baobab, Bedouin, Bentley, Beuys, Bourbon biscuits, felt suit, Freudian slip, Gertrude Jekyll, Gold Blend adverts, National Trust, Piper Cherokee, rehydration techniques, St Exupery, Tate Modern, The Little Prince, Timex
Would you like to come in for coffee? Virginia asked Snod, just before
jumping out of the driver’s seat of his car and handing him his own
He really needed to get home to work on some feedback documents,
but, since he had not had such an invitation in over thirty years, he
said: What the heck! to himself. Emm, well, yes, why not? Just a quick
Virginia gave him an odd look, but led the way nevertheless.
Lay on, Macduff, he joked, to hide his slight unease.
Oh, I thought it was ‘Lead on..’ She rummaged around in the bottom of
her handbag for her keys. Then she blushed. She didn’t want him to
think that was a Freudian slip. Coffee was such an embarrassing
invitation nowadays. When she invited someone in for coffee, she
meant just that.
It was all the fault of that series of Gold Blend adverts in the 80s.
Some men in the past had been rather surprised when she had
shown them the door after one drink. Not even a biscuit.
Snod sank into Virginia’s comfortable sofa and looked round the room
while she filled the kettle. Interesting old fireplace. He had almost said
‘foreplace‘. Why was that?
There were some photos of children- presumably her nieces and
nephews. There was a faded wedding picture. He would have liked to
go over and take a closer look, but Virginia came in and put two coasters
down on the coffee table. She moved a large Gertrude Jekyll Gardens
She returned with two National Trust mugs. They featured Wyvern Mote.
So, she must have visited on some occasion. He’d ask her about that later.
Sorry, no Bourbon biscuits, she apologised.
He was strangely touched that she had remembered his predilection.
Eh, how long have you been here? he asked, sipping his drink. He’d
have preferred tea, but no matter.
We bought it in 1987, she said. It’s too big for me on my own, but useful
when the family come over. And, of course, I love the garden. William
loved the outbuilding. He kept his old Bentley in there. He was away a lot,
so, he decided that he didn’t need a house on his own. We bought this place
together as a joint investment.
William? Snod looked faintly puzzled.
My elder brother, she replied, going over to the mantle-piece and taking
down the wedding photo. Sadly they got divorced. He died of pancreatic
cancer in the 90s.
The groom looked very like Virginia. Good-looking bride too.
I’m sorry, said Snod most sincerely, but oddly glad that William hadn’t been
her husband. After an awkward pause, he continued. And do you have any
Well, my sister who lives in New Zealand. She tries to come over every
few years so that I can see the children. That’s when this house comes
into its own. And, of course, I love the garden.
I see. Snod noticed that she still hadn’t mentioned a man in her past.
He picked up a little book before placing his mug down on the coaster.
The Little Prince, he smiled. It was one of his favourites. Augusta had
given it to him one Christmas when he was nine.
Yes, Arnaud gave it to me. He was a pilot. He crashed his Piper
Cherokee when we had just been married a year or so. Some Bedouin found
him, but even their rehydration techniques failed.
So, now the tragedy was out.
Yes, what St- Exupery says is true: one characteristic can recall your
love and pain. The colour of wheat evokes his hair. He was only twenty
nine when he died. I suppose that I have been widowed almost as long
as he was alive.
I rate this house because of the garden. I don’t care about its financial
value. When I smell the roses that we planted together, my heart fills
with sweet pain, if that makes sense. There’s no point in allowing the
bitter experiences to destroy you. You have to feel the pain and
Snod remembered that Exupery had said one must root out the seeds
of the baobab. They must be destroyed immediately or they would take
hold. He decided to remove one little seed of resentment against Diana
and her lack of amatory interest. Here, on the other hand, was a woman
who would recognise a drawing of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant
and wouldn’t, in a matter-of-fact way, put it down to being a side elevation
of a hat. Here was a potential soul mate who did not talk about golf, bridge
or politics. She understood primeval forests, stars and she might appreciate
But the mythology of her life was striking him very powerfully. A husband who
had parallels to St-Exupery and even that artist chap whose work he didn’t
make much of- Joseph Beuys, wasn’t it? That awful school trip to Tate Modern
with the disappearing Boothroyd-Smythe!
Hadn’t Beuys come down in a desert too? Or had he made the whole thing up?
Maybe Boothroyd-Smythe had his particular facility for mendacity encouraged by
contact with the work of such modern cultural role models?
The only thing Snod could relate to had been Beuys’ felt suit and he wouldn’t
have minded getting a tailor to run up a similar one for himself. Apparently it
had been a symbol of social isolation and imprisonment. But maybe he, Augustus
Snodbury, no longer needed such a layer of protection from the world- not if
He looked at his Timex. Gosh, is that the time? I’d better be going. Thanks
for the coffee.
He shook her hand and as she opened the door to let him exit, she leaned
forward and kissed him very gently on the cheek.
Sleep tight, Gus, dear, she whispered.
He turned back and, before he could stop himself, they were locked in a
passionate embrace, indulging in what Boothroyd-Smythe et al would have
termed a snogging session.
Snod had snogged after thirty odd snog-free years. He had forgotten how
good it was. Mehercule! So this was what was meant by coming in for
coffee. It beat filling in feedback forms no end.