When Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange, 8th baronet and huntin’ shooting’ and fishin’ squire of the village of Batch Magna in the Welsh Marches, departs this world for the Upper House (as he had long vaguely thought of it, where God no doubt presides in ermine over a Heaven as reassuringly familiar as White’s or Boodle’s), what’s left of his decaying estate passes, through the ancient law of entailment, to distant relative Humph, an amiable, overweight short-order cook from the Bronx.
Sir Humphrey Franklin T Strange, 9th baronet and squire of Batch Magna, as Humph now most remarkably finds himself to be, is persuaded by his Uncle Frank, a small time Wall Street broker with an eye on the big time, to make a killing by turning the sleepy backwater into a theme-park image of rural England – a vacation paradise for free-spending US millionaires.
But while the village pub and shop, with the lure of the dollar in their eyes, put out the Stars and Stripes in welcome, the tenants of the estate’s dilapidated houseboats are above any consideration of filthy lucre and stand their ground for tradition’s sake … and because they consider eviction notices not to be cricket.
Each disgruntled faction sees the other as the unwelcome cuckoo in the family nest.
So, led by randy pulp-crime writer Phineas Cook, and Lt-Commander James Cunningham DSO, DSC and Bar, RN (ret) – a man with a glass eye for each day of the week, painted with scenes from famous British naval victories and landscapes that speak of England – the motley crew run up the Union Jack and battle ensign and prepare to engage.
But this is Batch Magna, a place where anything might happen. And does …
I am an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, married and living in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales, and the backdrop to a series I’m writing, the Batch Magna novels, set in a village cut off from whatever the rest of the world gets up to beyond the hills of its valley.
All the books in the series feature houseboats, converted paddle steamers on Batch Magna’s river the Cluny, and I lived on a houseboat in the mid-1970s (the time frame for the novels) on a converted Thames sailing barge among a small colony of houseboats on the Medway, deep in rural Kent.
An idyllic time, heedless days of freedom in that other world of the river which inspired the novels, set in a place called Batch Magna.