Someone DHL’d a parcel earlier this week to me at The Independent office in Paya Lebar. I don’t get that many such parcels, maybe no more than 10, ever. So I was very curious. What was in it? A $20,000 World cruise package won from an i-Phone 8 lucky draw? A special Mozart zachre cake airflown from a café in Vienna?
No, something much better, at least for me. There was a book in the box. I should very quickly clarify here, it was the book – the one everyone have been talking about the whole week. The Phantom Of Oxley Castle.
Holy Harry Lee Potter!
What was going on? Who sent me the book? Is it authentic? Is anyone going to sue me should I even talk about it? Will someone high up in the clouds throw a hammer at me like Thor the Viking God of Thunder (or will lightning strike from the heights of Istana or Upper Changi Road or somewhere thereabouts)? No?
Yes, indeed, tut, tut, there was a name and the parcel could conceivably be traced. Not only would the Lightning Gods be interested, so would the Epigram people. Publisher Edmund Wee, who happens to be one of the shareholders of The Independent and who has yet to launch the book, would want to know who the leaker was, surely. No, I would stand my ground. I would cleverly blame a vague “third party” should there be any pressure. And, by the hand and grace of the real Sangnilautamic founder of Temasekland, I would now share some excerpts from the book:
“It was a dark and stormy night. Somewhere out there in a not too distant Bishanne tunnel, water was gushing in, swiftly engulfing a whole train of wagons, causing havoc and making the night even more miserable for all God’s creatures, both men and beasts. Especially for Khorr Bunwan the Overseer who had already been pilloried from pillar to post for all manners of incompetency and petulance for earlier transportation cockups.
But we digress. This is not about Bishanne or Khorr. This is about Oxley Castle.
Back at the castle, the dinner table was being set. OB Markus the butler was supervising the proceedings. The menu was ultra health-friendly. No or less sugar, no or less salt, brown rice (white is bad for diabetics), steamed fish (maybe pomfret) purchased directly from the nearest Fairieprice merchant shoppe, loads of price-discounted veggies. No coffee for tonight, only Earl’s Grey, please, if you will. Dessert was the best fresh strawberries topped up with cream from the free-ranging cows of the Bukit Timah primary forests.
‘Horrible weather, isn’t it?’ Prince Hector the Eldest said to his brother, Prince Humphrey the Youngest, who nodded and agreed with him, though somewhat reluctantly. Both had an earlier argument, a bit of a tiff really. About whether to let Kishaw the Diplomat continue to helm the Kingdom’s Aviary of Parrots. That Kishaw had been showing some signs of restlessness. He was proposing importing more Chinese birds to the aviary to add more colour and balance up the population which had been overwhelmed by an ageing group of olde birds, stuck in the olde habits of waiting for crumbs than performing harder for them.
Prince Humphrey thought Kishaw was on the right track. But Prince Hector would have none of that: ‘Humbug! I don’t disagree that the Aviary would have to import younger birds. But Kishaw is not the right person anymore, we need someone younger and perhaps more willing to see things my way, and my way only.’ To which the rebellious Prince Humphrey loudly rejoined: ‘Utter nonsense. This is not your kingdom alone to rule, my dear brother. Nor is it mine. This land would have to be returned to the people, aviary and all.’
But, back to the dinner table.
Princess Harriet was glaring at Prince Hector. She had been getting most disappointed with her brother’s conduct and, perhaps, that of his wife, her sister-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Kesamet. She thought they were getting out of hand, always trying to shut her out of so many important activities, like writing for the Kingdom’s state organ, the Oxley Clarion, formerly known as The Ess Tee. She had so enjoyed sharing her joys and sorrows with her avid followers. But, now, she was not allowed, or rather, in an act of defiance, she simply refused to write anymore unless her copy was not tampered with. Fortunately, a new mailing service started by an enterprising young stableboy named Zukbird had given her a new avenue. Thank Heaven for Firstbook, the wave of the future if there ever was one. Down with parched paper scrolls.
But, as she was about to hurl an expletive or two at her elder brother, there was a knock at the door.
Thump, thump, thump! The sound echoed through Oxley Castle and its 38 rooms even as it dramatically stopped the conversation at the dining hall.
‘OB, would you kindly see who’s making all that infernal ruckus?’ bellowed Prince Hector, who disliked being interrupted at his family dinner.
OB Markus was so named because he knew exactly where his place was (where his out of bound markers were). But he was so trusted that sometime one did not know whether he was, in fact, free to do what he pleased. He had been with the family since the three children of the dear departed King Harry were just babies.
And so, OB trudged along. Step by step. As he reached the huge Java teak door, the knocking stopped, almost as abruptly as when it started.
He opened it and………”
I can’t divulge more. You have to wait for the launch.
(For taking the liberties, profound apologies to Epigram, and to Edmund. May The Phantom Of Oxley Castle be a great success!).
Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.