Bewlay the Landgrave

To mark David Bowie’s 69th birthday, a tale of gravy…

Over forty years ago, David Bowie demanded “Lay me place and bake me pie!”, not unreasonably in the circumstances, as he added, “I’m starving for me gravy!” We have all, I think, been there, as they say nowadays. I have certainly had gravy hankerings of my own, most recently this very morning. Oddly enough, the first stirrings of a gravy craving stole upon me shortly after I had finished my breakfast of eggy cornflakes and smokers’ poptarts. I left the house to take a turn around the duckpond over by the viaduct, and there came a constriction in my throat, a throbbing in the head, and a pang in the belly. Gravy, I thought, I’m starving for me gravy. I was unlikely to find any by the duckpond, so I wheeled about and set off in the opposite direction, towards the parade of shops.

Past the hatter’s and the haberdasher’s and the ironmonger’s there is a pie shop. To my dismay, I saw that its shutters were down, and there was no aroma of baking. I hammered my fists upon the shutters and screeched the words of David Bowie quoted above. Clearly gravy starvation was playing havoc with my common sense, for as I well knew, the pie shop did not have an in-store dining facility, so even had it been open I could not sensibly have demanded that my place be laid. I made such a din that the ironmonger came out of his shop, next door, to see what was afoot. He was armed with a sample of his ironmongery, a wrench or a crowbar, and who can blame him? I was hardly the picture of an upstanding citizen, in my gravy-famished hysteria. He dealt me a hefty thump on my cranium and used harsh words. Sprawled on the paving slabs, I gasped an apology for causing such a racket. I was about to explain that I was starving for me gravy when the ironmonger recognised me.

“Good grief, Stipendiary Landgrave Pursuivant to the County Infanta, it is you!” he cried, and immediately proceeded to mumble his own, fawning, apology, helping me to my feet and dusting me down as he did so.

“Unhand me, tradesperson!” I barked, “Just tell me why the pie shop is shut when I am in need of me gravy!”

By such direct questioning did I learn that the pie shop proprietor had taken leave of absence to attend an important festival in a neighbouring land. He had left at dawn, apparently, in a cabriolet, both his face and that of his horse daubed with cosmetics in the guise of Aladdin Sane. I had forgotten all about the Bowiethon.

With well-practised aristocratic disdain, I tossed a coin to the ironmonger and told him to return to his shop. Then I continued along the parade towards Old Mrs Sniggleby’s Dickensian Dining Parlour, a place of grease and spoons, only to discover that she too had left town, and for the same reason, though the urchin begging outside her door told me she was an aficionado of the Berlin trilogy, and had gone to the festival under Japanese influence, in a kimono, clutching her set of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. I needed an oblique strategy of my own if I was going to get me gravy!

I decided to pop along to the palace, to call on the County Infanta. After all, I was her Stipendiary Landgrave Pursuivant, so I was always welcome. She was a tiny little thing, being an infanta, and I suspected she had not yet graduated to solid foods. That being the case, there might well be some gravy available. I bustled past the Serjeant-At-Arms and made straight for the palace kitchen. I did not expect to see the Infanta herself in these lowly skivvy’s quarters, but there she was, gurgling away, sitting in a tin can.

“I am about to feed Her Infantaness her elevenses,” said the cook, “Would you like some?”

I was appalled by the cook’s  overfamiliar tone, but so gravy-deranged that I let it pass.

“I will if she’s having gravy!” I cried,

“No, when she’s sitting in her tin can I make her swallow a couple of protein pills,” said the cook.

Dammit. I could have tried pulling rank, but I was fraught and weary. I wolfed down some protein pills, reached over to the sideboard for a helmet, put the helmet on, and climbed in to the tin can next to the Infanta. Soon, thanks to the palace’s winch and pulley apparatus, we would be floating, far above the moon. There is no gravy on the moon.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

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