I am reminded of my encounter with a grande dame who had experienced the days of the Raj first hand. She measured out her widowhood in coffee spoons and cigarettes.
One lunchtime – (cloth: on ; dinner : cloth off)- she sat in a cloud of smoke, like mist rising from the Ganges, and I admired her leopard skin coat. She minimally acknowledged my obeisance.
A few evenings later, she was leaving a drinks party to which I also had been invited.
By way of something to say, I asked her where her fur coat was, as she was being solicitously wrapped in a stole by a favoured minion who was to see her safely across the road. She gave me a withering look and corrected my social solecism, resulting in this poem:
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? Any 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 barbecue 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 checked my heel: ‘Madam, no, no.
I’m sure your carpets are quite clean.’
She glared: ‘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’ve worn porpoise, whale and shark –
But NEVER leopard after dark.”