The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
21 June, 1996
During these days of early summer, as the sun burnishes the ancient slate rooftops of Blandsdown and the crickets and locusts begin to lull the heavy afternoon air with their hypnotic huzz, one becomes reflective.
One's readers (so many in number that if each one was to succumb to the latent urges of thievery within all the hoi polloi, and, on the upcoming Bank Holiday, were to purloin a single towel from Billy Bob's Budget Bed-Sit By the Bay--or wherever paupers are wont to stay when trading the acrid crowding of the city for the acrid crowding of public bathing beaches-- the resulting run on low-end linens would empty the shelves of all the dens of ill repute known as 'department stores') may be surprised at the admission that is to follow, but one has concluded that it is the truth: One is a deeply old-fashioned fellow.
Nay, protest not. One hears one's readers cry en masse, "But Sir Charles! Did you not just replace your treasured Victrola and collection of wax recordings with the very latest of sound systems?" One must plead guilty to this charge. One is very much in the vanguard in many respects. (And if one could interject a comment, one would predict with no little confidence that the 'long-playing phonograph record' with 'quadrophonic sound' is here to stay.)
But at heart, one is deeply old-fashioned. One treasures the old values. One longs for the simple amusements of days past. One cherishes the memories of the treacle puddings of one's youth, of a summer's afternoon initiating a shiny new cricket bat . . . and of a summer evening's country ball, resplendent with ladies in colourful silks and fine gentlemen in their formal attire. Oh, one has no doubt that there are those who enjoy choking down their chips and 'Big Mucks' as they spend their leisure hours amusing themselves with 'vidiot games' and the very latest cinematic exercises in explicit and realistic gore-mongering. But are they really any the better for it?
Let us look for a moment, homeward. What is it that the human spirit yearns for, in a home? Does it cry out for a cramped flat, buried among other identical dwellings within a tower block, dimly lit, damp, and filled with presswood furnishings and clutter and 'Precious Moments' figurines?
Decidedly not. Which of one's readers does not secretly yearn for a detached house one can call one's own home, with large, spacious windows that look out not upon rooftops, telegraph poles, or brick walls, but upon gracious fields of green, green grasses and trees for as far as the eye can see? Who among us would not toss the mass-made, shoddy furnishings into a bonfire, given the opportunity to live among items lovingly fashioned by a fellow craftsman?
Readers, our souls hunger for real woods--for the colors of oaks and maples, for the rich reds of polished mahogany! They ache for the simple pleasures of an afternoon's walk with an apple in one's pocket, of an hour's conversation after a good book. They yearn for evenings quiet by the hearth, away from the complaining hubbub of modern conveniences. And too often, they are sadly disappointed.
But readers, we have brought this sad state of affairs upon ourselves. Like the proverbial tall girl in a sea of short men, we have stooped, and remained in our uncomfortable posture. We have settled for the cheap and the vulgar, whether through haste, or ignorance, or expedience. And now we find ourselves irrevocably saddled with it. Once summoned, these demons of decay and of gleeful ugliness are not easily dismissed. They cling, and numb us to their very presence, until we forget they have ever been there at all.
Thus one abjures you: Do not settle. Do not embrace that which does not bring beauty or the grace of imagination into this world. Question novelty, for what is new is not necessarily better. And always keep within sight of your mind's eye those fragrant summer grasses of the unending British countryside, for where they are, one's readers will be certain to find
Their strolling advisor,
Dear Sir Charles,
I'm having some problems with mastication. I can't seem to generate enough spit to make it comfortable enough to masticate three times a day, much less between meals. Should I see a doctor?
Would-be Masticator in Tossings, NY
Sir Charles replies:
A doctor? Three times a day and between meals, and the correspondent wonders if he should see a doctor? One believes a visit to a priest might be more in order.
Brusquely, one remains,
Postscript: Confidentially, it is not at all true what they say about the hair on the palms. And one's eyesight is still sharp enough to discern imitation Wedgewood from a distance of forty paces, so the correspondent need not worry on that account, either.
Viscount Artois writes:
One beseeches humble forgiveness in importuning a man with such magnanimous qualities as your good self but one would envision that, come the cessation of one's epistle, you will comprehend one's hideous predicament.
Besides being christened with the name normally associated with a member of the fairer sex--although one must declare that such appellation has proven timely especially in the affair of which one last scribed (and one must say your advice was most opportune and precluded a considerable scandal)--there is a particular affliction that has visited this viscount within the last seven days.
One has discovered one's person altered considerably by some meaningless--and I shudder at the mention of the term--sporting event. Apparently, this occurence's nomenclature is "FA Association Soccer European Football Cup this good year of our Lord 1996" or some such. Needless to say, it is normally enjoyed by individuals from downstairs and not persons of unquestionable breeding like oneself and, again needless to add, your good self.
One's quandary is why one should discover oneself drinking ten cans of strong lager, shouting obscenities at the television appliance, expelling wind from several orifices, fainting, awakening with a pressing desire for food of an Indian extraction and then getting involved in a bout of fisticuffs after another ten pints of lager before finally ending up incarcerated at the pleasure of Her Majesty with a conviction for gross bodily harm on one of Sir Robert's finest.
Sirrah, I humbly beg your counsel on this matter.
Sir Charles replies:
How often has one said it? If one wishes to avoid a common end, one must avoid common entertainments.
Let us take an example. One's boyhood friend, Reginald Frothingshaw-Cluny, was once an upstanding sort of fellow. A chop every night for dinner. Clean collars every day. Afternoons at the club. Chapel every Sunday. Then one day, while passing a local pub, he quite forgot himself and ate . . . and one shudders even to pen the words . . . 'pork scratchings' with his stout.
Oh, swift was the decline, afterwards. It was pork scratchings and kettle crisps all the day round for him. First went the clean collars, then the chops. Then he abandoned the club to drink cheap alcoholic brews while watching 'EastEnders' with his newfound costermonger chums. Then poor Reggie was playing the Chinese Lottery, and. . . . well, let us draw a curtain over his unfortunate demise in a den of ill repute, 'hopped up' on opium and 'Ripple', and his subsequent burial in a heavily disinfected pauper's grave.
And let us not forget--as if we could!--the example of the progenitors of one's ward, young Penelope Windsor-Smythe. (One is forgetful. Has one reminded one's readers of late that this stunning young beauty is ninetieth in line for the throne of the British Empire? Well, she is.) Had not her parents developed a sudden vulgar taste for highly spiced foods in cardboard boxes, they would not have been mowed down by the Tandoori Takeaway cart with the rusty foot-brake, and left their dear daughter an orphan with an aversion to wet noodles.
Recommending diligence and mindfulness of one's station, one remains,
Lady Rebecca writes:
I have two questions of an equestrian nature to address to you:
1. What is the proper length for the sidesaddle apron of a lady's riding habit if she wishes to occasionally and in good taste flash just a hint of ankle at one of her gentleman admirers, yet not appear--if I may use a vulgar term--"tacky" when in full gallop and possibly over fences?
2. When reprimanding a groom who has assisted a lady in mounting and who has in said process allowed his hands to wander to parts of her (you should pardon the expression) "anatomy," the touching of which is not essential to the mounting process, and who has allowed his hands to rest for a moment longer than they should have, if they were indeed to be allowed there (which they most certainly weren't!), what is the recommended size of the riding crop a lady should use to offer such a reprimand, how many whacks are considered standard to make her point and yet not appear unduly abusive to servants, and with what sort of pressure should she administer said whacks, bearing in mind that good stable help is becoming increasingly more difficult to find?
Your advice is most earnestly sought.
Yours quite sincerely,
The Lady Felicia replies:
My dear Lady Rebecca
What fond equine memories were rekindled in the recesses of one's mind upon receiving your query Tuesday last! One had not thought of those heady months when one co-captained the Equestrienne Club at Lady Beatrice's Finishing College with you for many years. And may one add here and now, that one is still Shocked and Appalled that Princess A--- was chosen over you for the Olympic dressage team!
One will admit to a modicum of surprise to discover that you had gone back to riding side saddle. While one knew of the late Lord Cecil Martingale's abhorrence for things equestrian (and one still wonders what you saw in that old coot), one had thought that your second husband, Lord Harriman Bridoon (and again, one's felicitations, and hopes for a long and happy union, such as Sir Charles and oneself have sustained) was more open-minded to progress, such as it pertains to a woman and a horse. Nevertheless, when one has been pressed into riding sidesaddle, one has had great success with 'Le Taquin', an apron from Tremblay et Fil Tack. (One must admit that one has yet to find an apron of suitable modesty from Brittania, or one of her colonies. Pity.)
For the second question, one always carries both a Number 3 and a Number 5 crop, (with interchangeable tips in a hip-pouch). While the Number 3 can be tiring from the weight, the Number 5 is often too feeble when push comes to shove. Two sharp whacks to an unclothed shoulder, or one stinging blow to the cheek, is usually sufficient penalty. Any more, and there is danger that the lad will not attempt any badinage in the future, which, one's readers will be forced to admit, is part and parcel of the riding experience.
Serenely, one remains,
Postscript: One hopes the brass spittoons sent in honour of your recent matrimonial event arrived intact, and are being enjoyed by you and your guests.
The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week