The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
September 6, 1996
For centuries--centuries!--one's great land has been a beacon of civilization, dignity, and tradition unto the rest of the world. When continental countries were crawling their way from the primeval ooze, British citizens were already inviting their friends to elegant tea parties complete with printed menus. When the skyscraper plains of Manhattan were naught but mosquito-infested malaria pits, the great buildings of London had already beckoned to generations of civilized British men and women. And when other less civilized countries were still ingesting snails and sucking the marrow from chicken bones, the great chefs of England had already perfected that ultimate pinnacle of the culinary arts: the twenty-six-layer trifle.
But oh, what has been the greatest British institution of all? What has represent the rich tradition of stability and rootedness to this green and pleasant land? What has distinguished this country from all others, is often imitated, yet never paralleled? Simply put, the British monarchy. Yes, that glittering line of noble rulers, ancient of blood, divine of right.
Now, one's readers know (and one has it upon the greatest of scientific authorities that were they all to amass together, the gravitational forces of so great a group would cave in upon themselves and create that phenomenon known as a 'black hole.' One does not claim a vast knowledge of the laws of physics. One leaves that to lesser men than oneselves . . . men who have to work for a living, for example. But one does hope that should one's admirers ever decide to convene for such a purpose, they will not do so too very close to one's estate. Holes of any sort can ruin property values, and one will not have a large black pit disturbing one's hunt for pheasants during gaming season) that one is not the sort of chap prone to lecturing on and on about whatever comes to mind. Oh no! One is, as legions of readers have come to appreciate through one's direct and gripping prose, ever straight and to the point. But one feels must one indulge oneself on a certain point of contention that has arisen this last week, for it concerns the whole of the future of Britain.
It would seem that the Queen is reportedly thinking of 'modernizing' the monarchy. Yes, one hears the collective gasps of one's faithful readers. It quite rustled one's manuscript paper. But hist, there is more. In this devious . . . might one venture to say diabolical? . . . plot, she proposes not only to discontinue the monies she receives from her loyal subjects (a mere thirteen million pounds! Scarcely a trifle!), but she would also declare the Royal Family to consist solely of the ruler and his or her immediate offspring.
The collective sound of one's readers' jaws thudding to the parquet has quite rattled one. But only think how it affected one's ward, young Penelope Windsor Smythe. She is--and one fears that many readers might be quite unaware of the fact, given that one is not prone to 'bragging' about it--ninetieth in line for the throne. The blood of centuries runs through her veins. And to have the Queen--the very woman whose photograph hangs over her bed, adorned with roses when they are in season--declare her nearest and dearest kin to be not of the Family! It is an agony not to be borne by the strongest of men, and certainly not by a delicate porcelain flower such as Penelope.
Yes, 'tis true that the monarchy has fallen upon hard times of late. The sheer number of scandalous divorces and torrid romances have fed the hungry press more efficiently than could numerous roving lorries packed with tinned hams. But to tamper with time-honed tradition! To alter that which is born into the blood of every true Briton!
Instead of so radical an alteration to the very fabric of one's nation, one offers this modest proposal. Perhaps if we put a reign on the hormones of the younger royals? Perhaps if they were to--and readers, please inform one if this is too fantastical a notion--indulge in a modicum of self-control? Then again, one might be expecting too much of them, to keep their hands out of their breeches and their girdles firmly laced. Too much, indeed.
Leaving the decision up to one's readers, who surely can choose the better alternative, one remains,
A fan writes:
Dear Sir Charles,
I'm curious. Would you rather be a washer, or a drier?
Sir Charles replies:
One has no notion of what you speak. Are we discussing the laundering of clothes? Of the rinsing of fine China? In short, are we discussing domestic work? And if so, why did the correspondent assume I would care a single whit? Does she harbour some sentimental notion that one is a democratic sort of baronet, who mingles with the help? If so, she is sorrily mistaken, if not a bit mad.
For future reference, one prefers questions that do not require hypothetical thinking. They cause one's brow to crinkle.
Bemused, one remains,
Lady Rebecca writes:
Once again I must bother you to grace me with your always astute advice. It seems that I am chair-woman of the up-coming "Tung Frolic" held annually each spring here at our estate, Tung-in-Cheeke, located in the picturesque village of Cheeke. The "Frolic" was originally instituted by my first husband, Lord Cecil, who wanted to create a wholesome diversion for the peasants he employed in his tung oil factory so they would not be tempted to venture off to the cities where they would forswear our picturesque way of life for the temptations and higher salaries of the cities. One of the most popular events at the "Frolic" is the recreation of the historical event, Lady Godiva's ride.
It is a little known fact that Coventry, which lies close to Cheeke, was once also called Cheeke--a matter of confusion for many denizens of yore. Even after the other Cheeke took the name Coventry, some still persisted in calling it Cheeke. Therefore when Lady Godiva started her ride, she became confused at the crossroad and actually rode into Cheeke. While riding down the main road, she encountered many Cheekey citizens who helpfully shouted, "Turn! The other Cheeke!" She turned, and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, the sight of the lovely lady astride her steed made a deep impression upon many of the Cheekier residents who recounted the tale through the generations. Consequently, many modern residents felt cheated that they'd missed such an awesome historical event. Thus Lord Cecil instituted the reenactment, which was a huge success, and so many young ladies of an equestrian bent demanded to ride that he generously permitted them all to do so. However he insisted that, to preserve the modesty of the riders and to avoid some sort of legal ramifications, they were to be clad in protective equestrian apparel known as "pasties and g-strings."
While I have not actually ever seen the ride, being much too involved with preparation for the Tung Wagging Dogge Show that is traditionally held at the same time as the ride, and while I am unfamiliar with the type equestrian apparel they don, I'm sure the rosy-cheeked maidens are a sight to behold as they gallop abreast down the main street. Indeed, Lord Cecil told me that he never failed to swell with pride each time he saw them. My current husband, Lord Harriman, who rose to the occasion of continuing the tradition, reports that he feels the same way.
Now, to my problem: It seems that the elderly Earl of Letcherford, who always officiated at the ride and selected the honorary "Frolic Princess" from the ranks of the riders following a rigorous individual personal interview of each Cheekey girl (in which she was judged on poise, personality, and congeniality) reports that, given his advanced age and the precarious state of his health, he is no longer up to assuming the position. Might you be able to recommend someone--perhaps a titled gentleman of suitable taste, character, refinement, and sensibilities to officiate? He must also be proficient in mathematical skills, as I understand there is some measurement of the contestants involved. I should be most grateful if you could recommend someone to fill in.
As always I remain,
PS. I am so dreadfully sorry that our "Tung Frolic" falls on the same weekend that you, the Lady Felicia, and the lovely Penelope Windsor-Smythe (ninetieth in line for the throne, is she not?) traditionally take the waters at Bath prior to attending the annual Bedminster Geriatric Madrigal Singers' Regional Competitions. I should so much like to have you as guests, but I could not possibly think of intruding upon your Bath-time or Bed-time.
Sir Charles replies:
My dear, dear, dear, dear, dear Lady Rebecca,
What a terrible pity that the Early of Letcherford had the audacity to abandon his duties in a time of need. Simply terrible. As for a replacement . . . ah, let me see. . . .
While one thinks, did one ever happen to mention, Lady Rebecca, that when your late husband, Lord Cecil (and while one is on the subject, how is your hound, Binkie? I have asked the kitchen staff to enclose a fine lamb chop for the little rascal with this reply), and oneself were together at schools, one came in tops in the multiplication tables in the under-sevens division? Why, a faster lad at sums could not be found for miles round (providing that the sums did not exceed twenty-one. One had only so many fingers and toes, you know).
But that is neither here nor there. Ah, let one think. . . .
While one cogitates, Lady Rebecca, one is forced to recall that the Bedminster Geriatric Madrigal Singers' Regional Competitions were, sadly, cancelled for this year. Why, scarcely hours after one received your letter yesterday, one received a most unfortunate phone call that the Bedminster Little House of Drama and Performing Arts, where for nigh upon a century the Competitions have been held, was set ablaze by an arsonist known solely as 'The Blade.' One does not expect they shall find the culprit, however. Fellows of that sort always escape to Portugal afterward, usually on the coin of their employer, and usually on a first-class ticket, though one would really think for that low and slovenly sort, coach would suffice. (Arsonists, one feels one must comment here, would not seem to buy their soot-covered suits at Beecher and James, but at Oxfam. And what dirty fingernails!)
So, it would appear, one will be at leisure, during the festive events at Cheeke.
But as for a substitute. Lady Rebecca, one must confess oneself at a loss. Who combines the qualities of nobility, a keen eye for beauty, a mathematical brain, and the ability to handle a tape measure without letting the cold metal bits bite into goose-pimpled, delicate, porcelain-like young feminine flesh? Other than oneself, of course. But that goes without saying.
One begs that if you have any more thoughts on the matter, you will feel free to communicate them to one. . . .
Modestly, one remains,
"Wonderful" Windover writes:
Felicia, my beloved sister,
Although one does not often have the opportunity to update one's elder sister on one's life across the Atlantic, one finds that one must in order to return your letter that you wished me to forward to a certain 'Anthony Bandanas.' It might have been able to have been sent if one still lived in Los Angeles; unfortunately, one does not. Upon the insistence of one's wife, Mindy, one has found a more lucrative singing career in Las Vegas. You surely remember one's aspirations to croon the ancient delights of medieval melody, but apparently the residents of the colonies do not appreciate "Greensleeves" as much as one might think.
One was not disheartened; quite to the contrary, one made a decent sum of money vocalizing with the local group Borilium, until it was determined that one's voice (charmingly bass though it is) was far too high-pitched for the particular style of music. One has recently begun singing colonial 'classics' as Johnny Wonderful in the lounge of the MGM Grand Hotel. The work is quite enjoyable, performing soothing songs to a generally elderly and sophisticated audience (who are most appreciative), but one finds one's polyester blue tuxedo a bit hot under the stagelights. But such are the woes that one must put up with in order to be a star.
Enough about one for now, one has a question to ask of you (on your husband's wildly successful 'webbed page'): as one has not seen you in quite awhile, one finds one's thoughts coming to your puppies. How big are your puppies? Have they grown considerably since one last had the pleasure of resting one's eyes upon them? How do you take care of them?
Harmoniously awaiting your reply,
The Lady Felicia:
How wonderful to hear from you. The news of your burgeoning 'career' would have distressed our dear Papa, but you know how it secretly thrills your sister. One was a 'career girl' oneself, for two years, before one married Sir Charles, you might remember.
But John, how often has one told you not to write to me, save under care of Mrs. Grimestone of the Swillingsford stationer's shop. There are things that my husband . . . yes, he is my husband, and no other! remember that! . . . does not, could not, wit of me. You are one of them. Do not turn those sad basset hound eyes upon me, brother. How could I tell him of a sibling who wears fabrics that the Church of England regards as unnatural and an abomination unto the Lord? (Any proper parish, that is.)
My dear twin puppies are much as you remember, though sadly, they have aged. Still, one is too fond of them to refer to them as 'old dogs', yet. They require tighter restraints these days, one is afraid, though there are times one loosens their leads and lets them run free. They have also required much petting of late, but they have many admirers who are always willing to oblige.
So I do not arouse my husband's suspicions, I shall seal this letter with wax, enclose your own missive with it, and give the packet to my husband's secretary to post. The lad is thick, but he surely not so stupid as to mistake the outgoing post with the incoming.
With best wishes, one serenely remains,
The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week