It is with a heavy heart and very much against my principles that I have to write about the Sprodlington visit. While I’m known for my tolerance and compassion for the vulnerable, with the situation now spiralling out of control, I am forced to expose the truth. It has taken me a while to recover from my ordeal, but I’m glad to report that I am now 100% fit.
If you are my friend on Facebook – and if not, why not? (click the blue button please) – you will know that for some time I have been stalked, abused and vilified by Derek Templeton of Templeton’s Hardware from Sprodlington. This is something that people like myself have to accept as the price of fame. I try to bear it with fortitude and good humour.
From the bitterness and spite of Mr Templeton’s rantings, I recognised a soul in torment; a person suffering more than his share of life’s disappointments.
After a marvellous visit to the indomitable Doris Brazil in Appleton Marsh (also a victim of Mr Templeton’s venomous attacks despite her age), where I was able to watch this extraordinary nonagenarian still serving in her shop and keeping that daft old brush Flo up to the mark, I determined to drive to Sprodlington and meet Mr Templeton, to offer him the hand of friendship and signed copies of my two recent books, The Valley of Heaven and Hell, and Best Foot Forward.
After failing to locate Sprodlington on my GPS, I went to the Appleton Marsh library to search the maps of Yorkshire, where once again I found no reference to Sprodlington. So I resolved to drive to Yorkshire and search for the place.
Although I drove around the bleak, damp hills and dales for two days, there was no sign of the elusive Mr Templeton’s address, and so I telephoned the Yorkshire Constabulary where a man kept saying “ee by gum lass.” I’ve no idea what he meant.
I asked if I could speak to somebody who spoke English, and a young lady came to the phone and was very helpful. After much searching she found a telephone number for Sprodlington, although she couldn’t find any address.
I phoned the number and asked for Mr Templeton, explaining that I had come to pay Mr Templeton a visit to cheer him up. There was a lengthy silence, and some clicking and murmurings, and then a man with a soothing voice, a Mr Sprockett, came on the line and asked whether I had a permit for Sprodlington.
I said that I didn’t have one and hadn’t realised I needed one. It seemed bizarre to need a permit to visit a village, but of course it was Yorkshire, and they are different up there.
Mr Sprockett said he would arrange a pass for me, and I would find it at the entrance to Sprodlington. His directions led into the back of beyond, and just as I was beginning to think I was the subject of some twisted Yorkshire humour, I spied a sign to Sprodlington Hall where a fit-looking young man in a Fred Perry shirt and black jogging pants raised his hand, and I halted before some magnificent wrought iron gates.
After handing me a card saying “Permit to visit D Templeton – lady author,” he pressed a button and the gates slowly swung open. I drove up a long straight drive through exquisitely landscaped gardens, with a lake, peacocks and grazing deer. The drive terminated at a circular car-park with a vast ornamental fountain at its centre and edged with clipped box hedging.
I had never dreamed a hardware store could be so profitable.
An elegant woman in a tailored suit and designer spectacles came down the steps and shook my hand.
“I believe you are here to visit Mr Templeton?” To my relief she spoke in crisp, clear English.
“Yes,” I said, “that’s right. I’ve brought him copies of my books.”
“How very thoughtful,” she replied. “I am sure he’ll be delighted. Would you care to follow me?”
She led the way through great oak doors into a spacious lobby, where she pressed a buzzer and spoke into an intercom:
“Ellen, there is a visitor for Mr Templeton. Could you come and escort her, please?”
Shortly a stocky but pleasant young woman with ruddy cheeks and tight ginger curls appeared.
“Thank you, Ellen,” said the elegant woman. “You’ve taken care of everything?”
“Indeed,” replied Ellen. “Everything is in order.”
With a smile she led me through some electronically-controlled glass doors into a long corridor, thickly carpeted in a soft shade of green, with matching green walls and pretty crystal walls lights. I was more astonished and impressed with every step I took.
She stopped before a door marked “D Templeton – Hardware,” and gave a gentle knock. Turning to me, she said “Just act naturally; don’t show any sign of fear. He can seem a little strange, but he’s really quite harmless.”
She pushed open the door, and ushered me into the room.
“Here’s Susie Kelly come to see you, Mr Templeton,” she said.
He was standing with his back to the door, at the long window curtained with cream velvet, gazing out over the lake.
A tall man, well-built, wearing highly-polished brown brogues, cavalry twill trousers and a Tattersall check shirt. Slowly he turned towards us. His expression was somewhat vague.
“Hello, Derek,” I said, offering my hand. “I’ve come all the way from France to see you.”
He stared at me without speaking.
“Why don’t you both take a seat,” suggested Ellen. “I’ll arrange a nice cup of tea.”
I sat cautiously on a cream and pale green upholstered Louis XV chair.
Derek still hadn’t spoken, but his mouth worked in a strange motion
I held out to him a packet, prettily wrapped in red gingham.
“This is for you,” I said. “A small gift of friendship.”
Wordlessly he took the parcel from me, and laid it unopened on a coffee table.
“We have a special offer on Jeyes Fluid and whirlygig washing lines,” he said suddenly, in a strangely muffled voice.
As he spoke, I could see he had no teeth.
“Also putty, self-tapping screws, galvanised buckets, Vileda mops, mousetraps humane and lethal, sink plungers, boot scrapers, bird feeders, tent pegs, Vim, … What can I get you?”
“No,” I laughed, slightly nervously, “I haven’t come to buy anything, I’ve just come to be sociable.” I was starting to think there was something a little odd going on.
“Oh,” he said sadly, turning his back.
I noticed him put his hand to his mouth and saw something round and white fall to the carpet. Then he turned to me and said: “Well, well, how silly of me. Whatever was I thinking. You’ve come all this way, and brought me your wonderful books. How very, very kind you are.”
And then he lurched at me, in a way that I can only describe as “rutting chimpanzee meets manic octopus”. He seemed to have an abnormal number of abnormally long arms and grasping hands. Startled, I kicked out at his shin, momentarily knocking him off balance, and ran to the door. It was locked from the outside.
The mild, vacant-eyed creature of a few moments ago was now a slavering, drooling, grunting monster, using his unfeasibly long arms to try to prevent me getting past him. His contorted face was only inches from mine, the smell of gravy and rice pudding on his fetid breath. I jabbed the heel of my hand hard under his nose the way Gary at Self Defence for the Mature Woman had shown me, momentarily stopping my assailant in his tracks, and I sprinted towards the window. A hand snatched at my ankle, bringing me crashing to the floor, luckily on the thick pile carpet. Relentlessly the creature dragged me towards him, moaning and frothing at the mouth. Winded by the fall, I was unable to scream.
His hands grabbed my ears, and he proceeded banging my head repeatedly on the floor until all went black. Just before I passed out I heard the door open, and a voice scream: “Oh my God.” Then everything went black…..
Distantly I could hear voices.
“But surely he was properly medicated?”
“Yes, we thought so, but we found it on the floor afterwards. He’d spat it out. That stupid Ellen didn’t check that he’d swallowed it. Thank goodness she’d at least removed his dentures, otherwise just imagine the damage he’d have done. He’d have gone straight through her jugular. What the hell are we going to do if this woman decides to take action?”
I managed to let out a weak croak, and a man bent over me and said gently: “I’m Dr Sprockett. You are safe now. Just relax.”
I felt a needle slipped into the back of my hand, and fell instantly into a deep sleep.
Next morning I woke aching in every bone in my body, covered from head to toe in livid bruises. A young nurse came through the door with a tray bearing freshly squeezed orange juice, a lightly boiled egg with some celery salt on the side, buttered toast and a jug of coffee. There was a single apricot-coloured rose in a small silver rose vase on the tray, and a crisp white linen napkin.
“Hey up pet!” she said as she plumped up the pillows.
“Hey up!” I replied.
“Dr Sprockett will be by shortly,” she said. “Tarra pet.”
“Tarra,” I replied. I was beginning to get the hang of the local dialect.
Dr Sprockett arrived as I dabbed the last drip of egg yolk from my chin, and after checking to make certain I had no broken limbs – just a dislocated shoulder and twisted knee, he pulled up a chair.
“I don’t know how to apologise sufficiently. It’s unforgivable. May I ask why you came to visit him?”
“He “friended” me on Facebook, and from reading his posts I understood that he was just a lonely man who had developed a crush on me. I thought I could cheer him up by visiting him. Then when I came here I was astonished to see him living in such luxury. I thought he was a simple hardware store proprietor. Could you explain exactly what is going on here?”
“It’s a sad story,” he began.
“Ambrose’s father was a titled and very wealthy land-owner. His mother an under parlour-maid. Under His Lordship regularly.”
“Who’s Ambrose?” I interrupted.
“Him. The man presently calling himself Derek Templeton.”
“So there’s no such shop as Templeton’s Hardware?”
“No. He’s never worked a day in his life. His father provided handsomely for him, and for thirty years he lived the life of a playboy. However, under the laws of England, as a bastard he could never inherit the estate, which passed to the legitimate heir, his younger half-brother Jolyon, who had survived numerous strange and unexplained accidents. That’s when Ambrose began exhibiting worrying traits. Previously an easy-going, well-mannered man, he became petulant and spiteful when he didn’t get his own way. Then poor Wendy met her dreadful end.”
“Wendy? Surely she is his wife?”
“Wendy was Jolyon’s fiancée. Ambrose pursued her relentlessly. She was a kind-hearted lass, and that was her undoing. When Ambrose realised that she was going to marry Jolyon, he went berserk. Wendy died of her wounds. Bites.”
I stared at him in horror.
“So what is this place – Sprodlington Hall?”
“The hall belongs to a wealthy trust set up for his benefit by Ambrose’s father. The Wendy affair was hushed up by the family who wanted no stain upon their escutcheon: her wounds were blamed on a wild animal. Under Jolyon’s orders, this house was made into a fortress – to keep Ambrose in. Everything is electronically controlled. He cannot escape. He mustn’t escape.”
My head was spinning as I digested everything Sprockett had told me.
“So there is no wife, and no hardware store?”
“Only in the strange world of his imaginations. He used to describe himself a pharmacist, then a priest, and for a short time believed himself to be an incarnation of Greta Garbo. He’ll probably be imagining himself the mayor of Sprodlington next! We humour him. Jolyon pays very generously, and we do everything possible to keep Ambrose happy.”
“If I had known he’d killed a woman, I’d never have come here. I’d have posted the books to him,” I said.
“Since the Tracey affair, with the new medications, he’s seemed very calm and malleable until now.”
“Tracey? Who’s Tracey?”
“Was. Who was Tracey. Tracey was the nurse before Ellen. A lovely girl, gentle as a feather, with a lilting accent and fine knees. She was devoted to Ambrose, and in her company he was a different man. Until the day she served ginger snaps instead of Abbey Crunch with his afternoon tea. It was the blood seeping under the door that alerted one of the staff. We had to redecorate the entire ground floor from floor to ceiling. Fortunately the family owns a carpet manufacturers, otherwise the cost would have been hair-raising. When we broke the door down, there was nothing recognisable left of Tracey except her hair. He’d eaten her to death. It was a great stroke of luck, really, for us, that she had no family. Nobody to ask awkward questions. Jolyon used his connections and she was laid to rest at the bottom of the lake.”
I grabbed a bowl of fruit and shouted my breakfast into it, shaking and trembling as I realised how near I had come to a terrible end.
“You should have warned me,” I said. “He could have eaten me to death too.”
“No, not without his teeth. We had them extracted after Tracey, and always remove his dentures when anybody is going to be left alone in the room with him. He fooled us all by hoiking up his medication. You’ve only suffered an extreme case of gumming, thank the lord. Ellen was dismissed without a reference, on the spot.”
I thought how much I could sue the trust for: millions, for putting me and my career as a writer in such peril. But then I thought of that poor slavering creature, in his gilded cage. If I destroyed the trust, what would happen to him? One of life’s tragic victims through no fault of his own, living in an imaginary world, friendless, wifeless, daughterless, businessless.
“Dr Sprockett,” I said. “Let me put your mind at rest. I have no intention of taking any legal action against you or the trust. I abhor the modern culture of compensation litigation. Instead I shall make it my business to offer Ambrose all the warmth and kindness in my heart, in every way I can. Let him keep his delusions if they make him happy.”
Sprockett’s eyes filled with tears. “What a beautiful, kind woman you are. But just remember that Ambrose has a very fertile imagination, and he will accuse you of all manner of depravity in the hope of destroying your reputation. So guard against it well.”
“May I suggest,” I suggested, “that you keep an eye on his Facebook activities? He may well be ‘grooming’ another unsuspecting well-wisher.”
Sprockett nodded. “I’ll see to it. We can’t allow anything like this to happen again.”
And this is why I have revealed the truth about Derek Templeton; not out of spite or revenge, but only to keep my unblemished reputation unbesmirched. And henceforth, I am going to redouble my efforts to bring him good cheer and the milk of human kindness. I hope you will all do so too. But if you do befriend him on Facebook, just be careful.