Very Proustian, n’est-ce-pas? Jardin du Luxembourg, 6th Arrondissement, Paris
Photo by Candia
Alice in Wonderland, Bathsheba, Boldwood, builders' tea, David Cameron, hagiography, Lucozade, martyrology, misogyny, Neutral Tones, Proust, Prufrock, sin of commission, sin of presumption, Sods' Law, St Brigid, St Patrick, Thomas Hardy
Fortunately Snod had a double free period before Lower Five and so
he slumped into his favourite lumpy chintz armchair and waited till
he could be sure that the rest of the staff were in Lesson One.
Virginia came in sheepishly, carrying a tray with some builders’ tea
and a plate with two Bourbon biscuits. He was allowed two since it
was not every day that one became affianced.
He didn’t look up at first. He felt that she had committed a sin of
presumption, or at least commission, but he wasn’t going to split
theological hairs at this point. Taking a sledgehammer to break
a walnut came into his mind too, but he felt that was a violent
metaphor. Still, he probably would never have succumbed to a
more gentle persuasive technique.
Yes, he had heard of St Brigid and her relationship with St Patrick.
He simply didn’t want Virginia to activate any of the ideas that the
female saint of yore had favoured, such as giving away all her
counterpart’s worldly goods and so on. Virginia would probably never
understand the vital importance of his oiled cricket bat, or piles
of Wisdens. He wasn’t swayed by aspirations to a ranking in the
hagiography through denial in any shape or form, and, if he was
to wed, then it might be more appropriate to consider an entry
in a martyrology.
He looked at the cup of tea. There was no such thing as a free drink.
He felt like Alice, in Wonderland– a novel concept. The eponymous
heroine had been confronted with a phial which was labelled: Drink Me.
If he accepted the bone china mug and its contents, did it imply an
acceptance of the proposal? Was he about to drain hemlock?
He risked a sip. Aaah! Just the way he liked it: slightly stewed.
He swirled it round his mouth in a Proustian reverie. It wasn’t too
disagreeable, after all- the whole idea and not just the cuppa. It
took him back to reminiscenses of past times of security, as when
Matron had brought him just such a beverage when he was in San with
measles. She had warmed his jammies on the radiator and had
given him Lucozade. He remembered looking at the confines of
his life through the orange cellophane, which he picked off the bottle,
and feeling that life was still an adventure, if only for Boys’ Own
Virginia tiptoed out, knowing that he needed a little space.
He gazed at the poster of Thomas Hardy alongside the English
Department noticeboard. That wretched man had caused him a
lot of trouble over the years. (see the original misdirected Valentine
which had ended up between the underlay and the carpet of a boarding
house-mistress’ apartment, many moons previously.)
And now he had to ask himself a typically Hardyean question:
Was he, like Boldwood, being set up by a teasing woman? Virginia
did have some Bathsheban tendencies. He tried to resist thinking of
her in a state of deshabillement for the moment, as it distracted him
from the thrust of his current thought processes.
Then Hardy came to the rescue.
How so? you ask, Dear Reader.
Boldwood gave him the idea.
Gus took his hymnbook from the side table and threw it into the air.
Virginia came into the room again, having given him what she
considered was sufficient time- to hang himself, some would have
added. She carried some correspondence as justification.
What are you doing with that book? she reprimanded. You’ll break its
Snod inwardly whispered, Open-to wed; Shut-to…
Sods’ Law: it fell open. Or was it Snod’s Law?
Virginia picked it up and placed it in his pigeonhole.
Then she came over and took his plate and mug, spat on her
hanky and wiped an indeterminate stain from his tie.
So, that’s settled then, she pronounced.
And he knew that it jolly well was. But a quote from Neutral
Tones, one of Hardy’s finest, suddenly sprang to mind:
The smile on [his]mouth was the deadest thing
alive enough to have strength to die…
No, although he felt chidden of God, it couldn’t be as bad as all
Could it? Happy misogyny, here we come, he mused.
He had measured out his life, unlike Prufrock, in oxymorons,
rather than coffee spoons.
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.
Bentham, Charles Saatchi, Damien HIrst, Dan Snow, Ernest Hemingway, FT, Grayson Perry, List of Reith Lectures, Manet, Nigella Lawson, Olympia, Proust, pushpin, Richard Hoggart, sociology, springer spaniel, transformation, Trinny Woodall, Uses of Literacy
Brassica could hardly hear herself speak for the frothing of the coffee machine
and the screech of a toddler.
Yeah, it’s that bloke in a frock who’s giving The Reith Lectures, she informed
Who? Grayson Perry? Suddenly I was interested in what she was saying.
Yip. I liked his tapestries on class but I admit that I used to think they-
the artists, I mean- actually made the stuff themselves.
What? You thought that Damien Hirst went out and caught his own shark,
like Ernest Hemingway? I was somewhat surprised.
Well, I thought they would weave the tapestries, or, say, Henry Moore
would cast his own bronzes in his back yard.
Right. Before the scrap metal guys nicked them. Brass, you’ve just got
to understand the difference between craft and art.
Some philosophers have described it as the difference between pushpin
It’s like shove halfpenny. I tried to clarify the analogy. Look,
I addressed her. Read the front page of the Life and Arts section of the
I reached up and took down the pink pages of a grease-stained
newspaper from the wall rack.
You see, I gestured, take a look at the artwork in this cafe. I think it comes
from The Suttonford Art Society’s Annual Show. You be the judge. Is it art?
If it goes by financial value, then I’d say not, she deliberated.
Emmm, yeah. Not many of them have a reserved sticker. I suppose that
they could come under therapeutic, or popular art categories.
Some of them could be improved by more sympathetic
presentation, she decided.
Yes. Proust wrote that we can only see beauty if we look through a
gilded frame, I expanded on the theme. I wonder what Charles Saatchi
is collecting now..? Certainly not portraits of Nigella! Maybe Trinny
Woodall woodcuts? Skinny Trinny as Olympia. Not a good look!
My granny used to commission oils of sunsets to match the colours in her
swirly carpets, Brassie mused.
(You could never accuse Brass of being a snob.) She was reading the
front page by now and she came out with:
Are individual works of historical significance, or do they exhibit aesthetic
No, I replied quietly, looking carefully round the room for any paint
stains on clothing. There is an acrylic over there which shows the oldest
pub in the town, though. It all comes down to Bentham’s pushpin/ poetry
But, endorsement is surely part of it? I mean, if we placed a label under that
unconvincing representation of a Springer Spaniel and it announced that it was
by Dan Snow, would it change our perception of it? Brassie probed.
No, but it would change my perception of him, sadly, I replied.
Brassie began to show enthusiasm for this debate. Didn’t Richard Hoggart,
who incidentally lived not too far from here, discuss some of this in his book
on popular culture, The Uses of Literacy?
Yawn. Early sociology, I said dismissively. Mind you, he made some good
Brassie pushed on, paraphrasing as she read: Apparently, what the’ lovely
consensus’ agree on is seriousness.
Mmm, some of these are seriously bad. I tried to be generous and failed. Okay.
Who is going to validate them?
Brassie brightened up. I expect their mummies, grannies, aunts, husbands
and wives might rescue them from ignominy. They’ll probably buy them.
So, laying aside meritocracy, they will be saved for posterity by love? I
The greatest ennobler, breathed Brassie. The Art of Human Understanding.
Compassion. An act of grace. Love for the unlovely. Transformation!
You didn’t tell me about your French trip, Brassie.
No. I’ve just been so frantic sewing all the name tapes into the twins’
clothes. After the start of term I always feel like another holiday. In
fact, whenever we are en vacances as a family I realise that I can’t
recreate the dream of those first magical trips across the Channel.
Yes, I responded with feeling. Do you remember the romantic holidays
with your first boyfriend? Everything was innocent in those days. There
was a sweetness that kids today will never experience, because of the
restraint, which makes the relationships all the more poignant in the
recherche du temps perdu, to make a Proustian reference.
Oh Candia, you always take a cerebral approach to life.
Not at all, I replied, taking a folded up piece of paper from my designer
vintage handbag- a trophy from Help The Ancient charity shop- before their
prices took a Himalayan hike. Read this. I found it in my desk drawer
MISTS OF TIME
It was the smallest port in France. Sea mist
stole in, shrouding an ashen harbour, name
forgotten now. I recollect we kissed,
lay curled in gloom, till dank fog damped our flame
of desire. All around loomed hydrangeas:
the palest lilac I had ever seen.
And though Time’s chromatography changes
the memory of that dimmed scene,
their hue persists; that tone tinctures my mind.
Sere shadows, like Brockenspectres assume
monumental presence; therefore I find
they remain, though all else has lost its bloom.
Angelina's, beau monde, Bradley Wiggins, Brigitte Bardot, Cafe de Flore, Cocteau, Da Vinci Code, Gorden Kaye, Irma Kurtz, Jeanette Winterson, John Humphrys, La Boheme, La Vie Bohème, Les Deux Magots, madeleine, Mallarme, Manon, Maxim's, Mimi, Muriel Belcher, Musetta, Novello, Oscar Wilde, Perrault, Pippa Middleton, Proust, Rimbaud, Rodolfo, Rose Line, Rousseau, Shakespeare& Co, Something Understood, St Germain des Pres, St Sulpice, The Colony, Verlaine, Woody Allen
(Muriel Belcher by Francis Bacon)
Hi! It’s Candia again. I’ve been festively overwrought and last night I fell asleep listening to Irma Kurtz on Radio 4’s ‘Something Understood.’ She had constructed a compilation on La Vie Boheme, mentioning La Rive Gauche, Greenwich Village and The Colony in Soho, owned by Muriel Belcher, where Francis Bacon was paid to bring along interesting guests who were on an ‘odyssey of creativity’.
As a student, I had worn a cape and affected a feathered hat until my dad told me to tie my hair back and remove the offending headgear.
Then I woke upto someone singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas with a voiceover chiding John Humphrys with a reminder that there were more things on Heaven and Earth than had been permitted in his philosophy. Rather surreal to have the announcement of Bradley Wiggins as Sports Personality of the Year juxtaposed with cosmology and moral philosophy at 8am.
I had a somewhat unusual request yesterday, Dear Reader. A visitor asked if he could have a guest appearance in my blog. And who is this budding self-publicist? I hear you wonder aloud. Eh bien, he was a rather elegant Frenchman that I introduced to Costamuchamoulah’s café society via une promenade round the aspirational, but pas trop authentique Francophile Sunday morning market in our beloved ville. This event of global significance was ‘appening on the High Street. (Why do I always think in terms of Gorden Kaye’s Franglais when I am narrating anything of Gallic content?) Anyhow, it was with un soupcon of Rousseau’s irony that I directed said gentilhomme’s footsteps down the less than sunny side of the street to Suttonford’s burgeoning version of Maxim’s.
We did not recognise anything remotely familiar to this European voyageur in le marche and so I headed him off past the bookshop-alas, not Shakespeare & Co, with a resident Jeanette Winterson, but to the cosmopolitan hub of Suttonford’s Café Society. On the way across the street my boulevardier remarked approvingly on various expensive vehicles, parked in bays, which screamed mid-life crisis.
He seemed more interested in the clientele, though the owners of Costamuchamoulah have not yet cottoned on to the device employed by Cornuche, the proprietor of Maxim’s, who remarked:
An empty room! Never! I always have a beauty sitting in the window, in view from the [pavement]
Here it is more like Novello’s version of the experience: And Her Mother Came Too!
(There are one or two widows, but not necessarily of the ‘merry’ variety.) Woody Allen was distinctly absent, but there were no Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds,(sic) at least.
Ensconced in a corner, at an unwiped table and on hard chairs- not the sumptuous banquettes which might reveal hidden treasures lost down the cushions- we ordered our upwardly mobile beverages, while he showed me photographs of his international girlfriends on his Blackberry – ( is that Murier, I me demande?) Monsieur was keen to exhibit pictures of himself in Les Deux Magots. Was this a kind of Parisian, urban, if not urbane, Crocodile Dundee equivalent of showing me that THAT was a café, in the same way as Paul Hogan had demonstrated the superiority of his jungle knife? Whatever. I was miffed that he had assumed that I would not have heard of such an establishment, so beloved by les philosophes, let alone having patronised it with my custom.
Les Deux Magots has thankfully nothing to do with maggots. Un magoh was the slang term for a miser. I don’t think misers would search out the pitchers of decadent hot chocolate found therein, nor would they pay their prices to see Oscar Wilde, Mallarme, Rimbaud etc. In Costamuchamoulah, we pay the prices, but don’t see Apollinaire, Verlaine or Hemingway. Apparently, Pippa Middleton might have breezed through, though I don’t know whether it was to check the sales of her book which is displayed beside the edible ladybirds and so froth. Pun. Formidable rear isn’t la meme chose as formidable intellect, in my book at any rate.
But to my tale- pas Perrault, but tant pis! Ah yes, I remember it well. The Husband and I slipped on the glacial trottoirs of St Germain- des- Pres, in the days when he went out, seeking the church of St Sulpice with its Rose Line and gnomen, but thankfully with no resident albino monk assassins. The fountain was frozen and great slabs of sheet ice almost prevented us from venturing to the Café de Flore or Deux Magots, for it was the Advent season, as it is now. Ah, those were the days and nights of Angelina’s and other beau monde haunts, where we expected to encounter Mimi, Manon, Musetta and Rodolfo and perhaps, if we were very blessed, Proust himself. Mimi had wanted to lose her senses and Musetta had forgotten the regulation of their economies and had asked the boys to order champagne. We were a little less extravagant.
For that is the problem with such cafes of Enlightenment. Before you know it you are emptying your bank balance, merely to see and be seen.
My current companion looked around the room, panning the four corners for a barefoot Brigitte Bardot perhaps, but his eye fell upon a smart blonde woman in her fifties. Quel surpris! He confessed that young girls were not for him. Like Cocteau, he was well aware that:
..to undress one of those women [would be] like an outing that calls for 3 weeks’ advance notice…it [would be] like moving house.
So, it was on my first sip of Mocha that I had the flashback, the Epiphany-and it came without the madeleine. I will enlighten you further.
Argentinian tango, Carcassone, Carrie, Don Giovanni, Duncan Bannatyne, extra vergine, Glasgow, Leporello, Liguria, Montalbano, Olive, Petruchio, Pino Grigio, Proust, Salva, Souleiado, Suttonford, Tesco
Carrie settled back on the sofa in the snug. The kids were in bed and her husband, Gyles, was upstairs on the computer. Bliss! She was going to watch Montalbano, which she had recorded for such a moment. It was so helpful for her conversational Italian, though she was picking up a Sicilian accent, she had been told. All her girlfriends had noticed, though they were speaking in the same way.
It was Tuesday. She was just about to reach for her Pino Grigio when she had a Proustian moment. She remembered that she hadn’t seen Salvatore for a couple of weeks. He used to come to the town markets regularly and had a stall shaded, or sheltered, depending on the weather, by a bright gazebo-type canopy, under which he spread out his wares- olives and suchlike.
Buon giorno! Carrie would say in her Sicilian accent, re-discovering her Italian roots. (Her full maiden name had been Carissima Pomodoro, but she had been brought up in Glasgow, where her great-grandfather had opened one of the first ice-cream parlours, long before Duncan Bannatyne had been a glint in his father’s eye. Ginevra, her mother-in-law, had also been brought up in Glasgow by her parents, the Piccolalivernas. The Glasgow connection was how Carrie had come to meet her husband, Gyles, but that is another story..)
Yes, Tuesday was Suttonford’s market day, but the stalls tended to deflect business from the regular shops. Frankly, they did not offer anything very enticing that was an obvious bonus to the town, nor did they compensate for the loss of parking spaces on High street.
Vans filled with house clearance detritus or car boot leftovers mingled with vehicles of suspect exhausts and noisy generators that spewed forth olagineous fumes and dealt in butterless baps with slabs of indeterminate material squidged with a squelch of pseudo-ketchup from an array of plastic dispensers. All of this was profferred to townspeople who largely monitored their own chlorestrol levels and ordered their organic veggie boxes bi-monthly.
Once or twice, Carrie had dared to interrupt a stall-holder who wore fingerless gloves and who was demolishing a pasty whilst talking to the neighbouring vendor. They’d be discussing grandchildren, golf handicaps or ferry crossings. Having broken in with a discreet cough, Carrie would point to some ceramic item and enquire:
Excuse me, what is it?
(She was referring to its make, age, composition or provenance and she felt sure that the misunderstanding could not be attributed to her Sicilian accent, since that was restricted to her alternative linguistic mode.)
The stall holder would take a deliberate additional bite and, with her mouth full of pastry, would look her up and down, assessing her status and then pronounce:
What is it? It’s fifty quid, innit.
Carrie, unsure as to whether this tag was an interrogative or a statement, would immediately slink away, completely ignored by the original addressee.
Off she’d go, past the stall which displayed Mediterranean tat-ie/ 100% polyester tablecloths and napkins in fake Souleiado patterns, whose sunny colours looked entirely out of place in the cold, relatively northern light of Suttonford, but which might have glowed jewel-like in the inner sanctum of Carcassone’s shopping fortress. She would pass the Spanish ceramic house number plates (so useless in Suttonford, where each house has a name, darling,) and would walk beyond the abandoned trestle tables, where one had to look around for a keeper who had given up hope and had scarpered to Tesco’s for a pack of sandwiches. No haggle margin, as nobody with which to haggle.
And then there was the effulgent aura coming from the final stall which was like the clichéd candle flame to moths and that was manned- and oh, so manly- by Salvatore, the olive seller. He was not only a babe magnet, but he drew in all the female phagocytes (cells which are capable of absorbing foreign matter) with complexions like sun-dried tomatoes and natures to match, ie/ who would give you the pip, but who giggled like pre-teens, even after half a century, when Salvatore greeted them like long-abandoned exes.
Salvatore’s alluring success owed itself to the fact that he dealt in hope, misplaced meteorological optimism and remembrance of things very far back in the past. Never mind that he traded in over-salty olives and his stall was probably a Mafia franchise. (Hey, Carrie had noticed two empty violin cases on the adjacent stall. Maybe they were for the machine guns.) For, it was possible that he was being subsidised to create addiction in the way Brits had engendered craving for opium in China, in order to gain trade control.
Carrie could observe his modus operandi- oily flattery, overt grooming, courtship and finally, seduction. Yet, she was not immune.
First there was the fore-play of the inviting sample, temptingly waved in front of the customer on the end of an olive wood ladle. Then there was the caring concern shown in the provision of a clean polystyrene cup to contain the poubelles and the sensitive handing over of a paper napkin to wipe the excess oil which dribbled down most matrons’ chins.
Each lucky lady had been selected to taste a particular flavour which was skilfully matched with her character and personality: the reserved and shy could try green olives with mild almonds cheekily protruding, perhaps in a basilica or coriander dressing.
The more fiery characters were tamed by this Petruchio via glistening orbs, coated in chili, or jalapeno-flavoured oils.
Those who considered themselves cosmopolitan- such as the members of Carrie’s Italian group-had plenty of garlic garnish and the acerbic and twisted had citrus zest on black globes.
Salvatore- she had subliminally taken to calling him Salva after the detective- would lick his fingers while maintaining eye contact and then she and others in his fan club would come away laden with little tubs and paper carriers and a determination to lobby the local council for an Argentinian tango class for beginners. Ciao and prego crept into Suttonford vocabulary, especially when the besotted customers met up in Costamuchamoulah.
Buon giorno, Carrie! He raised an expressive eyebrow, in lieu of a question.
She tried to maintain a certain froideur.
Try some with lemon, rosemary and thyme, he suggested. (100% on the oleometer.)
No, I’ll just have some foccacio, she resisted. Maybe that was the wrong word?
Extra vergine? he persisted, lubriciously.
A little flutter like a breeze playing lightly over the strings of an Aeolian harp reminded her of her hormones. I’m not frigid after all, she thought.
By the time he had finished with her, she had a till receipt the length of the list of Leporello’s conquests in Don Giovanni.
She heard a tread on the stair, which brought her back to the present. Salva was probably basking on a verandah in Liguria- sounds a bit like a ligature, but let’s not go there. Or, subsidised by Carrie and other victims, he was, in all likelihood, wining and dining some Loren-lookalike on his balcony over the sea, canoodling in Calabria, like Montalbano, only with hair.
Gyles popped his head round the snug door:
I thought you were watching your programme? he said mildly. Do you want some olives with your Pino Grigio? He placed a tub of Tesco’s best on the nest of tables.
But somehow the little love grenades had lost their charm.
No thanks, love. I’m just coming up to bed. I’ll watch it another night.
Gyles went ahead.
Hello, wall! she said to herself.
Tuesdays were never going to be the same.
Arrivederci, Salva. Adieu, adieu.