Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Where did that come from? 1

Penelope sat in the front parlour and watched Simon Prendergast walk gingerly up the garden path. He was wearing his Sunday suit and was clutching a propitiatory bunch of tulips.

Penelope was wearing her best tortoise shell comb, a souvenir from Paris from a long-dead uncle and never yet worn. She’d taken down an equally vintage frock from its tissue-papered reliquary perched on top of the wardrobe. The stage was set.

She could hear her mother hovering outside the door, panting as heavily as Towser, the family’s asthmatic bulldog they’d locked in the kitchen for fear he would slobber on Mr Prendergast’s trousers. Her father would be hiding amongst his roses. Both parents would be on tenterhooks about the morning’s outcome. The impossible achieved; a home to themselves after long years. A spinster transformed. A daughter finally fledged.

Penelope thought of the little terraced house she and Simon would aspire to. Of knitting while Simon read of an evening, beside their own prudently banked coal fire. She allowed herself a glimpse in the clock glass. She was, admittedly, not in the first flush. Not a slip of girl. But she’d got the lipstick to behave eventually. She felt she could afford to think of herself as a catch, just this once, on her special day.

Her mother ushered a nervous Simon into the tiny parlour before retiring with unnecessarily theatrical discretion. Penelope stood up. There was a moment’s silence

Then, without warning, Penelope felt her colon relax. As she struggled, poker-faced, to control it, she gave vent to a loud, lengthy and keening fart, owing more to Wagner perhaps than Purcell. They both stood transfixed as the noise reverberated around them, rattling the clock casing. Towser, being locked in the kitchen, was too far away plausibly to be blamed.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Out of the question 4

Ford-Roberts, the Prime Minister’s private secretary, stared morosely out of the window at the barrage balloons hanging low over Westminster. He sighed deeply and continued, “I’m afraid the Old Man’s insisting.”

“Oh Christ,” Sir Brendan Cluster, the Cabinet Secretary, ran a hand over his patrician face in desolation. “The Germans at Calais. Europe supine beneath the jackboot. And now this.”

Cluster lit a Players Navy Cut, exhaled streams of smoke down his nose and brought years of experience to bear on the problem, “Firstly, can he actually play the ukulele? He may just find it all too much for him.”

“He’s taught himself,”Ford-Roberts admitted, “Badly.”

“And when is he planning to perform?”

Ford-Roberts spilled out the awful truth, “He’s going to do the full ‘I can promise you nothing but blood, toil tears and sweat’ right up to the big finish, then up with the ukulele and ‘If you can see what I can see when I’m cleaning windows.’.”

He froze for a moment as the Cabinet Secretary appeared to be trying to control some kind of seizure. “He says it’ll lighten the mood, sir.”

Cluster exploded, “Do you think the Americans are going to overcome their innate isolationism and the vested interests of generations to bail out a fat man with a cigar singing comic songs with a ukulele?! Will the Russians die obligingly in their millions because of what Winnie claims he saw when he was cleaning windows?”

“Everybody likes a good laugh, sir,” Ford-Robbers offered feebly.

“He’s your responsibility, Ford-Roberts,” Sir Bertrand replied icily, “Unless you’d prefer immediate reassignment to a one-man submarine in the Arctic circle.”

Ford-Roberts returned to the Prime Minister’s private drawing room, found the new ukulele and stamped it into matchwood.The PM was too busy to notice. Britain was saved.