P**** off, Virginia!

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Bruxelles Manneken Pis.jpg

(Manneken Pis, 19/6/11- own work: Myrabella.  Wikimedia

Commons CC BY- SA 3.0)

Gus was meditative.  What was he going to do about the latest

development?

Retirement had been a shock to his system.  Living in Virginia’s

house had been a mistake.  He was institutionalised.  He admitted

it. He liked the company of males and thrived – throve?-in a boarding

house milieu.

Virginia was set in her ways.  As former PA to The Headmaster, she had

been used to directing operations.  Trying to accommodate both her way

and Snod’s little foibles in one domestic situation was tough.  The first

rumble of discontent had been when she had baulked at displaying his

entire Wisden collection in the sitting room.  She had suggested storing

his beloved books in the garage.

The house was hers.  She had owned it outright since widowhood.

Maybe they should have bought a separate dwelling next door for his

cricket memorabilia collection and his model railway.

But this morning was a step too far.

He had been downstairs in the Little Boys’ Room and lifted the seat.

He felt like the Manneken Pis in sub-zero temperatures.  In other words,

he froze.

From somewhere in the toilet bowl direction he heard Theresa May’s voice.

Or was it Angela Merkel’s?

There was a spooky gizmo attached to the rim and a verboten notice: Halt,

Stehpinkler! 

Snod tore the gadget off and attempted to flush it down the loo, but, of

course this was not an effective strategy.  He had to hook it out.

What are you doing, love?  Virginia’s dulcet tones could be heard

approaching. You’ve been in there for ages.  Are you all right?

Yes, dear, he replied through gritted teeth.

But he wasn’t.

If Nigel wants to transition to a sitzpinkler, let him!  Snod seethed.  I

have always told my pupils to stand up and be men! 

And he took the S.P.U.K device and crushed it underfoot.  For a

well-read individual such as himself, he wasn’t going to give up

his convictions about Cartesian mind/ body relationships- even if it

threatened other connections.  Koestleresque ghosts in the machine

ought not to invade such a monastic cell.

If Virginia thought she could follow him where no other had dared, she

was much mistaken.

Musical Bumps

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A re-blog:

MUSICAL BUMPS

In the end, it was not The Seasons that gave him his finishing stroke,

but rather a sharp instrument which severed his skull from his spinal

column.  Eight days after his internment, he might have been as

surprised as his audiences, not by any symphonic eccentricity, but by

the admission of light, as his coffin lid was prised open.  Perhaps his

agitated outburst at his final attendance of The Creation implied some

premonition, for he exclaimed: It came from hence!  (Rather than a shaft

of divine inspiration, however, this interruption emanated from an

earthier and more material source and might have been deemed a

diabolical intrusion, instead of an ethereal epiphany.)  In fact, the whole

episode had been engineered by my thoroughly material amateur

phrenologist spouse and his associate.

We had all been friends for years.  My husband, Karl Rosenbaum, had

been Secretary to the Esterhazy family and we even attended the burial

at Hundsthurm churchyard in Gumpendorf, the suburbs where Haydn had

lived.  Thank God that Napoleon had ordered his troops to be respectful

and the simple service passed without incident.  However, the memorial

plaque’s inscription could be seen to have been proleptic and ironic, I

suppose: I will not die completely.

Personally, I liked Josef.  He was generous enough to offer me solos in

his masses and in his Seven Last Words.  I wonder what his seven last

words to me would have been, if he had known that I would make an

exhibition of his skull in an ebony box with a golden lyre on the lid.

Musicians and those I considered important enough to be invited to

my soirees marvelled when I displayed the great relic, reposing on its

cushion of white silk.  They gawped through the glass side panels with

gratifying envy and voyeuristic intensity.

My father, Florian Gassmann, the Viennese chamber composer might

not have approved, I fear, nor would Haydn’s patroness and friend,

Princess Maria Josepha Hermengild.  However, Josef had no children

to object, nor a wife by then.  Why should we not have preserved some

remains for posterity?

Maria Josefa of Austria.jpg

(Princess Maria Josepha Hermengild: Wikipedia)

It was not as if it was a very pleasant task for Karl and his friend,

Johann, to have to boil and examine the skull.  However, it was for

research purposes, you understand, and for the advancement of

human knowledge.

Number 17 cranial organ was as expected, Karl told me. It showed great

musical aptitude, confirming Gall and Spurzheim’s theories on the links

between mental capacity and aspects of anatomical protuberances.

Musical bumps, I joked.

There had been no malice in the procedure whatsoever, I vow.

As I said, Haydn, though swarthy and pockmarked and generally

unattractive physically, was genial and complimentary to the

female sex- even to his insufferable wife,

whose cranial convexities must have been minimal.  She used to

line her pastry tins and curl her ringlets with paper from his

manuscripts.  She selected the house that he lived in latterly,

telling him that it was suitable for a widow. Yet he loved ladies

and was chivalrous and Platonic in his behaviour and demeanour.

He quipped that if four eyes could have been sealed, he could have

married his nineteen years old, already espoused enamorata.  He

also praised the vocalist, Mrs Billington, who was having her

portrait painted by the great Joshua Reynolds, as St Cecilia listening

to the angels.  Haydn stated that there must have been some mistake,

for the angels should have been depicted as attending to her.

We did not take possession of it immediately.  It was eleven years

later when Prince Nikolaus Esherhazy was suddenly reminded that

he had promised to remove Haydn’s remains to the family seat in

Eisenstadt.

Sturm und Drang! he expostulated.  He made some stronger

comments when he realised that the skeleton was incomplete.

Johann passed the skull to us and we hid it under my straw mattress.

I feigned indisposition when the search party raided- women’s

matters!- and so no trace of it was discovered.  Meanwhile I felt like

the Princess and the Pea and wager that Haydn himself would have

appreciated the  farce, in addition to enjoying the intimacies of my

bed.

A bed piled high with mattresses.

However, the Prince grew imperious and we tried to distract him

with a substitute, but unfortunately, being amateur phrenologists,

we did not discern the differences between the skull of a seventy

year old and that of a twenty year old man.  In the end, though, he

accepted an alternative.

Everyone in Vienna knew where the skull was.  After all, we passed

it around with post-prandial spirits and it received due homage.

Karl had promised to return it to Johann on his own decease, in order

that it should finally be given to the Society of Friends of Music, but I

preferred to retain it and willed it to my doctor, so that it should receive

veneration at the Austrian Institute of Pathology and Anatomy, as well

as being of benefit to medical advancement.

How was I to know that it would be a century and a half and two

intervening World Wars before the dear old boy would be made

whole?

For a time he lay in two different zones: the Soviet and International,

but, let us be clear, he already belonged to a wider audience than

Austria alone.

And Johann kept the secret well.  His middle name was Nepomuk, so

I expect his patron saint assisted him, even when the heavens were telling.

At least he died with his tongue intact, unlike his namesake.  So, although

our associate knew the truth, others, such as Beethoven, knew nothing.

Well, he would not, would he?

Johannes von Nepomuk Hinterglasbild.jpg

Haydn often said that he made something out of nothing.  I feel that

the musical world did the same.  When all is said and done, he is at

peace and a man who exchanged his best quartet for a good razor would

surely not have minded us sharing his effulgence.  We cannot all get

what we want-like Jacob, he had to take the sister of the girl he really

loved.

We just made sure that we took what we wanted.  At least the Nazis did

not appropriate the head and we preserved him from Donizetti’s fate:

apparently his skull was sold to a pork butcher who used it as a receptacle

for collecting money.  Some people have no respect!

Beethoven’s ear passages were excised and two of his teeth stolen,

so, all in all, Josef suffered no sacrilege and was surrounded by music,

rather than the silence of the grave.

Many a time a visiting tenor directed his dulcet tones to his casket:

His large and arched brow sublime

Of wisdom deep declares the seat..

At least when the Lord took the great man’s breath away, he did

not disappear into dust.  And now the heavens and earth his power

adore.

Achieved is his glorious work.  The Lord beholds it and is pleased.

And we were that happy pair, misled by false desire to covet that

we should not have, nor should have striven to know what was not

meet.  Nevertheless, I did enjoy possession for a while, but you have

his essence for eternity.

 

Yes, dear!

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Okay.  I know.  I know.  I abandoned Augustus Snodbury,  erstwhile

Senior Master of St Birinus’ Middle School.  He was at the altar alongside

Virginia Fisher- Gyles and both were sharing a service with Murgatroyd-

Syylk and Diana ( renewal of wedding vows for the latter) and vestal

virgins Nigel Milford- Haven and the chaste- but not very chased, it must

be admitted- Drusilla ( Gus and Diana’s daughter and Murgatroyd’s

adopted daughter.)  All very complicated, n’est-ce-pas?

However, that is the modern family for you.

Gus, having been a Classics teacher at one time, could have expanded on

that subject ad nauseam- and frequently did so.  He loved to read and

re-read Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars.  He- both of them, actually,

could have told you that there was nothing new under the sun.

Gus felt equally qualified to write a book called The Playground, as

Suetonius had done.  Now that he had retired, he intended to have a go.

It was one way to have an alibi for sitting in the study alone for long

periods of time, playing Battleship online.

Virginia said that she could bring out a monograph on The Physical Defects

of Men.  A very big monograph.

Mehercule!– did that mean that she wanted to share the study?

Married life had brought him face-to-face with the central question of

Suetonius’ works:  how does one cope with absolute power?  Gus now felt

sure that he  was coming to a good understanding of the answer and it

was something along the lines of promptly saying: Yes, dear, to any

assertion/ request.

Once Gus had had two very prestigious jobs- Senior Master and (Acting)

Deputy Head.  Neither had involved much work.  They were posts

comparable to Suetonius’ positions as flamen sacerdotalis and pontifex

volcanalis.

Now our newlywed had a very stressful post as Husband.  If he wasn’t

careful, he might develop a nervous stammer, like Claudius.  Derek

Jacobi- now wasn’t he marvellous…?  So was that actor who played

Wilfred Owen in Regeneration.  Owen had a stammer.  Wasn’t that

evidence of Post Traumatic Stress?  Virginia wouldn’t develop one,

that was for sure.  And she didn’t even have the excuse of PMT- not at

her time of life…Maybe she had Post Menopausal Something-or-

Other?

But she was not the one who was feeling the pressure… What was her

excuse?  He felt like asking her to reflect on her mis-demeanours in some

kind of detention.  She could write an essay, perhaps…

I Claudius titles.jpg

Gus!

Yes, dear.

Gus!  Could you take the bin out?

I could, he thought rebelliously. But will IHa!  I don’t want to be pedantic,

but, in fact, I very much do.

Gus!  Did you hear me?

Ita vero.  On my way.   Yes, dear!

Dumb insolence got him n…n..nowhere.

At least he didn’t have to write the Christmas card this year.  Wives

seemed to take on that mantle.  Virginia had bought about six packs of

Medici cards.

In the past, he had only sent one- to ‘Aunt Augusta’ ( God Rest her Soul.)

His Christmas shopping had been confined to a bottle of Dewlap Gin for the

Discerning Grandmother.  It hadn’t been boutique, but had always been

acceptable to the old bird.  He wondered if he should buy a bottle for old

times’ sake.  The stresses of connubial bliss were driving him in that

direction.

Tiger Tutors

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(Image of Richard Eng of Beacon College with the fruits of his

success: Sunday Times image.)

A re-blog, to amuse and cheer…

It was the end of a long day of nine lessons (and no carols) on the trot

and Nigel Milford-Haven, Junior Master at St Birinus Middle School

was attempting to unwind by flicking through last month’s How To

Spend It FT supplement, which only served to underscore his deep-seated

financial insecurities and general lack of self-esteem.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to drive into the staff car park in a

Lamborghini Murcielago and spray some gravel onto John

Boothroyde-Smythe and Co., accidentally on purpose?

Maybe he should get a tattoo like David Beckham, only with

correct spelling, of course.

He adjusted his frayed M&S tie and wondered why he couldn’t strike

a sartorial pose like the youthful- looking millionaire ‘Tiger Tutor’

of Hong Kong’s Beacon College.

There were just as many tiger mothers in Suttonford and environs, he

mused, as in Hong Kong.  They were just as ambitious for their-what

Robert Shrimsley of the FT termed ‘spawn’- as their oriental

counterparts.

Actually, ‘spawn‘ sounded similar to the contents of dim sum.  He felt

he was well acquainted with the term in human form, as he had to deal

with those wretched twins, often in detention.

Castor or Pollux, translate the following: Dim sum.

I am stupid, sir?

No, judging by the parental modes of transport, there was no

shortage of dollars, banked in Hong Kong, or otherwise.

Why couldn’t Snodbury and himself set up a tutorial agency and gain

significantly higher rewards from legions of costcentres?  Surely the

gratuities would be greater than a fusty and corked bottle of Taylors

Port that had been round the carousel of many a local raffle?  That was

the type of recognition of services rendered that they were wont to

receive at the end of the Autumn term.  He didn’t even drink and had to

pass it on to his mother for her Christmas drinks cabinet.

Vintage Port page

He opened the top drawer of his filing cabinet which had to be

stationed in the staff room as there was no space in his classroom,

now that several rest stations for the junior fatigued had been installed.

He fished out the Terms of Employment that he had foolishly signed.

Drat!  He was not permitted to coach any of the pupils that he had

been contracted to intravenously feed at St Birinus.  He would have to

solicit external students and that would entail hiring premises, paying

insurance and installing photocopiers etc.  He would even need to apply

for a separate child protection thingy.

If he avoided rental on premises, he would have to visit the needy in

their own homes and then he would have to drive through their

ornamental gates with CCTV, thus recording his arrival in a shabby

Morris Traveller whose wing mirror was fixed to the rusting bodywork

with duct tape.

The sniggering student watching his progress up the lime avenue would

have lost any respect for him before he had even crossed the drawbridge.

They’d be texting snaps of his vehicle with captions such as WTF and

LOL. Even Nigel knew these acronyms did not stand for, Well, that’s

fabulous! or Lots of Love!

As for Snodbury, The Senior Master did not believe in extra tuition, come

to think of it.

Other masters may invite indigestion by bolting their lunch so as to

make a silk purse out of some kid’s ear- a kid who had probably pranked

around and not paid attention when the lesson had been originally

delivered.  Snod had been heard to mutter:

Should have listened the first time.  That’ll teach ’em. Anyway, the mocks are

only an organised shipwreck to see who can swim.  He would then eye the

clock and make himself as scarce as hens’ teeth before the 1 o’clock

bell.

This was especially true on a Wednesday when there was a limited

amount of roast pork on offer in the refectory.  If one arrived in a

tardy fashion, there would be no apple sauce remaining and the little

buggers would have scoffed all the crackling.

Nigel looked at the clock: Four thirty.  Good!  The parents should

have cleared the drive by now and so he should avoid the traffic

scrum.

He gingerly opened the staffroom door and peeked outside to see if

the coast was clear.

But to his chagrin and extreme annoyance, the aforementioned

Boothroyde- Smythe was hovering, with a Maths ink exercise book

in his grubby paws.

Sir! he whined.  I didn’t understand…

Nigel wearily beckoned him towards his classroom.  He wasn’t

even paid overtime!

What exactly didn’t you understand? he asked in a scarcely disguised

attempt to sound concerned.

Oh, just something that Mr Snodbury said about some educational

establishments being loser-making factories that produce the likes of

himself, sir.

Oh yes, add the vocative ‘sir’ to any kind of impertinence and it sanctifies

bare-faced cheek, Nigel thought.  However, he judiciously replied:

I expect that he was being sardonic.  Do you know that word? I suggest

that you run along and add it to your extensive prep for this evening.

But, sir, the precocious one responded, I did all my prep last night

with my tutor.

In that case, take this declension sheet as an extension.  We don’t want

your parents to think that you are being underwhelmed, do we?

Two could play at that game.  And the exercise was in multiple

choice format, so the marking would be easy-peasy.

In some ways, this type of interaction was strangely satisfying in

a way that money couldn’t buy.  Maybe that was why, in recognition,

his pupils called him Caligula.

Who needs to be a tiger tutor when you can be a leopard that

doesn’t need to change its spots?

Vox Populi

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A sestina for our times:

 

Pilate stood before the Passover mob.

Besieged, he offered them a Paschal vote:

Barabbas over Jesus was a shock-

insurrectionist over a prophet?

The Governor washed his hands of their choice.

This ‘Messiah’ was no uncouth rebel.

 

The crowd chose Barabbas just to rebel

and, punishing themselves is what the mob

love to do.  They see it as their free choice;

their chance to demonstrate their power; to vote.

They prefer to crucify a prophet:

enjoy giving the powers-that-be a shock.

 

Pilate’s wife had had a nightmarish shock.

She said, I don’t want to usurp; rebel

against you, but I must say that this ‘prophet’-

although he’s stirred up hatred from the mob-

would get from me a Messianic vote,

though, clearly, he is not the High Priest’s choice.

 

She flounced out:  It’s up to you; it’s your choice.

To Pilate his wife’s comments were  a shock,

but, after all, she didn’t have a vote.

He’d never known Procula to rebel.

Let her go out and face a rabid mob…

You wouldn’t need to be a seer, prophet

 

to predict that outcome.  No prophet

is ever successful; his country’s choice

and it will be no different with this mob.

I couldn’t imagine the after-shock

if I released this man.  I’m no rebel.

Ecce homo!  I’ll put it to the vote.

 

The thing to do is with my feet to vote;

sit on the fence; let them judge the ‘Prophet.’

Even Herod said he was no rebel.

Judea would never have been my choice

and, getting the Prefecture, was a shock-

those Sanhedrin just as vile as that mob.

 

Why should I find the people’s choice a shock?

Give the mob an option and let them vote:

rebel will trump prophet any day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pegasus Bridge, 1994

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While we are on a war theme, here is a poem that I wrote after meeting

Major John Howard, DSO (as portrayed by Richard Todd in the film, The

Longest Day) at Pegasus Bridge.  It was an entirely fortuitous and

serendipitous encounter.  Major Howard was sitting at a table outside

Arlette Gondree’s cafe. (Arlette’s house was the first French home to

be liberated.)

I was in the company of Major Michael Hickey, a military historian who

was with my choir.  We were singing The Brahms Requiem seven times

in ten days, all over Normandy, along with a French choir and the

orchestra of Basse Normandie.  We sang in different towns

and we sang in German.  The audiences were in tears.  It was an

emotional and healing experience for all involved.

Pegasus Bridge in 1944. Horsa gliders from the...

Generous gesture – German flag festoons,

hoisted with the Allied banners.  Bunching,

fussy boudoir blinds. Here swooping platoons,

like death’s head moths, stealthily came gliding.

Across the bridge John Howard bravely strode,

piper ahead, deflecting sniper shot.

Now European coaches block the road;

the dispassionate stamp postcards they’ve bought,

sending snapshots of Hell to those who knew

the mark of Caen first-hand. Wish you were here!

He was: a fact to startle and imbue

those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.

The café’s bright umbrellas shelter all

from noonday’s heat, so one could fail to spot

cool nonagenarian. By the wall,

hero’s crutches propped, ready for action.

His longest day is past; his time now short:

German beer his major satisfaction.

Life Class

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Venus of Urbino

A re-blog to cheer everyone up…

 

Drusilla Fotheringay-Syylk, part-time Art teacher and

housemistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted

Girl, likes to get out and about in the community, so she

offers a Monday evening adults’ class in Suttonford, on her

day off.  She rents shop premises  vacated by Aquanibble,

whose piscatory dermo-abrasion service never really took

off. People had been reluctant to get involved with the

pyranahs.

Most of the potential customers preferred to retain their

calloused skins.  Indeed, some actively cultivated the equivalent

of a rhinoceros hide, whether metaphorically, or not.  The minority

delivered their dermis to Beauty and the Beast, once named Pride

Knows No Pain before Citronella took over the business and the

premises.

But to our tale…

The last straw had been when she went into the staff loo and was

confronted by a laminated instruction panel comprising of no less

than twelve boxes, illustrating the correct way to wash her hands.

I think I have survived *years without succumbing to bubonic plague,

she fumed. Then she said *****under her breath, I hate to inform

you.  You see, you just can’t get the same quality of staff any more.

On entering the cubicle she wondered if there would be any further

instructions on hygiene: ten steps to wiping… No, she didn’t wish to

think about it.  This excessive infantilisation of adults was driving her

to deliberately spit in the tea urn. She just fantasised: don’t worry!

(Well, they should pay them more and they’d get better types

applying for the posts.)

Anyway, it was this that drove her to seek mature company, save her

sanity and to have her talents fully recognised.

And so it was that on the first Monday of the month, Drusilla faced

her initial ten adults, who had turned up with their portable easels,

squirrel brushes, palettes of acrylics and boxes of pastels.

She spoke for the first three quarters of an hour on perspective, flat

surfaces, light sources and ways of seeing.  She showed them a

painting by Titian: The Venus of Urbino.  Then she sensed that they

were all itching to start drawing.

Melinda D’Oyly-Carter, the local masseuse and aromatherapist,

emerged from behind a decoupaged screen, wearing a pink chenille

bathrobe and fluffy mules.

Tristram flinched.  She had been a fellow contestant in Come Dine

 With Me and had, in fact, won the £1,000 prize.   He was feeling

discomfited as he was the only male in the class.

Drusilla turned on the fan heater.

The ladies arranged their easels around the chaise longue and one or

two sharpened their pencils; others snapped a stalk of charcoal and

yet another cleaned her putty eraser.

Tristram suddenly felt queasy.

Excuse me, ladies, I’ve suddenly remembered that I left some

meringues in the oven.

He fled.

Melinda, or Mimi, as she preferred to be addressed, disrobed in one

confident, burlesque gesture and lay in an Olympia position, which

would have gratified Manet.

Half an hour of making marks, instructed Drusilla, wondering where

Mimi had secreted all the business cards she was distributing. Next

week we will explore the symbolism of the cane in Le Dejeuner sur

L’Herbe.

Olympia

 

The Lost Souls of Great Rissington

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I visited the church today as I wanted to somehow commemorate five

brothers who were all killed in World War 1.  Their youngest brother-

Percy Soul- died of meningitis after the war.  He was the sixth son.

Apparently some villagers were annoyed that Mrs Soul received financial

‘compensation’ for her five sons’ deaths in service.

Unbelievable!

Later she moved to Great Barrington.  She had three daughters who must

have been traumatised by the loss of their brothers.

I kept thinking of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, for some reason and I checked

that it was in production when the boys were young.  It was.  I hope they

were able to enjoy this childish luxury as they ran around the fields,

scratching their names on the beams of a barn.  Maybe not, if they were

relatively poor.

(Photo by Kim Traynor, 2013.  Own work of enamel sign.)

It was freezing cold today.  Inside there were wall monuments to others

who had died – centuries before.  One girl had only been 19 when she

expired.

There was a little trapped wren inside and an aspiring organist who

arrived for a practice.  I don’t know how he could have attempted to play

with cold hands!

Anyway, I went home and thought I’d try a villanelle.  The rhymes are

limited, but there are 5 tercets- one for each brother, maybe.  It ends with

a quatrain, where the rhyme feels a bit anti-climactic.  But then, maybe it

suits the content… All ready for Remembrance Day.  Let’s Not Forget.

The Lost Souls of Great Rissington

So, she wouldn’t stand for God Save The King,

though all five sons lay down for him and died.

For each life she pocketed a shilling.

The candle in her window kept burning,

watched by a girl who’d never be a bride.

And a mother and three sisters crying

was no salve for the sharpness of Death’s sting.

Over the cow-common, The Windrush sighed

and, in a drawer, telegrams were yellowing.

The candle guttered- a Soul was leaving.

The Roll up yonder couldn’t be denied.

No bugler registered this sibling.

In a village barn there is a carving-

names of hopeful lads which emphasised

desires for immortality.  Living

in a peaceful hamlet?  No, perishing-

even a twin had no one at his side.

While some entrenched neighbours were gossiping,

lethal as shrapnel and more exacting.

St. John the Baptist's Church in Great Rissington

(St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington

Photo by Jonathan Billinger, 2007)

Existential Choice

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We were seated at a table in Costamuchamoulah cafe, The Frog Prince

and I.  We were looking at the previous customers’ detritus, when a

waitress took an order at the adjacent table and walked straight past

our poubelle de la table, without engaging her brain cells to think about

efficiently clearing our empties on her perambulation back to the

kitchen.

Sacre bleu!  Would Simone de Beauvoir have let this pass, or would she

have whispered a smoke ring from her Gauloise and then blown a

gasket?  Would she have ordered pint-sized Sartre to take the debris

over to the counter?  The illogicality of the behaviour would undoubtedly

have annoyed such a bluestocking.  As an expression of mauvaise foi ,

would she have placed the unwanted crockery on someone else’s table?

Sartre criticised waiters whose movements were too waiter-esque.

Goodness knows what he would have had to say about those who neither

stand, nor wait, to quote a divine poet-philosopher whom I admire more

than the Existentialist. Maybe members of staff are asserting their choice

of not working at all.  (I wonder if my new neighbour Kate Moss worked

harder when she waited on tables at The Colony?)

So there we sat while my companion discussed the relative merits of the

solitary fading beauties in the café.  The éclat was when I realised that I

had a rapport with the authoress of The Woman Destroyed.  I realised that

I was not a Woman in Love whose identity was submerged by a male

object; neither was I a Narcissist who, according to de Beauvoir, would

construe myself as a desirable object.  Obviously, I am The Mystic, who

invests my freedom in an Absolute.

All too aware of the processes of growing older, my interests are more

focused on The Sorbonne than a sensually inviting sorbet.

The preface to Simone’s novel had proclaimed that she would deal with

the growing indifference experienced by the older woman. With critical

detachment, she would write a remarkably frank portrait, wreaking

revenge on the female predator.   All her female characters voice the

betrayals they have suffered from their husbands and children.

As Flaubert said:

The monologue is her form of revenge.

Mayhap I will take on her mantle.  Peut-etre, Hillary’s revenge

is political.

Simone’s character told us what it was like to lose one’s shadow,

one’s identity and mourned the loss of that

straightforward, genuine authentic woman, without mean-mindedness,

uncompromising, but at the same time understanding, indulgent,

sensitive, deeply feeling, intensely aware of things and of people, passionately

devoted to those she loved and creating happiness for them…

She went on:

I cannot see myself any more.  And what do others see?  Maybe

something hideous?

Is this angst?  Is it Hillary looking in the mirror?

I know how she felt.  Why is the Frenchman not paying attention

to me?  Am I now the safe, maternal escort?  I must check this with

friends, Brassie and Clammie, with the caution that when Simone

asked Lucienne how she would have described her, she received the

reply: idealistic.

Then Lucienne asked her: How do you see yourself?

As a marshland.  Everything is buried in the mud.

Eh bien,  I might as well have the mini-mince pie, or the full-size

version.  This frog companion is not going to turn into a prince,

though stranger things might happen in the next week in global politics,

though I doubt it.  The voters are about to cast their dice.  Alea iacta erit.

Eat the mince pies while you can.  La Nausee might ensue.  Next week

we will be divining entrails, but it will be too late to choose otherwise.

I suppose we always long retrospectively for the road not taken and that

is the human tragedy.

 

Travelling from Zhaoqing to Hong Kong, via The Pearl River Estuary- Feb. 1997

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Found this period piece in the garage:

Panorama view of Duanzhou District and Seven Star Crags

(View of Zhaoqing- 7 Stars by Antoine Mouquet,

23/7/2005)

It’s just as well there are no Pearly Gates

in Spring Festival iconography,

such is the push to be the first one through.

Being British, we naturally wait,

believing that the last shall be first.

Chinese courtesy proves just as ‘Christian’

and stewards show tourists to the best seats-

or is it that we have a group booking?

Further enigmas for us to ponder.

From the Jetcat we hear the deep drum beats

of a Lion Dance; then we are whisked away

from Zhaoqing to Hong Kong, through a grey mist,

as dreich as any Calvinist devil

trafficking in foreign mud* could invoke,

to cover up his nefarious deeds.

Sampan fishermen float among lotus,

seeking a catch of mercury-tainted fry,

while passengers gorge pre-ordered noodles,

violent videos, or gawp at old films

of Yosemite’s winter wonderland,

with El Capitan’s giant monolith

more enduring than Communism.

I feel guilt, having experienced both:

the luxury of Winona Lodge and

mainland China’s dire sanitation.

My eyes stray to a peeling pagoda

while chipmunks skitter through the pristine snow

on screen.  The only wildlife that I saw

in town was a dangling, threaded turtle

and two spiny creatures gnawing through mesh,

in adjacent cages outside a shop,

while all the little yellow trapped birds sang,

to celebrate the British Handover.

By the time we had reached the neon bay,

the children had grown bored by loud Kung Fu

and animal tracks in Adams country.

They were focusing on their next Dim Sum

and whether the Kitchen God, Tsao Wang,

would report favourably about them,

on his annual journey to Heaven

(which might have seemed like the United States

to those who had no hope of travelling there.)

Clutching their scarlet Lai See envelopes,

they sought Mongkok, their Chinese Paradise,

to eat mushrooms of opportunity

with relatives who must have pushed harder.

We waited politely and then disembarked.

The Star Ferry turned around and sailed back.

* opium

Laisee.jpg