Uproarious antics fill this genre-crossing collection of six stories from the beloved British naturalist and author of the Corfu Trilogy.
The eccentric Durrell family sets off on an ill-fated excursion in “The Picnic” and embarks on a Greek cruise in “The Maiden Voyage.”
Next, things take a turn for the diabolical when a solo Durrell runs into a former flame in “The Public School Education”—and then finds trouble of a different sort in “The Havoc of Havelock.”
Finally, the typically jocular Durrell unexpectedly shifts to the macabre with the surprise cuisine of “The Michelin Man” and the spine-tingling horror of “The Entrance.”
With his knack for describing his often outlandish, always entertaining adventures, Gerald Durrell serves up an engrossing blend of genres in this intriguing collection of stories. Including both fiction and nonfiction, The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium reveals the wide-ranging talents of the famed naturalist and memoirist.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Gerald Durrell including rare photos from the author’s estate.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium
By Gerald Durrell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Gerald Durrell
All rights reserved.
The months of March and April of that year had been unprecedentedly dry and warm for England. The farmers, caught by surprise by the novelty of a situation which did not allow them to plead bankruptcy because of unusually late frost, rallied gamely and started talking about the horrors of drought. People who had, the previous autumn, informed us that the wonderful crop of berries and mushrooms were signs of a hard winter and an even harder summer to follow, now said that a surfeit of berries and mushrooms meant a fine spring the following year. To top it all, those paid Munchausens amongst us, the weather forecasters, predicted an extremely hot spell from April to August. The English, being gullible, got so overexcited at these predictions that many of them went to extreme lengths, like laying in suntan oil and deck chairs. In the whole length and breadth of Bournemouth, on the south coast, where we were living, there was not a pair of bathing trunks nor a sunshade to be had for love or money.
My family, all sun-worshippers, responded like buds to the warmth. They quarrelled more, they sang more, they argued more, they drank and ate more, because outside in the garden the spring flowers were in riotous sweet-scented bloom and the sun, though only butter-yellow, had real heat in it. But of all the family, it was my mother who was moved to a strange fervour by the meteorological forecasts that were being mooted about, principally, I think, because she heard these predictions from the radio.
To Mother, this made all the difference; the difference between reading your horoscope in a women's magazine and having your future told by a genuine gypsy on the steps of his caravan. Throughout the war, the British government, including Churchill (when he was not otherwise engaged) lived inside our radio set for the express purpose of keeping Mother informed as to the progress of the war, and the imminence of the German invasion. They had never told her a lie and, more important, they had won the war. Now, of course, the war was over, but the integrity of the men who had lived in the radio was just as impeccable as it had been of yore. When she heard farmers talking of thousands of cattle dying of thirst or reservoirs drying up, anonymous doctors giving tips on how to avoid sun-stroke, and of beauty consultants advising on how to get a tan without withering away, Mother naturally concluded that we were in for a heat-wave that would make the West Indies seem like an extension of Alaska.
'I've thought of a wonderful way of welcoming Larry back,' she said one morning at breakfast.
Larry, who of his own volition had been absent from England for some ten years, was paying a flying visit in order to attend to the promotion of one of his books. In spite of a letter from him saying how the thought of returning to what he called Pudding Island revolted him, Mother was convinced that he was pining for the sights and sounds of 'Merry England' after so many years as an exile.
'Who wants to welcome him?' asked Leslie, helping himself liberally to marmalade.
'Leslie, dear, you know you don't mean that,' said Mother. 'It will be so nice to have the family all together again after so long.'
'Larry always causes trouble,' said my sister Margo. 'He's so critical.'
'I wouldn't say he was critical,' said Mother, untruthfully. 'He just sees things a little differently.'
'You mean he wants everyone to agree with him,' said Leslie.
'Yes,' said Margo, 'that's right. He always thinks he knows best.'
'He's entitled to his opinion, dear,' said Mother. 'That's what we fought the war for.'
'What? So that we'd all have to agree with Larry's opinion?' asked Leslie.
'You know perfectly well what I mean, Leslie,' replied Mother, sternly. 'So don't try and muddle me up.'
'What's your idea?' asked Margo.
'Well,' began Mother, 'it's going to be unbearably hot ...'
'Who says so?' interrupted Leslie, disbelievingly.
'The wireless,' said Mother, crushingly, as though speaking of the Delphic oracle. 'The wireless says we are in for an unprecedented trough of high pressure.'
'I'll believe it when I see it,' said Leslie gloomily.
'But it was on the wireless, dear,' explained Mother. 'It's not just a rumour – it came from the Air Ministry roof.'
'Well, I don't trust the Air Ministry, either,' said Leslie.
'Neither do I,' agreed Margo. 'Not since they let George Matchman become a pilot.'
'They didn't?' said Leslie incredulously. 'He's as blind as a bat, and he drinks like a fish.'
'And he's got B.O., too,' put in Margo, damningly.
'I really don't see what George Matchman's got to do with the weather on the Air Ministry roof,' protested Mother, who had never got used to the number of hares her family could start from a normal conversation.
'It's probably George up there on the roof,' said Leslie. 'And I wouldn't trust him to tell me the time.'
'It's not George,' said Mother firmly. 'I know his voice.'
'Anyway, what's your idea?' asked Margo again.
'Well,' continued Mother, 'as the Air Ministry roof says we are going to have fine weather, I think we ought to take Larry out to see the English countryside at its best. He must have been missing it. I know when your father and I used to come home from India, we always liked a spin in the country. I suggest we ask Jack to take us out for a picnic in the Rolls.'
There was a moment's silence while the family digested the idea.
'Larry won't agree,' said Leslie at last. 'You know what he's like. If he doesn't like it, he'll carry on terribly: you know him.'
'I'm sure he'll be very pleased,' said Mother, but without total conviction. The vision of my elder brother 'carrying on' had flashed across her mind.
'I know, let's surprise him,' suggested Margo. 'We'll put all the food and stuff in the boot and just say we're going for a short drive.'
'Where would we go?' asked Leslie.
'Lulworth Cove,' said Mother.
'That's not a short drive,' complained Leslie.
'But if he doesn't see the food, he won't suspect,' said Margo triumphantly.
'After he's been driving for an hour and a half, he'll begin to,' Leslie pointed out. 'Even Larry.'
'No, I think we'll just have to tell him it's a sort of a welcome home present,' said Mother. 'After all, we haven't seen him for ten years.'
'Ten peaceful years,' corrected Leslie.
'They weren't at all peaceful,' said Mother. 'We had the war.'
'I meant peaceful without Larry,' explained Leslie.
'Leslie, dear, you shouldn't say things like that, even as a joke,' said Mother reprovingly.
'I'm not joking,' said Leslie.
'He can't make a fuss if it's a welcome home picnic,' put in Margo.
'Larry can make a fuss about everything,' replied Leslie with conviction.
'Don't exaggerate,' said Mother. 'We'll ask Jack about the Rolls when he comes in. What's he doing?'
'Dismantling it, I expect,' said Leslie.
'Oh, he does annoy me!' complained Margo. 'We've had that damn car for three months and it's spent more time dismantled than mantled. He makes me sick. Every time I want to go out in it, he's got the engine all over the garage.'
'You shouldn't have married an engineer,' said Leslie. 'You know what they're like; they have to take everything to pieces. Compulsive wreckers.'
'Well, we'll ask him to make a special effort and have the Rolls all in one piece for Larry,' concluded Mother. 'I'm sure he'll agree.'
The Rolls in question was a magnificent 1922 model that Jack had discovered lurking shame-facedly in some remote country garage, her paint unwashed, her chrome unkempt, but still a lady of high degree. He had purchased her for the princely sum of two hundred pounds, and brought her back to the house in triumph, where, under his tender ministrations, she had blossomed, and was christened Esmerelda. Her coach-work now dazzled the eye, her walnut fittings glowed with polish, her engine was undefiled by so much as a speck of oil; she had running boards, a soft top you could put back for fine weather, a glass panel which could be wound up so that the driver could not hear your strictures on the working classes, and – best of all – a strange, trumpet-like telephone thing through which you shouted instructions to the chauffeur. It was as wonderful as owning a dinosaur. Both the back and front seats would accommodate four people with room to spare. There was a built-in walnut cabinet for drinks, and a boot that appeared big enough to contain four cabin trunks or twelve suitcases. No expense could be spared on such a vehicle, and so, by some underground method, Jack had produced a continental fire-engine horn which let out an ear-splitting, arrogant ta-ta, ta-ta. This was only pressed into service in extreme emergencies; normally, the huge, black, rubber bulb horn was employed, which made a noise like a deferential Californian sea-lion. This was suitable for hurrying up old ladies on pedestrian crossings, but the fire-engine horn could make a double-decker bus cringe into the ditch to let us pass.
Just at that moment Jack, in his shirt-sleeves and liberally besmeared with oil, came in to breakfast. He was a man of medium height with a mop of curly dark hair, prominent bright blue eyes, and a nose any Roman emperor would have been glad to possess. It was a nose that really was a nose; a nose to be reckoned with; a nose of size and substance, one that would have warmed the cockles of Cyrano de Bergerac's heart, a nose that heralded the cold weather, the opening of the pubs, mirth, or any other important event, with a flamboyant colour change that a chameleon would have envied. It was a nose to be arrogant with, or to shelter behind in moments of stress. It was a nose which could be proud or comic, according to the mood; a nose that once seen was never forgotten, like the beak of a duck-billed platypus.
'Ah!' said Jack, and his nose quivered and took on a rubicund sheen. 'Do I smell kippers?'
'There, in the kitchen, keeping warm,' said Mother.
'Where have you been?' asked Margo, unnecessarily, since Jack's oil-covered condition stated clearly where he had been.
'Cleaning Esmerelda's engine,' replied Jack, equally unnecessarily.
He went out into the kitchen and returned with two kippers lying on a plate. He sat down, and started to dissect them.
'I don't know what you find to do with that car,' said Margo. 'You're always taking it to pieces.'
'I knew a man once who had a wonderful way with kippers,' remarked Jack to me, oblivious of my sister's complaints. 'He'd sort of turn them on their backs and somehow get all the bones out in one go. Very clever. They all came out, just like that. Like harp strings, you know ... I still can't quite see how he did it.'
'What's wrong with it?' asked Margo.
'What's wrong with what?' countered her husband vaguely, staring at his kippers as if he could hypnotize the bones out of them.
'The Rolls,' said Margo.
'Esmerelda?' asked Jack in alarm. 'What's wrong with her?'
'That's what I'm asking you,' said Margo. 'You really are the most irritating man.'
'There's nothing wrong with her,' replied Jack. 'Beautiful piece of work.'
'It would be, if we went out in her occasionally,' pointed out Margo, sarcastically. 'She's not very beautiful sitting in the garage with all her innards out.'
'You can't say innards out,' Jack objected. 'Innards are in, they can't be out.'
'Oh, you do infuriate me!' said Margo.
'Now, now, dear,' said Mother. 'If Jack says there's nothing wrong with the car, then everything's all right.'
'All right for what?' asked Jack, mystified.
'We were thinking of taking Larry out for a picnic when he comes,' Mother explained, 'and we thought it would be nice to do it in the Rolls.'
Jack thought about this, munching on his kippers.
'That's a good idea,' he said at last, to our surprise. 'I've just tuned the engine. It'll do her good to have a run. Where were you thinking of going?'
'Lulworth,' said Mother. 'It's very pretty, the Purbecks.'
'There's some good hills there, too,' said Jack with enthusiasm. 'That'll tell me if her clutch is slipping.'
Fortified with the knowledge that the Rolls would be intact for the picnic, Mother threw herself with enthusiasm into the task of preparing for it. As usual, the quantity of food she prepared for the day would have been sufficient to victual Napoleon's army during its retreat from Moscow. There were curry-puffs and Cornish pasties, raised ham pies and a large game pie, three roast chickens, two large loaves of homemade bread, a treacle tart, brandy snaps and some meringues; to say nothing of three kinds of home-made chutney and jams, as well as biscuits, a fruit cake, and a sponge. When this was all assembled on the kitchen table, she called us in to have a look.
'Do you think there'll be enough?' she asked, worriedly.
'I thought we were only going to Lulworth for the afternoon?' said Leslie. 'I didn't realize we were emigrating.'
'Mother, it's far too much,' exclaimed Margo. 'We'll never eat it all.'
'Nonsense! Why, in Corfu I used to take twice as much,' said Mother.
'But in Corfu we used to have twelve or fourteen people,' Leslie pointed out. 'There's only six of us, you know.'
'It looks like a two years' supply of food for a Red Cross shipment to a famine area,' said Jack.
'It's not all that much,' said Mother, defensively. 'You know how Larry likes his food, and we'll be eating by the sea, and the sea air always gives one an appetite.'
'Well, I hope Esmerelda's boot will hold it all,' commented Jack.
The next afternoon, Mother insisted, in spite of our protests, that we all dress up in our finery to go down to the station to meet Larry. Owing to the inordinately long time Margo took to find the right shade of lipstick, Mother's plans were thwarted, for, just as we were about to enter the Rolls, a taxi drew up. Inside was Larry, having caught an earlier train. He lowered the window of the cab and glared at us.
'Larry, dear!' cried Mother. 'What a lovely surprise!' Larry made his first verbal communication to his family in ten years.
'Have any of you got colds?' he rasped, irritably. 'If so, I'll go to an hotel.'
'Colds?' said Mother. 'No, dear. Why?'
'Well, everyone else in this God-forsaken island has one,' said Larry, as he climbed out of the cab. 'I've spent a week in London running for my life from a barrage of cold germs. Everyone sneezing and snuffling like a brood of catarrhal bulldogs. You should have heard them on the train – hawking and spitting and coughing like some bloody travelling TB sanitorium. I spent the journey locked up in the lavatory, holding my nose and squirting a nasal spray through the keyhole. How you survive this pestilential island, defeats me. I swear to you that there were so many people with colds in London, it was worse than the Great Plague.'
He paid off the taxi, and walked into the house ahead of us, carrying his suitcase. He was wearing a deer-stalker hat in a dog-tooth tweed, and a suit in a singularly unattractive tartan, the ground colour of which was dog-sick green with a dull red stripe over it. He looked like a diminutive and portly Sherlock Holmes.
'Mercifully, we are cold-free,' said Mother, following him into the house. 'It's this lovely fine weather we've been having. Would you like some tea, dear?'
'I'd rather have a large whisky and soda,' said Larry, taking a half empty bottle out of the capacious pocket of his coat. 'It's better for colds.'
'But you said you hadn't got a cold,' pointed out Mother.
'I haven't,' replied Larry, pouring himself out a large drink. 'This is in case I get one. It's what is called preventive medicine.'
It was obvious that he had been using preventive medicine on the way down, for he grew more and more convivial as the evening drew on; so much so that Mother felt she could broach the subject of the picnic.
'We thought,' she said, 'since the Air Ministry's roof is emphatic about the terribly hot weather, that we might take the Rolls out and go for a picnic tomorrow.'
'Don't you think that's a bit churlish, going off and leaving me after a ten-year exile?' asked Larry.
'Don't be silly, dear,' said Mother. 'You come too.'
'Not a picnic in England,' protested Larry, brokenly. 'I don't think I'm up to it. How I remember it from my youth! All the thrill of ants and sand in the food, trying to light a fire with damp wood, the howling gales, the light snowfall, just as you're munching your first cucumber sandwich ...'
'No, no, dear. The Air Ministry roof says we're having an unprecedented ridge of high pressure,' said Mother. 'Tomorrow's going to be very hot, it said.'
'It may be hot on the Air Ministry roof, but is it going to be hot down here?' enquired Larry.
'Of course,' insisted Mother stoutly.
'Well, I'll think about it,' promised Larry as, carrying the remains of the whisky in case germs attacked him in the night, he made his way to bed.
Next morning dawned blue and breathless, the sun already warm at seven o'clock. Everything augured well. Mother, in order to leave no stone unturned in her efforts to keep Larry in a good mood, gave him his breakfast in bed. Even Margo, in the interests of peace, refrained from giving us our normal excruciating half-hour when she sang the latest pop tunes in the bath, without the benefit of knowing either the tune or the lyric with any degree of certainty.
Excerpted from The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium by Gerald Durrell. Copyright © 1979 Gerald Durrell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Maiden Voyage,
The Public School Education,
The Havoc of Havelock,
The Michelin Man,
A Biography of Gerald Durrell,
A Message from Durrell Wildlife,