Thursday 28th June
Florid and flaxen-fair, fleetingly floating, filmy and flimsy as a fluttering fritillary, Felicity Cholmondley-Brown, fragrant and flighty at forty-five, with features like finely threaded filigree, ‘fol-de-roled’ her fleet-footed and faltering way through the flowery fronds and front lawn of Cholmondly-Bottom, ancestral fiefdom of the feudal Cholmondlys for four hundred and forty years. Her mind, as usual, was miles away – re-living her student days in the early Nineties in Paris; dark basement cafes on the Left Bank, sinking into the silky embrace of some Alain Delon look-a-like, smoking Sobrainie cigarettes and listening as yet another budding Jacques Brel plucks discordant chords from an out-of-tune guitar. ‘Ah well, never mind,’ she thought, ‘those wonderful days are over now. I must hurry and gather these blooms, for it is almost four and guests will soon be arriving for the tea party.’
Meanwhile, in brown tweed plus-fours in his equally brown study, Sir Cheriton Cholmondley-Brown, eighty and invariably inebriated, was ripping up Pizza Delivery leaflets with barely supressed glee. “Why the buggers should have the audacity to walk up my mile-long drive and deliver them I’ll never know. If I want a ‘pizza’ I get my charwallah, RamJam, to make me a nice Rogan Josh stuffed Nan.” Sadly, he had missed the actual delivers as he was occupied in chasing two Jehovah Witnesses round the estate, pausing only to refill his shotgun. Sir Cheriton, known colloquially as Cherry-Chum, had brought his manservant and cook back from his time in India, but had never bothered to ask the ‘brown-blighter’ his name, merely referring to him as ‘RamJam.’
The door-bell rang and old Scrotum, wrinkled retainer, faithful factotum and general dogsbody, wheezed his way to the door. It was Major and Mrs Honiton and their son Raiph, closely followed and almost overshadowed by, Winifred Sloane; a large lady of even larger opinions. As she sat, or rather, collapsed, into an ornate antique armchair, the springs groaned, as did Sir Cheriton. She exhaled, and suddenly her voluminous breasts broke free from their ill-fitting and cantilevered brassiere – like exploding airbags. They descended, swinging pendulously inside her semi-transparent blouse. Turning his gaze away reluctantly, Sir Cheriton glanced outside at his small herd of prize Freisian dairy cows. Cherry trusted nobody to milk these but himself, and his hands were already twitching rhythmically as he murmured to himself “I’d love to get my hands on those udders.”
His wife was chattering away like some infernal songbird to the guests. Cherry, deaf to almost all entreaty, managed to filter out her squeaky voice – ‘At least she isn’t one of those niggly-moaning old nags like my first wife.’ he reminisced. ‘Had to have her put away in that asylum in the end, cost a few bob, but worth it to silence the wretched woman.’ He had really had her committed because of her incessant sex-drive, ‘Why, the woman wanted me to impregnate her more than once a month. What did she think I was? I was barely sober even then, a miracle I could raise another glass let alone anything else.’ Eventually, he had resorted to having RamJam sleep on her bedroom floor to stop her nightly pestering’s. He could never quite understand how it took three and a half years since he last ‘invaded her underwear’, for his beautiful dark-haired and olive-skinned daughter Laetitia to be born. He had some idea it was supposed to only be nine months, or was that elephants? ‘Biology, never a strong suit.’ He glanced over at his dusky daughter who sat, simply cross-legged on the floor, a look of benign pleasure and inner knowledge spreading across her placid features, occasionally broken by her deep uttering of “Ohm” “Ohm”. ‘Lord knows what she sees in that’ Cherry thought to himself, ‘Give me a pint of gin any day – if it’s ‘O-bloody-blivion’ you are seeking.’
Sir Cheriton’s slightly confused musings were broken by the arrival of the twin girls by his marriage to Felicity. Jenny and Gwenny, just 16 and giggling uncontrollably after consuming a litre of vodka in their bedroom, flounced into the parlour. Their mother smiled and asked how their Art lesson had gone that day – their Rastafarian Art teacher, Moses Akimbo, having left an hour earlier. “Oh, great fun” said Jenny. “Yes, we had a wonderful time” said Gwenny, giving her sister a conspiratorial wink. Sir Cheriton couldn’t understand why Felicity had ever ‘let that Blackie into the house’, but times were changing, he had to regret – though Cherry’s politics, being slightly to the right of Attilla the Hun, he still hankered after Empire. “Look what we gave India” he declared “Civilisation, Gentlemen’s clubs, Gin, er..Gin Rummy and, well… lots of stuff. All they ever gave us was flies and syphilis.” This reminded him that he really must renew his season ticket with the local VD clinic.
“I suppose you call that Art” he said, pointing at the huge abstract canvas propped up against the sideboard. “I can’t see what it’s supposed to be at all; you might as well all three of you have rolled around naked in the paint for all the skill I can see in it.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous Daddy” said Jenny. “Really Daddy, what sort of girls do you think we are?” joined in Gwenny, tugging furiously and rather belatedly at her mini-skirt, which, riding up her shapely thighs, revealed a few multicoloured daubs and a thong not much bigger than a postage stamp.
“What-ho, Cherry old Chum” said the Major.
“What?” replied Sir Cheriton. “Oh Yes, What-ho Major”
Felicity called Scrotum over and asked him what he had been doing that afternoon, as he was still in his farm clothes. “Well ma’am, I’se been helpin’ old Ben the Boar with the Sows. He be gettin a bit old now and can’t quite get his corkscrew into the cork these days, so he needs a helpin’ hand like.”
“In that case, before handing round the Sandwiches would you like to….wash your hands?”
“Oh, I already done that Ma’am, up aginst a tree in the yard.”
Suddenly, Sir Cheriton leapt from his chair and yelled “Good Lord, there are two simpering Nancy-boys on the lawn. Scrotum, get my gun and make sure both barrels are loaded.”
Felicity ran to his side and re-assured Cherry that it was simply the new Vicar and his young Curate, both, gaily dressed in striped blazers, white flannels and wide floral ties as, straw boaters askew, they minced their way to the house. ‘Vicar? Well I’ll be buggered’ thought Cherry, ‘or probably will be if I ever go to that church again.’ He simply muttered “What’s the matter with them, anyone would think they were still at Eton, dressed up all girlie like that. Should have outgrown that nonsense years ago, like I had to.”
“What?” queried the Major.
“What ho Major” replied Cherry with a wave of his hand, this sufficing for them both as conversation. He glanced over at the spread of delicacies and spotted a large bowl of curried quails eggs in lime pickle. He had been blocked up for a week now and his eyes were watering at the sight. “That’ll shift things I should think, give me the right liquorice.” he muttered “knock a few balls round the billiard table on their way out too, I expect.” Sir Cheriton daily spent an inordinate amount of time in his private lavatory, equipped as it was with a small freezer for his toilet rolls.
Winifred Sloane waddled across the room like some oversized hippopotamus to greet the two churchmen. “So nice to have a young and civilised vicar and your handsome curate as well, it has saved the parish money too, as you are both living at the vicarage. Single young men, so vibrant, so colourful, and no girlfriends either. What joy.”
“Scrotum” bellowed Sir Cheriton, “Have you been helping yourself to my barrel of gin in the cellar, damn thing’s nearly empty, the tanker only filled it up last week.”
“No Sir,” hacked old Scrotum, “Me doesn’t like the stuff. Gives me the right colly-wobbles. I’se a scrumpy man meself. Oh yes, scrumpy-dumpy for me.”. as he danced on the spot.
“More tea Major, or Mrs Honiton?” asked Felicity.
“Actually.” Mrs Honiton, a small bird-like creature tweeted, “I’m not sure where Raiph, our son has got to.”
“Oh, the girls are just showing him their art-work upstairs in the studio, nothing to worry about.”
“But he is so impressionable” she chirruped “he really knows nothing about Art, or anything really. Such an innocent boy.”
The conversation subsided, Winifred Sloane was showing the two brightly clad ecclesiasts Sir Cheriton’s large collection of stuffed hunting trophies; she, leaning slightly back to counterbalance the weight of her enormous mammalian protuberances threatening to pull her over. “Look at the size of that horn” said the vicar. “Mmmm, yeeeess” smirked the curate, rather enviously. Cherry, having finished off the entire bowl of devilled quails eggs, excused himself and scurried upstairs in somewhat of a panic.
Felicity looked around, the room almost deserted, the remaining sandwiches already curling at the edges and the chocolate cake barely touched – the only sound, a deep occasional “Ohm” from Leatitia still seated sphinx-like on the floor.
The major and his wife rose muttering “Great success Mrs Cherry, great success. Now where is that boy, Raiph?”
A scurrying sound and a few loud bangs accompanied by raucous laughter came from the staircase, and Raiph eventually emerged, red-faced but smiling, his lipstick smudged shirt-tail flapping ominously outside his trousers.
As Sir Cheriton belched, grunted, and reached for another frozen toilet roll, the sound of his stentorian farting could be heard half-way down the mile-long drive.
Felicity wandered out again, her mind drifting gently back to Montmatre meanderings, moules et frites and moustachioed, muscle-bound Monsieurs, tall, dark and have-some. ‘Still’ she thought, ‘everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves – which is really the secret of a successful tea-party. Till next week then.’