“Now that wasn’t that bad, Ypres, was it?”
Ypres was standing beside me in the taxi queue outside Paddington. “Indeed. In the grand scheme of things, the experience did not prove too taxing.” Ypres had offered her reflection in between sips of orange juice. She had bought the liquid in one of the shops in the station. The fact that it was contained in a plastic bottle that was meant to resemble three oranges on top of one another masquerading as a snowman (or was it a snow woman?) did not seem to trouble her. The intent behind the drink was to replenish Ypres’s electrolytes.
Ypres had kindly volunteered to detrain my luggage, an offer which was quickly extended to Lanky Ella. It is for her subtle acts of decency that I keep Ypres in my employ. As soon as she saw Ella and me heading for the exit, sans luggage, as it were, and deciphered our unspoken intent for a quick coffee in the station unhampered by trunks, hatboxes, attaché cases, make-up bags and the lot, Ypres came to the rescue.
Like a Royal Air Force squadron scrambled to meet the Lufthansa (I should check the spelling of that one, Dutch is not my strong suit), Britannic phlegm at the ready, and stiff upper lip fully deployed, Ypres took on the logistical challenge at hand. Needless to say, the group’s possessions were safely conveyed off the Heathrow Express just before it departed back towards the airport with a fresh load of travellers. My possessions were neatly separated from Ella’s, which is no mean feat given our shared taste in Louis Vuitton travelling cases.
Replenished by a quick coffee, Lanky Ella and I parted ways in the station hall. Ella had only spilled a fifth of her coffee. In any case, the barista’s muted scream, the result of the hot liquid finding a new home on her skin, was covered by some sort of train whistle, so it did not really count.
Ella has a knack for finding assistance when needed. It did not take her long to enlist a group of passing police officers to help with her luggage. She headed for the Tube accompanied by her two new Bobbies. It’s a good thing they wear those hats, for when one of Ella’s bags escaped her on the escalator down to the Bakerloo line, it merely knocked a hat off. It is always a relief to find that one’s hat has taken the fall for what could well have been the back of one’s head.
A lull in my conversation with Ypres, not that she’s much of a conversationalist to begin with, allowed me to think over the day so far. There were a few blanks. I had been hit over the head twice in one morning. The fact that I had crossed several time zones did not help the memorising process either. I debated whether I should start the mental process of thinking over events at what would be considered morning Greenwich Mean Time. Sticking to GMT meant my aerial observation on chesticular asymmetry, and Lanky Ella as yet undisclosed quandary, with the possibility of an upgrade to conundrum status, would all be part of my exercise in memory.
I was in the middle of what some might call a feat of Euclidean calculus over time zones when Ypres interrupted.
“I will just go pop my empty bottle into that recycling bin. I will not be long. By the time I return, we should be a minute or so away from embarking in a taxi.”
This seemed a declaration of the obvious. Keen observer that I am, I saw that Ypres had discharged the content of her orange juice bottle. A deduction that a trip to the recycling bin would follow was inevitable. As for our ever forward progression in the taxi queue, it appeared self-evident. In fact it was a self-evident truth. I read that somewhere, and I felt it applied to the current situation.
I awaited Ypres’s return from the recycling bin with great confidence. I went over my opening line to our soon to be renewed dialogue in my head. I settled on “I find your truths to be self-evident”, and assumed a suitable position to fire off the opening salvo of my repartee. With one hand on my hip and the other gracefully positioned on the luggage trolley, legs in a Wimbledon tiebreak stance, and eyes fixed in the distance, I awaited.
Ypres returned nonchalant and fish-faced, which is her usual state. I started my statement only to be interrupted by some unappreciative man in a reflective vest.
“Ypres, I find your truths…”
“Excuse me, Miss. Can you please tell me where you are going, how many people you are travelling with, and with how much luggage? We need to sort out taxis by need.”
My opening line was irrevocably lost in the crossfire. Ypres asked me what had triggered my sudden interest in hooves. I answered that I was in the process of starting a repartee on truths, not hooves. Ypres contended that the two words, spoken in a space open to the elements, and where both conversation and street noise abounded, sounded quite similar. I retorted that this was not the case, and that truths and hooves sound nothing alike. The man in the vest joined in and took Ypres’s side.
“Even if they do,” I said, for the sake of argument, “do I look like the type of girl who embarks on hooves-themed conversations in taxi queues at railway stations?”
Mr. Vest blinked twice. “Who am I to judge? I don’t listen in on conversations.”
Ypres suggested we revisit Truths v. Hooves at a later date. She began to give the man the information he requested.
“We are two ladies with twelve pieces of luggage. We are going to…”
I quickly covered Ypres’s mouth, and spoke with authority. “We shall not disclose that information.”
“I need it to triage you, Miss. You will also have to tell your driver where you are going if you wish to get to your destination.”
“Our destination is private.”
“I’m afraid you are going to have to share it. It is a necessary trade off.”
Ypres lowered my hand from her mouth. I made a mental note to wash it. Not that Ypres is not at the pinnacle of hygienic mores. Nevertheless, having seen the way Ypres eats an egg sandwich on a number of occasions, I decided not to take any chances.
Ypres offered the information that we were headed to Mayfair and the man in the reflective vest wandered off. He had the look of an individual who is counting down the minutes until his tea break. As soon as he was gone to extract intelligence from the group behind us, I conferred with Ypres.
“Ypres, is there a way to get to a destination without sharing it?”
“Short of telepathy, I believe not.”
“I feel I should share the reason for my aversion to exhibit the exact nature of my address with strangers in reflective vests. You remember that incident with the girl scout selling cookies door-to-door?”
Let me elaborate for those of you who are new to the whole Vasa the Intrepid yet stylish Adventuress written collection. Here are the facts.
At the beginning of the year I resolved to shed the extra weight that had found residence on my thighs as a result of the festivities of the holiday season. I wished to regain my voluptuous Marilyn Monroe-like stature. In fact, I was going to attend a dinner at the residence of the American Ambassador. I had commissioned a Happy Birthday Mr. President dress I wanted to debut along with my a cappella skills. Alas, the measurement for the dress had been taken pre-thighs increase.
Ypres devised a series of exercises and a diet meant to restore the status quo ante bella, if that is the expression I am looking for. She had drawn her inspiration from prisoner of war camps during the Second Boer War. So on this singular day I was faced with a breakfast which consisted of a half a glass of tap water and humid oats. Needless to say, the Vasa stomach was rumbling. The initial enthusiasm for the diet had subsided when, after a few double takes, I came to the realisation that Boer was not an iconoclastic, if that is the word I am looking for, way of pronouncing beer.
Enter the infamous girl scout stage right. Unannounced, she rang the doorbell to the Vasa flat. You can quite imagine the shock when, famished and daydreaming of bountiful picnics and snacks to fill in lull between meals at the Ritz, I came across a plumpish girl with a mountain of cookies at the ready. She had evidently recently partaken in a lavish full English breakfast to fortify herself before her sale’s trip. Freshly buttered toast crumbs could still be seen on her cheeks. She was doused in eau de bacon. Her sash appeared to be festooned with remnants of meals eagerly partaken in. Two pork pies were liberally protruding from her pockets. I nearly fainted by the time I realised that, preparing to engage on her sale’s pitch, she was in the process of dislodging a piece of gravy-laden meat from her lower teeth with a toothpick. Her satisfied burp was the last straw.
It is already difficult to decline an offer to purchase cookies from a six-year-old girl in pigtails, but in the condition detailed above it proved impossible. I bought the lot, and for an extra ten pounds she threw in a pork pie. To this day it is my firm conviction that had my address remained unknown to the general public such an incident would not have occurred.
Ypres replied to my original query.
“I do remember you relating the events to me. Yet, surely, the run in with the girl scout was an isolated incident. It is not statistically significant.”
Leave it to Ypres to bring in science to a conversation revolving around a cookie plot.
“The fact of the matter is, Ypres, that had my address been unknown that fiendish girl would not have been able to unload her cookies. Like all talented business women, she used publicly available information to target her market, in this case, me.”
“I think it is rather unlikely that she was fiendish.”
“She struck with a fiendish intent. I could see it in her eyes.”
“Perhaps the hunger affected your perception.”
“The fact remains that it was not isolated. Brace yourself Ypres for another occurrence contributed to my aversion to disclosing my address. This one is fresh material. Unshared and uncensored, which I believe is a common expression.”
At this point Ypres and I were at the head of the queue. One of the children from the group behind us was eavesdropping in between expeditions up his left nostril.
“Having barely recovered from the infamous girl scout incident I decided in favour of a change of scenery to regain my confidence. As you remember, I went to New York. You were on leave and still had a couple of days’ vacation by the time I returned to the flat, fully restocked on Fifth Avenue essentials. No sooner was my luggage unpacked that the doorbell rang.
I was not expecting anyone, but eager to start afresh I went to the door in high spirits. I was surprised to find a middle-aged man clad in overalls on my doorstep. His hair protruded from every orifice his outfit provided. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth. His hand held some sort of wrench which appeared to be a vestige from the Industrial Revolution.
Casting aside the how-do-you-do-s, he proceeded to exclaim in a loud voice, ‘Are you the girl with the moisture problem?’ before coming into my entrance hall.”
Ypres pursued the stiff upper lip with aplomb. I had dropped a bomb and she stood there unflinching.
“I am sure the situation was testing for you, Vasa. Nevertheless, it appears you encountered a misinformed plumber tasked with resolving a leak somewhere in the building. That his bedside manner was not up to standards is unfortunate.”
Before I could reply, we were ushered into a taxi. I sat on the backseat while the driver and Ypres transferred the luggage into the vehicle. When Ypres joined me I was ready with a response. “I don’t take kindly to anyone declaring to the world that either I or my flat should be in any way connected to a moisture problem. Even if they appear to be plumbers.”
Once again I was interrupted. The taxi driver wanted to know where we were going. Not willing to disclose my exact address, in a flash of brilliance I came up with a compromise. “Park Street, please. The smarter end. It’s in Mayfair.”
As the words “the smarter end” left my lips, the driver turned around in his seat. He gave me a look. It was the look of someone who had always heard of the dodo, but was now encountering one for the first time. I suspect the look was for Ypres, but was directed in my vicinity to spare offence.
“Exactly which end is the smarter end, Miss? Is it measured by the intelligence of the residents?”
“I see that you are confused, driver. Luckily, I have been able to fully sharpen my observation skills during the course of the morning. GMT morning that is. ‘Smart,’ in this situation, is what the Oxford English Dictionary would refer to as ‘modish’, ‘elegant’, or ‘fashionable’. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.”
“Well, I figured intelligence had nothing to do with it.”
Ypres let a muffled sneeze escape. She intervened in our dialogue.
“Perhaps you could start towards Park Street while we confer.”
Ypres turned towards me for a tête-à-tête while the more residential parts of the West End unfolded before us.
“May I offer a suggestion?”
“Please do.” When Ypres has a suggestion it is always a good idea to listen. One may say “No, not right now, I’m eating” or “No, I’m trying to get into this pair of pants, can you pass me that crowbar”. In the end Ypres will always manage to get her suggestion through, even subconsciously.
“Given your aversion to sharing your exact address, perhaps we could work out a compromise.”
“The taxi driver could drop us off at a public location nearby. Your exact address would not be betrayed. Nevertheless, you would be allowed to slip into your flat incognito.”
When given the time to warm up, Ypres’s little grey cells pull through spectacularly! I told her as much.
“Ypres, when given the time to warm up, your little grey cells pull through spectacularly! Which public location do you suggest?”
“May I suggest one of the hotels at Grosvenor Square?”
I informed the driver of the successful denouement of our conference. I told him to go full steam ahead to the poshest hotel at Grosvenor Square. Content in our compromise, I let Ypres rearrange my head bandage. This is when she recounted the events which led to my second head injury. The careful reader will recall the incident with Miss X. and the oversized luggage.
As we arrived I checked my hand mirror, and the culturally sensitive turban style I desired had almost been achieved. Ypres mentioned her friend Said again, and something about a trip they took together with Suleiman the Magnificent, who I assume to be some sort of heavy metal enthusiast.
I let Ypres take care of the logistics with the taxi driver, and explain to the hotel porter that we were not actually staying at the hotel. Apparently the porter had been taken aback with my “unhand that make-up bag”. Ypres is great with the logistical side of things. It runs in her family. One of her ancestors was something called a Junker, which I gather has something to do with waste management.
I left the hotel on foot and made sure I was not being followed. I put on my sunglasses and went in the wrong direction for a while to confuse anyone who might be following me. I ended up in Soho, but made my way back to the flat unharmed. I had to change and have a brisk lunch. I was meeting Lanky Ella in two hours at the edge of Mayfair. She was in a quandary, with the possibility of an upgrade into a conundrum.
Chapter V will be published next Monday, 25 January 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media.