As I’ve said, I want to intersperse my person posts and reviews with thought-provoking interviews. Loyal readers will already be aware of my interview with the Council Vampire Hunter, Ted. Readers who aren’t loyal… well, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Let’s try to move on from this.
I was recently emailed by a lady named Emily Palgrave-Sexton who wanted to discuss my interview with Ted. While she praised my prose style, she was concerned that I was presenting an unbalanced view of the undead. She suggested that, in order to dodge accusations of pro-living bias, I should interview her employer. Palgrave-Sexton is PA to a person who asked to be identified as Victor. Ted would describe him as a ‘posh vampire’. Victor calls himself a ‘post-mortem peer’ or ‘super-senior citizen’.
Naturally, I was wary of conducting the interview. I had a long phone call with Ted and he advised against it. Even though Victor is, according to research, completely law-abiding, Ted had grave reservations. I met Ted for a drink one evening and we discussed the pros and cons of the situations. Despite Ted’s deep misgivings, I agreed to interview Victor. I did not fear for my safety: after all, I had informed Ted of my plans and I left details with my wife and friends. I did not think that Victor would risk his anonymity or want to attract a legal challenge to his right to reside in the land of the living.
On a bright November afternoon, I drove to Victor’s large country estate. Victor has been resident there since the seventeenth century and, following the arc of the drive through green lawns, I felt that I was travelling into the past. The house was not menacing in the slightest:it was an expanse of cream coloured stone and glinting windows without any hint of the Gothic. This might have been any small National Trust property. It was only the absence of a car park or gift shop that showed I was not having a jolly day out. I was about to interview a man that died more than two hundred and fifty years before I was born.
I parked, as I had been instructed to, in front of the main doors. As I got out of the car, I was greeted by a man in muddy boots and a battered wax jacket. He was carrying a dead fox. He scowled at me with open hostility. I announced that I was a guest of Victor and the man grunted. “I’ve heard. Show him some respect. Don’t know why he wants a fucking journalist here. You write something good or you’ll answer to me,” he said, making no effort to hide his hostility.
Before I could continue, the doors opened and Emily Palgrave-Sexton hurried down the steps. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Oh, you’ve met Matthew. Matthew, can you see to the pigs, please?” she said. Matthew grunted again and walked off, his dead fox swinging limply.
Emily looked very much as I had expected from speaking to her on the phone. Emily’s voice suggested private education and privilege. She was wearing the blouse, jumper and pearls that I associate with wealth in the countryside. She was a little paler than I expected of an ‘outdoorsy’ type. Despite her cheery manner and speedy chatter, she seemed tired. I imagined that her job was a difficult one.
“I hope Matthew was polite,” she said apologetically. “Victor’s staff are all very loyal and they’re not keen on outsiders. There’s a real sense that city people and media people want to demonise people like Victor. I’m trying to drag the whole estate into modern times and I think an important part of that is reaching out and building bridges.”
I can’t give you a full record of everything Emily said. She talked from the moment we stepped inside to the moment that I was left alone in the drawing room. My impressions of the house were scant. There was still the sense of a National Trust property, but there were signs of habitation: muddy wellingtons near the door, a flat cap on a marble side table, a shotgun and shells left casually on a chair. There were the expected antiques and paintings, but also touches of modernity like a smoke alarm and a WIFI signal booster.
Emily gave me a very brief history of the estate and, at the same time, a history of Victor. In some ways, Victor is the estate. In the seventeen hundreds, Victor was a typical nobleman of his time. He drank, gambled and generally lived rather raucously. He had a wife and children, but had little need to spend time with them. When he ‘changed’, he became more of a family man. He rarely leaves the estate, preferring the safety and familiarity of his home. He has guided his descendants to this day, as vital to the family as their house, their land and their traditions. He is the only ‘post-mortem person’ in the family, refusing to conform to the mythical vampire-clan idea.
“Do take a seat and help yourself to tea,” said Emily, offering me a seat in the drawing room. “I’ll pop and tell Victor that you’re here.”
I was left alone with the tea things and the quiet luxury of the room. A fragrant fire was burning in the hearth. There were shelves of books. The chairs were red leather. I felt like I had stepped into a civilized period drama. This was far more Downton than Dracula.
When Victor stepped into the room, I had two contradictory sets of impressions. Part of my mind saw a tall, plump man who I would have guessed to be in his thirties. He was ruddy-faced and wearing red cord trousers with a white shirt that stretched across his plump frame. His expression was cheerful and friendly. This was a modern ‘Lord of the Manor’, a jolly country squire.
Another part of my mind, the part I associate with depression and negativity, experienced something quite different. I felt an immediate fear, as though a wolf had padded into the room. I had to fight the urge to throw my tea and reach for the poker from the fireplace. Victor’s sparkling eyes looked too alert and his smile showed teeth that were too strong and too white. Victor’s confidence was the haughty arrogance of any predator.
“Glad you came, glad you came!” said Victor, striding towards me. I stood up on shaking legs and found myself shaking hands. He had a strong grip and rough palms. His skin was not cold as I had expected, it had an uncomfortable heat. “Emily set you up with tea? Good girl. Well, let’s get comfortable and have a good talk,” he said, settling himself into the chair across from me. His voice and manner showed nothing of his age. There was very little about him to suggest that he was the product of another time. The only sour note was my own clammy fear. I felt a horror and revulsion that I hoped was not visible in my expression.
“I liked your bit on the Council fellow,” Victor began, dispensing with any further pleasantries. “Emily found it online and read it to me. I’m catching up with the online world, but I’m a slow learner. Well, I thought that you’d written a fine piece, but it’s not balanced, you see? Now, don’t get me wrong, I think these council chaps have done some wonderful work in the past, but it’s not the modern way. Privatisation will see better outcomes for everyone.”
I asked Victor why he thought that privatisation was the way forward. He did not drink tea as he spoke, but this did not surprise me. He was an animated conversationalist, gesturing frequently and talking so expressively that he almost seemed like a pantomime version of a country squire. His eyes were uncomfortably piercing and they remained fixed on me, unwaveringly.
“The trouble with the council chaps is that they’re all loony-lefties and they have a real grudge against post-mortem people. They don’t discriminate. If we didn’t have laws, they’d have me out of my home and buried at a crossroads. Now, I’m the first to stand up for the rule of law. Laws make this country great and I love this country. Your fellow, Ted, did a marvellous job getting rid of that squatter in the cemetery. It’s mindless addicts like that who give the rest of us a bad name. Trouble is, Ted and his ilk would like to burn us all, no exceptions. Well, we can’t have that, can we? Private companies discriminate. There are data bases. It’s all very professional. That’s what we need: professionalism. Professionalism, courtesy, respect. Those are things that I stand for.”
I asked if Victor thought that it was odd to describe himself as a law abiding person when, according to many laws, he is not a person at all. He chuckled, but I didn’t think he was really amused. His laughter seemed as false as his constant smile. “Laws keep society glued together,” he said. “For tax purposes, it’s simply marvellous being dead, you know? I may not have quite the same rights as you, but my existence is really jolly comfortable. I’m not legally a person, but I can still enjoy myself. I get to see my heirs grow up and really make something of the family. I get to chat to interesting people like yourself! I’m an interested observer of the modern world, just like you! We’re both unfairly maligned minorities, aren’t we? I’m post-mortem and you’re mentally ill.” His smile broadened even further when he said this.
I expressed my surprise that he knew about my depression. “Oh, I know plenty about you,” he said, smiling and smiling and smiling. “I had Emily do plenty of research. After all, I’ve let you know about me and where I live, it’s only fair that I know about you and where you live. How are your family? Well I hope!”
I felt nauseous and close to being tearful. Victor’s expression had not changed, he was as cheerful as ever. The implicit threat weighed heavily on me, but it didn’t matter to him in the slightest. He was neither embarrassed nor triumphant. He was comfortable. “Don’t look so glum, it’s the way of the world,” he said. His tone should have sounded reassuring, but it did not. “I’m a civilised person, for pity’s sake!” he chuckled. “You sit there looking like you’re expecting me to tear your throat out or turn up at your window in the middle of the night! Don’t be absurd! I could do that if I wanted to. Of course I could. Why would I bother, though? I have people who willingly serve me! You mustn’t cling to these old fashioned ideas of the rich feeding on the poor. In all honesty, I wouldn’t want you or your family. I have rather expensive tastes. I like tradition and breeding and the finer things. When there are lovely creatures like Emily around, why would I want you?”
He seemed to find it all very amusing. When I asked him why he had bothered to have me interview him, his response surprised me. “Do you watch satire?” he asked. “I love satire. Have you watched that ‘Have I Got News for You”? Wonderful, isn’t it! I howl with laughter, I honestly do! See? I’m a chap just like you! We both love a good bit of satirical wit! Well, you see politicians and people like myself on that programme all the time, don’t you? I don’t mean post-mortem people, you goose, I mean powerful people! They take a bit of a ribbing, they throw in some quips of their own, no harm done! I want to be the same! I want a fellow like you to be able to come into my home and share a good old laugh with me! You can write me up as a Daft Vampire Aristocrat or a Dark Lord, whatever you fancy. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. It helps to humanise me! It shows I’ve got a sense of humour. You need a sense of humour, young man! You’ve turned green!”
I confess that I did not feel well. The sense of being in terrible danger was not subsiding. I wanted to end the interview. I asked if he would mind if we wrapped things up.
“But we haven’t touched on anything really important,” he sighed, pulling a sad expression. His sadness was as false as his happiness. This was all an act, a game with rules that I did not understand. “I thought we could chat about Brexit and the Colonial Election. We could have a good bit of banter. Your loony left stuff and my common sense approach could clash, have a tussle of wits, that sort of thing!”
With a shaking voice, I asked what he thought about politics. “I don’t get to vote of course, you have to be living to have a vote… such a terrible prejudice, but there you are, I’m one of the disenfranchised minority. No vote, no voice. So I’m an observer, as I’ve said. My current heir sits in the Lords, mind you, so I have some very small influence. I can’t say I’m worried about Brexit. I’ve seen Europe go through all kinds of turmoil, it hasn’t changed me or the essence of being British. Hurrah for the Queen, hurrah for the country, hurrah for our spirit, all that! I don’t much care for Europe. Post-mortem folks over there are all a bunch of gloomy aristos that lurk in ruins. Over here we’re more forward looking! As for the Colonies, it’s all a marvellous joke, don’t you think?! No class at all, none of them. I’ll weather the storm. Britain will weather the storm. Marvellous opportunity for wit! From your writing I expected more wit from you? Not feeling quite so witty now, eh? Nothing satirical to say? No anti-vampire sentiment? Thought not. You see, your type are always in awe when they meet the real thing. You always end up voting for good breeding. Men of quality. You sense the natural order. You sense that you’re at the bottom, don’t you?”
He looked at me with his piercing eyes and wide smile. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Got enough, have you? You can write a scathing piece on your little blog and nobody will give a damn. Some might laugh or some might bluster, but nobody will do anything, that’s the point, old chap. Your lot will wring your hands or you’ll satirise or you’ll do something creative… and my lot will let you. Never forget, old boy, that you’re allowed to do it. Kings have jesters, don’t they? Course they do! Jesters can be as witty as they like, the King stays a King and the jester stays a jester. Tradition. Class. The rule of law. Those are the pillars of society and they always will be.” He finally gave a smile that didn’t seem false. It seemed cruel.
I don’t remember much about leaving. I was in a terrible state. Ted had warned me that a vampire is vampire, no matter how nice their manners might be. I remember that Emily showed me to the door. I think that Victor stayed in his drawing room, chuckling to himself. I don’t remember clearly.
As I was getting into my car, feeling like I had a dose of ‘flu coming on, Emily leaned down to wish me well. I noticed the marks on her neck. “He’s a good person, you know,” she said, anxiously. “He loves his family and he does tons for charity. I hope you can write something that has balance.”
As she was speaking, Matthew returned. He was wiping his hands on a bloody cloth. “One of them said he couldn’t go on…” he began. He stopped when he saw me. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he added. I didn’t ask what he meant. I didn’t want to know.
I’m glad to say that I have not heard from Victor again. I was worried to think that he knew my address, that knew about my family. I mentioned my concerns in a phone call to Ted. He was not surprised. He sounded angry.
I suppose Victor was right about me and my position as a ‘loony leftie’. I might write the odd satire or scathing tweet. I might attend a march or give money to the right organisations. I won’t actually do anything, though. I’m a coward and I have too much to lose.
Victor ought to have thought about those who have nothing to lose. He ought to have considered that there are those on the left who aren’t ‘all talk’.
I read in the paper about the fire. It was described as a tragedy. Many antiques and works of art were lost. By the time the fire service arrived, it was too late to save anybody. Centuries of tradition were burnt away.
I’ll bet that wiped the fucking smile off his face.