My dears, I must confess it gets harder to write these weekly missives without offending someone. One tries to poke fun and hold our betters to account with humour, but whatever one says and however one expresses it, there is always a neo-puritan lurking around the corner ready to denounce a joke, quip or comment to the Committee of Public Safety which controls us. Call me old fashioned, but I believe British humour has always been somewhat bawdy, sometimes near the knuckle, ever ready to take the pretentious down a peg or two and induce a raucous belly laugh. And yes, sometimes it is in bad taste, but that is rather subjective, isn’t it?
Such an approach can land one in serious trouble, if not the clink. If Chaucer were alive today he would be held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for impugning the dignity of pardoners, priests and nuns.
O tempora, o mores! Dear old Cicero had it about right (on so many things, one feels).
In light of the above, what does one write about this week? The audacious theft of a milk bottle from Mrs. Anthropoid’s doorstep last Tuesday? The excessive amount of horse manure fouling Market Square? The Barchester Strict and Particular Baptists’ riveting ‘Ryvita and Water Evening’ in Spurgeon Hall?
Well perhaps I could ruminate a little on the dangers of ice cream, especially when the plan was to poison a carton or two and supply Prince George’s kindergarten – Blueberry and Arsenic, I believe. Such a dastardly stratagem, but the sort of thing one has come to expect – not that I am saying from whom, for that would be racistical and offensive. More offensive than the crime itself in some folk’s eyes, I believe. The would-be assassin, fortunately apprehended by the boys in blue, apparently declared that ‘…not even the Royal Family are safe’ in modern-diversity Britain, though with armed guards and 24-hour protection they are much safer than Mary Ann Snooks of Rose Cottage, now that they have taken her Kalashnikov away.
And so to Westmonster, or as Bunyan might say, The Slough of Despond…
News of Tereason Dismay’s volte face with regard to customs unions and the like has reached Barchester, but nobody is surprised, not even the Archdeacon.
“I thought you would be outraged, Archdeacon,” I ventured, as we sauntered along Dogbreath Alley to the little church of St. Janus the Politician for the festal service of St. Duplicita and the Foolish Voters.
“Not in the slightest, dear lady,” he beamed, “for Mrs. Dismay has finally emerged from her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ chrysalis and spread her wings as a red-in-tooth-and-claw Europhile Tiger Moth, which was ever the case. Everyone can plainly see how they have been duped. One wonders what jollies she has promised Messrs. Johnson and Gove to support her betrayal of the British people? Time will tell.”
(N.B. Some people might find this reference to May, Johnson and Gove as being anti-invertebrate. It is not: some of the best families in Barset are hereditary invertebrates and I dine with them regularly. Still, if you are offended, please complain directly to Sir David Attenborough and send him your plastic bottle tops).
“But surely you can’t be happy with the many years of purgatory we will suffer, being out of the Zollverein in name only but still funding the wretched thing?”
“No, of course not,” said the Archdeacon, “Who would be? But perhaps it will prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the British people will gather as one to sweep clean the Augean Stable of Westminster once and for all! To the barricades, dear lady, take up your pitchfork and cry ‘Liberty or Death!’”
(N.B. Some people might find a call for ‘Liberty or Death’ and the concept of fighting for one’s country offensive. If so, don’t read that bit. Thank you).
I fear the Archdeacon’s hopes on that score are probably groundless. For sex, the English have hot water bottles; for political revolt, they have episodes of ‘Yes, Minister’.
(N.B. Some people might find the word ‘sex’ offensive. If so, don’t indulge).
The disturbing case of a lady called Amy, who foolishly challenged the right of certain people to pray in a Royal Park contrary to the rule book, was described in detail by The Jupiter. The way the police decided to handle this beggar’s belief and strikes a worrying note. Feeling a sense of solidarity with the good woman, I decided to challenge Inspector Cuffem on the brutality of latter-day police procedure.
“If you have committed no offence, madam, you have nothing to fear,” said the Inspector somewhat robotically, as if reading from a script.
“I beg to differ, Inspector. This brave woman complained to park officers and an adjacent constable, questioning what appeared to be a case of one rule for some but not for others.”
“Ah, that’s because you are a simple-minded member of the public, Mrs. Proudie. We are an arm of government and we are here to help you think correctly. The force has been updating itself for some years now – Peelite principles are long discarded and Newspeak ones apply. We can’t have middle-aged spinsters living alone with their cats and subversive copies of The Woman’s Weekly challenging officers who wisely turn a blind eye to certain practices in the interests of social cohesion – I mean, that is a recipe for anarchy!”
I noticed the cells were overflowing with ladies from the Barchester Women’s Institute looking very forlorn.
“May I ask why those ladies, some of whom I know socially, are languishing in gaol?”
“They were selling non-halal jam in Imperial measures, which someone found offensive.”
“Goodness!” I replied.
At that moment I felt I had strayed from the bucolic pages of Trollope into Mr. Carroll’s topsy-turvy Wonderland, and without my Baedeker.
If you don’t find it offensive, perhaps you will spare a thought for those young people massacred a year ago in Manchester, and for poor Private Rigby, all slaughtered by vile extremists. We are not allowed to know what sort of extremists – are we to infer that our nation is beset by extremist stamp collectors or perhaps extremist traffic wardens? We should be told.
Now that Italy has returned to its senses by returning a right-thinking coalition government determined to poke the Junckers of this world in the eye, the Stanhopes have decided to return to their villa by Lake Como. Signora Neroni cannot wait to return to the warm embrace of the dolce vita. Such a relief. The Stanhopes are to Barchester society what Ivan the Terrible was to crochet.
Well, I shall end it there for now. Mr. Slope and I are giving outdoor relief to those in need: I have pease pudding with a hobnob crostini topping to distribute and Mr. Slope warms many an outstretched frozen palm with his hot nuts. Good works, regardless of colour or creed. As Mr. Slope calls out when he rings his hand bell, “All comers welcome!”
So, as the purging castor oil of humbug slips down the semi-throttled gullet of English lexicography and the prod-noses of blockwartism batter down the doors of private life and make windows into men’s souls, I bid you a safe and non-offensive weekend stuffed full of Holy Humour and lemon-sucking.
You know it makes sense.