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The Savoy Truffle

Chapter 2.

Hugh contemplated the photograph of the little blonde.  The newspaper said that she could bring the Government down.  Nothing like it had ever happened before.  Hugh pictured her, swimming naked; and, himself wearing only the short dressing-gown, hurriedly crossed his legs.  The blonde was a reminder that, while the nineteen sixties were technically well under way, they had only actually reached such places as San Francisco and, well, Notting Hill where Bloggs bathed in asses' milk.  The Home Counties in general, and Wyebridge in particular, were still stuck in the fifties.  While Hugh was condemned to eat antiquated Spam and semolina and salad cream, Bloggs dined on food smeared and spiced with garlic and black pepper, soy sauce and mayonnaise.  While Bloggs wrote of atheism and anarchy, in Wyebridge everyone still went to church at Christmas and Easter, and even the Secondary Modern kids wore uniforms.  Bloggs casually mentioned things such as deodorants and divorcées; but Hugh was a little shocked to hear that divorce (to say nothing of sexual intercourse) had spread beyond the legendary fleshpots of Mayfair and Brighton.  The most exciting thing he had seen, apart from Elvis and his pelvis on the TV, was the versatile Charlton Heston winning the chariot race in Ben Hur; and, later, parting the Red Sea in Cinerama.  Bloggs meanwhile had seen a fight with knuckle-dusters outside a The Who gig; and had travelled to the far North to hear the Liverpool sound.  Just as David Whitfield singing 'O Sole Mio' on a frangible 78 rpm had been swept away by Elvis singing 'It's Now or Never' on a 45, so now The Pelvis himself was being ousted by the Animals, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and, above all, the Beatles.  While an LP was out of reach for Hugh - even a 45 cost six and eight - Bloggs had both Beatles' LPs; both 'albums'.
            Still, the sixties were coming. Only Dada now dared to wear baggy grey flannels and to play Liberace records.  And, while parents still did the Twist - fathers briskly like Chubby Checker, and mothers more sexily like the French - their children learnt the myriad Mod dances they saw on Ready, Steady, Go ('The Weekend Starts Here!') every Friday.  Polio and whooping-cough and pea-soupers were dissolving; health and air were blowing in.  Cabinet ministers were being cheeked by little blondes.  As if on the cusp between civilisations, everything was changing.  The very air was altering from oxygen to something headier - either maddening or illuminating depending on the predisposition of the individual lungs.  The post-war world, grey as an archive film, was - like television itself - trembling on the verge of colour.
            The bedroom door swung slowly open and a German helmet of Second World War vintage appeared.
            'No, mein Fuehrer!' shouted Maman at once.  'Take that thing away!'
            Just visible underneath the helmet was the intense white face of a boy about nine or ten years old, small for his age - scarcely taller than the Moo - and as thin and wiry as the Moo was well padded.
            'But Maman,' protested the boy.  'Ich bin ein Berliner.'
            'I don't care.  You know that thing gives me the willies.  Take it away!'    The boy's head withdrew, tortoise-like. 
            The helmet-less boy re-appeared, marching briskly into the room and trailing behind him a collection of wires.
            'Well, mein Fuehrer, come and give your Dada a kiss.  You are not too big for that?  I hope you will never be too big to give your father a kiss.'
            'Die, Englander pig-dog,' replied the boy, drawing freely on the language of his beloved war comics.  He removed the pin from an imaginary grenade with his teeth, tossed it as if into Dada's lap and supplied the sound of the explosion.  Then, holding up his wires, he said calmly: 'Will you help me with my death-trap please, Janey?'
            'Janey isn't 'ere,' said the Moo.  'Dabs is.'
            'Dabs will help the Fuehrer,' promised Dabs rashly.  'Her brains am up.'
            'No, they're not,' said the Moo, readying Spiv.
            'Janey, please help.  This is serious.'
            As if by magic, the retarded expression of Dabs gave way to that of a normal girl of about thirteen or fourteen. Her face, quite pretty, was as full of candour and character as Dabs's had been shifty and vacuous.  Its owner, however, was inclined to conceal it behind twin curtains of shoulder-length brown hair.
            'I might do,' said Janey.  'What's in it for me?'  It was not always easy to understand Janey because, as well as partly hiding her mouth, she often spoke with it barely open, being self-conscious about displaying the wiring of her dental plate.
            'The satisfaction of seeing my Enemy maimed or perhaps killed.'
            'Really, dear....' demurred Maman vaguely.
            'I am tempted, mein Fuehrer,' said Janey.
            'It's the problem of wire, you see, Janey.  Piano wire would be best.  That's what you read about.  It's so thin, you see, that the motorcyclist can't see it and it snips his head off.'
            'Yes, I see,' said Janey to her brother.  His name was George.  He had acquired his nickname at the age of three when he had been exposed to an old newsreel of Adolf Hitler, orating.  George had been nearly sick with laughter; and, at tea, had surprised everyone by suddenly reproducing the speech with uncanny accuracy - the same mechanical arm movements, the toss of the head, the ranting scream.  Even the cod German had sounded authentic.  Everyone had laughed.  Only Maman had noticed with uneasiness the authentically insane fire burning in her third child's blue eye.
            'But we haven't got a piano, have we,' George went on.  'So, anyway, I found these' - he held up his wires - 'and I thought that we could join them up and string them across the cliff path.  I mean, they're too thick really, but if the Enemy were going fast enough on his bike, he might not see them in time and crash over the edge, aaaargh.'  He simulated the cry, dying away, of a boy falling from a great height.
            'Best little brain in the family,' said Dada admiringly.  'Are you listening to your brother, Luh'le Shuggy?  He will not go to Oxford University like you, but see how he thinks things through in a fashion so different from your own intellectual, airy-fairy approach to the world.  Oh yes, the Fuehrer's university will be the same as his father's.'
            'The university of the Bogs,' said Hugh, not looking up from a disparaging review of a new novel by one of the Angry Young Men, now less young and more petulant than he had been five years before.
            'I was referring, as well you know, to the University of Life.  It ill becomes you to mock at this institution.  And yet I am not ashamed to say that hot tears prick the backs of my eyes when I think that you, Luh'le Shuggy, will be the first Blyte to go to Oxford University - go up to Oxford, as Oxford men say.'  Dada gazed unseeing out of the window, picturing his eldest son's ascent.  Hugh looked uncomfortable.
            'What you and Maman don't understand, Dada,' he said, 'is the English educational system.  I need at least three 'A' levels, all with high grades, if I'm to stand a chance of - '
            'I can see myself now,' went on Dada, regardless, 'proudly visiting you in your college "rooms" and partaking of cinnamon toast and exotic teas while bantering philosophically with your fellow students....'
            'You will not be visiting me in my rooms, Dada - supposing I should ever acquire such things - because you wear a grey cardigan and then you tuck that grey cardigan not only into your trousers, but also into your underpants, whose flaccid elastic therefore shows above your waistband.'
            'Ah, the dress of Shakespeare,' surmised George.
            'Even you must see,' continued Hugh, 'that I cannot have someone of such perverted appearance visiting my rooms.  Someone might see you, and I would be forced to turn my face to the wall and die lingeringly of shame.'
            'Don't be brutal to your poor Dada, Luh'le Shuggy,' said Dada.  'He cannot shake off overnight the attributes of his race - all Irishmen are raised to tuck their ganseys well in.  However, as so often, you underestimate me.  I would not dream of wearing such an article up at Oxford.  I shall purchase Oxford items: bags and brogues and stiff underpants with properly turgid elastic.  I shall be in fine fig, and a credit to you, Luh'le Shuggy.'
            'Oh, Dada,' said Hugh sadly.
            'The problem is,' George was explaining earnestly to Janey, 'that I can't join up these wires I found into one long wire.  They spring apart, you see, as soon as I knot them together.  Can you help?'
            'Jesus wept!' exclaimed Hugh.
            'Enfin, Luh'le Shuggy.  C'est malheureux,' scolded Maman.
            'You will not blaspheme,' added Dada sternly.
            'All right, all right - but can't you do something about that squalid Fuehrer?  He's taken my guitar strings.  Every single thing I've ever cherished, that little Nazi has smashed up, and you never do anything.  It's a monumental injustice.  It's blatant favouritism.'
            'You must not take Luh'le Shuggy's things without asking, mein Fuehrer,' said Maman in a tired voice.  'Put them back at once.'
            'He can't put them back,' expostulated Hugh.  'He can only take things apart.  Does no one remember my cricket bat?  Which he used to bang in the metal parts of his guillotine?  Ruined.  And what does he get?  A feeble slap on the legs.  Here, give me those strings, you little Hun.'  Hugh leapt up and, clipping George round the head, seized the guitar strings.
            'Ow!  Achtung!' protested George.  'Did you see that?'
            'No,' said Maman shortly.
            'It's so unfair.'  He rubbed his head dramatically.  'Nobody cares if Luh'le Shuggy gives me brain damage.  I don't know why he needs the strings anyway - he just goes plink plink all day, the same note, the same soppy wet song' - he broke into a deep quavering imitation of the song, at whose accuracy Maman, in spite of her irritation, could not suppress a smile - 'Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl....'
            'Luh'le Shuggy wuvs a Mexican girl,' sniggered Dabs, making a surprise reappearance. 
            'Don't you bloody start, Dabs,' said Hugh furiously.
            'No, don't you bloody Dabs,' echoed the Moo approximately.
            'Do not swear in front of the Moo,' reproved Maman. 'You know how he imitates. In fact, do not swear at all, Luh'le Shuggy, or I won't have you in the house.  I mean it.'
            From the floor above there now came the sound of a Bach concerto being expertly played on the piano.
            'For Pete's sake,' shouted Dada, 'is there to be no peace on a Sunday morning?  I can hardly hear myself think.'
            'I wish that were what we all could hardly hear,' muttered Hugh.
            'It is beautiful, Dada.  Theo got a scholarship to the Conservatoire in Paris,' said Janey. 'Don't be a Philistine.'
            'Oh, oh, so I'm a Philistine, am I?  Well, well, I know it is stylish to look down on a man such as myself - for, yes, I shall say it: your father is a business man - but he is not ashamed to be such, no matter how fashionable it becomes to mock and sneer at him because he has not been to Oxford and the Conservatoire.  And yet, while you all mumble and sieve your impoverished syllables through your teeth, who has done more than I to promote the language of Shakespeare in this household?  I spare no expense to encourage you in your Art, Janey, and Luh'le Shuggy in his literary endeavours, neither of which activities will ever afford you a decent living, yet you have the neck to call me a Philistine.  Oh foul!  Am I not entitled to lament in the words of King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s thanks it is to have a toothless child”?'
            'Don't be silly, Dermot.'
            'Oh, so you defend your pelican daughter, Little Lorna?  But was it she who spurred you on to write your little stories?  Was it she who took them off to be appraised by powerful men of letters?  No, it was not.  It was your own Prince Flasheen Eyes, whom you now turn on with cries of "Philistine!".  And when your writings were spurned by the journals to which he submitted them, did he not dry your tears and urge you never to lose heart?'
            'But I did,' said Maman.
            'Spiv likes Theo's music,' said the Moo, looking into Spiv's eyes.  'It's sloppy.'
            'It soothes Spiv's savage breast,' said Hugh.
            'Luh'le Shuggy said "breast", Maman,' said George righteously.
            'Be quiet, the pair of you.  And we all like Theo's music, the Moo.  Even Dada does really.'
            'Does he?  I see. And you secretly wish, O wife of mine, to number among his pupils?  Is that it?'
            'No, Dermot.'
            'You suppose I would object?'
            'No, dear.'
            'You objected to Maman's French conversation with Theo,' Janey reminded him.
            'That is ancient history,' said Dada .
            'Before the Moo was born,' said the Moo cosily.
            'Not at all, the Moo.  Not even your birth could stop your mother nattering away nineteen to the dozen in the language of... of Marcel Marceau - '
            'Parlez-vous Français, Monsieur?' interjected George.  'Non, non, je suis un crétin.'
            'Best little brain in the family,' said Dada, his admiration giving him pause.  'Speaks good working French, mein Fuehrer, on top of his fluent German....  And then, of course, Muggins comes home after an abominable day at the office, hacking away at the rock face in order to put food on the table - only to find that there is no food on the table: Muggins's wife has been too busy ooh-la-la-ing all day with the French scholarship boy.  Any sane man would have put a stop to it.'
            'As you did, sane or otherwise,' said Maman.  'And Theo is not French.  His father is of Scottish extraction, as you well know; and his poor mother was a German Jew. He only speaks French. Do try and hold these distinctions in your mind, dear.'
            'And you wish to resume French conversation with this effete piano-player of mixed race?'
            'Did I say any such thing?  You deliberately misunderstand me, Dermot.  You are impossible.  And Theo is not effete.'
            'Just because he doesn't have dandruff and B.O. like the other teachers at school,' added Janey indignantly, 'doesn't mean he's effete.'
            'Very well.  I only venture to suggest that a single glance at his appearance - the foppish scarves, the suspicious corduroy - I do not mention the girlish skin - is enough to ascertain that Theo is very far from being, ahem, a ladies' man.  I do not use the expression "bum boy" - '
            'Ah, the language of Shakespeare,' said Hugh.
            'Dermot!  Pas devant les enfants!'

           
'Theo is perfectly manly, Dada,' said Jane.
            'And he dresses very nattily,' agreed Maman.
            'Ah, I see.  You approve of the absence of neckties at Sunday luncheon?  Well, well, I suppose we should all be grateful that Herr Hamilton of that Ilk does not sport a natty skull cap or a natty little kilt.'
            'Don't be absurd, Dermot.'
            'Speak French, Dabs,' ordered the Moo.
            'Zut! Zut!,' cried Dabs at once.  'Dada 'as made in 'is pantalons ze poo formidable!'
            'That is simply a preposterous suggestion,' exploded Dada.  ' And even if it were not, it would not be as funny as you, the Moo, seem to think.  I see your hysteria has rendered Spiv unable to strike at a moment when for once he would be more than justified in doing so.  However, I am ready to pass over the whole subject of the dubious pianist who in any case cannot bear comparison to your own darling Prince Flasheen Eyes, can he Little Lorna?'   The eyes flashed; the lips pursed prissily; the head of hair was poised for nuzzling.  Maman smiled in spite of her nerves.
            'Am Prince Flasheen Eyes a bum boy?' enquired Dabs.
            'Right, that's it!' bellowed Dada.  'Out!  All of you.  Go and make your beds.'
            'Luh'le Shuggy is in love with a Mexican girl,' taunted George, evading his brother's swipe with agility and scampering out of the bedroom.
            'Where are you going, Dabs?' asked the Moo, trailing after his sister.
            'Dabs am going outside to think about Art,' said Dabs with dignity.  'And to burn with a hard gem-like flame.'
            'Oh,' said the Moo, impressed.

 ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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