Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Woolsey Herman Augustus Tinsellbaum IV

It came to me with something of a jolt this morning, that I have been most frightfully dilatory in fulfilling the requirements of a grandmother.
I was idling away half an hour or so scrolling through my news feed on Facebook. No, It won't do. I must confess at once that I am mentioning this only to impress you. It has taken me longer than I expected to gain ascendancy over the controls of the computer, and I admit that now I have understood some of the basics I can be unbecomingly inclined to brag.
Even so, you know, I was browsing in my Facebook news feed, disturbed as always by the number of my friends whose lives seem to revolve unrelentingly around what has been served them for dinner, and a perennial and tedious obsession with chocolate. But that was not what I intended to say. Where was I? Ah, yes.
What caught my attention this morning was a number of posts from other grandmothers, proudly displaying photographs of their infant relatives, describing them as cutie-pies and precious ones - and I could feel myself instantly uneasy.
Gus is a pleasant child - I think. His father, the third Woolsey Herman Augustus Tinsellbaum has a fine pigtail of which he is both protective and proud, and I believe it to be his intention to give young Gussie the opportunity to be the equally proud originator of his own similar pigtail.
The raw materials of this forthcoming pièce de résistance hang meanwhile in an impenetrable thicket descending to his upper lip. When Aurora and I took him to tea at Fortnum and Mason last Thursday, he seemed disappointingly uninterested in the marvellous array of little cakes the waitress brought to our table, until I bethought me to remove a kirby grip from my own coiffure and affix him a little top-knot, whereupon he gazed in amazement at first his mother and then me, then with a cry of 'AHAAAAA!' fixed his gaze on the cakes like a true Englishman.
So though I think he is a sweet-natured personality, it remains at the present time impractical to look with penetration into his eyes - 'the windows of the soul' as I'm sure you've read elsewhere. But we get along very well, even though expressions such as 'cutie-pie' and 'precious' have at no time been the vocabulary of my upbringing.
Anyway, seeing how assiduously my contemporaries were fulfilling their ancestral role, it seemed incumbent upon me to do my duty and make a visit to darling Aurora. I felt it had been a wise decision. How it lifted my heart to see their cheerful faces as they stood waiting to greet me in the doorway of their lovely abode.
It's not as if Aurora sits at home waiting to be visited of course. Such is Woolsey's prominence (obscure to me but, I am persuaded, very real) in the world of finance that little Gussie already has a position on the boards of three high street banks, and what with that and the Radical Mothers Front and Boobs Are For Babies, Aurora's little Porsche barely has the chance to cool down its engine.
She reads voraciously too, passing on to me any texts in which I have shown an interest. Even now on my bedside table I have a little stack waiting: These Sinister Apron Strings (winner of Year of the Child runner-up), The Umbilical Cord As Archetypal Shackle (an indispensible call to resist the New Pedagogy), Politics of Motherhood - an exposé of contemporary abuse, and 'Garry - poignant revelation of the world of the elective mute'. I must say they all look completely fascinating; so much so that I hardly know where to begin!
'AHAAAA!' little Gussy shouted as he saw me approaching the house. Though he can see very little and I am shockingly unsatisfactory as a forebear, I think we have managed to establish a remarkable rapport.
The use of the word (forebear) recalls to my mind an ancient Lay Reader who used to reside in our parish - this was some years ago, the man in question has been called home to glory some while since now. He used to be relied upon to preach whenever our rector was away on some other pressing business over a weekend. Our reader's sermons were sustaining but I have to say they did not sparkle.
His delivery was ponderous in the extreme, though his education at Harrow and then Oxford and finally formation in ministry at Ridley Hall must surely have seen that the content was utterly sound. I confess my mind used to wander a little. I hit upon St Paul's exhortation that women should ask their husband to explain the sermon when they go home, but every time I asked Henry he admitted to having dozed a little so his intake had become unhelpfuly fragmented.
I usually found myself able to concentrate at least upon the preamble. I recall one Sunday when he began: 'It was during the summer of '23, that my great uncle went to sea...' I was rivetted for a moment, thinking the entire presentation was to be in rhyming couplets - but alas I was wrong.
My fondest memory of his preaching was the sermon that started even more ponderously than usual - absolutely slow motion:
'Of... my... fore... ...bears... five were clergymen...'
Now I am a forebear (or possible a fivebear) myself, it has pressed in upon me that I must do my level best to shake off all frivolity and fulfil my duties with a consciousness of the responsibility and privilege that they are. And I had a jolly nice time with Aurora and little Gussie; though the southern drawl of his Tinselbaum ancestry is unmistakeably apparent in his rendering of the simple word: 'Bye!'
The 'AHAAAA!' has been learned, I suspect, from his mother, from whose library books startling revelations of neural psychology and the wiring of the infant brain tumble in unbelievable profusion.
Dear Gussie. I wonder what he will be when he grows up? Surprised, I suppose, as we all are.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

An Unexpected Glimpse Of Plunging Assets

This is not like me at all, but I have to confess; I am feeling somewhat fragile.

Dear Mrs Backfatt – my neighbour Gerda, from The Thieving Cow – arrived quite unannounced this morning for a visit that rather exceeded my stamina. The worst of it was, you see, that Ellis was not here. Henry has required him as a chauffeur this whole week long, which has tried the patience of all of us but couldn’t be helped.

Early last Thursday morning Henry drove himself to the railway station – or started to – but never actually arrived there because he had a little accident. Anybody could see at once that it was not at all Henry’s fault, and I fail to understand why the constable had to be quite so patronizing about it. Now that autumn is with us, on the days the Autumn Rains are not Clothing the Fields in Blessing (I am quoting from the Psalms) they are busy obscuring the lanes with mist; and so it was on Thursday.

Normally of course that is of no importance, had Henry not been reading his book about the Bates method of improving eyesight that (apart from drinking quantities of cider vinegar which is vile with or without the mother still in it) recommends dispensing with eyeglasses before any visual enhancement has actually taken place. Naturally this presents enormous challenges to any driver negotiating the Sussex lanes in heavy mist and intermittent precipitation, but Henry will not be dictated to, one can only watch and pray – or in Henry's particular case, just pray.

Quite apart from the mist and the absence of spectacles, I know from past experience how extraordinarily a bull’s head can resemble a grizzled old tree stump. Not until the creature moves does one's brain compute that this bulky object is, in the mammalian sense, alive – and then my goodness does it not give one a shock! Dear me!

The bull, the mist and the Bates method between them totalled the car: hence on Thursday morning when Mrs Backfatt called unexpectedly to introduce her dear friend Bathilde Gumbutts (at least that was how she said it though I suppose it could conceivably be rendered Gummbutz) visiting from the Rhein Valley, Ellis was somewhere completely else.

D’you know, I do wish people would check in the mirror before setting forth from their homes – I am forever having to remind Sybil of this – it would save so much unpleasantness if they would bother.

There are (too many) young ladies nowadays, we know, who wear their underwear as outerwear as a matter of course: it started with Grandad Vests in the 1970s and gained momentum in the extraordinary brassieres that Madonna identified as suitable attire in which to perform a concert (I still find that hard to believe), and now one is treated to vistas of adjustable strapping on every street corner. Why, even in church last Sunday, when a Christening party attended, underwear was ubiquitous in its most declarational manifestation. Christianity is defined as a revealed religion, and never has this been more evidently so than last Sunday morning two pews in front of mine. What puzzled me – and still does – is why a lady of considerable personal advantage, having arrived at worship in leggings and an entirely diaphanous blouse, beneath which very little is concealed from view or left to anybody’s imagination, should occupy herself throughout every hymn with obsessively tugging at her hemline to ensure that it has not ridden up the extra half inch that would lift it above the southern slopes of her buttocks. I tried to keep my mind on the Old Hundredth, but I must admit the view was too arresting to permit easy distraction. This irritated me a little, because I had intended to utilise my time at church worshipping God, not gazing in fascination at the depth to which elastic can sink within subcutaneous fat. My only consolation was the certain knowledge that under the reliable ministry of Coleshaw Grimm no Christening party has been known to make it back to the church for a second visit. But I digress.

My point was that Gerda can often be slovenly in just this department. Her neckline is often woefully décolleté, and the support mechanisms of her foundation garments frankly far from ornamental. But Bathilde Gumbbutz did not strike me as that kind of lady at all; on the contrary, I would judge it to have been her intention to dress with all modesty.

Ellis being absent, I had to call upon Mrs Swann to provide coffee, which she graciously did; and while we were waiting I drew the attention of our visitors to the vista of the lovely autumn colours through the drawing room French windows. And I have to admit I was baffled when Ponty, who for reasons of his own was still mooching about the house, remarked to me in a penetrating whisper laden with meaning: ‘Stock markets have fallen!’

How often and how ardently I have wished that Ponty might apply closer attention to the financial realities of life – but something told me this long-awaited evidence that fiscal awareness had finally dawned now might not be quite what it seemed at first – because why would anyone feel the need to whisper with regard to the stock market? We were not in church!

I looked at him blankly. With a curious twitch of the eyebrow and an incomprehensible jerk of his head, Ponty muttered through the side of his mouth: ‘Footsie One Hundred’s right down!’

At Château Mont-Choisi where I studied as a girl, my teachers reinforced what my dear Mama had always taught us: a lady must strive to feign interest in the conversation of her menfolk, addressing her attention respectfully to their pronouncements on the worlds of business, finance, sport, alcoholic beverages, war, cars and any other assortment of machinery, violence or personal achievement. This is now so ingrained a habit that for the moment I neglected my guests, directing a courteous smile in Ponty’s direction, with what I hoped passed for intelligent application to his remarks on the national economy. He appeared exasperated.

For a moment it crossed my mind to wonder if he might not have developed Tourette’s syndrome while I had remained completely unaware. After all, I have been very busy of late, taking notes at dictation in every available spare moment of Aunt Myrtle’s memoirs on providing wedding cake for her offspring in the Second World War. The principle ingredients seem to have been rhubarb and cardboard, which I found unexpected and evidence of significant levels of patriotic ingenuity. Talk about ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’! With multiple sideways jerkings of the head coupled with convulsive rapid-fire movements of his eyebrows, accomplished while alternately catching my eye and casting his gaze towards the floor, Ponty asserted: ‘Investments are plummeting on the emerging markets!!’

How I finally bethought me to catch his meaning I cannot account for now: I followed his glance and saw that, even as she gazed enraptured at the lovely reds and golds of our trees in the park, Mrs Gummbutts’ knickers had fallen down and lay in champagne silk folds around her ankles on the parquet. And she hadn’t even noticed.


Friday, 1 January 2010

A difficult beginning.

Oh dear, 2010 has really not started very well at all – I am quite distressed. I have asked Ellis to allow absolutely no visitors across the threshold whatsoever, and Mrs Swann is bringing me a cup of Earl Grey and two aspirins. Honestly, what a fuss; I do think Ponty was unreasonable.

Naturally he likes to go out with his friends on New Year’s Eve – I believe he was heading for Town with the intention of meeting up with some other young people in Trafalgar Square, where they were all intending to have a lovely time and possibly pop into a nearby hostelry for a little drink at some point. I did rather wistfully enquire if that Complete Saddho would still be of the party, but after staring at me in blank amazement for a moment, Ponty appeared to recover his wits and said with a guffaw that his friend had urgently to head East to quell a revolution. I must say Ponty does have some exciting associates, though I should have thought a political uprising is no laughing matter even at this safe distance.

Before he went up to Town yesterday he asked me as a favour if I would record a television programme for him – normally Eustacia would do that, but she was taking a nap and Ponty seemed in a hurry to set off, so Ponty asked me if I would do it for him.

I wish now that I had been sensible enough to consult Eustacia, and then I would never have made such a silly mistake. I suppose I felt proud that for once one of my dear children had seen fit to entrust me with something important, and had faith in my ability to master the management of electronic controls, which I realise has been shaky in the past. Results have been uneven, and I am the first to admit this.

But I was determined to do it by myself, if only to prove that I could: and I see now how foolish I was to act with such arrogance.

It was not that I failed to set the recording function. I got out the little booklet that came with the DVD recording machine, and followed the rather longwinded instructions with care and success, despite their being written entirely in Spanish.

I must confess I felt a little surprised that Ponty was so keen to avoid missing an episode of Supernanny. I might have seen the sense in watching it myself a few years ago, but Ponty has no children of his own – or at least – well, never mind; Ponty is not married.

So it was not until late this afternoon when Ponty, having returned from Town and slept in until after luncheon, emerged in his dressing gown to catch up on his programme, that I discovered my mistake.

With a puzzled expression on his face Ponty watched the first fifteen minutes of Jo Frost correcting the ways of a shockingly insubordinate three-year-old who was in the habit of exerting perfect tyranny over its cowering parents – and then erupted with a bellow of rage, showering upon my unsuspecting head the most blistering attack of really disgraceful expletives.

I was completely bewildered.

Eustacia enlightened me later, after she had come down to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently it was not Supernanny at all that Ponty wanted me to record, but Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny: but, honestly – how was I to know? It sounded like ‘Supernanny’ to me!