January 31, 2000
One has held out for years. "Nay," one said, one's iron backbone ramrod straight. "One will not descend to such vulgar expediencies. They offend one. They offend the eye. They offend the decency of every upright man and woman in this green and pleasant land!"
But one's Internetrical agents insisted. "Sir Charles!" they begged. "You must include advertising in your column! Alack! your following is so large, the number of your readers is so numerous according to the most authoritative of authorities, that were they each to use Mr. Schill's Improved Foot Fungus Powder with Improved Corn-A-Way Protection (available at fine chemist's establishments near you!), they would all be able to walk--nay, run!--to thank you, their steps proud and sure, thanks to the foot-relieving action of Mr. Schill's Improved Foot Fungus Powder with Improved Corn-A-Way Protection! (And if one forgot to remind one's dear readers, this relaxing concoction is available at fine chemist's establishments near you!)
One looked dubious, however. "Surely these advertisements will not be intrusive? One prefers that they be scarcely noticeable."
"Of course!" they said. And then they named a sum payment that one could not, in good conscience, turn down.
But one assures one's readers of one thing above all: The following advertisements, presented en masse so that one can get them over with at one go, are all tasteful. One would never, ever, resort to endorsing a product one felt cheapened one's image. Gracious, no. That would certainly not sit well with
Everyone's favourite baronet,
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Sir Charles Grandiose says:
"Beans, beans! The musical fruit! But with EVANS BRAND GASLESS BEANS, oi no longer TOOT!"
Yes, if you aim to be like this high-class baronet, eat EVANS BRAND GASLESS BEANS, and perhaps you can join Sir Charles Grandiose in saying,
"Oi'm in 'eaven, with EVANS BRAND GASLESS BEANS!"
Dear Lady Felicia Grandiose,
I have a problem with mortifying perspiration! I wish I looked as cool and demure as you. What's your secret?
You are too good. But I was once like you. Why, at the end of a day of making my county-famous chutneys, my armpits were a damp embarrassment!
That is, until I found Peterson's Perspiration-Pruf Pit Pomade. Peterson's Perspiration-Pruf Pit Pomade, with its delicate floral scent, keeps my gowns dry and chases the sweat stains away! Dear girl, I could not rest easy unless you run out and buy a packet of Peterson's Perspiration-Pruf Pit Pomade (from the makers of Mr. Schill's Improved Foot Fungus Powder with Improved Corn-A-Way Protection) this very day!
Serenely, one remains,
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The Larsons write:
Dearest Sir Charles,
My son, Drayton, has taken a liking to your column. In fact, it's the only thing in the house that he'll allow us to wipe up his spittle with! (We print it up regularly, you know.) Anyhow, he's just started preschool . . . how the time flies . . . and he drew a picture just for you. Hope you like it!
The Larsons in Landover
Sir Charles replies:
Dear Family of Commoners,
How quaint. A picture of oneself, is it? Holding a sign proclaiming that one is a 'Friend Of Penelope' (Windsor-Smythe, currently eighty-fourth in line for the throne)? My, what an unusual sense of line. What a unique use of colour!
You don't drop the child on its head too often, do you?
Ordering the servants to tack the creation on one's icebox,
Dear Sir Charles!
I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled to receive a response from you last week about my proposed musical! And to think your nephew Chauncey said "You just don't stand a chance with that old auntie!" Well, I proved HIM wrong. Hel-LO! YOO-hoo! Earth to Planet Chauncey! All is forgiven!
Well, I got the impression that you didn't like my idea for The Gospel According to Clive. And that's such a pity, because I was so hoping to show off the new sandals I'd bought for the part. (You would have adored them. There's nothing like a man in thongs, I say! Get it? Get it?) But fear not! Clive D'Arcy is simply bursting with ideas enough to make that Andrew Lloyd Webber (who is only a knight you know!) simply roll in his grave. Yes, I know he's not dead yet. That's not the point. HEL-lo!
All right. Let's get down to beeswax, as you baronets say. It's worked so well for other people. You take a classic staple of literature--really, you don't even have to read the original if you've got the Digest version handy! Just a little secret between you and Clive!--and then you just add a few pop songs and viola! You're booked in the West End for years.
So I'm picturing a kick line of absolutely divine chorus boys in khaki, pith helmets, and sequins. I'm picturing a disfigured man ("I am not an animal! I am not an animal!" You know. That sort of thing) telling his life story to a darling nurse in a Dior frock. I'm picturing a spectacular plane crash . . . sort of a cross between the chandelier in Phantom and the helicopter in Miss Saigon, with touches of Amelia Earhart. I'm picturing Anita Manceau-Baddeley in a fabulous evening dress simply dripping with fringe, dying on the floor of a cavern, looking absolutely scrummy by candlelight. I'm picturing a simply heart-wrenching ballad when Count Laszlo (we'll have to do something about that name when I play the part, won't we! I'm thinking of Count Chocula, myself. No! Just joshing, ducks!) sells maps of Egypt to the Nazis for an airplane.
Yes! It's Patient!, Clive D'Arcy's musical comedy adaptation of The English Patient! Or do you prefer the title Burn Baby, Burn!? I'm easy! As many a soul has told me, "Clive, you are the most flexible man I've ever seen!"
Of course, between vous and moi, this idea is still very much in development. I would hate for it to get out and have some hack like Sondheim or Kander and Ebb to get hold of it. Too dreadful to think about.
And au naturelle this production would be a mite more expensive than The Gospel According to Clive. I'm thinking that all we'd really need from you would be fifteen to twenty million pounds, sweetie.
And oh, entre nous, a fashion tip to your wife, Lady Felicia? As a wise man once said, 'If you must wear fox to the opera, Dame Fashion says: Diet!" (I know it's natural for a woman her age to get a little 'hippy.' But sweetie, darling, lay off the chutneys!)
Your loyal fan,
Sir Charles replies:
My dear Mr. D'Arcy,
One recognizes that you are allegedly a friend of one's nephew, Chauncey. Therefore one is attempting to be tactful.
If one really wished to throw away twenty million pounds, one would rather strap bundles of one thousand pound notes to one's n-k-d body, walk through the streets of Fishampton, and invite the folk of the village to throw molasses upon one, then invite them to denude one of the sticky currency with their teeth, while photographers from the Tatler took photographs.
That, however, is extremely unlikely to happen. Equally unlikely is the prospect of one investing in a 'musical comedy' in which the sets are primarily composed of sand and sequins.
One would urge the correspondent to 'try again,' but one is afraid he might mistake it as a genuine invitation.
Feeling slightly itchy, one remains,
Ewan McEwan writes:
Problems of a ghostly nature seem to haunt me. I am writing this letter to appeal to your young and firm mind.
Lady Willma Finehorn had blessed my little forty up-forty down with her presence. The Finehorns are a well respected family, and young Malcom Finehorn is a strapping young man--I do wish Emma, my lovely sister, would get along with him better. Lady Willma Finehorn, however, often finds it within her to annoy me. While we stood in the hunting lounge, I was making polite conversation as we waited for Emma, and Lady Finehorn opened her mouth and issued those dreadful words; "Do I see a stain on that rug ?"
Needless to say I was taken aback, as I hire only the best maids. "No," I said. "That, my dear Lady is what is left of the blood stain of Edward McEwan, our local ghost." With that Lady Finehorn's mouth popped open. I had forgotten that Lady Finehorn has a weak heart.
Meanwhile, my dear little sister, Emma McEwan, was having slight troubles of her own. Emma likes to make dresses; I'm told this is a perfectly normal hobby for a girl her age to have. That morning she had some dress making help--not from a master seamstress, however. Rather, the unwanted help of Mars. (Some months ago Emma acquired a rather bouncy puppy. A red puppy, and hence the name Mars.)
That morning Mars was helping Emma by stealing the plastic hand from her mannequin and running off with it, Mars is, as you can see, a very helpful puppy.
Mars also has an affection for the kitchen and it was to that room he scampered. He scampered rather too quickly, straight into a trolley laden with my favourite cake. Recovering, he charged out from the kitchen, covered in a coat of white flour, dark red raspberry jam, and the plastic mannequin hand still in his little jaws.
As I was informing Lady Finehorn of the ghostly hound which Edward McEwan fought and lost his hand to, Mars, covered in ghostly white, speckled with blood-red jam and with a hand in clasped between his teeth, whizzed by.
The medics told me that Lady Finehorn merely fainted. Shock, they tell me. I am also told that she will be fine in a day or two.
But young Penelope, I am sure that Malcom and Emma would be good friends. How do you think I should introduce them ?
Penelope Windsor-Smythe replies:
How very vexing! I don't mind confessing that I'm terribly envious of you, Mr McEwan. Why is it that everyone else's drafty old manor is bursting at the seams with exciting, blood-thirsty apparitions? Here, at Blandsdown, we haven't a single phantasm worth mentioning. Mummy tells me it's because nobody interesting ever wants to stay at Blandsdown until they die, so all we have is one little ghost that floats up and down the north wing, moaning and groaning and rattling its silly old chains. What a cliche!
But there's more to the supernatural than meets the eye, or so Great Aunt Althea Fitzwilliams always told me. For example, when Colin and I first discovered Papa's prized collection of ancient Indian brass spittoons in the shapes of the Kama Sutra, we became so agreeably engrossed in our study, that we didn't hear the door when it abruptly crashed open, revealing Papa standing on the threshold. Indeed, it was an even greater shock when Papa gaped at us, turned as white as a sheet, shouted out something completely incomprehensible, and collapsed on the floor in a dead faint. In retrospect, I suppose the flickering light from his candle (Papa can be so gothic) made Colin and me appear like two entwined spirits writhing in pagan-inspired delight, both of us still in our costumes from Lady Sothbach's 'Maharajah Nights' ball, and our position on the table uncannily like spittoon number forty-six which Papa was just then returning to the cupboard shelf.
Anyway, what ensued afterwards makes me almost certain that if Lady Finehorn were visited with a few more puppy phantasms, oh, say, on selective nights when the moon is full, she could be made perfectly acquiescent towards just about anything, including an early summer engagement. Unless, of course, your sister happens to be buck-toothed.