Friday, 23 April 2010

The Bright Lights

My grandmother used to hide in a cupboard to avoid Violet Trefusis. They were both children at the time and the Trefusis parents were friends of granny's parents or the family lived nearby or something - sadly, I wasn't listening properly when she told me (any of the many times). Only now, too late, have I realised the importance of listening when someone tells you something, which means that all the stories my father told me as we walked round London - 'That was the building where Cyril Connolly and I ....' or 'When I was a child we used to go into that place and they had ...' are gone. Because, instead of listening, I'd think 'I must listen next time he tells me that.' What is it about us humans that it never crosses our minds that there might not be a next time?
Anyway back to the point - my grandmother and Violet Trefusis. It was in Ireland, I think, and granny, who couldn't explain the violent loathing she had for the young Trefusis, would always be found and dragged from her cupboard and forced to go outside and play with her little so-called 'friend'. And they would stomp around the garden, side by side, my grandmother glowering and sullen until - to quote for the second time in a fortnight from the great Mabel Entwistle scene in Molesworth (which, in my opinion, is right up there with the Andrei Volkonsky lying on the battlefield looking up through the trees epiphany in War and Peace, to name but one of the many pivotal moments in literature that are its equals) 'at length the ghastley day is over.'
But granny always remembered the one day that they encountered the gardener as they wandered about. Granny politely introduced her companion to him and he looked the child up and down. 'Where be you from then, Miss?' he asked. 'London, sir', Violet replied. At that the gardener, who might have been called Mr Stubbs (and how typical that I remember a detail like this but not important things like where exactly the story took place or what relationship granny's family had to the Trefusises) made a kind of sniffing sound. 'I thought as much,' he said and looked directly at Violet before continuing: 'A sink of iniquity is London - an absolute sink of iniquity.'
Which brings me to my real point - I'm off to Sydney which is the closest thing we have to a sink of iniquity over here. It's a big wild city so if I'm not back shortly, I hope someone will call the New South Wales police.


  1. Should I know who Violet Trefusis is? Ah, lover of Vita Sackville-West. Who created Sissinghurst garden in Kent. Now I have a handle on things. Nigel Molesworth??

  2. Poor little Vi never had a chance did she?

    BTW people should be very grateful that we in London are ready to draw together all this gross wickedness and sit on it. Someone has to.

  3. violet trefusis is an awesomely cornish name

  4. Fab opening line, Z.

    It takes a lot of effort to unlearn the habit of planning what you're going to say in reply to what somebody is saying, instead of listening to them say it.

  5. My husband, whose maternal family hail from Pembroke Dock, remembers meeting many years ago an aged relative who enquired where he was now living. Husband replied that he was working in London. "Ah yes, London", said the wise elder, "that is where the computers live". (You have to imagine it being said with a lilting Welsh accent.) Needless to say, it's an expression we still use to baffle our more metropolitan friends.

  6. Enjoy the den of vice. Even if you peek through your hands as they cover your eyes.

  7. "... In that building I learned how to strangle a man with a length of cheesewire". Trouble is, I could never remember which building when I went back.

  8. Mark - they demolished it last year and put an extension on (true, made me v sad).
    Gaw - I think you're doing the world a great service with your iniquity pooling services
    Worm - Violet? (agree about Trefusis though)
    Brit - and then trying to stop yourself interrupting before you forget what you want to say (speaking as the world title holder for interrupting [and, no, I don't say that with any pride at all])
    Sophie - hilarious, I'm going to start saying that too.
    Madame - it is one of the best dens of vice I know, especially considering it started life as a jail.

  9. Gadjo - yes, Molesworth, here is the glittering scene:
    '... you are xpected to be xactly like wee tim especially when mater's grate skool friend mabel entwhistle (prothero that was) pay a visit with her tiny dorter chiz chiz chiz. On that morning all boys cats dogs parots sparos and owls are turned into the garden while house is polished and mabel entwhistle's foto is brought out of the boxroom. Boys glue their noses against windows and are finaly admited.
    'Do not the house look luvly, nigel' sa yore mater.
    'But it never look like this reely it is just an empty facade.'
    'O.K.,' sa youre mater. 'But let's keep it that way, see? Otherwise there's liable to be trubble. Look at yore knees.'
    i do not kno why boys are always told to look at their knees it is dashed dificult. In fact the only way is to lie on yore back and pull yore knees up. Maters, however, are liable to get batey if you do this in the sitting room just before ma entwhistle arive becos they see wot is on the soles of yore shoes. Too repulsive, my dear.
    Procedure: Ho to the bathroom. Out flanel and wipe geting most off. Brush front of hair and leave back. Gaze in mirror at yore strange unatural beauty. Report hopefully. Back agane. Scrub nails. Leave tap runing and soap in bottom of basin. Sa look at ickle pritty to molesworth 2 who hav to put on blue corduroys cheers cheers cheers cheers. Report back and granted certificate of hygene (ist Class Honours) also gold medal antwerp exhibition 1899.
    Pijaw. Mater then give pi-jaw e.g. Now you will behave nicely won't you nigel and you won't do wot you did to cicely last time.
    Oh no mater rather not.
    You promise?
    Oh yes and i will sa nothing about her dolly either.
    And you will not shout Cave Cave here they come when they ring the bell? You will not repeat wot Daddy sa at breakfast about mabel entwhistle? Nor sa rice pud ugh at lunch?
    No No dearest mama perish the thort.
    You had better not, rat.
    The works. Mabel entwhistle arive in a super car a bentley or aston martin which show that mr entwhistle have a clue or 2 which is more than pop hav. Women thro themself into each others arms like guided missiles.
    'Darling darling (chiz) how lovely to see you after all these years.'
    Visitor then gaze about as if she have never seen anything more beaituful in the world in space.
    'How swete your house is!
    (Thinks: a dump)
    nigel! this must be nigel! Wot a good-looking boy.
    (Thinks: Ugh.)
    'And your younger boy how luvley.'
    If anyone can call molesworth 2 luvely you know she is telling a whoper even blue corduroy trousers do not make him into bubles not by a long chalk so it show how empty and artifical ect. hem hem.
    Enter CICELY entwhistle.
    YOUR MATER: 'Ciceley! She's already a beauty. Such hair Such eyes' ect.
    (Thinks: Gosh wot a plane child.)
    And so it go on the lunch is cold molesworth 2 drop the sprouts ciceley can't eat the steak and all larff wot screams children are to be sure ....'

  10. :-) Genius. "No No dearest mama perish the thort"; "You had better not, rat". I remember this passge now - it was the name Mabel Entwhistle that had eluded me!

  11. Fascinating story. My father once told me a tale that involved him and Douglas Bader. Like the self centred little trollop I was at the time, I paid no attention and now the story is lost forever