Christmas At Mudshark Towers!
Mudshark Towers. That vast, crumbling mountain of semi-organised masonry.
Century upon century had this monumental edifice cast its long and oppressive
shadow on the careworn countryside. Perched atop its barren hill, the castle
was a landmark few could ignore, and even as the ignoble peasants toiled in the
foetid fields, their eyes were ever drawn to the cruel walls which so dominated
their miserable existences
. A sinister presence, and mighty expensive
one in which to install double glazing, but what few realised was that the
visible aspect of The Towers were but a scant indication of its true size.
Like a tree, its roots burrowed deep into the bones of the earth. Or perhaps
more like a iceberg, waiting to greet the Titanic which was the outside world.
These were the Cellars of Mudshark Towers. The dark, rumbling intestines of the
Family home, their labrynthine enormity due, in part, to the years of forced
labour exacted as tribute from the humble plebs in whose domain the Family had
deigned to settle all those centuries ago, but mostly due to the
over-enthusiasm of The Wizard, who, on discovering a small bone in a dusty
recess one evening, had proclaimed it to be the third metatarsal of a
cretaceous saurian as yet unknown to science, and armed with his trusty hammer,
a firkin or five of nutritious turnip ale and two and a half thousand tons of
TNT, had declared his intent to unearth the entire skeleton of the beast and
have it named Wizosaurus Mudsharkii by Christmas
. It was only after
several roof-rattling and dust-unsettling explosions when Peep confessed the
original bone to be "a little something he had saved from a particularly
delicious chicken entree" that the Wizard's hopes of immortality were
dashed, but he continued with the excavations because he liked blowing things
up. This left his Wizness with a slight (selective) hearing deficiency, but
bequeathed to The Family a lot of storage space.
Thus it was, with
commendable sense of economy, that the Family set about utilising this asset,
filling the echoing caverns with fine wines and beers, rare distilled spirits,
ethereal malts, port, sherry, Eldorado, Sanatogen, Clan Dew, and finally, in a
grand humanitarian gesture, allocated a half acre to Florentina's turnip vodka
(for it was whispered that the Family feared a return of the black death....)
And so, one fine day, not long before the season of the Great Eating and Even
Greater Drinking, in the Great Cellars was to be found one Sylvia Mudshark,
wife of the redoubtable Dudley, a brave and resourceful woman, and, for some
considerable time now, keeper of the Family Cellars, a position of great
responsibility and no little swilling. But Sylvia, alas, was not happy this
"Forty years, man and boy," she grumbled, rattling
crates with indignation, "and not a sniff of appreciation!" "But
no more!" Sylvia drew herself up to her full height, or as much as space
would allow, and announced her decision to the world, or at least to the dozing
"I quit! Bollocks to yer cellars, Musharks, I'm
after something a bit more congenial to pass the time. Shorter hours and less
foot- rot." For a moment she paused and considered what task was best
suited to her prodigious talents, then, in a flash, it came to her and she
brandished one arm in the air, dislodging a few disgruntled spiders and
accidentally enlarging the cellar several inches.
apply myself to the proper supervision and running of the Library!" she
whooped. "Nice warm room. Better class of cockroach. What's the hassle
shoving a few books around? I'm outta here!!"
who had at that very moment descended to the Cellars to replenish her supply of
a particularly fine liqueur, heard this last utterance with some astonishment,
but, wizely, held her council.
Had he been around to hear of
his spouse's momentous decision, no doubt Dudley Mudshark would have reacted
similarly, but at that time the Great Man was otherwise engaged, and his
considerable presence was to be found in the warm, but olfactorally challenging
environs of the yak stables. Dudley surveyed the beast before him with
satisfaction, as well he might. No wizened, bony-shanked nag was this (unlike
the unfortunate Harry, whose continuing lack of exercise has been previously
documented...), but a sleek, well-rounded specimen, curvaceous of haunch and
over-upholstered in practically every other region. This was Naomi, the
Family's prize yak, a creature treasured by many a Mudshark for her seemingly
limitless gifts. Florentina visited her daily to collect not only the generous
quantities of fertilizer Naomi's high-fibre diet regularly delivered, but also
the beautiful, downy yak-hair which was shed during her extensive grooming
sessions, and which Florentina was carefully spinning and weaving into a gown of
."A frock and a half, it'll be, when it's
finished!" was Florentina's proud boast, and indeed, she jested not, for
she had conceived the idea to weave some additional panels, to be added to the
garment during the course of the Great Eating, to allow for expansion. This
was not the limit of Naomi's produce, however, and it was for a different bounty
altogether that Dudley frequented the stables. Rubbing his hand together, then
settling his majestic frame on a small, three legged stool placed just below
the rear quarters of the yak, Dudley set to milking. And not just for the
pleasure of the task, either. There was serious business afoot here, for, as
anyone will realise, from yak milk can be made that most exclusive and
celebrated of gourmet foods, yak cheese. Dudley had been about this enterprise
for some time now, in order to produce a cheese of sufficient maturity and body
to grace the Family table at the Great Eating. In the meantime, he reached into
one particularly dank and festering recess and withdrew what appeared at first
sight to be a particularly virulent pathology of some pachyderm or other, grey
and pungent, with strange fluids emanating from its cracked and suppurating
This, however, was Dudley's prime batch, which he sniffed
tenderly, the delicate fumes of ammonia bringing tears to his cheeks, before
transporting it forth to occupy pride of place at the lunch table... Now,
finished with the day's milking, he left Naomi with a somewhat startled
expression on her long, hairy features and headed with his harvest for the damp
and fungal confines of the Cellars, an environment he considered perfect for
the culture of the anticipated delicacy.
Within the secret cavern
which housed his slow-ripening treasures, exotic species of moulds and fungi
shared the dripping walls with other unusual denizens of the dark, not to
mention a few over- indulged Family members sleeping off the morning aperitifs.
Dudley sloshed the day's quota into a large wooden tub which had last seen
active duty some decades back in the servicing of Peep's paws, prodded the
already- coagulating curds with some antique chopsticks and left nature to take
Back at the Library, Gustav Mudshark, as was his habit, was
spending the morning consulting the yak lineage records, a prodigious task
since the pedigrees in question ran to some twelve thousand sturdy volumes
(with appendixes) (unlike Gustav), but Gustav considered it time well spent,
for his great ambition in life was to breed and train the perfect racing yak,
not to mention make an uncommonly large sum of money betting on the beast
against the witless peasants who ran the local book at the Fin. To date,
Gustav's winnings totaled some five hundred and twelve pounds and twenty three
pence, a goodly sum, and well worth the quarter of a million or so outlayed, but
still he dreamt of wiping the smirks from the drooling visages of the witless
peasants, and thus frequented the Library ever day to increase his already
Gustav studied the tiny letters, squinting
through his magnifying glass. He scratched his head in frustration. He had
been so convinced of Naomi's potential in the hurdles... On the other hand, he
had a hot recommendation from Jonquiletta Mudshark, youngest offspring of
Florentina and Montague, a child of almost supernatural acumen when it came to
the yaks. He scrabbled in his pockets and discovered seventeen pence and three
"What the hell, live dangerously," he
muttered, "put it all on the one with the fuzzy tail!!"
Just at that moment, Sylvia Mudshark appeared from behind an ornate formica
bookcase, and spying Gustav about his task, descended on him in some earnest.
"Right, finish up. Time, please." Swiftly, she gathered up the array
of documents in front of the unfortunate Gustav, and with one sweep had them
doused, rinsed and draining, whilst the ancient oak table on which he was
leaning fairly gleamed with its third application of Mr Sheen that day. Gustav
elevated his palms to protest his indignation, Sylvia, however appeared to
misjudge his intent, and with a manoeuvre worthy of Bruce Lee chopped his legs
from under him and pinned his arms behind his back as she speedily hustled him
head first through the great, carven swing doors. The astounded Gustav began
to protest vociferously. After a moment's consideration, however, it became
apparent to him that this was the most fun he'd had in many a day, and thus,
stoically, he abandoned himself to his fate. (Hovering surreptitiously in the
background, Harriet Mudshark nodded her approval, and took copious notes.)
Luncheon had been served, and, as Dudley reflected, picking the odd bone from
between his teeth, the pig had not died in vain (nor any of its many brothers
and sisters). Florentina was not of such an affable mein, for gracing the
Refectory that day was the not inconsiderable presence of Lord Roberto,
landlord and host of The Fin, and Florentina was mightily suspicious of the way
in which Roberto had been flourishing his tape measure around the rear quarters
of her beloved Naomi, not to mention the chalk lines he had furtively sketched
on the aforementioned rump. Neither was she convinced that the flat, rounded
metal implement with its wooden handle, which he carried with him, had any part
to play in cricket, but then Florentina was suspicious by nature, having
survived some years of hand to hand combat nurturing Montague's offspring
As the meal drew to its close, Dudley became suffused with a glow of excitement.
When he was sure the moment was upon them, he proudly rose to his feet and
whipped the elegant Tupperware cheese dome from its plate, and there lay for
all the Family to observe.... The Cheese. There was a reverential silence,
broken only by the sound of Pavlov filling in an order form. Majestically,
Dudley brandished a ceremonial knife, normally reserved for despatching
peasants, and plunged it into the steaming pile.
The smallest of
portions, he carved, and laid it before Lady Ecaterina, undisputed expert in
such matters, The Family held its collective breath in awed silence as she
raised it to her lips, chewed delicately and swallowed. The deathly hush was
broken by an unexpected crash as Lady Ecaterina's chair tipped over backwards,
accompanied by her startled exclamation, unsuitable in nature for general
Alarmed, Dudley and Roberto leapt to her assistance.
Seizing an ear apiece, they lifted her tablewards again. Dudley waited, in an
frenzy of anticipation. Slowly, Lady Ecaterina's eyes opened, then uncrossed.
Power of speech returned but slowly.
The suspense was unbearable.
really quite good, actually," she affirmed cheerfully.
groaned and struck his brow with clenched fist. Back to the drawing board.
(Wavy lines, indicative of the passage of time. Eerie
music. Slow resolution to the same room, subtly altered...) Christmas dawned
at last within the ancient walls of Mudshark Towers. The time of Great Eating
and Even Greater Drinking. The salvation of the local apothecaries, who hawked
their patent remedies for the unknown virus which, uncannily, always struck
down the vast majority of Family members the day after
.It was always a
source of some confusion to strangers that the Family Mudshark celebrated the
winter solstice some days later than was common amongst the rest of the
population, and most put this down to the observance of some ancient, long
forgotten ritual, or perhaps assumed that this most venerable of clans still
held to the calendar of an older civilisation, long since vanished into the
mists of obscurity.
The truth was that it generally took Florentina
this amount of time to get ready, and, given the choice of being out of step
with the rest of the world or with Florentina, the Family sensibly chose the
Now the entire Family in all its gothic glory sat around the great
table in the refectory, admiring the festive decorations which transformed the
narrow gloomy room into a veritable forest of gaiety. Gleaming turnips hung
from the chandeliers, cheerful ribbons of computer paper festooned the walls,
and digitally enhanced photographs of Family members in compromising positions
served as novelty place settings. The centerpiece of the room was the tree -
this year a magnificent work of modern art; a pyramid of balancing peasants
each with a symbolic kitchen implement grasped between his teeth, save for very
topmost, in whose mouth lay a small but beautifully decorated grenade, courtesy
of Gregori. The quiescent state of the grenade was maintained by tooth-pressure
alone, and this last touch was much applauded by Family members, many of whom
avowed that the ever-changing expression of the fellow's face added greatly to
the festive atmosphere.
The decorations had been installed, as usual, by Igor, and thus would
not be completed until next July, but such was the air of goodwill, all
complaints were in writing. As for the great table itself, how it groaned
under the weight of victuals - roast turnips, turnip fricassee, deep-fried
turnip peelings, turnip en croute, turnip meringues with a delicate swede
coulis, not to mention a selection of exotic fresh vegetable which Montague
had had canned especially. And of course - the roast fowl! A bird of truly
gigantic proportion, it had taken six peasants over an hour to transport it
from the Cavernous Kitchens (although, such were the length of corridors, this
was not an unusual time for this journey), and Mudsharks one and all were
forced to agree that the time and effort expended down by the duck pond armed
with sacks of breadcrumbs and sink plunger were well spent indeed!
Finally, when the last turnip had been savoured, the last piece of roast
pheasant* picked from between weary gnashers, the last firkin of foaming ale
washed down appreciative throats, never to be seen again (one could only hope),
and Gregori had performed his time-honoured entertainment with the Christmas
pudding and half a gallon of petrol, there came a time when Musharks sat
replete and bloated, satisfaction evident on their pained countenances, and
gave thanks, not to mention marks out of five. Around the table, chairs fairly
groaned under the weight of the over-indulged. Florentina idly stitched a few
more panels into her yak-hair gown, Gregori drank the last vestiges of petrol,
Le.. Cholmondoley, finding himself without any visible evidence of a central
nervous system began to eat his feet. Harriet sat consulting a notebook full
of spidery writing, a vaguely menacing expression on her otherwise beatific
The Wizard flew overhead, hammer in hand, gesticulating
"Quantum improbability," he informed the
gargoyles which decorated the corners of the room. The gargoyles nodded
"Y'see, you know where it is when it's here," he
continued, waving his hammer and accidentally knocking the nose off one of the
enthralled gargoyles, "and," he intoned solemnly as he dropped the
hammer from his lofty vantage point, which responded in the usual manner to the
law of gravity and described an elegant curve floorwards, but was intercepted
by Peep's head in its course, spoiling the symmetry of its motion, " you
know where it is when it's there," he continued, indicating the hammer,
now being waved threateningly in his general direction by the unhappy Peep.
But where it is in between..."
The wizard drew a numinous,
smoking rune in the air, further enraging Peep who lobbed the hammer upwards to
be caught neatly by the hovering necromancer. He stared at it in surprise for
some seconds. "Now, bozons..." he began.
Three of the
gargoyles fell off the wall. Sylvia dispensed wisdom and restaurant
recommendations to all who would listen. Alexi continued a vivid and
interesting monologue begun some decades previously as Montague calculated the
bill and attempted to blackmail cousin April into entertaining his beloved
children for a few hours, since she owned her own whip. Amidst all this festive
reflection, one figure was notable by his absence. Just as certain Family
members were coming to the conclusion that the man in question had emigrated to
the Isle of Wight with the proceeds of last summer's karaoke night, the great
Refectory doors swung open and through them strode the proud figure of Dudley
Mudshark with his gastronomic masterpiece held high on an ornate perspex
To compare this cheese with the last one which had graced a
Family mealtime would be to draw comparisons between Beethoven and Max
Bygraves; Michaelanglo and Mickey Mouse; Richard and Judy and Anne and Nick.
This was a masterpiece amongst cheeses, and the Family could only gaze in awe
and trepidation on its seething countenance as Dudley gently set his creation
down on the table and handed round the gas masks.
The Cheese of Doom
gurgled gently, and small spurts of greenish vapours occasionally evacuated
themselves from its bowels. A trail of glistening ichor told of its passage
from doorway to table, and was already eating into the sixteenth century vinyl
floor. Dudley removed his protective gloves and reverentially peeled the layer
of Biohazard stickers from its surface. As he plunged the gralloching knife
into its vitals, it seemed to groan, and a small colony of mutated weevils made
a desperate bid for freedom through the suppurating wound.
Dudley offered up the first morsel to Lady Ecaterina, who was trembling in her
chair, and considering whether cabbage thinning would be considered a socially
acceptable exit line in these circumstances. Apparently not. There was no help
for it but to eat the Cheese.
At first, there seemed to be no change
in her expression, but gradually her colour changed from palest pink to violet,
from violet to puce, to green, to orange, to peacock blue, to cerise, to coral,
to mustard, through vermilion, jade, cyan, tangerine, purple, finally to black.
Small wisps of smoke curled from her ears, and her toes protruded from her
Dudley could stand it not longer. "Well?"
he demanded, "WELL????"
Ecaterina fixed him with a
steely gaze, eyes blazing.
"That was.......... BOGGIN!!"
Dudley smiled. He was content.
Please read PEASANT FM 1.12.94
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