It should be mentioned that the clothing repertoire is rather limited for shopping expedition observers. Especially those bent on conundrum observation. Particularly those in the conundrum consultancy business. Nevertheless, in a flash of brilliance, all was arranged with great aplomb.
At the appointed hour, Ypres and I (or is it me? – I never know) stood nonchalantly near the entrance to the National Geographic store on Regent Street. The store was chosen because it would prove an agreeable setting for camouflage. Observations could be achieved unhindered. Like panthers prancing in the savannah, or jungle, or wherever panthers choose to live, we could observe Ella and her gentleman friend undetected.
Of course, Ypres was there to take notes, and ensure that my presence appeared less threatening to onlookers. My sheer gracefulness, paired with my voluptuous built, can strike the uninitiated as conspicuous. She would prove to be the court stenographer in our setting.
We needed to be able to camouflage the true nature of our presence in the store. For this, I devised a plan. I would casually go through a careful selection of binoculars. I would sample a few, issuing aahs and oohs where appropriate. Should anybody come up to me and strike up a conversation on the topic of binoculars, I would reply with my set upon one-liner. “Oh, these?” I would drop with elegance. “I’m wintering in Tuscany this year and am planning to gaze upon the local fowl.” If questioned further, I would mumble something about Darwin and hope for the best.
Confident in my plan, I asked Ypres how she felt.
“How goes it, Ypres?”
“I am well. Nevertheless, I feel that these moustaches you insisted we must have, as you said, to confuse the enemy, should prove unnecessary.”
I had outfitted the both of us with fake moustaches. Mine was ginger, while Ypres’s was brown. It should be said that Ypres did not really need much artificial help in the achievement of facial hair. Her upper lip, if left to its own devices, could out produce a rainforest in its bushiness. I explained my reasoning.
“Ypres, what is the one thing all undercover operations have in common?”
“Stealth, I presume.”
“Well, I’ll have to look that one up at a later time. I was going for moustaches. Of course, I would have also accepted facial hair as a correct answer. To be incognito beyond doubt, we needed to disguise our facial features. The quickest way to achieve that is through the use of moustaches.”
“Nonetheless, Miss, it can be argued that moustache on ladies would draw the unsuspecting eye, rather than deter it.”
Ypres had a point. However, this was London, and anything goes fashion-wise.
“You have a point, Ypres. However, this is London, and anything goes fashion-wise. In any case, that is why, in addition, we are outfitted in these smart disguises. To ensure we are lock, stock, and barrel, as it were.”
Indeed, before our arrival on Regent Street, we had made a pit stop on Savile Row. After an express fitting, the two of us had emerged unrecognisable to the general public. Had I bumped into many an acquaintance, no “Oh, hello, Vasa, fancy seeing you here”, followed by an offer to go play tennis, could have been exchanged. Silence would have been the default setting.
Ypres was smartly dressed in a three-piece suit with wool overcoat and leather wellies. This triggered an inevitable monologue on the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo on her part. The worse was averted when the conversation reached beef wellington territory. Ypres resumed her cross-examination as I was reaching for something called the Binoculator Max.
“I am still perplexed as to why you should have chosen a kilt.”
“It is quite simple, Ypres. I did not want to clash. We could not both wear the same style of outfit. We would end up looking like happily married pensioners on holiday at the Rivera. A kilt appeared the appropriate contrast piece. Its projects the image of the insouciant Edinburgh elegance of the George Street boulevardier.”
“If I may take the liberty. I worry that one, without much effort, could very nearly see Edinburgh all the way up to George Street.”
“Well, the Savile Row tailor informed me that kilts were being worn well above the knee this season. I trusted him. Granted, in retrospect, that trust might have been a tad premature.”
All this talk about disguises was distracting me from my observation mission. After all, this was important. I was like those soldiers manning the outposts and ramparts against invasion, stopping only for tea and the odd weekend in the country.
I asked Ypres for the time. Lanky Ella Lanesbury and her gentleman friend were supposed to arrive at any minute. Ypres enquired on how we would spot them. In fact, it was a big store, as far as glorified binocular emporiums (or is it emporia? I was never good with Italian) go. In any case, the issue became irrelevant.
A call from Ella informed our dynamic and forever stylish duo that we were in the wrong store. She was at the Longchamp store further up Regent Street. She matter-of-factly informed me that she would never be caught in broad daylight in a store that sold binoculars. I countered that if she ever were to need binoculars, the obvious choice would be the National Geographic store on Regent Street. She then replied that binoculars were a relic from last year, and that monocles were making a comeback. A heated whispered exchanged followed. Taking the high ground, I hung up.
I informed Ypres of her mistake, for it could only be hers. We scrambled away from the stuffed panda we were hiding behind to reach the more hedonistic Longchamp store up the road.
At his point, I must stop to confirm that it is indeed quite a challenge to run in a kilt. It is a discovery I made lunging between tourists as I ran up Regent Street. The difficulty is further enhance by the crosswind unfailingly produced by double-decker buses. This was not the time to perfect my Marylyn Monroe impression. (Note: I do a very good Marylyn Monroe impression).
I arrived at the base of the stone staircase at Longchamp’s before Ypres. She was soon with me, with no evident appearance of fatigue from our urban dash. She glided in like an expressionless otter.
“Where do you think they are, Ypres? Any clues?” Just then, a couple of bags cascaded over the banister from the upper floor, followed by a posh “oops”. One hit a sales assistant over the head. It was quite similar to the chain of events that led to my enturbanment, as I believe Shakespeare would have put it.
“I would venture a guess, and say they are on the upper floor, Miss.”
I uttered a “tally-ho”, or it might have been a throaty “charge”. I rushed up the staircase, noting the exquisite craftsmanship. I scanned the horizon, taking up my manning the ramparts pose. I spotted Ella at the far end, but could not see her gentleman friend. Some far away clock chimed, marking the hour. Right then, with a certain élan, a figure leapt to embrace Ella. The Vasa eyes followed. My gaze locked on to the offender. It was with great trepidation, and some nausea, that I saw who the gentleman now embracing Ella with tongue was.
It was none other than Uncle Edward.
Chapter XI will be published Monday, 7 March 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres will soon be on Twitter. Stay tuned!