Return to Rubadubby Sally Neary
PART 1: Making Plans – March 1984, Buckinghamshire
Diana Martin looked through the kitchen window across the lawn to the paddock beyond. It was a fine spring morning in late March, and the many daffodils already in bloom in the garden of the farmhouse where she lived with her husband were dancing gently in the breeze. She particularly loved this time of year as the countryside gradually became alive; the view across the Chilterns beyond was clear and she felt in good spirits.
At 48, Diana was an attractive woman, tall and still slender from the regular horseriding and tennis which she loved. Her dark shoulder-length hair loosely framed her oval face and her grey eyes absorbed every detail of the scene beyond. Today would be a good day, she thought. Her cousin's wife and close friend would be arriving at midday for a long planned catch-up lunch which the two women so much enjoyed. "We don't see each other often enough," she thought, "but we both have such busy lives, and the weeks turn into months. And when we 've caught up with all our news over lunch, I will then tell her what I am planning for the autumn." She smiled softly to herself.
Diana then made final preparations to the cold lunch which she had prepared and laid the table. She went out into the garden to pick some primroses, and arranged them in a bowl in the centre of the table.
Almost as soon as she had finished, she heard a hoot from the drive. "She's here," thought Diana happily, and opened the front door. The car had just drawn to a halt, and a head of auburn wavy hair was leaning out of the window.
"Hi Di, I'm here! Isn't it a gorgeous morning?"
Lucy-Ann Lynton stepped from the car, carrying a spray of daffodils. "I've brought you these, although goodness knows why – you've hundreds here!"
Lucy-Ann's green eyes sparkled as she warmly hugged her friend. She wore a soft green cashmere sweater, which matched her colouring perfectly, and a cream soft wool flared skirt. At barely 5'3" and slight in stature, despite having had four children, Lucy-Ann looked some years younger than her 46 years. "Do you realise we haven't seen each other since Christmas! We've so much to catch up on!"
The two women went indoors, chatting and laughing, and Diana poured a glass of white wine for them both. "I want to hear all your news first," insisted Diana. "How is cousin of mine?"
"He's fine," laughed Lucy-Ann, sipping her wine. "As busy as ever, of course – the business is doing well, and so he's happy! He seems to have just as much energy as he did when I met him twenty-five years ago. I find it hard keeping up with him!"
"Gosh, is it really that long?" asked Diana. "Well, it must be, because you have been married twenty-four years, and Peter is now 22 isn't he, a year between our Hugo and Tess."
"Yes he is," said Lucy-Ann, "and in his last year at Durham. Will was 19 last month, and the twins are 17. Can you believe we are the mothers of such grown up children?"
"I can't believe how quickly the time goes at all," said Diana, "and I can clearly remember the day you and Snubby both met! Gosh, that was certainly a fortuitous day."
"I was completing my nursing training at Exeter Hospital," Lucy-Ann recalled, sipping her wine. "I had a few hours off, and it was a lovely day in late July. I decided to go down to the coast for a few hours with my book and sandwiches. I was sitting reading on the beach, and noticed this rather attractive young man, who reminded me a bit of Jack actually, throwing sticks into the sea for his dog – a black spaniel. The dog was loving every minute and running in and out of the sea, fetching the sticks and barking."
"Your first sight of Snubby and Loony!" laughed Diana. She had heard this story before of course, but she was enjoying hearing it again from Lucy-Ann.
"I must have fallen asleep in the sun," mused Lucy-Ann, "and then suddenly, I felt myself being covered with cold water, or so it seemed. I woke up to see the black spaniel barking round me and shaking himself dry, all over me! The young man came up and apologised profusely, and insisted that he should get me a towel and buy me a drink at the cafe! He was really very charming!" smiled Lucy-Ann.
"Yes, he would be," smiled Diana. "Snubby always knew how to pile on the charm when he wanted to!"
"At the cafe, we just sat a talked for about three hours!" said Lucy-Ann, looking through the window, as she remembered the details of the day. "As you know, it was remarkable that we had had such similar backgrounds and experiences as children. Jack and I lost our parents in an air-crash when Jack was just five and I was only two years old. We had lived with our father's rather reluctant brother, Uncle Geoffrey, until we met Philip and Dinah and Aunt Allie. Snubby, of course, also lost his parents in a car accident when he was young, although he always had you and Roger and your parents, and other family, and so it wasn't quite the same as our early life."
"And then we also discovered that we had both had some amazing times through our teens – I shared with him some of the experiences which Phil and Dinah, Jack and I had shared with Bill, and he recounted the many adventures which you, he, Roger and Barney had had. We could hardly stop talking – in fact I was almost late back for my shift," laughed Lucy-Ann.
"Barney, Roger and I were on holiday in Exmouth with a group of friends," Dianna recalled, "and Snubby and Loony came down for a few days to join us. By then, Snubby had had Loony for about twelve years and thankfully he was a much better behaved dog! They had both gone off for the afternoon for a walk on the beach while we sat and read."
"I remember," continued Diana, "that he came back to the hotel rather late, and joined us on the terrace for a drink. He sat down, rather pale, and said, 'I have just met the girl I am going to marry. Her name is Lucy-Ann Trent, she has gorgeous auburn hair, and she is the loveliest girl I have ever seen!'"
Lucy-Ann laughed, delightedly, as Diana continued, "And Roger said, 'I do believe he is serious!' And then I said, 'Well if he is, given his own colouring, they will probably have lots of red-haired children!'"
"He was, and we did!" smiled Lucy-Ann. "Our four little carrot-tops, as Bill used to call them when they were small. Snubby came down to Exeter rather a lot after that, and we were married the following year. And the rest is history, as they say."
"I always thought that Loony chose you," said Diana, smiling. "He always looked out for Snubby, and he was saying, 'This is the one – this is the girl for you!'"
"Dear Loony," said Lucy-Ann, wistfully. "He was really so very special. We have had a number of spaniels since, but not one quite like him. Having said that, we both love Laddie to bits," she said, thinking of their five-year-old black spaniel.
"And that was the start of our two families being linked together – haven't we had some marvellous times since then?" smiled Diana.
"We certainly have," agreed Lucy-Ann. "And how is your lovely husband?"
"He's very well, and should be in after lunch. He's been riding this morning, and is having lunch at the Club before setting off to theatre later. He will be in, though, to shower and change before he leaves. How are the rest of the family?"
Over lunch, the two women continued to exchange news. "Bill and Aunt Allie are fine," said Lucy-Ann, "loving life at Craggy Tops in Cornwall, of course. You know, none of us ever had any idea that Aunt Polly would leave Craggy Tops to Aunt Allie in her will all those years ago. Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn had to leave Craggy Tops after the well was flooded with sea-water, as there was no mains water nor electricity when they lived there, can you believe! The place was almost a ruin, really, but it had been home to Phil and Dinah, and Jack and I shared a wonderful holiday there. It was just down the coast from there that summer when we met Bill!" she smiled, thinking lovingly of the man who had become her adopted father all those years ago. "I don't believe they regret having taken it on and renovating it, but I think it cost Bill a pretty penny!"
"It's a wonderful place," recalled Diana, "and I am sure Phil and Dinah love going back there, as much as you do. How are they, and of course Jack and Sue?"
"Phil and Caro are well, and enjoying Newfoundland hugely. It's the perfect job for Phil, running a wildlife reserve. They have been there for two years now, although I know Aunt Allie misses them and would like to see more of them. I believe she and Bill may be going out there for a holiday in June."
"I hear from Dinah every now and then," sighed Lucy-Ann. "She is working far too hard, but nothing I say ever makes any difference. Since her divorce, she has thrown herself even more into the art agency, and the harder she works, the more successful she becomes! As well as having offices in London and Paris, she has just opened in New York."
"Gosh," said Diana in admiration. "She's awfully clever, but like you, I would like to see her slow down a little and look after herself more. Perhaps we can meet up for lunch with her in London when you can pin her down, Lucy."
"Good idea," said Lucy-Ann. "I'll give her a call this week, and check where she is."
"And how are Jack and Sue and the family?" asked Diana.
"Fine – Snubby and I and the twins are spending Easter with them and the boys in north Devon. It will be good to see them again. I haven't seen my dear brother since Christmas! He is due to have another photographic book published in the autumn – this time on eagles. Kiki is still going strong – do you know, Jack has had her 37 years now. Parrots can live until they are over 60, you know. I just hope she can carry on as she is. I can't imagine life without her now, and I know Jack will be distraught when he eventually loses her. Never mind, that may be a long time off," smiled Lucy-Ann. " And how are Rog and Isabelle and the girls?"
"Very well," said Diana. "We are going over for lunch on Sunday at the weekend. Roger isn't on duty at the hospital, luckily."
Just as they were finishing lunch, they both heard a car draw up and the front door open. Diana called, "Hi darling, we are in the kitchen!"
Diana looked up and smiled as her husband walked in. He was tall, just over six feet, and his corn-coloured hair, now slightly streaked with grey, was swept back from his forehead. Through his daily horse-riding and disciplined life as a stage performer, he was tanned and fit, and his wide-set, startling blue eyes smiled at both women. Diana thought for the thousandth time how handsome he was.
"How are my two favourite ladies?" he smiled, walking across to his wife and kissing her softly on the lips. He then hugged Lucy-Ann in welcome and kissed her cheek.
"Barney, how lovely to see you," said Lucy-Ann, and returned the hug.
"We're having a lovely time, catching up on everything," said Diana. "Did you have a good ride this morning?"
"Great, thanks," said Barney. "It's a beautiful day, although there's quite a strong wind out there. How are Snubby and the family, Lucy-Ann?"
Diana poured Barney a cup of coffee, and the three of them sat and chatted for a while. Barney then went to shower and change before setting off to catch the London train for that evening's performance while the two women remained talking at the kitchen table.
"Well, now Barney has departed, what are these secret plans which you wanted to talk to me about?" asked Lucy-Ann. "I assume they involve him."
"They do," smiled Diana. "You know that Barney has a special birthday in the autumn – he will be 50 on Sunday 7th October. I know he doesn't plan to make a great deal of fuss about it, because that is just not him. He says he is happy to spend it with just me and the children and go out to dinner somewhere."
"But you have other plans, of course!" said Lucy-Ann laughing.
"Do you remember," said Diana, "our telling you about that particular summer we spent at Rubadub in Cornwall when we were in our teens?"
"Yes," said Lucy-Ann. "Snubby has recounted all your adventures many times, as I have ours to him!"
"Well," said Diana, "it was probably the most significant of all for various reasons. Firstly, it was certainly the most dangerous, and Barney could easily have been drowned that summer," she said somewhat soberly. "Roger, Snubby and I had gone to Rubadub with Miss Pepper, mummy's old governess, who used to often look after us during the holidays when our parents had to go away with dad's work." Diana paused for a moment. "That summer, Barney and Miranda hitchhiked down to Cornwall to join us, and he obtained work initially in a local fair there."
"Of course," said Lucy-Ann. "In those days, Barney was still alone and working with fairs and circuses where he could, after his mother died."
"Yes," said Diana. "You remember when we first met Barney, the summer previously, he was looking for his father whom he had learned was probably still alive just before his mother's death. Well, apart from us all getting mixed up with a lot of treacherous rogues, it was in Rubadub when Barney first met his father." She looked pensive for a moment, remembering the sequence of events of that summer. "It was really thanks to Barney's old friend Dummy, Snubby and Miss Pepper, who collectively found out where he was." She paused for a moment. "He has never forgotten that it was really through Dummy that he found his father," she said softly. "Dummy had severe learning difficulties, but had known Barney's mother some years before. Snubby liked Dummy enormously and was so good with him. It was he who managed to get the information from him we needed about Barney's father to try and find him. Dummy finally remembered Barney's father's full name and the village where he lived. Barney and his father have always looked after Dummy since then," she added. "With proper medical care, he made huge strides. He is now in a nursing home, and we visit him quite regularly."
"Barney is a sweet man and so is his father," said Lucy-Ann softly. "Let me guess," she continued, "you're planning to take Barney for a surprise weekend in Rubadub?"
"Yes – and more than that!," said Diana, her eyes twinkling. "We have never been back since that summer, believe it or not, mainly because the old Inn where we stayed, the Three Men in a Tub, went downhill. The Glump family eventually retired and sold the business, and I believe it became a rather seedy pub for a number of years. The secret military harbour which was there when we were children eventually became a fishing harbour, and it deteriorated rather during the sixties."
"Anyway, just before Christmas, I saw a magazine article which described how the village had been improved in recent years and how the old Inn had been bought and turned into a lovely hotel with a good seafood restaurant. It has been extended and now has 12 rooms, and the village now looks charming.
"A good choice for a family birthday weekend – I am sure Barney will love it," said Lucy-Ann, smiling.
"I have booked the whole hotel for the weekend," said Diana," and I am planning a surprise party for about 50 people – all of us, the whole extended family, and our closest friends. I thought it would be a perfect place for Barney's birthday, a place which had been so significant for both him and Barno, his father."
"Diana, it's a lovely idea," said Lucy-Ann. "Do you literally mean all of us?"
"Yes," said Diana firmly, "you and Snubby, Roger and Isabelle, mummy, of course, Barno, the Martin family on his side, and of course Bill and Allie, and the whole gang. All our offspring, too, of course, and our closest friends! I am also planning one or two surprises," she said, mischievously.
"Di, will you be able to keep it from Barney?"
"Of course," said Diana. "Only Hugo, Tess and Barno know at this stage, and they are sworn to secrecy, but I am planning to send out invitations next week, so that everyone has the date in their diaries. Do you think Philip and Caro will be able to come over from Newfoundland?" she asked.
"I am sure they will if Phil can get leave," said Lucy-Ann. "Both he and Jack get on so well with Barney, and they will both make the effort, I know. Gosh, how exciting! Will the party be on Saturday the 6th?
"Yes, I thought everyone could aim to get down after lunch, and be ready in the lounge for tea at four o'clock," replied Diana. "I will then drive down with Barney and aim to be at the hotel for about 3.30. I will have to keep him in our room until everyone has congregated downstairs, of course. He will be expecting us to meet with Hugo and Tess for tea, but there will be rather more people than that," she laughed. "We will then have a celebration dinner in the restaurant in the evening, and there is an area for dancing afterwards."
"Does Barney like surprise parties, Di?" asked Lucy-Ann, suddenly wondering how Barney would take all this.
"I don't really know, because I haven't thrown one before, but I am sure he will," replied Diana, laughing. "After all, all the people he cares for most will be there, and so how could he not?"
"Will there be room for all of us?" asked Lucy-Ann, suddenly thinking of the numbers involved. "Twelve rooms won't take everyone."
"No – I have already booked some B&B accommodation in the village for the younger ones, and some of our friends," said Diana. "The immediate family and some of the older members will stay at the hotel. We will then depart at our leisure on Sunday, some time after a late breakfast, I should think."
"Everyone will need to be sworn to secrecy," said Lucy-Ann. "It would be a shame if Barney guessed or found out."
"Essential," said Diana. "I really want it to be a complete surprise. He deserves a wonderful birthday," she said, smiling, "and I want it to be really special."
"Shall we start to draw up the guest list?" suggested Lucy-Ann.
"Yes, let's," said Diana. She fetched a notebook and pen from the study and the two women sat down at the kitchen table to start their task.
* * *
Barney Martin always enjoyed the 45 minute train journey from their home in the Chilterns into London for the day's performance. He usually sat quietly, running through the sequence of the play in his mind, preferably in an empty carriage when he could get one. He was lucky today – he found a carriage to himself and sat in a window-seat, looking out at the countryside on this lovely spring afternoon.
He had been playing Elyot in the Noel Coward play, Private Lives, for about six months now, and had enjoyed it. His stage career now spanned almost thirty years, and he thought quickly of the many parts he had played – many roles in various theatres around the country, for some years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and then increasingly in the West End in plays and musicals. Theatre was in his blood, he thought – his father had been a Shakespearian actor for many years, and his mother had worked with the circus as a performer and animal trainer before she died. She had been wonderful with animals, he recalled, trying to picture her face as he remembered the life he had known with her. Not quite in the same way as Philip Mannering, though – he had a very special gift – but nevertheless she was good with animals of all kinds. They had trusted her and loved her. His own daughter, Tess, had inherited not only her grandmother's colouring and features, but also her own affinity with animals. Tess was currently in seventh heaven because Philip had offered her a placement to spend her forthcoming gap year in Newfoundland at the wildlife reserve which he ran with his wife. Barney was enormously grateful to him for that.
During those early years, travelling with his mother, he had learned all the skills of the circus – tight-rope walking, acrobatics, rope climbing and many others. At drama school, his natural baritone voice had been trained and, strikingly good looking, Barnabas Martin had been recognised as a promising talent early on.
He recalled his drama school years – he had loved them and known with certainty that a stage career was the life he wanted. There had been a few girls at drama-school of course, but no-one serious – it had always really been Diana for him. Barney had been cautious initially about moving on his relationship with her; he hadn't wanted either of them to be hurt, and the friendship was far too precious to risk losing altogether. In his mind, Barney had also questioned whether he was good enough for Diana. More pointedly, he had wondered if Richard Lynton considered he was good enough for his daughter. Before his death, Diana's father had been a successful lawyer, and Diana had had a public school education. He, on the other hand had been a circus boy in his early years and had moved from school to school as he and his mother moved around the country. But it had been inevitable, he thought. They had loved each other, and once their romance had taken off, they had been engaged within six months and married the following year.
During the early years of their marriage, Barney had worked in theatre around the country, and he and Diana had lived in a series of bedsits for some time. It was no problem for him – the nomadic life had suited him, but he had been concerned for Diana. But wherever he was, she had wanted to be, he smiled to himself. During the long hours when he was rehearsing and on stage, Diana had started to write children's stories, using initially a lot of material from their own childhood adventures. And so, Diana Lynton the author was born, thought Barney, proudly. She had developed several series over the years and had found her writing relaxing when the children were small. Yes, the marriage had served them both well. There is certainly nothing missing in our marriage, he smiled to himself, and we have two wonderful children and a terrific family. We have been lucky.
And now, only just a week ago, he had been approached by Cameron MackIntosh to audition to play the lead role, Jean Valjean, in a production of the Boublil/Schoenberg musical, Les Miserables, which was due to open in the West End later the following year. Only he and Diana knew about the audition, and he wanted to keep it that way until he knew if he had got the part or not. It was a major opportunity, as the musical was expected to be a huge success, and it was a part which Barney longed to play.
He should have been a happy man, but today, anyone knowing him would have seen a troubled expression in those startling blue eyes, as he sat in the carriage, quietly looking across the countryside. Barney knew that neither his wife nor Lucy-Ann had been aware of his worries, and he had deliberately made sure they hadn't. But worried he was.
In the privacy of the railway carriage, he took from his inside pocket two letters, and re-read them, as he had many times already. The first one had arrived in mid-January, by post, at the Theatre where he performed. It was hand-written in clear print on blue paper, was unsigned and gave no address. He re-read it;
SO YOU THINK YOU ARE NOW A WEST END STAR AND HAVE IT ALL? ALL THAT IS ABOUT TO CHANGE. EVERYTHING YOU HAVE YOU WILL LOSE, BUT YOU JUST WON'T KNOW WHEN. ARE YOU SWEATING YET?
That was it – no signature, no name, just two lines of unpleasant, threatening words. At first, he had dismissed it – many actors and performers were subject to stalkers and oddballs following them and sending threatening notes. He had debated whether to go to the police, but had decided against. He had put the matter to the back of his mind until yesterday when another letter, some two months on, had arrived by post, again at the theatre. He re-read the second letter – it was in the same printing but on different paper, and the post mark was undecipherable.
I HOPE YOU DIDN'T DISMISS MY FIRST LETTER. I AM NOT PLAYING GAMES WITH YOU. I AM MAKING YOU A PROMISE THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SUFFER WHICH IS NO LESS THAN YOU DESERVE. ENJOY YOUR PERFORMANCE THIS EVENING!
He had found it hard to concentrate that previous evening, but had eventually thrown himself into the performance as the true professional he was. He had enjoyed his morning ride which always invigorated him, but his thoughts had then started to crowd him. Who was this, sending him such letters and making such threats? Should he take it seriously? Of one thing he was clear, he did not plan to say anything to Diana about them. He knew she would worry, and he wanted to protect her from anything unpleasant. But concerns flooded his mind about her safety and that of his children, now in their early twenties. I think I have to go to the police with this, he thought. He felt the need to talk it over with someone. He would talk first, he decided, to the only other two people he could trust, other than Diana. It's about time he, Roger and Snubby met up for a beer. They hadn't seen each other in months. He resolved to call them the following morning.
The train drew into Paddington station, and Barney got out. He took the first taxi available and headed straight for the theatre.
To be continued...