The Return of Mrs Brown
I once read an article about a woman who entered 100 competitions a week, and had accumulated 30,000 quid in prizes. Reminded me on one of my tales, so I thought I’d resurrect it. Old, I know, but then so am I…
Dorothy Murdoch ended up inexplicably and inextricably entwined with Maude Brown.
It had all started off as a bit of a joke, really.
When Dorothy reached pensionable age, she’d decided to up stakes and move to a small Cornish village, full of enthusiasm at the prospect of a quiet, tranquil retirement in the country.
‘It’ll be just like The Good Life,’ she told herself happily, ‘I’ll raise chickens, grow lots of prize-winning veggies and enter all those silly flower shows you see on the telly. Felicity Kendel, here I come…” And she set about putting her London flat on the market and searching for a suitable country residence.
The flat was sold with gratifying speed and at an exceptionally good price, thus leaving Dorothy with a sizeable nest egg with which she bought the tools deemed necessary to embark on a comfortable and contemplative rural life.
Chickens were duly purchased, as was an Aga and a vast array of spades, hoes, rakes, secateurs and a lawn mower.
Numerous packets of seeds were naturally vital, and promised an abundance of healthy crops such as ‘delicious giant pumpkins’, ‘savoury, succulent leeks’ and ‘tasty, tender turnips’.
Determined to relegate all the stresses of city life to the past, Dorothy decided to forego the telly and surrounded herself instead with illuminating books. The Prophet, Bhagavad Gita and Teach Yourself Yoga were among the literary masterpieces now gracing her shelves.
She considered getting a pet, but cats were guaranteed to pee on the parsnips and dogs, though more continent, needed far too much attention.
Dorothy threw herself into her project with gusto.
In virtually no time at all green shoots were sprouting magically in neat rows and the hens were laying double-yolked brown eggs that would have brought a smile of satisfaction and approval to Delia Smith’s face.
Dorothy was popular with the locals, too. Soon, her homemade jams and pickles were quite legendary and the village shop even agreed to stock some of her produce, albeit it on a trial basis.
“Got any more of that there delicious strawberry jam, Mrs Murdoch?” Edna the shopkeeper would ask when Dorothy went in to buy her groceries.
“How about a few more jars of yer lovely pickled cucumbers, then?” Ray the butcher grinned, handing over two juicy lamb chops for her tea.
Now this was all well and good, but the more organised Dorothy became, the more bored she was. After a while, things were running so smoothly that there was precious little left to do.
Dorothy needed a distraction to fill those long, cold winter evenings.
She found it one day when she was idly leafing through a magazine she’d picked up while waiting to be served in Edna’s shop.
‘WRITE A SLOGAN AND WIN A CRUISE!’ cried the caption.
“I could do with a cruise, that’s for sure.” Dorothy told Edna, showing her the ad.
“Ooh, they’re in all the mags these days,” said Edna, “My sister does ’em all the time and wins loads of things. I’ve lost count of the number of toasters she’s got!”
So Dorothy bought a copy of every mag in the shop and trudged home to study them.
They turned out to be full of competitions offering prizes ranging from luxury holidays, to vacuum cleaners, to a year’s free supply of loo paper.
Dorothy, after much thought, entered them all. She posted off her coupons the next day and promptly forgot all about it until her first prize, an electric kettle, arrived a few weeks later.
This was rapidly followed by an oven, an electric blanket, six months supply of washing powder and a 200 quid cash prize.
Dorothy was hooked. She began travelling to the surrounding villages and buying copies of every magazine they had in stock. Prizes kept flooding in and she soon found herself barely able to move for fridges, vacuum cleaners, toasters, hairdryers, towels and every kind of electrical gadget and appliance ever invented.
It got to the point where Dorothy couldn’t look at anything without a slogan popping, unbidden, into her head.
“NO PEAS FOR THE WICKED.” she’d think as she purchased her packet of Bird’s Eye, and “HOME IS WHERE THE HARPIC IS,” she sung, on spying the trusty loo cleaner.
After a while though, even this began to pall and Dorothy, after spending several solitary holidays marvelling at the Pyramids, the Grand Canyon and the Canadian Rockies, decided to invent someone with whom she could share her good fortune.
And so Maude Brown came into being.
Maude’s immaculate conception had several obvious advantages.
For one thing, the magazines themselves were beginning to be curious as to how just one little old lady managed to win so many competitions. There was even talk of interviews and television appearances to investigate the phenomenon which was Dorothy.
Maude Brown, who would henceforth enter, would hopefully take off some of the heat.
Furthermore, Dorothy had always had a penchant for dressing up and the prospect of appearing in public clothed in floral frocks and a blue-rinse wig was most appealing.
Mild deception was also one of Dorothy’s little pleasures in life and the thought of fooling nosy old Edna tickled her pink.
Eventually Maude, too, became quite a hit with the locals and, although she was ostensibly sharing the cottage with Dorothy, no-one seemed to think it strange that they were never seen together.
“Mornin’ Maude,” Edna would say, wrapping up butter and cheese, “An’ how’s our Dorothy this fine day, then?”
“Couldn’t be better, thank you. Fit as a fiddle.” Dorothy, alias Maude would quaver, tucking her purchases into the copious pockets of her flowery pinny.
“Mornin’ Dorothy. Maude alright, is she?” Edna would ask the next day, reaching for the digestives.
“Picture of health, picture of health.” Dorothy would reply brightly, stuffing the bikkies, together with the latest mags, in her wicker basket and smoothing down the folds of her neatly pleated skirt.
The cottage became full to bursting and it was just as well that Maude was merely a figment of Dorothy’s imagination, for it would have been impossible for them both to have squeezed in, such was the prize-winning clutter.
Dorothy was interviewed for the local rag. Maude made an appearance on local TV. Dorothy wrote an article on ‘How to win Competitions,’ and Maude, now a celebrity in her own right, opened the flower show.
Life, Dorothy decided, was a barrel of laughs. Maude agreed wholeheartedly.
Dorothy’s search for entry forms was taking her further and further afield. Poor Edna simply couldn’t keep up with demand.
One day, on returning from a particularly long and gruelling search, Dorothy noticed water seeping suspiciously from under her front door.
Inside, the floor was awash with electrical goods, none of which, thankfully, were plugged in.
“Bloody hell,” said Dorothy out loud, “I’ve been flooded!” and she called the Water Board forthwith.
“Well, Mrs. Murdoch,” said the Water Board inspector gloomily, “Looks like you’ve got a serious leak. We’ll have to replace the pipes…” and he turned off the stopcock and called on his mobile for reinforcements.
This was all dreadfully inconvenient, as Dorothy had some in-depth coupon studying to do, but she bore up well and left the poor chaps, stumbling and bumping into various large and cumbersome prizes, to rip up her floorboards.
“Er, ‘scuse me missus,” stammered the chief ripper some time later and just as Dorothy had come up with a particularly brilliant slogan. “but there appears to be some trouble.
“The lads’ve have just discovered a skeleton under your floor…” and he whipped out his indispensable mobile in order to alert the law.
Dorothy was flabbergasted.
“It’s impossible!” she cried.
“No it ain’t!” retorted the grass.
“But who is it?” shrieked Dorothy.
“Ain’t got a clue! We’ll have to wait for the cops!” came the reply.
The forces of law and order duly arrived and the skeleton was carted off to be examined.
“We’ll be in touch…” growled Dan the village bobby, hitherto a friendly soul and normally not averse to a bit of gossip himself.
Dorothy, distraught, quite lost her appetite for study and awaited further developments with intense trepidation.
They came with alarming speed and in the intimidating shape of Inspector Bixley from Bude Constabulary.
“Now then, Mrs Murdoch,” said the inspector sternly the next day, “What we want to know is what you know about a Mrs. Maude Brown…?” and he consulted his notepad, pen poised.
“What?” said Dorothy, aghast.
“Mrs. Maude Brown.” repeated Plod darkly, “The owner, or previous owner I should say, of the skeleton unearthed, so to speak, under your floorboards.”
Dorothy gaped, speechless.
“After making extensive enquiries,” continued the relentless sleuth, “it is our considered opinion that you ‘ave been impersonating Mrs Brown, after doin’ her in like, with a view to making fools of us all…”
Dorothy gasped and gibbered, stunned.
“We therefore ‘ave no alternative, Mrs. Murdoch,” said Sherlock sternly, “but to arrest you on suspicion of murder….”