(3L Harley MS 4425, British Library. Wikimedia Commons.
The Carolle in the Garden: Roman de la Rose; Master of the
Yes, if you
want to get ahead,
wear a hat.
A re-blog from erstwhile…
Dahn: Own work. Leopard, Botswana
I am reminded of one of my encounters with a Suttonford grande dame who had experienced the days of the Raj first hand. She measured out her widowhood in coffee spoons and cigarettes at one of her favoured venues- not the Costamuchamullah Must-Seen Cafe, stylish though it be, but rather The Peal o’ Bells, Public House.
One lunchtime –cloth: on (dinner:cloth off) – she sat in a cloud of smoke, which spiralled upwards, like mist rising from The Ganges at dawn. I was moved to admire her leopard skin coat. She minimally acknowledged my obeisance with a dismissive movement of her fag.
A few evenings later, she was leaving a drinks party which was being held to honour veterans. The Husband and I used to be inundated with invitations to such, but lately we have found less favour from les nouveaux. By way of something to say, I asked her where her admired coat was, as she was being solicitously wrapped in a stole by a selected minion who had been appointed to see her safely across the road. She gave me a withering look , secure in her very U status and corrected my social solecism, resulting in this poem:
LEOPARD AFTER DARK
He placed the mink stole round her neck
(not the fur coat she’d worn on deck.)
She saw my look and then observed
the riposte which I had deserved:
“You don’t wear leopard after dark!”
“Never? Not even for a lark?”
“Precisely. It’s not the done thing.”
“What about ocelot?”
It’s like cloth for luncheon, but NOT
for dinner? One just never ought.”
“Is there any jurisdiction
on camel? Is there restriction
on beaver lamb, cashmere, fox-fur? –
shibboleths on which They concur? –
a consensus aimed at non-U?”
“The proles took to fake kangaroo.
In crepuscular hours of dusk,
outrageously they sported musk
and, as far as Guatemala,
riff-raff lounged in capybara.
Minxes out in the Sahara
had bikinis of impala.
One can pose as La Giocanda
in a thong of rare red panda,
but animal right protesters
wanted bobbies to arrest us.
They showed chagrin;
I owned shagreen:
clutch purses, belts in wolverine,
tortoiseshell compacts – what’s the fuss?
Darling, they’re just not one of us.
In Sikkim some said, “That’s Betty.
She’s the one who’s wearing yeti”
I would sip a margarita,
naked, on a rug of cheetah.
(I was pretty well devoured
by a rampant Noel Coward.)
He quipped, ‘Little looks much snazzier
Than zebra pants and brassiere.’
In the mountains of Bhutan,
my tippet was orang-utan
and my favourite windcheater
was two hides of tanned anteater.
(At altitude on Everest,
one needs an extra tiger vest.)
At a barbeque in Goa,
I singed my flamingo boa.
To meet the Queen, I wore a hat
and had it trimmed with a fruit bat.
There was a tiny rigmarole
when footmen took my corgi stole.
She said archly,
‘Is that dodo?’
I looked at my heel:
‘Ma’am, no, no.
I’m sure your carpets are quite clean.’
‘Your headgear’s what we mean.
Though denied my decoration,
I still caused a huge sensation.
I’m a seasoned old globetrotter.
I wear stoat and I wear otter,
I wore porpoise, whale and shark –
But NEVER leopard after dark.”
Virginia Fisher-Gyles had been a little deflated when Valentine’s Day
eventually arrived and, although the customary bouquet of red roses
had been delivered to her office, nothing of significance had taken place.
A few days had passed and nothing had been said. He hadn’t even worn
the silk cravat she had given him. He continued to don his gravy-stained
Snod had been procrastinating-an inactivity that he indulged in, not
only on the 29th of February. It was habitual, nay ingrained, as much as
the various taches.
Virginia couldn’t pin his behaviour, or lack thereof, to acedie, as that was
characterised by a restlessness and possibly an inability to work, or pray.
No, he managed his job, though not given to much movement. He
did not exhibit signs of Weltschmerz, unless anyone mentioned a cover
Aboulia might have been a better diagnosis, but, then again, although
certainly diminished of movement, it wasn’t that he didn’t care about
not caring. He simply never even considered it an issue. Emotional issues
just didn’t register on his internal Geiger counter. Was he suffering from
indolence of the heart, in the same way that Hamlet was thought to have
been? Was he just a typical man?
In Tsarist Russia, such people had been put to hard labour in some old
babushka’s dasha, to shake them up. Virginia had a few jobs lined up
He had the ring, so why was he not transferring it to a female digit
forthwith? Why was he praying, like St Augustine: Lord…not yet.
The roses had drooped and the water had been unable to be refreshed
any longer. Virginia tore a strip off her desk calendar. The 28th February-
that meant that tomorrow she could ….
She sped off to prepare her campaign. She was as determined as St Brigid
to close the deal with St Patrick.
The next morning she was at her desk, red knickers a hopeful substitute
for the recommended petticoat. The Headmaster and certain staff
members had been fore-warned.
(About the campaign- not her undergarments.)
She couldn’t be any worse off. She would propose to Snod on the dais at
the end of whole school assembly. If the old so-and-so didn’t comply,
then she would fine him the requisite 12 pairs of gloves, or a silk dress.
She had already spotted a desirable Jenny Packham beaded number in
her local boutique. It wasn’t cheap.
(original Broadway windowcard: Wikipaedia)
Oh look! Here comes Peabrain Minor’s mater, alias Head of The Grievance
Committee, expostulated Virginia Fisher-Gyles, PA to The Headmaster of
St Birinus Middle School.
Late again, commented Mr Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master, on his way
to Registration via his partner’s office.
The aforementioned parent hopped out of her 4×4, still in a onesie, or
Gives a new aspect to the adjective ‘deshabille’, he added. Mind you, I
wouldn’t mind if you turned up for work in that rather fetching negligee
which the saleswoman persuaded me was entirely appropriate as a Christmas
gift for a friend. I think you would make a better understudy for Shirley
Maclaine than Mrs P does.
Let’s be professional. Virginia stood on her principles- as well as her
four inch stilettos.
Oh, the subjunctive- and so early in the morning, quipped Snod.
You say ‘pyjamas’ and I say ‘pajamas’, countered Virginia, closing the
conversation and starting to hum ‘I’m not at all in Love.’
The Carry On Teaching vision with choreography by Fosse faded from
his magisterial brain, but not before he had noted the similarity
between Virginia’s embonpoint and that of a certain fictional Gladys
Hotchkiss. Yes, they no longer produced the great musicals of
yesteryear. That Lloyd Webber character… Sigh.
(Does anyone out there recognise the etymology of ‘magisterial’ ??
Are we all going to adjust our spelling to ‘ognon‘?) The Editor.
There was a peremptory rap at the door.
Enter! boomed Virginia.
Peabrain Minor’s mother appeared in her usual matitutinal
I’ve just brought a bag with a change of clothes for Noah, if I could
leave it in The Office for him, she announced.
Oh, we are a Left Luggage Establishment now, Snod thought, but
didn’t remark aloud. That was a forbearance that he had learned
from Virginia, in the course of their relationship.
I’m afraid I don’t quite understand, said Virginia.
Well, it’s just for the lesson after break. Noah doesn’t respond well
to formal learning strategies and, if Mr Snodbury doesn’t mind, my
son would be more comfortable in his jim-jams. Oh, Mr Snodbury!
She had just noticed the schoolmaster lurking behind the door.
Ah, his namesake was quite comfortable with appearing in a
Post-Diluvian Apocalyptic public space au naturel, Mrs P, Snod
pontificated. But, unfortunately, even the members of the patriarch’s
family took exception to his informal, nay casual, plein-air approach.
I take it that that’s a ‘no’ then, Sir?
She left, with the Waitrose bag of clothing, looking rather
Not exactly Doris Day, said Snod in his habitual report-speak.
But more intelligent than you’d think.
barista, Botticelli, Brassica, Brunetti's, Chinese New Year, Commissario Brunetti, Commissario Montelbano, David Cameron, Donna Leon, Donna Tartt, Hunter wellies, kiddychino, Nicola Sturgeon, Rebekah Brooks, salted caramel eclair, SamCam, Singapore Sling
(image by abc 10)
So basically you have been unfaithful to ‘Costamuchamoulah’ cafe here in
Suttonford? Brassica accused me.
It wasn’t like that, I tried to defend myself. No bog-brush bearded baristas
were involved, I assure you. It’s just that ‘Brunetti’s’ salted caramel eclairs in
Melbourne were so tempting.
That Italian name’s familiar, Brassie interrupted.
You’re thinking of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, I surmised, knowing
she’d read a couple of the volumes in the series at her ‘Bookworm’ group.
But, you know, I’d prefer to make a tangential mental leap to summon up a
vision of Commissario Montelbano- the young one, I mused. Actually, one
of the waiters who brought me extra marshmallows was kind of like him. He
had the same bandy legs, but Botticelli curls.
Mmm, quite a lot of Italian guys do. Yet, you’ve been swanning round the
globe while the rest of us were generating mould in our ‘Hunter’ wellies from
the condensation build-up of Apocalyptic precipitation levels?
Join Nicola Sturgeon’s clan. But not David Cameron’s.
She shares your taste in trending wellies. Apparently Cameron wore a cheap
pair when he visited the flooded areas.
Oh, that was for the press, she exclaimed. Do you think SamCam would
let him out in anything cheap if he was (say) visiting Rebekah Brooks for a bit
of a pot supper, after helping her to muck out at her stables?
Okay, I’m sorry. By the by, I would be surprised if SamCam, as you call her,
allowed him out at all, when he is off-duty. She would probably prefer him to
come home smelling of roses.
Why do I always get Donna Leon and Donna Tartt mixed up?
Dunno. Easily done. I took my tablet out of its case.
Look! This was us on our final evening at ‘Raffles’, on the way home.
Put it away, barked Brassie. I’m not interested. Anyway, you said you
went there twice, so I can’t forgive you.
She couldn’t resist a peek.
What were you trying to do? Live up to your gravatar?
No, I was just having a ‘Singapore Sling.’
She drew me an even greater disapproving look.
Not a ‘fling’. You can get virgin ones, you know, I pleaded.
No, actually. Look, I’m not trying to be elitist. Nowadays
it is a virtual extension of a creche. Kids everywhere. All these
special venues are commandeered by fathers in baseball caps
and shorts and mothers pushing giant buggies with babes who
only require feeder cups. You dress for dinner and they throw theirs
on the floor- or ground-, if we are referring to the outside courtyard.
Sometimes the infant accessories even manage to project their
regurgitations into your lap.
I do so agree on the distinction you make between ‘floor’ and
‘ground’, Brassie reflected. But, have you always been irritated
by kids, Candia? I mean, didn’t you once teach the little darlings?
Surely teachers like children?
Don’t bank on that, I replied. D’habitude, we only like the well-behaved
ones, of which there are fewer and fewer. I don’t mind them at informal
eateries at lunchtime, but if I am spending a mint on a rare grown-up
treat, I prefer a kiddychino-free zone.
Coming to ‘Costamuchamoulah’ by Chinese New Year, I predict.
We both sighed.
Beckham baker's boy cap, beyond the pale, Birkenstocks, Biro, Channel 4, Clothing Bank, Diane Abbott, Islington North, ITV, Jeremy Corbyn, Jezza, Jon Snow, Paisley pattern, Pele Tower, personal style signifier, Robert Peston, snowclones, Whiter Shade of Pale, Wurzel Gummidge
Virginia Fisher-Gyles had to admit to a certain frustration over her
relationship with Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus
They had enjoyed each other’s company over the school holidays
and were planning a half term break to visit Gus’ ex-squeeze, who
had been reconciled to her ex-husband, Murgatroyd Syylk, the erstwhile
picture dealer. Now Diana, for that was the name of the lady so lucky
in love, was adapting to her new role as chatelaine of a renovated
pele tower. To boot, her spouse was the epitome of good grooming.
Virginia felt no pangs of jealousy, architectural, or otherwise, but
what really niggled at her lately-enjoyed sense of being a deux was a
certain slight embarrassment at her partner’s wardrobe.
Gus seemed to have shadowed Jeremy Corbyn on one of his sartorial
shopping treks round Islington North market stalls. The schoolmaster
wasn’t guilty of the white vest solecism, but he did have a very similar
beige jacket, albeit with unco-ordinated elbow patches.
Like Jezza, Snod had a habit of keeping a spare Biro in his shirt pocket.
One hot summer day, before term had ended, Peabrayne Minor had
practically freaked out, as he had noticed a crimson seepage from his
teacher’s breast. He had run out of the classroom to fetch the San Sister,
thinking the old boy was haemmorhaging. Some of the other boys on the
front row had noticed the phenomenon too, but had realised that it was
a leaky marking pen that was gradually creating a map that the more
geographically-aware members of the class were already identifying as
Snod had been sporting cords since the Seventies- possibly the same pair-
because he appreciated their comfort, which only increased, the baggier
they became round his increasing backside.
For more formal occasions, such as a Parents’ Evening, he added a rakish
personal style signifier in the form of a Paisley patterned silk mouchoir,
which protruded from the aforementioned jacket pocket.
Virginia had been relieved that her had stuck to his old cricket flannels on
their European cruise. At least he had not worn shorts with his Birkenstocks.
That would have been beyond the pale, as far as she was concerned. She
privately made a bet with herself that his legs had not seen the light of day
since A Whiter Shade of Pale had topped the charts in 1967. Anyway, she
wasn’t going to go there.
So, for her beau, beige was the new black. She had read that such
expressions were termed snowclones. How she wished that he would take
a leaf out of Jon Snow’s book and, at least, display a hint of hosiery style.
However, since Gus was not a Channel 4 type, she would just have to accept
that he was happier to converge with the likes of Robert Peston. But if the
economist was to defect to ITV, there might be a hope of persuading her man
that Wurzel Gummidge was an unsuitable role model, or fashion template.
So, boho-Corbynesque seemed to prevail. What was she supposed to do
about it? Threaten to dress like Diane Abbott?
No, she would start her campaign early and ensure that he wasn’t just
getting socks and Boxers for Christmas. This was going to tax her
organisational skills as a PA to the limit, as well as her personal shopper
aspirations. It was heartening, however, to know that Snod’s daughter,
Drusilla, was on board and had offered to hijack his laundry and take it to
the Clothing Bank at the re-cycling centre. They would probably charge
her ten quid to incinerate it.
Virginia thought that might be a risky strategy, although a tempting one.
However, since Nigel, Drusilla’s boyfriend was adopting the same
magisterial uniform, in the Latin sense, perhaps the two women could
form a twin-pronged attack on both males and achieve successful
At least neither of them owned a Beckham baker’s boy cap. So, there
might be some hope after all.