The Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Extravaganza has, over the years, become a bit of an institution. Like Broadmoor, only with less tazers and horse tranquillisers and more hot chocolate with whipped cream and nuts on top. And to those of you who are new to the audience, I perhaps should explain a few of the subtle Extravanganza nuances with which the more seasoned viewers will already be au fait.
"No," says Primrose. "We've done that one."
"Marley was dead, to begin with..."
"I am the Phantomime of the Opera....mwahahahahahaha!!!"
"Do you mean to say," says Mrs Miggins, in those quiet and menacing stealthy tones beloved of all teachers on the edge, "that I could have gone to Australia with Misses Pumphrey, Poo, Slocombe, Bennet and Daisy, and I could AT THIS VERY MINUTE be sunning myself on Bondi Beach in my g-string and spangly top, eyeing up all the buff surfers?"
Mrs Miggins is just about to let forth a stream of most unhenlike expletives when Camilla comes galloping in through the French doors, leaving a trail of muddy footprints across the recently oiled parquet.
"There's a camel!" she yells, all feather and wattles. "In the garden!" And then she grinds to a halt, looks momentarily surprised, and an egg pops out onto the Chinese rug (circa 422, the Soft Boiled Dynasty).
"I'm sorry," says Camilla (aged almost 4) "but these days, they sort of randomly slip out."
"You need one of these," says Mrs Miggins, fishing around in her capacious handbag. She withdraws a pink plastic contraption that bears more than a passing resemblance to a mole trap. "The Uptight Pelvinator. Shove that up your nethers, give it a few squeezes every day and you'll never suffer an embarrassing egg drop ever again. Plus," she adds, "you'll be able to do this amazing party trick with a ping pong ball and..."
There is a momentary silence, and then Nancy, the more excitable of the three 'ens, bursts through the French doors. "Camel!" she yells. "Camel!!"
Primrose sighs and puts down her knitting needles. "I suppose I'd better go and see what's occurring in the garden," she says. "Are you coming?"
"I suppose," says Mrs Miggins. "It's not every day you find a camel in your garden, is it?
The four hens venture out to the terrace and down onto the lawn. And there, true to the hysterics of Camilla and Nancy, there is indeed a camel.
"Hello," says the camel. "My name is Alice. What's yours?"
"That's very kind," says Mrs Miggins. "I'll have a lager top with a whiskey chaser, thank you very muchly."
"I don't think that is quite what she means," says Primrose. She turns to Alice the Camel. "My name is Primrose," she says. "Can I be of any help?"
"Well," says Alice. "There was this rabbit, you see, and I was following it, and it ran into your garden and I think it went down that hole," and she indicates the place where Lady Malarkey is always twisting her ankle whilst mowing the lawn in the summer, just there by the buddleia.
"It's got something that belongs to me," says Alice, with steely-eyed camel determination. "And I want it back." And with that she takes a running jump, lunges at the hole and disappears.
Mrs Miggins rolls her eyes. "Come on," she says. "I reckon there might be a Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Extravaganza this year after all."