I'm giving a talk on Evelyn Waugh at the St Andrew's branch of Topping's bookshop, run by Robert Topping and his wife, Louise. Lots of bearded professors near the front, which bodes well for questions. My partner, Kate, is on the right in the front row.


I have with me several large photographs mounted on foam-board which I pass around, including this one (below) of the Evelyns taken by Alastair Graham in the grounds of Barford House. It was taken in summer of 1928 and features a fine display of lupins, which I mention in passing.


At the end of the talk, Louise Topping tells me that the flower that appears in the foreground of the picture, a tall stem directly in front of Evelyn Waugh and another tall one to the right of Shevelyn, is caper spurge. She shows me an entry for the flower in one of the shop's splendid nature books. That's it, top right of the double-page she is holding open.


I read that the plant is used in folk medicine as a remedy for cancer, corns, and warts and has been used by beggars to induce skin boils.

Ah, now I realise why Alastair asked the Evelyns to stand where they did in the garden that day. He was trying to induce skin boils on his former lover and the woman who had replaced him in He-Evelyn's affections.

I advise Aloysius of my discovery. That's him sitting on the table wearing tweed coat and a cloth cap on his head. He's on one circular table, copies of my book and foam-boarded photographs are on the other.

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At first Alo is speechless. Then he admits to having employed the caper spurge stratagem himself on numerous occasions, including tonight.

Which might explain why Kate got up and fled half-way through my talk.

Afflicted with boils.

Read about another gig,