Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Scenes from a Fashionable Nightclub

Penned upon the 27th of June, 2012

THIS WHIT MONDAY EVE
ONLY AT THE MAISON PARESSE
BOP TOTTENHAM AND HIS ORCHESTRA
REALLY KNOW HOW TO JAZZ!
RELAX IN THE BEAUTIFUL
MEDITERRANEAN COURTYARD!

CANAPÉS BY FAMOUS CHEF DOUGLAS SCRAPE
COME DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY!

Such handbills as this had evidently had some effect in hooking that capricious fish that is the attention of the clubgoer, for it was a large and rather up-to-date crowd who stood outside the painted adobe walls which glowed so impressively in the lamplight, under the stern eye of a burly bouncer. A young painter in a borrowed dinner-jacket balanced with one foot on a flowerpot and one hand on a friend’s shoulder, craning to see over the queuing bodies.

“It’s a dreadful scrum. Do you think we’ll get in?”

“I’m starting to wonder whether we ought to, even if we can.”

The artist hopped down from his post and scraped a clump of potting mold off his shoe. “How d’you mean? Got second thoughts? I mean, it’s a bit of a posh crowd, but I think we’ll muddle along alright.”

“No, it’s not that, it’s – well, what if there’s a raid? The governor would cut me in a moment if I was hauled before the magistrate, and you know how Lord Whatshisname has been all over the papers, wanting to see the end of these Dens of Vice hiding behind the Licensing Act of Nineteen-Trumpety-Two…”

“Oh, I know who you mean. Sir Vivian Piggott, Permanent Under-Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. You won’t have to worry about his inspectors tonight, I promise you.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve just seen him at the front of the queue, chatting with the owner.”

It was indeed that august personage who shook the proprietor’s hand and passed through into the club’s front room – a tall, angular chamber, largely unaltered since the building’s construction as the home of an Anglo-Indian colonel. There, the cloakroom attendant was involved in heated discussion with a junior barman.

“Sure, the unions are separated now, and sure, they sometimes they disagree, but they represent the surest foundation of the future socialist government.”

“I am sure we had fourteen of these little spoons at the start of the night. Now there’s eleven.”

“Workers’ groups will take the place of government departments – the road-builders will control the building of roads, the soldiers will control the fighting of wars, and the – thank you, sir, and your hat? Very good, enjoy your evening, sir – and the barmen will control the serving of drinks!”

“Where have the other three gone? Three spoons can’t just walk away – the main two would keep tripping over the third. D’you think someone’s nicked them? I read this story where a bloke disguises himself as a waiter and fills his pockets with all the silverware. Oo, there’s an idea – let me back there and I’ll check all the pockets.”

“Don’t you touch them coats! Are you even listening to me? …what did they do in the story, anyway?”

“I think they changed the uniforms.”

“Well, uniforms will be the first thing to go under socialism. It’s ridiculous, making us all dress the same, just to – thank you, sir, and your hat? Very good, enjoy your evening, sir – just to come to work.”

The young man who checked his coat, hat and gloves, and left this regrettably equivocal dialogue behind him, then strolled through the impressive doors of the Mammon Lounge with an abstracted expression. From his severely oiled hair to his mirror-polished patent leathers, he was a vision of modernity, and it was an equally modern crowd who welcomed him to a ring of settees. They were disciples, of a sort, and gathered to hear the wisdom of the prophet; The Hon. Caroline Beamish, whose beams, as the less refined papers loved to joke, illuminated the bright young things.

“Darlings, you simply must go and see her work! She’s got a little shop in Chelsea, and she does the most marvellous things with iridescents. I’m having her do my costume for Ronny’s Bastille Day bash – I’m going as Marat in the bath. Only, if you do get something done, make sure you see her within the next two months or so.”

“Why’s that, Caroline, dear?”

“Well, I’m telling just everyone about her, so by the end of summer, she’ll be ever so popular – and then, who’d be seen dead in her?”

“Oh, excellent point. It must be tragic, being a designer – you get a few weeks of brilliance, being worn by all the right people, and then you might as well swallow cyanide, or move to Dorking – or swallow cyanide in Dorking!”

“That reminds me – try a sniff of this. It’s the new stuff – they bring it in from Bruges. It’s called Dragon’s Breath.”

A flax-haired underling of the clique, the grandson of an earl, took the proffered straw and snorted a snoutload, coughed twice, and slid weeping under the table. “Good gawd, Caroline,” cried a toothy Futurist, “what do they cut it with, curry powder?”

“Yes, isn’t it magnificent? And then you follow it with a gin-and-saffron! I’ll get us a tray of them – you must all have a go!”

The silent waiter who brought the cocktails and cleared away the upset ashtrays was glad of the comparative peace offered even by this noisy group. In the kitchen, the guest canapettist was proving rather a trial for the permanent staff. The kitchen-hand was in tears behind the butcher’s block, and the rest stood against the walls, while the great Mr Douglas Scrape subjected the room to an extended harangue.

“I’ve never had to work with a more gormless pack of layabouts. What the hell sort of vol-au-vents have you been serving up until now? Farts wrapped in cellophane?”

“No, chef.”

“Shut your hideous face! Now, who’s doing those vegetable platters?”

The sous-chef raised a cautious hand. “Right here, chef.”

Scrape slammed a ladle into the centre of a fan of celery. “Then why are you making such a bloody mess of it? Don’t you know enough to slice carrots against the grain? And what about this – do you call this a bloody boiled egg?”

“No, chef, that’s a mushroom-”

“Shut up! I never want to see you in my goddamned kitchen again! Your mother ought to have drowned you in a salmon and sweet potato chowder on the day you were born! Now, who’s on oysters?”

Young Paulsen was on oysters, but he was not there, for he was running out the swinging door, past a swell looking for a cloth to mop up gin-and-saffron, out the cloakroom hatch where the attendant was demonstrating the principles of syndicalism with a couple of spoons, through the front courtyard where two young bohemians were about to be turned away by the bouncer, and, tearing off his white coat and cap, away into the warm summer night.


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