1. I ARRIVE AT THE BURROW
Soon I was presenting my credentials, furnished by my esteemed friend and mentor, Mr Bumble, to Judge Anticant and his sidekick Ben Trovato. Judge Anticant is a kindly though somewhat pernickety old gentleman, usually clad in a flowered dressing gown and surrounded by piles of books and several marmalade cats. Ben is a genial, jaunty young fellow who is in general charge of the establishment, and Mine Host of the Snug Bar, which is the social centre of the Burrow.
Having successfully passed their scrutiny and answered all their questions to their apparent satisfaction, I was offered the post of Burrow Beadle with responsibility for ensuring the safety and good order of the premises and its inmates and guests. I was proud to accept, and was then given a tour of the Burrow and grounds. Ben explained that, owing to its slightly off-the-beaten-track situation, the Burrow was largely spared the incursions of vulgar charabanc crowds and the type of unwanted intruder who roused the ire of John Fothergill [of An Innkeeper’s Diary fame] by enquiring the way to the lavatory, using it, and then departing without spending another penny. Also, the dining guests are generally well-behaved – unlike all of Fothergill’s, one of whom once yelled across the dining room: “Have you anything in this place fit for me to drink, Fothergill?” – to which Mine Host haughtily replied: “Poison!”.
I was then introduced to the Burrow’s resident St. Bernard, Wooffie, with whom I was destined to have many adventures, bearing life-saving brandy barrels to travellers lost on the snow-bound Wolds and even on one occasion in Northern Lapland where Santa’s reindeer had been grounded. Making my first inspection of the premises, I noted that the river bank, which formed the Burrow boundary on two sides, was vulnerable to unauthorised landings by audacious canooists and others, while the Burrow flagpole, bearing Anticant’s personal standard proudly aloft, was also adjacent to the river. A past experience as a young apprentice before the mast in a three-masted tea clipper, where I enjoyed two of the three pleasures memorably chronicled by the late Mr George Melly – lots of rum and concertina, but no bum because I was already, though still at a tender age, enamoured by the late lamented Mrs. Flarge – had commended me to Anticant and Ben, who were concerned about the incursions of a certain Naked Kayaker who apparently from time to time ignited intemperate bouts of knicker-waving in the Snug which they considered detrimental to the decorum expected by their more sedate guests, such as Dame Barbara Cartland and Miss Marple.
It was clear, from my initial interview, that I might well have my work cut out in preserving good order and decency, and as I snuggled down that first night amid the snow-white sheets I wondered whether I would have the stamina to meet the challenge of the Burrow. Only time would tell!