Sunday, 26 April 2009

Folio 5 ~ Tea and the Vicar of Bray

As silent and as sudden as a ghost, the waiter appeared at the table and poured into 3 little glasses a syrupy rich ruby-dark liquid. Its steam carried the scent of spices and honey and exotic far-off lands and a teensy bit of the taste you once tasted in a dream, but have never been able to remember properly ever since.

“Wonderful!” beamed Clarice clasping her hands together, “There is nothing quite like Turkish tea.”

Caroline had never had Turkish tea before, but it smelt half of adventure and the other half butterflies. And the greenish light that shone down through the skylight sparkled so gloriously through the liquid and made such beautiful swirling patterns of ruby and gold on the tablecloths that she thought it must taste like fairy music. She took a little sip and then turned her full attention back to the Battenberg.

“The answer, you know, is ‘three-score and ten’.” Gertrude said suddenly (and with an air which suggested a certain amount of disapproval).

“What is?” inquired Caroline happily munching the thick rind of marzipan.

“The answer to the question, of course!”

“But what question?” persisted Caroline, now beginning to chomp through one of the squares of pink sponge.

“To the question of, how many miles there are to Babylon!” replied Gertrude irritably, “How many miles to Babylon? Three-score and ten...”

“... can I get their by candlelight? Yes, there and back again,” interrupted Clarice.

“Grammatical error!” yelled Gertrude, banging her spoon against the silver sugar bowl and making it ring.

“You said, ‘can I get their by candlelight’ and you should have said, ‘can I get there by candlelight’. You must write out ‘their is not there’ fifty times before lunchtime.”
Clarice crumpled in a heap.

“How can you tell?” Caroline asked, “They both sound exactly alike to me.”

“I can smell them. Words have scents and grammatical errors are like smells in the wrong place. ‘Their’ smells like cherry blossom in the rain. Not unpleasant, but cherry blossom on Christmas Eve? No, no! It just won’t do. All wrong, all totally wrong. Clashes with the cinnamon and nutmeg of ‘candlelight’. A scent in the wrong place is nothing more than a smell - Scents in the wrong place must be dealt with at once or they will get out of hand. Grammatical errors are the bramble bushes of words. They creep, you know. I used to be a school teacher.”

‘Well I am rather glad that you are not one of my school teachers’ thought Caroline to herself.

“And I am rather glad that you were not one of my pupils,” retorted Gertrude severely.

“Tea! Another cup of tea!” shrilled Clarice, quite recovered from her rebuttal and rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

Caroline, who had not quite finished her first glass (even though it did shine a wonderfully rich deep red), swiffled a finger around her tea plate to mop up the last of the crumbs of her Battenberg. Clarice waved to the waiter who scurried over with a glittering pot.

Meanwhile, the grand lady who had been singing was now talking in earnest tones to her ethereal accompanist. The accompanist was raking his long bendy fingers through his towering piles of hair. The lady then turned to her audience and announced,
“I would now like to sing Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. Would you please try to refrain from over-much coughing in the quiet bits – it ruins the ambience.”

“What a pity,” sighed Gertrude, “I do like a good cough.”

“And now my dear,” bellowed Clarice, once more poking her ear trumpet down Caroline’s ear, “you must tell us all about yourself. First of all, how many marshmallows can you get in your mouth?”

“Oh, and how may seconds does it take for you to do a really good yawn?... A good one mind you, not one of those snivelling little apologies that go for yawns these days,” interjected Gertrude excitedly.

“And does your blood flow through your right knee or your left knee first?” rejoined Clarice.

“And what is the brightest colour that you can imagine?”

“Or what is the sweetest song you have ever sung?”

“Or what was the second thought that came into your mind when you awoke on May 7th, two years ago?”

“And when was the last time that you listned to see if the clouds were talking to you?”

“And what was the worst maths sum that you have EVER done?”

“But before all that,” Gertrude insisted firmly, in a slightly raised voice and placing her hands flat on the table, “you must first climb up on the table and give us your rendition of The Vicar of Bray.

“Oooh yes you must, you must,” Clarice cried, clapping her hands which made her beads rattle and her chins jabber up and down in sheer delight and excitement.

“Ahem,” ahemed the waiter, who was still standing over the table, “I would caution the young madam against collambering in her gollapsing boots upon the tables, the proprietor tends to take a dim view of gumboot marks upon the fine linen.”

The table fell silent and those sitting around it fell even more silent.

However, Caroline was rather relieved as she wasn’t too sure whether ‘Royal Ann’ came before or after ‘William’ when ‘I turned cat in pan’. Or, for that matter, where ‘George in pudding time’ came into it all. History can be such a confusing thing if you have to keep joining it up.

“And one other thing, whilst we is still on the topic of merriment and mirth,” intoned the waiter, mirthlessly, “the management of this here establishment...” he was beginning to get into his stride now and was rather enjoying a sense of authority that he thought he had lost forever, “... looks rather blackly, if you take me drift, upon young ladeez standing up and a-hollering and a-caterwauling and otherwise upsetting the other patrons (he rather appeared to like that word, so said it again), ... PATRONS on these premiseses (now the last ‘es’ undermined the whole affect, but we will have to be gracious and accept the spirit in which it was made).”

The waiter took a quick look at Caroline who was staring cat-like at the cake. He wasn’t too sure if she had been upset by his little monologue and so he turned to her and added, “No offence missie, but rules is rules and I cannot allow the screeching and howling, no matter how pretty your spotted yellow dress is. I have to think of me regulars, you see?”

“Bloody Philistine!” bellowed Clarice, delivering a hefty blow to the waiter’s head with her ear trumpet.

“Tsk tsk,” tutted her companion, “PLEASE Clarice, not in front of such young ears.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the gel,” replied Clarice dismissively, “I told you she’s as deaf as a... as a...” her words tailed off into the sweet steamy air.

They looked across the table at Caroline who, apparently oblivious to the world around her, was concentrating intently upon writing in a little notebook that she had taken from her pocket.

“There,” said Clarice, triumphantly, “what did I say? The poor wee scrap hasn’t heard a word we’ve been saying. What a tragic little thing she is.”

Caroline’s notebook was full of all sorts of treasures that she had picked up. There were pressed daisies from the summer parks of last year and an autumn leaf that was as red as wine, and an old bus ticket, a feather (probably belonging to a phoenix), some crumbs of Jaffa cakes (which weren’t really meant to be there), some things she copied from a book of poetry that made her eyes widen and the world become full of enchantment and adventure, and, at the back, there was list taken from a geography book which named all the places with the most magical names and to which, one day, she planned to visit.

And now, under the word ‘palimpsest’ (which she had written earlier), with a blue ballpoint pen, she carefully wrote down Clarice’s rather wonderful description of the waiter. She was not too sure how to write it, so she wrote, ‘b..l..u..d..e..e..y..f..i..l..a..s..t..y..n..’ It certainly sounded a useful word. It was rather like palimpsest, it played nicely around the mouth and felt good on the tongue.

In fact, it sounded just the right sort of word to call the rather annoying curate with funny eyes who kept knocking on the door and asking her Mother for, “a few alms, dear lady, in the name of our sweet, dear, gentle, Lord Jesus, to aid my adventures [hahaha, snort] among those tragic young ladies of easy virtue.”

* Important Legal Note to Readers *
In view of the laws of libel, I [the author] would like to stress that the curate mentioned above is, of course, purely, totally and completely a figment of my [the author's] imagination. I [the author] would never even breathe the suggestion that a real life curate would exhibit even the minorest hint of these traits.

I thought I had better make that clear ~ knowing what a scaberous, litigious bunch of bastards all curates are.

Thank you.

The waiter, satisfied that there was no danger of his ‘regulars’ being subjected to the caterwauling of a young girl in a spotted yellow dress and gumboots, moved off, leaving an air of hurt disdain in his place.


  1. I'm totally enchanted. Have arrived here on fairy dust. :D

    Beautiful writing and photos!!!

    Loooove this place.

    Hugs, JJ

  2. Very nice writing indeed. I do like your style - rich and surprising.