It is rather difficult to successfully pair one’s clothes with a turban. The level of difficulty is further enhanced when the turban is made of bandage strips hastily arranged by a less than joyful nurse. Nevertheless, I managed to accessorise my turban with a classic channel suit (think Coco post that nasty occupation business). A strategically placed broach on the upper-east side of the turban gave it a desired je ne sais qui allure. I was ready for business.
I had selected the meeting point where Lanky Ella, of Crown v. Lanesbury and Vasa fame, and I would rendezvous. Ella would spill the beans on her quandary, with the possibility of an upgrade into a conundrum, in the Churchill section at Hatchards on Piccadilly. Hatchards booksellers is on the edge of Mayfair, which makes it perfect for a private, yet elegant conversation. It means one avoids the danger of venturing into the gentlemen’s club atmosphere of St. James.
I am familiar with the Churchill section at Hatchards because of Ypres. As far as I know, Hatchards is the only bookstore with a dedicated Churchill section. Ypres has a fondness for Sir Winston. They both share an affinity for cigars and misadventures involving ships in Turkish straits. Whenever a gift is needed for Ypres, one cannot go wrong with anything Churchill themed. For Christmas last year, I got her Churchill and Bow Ties: A Special Relationship (Third Edition) by Professor John F. Dulles. She seemed pleased, for she said she would put the volume on her shelf with the rest of her books.
I arrived at the said Churchill section fashionably late. It was soon evident that Lanky Ella was also fashionably late, but in a way that tested the boundaries between avant-garde fashion and eccentricity. I did not want to arouse any suspicion, so I casually slipped into a Churchill. (Note: when reading the above sentence Ypres found that my choice of words, notably “arouse” and “slipped into”, could lead to a misunderstanding of the situation, a notion which I dismissed).
Some creature with thick spectacles, the kind where the occupant’s eyes become enlarged to the point where they attain the measurement of saucers, started staring at me.
“What happened to your head?”
“I was hit. Twice. We’re entertaining the option of pressing charges.”
“Good idea. It is always important to keep pressure on at the point of impact when one has been hit.”
The creature blinked twice and walked away. I gathered this was the kind of person that browsed through Churchill sections in mid-afternoon on weekdays. The thought troubled me. Luckily Ella breezed in right then and there. Ella’s clumsiness seems to be out of order around books. I have never seen her knock over a bookshelf, dictionary, of coffee-table book. She had, however, managed to entangle the bespectacled creature’s neck in her scarf on her way in. He was quietly turning mauve as she leaned in to embrace me. Ella likes to wear long scarves, which she will happily substitute for an Hermès carré in warmer weather.
“What a marvellous place, Vanessa! You know, I’ve never been in here. I see everything is ship shape. Shall we discuss my quandary?”
Mauve was slowly giving way to aubergine.
“You appear to have something stuck in your scarf, Ella.”
She gave a quick glance down to what was now a crimson mass. With a quick whisk of the wrist, the bespectacled creature came undone and started gasping for air.
“You are very fortunate, sir. My scarf appears to be undamaged. You need not worry. I am in a good mood knowing that my friend Vanessa will soon be able to help me, so I will not send you the dry-cleaning bill for the stain your oily skin has left on my scarf.”
He was in little mood to reply, so Ella and I quickly retreated to a secluded corner on one of the upper floors to discuss the matter at hand. Safely cocooned between the classics section and gardening, which I find a healthy environment for conversation, we began the dialogue.
“I’m all ears, Ella. Figuratively, not literally, of course.”
“Of course. Although, if I may say so, Vanessa, I think you could pull off the all ears look.”
“I must keep that in mind for my fall look.”
“Let’s get back to the quandary.”
“Quite. As I mentioned on the train, it is a quandary with a possible upgrade to conundrum status.”
“Yes, I remember. My observation skills are quite sharp today.”
“Shall I start from the beginning?”
“Please do. And remember Ella, omit nothing.”
I took up my keen listener position. I remember having once visited the Freud Museum (or was it the Fraud Museum?) on a rainy afternoon. I was struck by some of the listening poses exhibited throughout the museum. I tried to replicate one as Ella began her monologue. I believed I got the hand on chin part quite well. As the astute reader might have guessed from the above, Ella was a slow started. I gathered her quandary made her apprehensive. My number one guess was shopping difficulties, followed by relationship troubles in a close second.
“As you well know, Vanessa, I enjoy shopping.”
“Bingo! I knew it!”
“Please don’t interrupt.”
“I enjoy shopping. And every once in a while when a girl goes shopping for the essentials on Regent Street, one feels a second opinion is necessary. Of course, not any second opinion will do. The eye must be sharp and unbiased by the possibility of a sale’s commission.
Thus, sometimes a gentleman acquaintance or friend is necessary. They provide the bonus of being able to carry one’s purchases. You have Ypres and her muscular arms, but for most us only masculine ammunition will do the trick. Although there is nothing a man can do that we girls can’t do ourselves.”
I uttered an “Amen” in acquiescence. I felt an “Amen” was needed, and I had seen it done once. I do not remember where. It might have been in the House of Lords.
“Some of these shopping expeditions can last for the better part of the day. One needs to examine things properly. Sometimes one is not quite sure, and one must try on several items in succession before coming back to previous ones, and try them on a tenth or an eleventh time, to ensure one is not being bamboozled by one’s emotions or surroundings. One must keep the process rational.”
“Reason is key.”
“Yet, and I am speaking hypothetically, it appears that sometimes one’s gentleman friend does not share one’s thoroughness, one’s rigour. And in exchange for partaking in a day filled with shopping, they might ask for something in return.”
“Well, I suppose that is reasonable. One could propose to purchase a pair of cashmere socks for them. That seems fair, if a tad selfish on their behalf to promote their needs while on a girl’s shopping expedition.”
“Well, let’s say, hypothetically, that they did not quite ask for cashmere socks.”
“Merino wool socks?”
“No, not socks. A kiss.”
“Yes, with tongue and a grope. Every half an hour. In public.”
Chapter VII will be published next Monday, 1 February 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media.