The Hoe ValleyPosted by Peter Cowlam Sat, September 30, 2017 14:00:57
The article Mawdrie put out juxtaposed the glamorous Zora Murillo with the filth and squalor he had reported on over the past two decades, all of it emanating from the Pleiades. There were the drug busts, the money laundering, the lock-ins, the back rooms and garaging as focus of gang wars county-wide. He thought he paid her a compliment when he likened this chic new addition to an enlightened little market town, to an Egyptian queen biblical in her ancestry. In reality he probed for the source of her wealth, musing aloud that perhaps she was heiress to one of those industrial magnates who’d opened up the West, or a Hollywood goddess retracing her English lineage. He would live to regret that blunder. Zora read his article, and was toxic with rage, and with a 5,000-word essay penned her reply. It had the essence of scripture, and no lack of authority, adding up to a point-by-point refutation of the Mawdrie slur, as she called it, a ragbag of small-town thinking. She wondered by what order of posterity she was linked to the femme fatale of pre-Christian Roman politics, or a pampered scion of the robber barons big in rail or steel, or a manipulated starlet of that ever yawning silver screen. If it was down to direct historical analogy, she’d point him to the daughter of Michael Psellus, in whose Chronographia we see chronicled Byzantium’s awesome military power degenerating into an effete bureaucracy, a fate suffered by all flagging empires, as applicable to news and media as it was to imperial statecraft. Mawdrie went and looked it up, and was able to tell his readers of Psellus’s daughter Styliane, though in what context he wasn’t clear. At age nine Styliane was tall, elegant, graceful in her movements, modest in her clothing, a girl admired by the rich and powerful, in whose company she behaved with artless perfection – no tricks, no boasting, all done without cosmetics. But she fell ill, with a plague-like disease, whose mark was fever and eruptions, and the ruination of her looks. She lay for twenty days with the pain of her sores. When those on her face improved her parents hoped for full recovery. But the fever worsened, and she’d no reserves of strength to resist the onslaught. She couldn’t speak or eat. On the thirty-first day she raised her hands in a gesture of farewell, and thereafter the house was filled with mourners. At her funeral she was unrecognisable from that unspoilt beauty she had been, covered as she was in sores. You can imagine Psellus and his wife, and their lament, and a grief they didn’t recover from. How this might have been paralleled in Zora’s own life it was left to someone other than Maudrie to discover, with access to a different order of information. But we’ll come to that. [To be continued.]
The Hoe ValleyPosted by Peter Cowlam Sun, September 24, 2017 13:13:38
The Valley Tribune is tucked away in a ramshackle glass and timber building, a five-minute walk from the Pleiades, in Tinclian Mews, a location famed for its cheese shop. Andrew Mawdrie, a man for cravats and yachting blazers, and its senior reporter, was summoned on a bleak afternoon – the sky ponderous with snow – and with exaggerated purpose strode to the hotel, and round to its cobbled walk at the rear, and a car park pocked in its macadam, and littered with empty oil drums. Zora, in deep furs and a head scarf knotted under the chin, met him there, the man quick on his feet and ready with his notebook. She led him into the ruins of the garage, where he looked forward to a scoop, or good copy at least. Both looked around. The walls were damp, and the aura was cavern-like, a latter-day Lascaux, but careless in its graffiti. Zora said she was glad he had come. Mawdrie showed the eagerness of his credentials, explaining that not only was he a journalist, he’d got quite some reputation as a local historian, with extensive knowledge of the Hoe Valley and its prominent personalities, past and present. He’d written articles and given talks. He’d edited books. Zora didn’t sneer, but told him she’d got plans, and left it at that, hanging. Mawdrie pressed, but couldn’t discover what those plans were. Then finally she thrust both hands deep into her furs and shrugged her shoulders, daring him to keep the conversation going. Well, if that was it, then that was it. Originally, he said, the garage had been a stable, with a hayloft above. That bit was dismantled in the decades the Pleiades became a private house, in possession of a plain-sounding name, but someone 168th in line for the throne. The stable metamorphosed into a garage when there were only four cars in the whole of Hoe, and was home to an Alvis 12/40 open two-seater, its livery a metallic blue, and well looked after by a boy who shone the chrome and coachwork. There were wars, stock-market crashes, a flaw in civilisation generally. Then came the scourge of industrial unrest. There seemed to be a new world emergent when everyone had cars. By that time that distant heir had sold up and gone to live in the one remaining weather-tight room in the decay of his family pile, where his daughter-in-law ran a stall selling honey. The Pleiades reverted to its earlier iteration, but as a hotel rather than a roadhouse, when the garage filled with lumber. It didn’t fare well, and was popular only with commercial travellers, selling feeds and farm machinery – grey, threadbare-looking men in a losing contest with the ravages of English-style recessions, one piled on another. The garage bit was rented out to a lone mechanic, who fled when the hotel sank into deeper failures and its guests were replaced by squatters, who’d studied the paperwork and knew their rights. Since then, said Maudrie, the place has hosted raves, has been a crack house, has been the scene of torture when upcountry turf wars had to be settled, that chain you see hanging there the last remnant of its strappado. Zora shivered. ‘All well and good,’ she said. What she wanted to know was could he recommend a decent builder? [To be continued.]
The Hoe ValleyPosted by Peter Cowlam Sat, September 16, 2017 14:08:37
No one knew much about Zora Murillo, or the source of her zillions, when she arrived in Hoe. The first thing was to sink unfathomable sums into the Pleiades, a majestic, crumbling ruin at the bottom of our town. Its twenty-five rooms were faded through neglect, where none but travellers down on their luck stayed for very long, except by mistake. The bar downstairs still ran, and was used late afternoon till dinner, with a clientele of builders, mechanics, a cobbler, a freelance sign writer, our two competing window cleaners, and a flaky-haired painter and decorator.
The bar was the first thing Zora ripped out, though she kept on the builders to do that work, who took up the Pleiades’ cobbled frontage with a fleet of yellow skips. These were filled daily with cheap timbers in an old, once fashionable reddish stain, the rotten plaster they’d hacked from walls and ceilings, and the country-woven carpeting, whose reds, jets and golds had been discoloured by decades of beer stains. She did not have to evict the squatters upstairs. They left of their own accord, with the noise and upheaval, and the shell of a place once home. Its eviscerate state was final and at its nadir once the old wiring and lead pipes were piled with the rest of the debris into those skips.
The work got fanfares in the local press, and headlines three weeks running. Someone discovered that Zora had also bought the Faun Hotel twenty miles away in Yo, a lot different from the Pleiades. That was in a good state of repair, though had fixed itself in an English rurality fifty years out of date, with the waitresses pinafored and a resident chef, whose background was minor public school. The foyer had low leather settees and shag-pile carpets, was dark with oak panelling, and was adorned on its table tops with country magazines. It told a stolid sort of time by a longcase clock, and had a stag’s head and dreary portraits hanging on the walls. The car parking was extensive, adjacent to a stream with ornamental bridge. Patrons drove Land Rovers and wore tweeds, and came for the fish dinners and the homity pie on its lunchtime menu. Zora had no intention of changing the Faun’s ethos, but for the Pleiades she had different ideas, as we would learn. [To be continued.]