Postcard from Lille, Part 6

The Princess’s Secret

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
The Princess’s Chin
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

We’re travelling the length of England from the Debatable lands to the white cliffs. We’re on the way to Lille but I’ve been distracted by an Arab girl who reminds me of an excellent pen, paper and miner’s helmet story.

We are making excellent and swift progress and after only five episodes (and a prologue) were are past the half way mark between our modest provincial market town metropolis and The Smoke.

I’m a ‘look out of the window’ type of person and after finishing a cold dinner, (it’s weekend Virgin first class cuisine) I gaze out and see some of the familiar sights. The Grand Union canal, M1, Rougeley  Power Station, that big clock and thermometer. We’re so far south now that I’m getting a nosebleed and, while looking for Watford football ground, give myself a crick in the neck to keep it company .

As far as this provincial hayseed is concerned Harrow is the start of London proper, Wembley stadium arch being the suburbs and Willesden depot and carriage sidings hinting at the inner city. The station approaches are peppered with tower cranes as Euston is being dug up again for a new HS2 route (which nobody wants)  which will  knock 8 minutes off the journey time to Birmingham (which nobody cares about).

We slide into the concrete trench of Euston itself . Being in first class we’re in the town end of the train and it’s a short walk up the ramp and into an always busy station concourse, into which the Arab girl and her parents disappear, which reminds me, I had a story to tell.

The creator of Coronation Street, Tony Warren, used to say that he wanted to write a social drama about a tight knit working class community governed by very strict cultural rules, none of which were written down.

My own father kept order by pretending to cough, or sucking air between his teeth. He never raised his voice, never swore and we were too terrified to contradict him.

This strategy worked perfectly until the great social changes of the 1960s reached our place about two decades later. During a particularly towsey 90 minutes involving our local XI, your author, a slightly built and rather shy teenager, was beaten to a pulp by hooligans on the windswept terraces, while his father stood beside him watching and making ‘cough, cough, hsss, hsss’ noises.

Because your author is a bit of an old fashioned chap (who learned nothing from his father’s mistakes), and his companion a young Arab lady colleague of a Muslimic inclination (we shall call her Princess Fahdma) those strict social mores and expectations remained well in place as I chaperoned her on a previous trip to London for sightseeing, and to fulfil a sensitive obligation to her father, the Prince.

Those in-viable boundaries being immutably in place, we could have a damn good gossip and say anything we wanted to say to each other.

After laughing and pretending to be shocked over minor office embarrassments and indiscretions, I hold the silence for long enough for her to begin to gush.

She explains that her father pays her a very generous allowance but dependant upon her being unspoiled by the world. She showed me a letterhead for a Harley Street clinic. In between sightseeing I was to take her to a Muslim medical clinic where a lady Muslim doctor would examine her for the purpose of maintaining her allowance. She promised me that all was as it should be, it was a formality, and we would return by an evening train with a doctor’s letter for her father which would secure her allowance until next time. She was very, very literally sitting on her fortune.  It’s rude to talk about money, but I asked anyway. It wasn’t cheap.

There are different types of inspector. Trust me, if you are a gas inspector, school inspector or even a police inspector , you are in the wrong sector of the business. If a virtue inspector’s position arises on the Royal Institute of Inspectors website then apply with haste. Buy a miner’s  helmet right away,  in anticipation, your bank manager will thank you.

As an aside, on a particularly bad in day in Belfast, we spotted a man in uniform crouched in a doorway. We sprinted across the road and hunkered down beside him, only to discover that he was an Ulsterbus ticket inspector. As the ground shook and yet another boom rang out, he looked at me and uttered the immortal line (as a wave of dust rolled down the street) “ that’ll be the Concorde going over”.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Bad Day in Belfast
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

Back on the train, sat next to the Princess,  as a gentleman and as a friend I felt obliged to jokingly offer to look at it for nothing, at which, thankfully and after a heart stopping pause, she giggled, and then reminded me, still joking (I think) that only a future husband would see such a thing. Any other and her father would arrange for ‘the eyes to be poked out with the hot poker’.

Obviously, arriving in London, and starting the sightseeing part of our visit, everything I saw looked somehow like a vagina. Even Nelson’s column. The Princess had an itinerary which avoided the worst of women’s logic and a woman’s sense of direction and a quick circuit was doable en route to Harley Street.  She liked the royals, and thought herself related to them,  so had quick visits to Buckingham  and Kensington Palaces . She showed face, very briefly, at an embassy near Buckingham Palace. There were some faded and worn artefacts from her homeland at the British Museum, which may actually have been vaginas .

Anon, we took the underground to Madame Tussards and from there walked via Nottingham Place to Harley Street. We entered a very modest facade, via an answer phone and a stout but plain door, into a palatial clinic. A lady attendant took Princess Fahds away and a gentleman attendant led me into the Alhambra of waiting rooms, where I listened to the most expensive hifi in the world whilst admiring large pictures and photographs of the landscapes and architecture of the Gulf.

Presently the attendant returned and took me back to reception where I waited for less than a minute before Princess Fahds appeared beaming and holding her precious envelope.

There was one more sightseeing call, Westminster Cathedral, where, unfamiliar with the rituals of such things, the Princess very touchingly asked me to light a candle and say a Christian prayer for her Infidel mother.

Crawling out of Euston she fiddled with her envelope itching to open it, with a young woman’s insatiable curiosity for what another has said of her.

She’d been ‘absolutely pleased’ with her examination.

It hadn’t taken long, involved no touching, only a loosening of the clothes. A little screen had separated the Princess’s top half from her bottom half making it feel as if there was no examination at all.

She began to paw at her envelope.

I offered to excuse myself to the dining car but the Princess told me to stay, it would just take a minute, everything was as it should be, it would just be a line or two in Arabic or even medical Arabic, and she was so pleased that she would even translate it for me, if the detail was not too intimate.

She tore it open and unfolded the enclosed letter holding it at arms length.

‘Look’, she said holding it out, open and proud.

The letter heading was in English and at the bottom was a scrawl which I assumed a physicians  signature.

There is such a thing as ‘frozen stiff’. It’s not just an idiomatic expression. I understand it was documented in aircrews during the war. Being a mountain and lake man I have seen terrified  lambs and kids go completely stiff and fall over.

Likewise neither myself nor the Princess could move, presumably in Fahd’s  case from embarrassment and in my case from my minds ear hearing a big Arab running down the train with a hot poker preparing to boil my eyes in their sockets, followed by a jealous future husband brandishing rusty and blunt billy goat castrating irons.

For in between the letterhead and the signature, the lady physician had troubled the medical dictionary neither in English nor Arabic, in fact he she hadn’t even troubled the alphabet. She’d drawn it, and in quite a bit of detail, every little fold and crease, shadings and all. She’d managed to make it look 3D and had taken the trouble to colour it in.

I had to say something. The obvious thing would be an offer of marriage. I imagined a future me with a non job in a Saudi Ministry, dressed in white, out in the dessert, still attached to my eyeballs and private parts, with a Russian doll’s row of little olive skinned children considered fit only for the circus because they’d inherited my blue eyes.

Now in those days there wasn’t a ubiquity of self knowledge from selfies, webcams and cctv screens. A lady may never see the back of her own head let something more intimate. A younger lady’s confidence might be shattered by such an exhibition as this.

Instead of an offer of marriage I heard myself say,

‘I think they all look like that’.

Suffice it to say that that didn’t help and, as she folded her intimacy’s illustrated MOT certificate back into it’s envelope, a stony silence ensued and continued for the rest of the journey.

My final word on the subject should be this.  If I closed my eyes and tilted my head, to blur the extremities, then I must say (and this is where my regular readers will have an advantage over the occasional visitor) that Princess Fadhma Bint Something Al Somebody or Others secret, in all it’s badly trimmed hirsute glory, was much the same size, shape and detail as one of those giant time, resources and manpower equations (from the Rand Organisation) which explain how to build a frigate.

To be continued……

© Always Worth Saying 2019

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