It is not every day that one is faced with the sight of one’s uncle reaching for sustenance in the mouth of one’s close friend. There is an unstated rule in these matters. Uncles’ tongues should not be seen in public, let alone fraternising with other tongues.
When Lanky Ella revealed her conundrum at Hatchards booksellers, and confided that she was a participant in a kiss with tongue every half an hour, with a grope in close pursuit, the Vasa mind was taken aback. It was as if a close relative had announced that they were planning to wear sweat wear at the Royal Opera House premier of Don Giovanni. Eyebrows were raised. Sighs were released. A change of telephone number was envisaged. Yet, in the end, there was a shared sense of confidence that all would be well. That somehow, against all odds, we would pull through.
Now that the cast list had been revealed, all was turned upside down. The public display of physical emotion just witnessed had confirmed that Uncle Edward, as the unexpected understudy, was the gentleman friend Ella was referring to. What was once a vision of a close relative strutting about the Covent Garden balcony in an ill-fitting hoody, was now one of a relation sprawled across the orchestra stalls in nothing but tight fluorescent undergarments. It would not take much of a leap of the imagination to see them noisily eating nachos, and wiping cheesy fingers on a neighbouring investment banker before booing an aria.
I experienced incomprehension, repulsion, and all kinds of sions in quick succession. I could feel my breakfast making a comeback. It had witnessed the kiss with tongue, and had decided to go for a French leave. Nevertheless, the Vasa will triumphed. What could well have been a full replay of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, with Pompeii, Caesar and the gang, and full three-dimensional effects, was avoided. The Vasa stomach was still uneasy. Rather like a choppy Mediterranean sea. In any case, I steadied the sea legs.
I was well aware that Ella, Uncle Edward, Ypres, and I were in a public setting. Rule Number One in Britain, when one is about to engage on a careful confrontation, is to avoid making a spectacle of one’s self. I believe it is written in bold in the general British Isles rule book. Ypres sometimes goes on and on about some unwritten constitution. It might be written somewhere there as well. Perhaps tucked away between Magna Carta and that Guy Fawkes fellow with the fireworks firm.
Ypres casually reached the upper floor. Upon seeing Uncle Edward and Lanky Ella Lanesbury engaged in what looked like an effort to break the kiss with tongue world record, she raised an eyebrow by a half a centimetre. (Imperial system enthusiasts will have to calculate the conversion into inches themselves). The rest of the face stood in placid silence.
Of course, screams followed by tearing out of hair, and a possible defenestration, might have been over the top. It would have kept with the underweared relative in the orchestra stall at the opera theme. Yet, I felt a good jaw drop on Ypres behalf might have been better attuned to the situation.
Now that Ypres was beside me for support, I could make myself known to the kissing duo. I adopted the appropriate pose. If remarked upon later in time, it would have brought to mind the stoic Commonwealth cricketer. Confident in victory, but nevertheless magnanimous between celebratory finger sandwiches. I entered stage left cool and composed.
The embrace was broken. Two seemingly content faces turned towards me to issue a choreographed hello. Ella’s hello proved the more convincing. She took the lead.
“Satisfied with your observation, Vanessa? Now that you’ve got all the facts on my conundrum, I’ll be expecting a full report. Don’t worry about the cost. You can send the bill to my gentleman friend.”
“You do realise, Ella, that your so-called gentleman friend is none other than my aged ancestor Uncle Edward.”
Ella paused. She blinked. Meanwhile, Uncle Edward was reapplying lip balm.
“Well, he doesn’t look like an uncle, Vanessa. Whoever is in charge of casting in the Vasa clan got it wrong. They should be fired on the spot. For one, uncles aren’t supposed to have hair.”
“That’s just lude. Am I right, Ypres?” I turned to Ypres who informed me ludicrous was probably the term I was going for. I adjusted the dialogue and continued the uncle-themed discussion with Ella. “That’s just ludicrous. I have seen uncles with hair.”
“I maintain that uncles with full sets of hair, and devoid of moustaches, cannot be assumed to be uncles from the get-go, Vanessa.”
“Speaking of moustaches,” Uncle Edward had finished reapplying his lip balm, “why do you have a moustache?”
“Moustaches are irrelevant at this point, Uncle Edward.” The aged ancestor countered that nieces outfitted in moustaches, wearing kilts above the knee, and coiffed with head bandages shaped like turbans, were hardly irrelevant. Someone in the assembly mentioned that one could nearly see Edinburgh. The peanut gallery then countered that it was Aberdeen, and maybe as far north as Inverness.
The exchange was beginning to derail. The heavyweight had to be brought in. I had no choice but to adopt my fat lady pose, of it isn’t over until the fat lady sings fame. Like a hefty singer equipped with a horned helmet and brass breast plates designed to mask chesticular asymmetry, I struck.
“I shall not be ridiculed by a man who assumes romance between a girl and her lady’s assistant.”
The crowd, for a discreet crowd had gathered and queued where appropriate, whispered. The Vasa-Lanesbury dialogue was reignited.
“Well, Vanessa, if you’re having an affair with Ypres, I’m going to have to reassess your conundrum consulting qualifications.”
“I am not having an affair with Ypres, Ella. No offence, Ypres.” Once again Ypres was quick to mention that no offence was taken. She issued the statement in a rapid booming voice. The statement must have taken Ella by surprise. She stepped back and knocked over a rack of colourful luggage. Once again the scene was concluded with a posh “oops.”
A few seconds later, a rather demurred man, cheeks crimson with suppressed discontent, rose along the stairwell to join us on the top floor. He rose like the Commandatore Don Giovanni had invited to a friendly barbecue, only to find out that he himself would be barbecued. A chill permeated the air. I took cover behind, Ypres. Not out of fear. I simply wished to give my opera pose a rest. Ypres, taking her stenographer role seriously, wrote down siam tutti morti in her notebook. I will never understand her penchant for Latin.
As the man came into the line of sight, the assembly neatly filled away. The bump on his forehead indicated that he had been the unwanted recipient of colourful luggage. His moustache masked a rather threatening upper-lip, which, if left un-moustached, could easily scare a child. He pointed an inquisitive finger and issued the indictment.
“I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
Chapter XII will be published Monday, 14 March 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is now on Twitter! You can also join over 500 WordPress followers.