Literature / Cross And Poppy
2013 British (… very, very
British) novel by GMW Wemyss
: the first in the Village Tales
series. A cozy
, witty-as-hell Slice of Life
tale set in The West Country
: pure Barsetshire
… if Barsetshire
were updated to account for today's problems and concerns.
The Woolfonts – Magna, Parva, Abbas, and Crucis – are placid, chocolate-box villages, genially presided over by the Duke of Taunton (who's not as much a P. G. Wodehouse
character as he pretends) and home to gentry, worthy rural folk, and a few celebrities: Edmond Huskisson, a retired footballer; Brian "The Breener" Maguire, Irish-born former England cricketer; celebrity "Hipsta Chef" Teddy Gates; the Hon. Gwen Evans, who runs the local racing stud; and their absurdly gorgeous friend Mr. Sher Mirza MA, a British Pakistani who teaches at the local Free School and is a well-known musicologist. All that the villages need is a new, Anglo-Catholic rector for the joined parishes. And the Duke – over the opposition of the Bishop; Canon Judith Potecary; and His Grace's old school-fellow (prepper, Eton, and
Oxford), the Archdeacon – gets the rector he wants, though not without open ecclesiastical warfare.
The new Rector is handsome young widower the Rev. Noel Paddick; and with Father (yes, he's that
High Church) Paddick's arrival, unexpected events are set in motion … including (apparently) an unlikely love triangle; family secrets; new alliances; an outbreak of racially-aggravated offenses; and, very nearly, murder.
A list of characters is in the works.
Cross and Poppy provides examples of:
- Arcadia: Even with the "et ego," the countryside is simply better. (For one thing, there are no chalk-streams in London; they won't let the Duke shoot journalists and politicians on the wing; and as for huntin', damn it all….)
- Badass Boast: Everyone gets one. Especially the Duke:
"It's a curious thing, how an evil fate seems always to pursue those who attempt mischief against anyone under my protection. I could refer you to several persons in Iraq and Afghanistan who learnt that lesson, but, as it happens, they can't pass that lesson on, because, as it happens, they all ended up quite dead."
- Bar Brawl / Diner Brawl: Subverted. There is a brawl … at Teddy's Michelin-starred restaurant, involving three League One footballers who make the mistake of insulting Gwen Evans, calling Sher a 'skinny, Paki mince,' and doing so on a night on which the Duke is dining with the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable – and on which Father Paddick, The Breener, and Edmond are present.
- Barsetshire: Played straight as far as being – most of the time – a place "for a quiet, relaxing time."
- Not infrequently subverted as far as crime and tragedy being "muted," or the events being only "gently amusing."
- After all, some of his students try to frame English master Sher Mirza as a pedophile, poison his cat, Eric (who survives), and ultimately attempt murder by arson. And there are funerals as well as christenings.
- Battle Butler: The Duke's butler, Viney – Mister Viney to you, unless you're the Duke or his family – and indeed all the staff at Wolfdown House. Viney's the other churchwarden (with the Duke), Vice-Captain (with the Duke) of the Woolfonts Combined XI, the overall XO for everything, and runs rings around the local constabulary for intel and investigation. As the Duke says, 'I haven't a network of informers, really, I've a staff' – and the Duke was an Intelligence Corps officer at the sharp end in Iraq and Afghanistan. Viney's less a Battle Butler than a Battle Bunter.
- The Beard: Briefly, Gwen for Sher.
- Belief Makes You Stupid: Subverted, not surprisingly. But not inverted: Dr Emily Witchard the GP, and Edmond, are by no means HollywoodAtheists.
- Berserk Button: Heck, everyone has at least one, and mostly on a hair-trigger:
- Canon Potecary, as regards women's ordination and Alternate Episcopal Oversight;
- Edmond, on gay rights (which is one thing; accusing Sher of using the Quran as a closet unwisely presses Sher's Berserk Button;
- Father Paddick really doesn't like injustice; and
- the Duke lives to bully bullies.
- Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Quiet Ones: This is Rule Number One in the Woolfonts. Particularly after the new Rector arrives.
- Bi the Way: Averted. Some are, some aren't, everyone accepts that, and it avoids both tacking-on and being anvilicious.
- Black Sheep: Lord Crispin, the Duke's perpetually absent brother, who has abandoned his wife and children and is pretty much a modern Remittance Man. There's a Noodle Incident in there somewhere.
- Blue Blood: Well, the Duke, obviously (and his nearby cousin several times over, Kit, the Duke of Trowbridge, whose title is owed to Charles II via a mistress). Had James The Second actually been married to the Duke of Taunton's great-several-generations-gran, Taunton would be a Royal Who Does Something. (Kit Trowbridge, though Frightfully Nice … would be Idle Rich even if he were royal.) As it is, he's an Old Etonian, he was up at the House, and he's a duke. That makes him quite dangerous enough as it stands.
- Book Ends: Sher and Noel first meet over tea; as the novel ends, they agree to become a Chastity Couple … over tea.
- Boy Band: With extra years and mileage, a Running Gag for Father Paddick and the Lads (Edmond, Teddy, The Breener, and Sher). Particularly at the Village Concert.
- Played straight, these are the only interest (other than horses and boys) the Duke's adolescent niece Hetty has.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter / Dumbass Teenage Son: Averted. The ducal niece and nephews are normal, sane, well-brought-up teens … although Hetty is not as clever as the rest of the family and is mostly interested in boys, horses, and TeenIdols (particularly – Running Gag alert – One Direction).
- Camp Gay: Edmond, when he chooses. When he doesn't, it's Straight Gay all the way. He picks his times based on amusement value – or Aesop value.
- The Breener has suggested that once Edmond was outed, he went all out … and all-in.
- Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The Rector, Teddy, Edmond, The Breener, Sher, the ducal nephews….
- Chastity Couple: Sher and Noel are effectively this by the end.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Oh no it isn't. Brian "The Breener" Maguire is. So – of course – is that "Socrates in a Roman Collar," Monsignor Folan. But the C of E is front and center, in all its factions, along with atheists, agnostics, Sunni Muslims ( Sher, being stuck in the West Country as a Hanafi and a British Pakistani, is rather lonely in an area where the nearest masjid is Maliki and largely Moroccan: the writer has Shown His Work), Methodists, and other Non-Conformists.
- Closet Key: Played with. Both as to Sher's being Noel's and Noel's being Sher's. Father Noel Paddick never said he couldn't be attracted to another man, he just never though he would be; and although Sher Mirza's out as bi to those who matter, he'd never before thought he'd have a reason to act on it for more than a night or a dirty weekend. And in the end, it doesn't really matter, because they both just want the other to be happy – including by being at ease with his conscience. So they agree to be a Chastity Couple. (On the other hand, sequels are promised….)
- Cool Uncle: The Duke to Rupert, James, and Hetty.
- Culture Clash: Drives much of the plot: not only the Anglican infighting, but between Sher and Edmond to the point where each sees In-Universe Values Dissonance in the other's views.
- Damsel out of Distress: Do not mess with Gwen if you value your bollocks. She doesn't like to be rescued,.
- Deadpan Snarker: The duke is unabashedly an Oxbridge, Gentleman Snarker. Of course he's the Snark Knight. (To what extent he's an Author Avatar in this is up to the reader.)
The Duke: A reputation for eccentricity – you're aware, naturally, that that is the term reserved to the rich, the eminent, and the titled: poor people are simply mad, or sectionable – has its uses.
Connie (Lady Crispin) Fitzjames, the Duke's sister-in-law, on the Village Concert: I wash my hands of it.
The Duke: You'd have made a splendid prefect of Judaea.
- And many, many more.
- Father Paddick has his moments as well.
Father Paddick: God, being omniscient, does not persistently make misjudgements, whether as to bishops, baronets, canons, or cousins, or the lives of any others. And, most fundamentally? The difference, Charles, is simple. God doesn't labour under the delusion that he's the duke of Taunton.
- As does Edmond I'm Not Thick Merely Because I Chose the Beautiful Game Over Uni, Ta Ever So Huskisson.
Sher Mirza (when Edmond was camping it too much): Could you be any gayer?
Edmond Huskisson: I can try, darling, if you like. As could you stand to do, this internalised homophobia is really not attractive –.
- Every adult and most of the teenagers get at least one good line. Even Lady Crispin.
- Description Porn: Sometimes pages of it – usually Scenery Porn. And it's weaponized. It lulls you into unsuspecting Barsetshire placidity (as it is meant to do)…. And then, bam.
… [O]nly the accretion of brasses and monuments with the accreted years had changed the church fabric beneath the hand of time. The old glass cast jewels of light upon the flagged floor. The dead, in the form of the great carven tomb with canopies of stone where, recumbent, Sir Gabriel Malet in half-armour and his lady, Agnes, with a son to either hand, slept out the centuries, further crowded the living, seated in the worn pews with their fleury finials. The Norman font, back in its place now three centuries and a half, was echoed in form by the Jacobean pulpit, in fumed oak carven to vary the themes of the screen. Only the Caroline bell-tower at the Northwest corner was new, in two stages now weathered into harmony with the church itself since its running-up in the years before King and Commons had quarrelled, erected to house a ring of eight that not the greatest fool in the parish could be easy at having above the transept, in the crossing-tower….
… the everlasting downs where Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire embraced in grace and gravity; skies haunted by red kite, hobby, and buzzard, and ringing with the skylark's silver song….
- Determinator: Every character in the book has Strong Principles and an inability to give up. Particularly the Rector and the Duke. Which is fine when they agree; otherwise….
- Drives Like Crazy: The Duke is described as being Stirling Moss in a Bristol – on a C road. It's also asserted that Richard Hammond is his spirit animal.note
- Everyone Is Bi: Teddy believes everyone is to some extent (which may be Truth in Television) and that when it comes to Noel or Sher, Even the Guys Want Him. Which may also be Truth in Television.
- Mind, the Duke probably hasn't noticed anyone's attractiveness.
- Fangirl: That, Hetty is. She's about thirteen; it's normal. Embarrassing to everyone else, and perhaps to her in a few years, but normal.
- Five-Man Band: Noel, The Breener, Teddy, Edmond, and Sher. Literally, at the Village Concert. The roles, however, seem to fluctuate wildly.
- Food Porn: As long as there's also drink, yes.
- Teddy's offer of a simple dinner – to Father Paddick – starts the bidding with rock oysters, salmon salad, saddle of rabbit with truffles and pea puree, creamed fennel, chard, and a raspberry and lemongrass pavlova. Father Paddick argues him down to cucumber soup and Coronation chicken. With difficulty. Teddy is a chef, after all.
Used for scene-setting and characterization.
- When the Duke first introduces the incognito Father Paddick to the other main leads, it's over tea, and merely in the course of pouring out, everyone's social class, regional origin, character, back-story, sexual orientation, and religion (including Sher Mirza's being an observant Muslim who is fasting for Ramadan) is brought out.
- The Four Loves: Major theme here.
- And the text of Father Paddick's Remembrance Sunday sermon.
- And why Sher and Noel make the sacrifice of remaining a Chastity Couple.
- Funetik Aksent: Avoided with two exceptions – it's otherwise subtly indicated with word choice and grammar.
- For The Breener, it's justified and subtly lampshaded by his keeping up a Stage Irishman turn for the sake of his lucrative after-dinner speaking engagements and his role on TMS as a retired Irish-born England cricketer.
- For Mr. Kellow, the jovial landlord of the Blue Boar and aging fan of Northern Soul, it's justified — and has more lampshades than a Chinese restaurant — in that, even though his old dad had had him apprentice in every pub from Land's End to John o' Groats (including Noel's native Wolverhampton, where Mr. Kellow danced all night, he himself realizes that trippers and tourists expect a West Country publican to sound like someone out of Hot Fuzz. And he gives them that, Turned Up to Eleven, to the point he can't turn it off.
- Genius Bruiser: The Breener, though he'll never admit the "genius" part.
- A man who kept wicket for England, Misses Nothing.
- Good Is Not Dumb: All the protagonists get to hold that ball pretty frequently.
- Good Is Not Soft: Pretty much the theme of the whole book.
- The Good Shepherd: Father Paddick, in spades; but really, the whole Church of England gets to act as this in the book, regardless of their stances on the issues being fought over.
- Father Paddick, in addition to putting a footballer on the floor with one punch, also charges a burning cottage armed only with holy water to save Sher from an attempted murder by arson.
- Grande Dame: Lady Douty, in a Helen, Duchess of Denver, sort of way.
- The Duke said she did good works in the parish in such a fashion as to make virtue intolerable. That was before she died, of course. Nil nisi bonum and All That.
- Both Canon Judith Potecary in neighboring Beechbourne ("I need your validation like a fish needs a chasuble"), and Lady Crispin, the Duke's sister-in-law, will be, the minute they're old enough.
- The Hero: Possibly the villages as a whole. No one of the characters quite fits – and several of them would doubtless argue that they don't fit … as did Fr. Paddick when he rescued Sher from a fire, and shrugged it off….
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Viney and the Duke. The Duke and Sir Thomas Douty may be heading in that direction, too.
- Hidden Depths: Everyone. Smarter or more powerful or less innocent or more nuanced than they look, and most of them have what they and only they refuse to consider a Dark and Troubled Past.
- The Hunk: Father Paddick. (Sher is more the male-model sort.) Edmond calls him "Vertonghen in vestments;" even the Duke's brother, writing (ostensibly) from the US, compares him to Tom Brady. And he's so damned nice, with it … face it, Fr. Paddick is basically a really sexy Captain Carrot In a Clerical Collar.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Noel and Sher both. Each can conceive throwing his own conscience to the winds; neither is going to allow the other to do so. Solution? Chastity Couple … at least for now.
- Insufferable Genius: Yeah, guess. Points if you guessed the Duke. (And points mean prizes!)
- The Jeeves: Viney – if subverted insofar as the Duke is no Bertie Wooster.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The Duke's a duke. He knows everyone. So
- There's Boris Johnson at Father Paddick's institution as Rector;
- The Duke's always shouting down the telephone at the Cabinet for being Wet;
- There are Royals in the offing;
- And as Edmond notes, letting him loose on the Village Fête and the Village Concert is just asking for trouble. Over the years, the Duke has had Vera Lynn, BRIAN BLESSED, and Jethro Tull for the Village Concerts and Fetes; brought in Professor Brian Cox and Professor Brian May as guest science masters at the Free School (a jam session broke out); and managed to get Barry Cryer and Ronnie Corbett to star in the panto.
- The Mentor: Loads of these:
- Father Pryor back in Wolverhampton for Father Paddick;
- materially, the Duke to Father Paddick, the Lads, and the whole district;
- spiritually – because he may be a duke, but to Father Paddick he's just a parishioner – Father Paddick to the Duke….
- The Napoleon: The Duke is vertically challenged. And is the Duke. You do the math(s). You might say … he's short with everyone.
- No Badass to His Valet / No Hero to His Valet: Averted: the Duke and Viney respect one another completely.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lampshaded again and again as a Running Gag.
The Duke: Sorry; sorry. Reflectin' that I've inadvertently created an aging boy-band. … Come, come, you must admit the five of you could pass for a slightly older iteration of –
Teddy Gates: Don't. Go. There.
Hetty (the Duke's teenaged niece and huge One Direction fangirl), about any of the five: He's so fit, and he looks just like….
- Justified (or not: YMMV) by Word of God in the Afterword, with a detailed explanation you may or may not choose to believe.
- No Communities Were Harmed: The work is discreet with place-names. Roads and topography and rail stations … not so much.
- Noodle Incident: The Duke's brother has left the UK (and his wife and kids). That's one.
- In another, The Breener has screwed his knees up so badly he had to retire from cricket and in fact can no longer ride a horse (which, considering that he ends up engaged to Gwen Evans, who owns a racing stud, could be problematic). Why? There are some things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
- Non-Idle Rich: The Duke. And Sir Thomas.
- Northern Soul: A major plot point in Fr. Paddick's acceptance and the creation of the Five-Man Band, through the Village Concert. And of making Sher drool over him. Of course, almost every Northern Soul song is a case of Intercourse with You, so....
- Officer and a Gentleman: Subverted with the Duke. Technically, he's both; but he's a duke, and consequently insufferable at times: being a kindly gentleman is for the upper-middle classes, damn it all. There's a reason why the Duke of Edinburgh described him as having "a refreshing lack of diplomacy."
- Official Couple: Several.
- Teddy and Edmond;
- as a Chastity Couple, Sher and Noel; and,
- to much surprise, Gwen and The Breener.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Averted in favor of Anglican chant and every Church of England setting for Mattins and Evensong ever published.
- Omniglot: Lots of them, all justified.
- The Duke (there's a reason he was in Int Corps);
- Fr. Paddick (there's a reason he was up at Keble, and theologians are expected to read Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, and if possible French and German);
- Teddy "Hipsta Chef" Gates (who trained in France: there's a reason he's a celebrated patissier);
- Sher Mirza (it's an irony that the only other Urdu-speaker in sight is the Duke);
- HH the Nawab and his Begum ( Sher's aunt), when they stop by….
- Edmond has a Belgian gran, but all that seems to have given him is his forename.
- One of Us: Hetty, being very much the Fangirl.
- (And it also appears the author One of Us….)
- And when the press starts reporting on events in the Woolfonts, Father Paddick as well as the villages become a fandom, In-Universe, with sites dedicated to them.
- Oop North: Every member of the Five-Man Band save The Breener (if you count the West Midlands, for Father Noel Paddick, as the North – which it is by West Country standards). A certain amount of mild, Comedy of Manners Hilarity Ensues.
- Parental Abandonment / Parental Substitute: The Duke's brother is an unsatisfactory person, and a deserter as a husband and father. The Duke for all his faults more than makes up for this as to his nephews and niece.
- The Poppy: Well, yeah. Sacrifice is a theme throughout; and the Remembrance Sunday scene is pretty much the central scene in the book.
- Rail Enthusiast: Not only is the Duke determined to create a heritage railway for the district, but there's a huge model railway at Wolfdown House.
- And Father Paddick's journey from Wolverhampton to Bristol, by rail, to meet the Duke for the first time, is lyrically described.
- Real Place Background: The novel's location is obvious if you read the clues. (And if you can't, there's a fake Ordnance Survey map on the back cover with only the names changed and the orientation flipped.) It's pretty clearly Teffont Magna,Teffont Evias, and the country 'round.
- Retired Badass: Lashings of them. Even the Bishop was a Royal Navy chaplain in his day.
- The Duke was an Int Corps officer – at the sharp end, in both Iraq Wars and in Afghanistan. (Oddly, the Duke is too downright (read: abrasive, don't-give-a-damn, and arrogant) to be a Guile Hero despite being a former Int Corps officer. Then again, there's a difference between secret intelligence and Army intelligence….)
- Mr. Kellow's war was the Falklands.
- And on Remembrance Sunday … well:
[After all the local great and good and a squadron of the County TA Regiment and everyone else has marched in:] … Headmaster Trulock and the Free School, Sher bringing up the rear, all the masters and mistresses gowned academically, and on the Head's gown and the Maths master's the gleam of metal and the splash of ribbon: the OSM for Sierra Leone for the Head, that for the DRC for the Maths master. … And then, moving rather more slowly, they came. The duke, buried in the obscure midst of them, almost anonymous, in bowler hat and perfect tailoring, impeccably suited, furled brolly under arm, topcoat irreproachable, every scant inch the officer and gentleman; and on his breast his decorations and the campaign and OS medals that testified to service: the Gulf Medal, the OSM for Afghanistan, the Iraq Medal – all three with the oak leaf of a Mention in Despatches. He matched his pace to his fellows': one truly ancient man in a hooded Bath chair…. Then another old man … with the Arctic Star. Another … one of the very last of the Few, with the DFC and Bar … And younger men, also: the Korea Medal … And men younger yet – one of them in a wheelchair, with but one leg and one arm – who wore the South Atlantic Medal with rosette. Mr Kellow was amongst these, solicitously steadying the steps of a man lamed aboard Antelope
. And the youngest men: here an empty sleeve, here a wheelchair, but most of these – physically – uninjured, wearing the same campaign medals and OSMs
as did [the Duke]: the men of Granby
and of Telic
, and of Fingal
and of Herrick
, who had known the deserts and the deathly mountains, the waters of the Gulf and the skies over Mesopotamia and the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. Some had bled at Basra; some had intercepted missiles bound for the American navy; others had faced suicide bombers and IEDs
directed by nominal allies; all had dared and done their duty.
- Yeah, that one's a Crowning Moment of several things. Mileage will not vary. If you ever doubted the Brits were all ProudWarriorRaceGuys….
- Servile Snarker: Averted – but only because there's nothing servile about Viney.
Without asking Mr Mirza, Your Grace? Do you think that wise? The Duke:
I am not Captain Mainwaring
- Shout-Out: Echoes, allusions, inversions of Quotable Lines from every English poet…. Eliot and Borges and Pratchett have nothing on this guy.
- And nobody since Anthony Price has made more shout-outs to Kipling.
- Lampshaded when the Duke of Taunton is forever complaining that "nobody reads [Classic Author X] nowadays, what in buggery is the country coming to?"….
- The Duke, when behind the wheel of his Bristol, is said to have Richard Hammond as his spirit animal.
- Shown Their Work: Church of England canon law, C of E politics, Sunni practices and the distinctions between one and another madhhab, Roman Catholic canon law, Anglican service music, military history, Redcoats With, Pakistani history, local surnames, British Pakistani history, police procedure, ecclesiastical architecture, peerages, secular architecture, Community Rail Partnerships…. Yep. Solid.
- Simple Yet Opulent: The Duke – having started (the title was in abeyance and the land and cash in trust until his father was middle-aged) as an Impoverished Patrician who could only dream of being Land Poor – is this in his personal style. When it comes to handing out dosh to others, though, he's very much the Eccentric Millionaire.
- Smart People Know Latin: They'd better, with the Duke around.
- And, rather subversively, Father Paddick, who was a scholarship boy, is proudly of working-class antecedents, and has no qualms about Latin in sermons.
- Spot of Tea: Answer to all of life's problems. When Sher and Noel finally discuss Out Loud their mutual attraction, Sher nervously raises the subject and Noel's response is, "Well, then, sit down, have a biscuit and – good, there is yet tea – tell me about it."
- Supreme Chef: Teddy. And he knows it.
- Stealth Pun: Unless you believe the Afterword, in which Word of God plausiblynote argues that there are no Expys or Captains Ersatz, and that Teddy Gates – a tall, green-eyed, dimpled hipster chef with a wild mane and a Cheshire birthplace who sings second tenor / baritone – is not based on any celebrity at all, there's the Duke's hailing him with "Gates! Gates! (More like ruddy stiles, lame dogs, for helping over of….) Gates!"
- And the time the Duke, knowing that Sher has a cat named Eric, manages to give him a Clumber puppy named Ernestine….
- And Teddy saying that, having settled down with the Puckish, refuses-to-grow-up Edmond, he's now Peter-Pansexual….
- And the two old farmers down the pub talking about rapenote and sheep.
- Okay, there's not a Hurricane, but even Michael Fish would admit there's a strong front of puns.
- The Vicar: Subverted – not only with Father Paddick, but with all the clergy, including
- Viewers Are Geniuses: You're expected to keep up when there's a sly reference to Betjeman or Eliot or Kipling or British history or Anglican infighting. And there will be. On every page. It's not mandatory, but it doubles the number of jokes.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: The Lads with one another;
- Edmond with everyone;
- the Duke with Sir Thomas and (eventually) the Archdeacon and the Bishop; and
- the Duke with Lady Crispin.
- White and Gray Morality: With few exceptions namely, the students who try to ruin or kill Sher, there are no utter villains – or saints, according to Father Paddick, although he gets some look-in-the-mirror pushback on that. And he thinks that even the three students are redeemable if they choose to be.