She’s a stand-up, and she’s only 14.
So we’re driving down to Winchester on one of our Saturday afternoon jaunts, and I come off the soulless M3 motorway to take the old carriage way. The road the postal carriages would have taken to get post to the south and south west. The route the stagecoaches flew along moving visitors from one big house to the next.
And I am doing that thing mothers do where they repeat ad infinitum the litany of landmarks on a road; those that have personal significance (ah, that’s where our car broke down in 1989; that’s the Little Chef where I left my handbag and never went back to get it) and those which have a greater, more elevated place in history.
“Look, darling,” I gesture expansively over the steering wheel, “you see that pub?”
It is labelled ‘The Wheatsheaf’ and it’s a member of the unexceptional and pedestrian chain of hostelries which exalt under the name of ‘Chef And Brewer’. It will give you a decent meal for a decent price but it’s functional. Great for families, if you get my drift. The gourmet is advised to drive 15 minutes up the road to Winchester proper.
Maddie glances at the pub. A veil of wariness born of overexposure to years of her mother’s slightly unhinged trivia settles on her features.
“Yes, I see it. Why?”
“Jane Austen used to go to that pub.”
The veil evaporates. Things are looking up. A wide grin lights up her face.
“Jane Austen went to the pub?” she queries incredulously. And then she’s off.
“I can just see her,” she begins. ” A row of shots lined up along the bar. The barman’s eyeing her cagily. ‘Come on, Jane,’ he’s saying. ‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough? ‘ But Jane’s drunk and morose. She eyes him blearily. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ she slurs into her gin. ‘I’ve written whole novels. There are people out there revere me. You people have no idea,’ she warms to her subject, ‘no idea, the crap I have to put up with.’
“Later in the exchange, ” my daughter continues, “she takes a swing at the landlord. Much later, she is apprehended in some sort of charge of the local justice’s carriage and four, making an unbecoming and vociferous bid to race the post to Winchester.”
By the time my daughter finishes, I am almost crying with laughter.
For the record, I had left out one important part of the story. Jane did indeed visit that pub, and most regularly. But it was also the place where the post arrived. It was a ‘receiving inn’, where the mail coaches would drop of batches of letters and everyone for miles around would make journeys to collect it. She would arrive, pick up the post, and leave most abstemiously.
Say all the history books.
But we know better.