It is the first day of rehearsals for 'Puss In Boots - The Musical.' Yes, you heard it right - musical. Believe me, I am trying to discourage this surprise addition to the performance because I really do not have time to do any song writing whatsoever. I've no objection to there being bits of sing-song per se - every pantomime should have a rendition of a Christmassy tune or two, preferably with wittily adapted lyrics reflecting a contemporary news story - but I am not writing anything original.
'No change there, then,' says Mrs Miggins, who has pitched up for a late breakfast looking and sounding decidely tetchy.
'Nice,' I say. 'Who's rattled your Eglu?'
'Not who,' says Mrs Miggins, giving the toasted muffins a particularly vicious stab with her beak, 'but what.' And she slams a piece of paper onto the table in front of me.
'This,' she says, 'was pushed under my bedroom door this morning.'
It is a letter. And I can tell the contents are unlikely to bode well even before reading them, judging by the black ink edging the paper like a Victorian funeral notice.
'Go on,' says Miggins. 'Read it.'
I unfold the crisp missive and read out loud.
"To the highly regarded Lady Director of the Much Malarkey Manor Theatre Company...
It is with growing distress that I read your proposed cast list for the forthcoming Christmas performance. As Executive Producer and Director of The Trompe L'Oeil Theatre I must insist on a certain change, along with other conditions I shall outline in the days to come.
Madame, you must re-cast the role of Alice FitzWarren with immediate effect. Whilst Mademoiselle Camilla T. Bush is an admirable performer, she is too young and too inexperienced to deliver the character of Alice with any sort of aplomb or depth. There is only one hen who can offer the levity the role requires, and that is Mrs Gloria Pumphrey...'
My reading is interrupted by Mrs Miggins snorting into her cappuccino and blowing froth across the table.
'Can you imagine!' she hoots. 'A tough old bird like Mrs Pumphrey playing an innocent slip of a thing like Alice? I know when one goes to the theatre there has to be a certain willing suspension of disbelief but really...you'd need an industrial crane to suspend your disbelief THAT far.'
'You don't have to change the casting,' says I. 'You are in charge, you know.'
Mrs Miggins waves her wing. 'Read on, read on,' she says. 'It gets better.'
On I read...
'If, Madam, you fail to implement this change then the Curse of the Phantomime will come upon the performance....'
'Curse of the Phantomime?' I repeat. 'What on earth is the Curse of the Phantomime?'
'Well,' says Mrs Miggins, 'I went and consulted Mrs Slocombe on this one, given she is mad and by default understands mad stuff. Apparently, the Trompe L'Oeil theatre has a resident phantom who believes it is in charge of everything that happens in the theatre, even down to the selection of J2O's we serve behind the bar...'
'Crazy,' I say.
'I know,' says Mrs Miggins, 'and if this Phantomime doesn't get his way then he kicks off big time and then some.'
'You don't believe all this twaddle, do you?' I say. 'All this ghostly spirit curse stuff?'
Mrs Miggins scoffs. 'Of course not! But I can so without snotty letters arriving without so much as a stamp and the dignity of the Royal Mail. And I definitely do not want the others getting wind of it. You know how hysterical the hens can get.'
I do. I remember very clearly the time a hot air balloon flew over the Manor grounds. I was collecting odd shaped eggs for a fortnight afterwards at least.
'Well,' I say. 'Your secret is safe with me. Carry on regardless.'
Mrs Miggins swigs the last of her coffee and hops off the stool. 'Too right I will,' she says. 'Flippin' Phantomime indeed!'
But as she leaves the kitchen, a shudder ripples through the air. A shudder of dry heat that smells ever-so-slightly of stage makeup that's been left sitting on top of a hot radiator with its lid off.
'I must get the boiler serviced,' I mutter, giving the kitchen a squirt of Febreeze.
And deep in the bowels of the Trompe L'Oeil the Phantomime raises himself to his full height of four feet two inches and roars...
"You will ignore the Phantomime at your peril, Madam! For I shall be heard. The Pantomime, and Mrs Pumphrey, shall be mine! Mwahahahahaha...HA!!'