Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 19

‘Much Dithering in Little Botheringham’ is an everyday tale of village life and vampires, from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Before Ginny could ask her next question there were footsteps on the spiral staircase and Agnes appeared carrying a tray, preceded by the nutty perfume of freshly ground and filtered coffee.
“Sorry for the slight delay,” she said brightly as she handed round the cups, I had to fend off Petunia.” She sat down and lifted her mug in a sort of toast to Ginny. “They all can’t wait to meet you.”
“They?”
“Our Sisters. The Steering Committee of Little Botheringham Ladies Association.” Agnes explained. “That’s me, Agnes, great-great granny and gossip. Lilian who you sat next to at the LA meeting.”
Agnes paused for breath, and Ginny dredged up the memory of a skinny woman with a seamed face and fascinating dreadlocks.
Agnes ploughed on. “Petunia who is a veterinary nurse and who held you down while Em Fed you. Ellen, who is bit of a leftie and a very strident lesbian – especially when she has been drinking. Jamelia, who is quiet, incredibly clever and beautiful. And of course Em who is Queen of our nest.”
Em made a depreciating gesture.
“It really isn’t what you might think. Just the traditional title given to whoever in a vampire community is daft enough to step up to the plate and try and organise things. It’s a very hands-on kind of leadership role. Like most such things, you wind up having to do much of what needs doing yourself.”
“And Em is very good at doing things,” Agnes said. “And at organising the rest of us, which in the case of most of our little community is very like herding goldfish.”
“Don’t you mean cats?”
Agnes grinned. “You tell me – after you’ve met the others.”
Ginny looked between the two women.
“So the Ladies Association is run by vampires?”
“Oh yes. We work very hard to look after the village.”
Ginny thought of the bench outside the village shop and the fundraising for a new minibus for the local primary – and the campaign she’d heard about which had kept the school open. All organised by the Ladies Association.
“You do seem to be very involved in village life.”
Em’s mouth sculpted the hint of a grin.
“You could say that.”
“And a lot of thankless work it is too,” Agnes put in. “I sometimes wonder why we bother with some of the ingratiates.”
“It can be hard work,” Em agreed and took a drink of her coffee.
“So why do you do it?”
Both the women looked at her as if she was asking something that had the most obvious answer in the world.
“This is our home,” Em said gently. “If we didn’t look after it before long it’d be nothing more than a hollowed out dormitory for the wealthy with a sprinkling of second homes and holiday rentals.”
“Like most of the other villages around here,” Agnes added. “Much Botheringham is more like an English village theme park than a real community, and Nether Botheringham has become little more than a suburb of Bedchester and half of that was taken over by an industrial estate.”
Ginny tried to fit the idea of helpful conservationism into her concept of a vampire and what vampires did. And failed. She pushed it aside as something else occurred.
“So about vampires. Are there a lot around?”
“Not that many nowadays.”
“There used to be more?”
“Going back a couple of centuries and some, yes,” Agnes told her. “Too many, in fact. And in the increasing glare of science and mass communication it was becoming harder and harder to keep hidden from humanity. So we had to make some changes within our community. Establish certain norms.”
Agnes sipped her coffee and looked over at Em, who gave a small shrug.
“We just had to make sure we eliminated the troublemakers. It was very obvious that those who caused the most problems were those who had been transformed when young. They still had all the folly and exuberance of youth and never really grew out of it. Imagine a four-hundred year-old with ongoing teenage angst.”
Ginny did, and her eyes widened as Em went on talking.
“And the men were the worst. Vampirism boosts testosterone levels to the point where two could barely be in a room together without having to fight it out to decide who was the ‘alpha’.”
“So that explains all the ravishing young women vampires in the stories and the ravishing of young women by vampires, the overdramatic dress sense and so forth.”
Both Agnes and Em were nodding.
“So we made a new rule. One that would exclude all the most unstable elements from the vampire community. We wanted people who were rational, controlled, wise and careful.”
Ginny wondered which of those descriptors she could actually lay claim to.
“That must be a bit difficult. How do you find such paragons?”
“That was easy,” Agnes said. “The only people who can be made into vampires nowadays are post-menopausal women.”

Part 20 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

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