‘Curmudgeonly’ is a word that slips off the tongue like a half-battered eel. Not an attractive image, I grant you, but reassuring once you realise there are very few times in you life when you will get to say the word.
‘Curmudgeonly,’ I said to Judy as she tried to close the oven door on a meat pie that still harboured dreams of the great outdoors, if not seeing its family again.
‘What?’ she asked, heaving at the handle as something brown and cloven prodded out the grill.
‘I said “Curmudgeonly”. Not a word I find myself saying very often but I have to admit that it’s most appropriate for yon Stephen Fry who visited us just the other day to install an IBM blade whatnot with giggly bits of drives. I’ve just had a text message from him. He’s on his way over.’
She took a knife from the rack and took a slice from the leg which recoiled back into the oven where it no doubt began to nurse schemes of vengeance.
‘On his way over? I thought he was in America. What does he say?’
‘That’s just it. His message is on the brief side of brusque, hence my choice of the word curmudgeonly. Hard to remember the last time I had a more curmudgeonly text message than this.’
The oven stopped struggling as Judy turned up the gas. Something wet and meaty gave a loud pop deep in the oven’s innards and Judy patted the hob in triumph.
‘Now, let me have a look,’ she said, slipping my Nokia between her bloody fingers. She winced as she read the words. ‘That’s not very polite,’ she said. ‘I thought he was supposed to be a man of letters.’
‘As I said, it’s quite…’
She raised a finger and wagged it one way and then t’other. ‘Don’t,’ she warned.
‘Don’t use that word again. Richard, you’re always the same when you discover a new word. You want to impress people with it and then you over use it.’
‘I do not!’ I protested.
She stood, tapping the mobile on her hip, her tongue pushed to the side of her mouth. ‘Saturnine,’ she said.
‘You don’t remember the week we had when everything was saturnine? The milkman’s a bit saturnine this morning, Judy. Do I look saturnine in these pants? How about spending the evening with a bottle of wine and a saturnine film?’
‘You were saying about the text message,’ I prompted, preferring not to discuss my shortcomings when I knew I’d have to repeat the conversation on this blog. ‘What do you think I should I do?’
‘What can you do but wait for Stephen’s arrival?’
‘Well, okay, I’ll acquiesce to your quite noetic proposition but, I confess, Judy, it’s making me feel somewhat saturnine.’
Scowling, Judy threw the phone back to me. ‘I’ll be in the garden,’ she said. ‘Come and get me when he arrives.’
And arrive he certainly did. Ten minutes to one, a taxi pulled up outside the front gate and a tall figure climbed out. I knew it was Stephen at once. He was dressed in a turquoise smoking jacket and matching hat.
‘Turned back at American customs!’ he raged as he walked up the path to the front door. I stood waiting for him with a hand outstretched but without pause or welcome, he just strode into the hall and then through to the living room where Judy was arranging the cushions ready for the great man’s arrival.
‘Do you know how unedifying it is to be handled by men who have never read a word of Swift, who fail to appreciate the magisterial utterings of Browning, and described Shakespeare as a “fag in pantaloons”?’ His arm shot out and grabbed the closest thing to hand. It was my Ambre Solaire award for Skincare Excellence. Not that Stephen gave it any mind. He simply threw it to the floor, declaring: ‘Casting pearls to swine. Pearls to swine…’
I grabbed him before he could do any more damage. ‘It might well be pearls to swine, mate, but that took me six months of hydrating skin treatment to win that award.’
He looked at me as though I were a rectangle. ‘I beg your pardon? Do you have any idea of the hell I’ve just escaped?’ I signalled Judy to grab a bottle and pour Stephen a drink as he continued his rant. ‘I was supposed to film my trip across America in my vintage 1975 London hackney carriage. Instead, I’m questioned by customs officials for ten hours. Ten hours! And do you wonder why? Do you wonder why Mr. Rick and his friend Denzel decided to question a man who has read the whole of Paradise Lost no less than forty seven times? Do you wonder what they asked me for ten whole hours. Do you have any idea what we were discussing for those six hundred minutes, those thirty six thousand seconds?’
‘That you’re muslim?’ I offered, knowing that the US customs are a bit tricky when it comes to the subject of eastern divinity.
‘Muslim!’ screamed Fry.
‘Well,’ I said, nodding to his smoking hat, ‘you do look a bit odd wearing that.’
‘Odd? Well how odd do you think I’d have looked if I’d worn ocelot? How’s that for a saucy word? Ocelot! Oh, have thirty six million milliseconds ever felt so long?’
He grabbed the glass from Judy’s hand and gave it some neck. When he’d finished he stood rooted on the spot and quoted Auden for five minutes. I took the chance to reflect on his words. Not the poetry, which if you ask me is much over rated and would never got in our book club, but this word ‘ocelot’. After my five minutes were up, I realised that would take a greater mind than mine to wring the meaning out of the word ‘ocelot’.
‘You’re being very curmudgeonly,’ I told him as his vision cleared and his recital ended. Judy winced at the word but I just pushed her to one side. ‘Stephen, can’t you just tell us what this is all about?’
He looked at me over his spectacles. ‘American customs threw me out of the country because you had given me a hat made from osalot. Do you hear me, Richard? Ocelot, ocelot, ocelot.’ He said that three times, which I believe if you check, make it nine accounts of ocelot. That’s really quite a lot of ocelot. Some might even say too much. ‘Now,’ he continued, a little calmer. ‘Stephen has not slept for thirty six hours and he wonders if it possible, if not vital, if not the very least you can do for him, to give him a fair sized bed and a few hours of peaceful seclusion in this fine Madeley residence?’
Judy was shaking her head but what could I say? I pointed him towards the guest wing of house.
‘You’re so kind,’ he said handing Judy the glass and making with the finger to top it up. ‘And after a sleep, we will discuss the matter of a certain hat.’
‘What is there to discuss?’ I asked. ‘I made you a gift. You can’t return gifts.’
‘I’m not going to give it back,’ said Stephen coolly, taking his glass. ‘I merely want to discuss with you which of your numerous and, I’m sure you don’t mind my saying, impressively proportioned orifices you would like me to insert my ocelot hat. The hat will still be mine and your orifice will still be so uniquely your own.’
And with that, Stephen strode from the room while I began the usual routine of trying to rouse Judy who, with typical inconsideration, had fallen into a dead faint across the rug. She always does that when a man has bags to pack and there are South American countries to which he must flee.