But not that big a portion!
Image from Samsung Television in John Lewis store
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.
A Red Red Rose, Andy Stewart, Billy Connolly, Brassica, Burns' songs, Dambusters, Donald Where's Your Troosers?, Ginevra, Glasgow, haggis hurling, Highland games, Hogmanay, Maggie Smith, Quartet, Rigoletto, Tom Courtenay, White Heather Club
You bag the seats and I’ll get the order! volunteered Brassie. Carrie,
Clammie and I miraculously found a table in a corner of
Costamuchamoulah café and pushed the previous occupants’
detritus to one side.
What was that about a bag? asked Clammie.
Oh, nothing. She was just referring to securing the seating. Just
before we came in she said she had noticed a poster in the window of
the beauty shop, offering 20% off to old bags. She must have had it
on her mind, you know, subliminally.
Was the notice serious? There is definitely a target market here,
commented Carrie, cheering up a little.
Oh, I think we are all practising for the day when we can achieve the
discount! But no, when I looked at the notice more closely, it
referred to an actual company called The Old Bag Company and
Raquel in Beauty and the Beast must stock their products, I
There you go, said Brassie, placing the little table number on the
cleared surface. She sat down opposite Carrie and then jumped up.
She had sat on a jumbo crayon left over from the toddler art club
that monopolised the tables in the afternoon.
Right, I said. We are all ears. What happened?
Carrie sniffed a little and began:
I appreciate you guys’ support. Well, as we all suspected, Grandma
Jean’s broken hip was really curtains for her.
(We knew that Jean Pomodoro had suffered a bad fracture on
Hogmanay in her nursing home in Glasgow on Hogmanay.)
They have been brilliant, actually. The staff always encourage the
residents to put on a mini White Heather Show, with those who are
able doing little turns.
And the others having funny turns, joked Clammie. I glared at her.
Well, they like to see in the New Year and it is all good fun. Of
course, they vet the acts so that dirty old men don’t get too raucous
over renditions of Andy Stewart’s Donald Where’s your Troosers?
Anyway, Jean loved singing. She used to perform duets with
Gianbattista- Grandpa- and they blended so well. She had just
finished A Red, Red Rose and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Amazing for 91. Although a little unsteady, she had stood
throughout and was about to be led back to her wing armchair, when
a naughty old boy who looked like Billy Connolly, apparently, said he
would follow on with another Burns’ song: Eight Inch Will Please a
Lady. Jean was so shocked that she fell over.
I’m not surprised, Clammie said.
I don’t get it, said Brassie.
Carrie explained: She was shocked at the impropriety.
Clammie blurted out, I’m not surprised.
No, explained Carrie, she was offended by the fact that he had got his
facts wrong. It’s nine inches.
What is? asked Brassica, still none the wiser.
I decided to protect her innocence. It’s the maximum permitted
length of the missile in a haggis hurling competition at The Highland
I still don’t get it.
Never mind, I whispered.
Clammie butted in: Hey, that’s a bit surreal. I saw Quartet last night
and Maggie Smith has a poorly hip and she has to lean on Tom
Courtenay for support in the piece from Rigoletto that they all sing
together in the nursing home for ageing divas.
Yes, said Brassie, but she didn’t have the problem of falling over did
No, and I wouldn’t call it a problem if I had to lean on Tom Courtenay
either, quipped Clammie.
What is wrong with her? Clammie, I mean. She isn’t usually so
insensitive. We are supposed to be empathising with Carrie’s sad
So, when is the funeral? I asked.
Not till next Friday. They’re putting her on ice so the Italian relatives
have time to organise themselves.
Maybe I don’t have to worry about sensitivity then.. On Ice?! She
sounds like a bottle of Bolly! Speaking of which, how is Ginevra going
to cope when she hears of the demise of one of her closest friends?
It’s the end of an era!
Ginevra: I wonder if they do 20% off for Old Bags at the cremmy?
Ginevra: Allegedly, there was once a huge ‘Glasgow Mafia’ funeral at the crematorium
and the organist was busking it as they all filed in. He looked over his shoulder at the
coffin, to estimate how long he would have to keep playing and there was a huge floral
wreath with what he thought said: Biggles marked out in red roses. So, thinking the
deceased must have enjoyed aviation as a hobby, he..
Carrie: Didn’t! Did he launch into The Dambusters?
Ginevra giggled: You got it. Jean told me. She was in the congregation. She was in
C: So, why was it so funny?
G: Because what it really said was : Big Les!
And she laughed so hard that Carrie thought she was going to fall off her perch
and that would make it a double funeral. (An economy that Grandma Jean would
have approved of – coming from Glasgow!)
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Brassica, Brian Cox, Castor and Pollux, Celestrion Neximage, Ground Control to Major Tom, Pan's People, planisphere watch, Red Giants, Red Letter Days, Richard Branson, Sarah Brightman, SpaceShipTwo, Theo Paphitis, Tiffany Multi Drop pendant, White Dwarves, Yellow Cafe Van Gogh
Brassica had peeked. She knew that she shouldn’t ought to have, but she had. And now she would need to pretend that everything was a surprise on Xmas morning. She felt ashamed that she had doubted Cosmo. All right, he was limited in his imagination re/ most of the presents he had hidden in the observatory, but when she had sneaked a look in one little box which he had not yet wrapped, she saw a Tiffany Multi-Drop Diamond Stars pendant in platinum, which she knew was earmarked for her.
She was also humbled by the realisation that all those mystery boxes had contained copies of a book that he had written- From Red Giants to White Dwarves , by Cosmo Willoughby. There was a dedication to his darling and infinitely patient wife, Brassica and to his heavenly twins, Castor and Pollux, without whose support all of this would not have been possible.
(She was glad that I had dissuaded her from bidding for a diamond ring at the auction, she told me later. All things come to those who wait.) Some of us just have to wait longer than others, I mused, philosophically.
Rummaging around a little more she found presents for the twins: a Celestion Skyscout Personal Planetarium; DVDs of Prof Brian Cox’s The Wonders of the Solar System; Laser Stars which would project stars and floating blue clouds onto any room through holographic technology; an Oregon Full Function Weather Station WM R80, which included monitoring of moon phases; 3 Celestrion Neximage Telescope Camera watches for residents of the Northern Hemisphere only, presumably to track what constellations were available for watching; Starry Night Software from www.starrynightstore.com/stniso.html. There was also a lovely framed Van Gogh print of the yellow cafe with the stars overhead and a retro CD of Vincent.
Oh dear! What was she going to get him? Maybe she could look into a promissory note to send him off as one of the first space tourists? She had better Google Richard Branson and SpaceShipTwo. Oh yes, wasn’t Sarah Brightman down to go on one of these trips? She would check her out too. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s divorce settlement may have helped the erstwhile member of Pan’s People to stump up the $200,000, or more, fee. And, she had heard that there was a queue of 80,000 people waiting to leave Planet Earth. So, maybe she would just organise a zero gravity Red Letter Experience for him, if they did an astronaut one, or if the business was still extant. She seemed to remember that somebody had mentioned that the company was now owned jointly by Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones.
Heavens above! She had better get a move on.
Carefully replacing every piece of packaging, she crept out of the observatory and carefully padlocked the door. Then she went into the kitchen cupboard, found a duster and went back and wiped the doorhandle.
There was an amateur Antiques Roadshow in Suttonford’s Community Centre on Saturday afternoon, on behalf of the charity, Curs in Crisis. The organisers had asked local auctioneer, Hubert Wormhole, to give of his expertise and they charged £5 per valuation. The queues snaked out into North Street, but thankfully it wasn’t raining.
Ginevra Brewer-Mead had donated a quirky, mystery object as a prize. It was to raise fifty pence a guess as to its identity and use. The winner would be allowed to keep it. It was all good fun.
Ginevra had bought the ugly thing many years before, at a jumble sale. It usually resided on her mantelpiece and her carer, Magda, had encouraged her to get rid of it, as it freaked her out. (Magda was becoming more and more proficient in her utilisation of Slanglish.)
People were laughing as they wondered aloud which of their friends and neighbours most resembled the figure with the over-sized head. Pollux nudged his twin and whispered: Caligula! They both sniggered, but their mother, Brassica, reproved them and said that it was rude to make comments about their teacher.
Hubert had set up a table with Basic / Better/ Best cardboard signs, which was an idea that he had stolen from the real BBC show. Three examples of Moorcroft pottery stood behind the labels.
Again, people were invited to pay fifty pence to guess the relative worthiness of the three items and, if they were correct, they were given a delicious cluster of Rocky Road from a Tesco bucket.
Brassica’s twins had been issued with their pocket money that morning, and, miraculously, still had some left.
Castor walked over to the table with the hideous figure and realised that he had seen it before, at Ginevra’s house, when he had been visiting with his mother. He had been fascinated by it and had looked up similar objects online. He knew that such figures dated from the Pre-Moai period, when Easter Island had been afforested. A similar object had sold at Sotheby’s in the eighties for £100,000.
He was hopping up and down with suppressed excitement when he asked the woman on the stall, who happened to be Sonia, if he could borrow a pen.
Then he concealed his writing with his arm crooked, as he was wont to do in school tests, so that John, his partner on the double desk, would not copy his answers. He wrote very carefully:
Rair deety Ester Iland
He appended his father’s mobile number. Thankfully he was more numerate than literate, so there was a chance of the adjudicator being able to contact him.
He posted his entry in the cardboard box. Sonia said, I think you might be a lucky boy.
Pollux usually did the Arts subject preps and he did the Maths and Science ones. Between themselves, they did quite well. However, on this occasion, he did not collaborate with his twin, nor did he inform him of his entry.
Some people were becoming annoyed as they had guessed the Moorcroft conundrum correctly, owing to an over-exposure of such ceramic art on Flog-It! They thought that they should have won the best object of the three, but even the Rocky Road was unavailable, as it had been consumed by little boys with light fingers and sweet tooths, no, teeth. And, in particular, by twins who had been feeding their Border Terrier who lay under the table, with the chocolate and marshmallow moreish morsels.
These small-minded adults had paid and guessed in vain and they were very disgruntled and said that charities should put humans before canines. They expressed other sentiments in terms which little boys should not have overheard.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Brassie was in her kitchen/diner, cooking supper and the twins had been finishing their flugelhorn and marimba practice next door. She called them to the table.
But, mum, we’re not hungry, they complained.
That’s because you stuffed yourselves with Rocky Road, she lectured. You know I don’t allow sugar treats and now you can see why. All this lovely wholesome Quorn is going to go to waste.
The twins simultaneously eyed their Border. They felt sure that he would oblige in any hoovering up operation to do with leftovers, even though he had consumed a fair amount of the sweet clusters himself.
Darling! She shouted up the garden in the direction of the observatory. Supper’s ready.
Cosmo was already coming down the path, fiddling with his Blackberry.
Castor, he said, it’s Mr Wormhole from the roadshow this afternoon. He says there has been a terrible mistake.
I know, dad. They didn’t pick up on the Polynesian figure.
What? said Brassie. (The phone always rang at mealtimes). I’ll take it. She held the mobile up to her ear with one hand while she stirred the unappetising looking Quorn mish-mash. Easter Island? Rare? Pre-Moy, what?
A similar figure went for an absolute fortune at a London sale of Tribal Art in the Seventies, said Hubert, suddenly very authoritative. Naturally, Mrs Brewer-Mead had no idea what she had donated. Even I wasn’t certain until I went home and referred to my Miller Guides.
But Castor guessed correctly, she insisted, amazed at her son’s vast store of knowledge filched from http://www.geekologie.com etc.
What’s all this about? asked Cosmo, confused as ever.
He says that Castor can’t have his prize as he spelled the answer incorrectly. He’s offering him the best piece of Moorcroft instead, Brassie stage-whispered, holding her hand over the Blackberry.
We’ll see about that, said Cosmo masterfully. He won it fairly and squarely, as far as I can make out.
No, they’ve had a lawyer on to it already and Ginevra seems to be within her rights to withdraw the prize and to offer a substitute. Brassie was frantically trying to remember where she had seen the advertisement for No Win/ No Fee legal services. Mr Wormhole thinks that Mrs Brewer-Mead, I mean Ginevra, has already appropriated it, as it was not on the table at the end of the afternoon.
Mr Wormhole rang off, saying that they could discuss things further on Monday.
Now do you see the importance of spelling, you careless boy? snapped Brassie.
Castor’s lip trembled, but he rallied: My teacher says that you can still get an A* so long as she and the examiner people can make out what it is you are trying to say.
Well, now you know that that is a load of rubbish in the real world, stressed Brassie. I’ll have to have a word with Ginevra on Monday about the EU and Children’s Rights and breach of promise.
Pollux tried to draw the blame onto himself-and succeeded; his father had more experience and kept a low profile.
I’d have known how to spell the answer, he piped up.
Oh, shut up, Smart-Alec, they all said.
Pollux crept over to the Border’s basket to stroke his little, furry friend and as a tear plopped onto the dog’s wiry head, it looked up quizzically, and, as it did so, it gagged.
Give! ordered Pollux.
After a tussle, he forced open its jaws and a carved splinter of something very Moai-like shot out across the kitchen flagstones.
Mum! he screamed.
Andy, the Border, had evidently carried the figure home in his mouth and had been worrying at it throughout their music practice and Brassie’s meal preparation.
They all agreed to say nothing and to accept the Moorcroft gracefully. However, Brassie could feel the discomfort on the back burners of her conscience. She felt that it was the kind of dilemma that The Moral Maze would like to have grappled with on Radio 4 and she felt that they would not emerge smelling of roses. She wished that Castor had never seen the wretched thing. It must have emitted some evil power, as she could see how destructive its forces would have been in her family and community.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Think of all the Dewlap Gins I could have bought, said Ginevra, wistfully.
It freaked me out, replied Magda, her carer. You only lost 20 pence effectively. But you still have your friends.
Let’s drink to that, agreed Ginevra. Bottoms up!
And Magda understood the expression, as her English and Slanglish was coming on.
Is that you, girlfriend? I had just got through to Brassie, via my tablet.
Can’t hear you, Candia. My voice keeps echoing and it is distracting, complained Brassica. Wait a minute I’ll phone you.
Okay, Brassie. Have just heard that you and Cosmo are coming to Clammie’s Guy Fawkes party and that you have made up.
Yes, it was all a misunderstanding. Sonia got the wrong end of the stick. Magda was simply helping him to shift boxes from Ginevra’s cellar to the observatory under cover of darkness. It was so that the twins and I wouldn’t see our Christmas presents. He’d had them delivered to Ginevra’s as she is always at home and I rarely am chez moi.
But how did you find out the truth?
Oh, Carrie visited Ginevra to amuse her by having a laugh at my expense over the exploding sloe gin. However, Ginevra didn’t find alcoholic waste entertaining at all. She said that it had served me right for adulterating perfectly sound booze.
Brassie continued: Carrie picked up on the word ‘adulterating’ and, given the carer’s recent lexical expansion, asked Magda if she knew what that word meant. She was hoping to warn her off Cosmo.
She cleared her throat and went on: Magda understood the insinuation –she’d been receiving some helpful idiomatic lessons with Cosmo as a way of him thanking her for carrying all that stuff to the observatory. Ginevra had given them some linguistic books and a CD that Ola had left behind and she had provided some Dewlaps as a learning incentive. But, she chaperoned them at all times.
She laughed: Sonia had jumped to the wrong conclusion after seeing them together. So much for her Sibylline pronouncements!
Yes, she’ll be asking the butcher for some entrails next, to practise her divination.
Well, she sure needs some practice, but not on our business and family life. Magda was furious at being accused and spat out that she had a boyfriend with an Audi and that Cosmo was a damp squib!
Where had she heard that from?
She overheard Carrie telling Gyles one evening when they had called in to see Ginevra. They had no idea that she understood metaphor.
Cosmo is obviously a good teacher, I opined. But why was Carrie discussing what you told us in confidence?
Oh, she said it was because she had been so concerned about me.
Hmm. .So, all is forgiven?
Yes, and I’m not-like- pregnant.
Good. Well, don’t let Magda hear you using that dreadful filler. It would be so-like-bad for her English.
Brassie laughed. No, the only colourful affair Cosmo is having is with Aurora Borealis. You can see it so far south just now. That’s why he has been spending so much time out in the observatory.
I wonder what is in all those parcels? I mused.
Better be something good, said Brassie. By the way, what are you taking to the party?
Some iced biscuits shaped like comets and stars from Costamuchamoulah, I replied.
I’m taking some Nigella puff candy. Is your husband coming?
No, he won’t move from the wood burner, especially if ‘It Takes Two’ is on. Now that Ola Jordan has been eliminated, he has transferred his allegiance to Erin Boag.
Man, thy name is fickle. Oh, the twins like Denise van Outen. Maybe I should record it. I must say, I think Pasha is kinda cute, especially as a werewolf.
I like Artem, but I wish he had not disfigured his body with that dreadful tattoo. His upper torso looks a bit like a leather chesterfield.
Can’t say I noticed the tattoo. Hey! I’ve just had an idea. Why don’t we have a Strictly finals party? I’ll host it. Surely your husband would come to that?
Yes, he’d probably come out for that- but not in that way! I added quickly. I could hire him a matador outfit. I could be the cape.
More like the rampant cow, she countered.
(And that is why we are friends: because we can take a put-down from each other.)
I think I should be a judge.
Balti House, Boden, Brassica, Clammie, Kirstie, Listed Building Pemission, Little Greene paint, Location, micro-brewery, One Direction, Phil Spencer, poppadoms, Rumpelstiltskin, Skyfall, Tristram, Vindaloo
Clammie had succeeded in getting her own way, as usual. Tristram, her longsuffering husband, had been instructed to come home early from work, even though there was a big contract in the offing, as she had arranged a viewing of the eight-bedroomed, double-fronted Georgian house in High Street, Suttonford- (the one she had lusted after through the window of Shelley’s Estate Agency.)
Tristram had been unenthusiastic-understandably so-, given that their outgoings on school fees and mortgage were already crippling them financially and they had not even put their own home on the market. So Clammie had brought in the big guns, namely Kirstie and Phil from the programme, Location, Location, Location.
Tristram was on a hiding to nothing and he knew it. He had dutifully returned early, but Clammie had already smoothed most of the logistical difficulties by arranging for her boys to go to an early screening of Skyfall with Brassica and her twins. Scheherezade was going to stay over at Tiger-Lily’s to work on their joint art project, while listening to One Direction. Seven pm was an annoying time for a viewing, but Kirstie was a busy woman and that was the time they had been given.
Clammie had laid out his best, but casual Boden gear and then she had spent most of the afternoon trying to look cutting-edged, but understated. This meant that she hadn’t organised a meal for their return, so Tristram telephoned and placed an order for an Indian takeaway with Benares Balti House. He just hoped that the salt content wouldn’t do irreparable harm to his kidneys.
When Kirstie- certainly not understated- opened the door and ushered them into the hall of Nemesis House, Clammie fell instantly in love. It would have made more economic sense if she had fallen for the rather dishy cameraman, but they squeezed past him as if he was invisible and the first soundbite to be recorded was Clammie uttering the totally original : Wow! She then produced the suspect sentence that she had been invited to use in order to promote the programme:
Our priority is Location, Location, Location.
The camera focussed on Tristram, but not picking up the appropriate expression, swivelled to Clammie again, who said:
The large kitchen-cum-dining room has just the dimensions we crave for family bonding at mealtimes.
Kirstie felt she had it in the designer handbag, so she allowed them to go upstairs with Dan, the cameraman and then she texted Phil, who was sinking a pint in The Peal o’ Bells around the corner.
Get butt here pdq. Sense sale. Wild card not needed. If no deal will eat espadrille. Kirstie addressed him differently off-camera. She’d been on her feet all day and so she slipped off her wedged platforms and cooled her stockinged soles on the Welsh flagstones in the kitchen.
Phil thought: In my own time, hussy. (He was enjoying a third pint of the local micro-brewery’s Old Badger and was getting the low-down on the market from some of the locals.) However, he knew all about being shown the red card, so he drained the glass, wiped the froth off his upper lip and hared it round the corner.
Clammie rushed into the kitchen, flushed and exclaiming:
Most of our furniture would fit and a lick of Little Greene paint would cover the cinnabar in the hall and the cardamom in the boot room. Listed Building Permission for a few things and hello! –I mean, Voila! – Our Forever Home! She looked into the lens, hoping that the entire nation would recognise her bilingual skills.
So you want me to phone Shelley’s in the morning to make an offer? Kirstie could see a sunbed featuring on her horizon. I think we should go in at the asking price.
Tristram wanted to put his foot down, but he knew that even Rumpelstiltskin could have put his foot through the floor and it would have made no impression on his wife. The cameraman gave him a sympathetic look. Both women ignored him.
Phil let himself in with the spare key. Before he could enter the kitchen a make-up girl powdered his receding hairline.
Quick work, Kirstie, but just before you get too excited, I have something to say. Do you want the good news or the bad news?
I don’t like these infantile games, Phil, Kirstie scolded, nodding to the cameraman to switch off.
A guy in the pub has just told me that the owner of the Balti House put in a good offer this afternoon and they’ve taken it off the market.
What did he offer? shrieked Clammie.
The full asking price, I believe, said Phil, who just wanted to go home.
But we would have offered more. Gazump them! screamed Clammie, turning the colour of Vindaloo. Clearly she planned Montezuma’s revenge.
Sorry, said Phil. He sealed the deal with a promise of complimentary poppadoms for life.
Kirstie spat, Poppadoms are SO last century. It was difficult to make out what she was saying, though, as true to her word, she was beginning to eat her espadrille.
It dawned on Tristram that Balti, along with something else, was going to be off the menu for a very long time. He hoped Kirstie and Phil, or the cameraman and make-up girl, might like a doggy bag at eight thirty. Meanwhile, the indignity of it: he would have to join the queue for pollock and chips at Frying Tonite. He’d never get the smell out of his new Boden Chinos.
Back to Candia and her expressions of thwarted ambition. Some years ago she and a friend- not Brassica, Carissima or Chlamydia- went to the silk mill at Whitchurch in Hampshire and be-moaned their sacrificed careers. Her friend had been brought up against a backdrop of weavers and the cotton industry and Candia- perhaps surprising to some who know her- also had childhood experience of living among those who served in factories and the shipbuilding industry. Lord Denning had also worked his way up in society, to live in the rarefied (?) village where the mill is situated. Though we moaned about what we could have achieved, we thought that we had come quite a distance, courtesy of our education.
WHITCHURCH SILK MILL
(THE TEA ROOM)
No mulberries, no worms, visible bolls.
This is the factory that supplies
those who take silk, like Master of the Rolls,
local Lord Denning and those who can rise
above their circumstances. We haven’t.
Somehow the rapid mill race passed us by;
we failed life’s test. So, now we sit, lament
lost law careers, trying to work out why
the Fates have tangled our life threads, greased yarn
of domesticity, snarled warp, woof
and pirned the weft to create our pattern.
Sitting among redundant looms, the roof
low overhead, our conversation weaves,
shuttles back and forth; our run-of-the-mill
cocooned existence slubbed. This achieves
little. And yet the vibrant daffodils
on the riverbank are so glorious
that they elevate despondent mood
oppressed by term time’s laborious
routine, family worries, motherhood.
We’re not chained to the bench: we leave by car;
though working class, we have left industry-
two northern lasses who have come quite far,
should we review family history.
We take for granted cotton, silk and wool
(which used to take two hours to spin a yard).
We escaped the tyranny of the spool
and heave no bales. Our lives are not so hard.
Once we had established that if there was a sprog, amazingly it would be Cosmo’s, we calmed Brassie’s fears that she might have twins again. The nuit de passion must have happened on the evening that she did not attend the choir rehearsal.
Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, Carrie assured her.
But Cosmo isn’t so much a bolt of lightning as a bolt from the blue, or even a damp squib, protested Brassie.
Too much information, I commented.
Here, Brassie, eat some of this chocolate marshmallow slice for me, said Carrie. You’ll be eating for two- or three now. Only joking!
Don’t, expostulated Brassie. I haven’t even bought a ‘Predictor’ kit yet.
Sonia came in at this point and I quipped,
Well, here is a perambulant one entering the premises, even as we speak.
We were just talking about boa constrictors, said Carrie and we nearly choked.
Actually, confessed Brassie, we were just debating whether I was pregnant or not.
Not the ghost of a chance, said Sonia. I can tell.
How? we all said simultaneously.
Because- brace yourself, Brassica- I have seen Cosmo visiting Magda for the last month, when you thought he was sleeping in the observatory.
But I thought he was a damp squib!
Be that as it may, your symptoms are just a phantom pregnancy- like Mary Tudor’s. It will disappear, and I dare say, so will Cosmo, just like Philip of Spain did.
Brassie was ashen. But I don’t want him to disappear. I don’t want him to visit Magda. What has she got that I don’t?
Oysters from ‘Know Your Plaice’ in North Street. They’re aphrodisiacs you know. He simply wouldn’t have been able to resist, said Sonia authoritatively.
So all the time I thought he was looking at the stars…
..he was lying in a moral gutter. Upsetting, I know, but Sonia will disenchant them. She took out a cigarette and then pocketed it again, having remembered that there was legislation against smoking inside.
How are you going to split them up? we asked, in admiration.
At Clammie and Tristram’s Fireworks party. I think we are all going to be invited. I will set up a tent in the garden and do some Tarot readings. I will serve her the Fool.
I’m sure Clammie will agree, if we tell her about the plan, I agreed. It’s so appropriate. Casanova’s Russian mistress was into divination, so it’s very romantic. The Lovers and Greater Secrets feature in the Major Arcana, don’t they?
Don’t get carried away, warned Sonia. It’s all about presenting querants with their choices. I’ll give him something nasty about wands!
Thank you so much, said Brassie. I won’t need to go to the chemist’s now. But I’m still going to treat myself to those drainpipe jeans. I’m worth it.
Of course you are, we all soothed her.
Behemoth, Black Swan event, Brassica, Carrie, Dan Snow, David Cameron, Elle McPherson, FameDaddy, Ferdy, global weirding, hallowe'en, John, La Senza, Leda and swan, Philip Schofield, Richard Dawkins, Roger Federer
Brassica and I were in Costamuchamoulah must-seen café, looking for liquorice spiders for Hallowe’en, when Carrie rushed in. We made our ghoulish edible purchases and then all sat at a corner table to drink some coffee.
You will never guess what Ferdy told me after school? That awful John in his science class has been stirring things again, Carrie moaned.
Tell me about it, said Brassie, ruefully.
I was just going to, continued Carrie, who privately loathed Brassie’s
use of that expression.
Well, he sidled up to Ferdy and said, Why doesn’t your Mummy get fixed up with ‘FameDaddy’? Ferdy didn’t know what he was talking about. I think John’s mum must allow him to watch trashy ITV programmes as I Googled the name and it transpires that some CEO called Dan Richards was on a programme with Phillip Schofield, presenting a soon-to-be-launched-service, offering women who wanted to bear children with quality DNA to avail themselves of their sperm bank of celebrity donors.
Brassie looked interested, but she had already asked to be regaled with the facts, so she bit her tongue.
Yes, said Carrie, John then insulted Ferdy and his brothers-and, by implication, Gyles- by saying that if I had applied to ‘FameDaddy’, I wouldn’t have produced such useless kids and I still had time to produce a decent one.
How rude! What did Ferdy say?
He reminded him that he had beaten him at science and so John’s daddy couldn’t exactly have been Richard Dawkins.
But two wrongs don’t make a right, I interjected. Neither paid the slightest attention.
And then Ferdy- how can I put this?-punched his lights out.
Brassie clapped her hands and then desisted when she caught my disapproving look.
Was John all right afterwards? She feigned concern.
Oh, after he came round he said that he saw stars and Ferdy said, ‘Well, you always were on a different planet.’ Then he walked out of the locker room.
What did Mr Milford-Haven do when he discovered the boys had been fighting? I thought I’d try to bring some order to this exchange.
He took Ferdy aside and gave him a commendation and a mini-Mars bar, I believe.
But surely that was immoral? I insisted.
Yes, said Carrie. We don’t encourage sweets at home, so Ferdy brought it to me and I ate it for him.
No, I was becoming exasperated. I meant the violence.
Carrie looked a little discomfited and sipped her coffee which was tepid by now. Ferdy explained it to me. He said that it was the same as a burglar breaking into your home. John had invaded our privacy and stuck his nose into our business, so he had used proportionate force to repel him. David Cameron said that was okay.
Brassie looked wistful. I must say, Carrie, that I sometimes wish I had dipped into the gene pool of Dan Snow, or Roger Federer, instead of subjecting the twins to a possible genetic link to Cosmo’s mother.
I’d call that a black swan event, said Carrie comfortingly.
Brassie looked confused.
I mean, there may be a pattern and there may be a rare chance that they will fulfil a prediction, but it is unlikely.
More likely than you sharing your genes with Dan Snow, I added unkindly, before I could stop myself.
Carrie tried to draw attention away from my inappropriate remark:
Black swan events are linked to global weirding, she continued. You know- sunspots, extreme cyclical weather patterns, with rogue element exceptions. You can’t predict whether you will get out of a snow-bound Heathrow or not in the Christmas holidays.
I saw Horizon too, I remarked. She was beginning to sound like the tiresome John of the black eye. They said that you can’t really make 100% accurate predictions.
So, I might have a chance with Dan..
No, that’s a certainty: you won’t, I interjected firmly.
Well, what about that twenty five pounds that I paid Sonia to look into her crystal ball for me? asked Brassie, shaken in her simple faith.
That’s probably gone down a black hole, or gone up in a puff of smoke, I laughed caustically.
Carrie added, I think you would have been better advised to refer to a satellite, or to that meteorological computer, ‘Behemoth’, that generates 100 trillion predictions a second.
No wonder they get it so wrong all the time then, said Brassie naively. Yesterday they said it would be dry and I got soaked right down to my ‘La Senza’, standing in the yard, waiting for the twins to come out of their music lessons.
You have to take an umbrella with you at all times, laughed Carrie, then it will never rain! But, what’s all this obsession with spreading your genes, Brassie? You aren’t seriously thinking of having another baby? I thought you had enough on your plate with the twins?
The FameDaddy thing just sounded interesting, she said.
It was a hoax, Brassie, I laughed.
Oh, it’s just that you both have girls and I just got a little broody. It would be a black swan event if Cosmo and I got together. The chances would be about a trillion to one. He might as well be on a space station for all the likelihood of a conjunction between us. He’s taken to sleeping in the observatory in the garden.
I was sobering up. She seemed genuinely upset. I tried to comfort her. Have you heard of Leda and the swan?
What are you talking about, Candia? Carrie flashed me a warning look.
Just that swans can impregnate you when you are not expecting it, I muttered lamely.
The only genes I’m really after are Elle McPherson drainpipes. She tried to throw us off the scent. These are getting too tight.
Maybe you are already…? we both spoke simultaneously.
Brassie looked horrified.
Who’s the father? we enquired. Three more lattes, we instructed the waitress.