Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
'Ern, Ali Baba basket, Berenice of Cilicia, Bosphorus, cakes and ale, Dadaism, Dickinson, dodecagon, Existentialism, fat, Garden of Remembrance, hairy legs, Herod, Iznik, Kristin Scott-Thomas, l'enfer c'est les autres, Metropolitan Archbishop, mince pies, Morecambe and Wise, mulled wine, Osman, ouzo, Play by Beckett, Pointless, Racine, Raymond Chandler, Samuel Beckett, short, Snodland, Snodland and Ash, Suetonius, Surrealism, The Absolute Camel, tribute act, urns, Who Do You Think You Are?, William the Conqueror
Great-Aunt Augusta was studying the newly photocopied programme
published by The Snodland Players, an amateur dramatic ensemble
who took their peripatetic programmes around nursing homes and
inflicted their rudely mechanical performances on captive audiences.
At least it is somewhat more challenging than one of those Primary
School variations on the nativity, combined with excruciatingly jolly
Yuletide ditties, opined the grumpy nonagenarian.
In actual fact, she had just asked to be wheeled out to the
recreation room as she could have sworn that she had smelled
‘Play’ by Samuel Beckett, she read. She liked Beckett. What was
that play she had once seen with her sister? Waiting for Ouzo?
Henry, I saw the film years ago. It had that Kristin Scott-Thomas
woman in it. You know, the one that Jeremy Fisher salivates over.
The one on that car programme. Top Notch, or something.
Oh, Top Gear. Clarkson. Terrible man.
And Henry turned off his hearing aid and settled down to wait for
the hot toddy, given that his interest in hot totty had diminished
over the years, along with his driving skills.
I suppose they don’t need much scenery, Augusta commented to
another female resident. And it’s only a one-act play, so there won’t
be an interval.
Pity, replied Madge. That’s the bit I usually enjoy. Do you think there
will still be mince pies?
Oh, I doubt it. We’re no longer virtuous, so they’ll probably cut back
on cakes and ale.
Matron was trying to be helpful with the logistics. She scurried
around and came back with a trolley which bore three urns.
The Director picked one up. Gosh, that’s really heavy. I can see why
you needed the trolley. Thanks, but I’m afraid they are too small and
they seem to be full of something rather weighty.
Yes, said Matron. They are surprisingly heavy, considering that Ethel
was only about six stone and Oscar was about eight and a half… Maybe
that’s why the rellies didn’t bother to pick them up to take them to The
Garden of Remembrance. They probably thought that we would scatter
them, but some of the Eastern European staff are a bit superstitious about
that sort of thing, so we just put them on the shelves in Reception. They
look pretty much like vases and the cleaning staff don’t knock them over
Emmm, the Director was thinking rapidly on his feet, a thespian skill
which he tried to transmit to his rather slower colleagues. Have you
got any of those Ali Baba laundry baskets? They might do.
I’ll just have the girls wipe them down. You never know what’s been
in them, Matron said helpfully.
Ta-da! she flourished some a few moments later.
The Director cut his introductory speech. Some of the audience were
already asleep and it didn’t look as if anyone had a mobile phone on
Augusta was waiting for the half-line about Snodland and Ash. Apparently,
Beckett had once been in Kent, marrying one of the corners of his love
triangle. Hence the references. Ash/ urn…hmmm..
Something in the town had struck him, but when he had been asked
to explain its existential relevance, he had clearly taken the hump and
merely replied enigmatically: The Absolute Camel.
So, the choice of production was clearly topical.
One of the characters suddenly addressed the favoured coterie with
the philosophical question: Why am I dead?
Join the club, muttered Gerald, who was tired of waiting for the mulled
wine. He was also agitated at the thought of missing Pointless, which,
in his opinion was a cheerier form of Surrealism.
Madge interrupted with the following: I thought you said it had an ‘Ern in
it. I thought it was a tribute act to Morecambe and Wise. But I don’t see
anyone with short, fat, hairy legs.
Augusta patted her knee. No, darling. I said ‘urns’. Honestly, the
uncultivated company that she was obliged to keep nowadays! L’enfer
was definitely les autres. Didn’t they know that what they were watching
was Beckett’s response to a five-act play by Racine? Furthermore, Racine
had swiped the concept from Suetonius’ scribblings about a love triangle
involving Berenice of Cilicia.
And the reason that she was aware of that was that her younger sister
was called Berenice and their mother had had love dodefayeds– nay,
dodecagons with various Oriental types, before she had settled down with
her erstwhile nomadic, but newly-domesticated rug-seller from The
Yes, both Berenice and her mother had been the types of blondes that
Raymond Chandler had said would have caused an Archbishop-
Metropolitan, or otherwise- to have kicked a hole in a stained glass
Maybe it was the Herodian tendencies that had caused the members
of her family to be so ruthless in love.
So, life was somewhat surreal. She granted that. She’d never really
thought about her father. She and her sister had the maternal surname:
Snodbury. She supposed that her pater’s name must have been
something like Sirdar, or Osman. But that rather sun-tanned antiques
quiz guy’s surname was Dickinson and, according to the telly programme
Who Do You Think You Are? he was of Iznik extraction and came from a
family of carpetbaggers- or was it ‘sellers‘?
At any rate, she was beginning to yawn. That quiz programme would be
on tonight- the one they all liked with that rather aristocratic chap who
was related to William the Conqueror. (Weren’t we all?)
But she did find the other chap rather amusing. What was his name?
Ah, yes: Osman.
Wonder if he is any relation?
If so, that would surely be Dadaism, not Surrealism, or Existentialism.
Dadaism would probably be a very low score under the Philosophy category.
Fill me up, dear! At last- the mulled wine had arrived. You can have two
glasses of that. It’s not as strong as Dewlap Gin for the Discerning
Grandmother. And, on cold nights like this, it’s the absolute camel!