Like so many things I get involved in, the brief sketch I planned for this spot has gotten completely out of hand. Rather than rein it in, which would take even more time, I’ll include it (below the spinach) but not ask it to do what it was originally intended to do, which was, to explain this photograph.
Yesterday morning I learned that I had won the limerick contest over at the Garden Monkey’s place. Thank you, Mr. Monkey, for choosing me out of that densely crowded and talented field. (Okay, moderately crowded. Or do I mean moderately dense? Hmm.)
My limericks were of course caustic attacks on James, my fellow dueler of the now intercontinental Sock Wars, which have swept up an increasing number of innocent bloggers, threatening the tranquility of their community. My prize is a signed copy of Gardeners’ World 101 – Bold and Beautiful Flowers, by one James Alexander-Sinclair. Yes, same James.
You can see that this put me in a somewhat awkward position. Abuse a man—win his book. Not what they taught us in kindergarten. Under the circumstances, it seemed a bit much to go on abusing him. Crass, even. (Besides, I’d won, hadn’t I?)
Hence the white flag. It’s been a delightful whirl, and I want to thank everyone who danced along. I can’t believe, given some of the things I’ve said, that I got a prize out of it! (And that prize. God knows what James is going to write in it—“To Varlet Kate”?) Both VP and the Monkey have written reviews of James’ book, and if the quotes they include are any indication, it will teach me all sorts of stuff I’ll be better off knowing, which is a sort of take it or leave it thing, but it will also be a hoot to read, which is what I live for.
So, folks, this dueler resigns from the field. And none too soon. I picked a bit of spinach yesterday that was getting seriously out of hand, and still haven’t had time to wash or stem it.
The Brief Sketch: "Speech! Speech!"
Scene: A banquet-hall, none too fancy and only half-full; most patrons appear somewhat the worse for wear. A mediocre dinner consisting of large quantities of noodles, overcooked broccoli, and inedible fish has been served, and in some cases, eaten. On the dais, the guest table; at one end, a podium and microphone and at the other, a small table at which sits a single man in a large hat, his back to the rest of the company. One of the women at the guest table is wearing a cheap gold-paper crown. A short woman stands before the podium.
Speaker: Hello? Hello? (tap tap) Testing, testing–uh, this microphone doesn’t appear to be working—
Man in hat: Worked just fine for me!
Speaker: Yes it did, but now – oh, thank you. Hello, testing, testing—
(cries from the hall): Ouch! Bloody hell! I think she busted my eardrums!
Speaker: Sorry, sorry. Okay, how’s that, better? Excellent, or to employ a spot of British parlance, “brilliant.”
(Groans and snickers.)
Speaker: Well, I want to begin my little speech today by saying how wonderful it is to see all of you gathered here together, especially, of course, James, even if he insists on sulking in the corner like a wet cat. I’m so glad that two of my country-women, Deb and Daphne, could be prevailed upon to make the trip here with me, and I assure them that those rope burns will be gone before they know it. Of course it’s a special honor to see that Sue Swift has come all the way from Italy for this event.
VP (to the Garden Monkey): See? Peace in our time.
Deb is squinting at VP’s crown: ‘BP’? I thought her name was VP.
VP turns her head regally. It is. BP stands for ‘Bad Poetry’. Of which I am Queen.
Daphne: She’s proud of that?
Speaker: First of all, of course, I’d like to thank the Monkey for awarding me the coveted Limerick Prize, the token whereof is this fine volume by James Sinclair-Alexand—er, Alexander-Sinclair. I believe it’s about flowers. Very nice. There is fine irony here, which may have eluded some of you: I won this book by James by writing limericks deriding James. Under the circumstances, it hardly seems appropriate to continue these hostilities, so I shall—I shall—I promise—to discontinue them. (Sound of grinding teeth.)
There are those who have suggested that Mr. Garden Monkey bestowed the prize on me because he was getting tired of the sock wars. Nothing could be further from the truth, I’m sure, and I’m also sure that I merely anticipate your wishes when I offer to give a short history, written by me, of these wars, first in Middle English, then in a modern translation. (Deb and Daphne look at each other in alarm.) It’s been difficult, but I’ve managed to whittle this down to a mere hour and fifty-four minutes, including time out for sips of water.
Deb, whispering: I thought you got her to take out the Middle English!
Daphne, likewise: So did I!
(A noodle has struck her in the temple. The man in the large hat turns back towards his table and puts his fork down quietly.)
Oh, perhaps I should explain some of the principles of Middle English? No? The poetics? The prosody? Nothing? Oh, all right, be that way.
(She clears her throat; the Garden Monkey is frantically gesturing for more wine. The hatted man turns slightly and pulls back his fork, noodle poised.)
Whilom the starry nights of summer came
And came oot the west a winsome dame,
Ack! (She glares around and peels a noodle off her pate.) Uh oh, seem to be missing a few lines here—never mind. Onward and upward with the arts:
But James did unto her the body slamme
So drew he to himself the utmost shamme.
(From the floor: Cease! Desist! Give it a rest!)
All right then, you ungrateful wretches. Some of you, I know, thought the prize should go to VP—
(Should have, too!)
whose poetry, you think, is much better at being bad than mine—
though of course this prize proves otherwise.
(Does not! A sock lands on the dais.)
I’d like to applaud her—(bows towards main table)— for so graciously coming to witness the celebration of one who is so clearly and in all ways her superior.
(VP who had risen, smiling, sits down again, looking nonplussed. Deb and Daphne edge their chairs away from the podium.)
And now for the modern translation.
(Howls from the floor. Noodles fly. At the main table The Garden Monkey sits with his head in his hands; he’s being soothed by Emma on one side, Victoria on the other. Frankie, Zoë, Sue, Rose, Karen, and God knows who else hover nearby, shooting black looks at the speaker.)
Emma: It’ll be over soon—
Victoria: She’ll go back to the States—
Speaker: Ahem. AHEM.
When that the starry nights of summer came—
Oh, and notice that in the Middle English version “came” had two syllables, and was pronounced—
The Monkey can stand it no more. He struggles to his feet, shedding women like water. Guards! Guards!
Below him, the guests are slapping each other with the fish course and throwing socks about. The guards struggle towards the dais.
Speaker: Well, if you don’t like that one, maybe you plebeians would prefer my new mock-epic:
James, James, Blogger at Blackpitts,
Barely left his garden
because he did not dare.
There is pandemonium in the hall. Deb is throwing socks back at the crowd as they land at her feet.
Daphne leans towards the others: Can I come sit with you?
The guards are on the dais now; two get the speaker under the arms; as they haul her off, her feet dragging, she makes a swipe at VP’s crown but misses.
Speaker: Damn. Let me go! There’s another verse! Wait!
The guards keep going, and as she is carried away, trailing her verses behind her, her voice continues.
Speaker: James, James, A. Sinclair, A. Sinclair
Blogger at Blackpitts and more
Would never have called Killer Kate
If he had known the score—
VP, Emma, Frankie, Sue, Zoë, Karen, and Victoria all swirl around the Garden Monkey, uttering little bird-like cries of comfort
The Monkey gestures at the chaos amongst the guests. Guards—do something.
Chief Guard, looking at the near riot below, scratches his head. Do what exactly?
Zoë: Hit ’em with a dibber!
Karen: You can have my orange one!
Deb: I’ve got water balloons!
Sue: Sock it to ‘em!
Frankie: Shoot the bastards!
VP sinks into a chair and weeps.
Victoria pats the Monkey on his bowed head. She’s gone. It’s over.
James the Hatted One suddenly rises. Gone? Did you say—gone?
He starts doing a jig. Deb jumps down and joins him. As they whirl by the table, the others get swept up, even VP, still weeping but holding firmly to her crown. One of the guards whips a fiddle out from under his coat, another a guitar from his pocket, and a third a pipe from behind his ear. The jig has become a reel, and the brawl below devolves into dance. Far down at the bottom of the hall the Speaker can be dimly seen, dancing with her guards.