A Myth of Openness
Shiiiiieet! The Tavistock Society was in a mean way. Not only had Papa accidentally resent our way (no hyphen for us!) a Christmas card from Grandfather which contained a cheque for £100 and the rather cloying dedication 'to the last of my line', but the card from 'Le Grenouille' had arrived with its usual ingratiating twenty sheets plastered in. A sop from a coward, that's what it was, but it was to a coward and what's more, a remorseless one at that. The Tavs were going to enjoy it, oh blimey yes.
There was a capital idea: that The Society would take what I believe is known as a jaunt around the localities. Our driver, Andre, was altogether a gamble insofar as 'heath and safety' goes, but was both spry, willing, and in search of an esoteric selection of cakes. What better way to spend a few hours?
Or so it was thought.
Sadly Father had set curfew on the eve of the new year – in the strictest terms – at the hour of ten and a half, due to the incident in 2003. And possibly the one is 2006.
Anyway, the one I will use as the exemplar here is 2004: a New Year's low wrote large in our shameful collective memory. It had all started rather joyfully. I had brought a trio of gifts from Mama in Paris back home, expected to be a dutiful courier and a good son. She had given me this such of three items: a framed photo of Societal relatives, a card, and a bottle of champagne. The task was obviously an important one, and I resolved the second I left her company to carry it our in only the finest possible style: with panache, joie-de vie, and élan. Did the Society succeed? Pray read on...
Looking at the precious parcels I carried, I thought the best way to begin would be a 'threat analysis' of the type organised by the housemaster and later the police after reading my e-mail logs. Despite my proffering a veil of near mute inarticulacy and stupefied incomprehension during their questions, I had enjoyed myself by listening to their discussions of the aspects of the case when they gabbed thoughtlessly within earshot and fancy that one has a quite complete knowledge of the procedure, not to mention 'the book' which a criminal investigator might use.
I knew for a start that they would expect me in disguise, so I immediately performed the kind of volte-bluff which we are renowned for from Consett to Newton-Hall. I gave my clothes to a fellow mendicant and told him the universal code amongst our type: “this should be worth some cider”. The chap seemed startled, but I suppose it was only an act. The poor rotter had decided to act as if he had a job as the taxi driver Mother had called to send me to the airport. Poor buffoon. Taxis are yellow, I've seen the movies (and yeah, I've seen all of them (bet you haven't)), not black and with little writing on them. He tried to follow me but I tried to run, and though we both succeeded for an initial time, eventually I succeeded for longer, which is how I made my escape. Now it was only a case of destroying the evidence and bringing home the bacon.
The champagne was the easiest to deal with. Everyone knows they look for it in the customs outside of you, and that the safest way for me to get that elexir back to Blighty was inside, so I popped the cork somewhere in the 18th; (always approach from the North if you're going North. (That's how a defective operates (defective means a portmanteau for de-tective and de-factmaster.))) I'd quaffed the blighter before I even got the the Gare du Nord. At that point I flashed the necessary paperwork (a drunken sneer) at the staff, climbed aboard a train to Calais and secreted myself in the cubicle.
I knew I had done well and that father would be proud, but I could do better.
The family picture (of my 'other family') I considered to be potentially effronterous to the old chap, mainly because of the position of step-papa's filthy, filthy French hand. I didn't want to give too much away about my own nebulous journey or opinions, so I elected to present him with an amended version which would only contain landscape elements. I had made my best efforts to complete a montage of scenes cribbed from postcards of Oostende with a view to giving him a dizzying panorama of the port and beachfront, but owing to my lapsing memory I could remember little of the vantage but salt, stinging, defeat and the shame of an erection which was outside of conscious volition. Having access to neither postcards, pencil, pen or paper I engraved a bas-relief as best I could with a thumbnail on the reverse of the 'defense de fumer' sticker in the toilet and upon alighting rubbed it upon the inter-track gravel, taking on something of its black smear and making the image monochrome.
The heavy envelope in my other hand could only serve to summon the 'black dog' upon Father's shoulder, an unwelcome canine whose presence in the house saw me locked down in the east wing with only my former nursemaid as jailer. Not even Uncle Cyril would enter the house when the spell of the dog descended. Balls to it. The manilla would have to be lost as well. I took it to the ocean and tried to imagine that a lady might have sent it to me as a terribly romantic letter, and that though its words would be exciting and uplifting, they contained knowledge of things I could never bear and that too many people would be hurt if only I was cowardly enough to look inside... yet all I could picture on that beach was the face of mother, though perhaps a little younger than she looked when I had just seen her. It really was quite confounding. Anyhows, I hoyed it into the briny and that was almost that. All that remained was a quick procurement of a replacement letter. To avoid being suspected of forgery I ripped out the middle part of a greetings card that happened to use a highly realistic quasi-calligraphic font, and then put it into a envelope.
Then it was just a matter of getting home. I headed to the consulate. There was always enough legal paperwork in there to prove my origins and necessitate my repatriation. There was really no point in going beyond the tried and tested; besides, the champagne had made me fell a little dizzy and I needed to sleep it off somewhere familiar.
When I got home on New Year's Eve the first thing Papa asked for was the letter of Uncle Murat's funeral wishes. At that point I briefly regretted taking the excerpt in my replacement letter from a 'congratulations on your new house' card, but I quickly supposed that it would be a lot more upbeat than what he might have had to read otherwise. I handed it across with a giggle.
Father shot a baleful look at nurse, shook his head and said that “the black dog had come down”. He told nurse four strange words, that she “had a free hand” which was uncanny because she had me firmly in a bi-handed grip. The hospital-nurses often say that change is always a good thing, but that next week in her custody was different, and I didn't like it one bit.
In light of the horrors of the past, The Society is a little concerned with over egging the we-hate-Kirkby-Lonsdale cake that inspired this little report, but something has to be said – the cause of all sorrow indeed, this little something, but the words are there so they must be out. Inside words, the doctor says, are bad words. It was all a little too refined, a world of things and items, trinkets and treats, which were ever-so just far enough above the Society's quotidian of mediocrity to make us despise and hate everything there as representatives of a world we would never experience, know or understand. Is that enough to crack the door ajar, that the horror inside is exposed?
There was a dog there of such a style that we believed it to probably be worth more to the common good than any social folk (volk) would ever be. It was black too, just like Father's.