In Vino Veritas 15

Episode 15 – Wedding plans and executions

The vicar’s eyes raked over me as though I was some reject from a sad car boot sale. He then noted, somewhat frostily, that he did not recall seeing me, or my intended, in the congregation. Had we recently moved into the area.? Of course.
However, I did sense a hint of uncertainty in all this. I guessed that he heard about these Croc. Dundee Oz types who owned Belgium -sized cattle ranches in Western Queensland. Such hints alluding to this might have crept into our conversation.
In any event, he adopted a more conciliatory tone AND did he pick up a whiff of a cash crop not a million miles away?
‘Right’, he said briskly, ‘I think we can help here’.
Before we got to dates and suchlike, he rattled through the assorted expenses involved in all of this. This included his fees,flowers, organist, ushers, documentation and a few other frills. A previous experience came to me mind as the cost of this caper spiralled into some kind of absurdity. I once approached a bookseller regarding the price of a Jane Austen first edition which would have been a lovely birthday present for my avid- reader wife to be. He mentioned a figure approaching the speed of light. My reaction was impressive.I managed ‘studied’, ‘reflective’, ‘will I or won’t I’, ‘Oh, why not?’,all in one bundle. This kept the lid on my side-splitting laughter which would have ripped a gaping hole in this bookish inner-sanctum.
Back to the good vicar. Once again, as we tripped merrily across the £1,000 entry level tag, I played my well thumbed studied response card. Money was no object of course, but I would consult with little flower and get her response. She was not all that stoked on formal procedures, preferring rather the smaller scale ceremonies.

Next day I put in a call to the Wandsworth Registry Office.

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They were very helpful. From a somewhat blurred memory I recall 3 options on offer.
Offer 1: This included flowers, music and a fairly sophisticated ceremony. Offer 2:
flowers and more basic service and Offer 3: No music, no flowers and a bog standard ‘blink or you will miss it’ service. That was about ten quid. Done.
The big day dawned bright and clear. It was a Saturday so I was going to miss out on a double time work day. Not good. Worse, my friend and witness had been on the sauce the night before and was physically and mentally incapable of any kind of participation.
So , Ronda, her friend and witness Jan and I set off to catch the bus. Ronda, by far the most agile of the 3 of us sprinted ahead and got on the bus as it pulled out. She indicated to the driver that she was getting married and would he wait? He indicated something unprintable, dropped the clutch and booted it. We all got there in time.
The area around the office resembled Wembley on cup final day.
I appraised the marshal of my best -man problem and with the practised hand of years of experience, a loud -hailer was produced and the call put out for a witness. An ill fitting suit emerged from the throng. This was Pete, a plasterers mate from Peckham who could ‘dodejob’. His presence was accompanied by an aromatic halo of Watney’s bitter and Capstan Full Strength. A nice guy.

The service was indeed a model of brevity. About midway through this the full impact of these proceedings shot home, rather like slamming home the bolt on an old 303 rifle. This manifested itself in a facial tic which Ronda and Jan spotted at once. They giggled. This got a sharp rebuke from our leader. Silence. The deal was done.

Ronda and Jan set off for a ‘nice cup of tea’. Sod that. I popped into the King’s Head and set about 5 fingers of single malt. I lost the first bit with a final big twitch, then calmed down.

I wonder what happened to Pete.

Dear Auntie Gill

Dear Auntie G,

Thank you so much for your considered response and, more importantly, your kind words about our friendship, an acknowledgement of my modest skills, and the fact that we both share a sense of humour. I accept you advice unconditionally and have returned my ‘reciprocal’ gift to Asprey’s in Bond Street. I was not altogether happy with the emeralds anyway. I am indebted to your discretion in all this.

I note, inter alia, that you mention my friend Mavis and perhaps a slight puzzlement on your behalf as to why I should be looking further afield, so to speak. I first met her when she was a bouncer at a lesbian nightclub. I was doing a reading of Elizabethan Love Poetry. I learnt a lot that night.

Mavis is a quixotic soul to say the least. To note that we are polar opposites is very much the case. Our last meeting demonstrates this. She was wired up with her heavy metal mates (at full blast) and a sprinkling of knuckles on the ground smack heads, seemingly belting the hide out of one another, whilst I was engrossed in the must read ‘History of the Albanian coracle 1214-1216.’ This is the pattern of our relationship. The rocks in her head match the holes in mine. Sadly it is a spasmodic one. Why?
She spends much her life detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure – abh, dangerous driving, and shoplifting coming up with the magistrates next week. Arundel open prison was not so bad but Holloway is a hell of a trek. AND, I have to look after Crusher, her Rhodesian Ridgeback while she is banged up. God that dog stinks.
Sadly, of late she has had a few anti- social health issues and her halitosis would strip wallpaper. Despite, or maybe because of this, our friendship goes along in a strobe lighting sort of way.
With this background, I felt that a life with a nice quiet little English flower, who had never heard of assertiveness training would be good for my blood pressure…sigh…never mind…..

Just heard the roar of an out of tune Harley- Davidson……or….oh no…!!
Is it MAVIS? AAAAAGGGGHHHH!

Aunty Gill Responds to Mumbles

Dear Mumbles

Thank you for your enquiry.

As to your gift. I have had a chat to the female chum concerned and a summary of her her response follows:

Well, it’s not every year that a man celebrates a milestone birthday – and especially one with a relatively high number – so she and her family thought you deserved something a bit special that you would appreciate! She’s sorry that you had to wait a couple of weeks after your special day, but from your reaction seems pleased to hear that you felt it was worth waiting for! She wanted to mark your special birthday in some way, and says that since you’ve known each other, you have always been a good friend, especially during some tough times (on both sides). She said that you have also provided some wonderful humour to lighten many dark situations and that you are an all round good egg. Finally, she said that you’re not a bad tennis player either – even if, as I understand it, you do like to hit the ball off the frame every so often, which makes her smile. Although, she did admit that, coupled with the net cords, you do try her patience from time to time!

So, I hope Auntie Gill has helped to explain the meaning behind the gift, and from what I have come to know about the lady concerned, I would say a reciprocal gift is not at all necessary and would advise you to steer clear of offering the sought-after collection of Australian women’s magazines you mention – otherwise it could be game over! It seems to me that you have a great deal of mutual respect for each other, and both value the relationship you have, but understand that there might be at least one other lady in your life that lays claim to your affection…somebody called Mavis, if I’m not mistaken! Whilst I myself have come to appreciate what a charming and popular chap you are, it would be remiss of me as a respected agony aunt, not to warn you against having too many arrows to your bow, so to speak.

Onwards and upwards

Auntie Gill

In Vino Veritas 14

I splashed my way to the welcoming sanctuary of the dimly lit telephone box in Putney High Street…

Episode 14

Gainful employment, as was so often the case in one’s early years, (and still is) becomes a sort of ‘needs must’ shopping. In this instance, ‘shopping’ being le mot juste, as I rejoiced in a period of parcel wrapping in a large department store. The contents of these items were upmarket trinkets for the landed gentry in the Home Counties. At one point I was approached to see if I could double as Father Christmas for the upcoming Yuletide. It seems I must have been the choice of somebody totally unfamiliar with the physique of F.C. My profile was the same as 2 metres of pump water and I had to run round under the shower to get wet.
‘Never mind’, said the line manager, ‘soft furnishings will soon put that right’.

Ronda had started supply teaching in the Peckham /Camberwell area. This experience stood at a bit of an angle, to say the least, to her previous life which involved teaching in a 2 teacher country school in New Zealand.

Domestic arrangements, including the bath/ culinary experience, proceeded in an orderly fashion, until, at one point, the establishment of a long term relationship cropped up. Marriage, in other words. Hmmmm. It fell to me to get this show on the road. What better place to start than the local church? BUT, before that, antipodean parents had to be told of this turn of events.

Stair-rod rain, of almost painful ferocity , greeted me as I splashed my way to the welcoming sanctuary of the dimly lit telephone box in Putney High Street. My pockets bulged with change of varying denominations. The overseas call got underway and a chronological miscalculation immediately became apparent. Tasmanian time was around 3 a.m. Worse, the rain had re- doubled it’s efforts and, as I gazed out of the misted up window, I could see a queue had gathered around the phone box.
OH GOD! Even worse, my father was pretty deaf and my mother had to relay all the info, or if I spoke to him, I had to scream down the line. This information was immediately picked up and transmitted down the ever lengthening queue.
‘He’s getting married’, ‘Really? How lovely!’, ‘She’s called Ronda’. ‘Is that Welsh?’ ‘No, she’s a kiwi.’ ‘His dad wants to know if he has enough money…ahhh, isn’t that nice…No, She’s not pregnant…where do they live?…Tasmania, I think…So he’s Australian….when are they going home? Missed that bit…..She’s a teacher, he’s an…’

BOOM! A mighty thunderclap.

The conversation became a broadcast. A sort of grotesque game of Chinese whispers – or Chinese screams. The rain hurled down.

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The drenched women were really OK in a sort of sentimental way and gave us best wishes for the wedding. The lantern jawed, cloth- capped men who were frantically trying to call about future employment, rather less charitable. And worse, the pubs were about to shut.

Later, I set off to have a chat with the vicar…

In Vino Veritas 13

Episode 13

Life in swinging London was in non-swing mode, not helped by my sad ‘digs’ in downtown Putney. An upstairs room in fact. In real estate parlance it would be described as a ‘builders dream’ or, depending on your situation, a dreary dump. I can still see the only form of ventilation. It consisted of one of those 15cm acrylic fans that are let into windows. Wow. What with that , the Pompeii walls and threadbare carpet, this boudoir was not quite the ticket if I could get my hands on a bit of that mini skirted, wide-eyed womankind as seen on TV. Not only that, every move I/we made would be tracked on the owners domestic grapevine. No doubt of that. This would not do. Will fix. In the meantime a trip to Wales seemed in order.

My companion was another Kiwi, male this time , and unemployed.
Two of the images from this sojourn in the mining valleys still remain. Although there is, or was, plenty of mining on the West coast of Tasmania, (including the hazards associated with this industry), they did not approach the scale of Aberfan. It must have been in late October that, by chance, we saw the massed grave of 144 people, 116 of them children, who were crushed under this collapsed colliery spoil tip. The lowering skies were a backcloth for a scene of utter devastation.

 

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The second indelible memory of this trip occurred when we fetched up at a village pub to have a couple of beers. The natives, exclusively male, were friendly, and, of course, as soon as we opened our mouths, questions of nationality cropped up.
Once the words ‘New Zealand’ were uttered, the translation was immediate.
ALL BLACKS! Then….by some strange alchemy, a good chunk of the bar was cleared, various condiment bottles and napkin holders were placed in strategic points
and a goodly group of the locals gathered and, all very silent, watched proceedings.
THEN, a spokesman intoned, in a wonderful cantabile D Thomas sort of way exactly what happened at Cardiff Arms Park when there was a DISPUTED try in an earlier Welsh/ All Black game, which the All Blacks won. The pieces were expertly moved here and there around the park as the game progressed. The date? Wait for it…1905.

Back to London. After a while, but not with unseemly haste, domestic arrangements took a turn for the better. It must have been that linen suit that did the trick.
It seems that my other New Zealand friend, female this time, she of the table tennis fame, found heavy communal living not to her liking. Thus it was decided, (not discounting my iridescent wit and charm, nor her attractiveness) to put together an alternative arrangement. So, we agreed to implement a ‘cut the numbers’ living proposal.

Our accommodation, near Wimbledon Common, was a first floor flat. Downstairs, our Welsh landlady lurked. Her countenance resembled a map of the Brecon Beacons.
She was also armed with a 3 metre (or so it seemed) broom handle, which was whacked on the ceiling if she heard the slightest noise.
But, the real architectural gem in this place was having the bath conveniently located in the kitchen. If one was wondering what was for the next meal, this could be ascertained by seeing what detritus in the shape of fruit or vegetable offcuts that were bobbing about in the bath. It also facilitated a very convenient way of catching up on the days events whilst keeping a close eye on any boiling water involved in meal preparation.

Earning an income now moved centre stage….very quickly.

Music Box – Salome

Salome

Salome_web
Salome, Acrylic on paper, 70 x 35 cm

The original play ‘Salome’ was written, in French, by Oscar Wilde. Richard Strauss saw the play and immediately set to work on producing a German operatic version. It was duly performed in 1905.
What with a heady mix of the biblical, the erotic, and the murderous all wrapped up in splendid music it was controversial to say the least, and banned in London until 1907.
Towards the end of the opera, after quite a bit of to-ing and fro-Ing, Salome, who must have been quite a girl, performs the then startling ‘dance of the seven veils’ before the besotted King Herod, finishing up lying naked at his feet.

Herod then promises to grant her most desired wish….. which, of course turns out to be the head of John the Baptist. Said head is duly delivered and is fervently kissed by Salome. Goodness. The climatic music is extraordinary, a much debated chord seems to echo the degradation of Salome. This lowly state does not last long, the lovely girl being crushed under the shields of the soldiers. Not too many jokes, but wonderful stuff.

This painting is currently available to purchase / for exhibition. Please contact me for more details.

The clip below is taken from the official youtube channel of the Royal Opera House.