Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart @ Blenheim Palace.
Browning, Churchill, Gotterdammerung, Guermantes, Hague, jaw, jaw better than war, Kaiser, Levite, madeleine, Malvolio, Nobel Prize Psychology, passeggiata, poker, Proust, Putin, retro sunspecs, Russian Roulette, St Loup, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, Wagner
The sun had brought out all the Suttonfordians, and Brassie and I
were included in that grouping. We were sitting outside
Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe, watching le monde entier, or,
at least, what could be termed its microcosm. It was interesting to
lay bets on who would acknowledge us in the course of the
passeggiata, and who would walk on by like a selfish Levite,
avoiding a mugging victim.
Isn’t it amazing..? I commented, sipping my lime tea, but eschewing
an accompanying Madeleine, as sugar is the new fat.
What? enquired Brassie.
Amazing that people can be read so.. well, readily. Psyches haven’t
developed significantly since Proust exposed them in all their
ambivalence of motivation.
How so? Brassie was looking around brightly and frankly. In other
words, she was simply asking to be snubbed.
Well, I am reading Chapter Two of The Guermantes way at present..
Is that by Proust?
Yes, I sighed. Proust masterfully expands on how some people look at
you in a certain way which is intended to let you know that they have
seen you, but that they have also not seen you.
He would have had a whale of a time sitting here, Brassie laughed.
No, seriously, he said that they pretend to be embroiled in a deeply
important conversation with a companion so that they do not have
to acknowledge you.
You don’t have to have a Nobel Prize for Psychology to work that
out, Brassie remarked.
No, but the thing about Proust is that he always presents the
converse too. He says some of those types actually go over the top
and greet you with excessive fervour when you hardly recognise them,
but, the instant they see someone they know observing their
behaviour, they ‘cut’ you.
I can’t stand artifice, Brassie agreed.
Proust announced that he eventually grew beyond the desire for a
relationship with Mme Guermantes, as she had been repelling him.
Perversely, when he no longer cared for her recognition, she started to
gush all over him at some party.
Watch out! Brassie signalled, not too subtly. She immediately donned her
over-sized retro sunspecs. She’s coming! That awful woman..
I rummaged in my bag, as if looking for my keys. ( I wouldn’t look for a
mobile, for I never carry one. Hate them.)
Once La Bete Noire had passed, all was right with the world. Now I am
channelling Browning! But to return to good old Marcel..
What I found highly significant, I continued, was that Proust reports a
conversation with St Loup, where the Kaiser is discussed. He says that the
latter only wants peace but tries to convince the French that he wants war,
in order to make them comply with his wishes over Morocco.
Do you think that sounds like a parallel with Putin? Brassie latched on.
Hmm, St Loup says that if they were not to give in, there wouldn’t be a
war, in any shape or form.
I don’t know if I would have agreed, Brassie frowned.
Quite, but the chilling thing was that St Loup added that one has only to
think what a cosmic thing a war would be -and this was more than a century
ago-I stressed. He said it would be a bigger catastrophe than the Flood and
Gotterdammerung rolled into one. Only it wouldn’t last so long.
Oh, that’s just Proust taking the proverbial out of Wagner, Brassie smiled.
Some of his operas are interminable!
But you take the more sinister point, surely? St Loup likened these games of
brinkmanship to bluffing as in a game of poker.
In that case, politicians could hire someone like Victoria Coren-Mitchell as a
diplomat. She plays poker in her spare time, doesn’t she? I can’t imagine she
would stand any nonsense. She could stand up to a game of Russian
Roulette. Whereas, ‘Don’t be vague, ask for Hague’, doesn’t really cut the
mustard any more. does it? Victoria is way more scary.
But, the current situation’s not funny, is it? I persisted.
No, Brassie agreed. Maybe it all comes down to Putin feeling snubbed.
Feeling rejected is a powerful emotion.
So maybe we should say ‘hello’ to You Know Who next time, I suggested.
Internecine warfare is mutually destructive.
I suppose so. So let’s practise smiling at everyone who walks past, Brassie
nodded. Even though we will probably look like a couple of Malvolios.
So, maybe Churchill was right, I commented after quarter of an hour.
Jaw, jaw is better than war.
It’s a pretty good insurance, Brassie nodded, just like that annoying
dog in the advert.
Ada Lovelace, Bank of England, Calendar Girls, Churchill, Currer Acton Bell, deep maths, Deep Throat, Elizabeth Fry, Ellis, Elsie Inglis, George Eliot, Good Queen Bess, Helen Mirren, Jane Austen, Katherine Jenkins, Lady Godiva, Linda Lovelace, Maggie Thatcher, Mark Carney, Mary Slessor, Mervyn King, Saatchi, Wimbledon
So, The Bank of England is withdrawing the face of Elizabeth Fry, the social
reformer, from our fivers, I remarked to Brassica, as I handed over a
couple of the aforementioned notes to the Costamuchamoulah cafe
assistant, in exchange for two Mochas and a shared chocolate slice.
Yes, but apparently there is a mystery female in reserve, in case
Churchill doesn’t turn out well in the engraving, Brassie elaborated.
Oh yes! I joked.
Brassie had a choco-powder moustache, but I wasn’t about to lean over and
erase it from her upper lip; Saatchi has deterred cafe goers everywhere from
making physical contact with their companions in public.
So, apart from the Queen, we are to have no female physiognomies on our
banknotes, I continued. Except in Scotland. I suppose that still
counts as the UK. The Scots have Mary Slessor, the missionary, and Elsie
Inglis, the suffragette, on their notes. But I bet they wouldn’t be accepted if
tendered in Costamuchamoulah.
The Scots or their currency? Brassie quipped.
Possibly both, I replied. I certainly couldn’t envisage a frugal Mary Slessor, nor
an earnest Inglis dropping by for a cappuccino and a tranche of Polenta cake.
Well, Brassie kept up the conversational momentum. There are some
names being currently proposed, such as Linda Lovelace.
I think you mean Ada Lovelace, the mathematician, I clarified, rather
pompously. There is a difference between deep maths and Deep Throat.
Anyway, your suggestion was an American.
Was she? Brassie said vaguely. She had detected the chocolate smear
and was concentrating on removing it. I thought Jane Austen had been
Well, she certainly understood currency, I agreed. And her brother, Henry had
a branch of his bank not too far from Suttonford, didn’t he? At least, before it
went bust and he joined the church! As someone who supported the concept
of thrift, maybe Jane would be a good choice.
We ought to canvass Costamuchamoulah customers, said Brassie brightly,
and then we could present a petition containing the most popular female
names to Mark Carney, when he takes up his new job as Bank of England
Governor, at the beginning of July.
Oh, he’ll probably be too busy at Wimbledon, I said. Mervyn King is always in
the Royal Box, so he’ll probably reserve a seat for him. Mind you, there’s
probably some Suttonfordians heading for Centre Court in the next week or
We could ask them to present our findings to him, even if he is off-duty, I
suppose, I granted.
Good idea! concurred Brassie and she was off with her paper napkin and a
pen before the starting gun had been fired. (I think she gets her prematurity
of behaviour from Cosmo, by all accounts.)
The first caffeine addict she approached was too quick to promote Maggie
Thatcher, which was predictable, given the territory, but I could see one or
two others within earshot- not difficult in Costamuchamoulah!- looking flushed,
or maybe enraged by the suggestion. So, before any iced cupcakes were
hurled by covert Lib Dems, I turned to an intelligent-looking female with a
laptop, in the corner.
What about George Eliot? she proffered.
Nah, love, interrupted one of two local workmen who could afford a daily fix
at this elite establishment. (I had previously observed their regularity of
attendance at about 3pm each day-an unsurprising habit, supported by the
prices they charge for basic DIY and maintenance. Mid afternoon seemed to
be their premature knocking off time. Not in any way a reference to
Cosmo’s entirely different, connubial activities, I must add.)
Nah! We were discussing wimmen, weren’t we? Not blokes! That Katherine
Jenkins is a bit of all right, i’n’t she? Whoarr! I wouldn’t mind seeing her on
a fifty quid note-preferably as Lady Godiva.
Yes, I suppose you handle a fair few of those denomination, I remarked
caustically. But she is Welsh, isn’t she? Maybe they will get their own
currency, or perhaps they’ll revert to Anglesey Druidic pennies.
I bet they wouldn’t charge her as much as they do for services rendered to
local households headed up by femmes d’un certain age!
Educated conversation is completely lost on the average Suttonfordian, I find.
No wonder they didn’t recognise the pseudonym of dear old Mary Ann Evans.
I expect that is why I seek an international audience, Dear Reader. So, I
refrained from adding my own Trinity of female talent: Acton, Ellis and Currer
I especially like the way that the male has been airbrushed out of the
picture. (Branwell knew that he wouldn’t be appearing on any bill of promise.)
The girl behind the counter suddenly said: What about Good Queen Bess?
Better, admitted Brassie, but there is a new book out by someone called
Steve Berry, which suggests that she was a man in disguise.
Maybe she had a moustache.
Or drank too many Mochas, I teased.
Women sometimes had to dress as men to achieve recognition, said
Brassie thoughtfully. You know, like Pope Joan.
I know, said the girl, who clearly hadn’t bee lstening. What about Helen
Well, I faltered. She was born Mirronoff, but I suppose she is as English as
the present Royals , so maybe she is as good a choice as any.
Yeah! Get her name down on your list, girls, approved what we might
laughingly term the ‘workmen’. She looked pretty good in Calendar
Girls and Costa here could supply the strategic cupcakes, couldn’t you,
I’m sorry, sirs. We don’t accept these, said the assistant, returning their
Mary Slessor. She would have in the normal scheme of transactions, but
customers who cheapened their brand by abbreviating its title were
personae non gratae. They had to substitute the note with another from
their rubber-banded wads of paper currency but left, quite cheered by their
ideal candidate for financial commemoration. They were only aware of one
promotional photo of the aforesaid actress and it was from a fair number
of years ago. They thought it would do nicely.
Number One: Helen Mirren, wrote Brassie on the napkin.