A re-blog from erstwhile…
Dahn: Own work. Leopard, Botswana
I am reminded of one of my encounters with a Suttonford grande dame who had experienced the days of the Raj first hand. She measured out her widowhood in coffee spoons and cigarettes at one of her favoured venues- not the Costamuchamullah Must-Seen Cafe, stylish though it be, but rather The Peal o’ Bells, Public House.
One lunchtime –cloth: on (dinner:cloth off) – she sat in a cloud of smoke, which spiralled upwards, like mist rising from The Ganges at dawn. I was moved to admire her leopard skin coat. She minimally acknowledged my obeisance with a dismissive movement of her fag.
A few evenings later, she was leaving a drinks party which was being held to honour veterans. The Husband and I used to be inundated with invitations to such, but lately we have found less favour from les nouveaux. By way of something to say, I asked her where her admired coat was, as she was being solicitously wrapped in a stole by a selected minion who had been appointed to see her safely across the road. She gave me a withering look , secure in her very U status and corrected my social solecism, resulting in this poem:
LEOPARD AFTER DARK
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? Is there 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 barbeque 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 looked at my heel:
‘Ma’am, no, no.
I’m sure your carpets are quite clean.’
‘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 wore porpoise, whale and shark –
But NEVER leopard after dark.”
When Sonia woke up at lunchtime, the day after she had indulged herself
with a surfeit of snifterinos at Ginevra’s son’s cottage, she resolved never to
let a drop of that dreadful Dewlap Gin for the Discerning Grandmother pass
her lips again.
Ginevra, totally accustomed to downing the firewater, was more inclined
to chastise herself for not sticking to her writing schedule of 1,000 words a
day, on her work- in-progress, the e-book entitled ****in the Park with***.
This was not a x-rated title: it was just that it had been pointed out to her
that ‘Sunday’ had already been taken by Sondheim for a musical and ‘George’
had been used in the eponymous title. So, Ginevra hadn’t quite decided on
the day of the week that her novella would focus on for its unity of action.
She was also toying with the forenames ‘Gregory’ and ‘Gordon’ for her
romantic hero. Suddenly, on Hogmanay morning, she stopped swithering
and was resolute that it should be Saturday in the Park with Gregory.
(See 26th Nov 2012: Who Do I Think I Am? for link)
Meanwhile, in Bradford-on-Avon, on New Year’s Eve, Diana Fotheringay,
retired lax (lacrosse to the uninitiated) mistress from St Vitus’ School for
the Academically-Gifted Girl, was adamant that she would never again bring
out her family’s antique linen napery, to dress the festive groaning board,
as long as the head of the table was to be graced by the messy Augustus
Snodbury, who had spilled indelible redcurrant sauce on the pristine, nay
And, talking of intactae, Drusilla had determined that she was going to
visit Wyvern Mote, just as soon as The National Trust opened their
aestival portals, in a bid to resolve the mystery of her father’s
She had discreetly opened the subject with her mother as they were
washing up – Gus had made himself scarce at this point, as many men do.
However, she had drawn a genealogical blank.
Frankly, Diana was looking forward to retrieving her own space. She had been
terrified that she was going to catch Snod’s end-of-term cold- the one he
always succumbed to when the adrenalin level subsided. He had kept making
the excuse that his sonorous sternutation was provoked by the resinous fir
she had decked in the corner of her tiny sitting room. She remained
unconvinced and liberally sprayed the room with Tea Tree oil.
Gus resolved to return to school early, in order to adopt The Headmaster’s
mantle and Diana secretly was glad that her choice television programmes
would not, therefore, be disturbed by the school secretary’s frequent relaying
of 24 hour reports, in the manner of an insomniac news anchor.
Everything seemed to revolve around some troublesome boy called
Boothroyd- Smythe, Drusilla recognised the name as she had his sister in
her boarding house. She resolved to pay attention to how the seasoned
educator, ie/ her father, dealt with such delinquents.
She overheard him say: Don’t worry! I’ll fix the little blighter good and proper
when I get back. He may give his parents the run around, but he’ll have ME
to contend with in the Spring Term.
Drusilla made a point of trying to remain unsceptical as to any projected
behavioural success. She must endeavour to be less smug in the New
And she must also be more tolerant of old people such as Great-Aunt
Augusta. In fact, she should give the old bird a call, so long as the
residents of Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry hadn’t been
packed off to The Land of Nod by 8pm, for the convenience of staff who
wanted to follow the pyrotechnic displays from Dubai, London and Edinburgh
on the telly, without the inconvenience of having to change an incontinence
pad at the very moment when the fuse was ignited on Mons Meg and the
sparks began to fly to a discordant backdrop provided by The Pet Shop Boys
and a massed pipe band.
Drusilla supposed that the old biddies- she must stop referring to them as
such- would probably not know what day of the week it was, let alone
what moment of portent they were missing. She reflected on the questions
that psycho- geriatricians ask aged people to determine their marbles’ level:
Who is the Prime Minister? What date is it?
Actually, she herself often had difficulty in remembering what day it was in
the school holidays. That was worrying! What year was it again?
When she had been with Aunt Augusta in the Recreation Room, some
official had approached the old lady and asked: Who is your visitor,
Augusta had waved the troublesome inquisitor away with an imperious
hand, such as the wife of some Indian Governor might have dismissed a
fawning minion in the days of the Raj, with a flick of a tasselled fly
The name-badged auxiliary had persisted, nodding towards Dru, but
continuing to address the increasingly agitated one: Do you know who
Augusta scowled: Do you know who she is?
Of course, the young woman replied, somewhat puzzled.
Well, in that case, Dru’s Great-Aunt was triumphant, you don’t need
to ask me!
She returned her attention to her great-niece: Ignore her, Doolally, or
whatever it is they call you. Now what was I saying?
Drusilla resolved there and then, never to grow old.