Chamberpot for Merely Horrible Literature, wrote A Plangent Wainscoting while living in a small cement villa on the Costa de la Luz. It was the last novel he wrote before plunging into the universally derided Condemned Veal series. At that time Flounder had been living in Spain for five years, and was homesick for England. The tone and tenor of the novel shows his unrequited longing for England throughout.
Flounder wrote and re-wrote Plangent Wainscoting throughout the summer and fall of 2001, often neglecting personal hygiene in order to work on the novel. Aside from a few trips to Cadiz to wash, he remained sequestered in his villa at Zahara de la Atunes. His housekeeper, Lucia Conchanegra, remembers that while writing Flounder subsisted on kippers, saltines, Dutch beer, and Bazooka Joe bubblegum.
"Ay, que puta," she recalls fondly. "Que hombre más hediondo."
This mighty creative labor resulted in what John Updike called "...modern literature's smarmiest and least satisfying novel." Originally titled Beeves and the Plangent Wainscoting, it was retitled after P.G. Wodehouse threatened to shove a rabid badger down the author's face.
edit Chapter 1
Lord Lambent Gasmantle, fifth Earl of Pisswell, was dead vexed. Whilst gunning for grouse at daylight he had shot the hat off his old school chum, Lord Ampersand-Blodge -- a dreadful breech of hunting etiquette, even if Lord A-B's ratty old hat did look quite like a grouse with the mange. Then, upon returning to Pisswell Manor, he found that the police had taken away the gardener on charges of oriental bigamy; the water-heater had exploded and the resulting second-floor lake caused the downstairs pantry ceiling to collapse; and the family cat, Jack Straw, had bitten the rump off Maggie Thatcher, his wife's cockatiel.But these were not the reasons Lord Lambent was particularly vexed. These events, unsettling and annoying though they were, amounted to little more than an average day at Pisswell Manor. No, what made Lord Lambent's blood pound in his temples as he stood, listening to the wet plop of plaster falling in the pantry and the distant snarl of his 40-year-old son practicing vintage punk-rock guitar licks through a 500-watt Mogen-David amplifier, was a printed email handed him by his wife, Lady Anodyne Gasmantle.
"Dearest Daddums!" the message began. "You will never guess what! Have met the finest chap ever & we are to be married ASAP."
That was enough right there to make blood boil in the veins of any father of a blonde and headstrong daughter. But there was more.
"He is the horse's patootie & we are in LOVE!!1!! Name of Alberto de Silva, hails from romantic Argentina. Tall, dark, handsome, etc. Makes a frightful amount of money doing terribly dodgy and dangerous things for an oil company. Anyway he's just delicious & can hardly wait to meet Ye Aulde Family. Love, Your Loving Daughter, Felicity."
One would think, mused Lord Lambent, that once one's daughter reached the age of 45 and had worn out two husbands that one would be spared these heart-stopping communiques. One would think one's daughter would simply go off to Liverpool or Las Vegas or wherever and get married, and perhaps inform the family a few years later after the inevitable divorce was finalized. But no...there had to be these breathless announcements.
"Penny for your thoughts, dear?" said Lady Anodyne, adjusting the balance of her remarkable bosoms.
"Well," said Lord Lambent, "I am thinking of shotguns. Whether I have any shells loaded with slugs. Might be best to blow this South American chap's head clean off first go, I think. No fiddling about with buckshot. What we want is a clean kill."
"Oh, you're such a neanderthal, Lambie," said Lady Anodyne, patting his arm. "I'm sure it's quite all right. Er, do we know the de Silvas, dear? Don't they have a little place over by Ickwell?"
"That would be the d'Salvers, Annie," said Lord Lambent gloomily. "Different lineage altogether. This fellow's some sort of bounder from the Pampas."
"Well, darling Felicity has always gone for the adventurous types," said his wife. "Her first husband used to climb cathedrals, remember? She met him after he fell off the Notre Dame and was imprisoned by the gendarmes."
"He escaped from La Santé Prison by chewing his way into the sewer system," Lord Lambent remembered. "He must have thought he was the damned Count of Monte Cristo or something. Swam down the Seine, and she plucked him out of the water just by the Ile de Saint Germain."
"Yes, that's it," said Lady Anodyne happily. "They showed up here, and he was all wild-eyed and had turd-stains on his shirt. It couldn't have been pleasant crawling though the French sewers. They're filthy people, the French."
"Filthy," agreed Lord Lambent.
"So an Argentine may not be so bad. Perhaps he and darling Felicity will start a family."
"Holy Jesus," said Lord Lambent. And then, after the concept had time to sink in, he added, "Sweet weeping Mother of Christ, what a thought. Couldn't she take up lesbianism or chastity or something?"
"I want grandchildren," said Lady Anodyne firmly.
Lord Lambent realized he had two conversational choices: defeat or retreat. "Inasmuch as the gardener has gone," he said breezily, "I am going to prune the buddleia. The pantry has disintegrated, Annie; please have Beeves call Mr. Smiddle from the village to perform salvage. My kippers are somewhere in the ruins."
"Of course, dear," said Lady Anodyne, readjusting her remarkable bosoms and cutting her storm-gray eyes at her husband. "It shall be done."
edit Chapter 2
Dougie Gasmantle struck and held a B5 power chord, listening as the overdriven Mogen-David amplifier growled its way through decaying overtones to a final almost pure groan. He put the Les Paul back on the guitar stand and sighed.
Thoughtfully he commenced his favourite activity: brooding. He was balding and bearded, and had and his father's massive forehead. Whilst brooding he looked rather like an anchorite or early Church Father -- like Georges De La Tour's Saint Jerome, perhaps.
He looked nothing like Gizz Butt. Neither young enough nor pretty enough to start a career in punk rock. What a downer. Better have another toke.
Dougie pulled pulled hard on his last spliff and, holding the smoke carefully in his lungs, unclipped the remnant twist of paper and flicked it out the open window. The munchies were kicking in. Peanut butter on saltines, he thought, and Dr. Pepper. He wandered down the hall toward the kitchens.
The pantry was a mess. Beeves, the butler, was scooping wet plaster off canned goods and cases of lager. He nodded gravely to Dougie.
"Good God," said Dougie, "were we bombed, Beeves?"
"I think not, Master Douglas. Most of us are, currently and as of today, not bombed. The devastation downstairs seems to result from a fault with the geyser upstairs."
"The water-heater, sir. The word geyser is an Icelandic term for that which produces hot water."
"Yes, but why are we using Icelandic to describe household appliances, Beeves?" The dope had wrapped his brain in warm burlap, and he had trouble focusing.
"The term is common English parlance, sir," said Beeves.
"Parlance?" said Dougie vaguely. "Is that French?"
"Only if one is too bombed to speak English, I think, sir," said Beeves, smiling inscrutably.
"Is there a chance of getting some saltines and peanut butter and honey and tea, do you think?"
"In the kitchen, sir. I am certain that Mrs. Bunhardt will accommodate your esurience."
"Esurience? Esurience, Beeves? What...oh, never mind." Dougie drifted off toward the kitchen.
Mrs. Bunhardt was chopping leeks viciously with a cleaver. "Thurrs biscuits and jam in the fucking cupboard next the stove -- SHITE! FUCK! -- and yer can gets yer own goddamned teabag, cocksucking CUNT."
"Uh," said Dougie. As a knee-jerk liberal he applauded the Disability Discrimination Act, but Mrs. Bunhardt's Tourette's seemed to him a bit more accommodation than the dignity of the Gasmantle household could afford. He rummaged in the cupboard and found a packet of Zwieback and a jar of mango jam. When he turned around his elder sister, Felicity Angelica Gasmantle, was lounging insouciantly in the doorway.
"Shit-licking BUNGHOLE," Mrs. Bunhardt commented. "I fergot to mention, yer sister FUCKHEAD Ferlicity is back." She grabbed a whole trout from the sink and whacked off its head. The severed head spun across the countertop and landed at Dougie's feet. It's gold-rimmed eye gazed mutely up at him. The fish seemed to speak directly into his hemp-addled mind: How did this happen to me? the trout asked. I feel so helpless, and it hurts so much...
You and me both, thought Dougie sympathetically.
"Don't tell Daddums I'm here," Felicity said. "He thinks I'm still on the continent. It's a surprise."
"I'll just bet it is," said Dougie.
Felicity grimaced and took a pack of Dunhills from her handbag. "Want a ciggy?"
"No thanks," said Dougie. "I don't do tobacco. Nicotine is bad for you."
"Oh yeah, you're the Hemp King. My brudder-man the banjaxed ganja guru."
Dougie's foggy mind groped for the logic behind the situation. Felicity had not lived in England for years; as far as he knew the lewd behavior charges sent down after the incident at Bar 54 were still in force. Technically she was subject to arrest, and certainly her last husband's bankruptcy and subsequent suicide made her something of a persona non grata in the best social circles. Why was she back?
"DOG'S PUD!" shouted Mrs. Bunhardt, slashing at the body of the trout with a fillet knife. "Well, it's stinking nice to see yer, Ferlicity, arse cack minge-flaps, and I hope yer fucking hang about cocksucker for awhile."
"Dear sweet Mrs. Bunhardt," Felicity said. "I can never be sure when you're cursing and when you're just Touretting. I'm here for a wedding. Mine."
A storm of tics and twitches crossed Mrs. Bunhardt's face. "Why, how bumcheeks nice, dear," she said, and flung the ragged spine of the filleted trout toward the wastebin. It missed and hit with wall with a dull slap. The trout's head stared up at Dougie, aghast: My body! it seemed to cry. What has she done to my poor body? Dougie couldn't stand the way it looked at him, and nudged the head under the fridge with his foot. Mrs. Bunhardt hurled the fish and leeks into a pan and doused them with Spanish port. "Who's COCKSUCKER the lucky shitting bloke?"
"Oh, he's Argentinish," said Felicity. "Oilman and all that. Frightfully rich and what."
"Argentine?" said Dougie, alarm bells going off in the mists of his brain. "Born in Argentina? Not an émigré?"
"Goodness, Dougie, don't be so bourgeois. I don't know what his geneology is and I don't care. Now, remember --- not a word to dear old Daddums. I'm just going to nip off to the village. Anything you crave?"
"FUCKING cuntrags!" shouted Mrs. Bunhardt, hacking maniacally at a head of savoy cabbage with her cleaver.
"One box of tampons for sweet old Bunhardt, then," said Felicity. "And nothing for Dougie."
edit Chapter 3Lady Anodyne reclined in the loveseat under the mullioned bay window and booted her laptop. Click, click, Google. Enter "de Silva". There was a Sri Lankan cricketer, an Italian car designer, and a Brazilian football star. She added "Alberto", "Argentina", and "petrochemical" to the search. Some scholarly references, but no Alberto de Silva. Hmmm. Surely he wasn't José Alberto Martínez de Silva, the telecommunications professor from Madrid?
She snapped the computer closed and, rebalancing her remarkable bosoms, went to find Beeves.
The butler was in the conservatory feeding the venus flytraps. "I am sure something can be found out, M'Lady, if you will allow me to contact a few acquaintances of mine," said Beeves. "Of course certain amount of time will be required."
"The sooner the better, Beeves -- I want to know all about this de Silva before I see his face. Nothing unsettles me more than an unknown Argentine."
"One understands completely, M'Lady. Given prior historical circumstances..."
"I shall begin straightaway, Lady Anodyne."
"Not a word to His Lordship, Beeves?"
"Of course not, M'Lady." And, after flicking a last lump of raw liver into the slavering maw of a flytrap, Beeves shimmered out of the room.
At that moment Lord Lambent was furiously amputating surplus foliage from the buddleia bush. It was an ill-kempt grove of buddleia, really, a savage and spreading buddleia. "Grandchildren, eh?" he muttered. "Little nippers scuttling about the manse like ill-mannered vermin. Stinking diapers in the hampers. Poor old Jack Straw's tail yanked, screams and bawling at all hours. It won't do! Simply won't do."
He knew in his bones that his daughter would inevitably drop her children in her mother's lap and then disappear. And anything dropped in Lady Anodyne's lap soon spilled over and inundated Lord Lambent's peace of mind. There was but one bulwark he trusted to hold against any flood of familial madness. This situation called for the ultimate weapon.
He put the pruning shears under the buddleia and went to find Beeves.
Dougie Gasmantle squished his way through the buttercups and sedge along the water-meadow path. The fitful midmorning breeze, fouled by the rubbish incinerator at Guildford, stuck in his throat. Argentine! he thought, with anguish. Perhaps he is acquainted with that Other Argentine. Or perhaps he is a close relative! It is a small country. Everyone knows everyone. Awful!
Memory projected a series of embarrassing and humiliating vignettes upon the screen Dougie's imagination, all featuring that now-abhorred but once-worshiped Other Argentine. A dreadful sense of exposure came over him, as if he stood on a sea-cliff with only a thin frieze of windblown grass between him and a fatal plunge onto ragged black rocks. Onto the slime-covered stones of shame.
He must not be exposed. This new Argentine threat must be sounded, taken in hand, and somehow nullified. There was only one man who could help him now. Dougie turned in his muddy tracks and went to find Beeves.
edit A Peril of Penelope
By noontime the sky over Pisswell Manor turned sultry, and creamy thunderheads cauliflowered to the northeast above London. Mrs. Bunhardt, finished for the moment with cookery, exited the Manor through the servant's entrance. She hopped into her rust-bitten Renault, ground the gears, ground her teeth, and pulled onto the M31. The car backfired twice as she accelerated impatiently to motorway speed, pointed toward Staines.
Her destination was an artificial neighbourhood. In the 1980s a developer seized on a noisy triangle of land between the railway and the Staines Bypass and put up blocks of flats. The streets were named for birds: Seagull Way, Titmouse Court, Bustard Boulevard, Swallow Close. They were badly laid out, with sudden cul-de-sacs and blocked access. To get to Number 54 Titmouse Court Mrs. Bunhardt had to go down on Bustard once, Seagull twice, and then Swallow. This always reminded her of a night with Mr. Bunhardt (deceased) -- "The Pervert" as she now called him.
Number 54 Titmouse Court was the secret headquarters of P.U.R.E.: the Peoples' Unorganisation of Revolutionary England. "Unorganisation" was The Leader's little joke: whenever someone found that a batch of pamphlets had been been printed in red ink on red paper, he would say "Yass! That's the unorganisation for you." Mrs. Bunhardt climbed the faux-concrete steps and went into Number 54 without knocking.
"It has come to a head," she told The Leader. He was in his bath, blowing bubbles through a glass pipette. "Fascists are infiltrating: an Argentine Nazi is moving into Pisswell Manor. I expect brown shirts and armbands with swastikas will be handed out by Monday."
"Bit dire, is it, Penny?" The Leader lifted his pipette and a soap-bubble the size of a melon extruded itself from the end.
"I state the facts."
"They -- the opposition -- have not penetrated your cover?"
"To them I am nothing but a fucking menial with raging Tourettes," Mrs. Bunhardt said coldly.
"Yass. Yass." The Leader poked his pink toes out of the bath and contemplated their pinkness. "Agent Penelope Bunhardt, few are called but many are chosen. Which do you think you are -- called or chosen?"
"Many are called, few chosen," corrected Mrs. Bunhardt. "I do what is necessary, Sir."
"Then," said the Leader from behind his nine pink toes, "eliminate the fascist threat, Penny."
"Yes, Penny. Plaster the fascists!"
If Agent Penelope Bunhardt was blenchable, she would have blenched. But ever since finding the corpse of her husband with a bar of Fairy Hand Soap fatally lodged in his particulars she could not blench, so she merely nodded.
"Good, good," said The Leader. "You are dismissed."
Mrs. Bunhardt kissed the pink toes and left.