The best by Miles: Kington's satirical classics
When Miles Kington died last year, The Independent lost its resident comic genius. A new anthology showcases the work of Britain's best-loved satirist
Monday 30 November 2009
The History of King Tony: New Labour's lost, love
The time is 1994, shortly after the death of army leader Lord John Smith. The scene is a restaurant in London called Granita. At a table sit two men, Prince Tony and Duke Gordon Brown.
Gordon: Thou summonedst me to speak with thee alone,
And yet this is no kind of private place.
Would we not be better off sequestered
In some sheltered, secret rendezvous?
Tony: Fear not, old friend! Who would suspect
That two great princes such as you and I
Would venture into such a lowly bistro?
We are safer here than skulking in the dark,
Made invisible by our very brashness!
A waitress appears with notepad.
Waitress: The time has come, fair gents, to make your choice,
Or shall I leave you eke five minutes more,
To scan the menu, and withal the specials... ?
Good Lord! Do now mine eyes deceive me?
Or is it young Prince Tony here in person,
Sitting at our humble, scrubbed-pine table top?
Tony: I am he indeed, but here on secret mission.
Pray do not give me any recognition.
Waitress: Of course, my Lord. But first just sign my pad.
Thou art the first big autograph I've had!
Tony: With pleasure. (Signs) Now give us some more grace
To choose between the hake and bouillabaisse.
Gordon: Tony, thou art mad to think we're incognito!
That serving-girl did know you straightaway!
Tony: And seemed most pleased to see me, did she not?
Whereas for you she did not spare a glance.
This is the truth thou hast to learn, old friend,
That thou may be the cleverest prince on earth,
But I am he the public love to cheer!
Gordon: When I am leader of our gallant troops....
Tony: Whoa, there, brave Gordon, stay a little while!
To be a leader thou hast not the style...
I have a deal to put to thee tonight.
When our great army do go out to fight
Against the ranks of reigning King John Major,
The enemy at present seem to wager
That thou as leader cannot hope to win.
Thou hast two beetling eyebrows, black as sin.
Thy jaw is loose, thou hast a craggy jowl.
And all the world mistrusts that gloomy scowl.
Gordon: So what dost thou suggest?
Tony: That I'm made king
But only till we've settled everything.
When once my dashing charm and winning smile
Have won the day, I'll abdicate in style
And give the throne to thee, for thee to rule,
Like some stern teacher in a naughty school.
Gordon: This could work out. But how shall I ever know
Whether I can trust thy word or no?
Tony: Oh, Gordon, Gordon! Thou shouldst know long since
That I'm a pretty regular sort of prince...
At a nearby table, Sir Peter Mandelson is eavesdropping.
Mandelson: (sotto voce) I like the way that young Prince Tony schemes.
Once I loved Gordon. Now, I'm swapping teams.
As the two men make their way home, they encounter three old hags.
1st Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be a mighty warrior!
2nd Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be king hereafter!
3rd Hag: Hail, Tony, that shall be a leader of the world!
Tony: (Aside) These girls do echo but my secret thoughts ...
(Aloud) Say, who are ye, and wherefrom are ye sent?
1st Hag: Old Fleet Street hacks are we, who know the score.
2nd Hag: By Murdoch, our grim master, are we sent.
3rd Hag: Who promises to back ye in The Sun
As long as ye do offer certain favours ...
The hags whisper in Prince Tony's ear.
Gordon: But what of me? Ye offer Tony all!
Have ye no promises for me besides?
1st Hag: Ah, Gordon, ye must wait a little while.
2nd Hag: Ye shall be Chancellor for many years.
3rd Hag: And then at last! – Oh no, the glass grows dim!
I cannot see what fate's in store for him.
1st Hag: Come, sisters, come – our deadline waits for us.
2nd Hag: I see the headline now:
"It's Tony – No Fuss!"
3rd Hag: And under that:
"Has Gordon Missed the Bus?"
Cackling, they vanish. Tony and Gordon move on thoughtfully. Mandelson emerges from the shadows.
Mandelson: Warrior, king, world leader – everything!
Thus I can soon be steward to the king ...
Oedipus and his mum: A cautionary tale
Oedipus was an Ancient Greek
Whose future seemed to be quite bleak
For as the baby looked so weedy
His mum and dad took little Oedy
To ask the Oracle if he knew
What lay in store for baby blue...
"Oh woe!" the Oracle did intone,
As if through mournful megaphone,
"This lad will have a cursed life
For he will take his Mum as wife!"
"How can that be?" his Father cried.
"He cannot do that til I've died!"
"I have another bit of news,"
He heard the Oracle enthuse,
(For nothing gives an Oracle joy
Like bringing doom to a little boy)
"Your lad won't just take Mum as bride,
But also indulge in patricide."
Now Father was an ancient Greek
Whose grasp of Latin was quite weak.
"Patricide?" he said. "What's that?"
When told, he said, "I'LL KILL THE BRAT!"
"No, don't!" said mother. "Darling, see –
He's making googoo eyes at me..."
"Oh, IS he?" said his father. "No!
The little blighter's got to go!"
And so they came to a compromise.
The next day, as the sun did rise,
They left the baby high and dry,
In the desert, doomed to die.
But as is normal in this part,
Some interfering bleeding-heart
Found the baby lying there
And took it home and into care...
To cut a rambling story short
The lad was fed and up was brought,
Until at eighteen off he sped
To pass his gap year round the Med.
And in a road-rage incident
He killed a passing aged gent
Which wouldn't have been half so bad
If it hadn't been his Dad.
And later, which was worse by far,
He unwittingly wed his Ma.
He had a baby by his mother
Then two more, then another.
Reader, imagine if you can,
Children calling their mother "Gran"...
When Oedipus found what he had done,
He put his eyes out one by one,
And sat beside the River Nile,
In a state of complete denial.
Because he loved his Mum, you see,
Not wisely, but too passionately.
Moral: If an oracle offers you news
Of the future, just refuse.
To know the future of your child
Will only help to drive you wild.
Just give him lots of love and hugs
And hope he doesn't take to drugs.
Radio 4, 2000
Here We Go Again
"Will you be needing a cheese grater at university, dear?" said my mother. She was holding one up, presumably in case I didn't know what a cheese grater looked like.
"For heaven's sake, woman!" said my father crossly, "how on earth does he know if he's going to need a cheese grater? Don't you think there are more important things right now to worry about? He's just about to go off to university for three years, and the sort of things he's going to need are perseverance, and a work ethic, and a nice set of friends, and driving ambition, and...and...resourcefulness, and maybe a bicycle, and all you want to know is whether he wants a cheese grater!"
He paused for a moment and then, as he often did in his absurdly logical way, began to consider the other side of the question.
"Still, that's all part of the broader picture, and I suppose we have to leave those sorts of thing up to him. We can't provide him with friends or application – much as we would like to. No, all we can do is make sure he has the creature comforts on which he can base his career, and I suppose that does presuppose that he will have to do a lot of his own cooking. So, yes, lad, do you think you'll be needing a cheese grater?"
They both looked at me expectantly.
I was going to miss them.
It was the day before I was due to start university and I had been very careful to finish my packing three days previously, so that everything I needed would be ready to go before they started fussing about what I should really take.
"I had thought of taking my bicycle, father," I said, "but it's quite a good one and I am afraid it will be stolen at university. I think it would be better to wait till I get there and buy a cheap secondhand one. I bet there's a brisk trade in cheap bikes at university."
"Or you could steal one, of course," he said. "Father!" said my mother.
"Well, that's what students did in my day," he said. "We didn't call it stealing. We called it borrowing. If you needed a bike and there was one handy, you just took it, and then left it for the next person."
"Anyway," I said, "we wouldn't be able to get it into the car."
"It's not a very large cheese grater," said my mother.
"Mother!" I said. "I'm talking about the bicycle!"
"You could always send it PLA by train," said my father. PLA? Well, I should explain that in the period I am talking about, which is the early 1960s, our railways were much more advanced than they are today, and you could send anything anywhere by train, without having to accompany it. Passenger's Luggage in Advance, it was called, or PLA.
Most guard's vans on most long-distance trains were stacked high with bicycles and racing pigeons in baskets and musical instruments and heaven knows what ... Guard's vans? Look, we really don't have time right now to explain all this period detail. Later, perhaps.
"What am I going to need a cheese grater for?" I said. "And please don't say, 'for grating cheese'."
"For grating cheese onto the potatoes," said my mother.
"What potatoes?" I said.
"Could you get them for me, father?" said my mother. My father went into the larder and came back dragging a large sack.
"What on earth . . . ?" I said.
"Potatoes," said my mother. "It's a sack of potatoes. I racked my brains what to get for you to take with you, and it suddenly occurred to me that students eat a lot of potatoes, and it's about time you learnt to cook, and what better to learn on than potatoes?"
My head reeled. "How on earth am I going to cope with . . . ?"
"We thought of that," said my father. "And this is my present to you." So saying, he handed me a book. It was called The Potato Cookery Book. More than 100 recipes for . . .
I read no further.
"Mother, I can't begin life at university with a sack of potatoes and a hundred recipes."
"Of course you can, dear. You will quickly get a reputation as a cook, and girls will fall over themselves to get invited round."
"Failing which, you can always sell the potatoes," said my father. "In the last days of the war, they were used as a form of currency in Poland. Or was it as a form of ammunition? One of the two."
"Father, mother!" I said. "This is a very highly strung moment for me! Tomorrow I am off on the biggest adventure of my life so far. I am going to be surrounded by the cleverest and most competitive young people in the country. It's like waiting to go into no-man's-land and charge towards an unknown enemy. No – it's like preparing to go into the jungle and not knowing how to survive or what to survive. It's like going to a country where you don't know the language or the customs and being expected to prosper! It's like..."
"Accumulating useless similes is all very well in English exams, but it's not much help in real life," said my father. "In any case, we have all had to face situations of which we had no prior experience. In my case, it was joining the army."
"In my case it was being married to your father," said my mother. "And having children."
"And in your case it is going to be cooking," said my father. "Worry about cooking, and you will forget your worries about university. Worry about the small things, and the big worries will sort themselves out by themselves."
"Do you really believe that?" I said.
"No," he conceded, deftly swapping sides in an argument again. "It sounded good when I said it, but now that I have listened to what I said, I have to disagree with myself."
"This is what your first year at university is going to be like," said my mother.
"Endlessly debating the truth?" said my father.
"Going round and round in fatuous circles, more like," said my mother. "I don't see the point of going to university when you could create exactly the same effect by staying here at home, sitting up late with your father, drinking coffee, and talking rubbish."
"I thought you wanted me to go to university," I said.
"Oh, we do, we do," said my mother. "Having got Ralph off to drama college last year, the place quietened down considerably, and as soon as you have gone . . ."
"Did you give Ralph a sack of potatoes?" I said.
"How did he get on?"
"We never had any complaints," she said.
"I hope they have got chips in here," I said, picking up the potato recipe book.
"You don't need a recipe for chips!" said my father. "Chips isn't a recipe! It's like baked potatoes! You just put it in and later you take it out! You don't need a book to tell you how to do that!"
"Put it in...take...it...out..." I said, pretending to write all this down.
"Ralph made gnocchi," said my mother.
"Did he?" said my father.
"What are they?" I said.
"Sort of dumplings made with a bit of flour mixed with mashed potatoes, and then boiled in a big pan of water. The Italians love them."
"Typical," I said. "It's so typical of Ralph to pick on something poncey to impress his actors friends with. I'll stick with chips."
"Chips are something you buy," said my father. "There are certain dishes you never make at home. They're too easy to buy. Nobody ever makes fish and chips at home. It would be like making your own potato crisps."
"Look," said my mother, "this is getting us nowhere. The boy's going to university tomorrow. We must start packing."
"Ah," I said, relishing the moment to spring my big surprise, "but I finished my packing three days ago. I'm all ready to go!"
"I know, dear," said my mother. "I wasn't talking about you. I was talking about your father and me. We have decided to take advantage of your absence to go for a short motoring trip up north. We have never been to Yorkshire."
"Yorkshire!" I said. "You're going to Yorkshire without me!"
"You've never shown the slightest desire to go there," said my father.
"Yes, but... When are you going?"
"Tomorrow. After we have seen you off at the station, we're going to lock the house and go away for the week."
"Tomorrow! You couldn't even wait for a day or so!"
"My dear boy," said my mother. "We've waited 18 years. Isn't that long enough?"
"I suppose so," I said.
I felt a bit ashamed. "I'm sorry," I said.
"That's all right," said my mother, and kissed me. There was an emotional pause. A rather precious moment. Then my father lifted something in the air. "So, are you taking the cheese grater or not?"
Here We Go Again (unfinished sequel to Someone like Me), 2006
Miles Kington interviews Mata Hari
Kington: So you are Mata Hari, the beautiful spy...
Mata Hari: That is what I am called now.
It was not what I was called then.
Kington: What were you called then?
Mata Hari: Oh, many things. For a time I called myself Lady McLeod, you know...
Kington: Really? Why?
Mata Hari: Oh, for many reasons. It is a long time ago... But Mata Hari, the beautiful spy... It sounds good! But it is not really true, is it?
Kington: Why not?
Mata Hari: Well, after all, Mata Hari was not my real name. Beautiful? (Laughs) And I was never, never a spy. But apart from all that, you are quite right.
Kington: It is nearly 100 years since you died, and yet you are still famous as 'Mata Hari the beautiful spy'.
Mata Hari: I am very flattered.
Kington: But that is all that people know about you. That you were a spy, that you seduced secrets out of people by your beauty, and that you were called Mata Hari. Otherwise, nobody remembers anything about you, Not your nationality, not your real name, nothing.
Mata Hari: Extraordinary.
Kington: And now you tell me that what little we do know about you is wrong?
Mata Hari: Absolutely. I seem to have preserved my cover better after my death than I did before.
Kington: Despite which, you have achieved fame.
Mata Hari: Extraordinary.
Kington: Were you famous in your lifetime?
Mata Hari: As what? As a dancer?
Kington: Well, no – as a spy?
Mata Hari: I was not a spy. I thought I had explained.
Kington: Well, you were shot as a spy.
Mata Hari: That is true. These little mistakes happen.
Kington: How did it happen?
Mata Hari: Oh, the French were shooting a lot of people at the time.
Kington: You mean, shooting Germans?
Mata Hari: Not just Germans. The French were shooting a lot of their own side too. This was 1917, and the war was going badly, and the fighting had gone on too long, and many French soldiers were sick of the mud and the blood, and sick of their officers and sick of the whole thing, and so a lot of the soldiers mutinied and they were shot by the firing squad, and there was so much shooting of their own soldiers that maybe they thought for a change they would shoot a foreign woman to cheer everyone up, and I was available...
Kington: You sound very matter-of-fact about it.
Mata Hari: I've had time to get over it.
Kington: Perhaps we ought to go back to the beginning.
Mata Hari: If you wish. It is not a very interesting beginning, but what do you want to know?
Kington: Your real name...
Mata Hari: Gertie.
Mata Hari: Have I shocked you?
Mata Hari: It's always nice to shock people. I don't often get the chance... Anyway, my husband called me Gertie. My full name was Gertrude Margarete Zelle, and I was born in Holland in 1876, on August 7th.
Kington: So you were Dutch?
Mata Hari: Yes. Extraordinary, isn't it? That a nation of dull, boring people like the Dutch should produce a famous, beautiful spy with an exotic name. If I challenged you to name another Dutch spy, or another beautiful Dutchwoman, or even another Dutch dancer...
Kington: I...don't think I could.
Mata Hari: Really extraordinary, isn't it? All those tulips and windmills and clogs, and then – little me!
Kington: Well, the Dutch haven't always been safe and boring. They fought wars... they had an empire...
Mata Hari: Don't I know it! The Dutch East Indies! I spent the most boring years of my life out there. Aagh!
Kington: What took you out there?
Mata Hari: Who took me out there...? A man called Mcleod.
Kington: A Scotsman?
Mata Hari: No, a Dutchman. With Scottish forefathers. God, how he used to go on about his forefathers. Do all the Scots go on about their ancestors?
Kington: They do, quite a lot. Not if they've got Dutch ancestors, of course. They'd keep quiet about that.
Mata Hari: Quite so. Anyway, this... man... married me and took me out to the Dutch East Indies to make a fortune, and it didn't work out, and we didn't get on, and so...
Kington: You left him?
Mata Hari: Not so easy to leave a man when you're 5,000 miles from home and nowhere to go. No, I just got bored. I had nothing to do. Lots of women started drinking out there, you know, just from boredom but I was lucky – I met someone who took me to one of the temples in Java, and I fell in love with the way they danced, and I decided to learn how to do it. It was so... sensuous, and exotic, and liberating. Then finally... Oh, it's a long story, but I managed to get rid of the husband and came back to Europe and suddenly found I had to earn my living.
Not an easy thing for a lone woman to do. But one day I was showing some people at a party what I had learnt in the temples of Java, and a man came to me afterwards and said that he ran a music club and he would love to present me as a performer, of course he would pay me. I didn't realise then exactly what kind of club he had in mind. I thought he was maybe a serious artist.
Kington: He wasn't?
Mata Hari: No. He was a serious businessman. He knew that people – men – would pay good money to see exotic dancing, if it was sufficiently...
Mata Hari: We didn't use the word sexy then. It was far too blatant. Let us say... artistic... exotic... advanced...
Kington: And so you performed Javanese temple dances in a Dutch nightclub. Was that not a bit irreverent?
Mata Hari: Well, it might have been if there had been any Javanese in the audience to offend, but there weren't. So I stopped being a colonial settler's wife and became an exotic dancer.
Kington: It's a bit like a Somerset Maugham story in a way.
Mata Hari: It's better than a Somerset Maugham story! It actually happened, for a start... Anyway, when I became an artistic dancer I took on the name of Mata Hari...
Mata Hari: Because I don't think an exotic dancer would get very far under the name of Gertie Mcleod...
Kington: No, I mean, what is the significance of the name Mata Hari?
Mata Hari: It is Javanese for 'Eye of the Morning'. Not only did I change my name, I rapidly adapted my dance to Western tastes, or at least to the tastes of those present.
Kington: What sort of people were they?
Mata Hari: Have you ever been to a strip club?
Kington: Me? (nervous laugh) Well, maybe once a long time ago... out of curiosity... you know...
Mata Hari: Yes, I know. Well, that's the kind of person who wanted to see me dance. Ordinary men, like you. Big men in their profession. Important men at work. Little boys when out on their own...
Kington: And you did a striptease?
Mata Hari: No! Well, yes. But it was very artistic. The way I removed the last veil was said to be very... cathartic. Soon I got a reputation for being extremely artistic and I moved out of the clubs and started doing private performances.
Kington: You mean, private parties, with wild goings-on...
Mata Hari: Some. Maybe. I don't remember. What I do remember is making some very influential friends. In the Army.
Kington: In the German Army?
Mata Hari: Some... some also in the French army. When you are a lone woman, you need all the protection you can get.
Kington: In what form did the protection come?
Mata Hari: Jewels... fur coats... money...
Kington: Military secrets?
Mata Hari: I was mixing with army officers... army officers talk about military matters. I would have had to be deaf not to pick up military information.
Kington: Did you sell it?
Mata Hari: Maybe. Maybe not. I can't remember.
Kington: Oh, surely you must be able to remember!
Mata Hari: Things don't work like that. It's not that easy. Look, let's say I have a friendship with a German army officer...
Kington: Major von Kelle, perhaps...
Mata Hari: Ah, you know about my friend, the German military attaché in Madrid.
Mata Hari: My, we have done our research well, haven't we? Yes, Major von Kelle, the top German officer in Madrid and, I may say, a very nice man. So we are friends. So he gives me a place to live. So we go out together to the opera. So we spend the night together sometimes. And sometimes he gives me presents. Does this mean that I am selling my body?
Kington: Those are not the terms I'd use...
Mata Hari: Well, if I was not selling my body, I was not selling military information either. Sometimes I heard things. I told other people these things. Later these people gave me presents. That's all.
Kington: It sounds like spying to me...
Mata Hari: Maybe now it would be called spying. But things were different then. You must remember that we had no professional spies – or at least, no country had an organised spy service. All spies were freelance. They were not on anyone's side. They worked for themselves, not for a cause. They stole a secret, and then looked for the highest bidder, a bit like being an art auctioneer... Do you read Sherlock Holmes?
Kington: Sometimes. Why?
Mata Hari: There was a story called "The Second Stain". In it, the Prime Minister of England comes to Sherlock Holmes and says that a very important letter has been stolen, a letter from a foreign leader, a letter which is so inflammatory and so tactless that if it were known about, it would mean a European war. By the way, it is quite obvious from what is said that the foreign leader Mr Conan Doyle is talking about is the Kaiser, though he is not named. Now, do you remember how Sherlock Holmes starts to look for the letter?
Kington: I'm not sure I...
Mata Hari: He says to Dr Watson that there are three intelligence agents in London clever enough to have stolen the letter and that even now whichever of them has stolen it must be looking for a buyer. You see? He doesn't say that it must be a German agent or a French spy, but a freelance agent! Just what Mrs Thatcher would approve of! Do you think your Mrs Thatcher would have liked such a market approach? Her government spies selling her government secrets to the best tender?
Kington: No, I don't think so. But I don't see where all this is leading us.
Mata Hari: Then I will explain. You asked me right at the beginning if I was the beautiful spy. I said: no, I wasn't a spy. Because we didn't have spies in the sense that you are meaning! Today there are millions of spies trained professionally by their countries who go out with their radios and codes and disguises and dropping-off points and contacts and God knows what, and you have thousands of spy novels written about dreary little men who work out of offices and double-cross each other and they have dwarfs' names...
Kington: Dwarfs' names?
Mata Hari: You know, the Seven Dwarfs? Like Sneezy or Happy or Jolly or Smiley...
Kington: Oh, you mean Smiley! George Smiley! John le Carré's spy character.
Mata Hari: Yes, that boring little man... Well, all your spies are like that now, men with professions, bureaucrats, time-servers...
Kington: I see what you mean.
Mata Hari: I wasn't like that. I heard a few interesting things from some friends. I passed them on to other friends. That's all.
Kington: But surely all that must have changed when the Great War started. I mean, the major nations must have put their intelligence gathering on a proper footing...
Mata Hari: They tried. They had already tried. I remember reading that the English sent two naval officer over to Germany in 1910 to spy out the coastline and the German naval defences. This was four years before the war, remember. The Germans spotted the two men spying and arrested them and tried them and...
Kington: And shot them?
Mata Hari: No, no... Just put them in prison for a while. They didn't start shooting people seriously till the war. But you see, it was all very amateur then: just send a couple of officers over to have a look round. The British must have got the shock of their lives when they were actually arrested.
Kington: Did the British kick up a fuss?
Mata Hari: Absolutely not! They disclaimed all knowledge of them. 'We don't know what they are doing in Germany – must have been a private trip... We take no responsibility for them ...' That, at least, was up with modern thinking. Leave your agent to carry the bucket.
Kington: Carry the can.
Mata Hari: Yes. And then when the war did break out, there was spy mania all over the place. Everyone was suspected of being a spy. You only had to have a German name – or an English name in Germany of course. Even Beethoven was suspected of being a spy.
Kington: What? Beethoven? But he had been dead for 100 years!
Mata Hari: Then why did the English ban his music from their concert halls? So stupid... But I was going to tell you the story of the lady's maid who was caught leaving Germany after the war started, which will give you some idea of how advanced spying was in those days...
The Cliché Museum
Every museum in the country is getting ready to attract crowds when the next Bank Holiday looms and the British Cliché Museum is no exception, already looking as bright as a button, and all ship-shape and Bristol fashion, to name only two of the thousands of clichés housed here.
This friendly little spot is not just a collection of all the objects connected with British clichés (on display you will find more bargepoles, doorposts, thick planks, new brooms, sick parrots etc than you could shake a stick at) but it is actively engaged in research and testing of clichés old and new.
"Oh, yes, there is hardly a cliché that we have not take a butcher's at," says the new director of the British Cliché Museum, Jack Robinson. (All directors of the museum, as soon as they are appointed, are traditionally renamed Jack Robinson or Solomon Grundy.) "You see, most people accept the working of the average cliché without thinking about it. Put the cart before the horse, they say, or take a horse to water, although none of them has ever handled a cart or a horse. Here is the one place in Britain they can come and see clichés demonstrated and tested, to destruction if necessary."
If you do test a cliché to destruction, does that mean that people discard it?
"Good Lord, no!" says Jack Robinson. "One of the first things we ever did here was to establish that leaving a sinking ship was a sensible thing to do, not a cowardly one, yet still to this day people are called rats for leaving a sinking ship. Clever old rats, I say. But no-one else does."
He pauses as we pass an open office where a man sits at a desk, shuffling paper around. HHow're you feeling, doctor?' cries Robinson.
The doctor gives us a beatific smile. "Great," he says. "Awesome. Marvellous ..."
"Good, good," says Robinson, and adds to me, more softly, "We're just seeing if he likes a taste of his own medicine. What we didn't know is that he prescribed people a lot of morphine and Viagra, so he's really enjoying himself. We'll have to do some more tests with doctors who dole out mostly cough medicine and flu jabs. Now here ..."
Here is an open bit of ground with some big bushes growing close together. They look quite tough.
"Cherie Blair was described the other day as looking as if she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. It's an old cliché. But is it true? On Bank Holiday Monday we've got a Cherie Blaire look-alike coming along who's agreed to be dragged through it backwards, and then forwards, to see if there's any difference.
"Mark you, the rate at which hedges are being grubbed up in this country, we will soon have to explain to people what a hedge is. Already we have to explain about taking coals to Newcastle, because people don't remember any more that Newcastle was in a coal-producing area. Some of them don't know what coal is. They associate the word with football because of all the footballers called Cole, like Ashley Cole and Joe Cole. A young boy said to me the other day, 'Don't you mean taking Coles to Chelsea'?"
As I end my visit, I see a man preparing an enormous cheese on a table.
What is he up to?
"Ah, he's mounting our cheese-paring demonstration. People talk about cheese-paring as if it is being stingy and mean, but in fact it's all about husbandry and economy. You get a lot more out of a cheese if you pare it properly. It's explained in our new recipe book."
The British Cliché Museum has published a recipe book?
"It certainly has! It has such dishes in it as Humble Pie, A Pretty Kettle of Fish, Too Many Cooks Broth, Sauce for the Goose and Gander, Revenge ..."
Revenge? What kind of dish is Revenge?
"I'm not sure," admits Jack Robinson. "All I know is that it's best served cold ..."
The Independent, 2006
Lady Chatterley's Lover: L'Authentique Version
C'était dinner-time à Chatterley Hall.
Nothing posh. Un simple soûper pour deux.
Lady Constance Chatterley avait une salade. Elle était sur un diet.
Sir Clifford, dans son wheel-chair, avait une très petite salade. Il n'était pas sur un diet, mais dans un wheel-chair vous n'avez pas beaucoup d'exercise. C'est triste, really.
Mais les gens handicappés, ils ne demandent pas la pitié. La sympathie, oui. Un hand avec le wheel-chair, oui. La pitié, jamais.
La conversation était desultoire. Le traffi c était mauvais dans le town ...?
Encore un drop de mayonnaise ...? Cette sorte de chose.
Puis Sir Clifford parla.
"By the way, Connie, tu as rencontré Mellors aujourd'hui?"
"Le gamekeeper? Oui, pourquoi?"
"Tu sais. Ce sujet que nous avons discuté."
"Mon sexual inadequacy."
"Oh, Cliff ord! Really! Pas à meal-time!"
Je suis avec Lady Chatterley ici. Le sexual inadequacy, c'est un peu off-putting à meal-time. Avec le café et les liqueurs, peut-être, mais over la salade? Cela a un mauvais eff ect sur l'appétit.
Mais Sir Clifford insista. Il était comme ça, Cliff Chatterley.
"J'insiste, chérie. Il faut confronter les facts. Après mon wound en World War I, je ne suis pas un husband complet, et c'est très hard sur toi." Donc, j'ai fait la suggestion d'un petit fling avec Mellors, qui est un grand, jeune bloke et un Lothario, I bet!"
"Clifford, c'est dégoûtant! Un gamekeeper!"
"Ne sois pas un snob, my dear. Une petite affaire avec lui serait très bonne pour toi. Pourquoi pas?"
"Parce que je ne trouve pas Mellors tres handsome et parce que je ne trouve pas sex très intéressant et parce que je suis heureuse comme je suis."
Sir Clifford donna un shrug des shoulders.
Lady Constane fit signe au butler de rémouver les assiettes de salade.
Le butler alla à la cuisine, et répéta à la cook la conversation de Sir
Clifford et Lady Constance.
La cook la répéta à la parlour maid.
La parlour maid répéta la conversation à son boyfriend.
Son boyfriend répéta la conversation a son ami, un Monsieur David Herbert Lawrence.
"Wow!" dit Lawrence. "Un plot pour un novel là! Mais je suis sûr que vous avez la conversation le wrong way round."
"How come?" dit l'ami.
"Well, je suis sûr que Lady Constance est engagée dans une affaire passionnée avec Mellors, et que sir Clifford est furieux."
"Non, non, je ne crois pas ..."
"Si, si! C'est la seule interpretation possible."
Et David Herbert Lawrence commença son novel le next jour.
Moi, je n'ai pas l'intention de le lire.
Je trouve cette sorte de chose un peu naff.
Je suis avec Lady Chatterley là.
Oui, j'en suis sûr.
The Franglais Lieutenant's Woman, 1986
The Best By Miles is published by Old Street (£12.99). To order a copy for the special price of £11.69 (including p&p) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit Independent.co.uk/booksdirect
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