Fell Me Something I Don't Know
published 13th June 2006
Dominic Bowskill may still have been more of a lowly flunkey than a functionary amidst the Westminster community, but one thing he had in common with his uncle was his almost perpetual disdain for those with more influence than himself. There was little that he found more annoying than being bossed around by those who didn't possess as clear a vision of how the country should be governed as he himself enjoyed. From what Dennis knew of his nephew he could only place Dominic slightly above being as unfocused and gormless as many of his superiors in the past, he only had to think back to the part of his Army time served in Northern Ireland, especially some of the undercover reconnoitring in the Bogside. Often when Dennis looked at his nephew he could believe that he was looking at one of his past army lieutenant's who was supposed to be acting undercover with him and blithely ordered a Bacardi and coke in a Republican bar that didn't have much call for such drinks. Even all these years later he could still hear the whirr of the Black and Decker power-drills revving up under the tables ready for a knee drilling session on hearing such obvious errors in judgement.
Dennis believed in running his business affairs as a meritocracy, with the odd exception, and he was not likely to spare his nephew from the painful truth as to his shortcomings at pressing the flesh with all kinds of interest groups and individuals. His puns were puny, his wheedles weedy, his polemics pathetic and witticisms wholly whimpish. "I've seen plenty of people who thought they were entertainers, but it hardly counts to be an inadvertent comedian; neither you nor I inhabit areas that look tolerantly upon figures of fun. John Prescott, does that ring any bells, eh?"
As one of the diminishing band of acolytes of the New Labour project, Dominic was conditioned to bristle with agitation on hearing any attack on almost any part of the New Labour Project edifice. "This is something, coming as it does from an alumnus of the Genghis Khan School of Diplomacy." "And your rhetoric is recycled as well. It's all old declamation you keep coming out with, skating on the verge of plagiarism isn't going to get you where you want to get, you've got learn to ad-lib. One of these days you'll wake up to the fact that I've got your best interests at heart."
Dominic still thought that his uncle had more of an affinity with the sheep he used to encounter during his Army days up several mountain ranges around the world rather than celebrities and politicians. Thus he left himself open to the assertion that many celebs and politicos were below the brain-power of many a sheep in this world that Dennis had encountered during his various postings. "At least you can make a decent pillow out of a mountain sheep when you really need it." "It's not possible, what sort of sheep is that docile?" Dominic insisted. "A dead one, there's a ready supply of expired sheep up the Pyrenees. Like many things, it's the first time that's the worst, the expellations of air from one end or the other come at unexpected intervals. Your boys haven't known much by way of deprivation" "Despite not having spoken to him personally about it, I can't imagine Tony Blair having needed to go through the same experience to make it to Number 10, although Gordon Brown does sometimes look as if he's not exactly had his head resting on the softest pillow of a night, and your old friend Maggie of course, with an entire pillowcase on her head."
Even though Dennis admitted that his nephew was obviously capable of being a bit sparky if roused, such personal comments were only likely to consign him to the ranks of the back benches, the usual suspects, and the nay-sayers who rarely make it past Sky News or News 24 for their exposure. As far as Dennis could see, Dominic had got himself so far down the line with his chosen colour of politics that he was beyond the point of no return by way of switching allegiances, at least without a ruinous loss of credibility further down the line. "I'm useless at remembering quotations, but I seem to recall someone saying that politics is ninety nine percent about believing that you can push water uphill. We can all think you're a bit of a dreamer to imagine that you're going to make it to the top in Westminster, but you've obviously got more guts than everybody has given you credit for to persevere with Naomi when you've got all the political bite of the proverbial chocolate mouse." "If ever I heard the sound of faint praise being heaped then I'm pretty confident of hearing it now. The last couple of years of this administration have been all about countless weeks of pushing policy initiatives only to find the polling numbers unchanged, or worsened, so don't say I've got no idea of the possible life sentence of frustration that politics can end up as in the worst scenario."
During the relative lull in London based work during the Parliamentary recess, then it made obvious sense that this simply had to be the time for Dominic to unleash his innate personality upon Naomi. If he wanted to impress her then there was only one thing to do, no options, no equivocation, just straightforward steeling of the sinews. Dominic was spoilt for choice of which tack to go with by way of getting close to Naomi, and with Dennis as his uncle he could find out necessary information almost at will. Since recently interviewing a group of guerrilla gardeners during their night-time beautifying of a traffic island in Guildford, Naomi had signed up to assist a local gardening faction aiming to revivify a roundabout near Middlemyte. Dominic could just about see himself doing a modicum of digging and weeding, but the supreme inconvenience of the times when all this action took place was a distinct turn-off.
Sport was also pretty much out of the question given that he'd discovered that Naomi was considerably more than competent at most of the one on one games such as badminton, tennis, golf, pool, snooker, darts, beer-mat flipping, chess, draughts, noughts and crosses, and the list went on a fair bit after that in all honesty. Given that Dominic was less than competent at most sporting activities then that was a definite non-starter.
Naomi was also a bit of a bird-watching expert, twitcher if you will, but if anything that was even worse than the gardening, as it was one thing trying to stay awake, but having to get up in the middle of the night to catch the dawn chorus seemed untenable at first consideration. Dominic had just about convinced himself that this could be possible when he suffered a bad dream that stayed in his consciousness after being abruptly woken by it at some unearthly hour. According the nightmare, he had been accompanying Naomi on the trail of some special rare bird in a wooded area and only succeeded in making a series of gaffes as to the names of the birds. In his waking sweat he only managed to recall a couple of the incorrect names, such as the hokey-cokey bird and the greater spotted fly-oak warbler, but he surely remembered the chastisement he received. Besides anything else there was the not inconsiderable fact that Naomi was eminently wary of politicians, and first thing in the morning on a country lane with him might be more unnerving than illuminating.
On balance it seemed that the best option would actually be to plump for one of Naomi's strongest suits which he would not be able to match her, but ought to be able to manage something creditable coming from a standing start. From what he'd seen of bell-ringing it looked fairly uncomplicated, and something that he could concoct some cock and bull reason to explain away his sudden and unexpected interest. Also reports coming back to him tended to suggest that Naomi was currently taking charge of teaching learners, which should preclude the danger of turning up on the day and finding someone else prompting him. A benefit that even he couldn't deny accruing from having Dennis as an uncle was that he generally knew where Naomi was to be found work-wise. Monday morning was reserved for a photo-shoot, something which Naomi studiously avoided whenever or wherever possible. Being the politico that he was, Dominic needed no more help than that as he was perfectly capable of concocting some spurious pretext and spin to wangle his way into being in the general area at the time in question.
Whether anything positive accrued from beyond the point of no return on the morn was something even Dominic hadn't the confidence to predict, as the photographer might have something to say about matters. Professional photographers were not exactly a specialist subject that Dominic much concerned himself with other than a working knowledge of some paparazzi. The only images that he could conceive were of some bearded middle-aged bloke in a check-shirt or a young stud fresh out of art college. Of course, he was hoping it would be the former of his two visions as that shouldn't be competition.
On the day it transpired that the latter was probably nearer the actuality in terms of the age of the photographer, but by all accounts he was something of a techno-geek, constantly burbling on about the intangibles of mood and emotion in creating sensuality. Dominic was fortunate in arriving at an opportune period in between set-up and first shoot, thus he was able to snatch a few words with a surprised Naomi. After making his convenient pitch for help in how to spend his short period of recess, Dominic had to endure Naomi's mild iridescence at being subjected to all this photographic fiddling about. "Well, I've learned that this is apparently harder than shooting pots and pans, but easier than shooting food. I don't know that I wouldn't rather be dressed up as an omelette or a Christmas pudding, it might take as long, but I might get some anonymity."
There was never any way that Naomi was going to allow herself to be finagled into suggestively spread-eagling herself on a flower-bed as if in some homage to the prostrate posing associated with the movie American Beauty, no matter what her sister might counsel. Such advice that usually only had her own shot at stardom in mind. The prospective poses up to now might have satisfied Naomi's criteria of what was decent for her, but some of them she considered to be in need of hiring a stunt double to achieve for more than a couple of seconds. Not only that, she didn't do sensuous, smouldering or wistful to order. Naomi had unsurprisingly suggested this could easily have been done in the surrounds of her back garden as at least one, if not both, of the robins in residence would probably have been undaunted enough so as to flit on and off the handle of her spade. The photographer caught the last part of Naomi's ambiguity. "If you could have guaranteed a couple of non-camera shy tits then we might have considered it, my darling." He chipped in facetiously.
It soon became clear that Dominic's window of opportunity was about to close, but by the time he was out of their hair he had at least managed to lay some groundwork with Naomi as to putting himself in her hands to be taught how to ring a bell. From his rudimentary knowledge of such, the best conjecture that he could make about ringing was that it was a bit like swinging a lump-hammer over and over. Armed with this self-diagnosis he soon discovered himself to be horribly uncoordinated when later in the week it came time for him to take the plunge. The first lesson went better than might have been expected, but the one to one tuition that Dominic had experienced on the initial evening only transpired for a very brief few minutes on the second night, before the greater bulk of the Middlemyte band began to spasmodically drift into the room. Practice Night soon made the entire exercise take on an uncomfortable air for Dominic as he hadn't counted on being encumbered by an audience. This was all very galling as he felt as if he was just getting into the swing of things when this unwelcome intrusion transpired. He had quickly discovered that this was very much the antithesis of being taught the finer points of honing a golf swing, as this provided a frontal view of your tutor rather than close tutelage from the rear, and the view was undeniably a welcome fringe benefit that had come about.
Being the prospective Parliamentarian that he was, Dominic knew a bit about putting on an acting front, as right from the off he knew that Naomi would probably have her suspicions aroused given that he was not domiciled in Middlemyte, or even close, thus any accrued learning would go out of the area. He had been warned many a time by Dennis in his own rather inappropriate comparative way that if they were dogs then Naomi might have the looks and poise of a Crufts Best in Show, but that she still retained the sharp intuitive nose of a working dog to sniff out when she was being surreptitiously sniffed at during the season.
Dominic's mind wandered relentlessly during the monotony of only having one stroke to concentrate on, which seemed all rather mundane in the face of all other distractions. Doing what he was told was barely enough to conceal the cracks in his cover story. He could hardly gaze at Naomi incessantly without it being obvious, so he began to notice the minutiae of the surroundings such as the old blackboard which appeared to have lopsided widths to its wooden surround, although he wasn't to know that this was due to Forrest Bore having surreptitiously shaved some off when in need of a strip of wood that fitted that bill for size. As much of the shelving had been provided by Forrest Bore then no one had the audacity to confront him about this disappearance, and as he had recently moved into other business interests they felt marginally more safe that bits wouldn't suddenly vanish from chairs or shelves.
Once the initial pre-practice learning time ran out, Dominic had to face a large proportion of the regular Middlemyte ringers as they arrived spasmodically. There had been no other rank beginners of late, although they had a new recruit who had recently moved into the area. Bruce Lyddiacoat had done a modicum of ringing some many years past, but now on having moved into semi-retirement he had decided to reacquaint himself with the hobby. "They say that coming back to ringing is akin to riding a bike in that you never forget how to do it. The basic tenets are somewhat the same."
Dominic soon found himself on the receiving end of much unwanted small talk from this new found friend of his during their gaps between seeing action on the ropes. "Did I tell you that I've just retired?" "Indeed you did, at about seven-forty and again at just after eight." "Oh, well I don't think I've shown you this retirement card they gave me." "No, you haven't shown me a card... until now." "Can you make any sense of it?" Bruce enquired in all seriousness.
Dominic shrugged his shoulders as he struggled to feign interest in the card more than any complexity that the wording might contain. On receiving it back, Bruce stared at the oversized card with its cartoon figures printed on its front as if for the first time. "Can you make head or tail of this? We took a survey, and 95% of your colleagues were devastated to learn that you were retiring, 3% were off sick, and 2% had never heard of you." "Is that unusual?" Dominic asked with a large dose of disdain. "I only had fifteen other work colleagues, so the percentages can't tally properly." "Had you considered that it might be tongue in cheek?" "No, but you might be right come to think on it. I wouldn't have minded being gifted with the subtleties of a political mind, as I always remember that saying about needing to be cagier than a budgie farmer to be a successful politician."
Dominic's newly found friend had not taken the idea of irony into consideration, but pondering on this fresh information at least proved enough of a distraction to provide Dominic with the opportunity to make his escape to another corner of the gallery, but the attempt for some inveigling with Naomi merely brought him into the quadrant dominated by a newly invigorated Derek Pannier, who was still basking in the attention brought about by his highly onerous duties in keeping a close eye on matters of law and order in his capacity as a Parish Constable. "Only this afternoon I was called into action."
It required something of a leap of the imagination to envisage just what heavy crime-fighting action Derek could have participated in at his rather venerable age. As it turned out, what he had classed as falling within his field of operation on this day was not exactly the sort of action that was likely to be guessed correctly within the first few hours. Appositely, it took what seemed like an interminable length of time for Derek to relate just how he had come to the rescue of a bus driver who discovered that he had left the window of his cab open too wide in the windy conditions of this afternoon once his route card had been picked up by a through draught as the vehicle was stationary and he was concentrating on taking a couple of fares. The action of the driver leaping around on all sides of the road, verges and pavement like he had hot coals in his shoes took place some hundred yards behind the bus stop from where it had been lifted by the wind.
Ever the master of making newcomers feel at home and at their ease, Derek decided to take Dominic under his wing with a few choice words as to what to expect in the wide world of ringing. "You'll find this ringing lark is all go, one is constantly up and down like a lavatory seat. What do you think of our church, be it ever so humble?"
Dominic managed to mumble a complimentary remark of a monosyllabic nature, which he hoped would be sufficient to satisfy Derek, but obviously he really didn't know the fine-spun nature of the man who known by some as being "Mr.Middlemyte". "This is one of the best kept towers you know." Derek thought worth passing on to Dominic, who in turn rather ungraciously suggested that the ringing-room might well benefit from a touch of feng shui. "I don't really know much about it." Derek admitted. "Although my wife says feng shui was invented to cater for those with more disposable income than they know what to do with."
Dominic was determined not to allow Derek to have the definitive say on this issue, and felt confident in pointing out what he saw as the poor qualitative value of the adjacent table. On learning that it was a papier-mâché construction made him even more dismissive of it. "Are you sure that it's safe putting so many things on it?" "It's survived since 1890 so it's been quite reliable all things considered."
Dominic was not of a sagacious enough mould so as to be capable of sweeping this reversal under the carpet, but was saved somewhat by the late arrival of the other strong candidate for legate to posterity about Middlemyte, or at least in his own mind. The "Man of Wood" himself, Forrest Bore was not in the least bit embarrassed about introducing himself as the primary sponsor of much of the decor in the ringing room, which rather gave the game away as to the extent of wood within eye-shot. As becomes the British way, if there was a doubt as to what to make conversation about, then the weather would always suffice. "Blimey, it's suddenly got wet out there tonight!" Forrest boomed at the first person he encountered on the gallery, which happened to be Dominic, who took the brunt as Forrest carelessly shook the water from his overcoat in random directions. "Saturated!" Dominic inadvertently agreed. "Ah, you're that prospective politician I've been hearing about." The woodsman surmised. "How do you know that?" An unnerved Dominic wanted resolved. "You're already using words that don't make sense to the man in the street, saying that it's saturated gets people imagining that it's raining cholesterol or chucking down beef dripping." "I take it that you haven't got a lot of time for politics." "Now that's where you'd be wrong, I like my politics now and then; they're nearly all a bunch of crooks, but all the more reason to keep your eye on them. Which lot are you with then, the Tories?"
Dominic managed to remain outwardly composed despite beginning to seethe inside. "No, I'm with the present incumbents." "Well, give your lot their due; I got my first leg up in business during dear old Harold Wilson's time or darling Harold as Alf Garnett used to call him. You wouldn't be old enough to remember Dutch elm disease and Till Death Us Do Part, but that was bloody good business for us, so I've got a soft spot for Labour." "You obviously aren't very well briefed on politics, as that shambles of a party was a totally different animal." Dominic insisted. "You're telling me, they might have been a bunch of donkeys, but it's this lot now that are taking us for a ride." Forrest was quick to notice Naomi's beckoning in their general direction. "Ay aye, it looks like it might be your turn on the oche again."
Dominic felt it a great relief to take hold of a rope, even though this was no more than a convenient pretext now than it had been earlier in the week, but at least he was spared time in the verbal company of what he considered a collection of the most boorish bunch of rusticated village idiots that could still exist in the country today.
Naomi might as well have been talking in some foreign language when she called the bells round into jacks, jokers, see-saw and tittums. "What the hell does all this jargon mean?" Dominic questioned in a tone approaching that of a whine. "Tittum tittum tittum. Can you not hear it? Derek Pannier chipped in much to the disconcertion of an already baffled Dominic.
After being assailed by all and sundry in the down-time between rings the last time, Dominic made a spurious excuse about exploring the finer architectural details of the church's interior, something he imagined to guarantee a break from having to endure unwanted subjects of discourse. Peace was short lived with the arrival of the self-styled Mrs.Balloon, which was almost certainly not her real name, who came staggering into the church with a couple of kit-bags full of paraphernalia pertaining to the temporary embellishment of the relevant aisles in preparation for a wedding the next day. Dominic hardly felt inclined to lend a hand as she struggled with having overloaded herself; instead he tried to ignore her presence by staring intently at some fine chancel work. Her green apparel rather announced Mrs.Balloon and her general brief, although she clearly had expertise with floral decorations as well as inflatable material from her current trappings. "Mrs.Balloon & Your Wedding - A Marriage Made in Heaven" announced the slogan in bulbous lettering across her chest.
Mrs.B swiftly set about titivating the hotspots with a myriad array of flowers, bows, ribbon, et al, thus bringing her within range of Dominic, who had left himself with little or no room to edge away further without having to make some verbal acknowledgement. She let out an obvious affectation of oral frustration at having been let down by her supposed help that had not shown up for this important job. "Biggest job of the week, and I get let down by my help again." She lamented to Dominic.
Dominic was not keen to incite a conversation, but thought he had better make some obvious comment that would be merely sufficient to help him get back past her and away to safety. "Wedding?" "Absolutely, but you wouldn't think it was anything of importance if you were to go by my supposed help, I tell you, the only contribution she seems to make is coming up with our logos, like this." She pointed to her present apparel. "We don't blow things out of proportion and catchy things like that."
Mrs.Balloon handed Dominic one of her business cards despite his mild protestations that he was not in imminent danger of availing himself of her services. "I can't think of any circumstance offhand that might require me to call in a professional inflator." "You never know when such a day might come, we cater for most inflatable work, and it's a much wider brief than many people are aware of it being."
Dominic was not inclined to delve any further into the variety of inflatable products that Mrs.B may stock as politicians and items of that nature had not been happily matched down the years. "Have I seen you on the television?" She enquired having caught a longer glimpse of his face. Dominic had indeed made a couple of fleeting politically based appearances at off-peak hours which the egotist in him couldn't deny. "Would I have heard of you?"
Dominic thought it highly unlikely that she would have heard of him, but after she started to trill that she was becoming convinced that he was a weatherman, against his better nature he decided to divulge his name to her in order to shut her up. His surname of Bowskill gave her new ideas as to where she might have seen him. "Are you from a family of archers?"
Dominic finally snapped. "Yes, I'm one of the Archers, and I come from Ambrose, and I have to put ooh-ah into all my sentences, satisfied?" "Charming, and it's Ambridge, not Ambrose." "Do I look as if I really care?" "No, you don't care, we can all see that." Mrs.B was getting as aerated as one of her balloons.
By the time that nine o'clock had crept up on proceedings it had become obvious to Dominic that this was surely not the way to go about getting close to Naomi, and with the guarantee of sharing a table with her for Sunday lunch then having to endure all these assorted yokels had served what purpose it ever could. Such a diversion in the pleasant surrounds of the conservatory at Dennis and Shirley's house should have made for a sure-fire change of scene, atmosphere and peripheral company. The only drawback was that Dominic considered that his uncle had the capability to portray the hideous traits of the crowd he had suffered with on the Friday evening all rolled into one.
Shirley felt as if she had warned Dennis nearer one hundred times than ten times to avoided bringing politics into the conversation over lunch for fear of making a ghastly spectacle in front of their guest. She may only have witnessed a couple out of several dozen serious verbal sparring bouts between uncle and nephew, but that was plenty to convince her that this was neither the time nor the place for such mud-slinging. Unfortunately, having a wannabe Prime Minister for a nephew meant that temptation was all too great for either protagonist. Virtually any subject though was readily convertible into the metaphorical political football to be kicked around, and once Dennis started comparing Dominic to one of George Galloway's lickspittles, and Dominic compared his uncle to the little Bohemian corporal. To make matters worse, uncle and nephew both had it imprinted in their minds as to Naomi's underlying political leaning to the left and the right, thus they were susceptible to random canvassing of her opinion, with Dennis winning the battle for the loudest display of throwing weight around verbally. "This government runs the country like it's in opposition, flagging up initiatives that never get initiated, all there is shameless window-dressing." "People like you don't appreciate the years of plush living you've enjoyed on the back of the labours of Tony and Gordon." Dominic evangelised. "Some people might think it's all very highbrow to be discussing politics around the dinner-table, but I think most people are of the opinion that it is barely above the level of some bacchanalian orgy for bad manners when you have guests." Shirley snapped. Dennis knew that tone of voice required an immediate cessation of the emetic and the requisite dose of something emollient, like praising the lunch that was primarily down to his wife. "As the saying goes, a good meal doesn't repeat itself." "I think we've got three different greens here, we've got one Bethnal Green, one village green and one College Green." Dominic sneered, embarrassed as he was by what he saw as a very crude use of the language to praise a meal.
This comment actually elicited a perceptible giggle from Naomi, much to Dominic's surprise, although it flew straight over the head of Dennis as the College Green reference didn't mean anything to him on first hearing, although it did briefly start him off on reminiscing about the days of making do with meals derived from a tu'penny ha'penny hambone back in his youth in Hackney, as he so eloquently put it. The fact that Naomi voiced her opinion on the three greens illuminated Dennis enough to embolden him to have his say on what he thought of the ruling elite by the Thames. "Bloody metropolitan chattering classes crap is all you find on the grass at Westminster." Dennis blazed. "There croaks the last gasp of the working class one-track mind Tory." Dominic countered. "I'm so sorry about this." Shirley apologised profusely to Naomi, who in turn insisted that she was not perturbed by the bickering as she had been getting paid to listen to a series of rants on stage with the Scottish comedian as she called him as if he was as accursed as the Scottish play. "It's to be expected with the frustrations of politics, as if you happen to be a back-bencher in the House of Commons you only get a maximum seven minutes to have your say in front of one man and a dog, not necessarily David Blunkett, that was metaphorically speaking, whereas you can embark on a lecture tour and reach tens of thousands of people."
As the weather discernibly perked up, it was suggested by Shirley that they all decamp to the garden by way of unwinding from a variegated lunch. This slight change in perspective engendered a change in the subject matter for conversation. Given the level of intensive gardening that appeared to take place in Naomi's garden then Dennis could well understand how her back-garden came to be a squabbling battleground for several prospective pairs of robins who regularly spied loads of potential nourishment amidst the oft disturbed soil, but given that her plot was like a pocket-handkerchief in size compared to his acreage he would have expected things to at least even themselves out. "We seem to have the singular most boring collection of birds going around here." "Come on Dennis, it's not that bad, we see the occasional tit." Shirley chipped in. "Yes, but that's only because we've got me nuts out there... I mean nut-feeders, hanging up all over the garden. The odd tit here and there hardly makes for a summer. We don't get visited by any goldfinches or goldencrests, or whatever they are? There's lots of those tiddly greyish brown birds, what you call 'em, dunnies?" "Dunnocks." Naomi helpfully corrected him. "I think dunnies might be an Australasian relative." She added thoughtfully. "I'm damned sure they must be brown if they do exist." Dennis concluded, having been visited by a brainwave as to the ignorance he had displayed. "You're always in with a chance of seeing an odd number of them because I seem to recall that both sexes often have more than one partner so it doesn't really need any extra information." Naomi so impressed them with her snippet of trivia concerning the sexual proclivities of the dunnock that she was entreated to divulge more secrets of our feathered friends.
By the end of the afternoon Dennis and Dominic were still consumed by their battle to win the vote from this single person constituency that was Naomi and both clung to the belief that they were victorious and that the other was merely clutching at straws. Rather like an underground fire, pockets of flaming argument kept flaring up time and again no matter how hard Shirley tried to damp down them down. The battleground had moved on to modern art when Naomi finally broke cover as to where she really stood on an issue, rather than sticking to keeping both sides happy for the sake of expedience. Naomi's take on what constituted a good painting was based upon whether she felt capable of ever emulating it. Dominic was shocked, as he really thought that she would be far more open-minded. Naomi was surprised herself as she was under the impression that he had been to at least one of her arts-venue performances alongside Jamie Stuce where she fought the same verbal battle with him. "Obviously you overestimate my talents to think that I can do acting of different characters with a host of peccadilloes and accents from all around the world, I would have thought you would have noticed something as transparent as that. So with that in mind, would I be right in assuming that I was classed as the village green earlier on?" Naomi asked pointedly of Dominic. "Well, yes." He somewhat burbled in reply "From what I hear you perceive rural types to be made up of in-breeders who spend most weekends either cheese rolling down hillsides, shin-kicking or bog-snorkelling. Then you say that you like classical music; would Holst and Elgar count?" "Obviously." "Then how the hell do you think they got the inspiration for most of their music? And composers like Percy Grainger, Delius, they used to go out into the countryside and listen to the locals and yokels singing and the prevailing dialects."
So that effectively was the end of that as far as Dominic and Naomi were concerned, not that there was ever much of a that as far as she had been concerned, not that Dennis was at all upset about this situation, for several reasons. As it was she was due much more welcome male attention from several thousand miles away.
The first time someone complimented Naomi on being her mother's daughter she was unaware of the saying and took it in a totally literal sense as stating the obvious, and as something approaching sarcasm, but by the most recent instance she took it with the regard that it was meant; although it crossed her mind that it might be a more accurate description to compare her with her grandmother. This was never more applicable than now when news came through to Naomi that the adorable man who was primarily responsible for giving her the chance to escape from a lifetime of conventionality was heading back to the country for a brief working -holiday. If there was one thing that Naomi recalled of her grandmother it was the cheering up that she used to perform for this often sulky and heart-rendered child, and her regular quotations of Mr.Micawber, especially that something serendipitous would turn up. Little, if anything, could compete with the wondrous Mark Clancy.
Naomi wanted to get an early night if at all possible as she rightly anticipated that sleep would not be easily achieved amidst so much expectation of what was ahead and contemplation of what had been previously. She wasn't unduly worried about oversleeping, rather that she have a little time early after dawn for basking in that drowsy period just before rousing herself. Mornings such as this that dawned awash with a potent and tingling mixture capable of playing havoc with the stomach muscles were few and far between, but all things considered were well worth the risk.
The doorbell rang, and Naomi knew that it simply must be mark, but Ruthie suspected as much also, and she was equally infatuated by him if primarily for his star-making potential. Ruthie had still not grown out of being infatuated by dreams of stardom, fame and fortune. The sisters were roughly equidistant from the front door, if from differing areas of the house, but Naomi concluded that Ruthie must have slid down the banister to get to the door at the speed she did. Naomi had started for the door at something more than the normal pace initially, but on hearing that her sister had got there first, she slowed to almost a standstill, rocking back and forth as if dithering as to whether she could go through with this immensity.
Once Mark had got past the human equivalent of an over-excited puppy in the shape of Ruthie, it was Naomi's turn. Other than a slightly deeper tan, a change of clothing and subtle trimming of hairstyle, Mark looked exactly the same as when Naomi last saw him. Obviously there should be little reason to expect a great facial disparity within a year or so, but to Naomi it seemed of substantial interest. Tall, rangy and effortlessly Canadian, despite many years away from home for the most part, Mark had never been late were Naomi was concerned, or anything less than immaculate. "Hi, Charlie!" Came the salutation. Should anyone else greet her with such an unfeminine nickname then Naomi would have felt distinctly less than flattered, but Mark was totally absolved from any annoyance after likening her to Charlie Chaplin some years ago. There was no physical resemblance, but it had been the relentless thirst for self-improvement in the years directly after her official education had ended which had caught his eye as resembling the new word a day learning that Charlie Chaplin devoted himself to in order to compensate for the missed years in his education. Having gone slightly AWOL at a crucial stage of her schooldays, Naomi had been at an early stage in her quest to rectify mistakes that she had made with her education when their paths first crossed, thus the die was cast for this highly personalised nickname.
Though he had recently joined the thirty-something ranks, Mark retained all the expedition and sharp-suited vigour of ten years earlier, with the added bonus of exuding an air of knowing authority. There was plenty of scope for Naomi to admire his various physical assets as he was attired in something much more casual than what had been the norm in the past. Once again it soon became apparent that she was not going to be disappointed by Mark, who immediately made Naomi feel extraordinarily special that he could spend the last couple of years living in hotels in Las Vegas that took nearly half an hour to walk the length of that were furnished to the hilt, and awash with hot females, yet here he was readily eschewing all such temptations. The special bond that they had was so uncomplicated, something which suited them both. Other than being born and raised continents apart and living with an ocean and three-quarters of the breadth of the United States in-between they were incredibly compatible and comfortable in each other's company.
From the first moment of laying eyes on Mark once more a window conveniently appeared for time to fly out of as it became of little or no consequence, although it was of consequence to the taxi driver who had delivered Mark here, and still had his meter running in the expectation of picking up an extra passenger. The plan for the better part of the day was for Mark to take Naomi punting, and what time remained after that was open to a capricious wind. Having had so long to wait for this reuniting in the flesh, both Naomi and Mark were of the nature that allowed them to hold on a mere half an hour longer before throwing off the shackles of coyness, thus they contented themselves with mundane conversation in front of (well behind really) the taxi-driver. "So, is there anything in the provincial news that I might want to be brought up to speed on?"
Knowing of Mark's acute interest in sport, Naomi decided to start with a brief recap on what she considered the most salient news that may not have made any waves on the other side of the Atlantic. Snippets such as the Champions League, FA Cup, Premiership, transfers, and the new England football coach. Soccer not being a hot topic across the pond, very little of this news had filtered through to Mark. "Last I heard over Stateside you were getting that Brazilian guy from the Portuguese national team. They said he won the last World Cup, but the name's gone, all I can recall is the nickname, Deep Fill, or something like that."
Naomi corrected him that she thought he was actually known as "Big Phil" Scolari. This seemed to tally with what was lurking in the deeper recesses of his short-term memory. "I don't suppose you would have wanted an England coach named after a pizza anyway."
With news on the eastern side of the pond concluded, Mark filled Naomi in on some news from the rest of the world that he thought might not have made these shores, such as the inside gossip on Brad and Angelina's baby, Shiloh Nouvel, whose name sounded like toilet paper for a cowboy to Naomi, but in all honesty, the desire to discover just how much each other was prepared to uncover to read between the lines of by way of divulging all meaningful attachments was the greatest. Mark had rarely if ever been short of being brilliant at massaging Naomi's sensibilities, and he knew it to be safer talking about Naomi's interests, thus he was all ears to learn about the now woebegone Dominic, who even his uncle had rather disowned, as unaware as Naomi was about this not being a great hardship in the eyes of Dennis. There were plenty of things that Naomi could disparage about Dominic that she was thoroughly spoilt for choice. On learning Dominic's full name, Mark declared it to be immensely pompous from his point of view. "I stopped belittling other people's names since I was enlightened on the origins of my surname." Naomi admitted. "What's wrong with that? Timbrel is a fantastically aesthetic name... it's sort of a tambourine as I recall." "Yes, well, I used to think it was something to do with timber, but then I discovered that Timbrel is supposedly derived from a cart for transporting dung around in, so it ill behoves one as the saying goes." Even though, relatively speaking, Naomi was by far the more local of the two, Mark undoubtedly knew the twists and turns of the river around here far better than she did, having spent time on this stretch of water during his University days, thus she could relax in his sure-footedness or sure-puntedness if such a description existed. So it came as no surprise that he recalled a good short-term mooring place along the way. During this centric interlude, as they lay on the grass under the shelter of a tree, the world and its parochial contents could pass by them at a leisurely pace. With the mammalian and wildfowl wildlife drifting across the verdant backdrop Naomi was now in her element, and when someone like she voiced her observations on frogspawn, bumble bees and peacock butterflies, it was like a sexual aphrodisiac for the ears, but Mark was a million times more subtle than someone like Mark at responding, even though he hardly needed to be.
It may have been the isolated thistle that a languidly roaming arm of Mark's came into contact with that shunted the conversation toward the recent fruition of her Brighton re-teaming, by popular demand, with Jamie Stuce after the success of their previous run at theEdinburgh Festival. If most people striving to be in the public eye were desperate for the oxygen of publicity then Naomi could have easily beaten David Blaine for holding her breath for wanting recognition.
Mark had many influential people on side who considered him to be as much of a spotter of potential as he did himself, but he never claimed to know anything intrinsic about how comedy was put together. What he thought he did know was that Jamie Stuce had the sound of someone self-absorbed and lacking a generous spirit. To hear that Naomi generally agreed was pure music to Mark's ears as from what he'd gleaned about this so-called cult comedian was that he took pedantry to extremes. Mark had what he considered a proud history of making a point of avoiding dictation to Naomi as to what career moves he thought she should or shouldn't make, instead he merely passed on his own observations in the briefest terms, even though he had become noticeably more conservative in his outlook since he turned thirty. Off the top of her head the only thing she could of think of that Jamie and she agreed on was the inarguable fact that people were prepared to pay money to see them on stage, and that she did get paid satisfactorily. On everything else it was hardly surprising that the paying public were fully of the belief that anything explosive could happen, with Jamie often starting a ruckus with the audience, so much so that Naomi feared one day there might be a public order issue to be considered.
As tempting as it was to hark on about the demerits of someone such as Jamie who seemed to have no compunction in violently hating most all of society, Mark refrained from making any further comment on points of view that would only serve to cloud the important issue of how proud he was of Naomi and the way she conducted herself, especially if she possessed the forbearance to work with people who were so diametrically opposed to her in so many aspects. He liked to think that he knew enough about comedy to know that tension often worked as well as timing. There were no such worries with this coupling, no bitter discord over European amalgamation, surreal or structured art, legalisation of or education about narcotics and republican versus monarchical. As Naomi so eloquently put it: "I might be of the American Pie generation, but I prefer the old 1940's movie The Man Who Came to Dinner rather than The Man Who Came Over the Dinner."
The weather had done them proud, and consequently they could feel the warmth of their skin through such thin material, and this coupled with more than a hint of sexual longing increasing their body temperatures, enabled Mark to resume his fondling in the higher reaches, this time confident of not being faced with a rebuttal during the obligatory exploration of Naomi's upper body with his hands and mouth. The entwining continued with a comfortable intensity for several minutes, mixed with some excitable tugging of light clothing, as both succumbed to losing their usually reserved demeanours, leading to some hefty gasps for air from Naomi which betrayed her comparative lack of practice at this sort of thing. "Now, aren't you glad that we have the punt and not the pedalo?" Mark enquired, in light of the accessible leg and arm room that would not have been available had they chosen the latter option. As he teasingly ran his lips and tongue over the nape of Naomi's neck and breast-bone, Mark swiftly picked up on a moment of dubiety from her body, and broke off from his closest attention. "Are you worried about the spontaneity of it all?"
Naomi lifted herself up slightly from her prone position and for someone feeling generally so warm and content she was becoming wet enough for Mark to palpably notice. "I can hardly lie to you?" "I would hope not."
Naomi remembered her grandmother telling her of the profusion of hay lofts around here that her rather scandalous sister used to make best advantage of with Italian POW farm labourers back in the 1940's, but she considered herself more of a soft lights and cosily furnished bedroom type. No further words were needed to state that the day was long and ripe for its acme later.
Naomi was nervous about taking Mark back home to see out the remainder of his time in town, despite all the positives of his previous visits, her parents liking him and his being something of a catch of catches for those in her coterie for whom such details mattered significantly. Naomi's mother had never forgotten how she was initially taken by the way Mark would drape his jacket over one or other shoulder, to be sure, it was nothing new, but he seemed to exactly complement that style, and it must have run in the family to find that so immensely sexy. It was all very formal that first time around, a time that seemed something like twice as long ago as it actually was, but now she was no longer a teenager, and felt terribly awkward about the possible view of her as being a home-bird. In normal times she wouldn't display any flinching about still living within the only family unit she had ever known, especially as she had a major influence on the character and direction of the home and unit, but having someone special like Mark seeing her still in this domain made her uneasy as to what impression he might well form.
Even her diligently compiled collection of wines from most continents which resided in a rack in the kitchen suddenly seemed parsimonious when compared to the extensive choice which Mark almost certainly had access to as the norm. What she normally considered as a rather exclusive collection became merely modest at best right this minute. The exclusivity was more based on the unheralded locations from which the wines came rather than the price tag, and as such their primary role was for show. Naomi was mightily relieved once Mark, who was much more the connoisseur than she, started perusing the bottles and commenting favourably, especially as he had still to reach the Canadian white that was naturally the star of the show. "I would say that you're scoring highly on the discerning scale here, Australia and New Zealand of course, ooh, Argentina and Portugal, that's very forward thinking of you. Hey, you have sniffed out some excellent white wines here, even a decent Brazilian... ah, I'm not surprised about this, and I remember you liking the Alsace wines... and a couple of pleasant English numbers, sensible as it's roughly the same grape."
Naomi immediately knew when his vision had alighted on the Canadian bottle amidst her personal stock. "Would that one be appropriate?" She asked with the accent on innocence.
Whichever comparison one cared to go after a frantic eleventh hour purging of anything not considered up to specification to pass the Mark test, Naomi's bedroom still didn't fill her with much above the level of dread. As Naomi scrabbled around to find something meaningful to put into the CD player and play at a sensually low volume, Mark wandered over to the other window and enquired as to whether she wanted those curtains drawn as well, thus he gained a prime view of the back garden, dominated as it was by her vegetable plot. "Are all those rows of potatoes your handiwork?"
She was very matter of fact about her confirmation of her current crop of potatoes, spring onions and runner beans, although she actually felt flattered in the extreme that Mark seemed genuinely impressed by so mundane a part of her life as potatoes. This helped Naomi overcome her inhibitions as to letting him perceive her regular lifestyle, and virtually all that her life and possessions boiled down to when all was considered. If her potatoes and onions hadn't scared him off, then little else in her back catalogue was likely to deter him. "If only you could get the height of your bed lifted, then you and a friend of your choosing could lay on it and be able to look out on your crop." Mark envisioned. "I might be a bit straight-laced by today's standards, but I do know how a bed and a friend of my choosing are most harmoniously utilised." Naomi let it be known in a soft sibilant tone as if slightly embarrassed about being overheard by anyone else in the house.
Before they'd climbed the stairs, even reached the house, they both knew it was pretty much inevitable that there would be a denouement to all this. Whilst they lay there side by side, momentarily contemplating harvest time for the vegetables, making such a conscious decision did not readily come to their minds. They didn't even need to be transfixed by gazing at one another, as eye contact only needed to be minuscule to allow their mutual feelings to filter into a whole. Mark kissed Naomi's left ear lobe, moved down to her throat, and as he leant further over to sensuously caress her right shoulder she responded positively in kind. A reddish evening sunlight streamed into half the room and hit the back of the guitar-shaped clock that had been purposely turned to face the wall so as there could be no chance of them catching a glimpse of the time out of the corner of an eye. Their watches, which they had only recently put back on, found themselves deposited in the handiest receptacle, which happened to be amidst the bananas and nectarines in a modestly sized fruit bowl.
The assuaging music emanating from the CD had for some time been all rather superfluous as low level background music, but as dusk became apparent the passion soon became markedly more intense than earlier in the day, and if Naomi normally felt as if she was expected to act in character, well she had no such qualms this evening. At this languorous moment of satisfaction the lyrics of the Abba song quietly issuing from the CD player suddenly reached Naomi's hearing with crystal clarity, and they seemed so deliciously apposite. "Don't go sharing your emotions... don't go wasting your devotions... lay all your love on me." "We've killed off one of the precious few jokes I've ever managed to think of on my own."
On this rarest of occasions Mark was obviously perplexed. "In what way... I mean, how?" "I don't know if you're a great reader of surveys."
Mark willingly confessed that it had been known of him over the years for varying reasons. "We all have to spend some time in the dentist's waiting room." "Then you'll know that there's always these surveys about us spending so many years of our lives stuck in traffic jams, and so many weeks waiting for the gasman to turn up to read the meter." "Yes." "Well there was the study that implied we spend an average of eleven months of our lives making love, I never imagined that anyone wanting to take that much time off work to see if they could fit most of it in all at once, but I can see the temptation now."
It was a fittingly beautiful sky that evening as the taxi engine ticked over, whilst Naomi and Mark said their farewells in an understated way, with just a big hug and a fairly brief, yet to them, lingering kiss. There was no doubt in her mind that he would be back, and it would be a much shorter gap this time, thus she felt quietly assured that there was no need to treat this as a goodbye when it was so obviously no more than a classic au revoir. There was one more thing to be done before this day ended for Naomi, and that was to take the risk of turning on the radio to see what pot luck would serve up as "their song" for this day. Fate was smiling down upon her once again as she received something perfect for the occasion in - Keep This Fire Burning by Beverley Knight.