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Proceedings of the Byron Society, Vol. 2

An Introduction of Sorts

by Danny "Don Juan" Henrey

The flame-red Ferrari slid to an abrupt if largely controlled halt on the smooth grey cobbles, scattering in panic a knot of Japanese tourists, although the eldest of their number found himself pinned by his Burberry to the gates of Trinity. An extremely long pair of legs, concluded by black pumps, emerged from the driver’s side. The figure strode forward, and thick swoops of glossy black hair spilled almost to the waist of the crisp nurse’s uniform, as the striking vision rummaged in the front boot. Some moments later a silver-plated wheelchair stood assembled on the pavement, but the Ferrari’s other door had since gently opened and closed, and a piqued Artemisia Holland glimpsed her charge, a trim white-haired, dinner-jacketed blade, tottering accurately past the JCR staircase and into the gardens. With a shrug she set out after him, passing a porter by the lodge armed with a pair of blunt scissors, on his way to attempt to liberate the expensively-stapled sightseer.

The genial warmth of the late summer’s evening seemed to infuse the soft lawns and overblown roses with a rich, careless indolence, yet the scene they encompassed was of boisterous animation. Groups of Byronists, long parted, greeted each other with the joyful affection of the voyager for his homeland, as aged lips met and bony hands clasped each other impatiently.

"I never thought I’d see this," George said, sucking fragrant clouds from his no. 2 briar. "Not in my smegging lifetime — that’s what I reckoned!" He smoothed back his remaining wisps of snow-white hair and unconsciously fondled the black, lilac and crimson ribbon in his buttonhole, having lately been awarded the Galileo prize for his unique series of observations of heavenly bodies.

"Yah," agreed Robert. "The second O.U.B.S. Proceedings — and only forty seven years late!" Robert caressed the soft, luxuriously-bound presentation copy possessively. He was still sleek and trim, despite the many years of high living following the swift fortune he had made from publishing the work of leading Danish photographers, in which he had cunningly included several of his own photographs. He raised the Leica range finder, intently surveying the surrounding spectacle.

A long purple velvet marquee edged with thick coils of gold braid dominated the lawns, about which were scattered matching chairs and tables, groaning under the weight of salmanazers of champagne, lobster and foie gras canapés and huge silver ewers of multi-coloured jelly. A hot air balloon in the shape of a white unicorn was tethered twenty feet above the ground, under which a keen game of croquet was being fought with rosewood mallets and incandescent balls carved from yellow citrine, carnelian, black opal and lapis lazuli. The sounds of a chamber orchestra wafted from the Garden Quad, clashing incongruously with the racket from the bumper cars as they careered about in front of the library. The light was failing fast now, and portly servants lit tall, artfully arranged iron braziers with flaming brands, so that strange, fiery shadows danced around the company.

The white-haired blade surveyed the scene contentedly. He was about to leap on to a bumper car when a mellifluous voice called out happily, "Granduncle Porky! I say, Granduncle Porky!"

The geriatric roué and blonde undergraduate shared a lingering kiss of greeting, astonishing those nearby of more conventional upbringing.

"I’m just starting to get into the swing of things, Stephanie. Mind you, old fart that I am, I could use a pick-me-up. Could you spare a spot of E for your decrepit old rellie, my loveliest one?"

"Let’s see," Stephanie replied, fishing a flat, crescent-shaped velvet pillbox from the pocket of her flattering black-sequinned sheath dress. "Oh, I am sorry, Granduncle Porky, I’m fresh out! Hang on though — I do have some A, B1, B12, C, K, biotin and fish oil."

"Um, er, that’s OK, my darling. Well, you’d think that that lot could play something a bit jollier, eh? I’m rather into retro-gangsta at the moment — we shall see if they can lay down some well nasty Pubic Enemy or Fur Q?"

"But I think this is beautiful! It’s Steve Hoey’s Variations on a theme of Steve Hoey, conducted by the composer. He’s going to play the glockenspiel cadenza too!"

"Yes, he’s come a long way since I last shared an eave with him. So how’s collegiate life? One long round of decadence and debauchery, eh?"

"Wonderful! I got an alpha for my last essay on the late novels of Jeffrey Archer, scored the winning try in the rugger final against Balliol, have been elected to the Byron Society and I’m the first spear carrier in the Old Bill Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor."

"Mmmm … sounds fun. You know, it was the same with us. We always used to witter on about decadence and debauchery and so forth, but the nearest anyone ever got was cadging a second helping of treacle pud on Tuesday nights."

He lapsed into ruminative silence and regarded to bumper cars absently. Seated in a bright pink example, Mad Jack Schulze, a maniacal grin on his lined but ruddy chops, flew at the other cars, which parted at his advance, leaving him to career headlong into the wooden partition. He sailed through the air and landed high in the boughs of an oak, but immediately signalled that all was well and took a mighty swill from the bottle of vintage port in his pocket.

The night was coming alive now. Several curious souls joined a tethered a reluctant-looking ewe on the slopes of a hillock, upon which a bent but still tall figure was reading from a volume that rested on a jewel-encrusted Gothic pulpit. Next to him, on a long trestle, were stacked hundreds of paperback copies of the same volume.

"He’s been reading for more that eight hours now," Stephanie said. "I don’t know why, but somehow I feel sorry for him."

"Such is the hard way for misunderstood genius," Porky — or, as he was more properly known, Lord Todger of Cricklewood — replied. "My clever scheme for selling souvenir crystal vials of Thames water to German tourists was similarly unappreciated. Well, Lord Chief Justice Todd took a fairly dim view of it; lucky that we were at college together, or I might have got a bit more than a month’s probation."

Their exchange was interrupted by a hoarse, stentorian bawling sound, which, as Todger explained, was merely Senator Paretzky asking for more gravy with his pie and chips.

"Oh yes, and I hear that President Luntz is due here later," Stephanie observed, without great enthusiasm, but Todger’s attention had been drawn by dismayed cries of recognition from Fiona, Juliet and Amal, who rapidly retraced their steps and strode towards the MCR with Chippendalesque colossi on each arm. As if in reassurance, a renowned sculptress smiled brightly, reached down and unholstered a still-shapely, friendly bosom at Todger.

Ignoring a tray of tripe and cuttlefish vol-au-vents proffered by a shuffling snd somehow familiar figure clad in orange dinner jacket and a ragged white silk shirt that dangled jauntily over lime-green cycle shorts, and the concerned importuning of Artemisia, his features took on the abstracted, distant look of nostalgic reverie. The sight of that pert, amiable pink nipple was having an effect analogous to that which the famously dunked morsel of madeleine had had on Proust.

His mind flew back to a long, heedless summer’s afternoon in his youth. He was stretched out in a punt, sipping from a flute of Krug, its bubbles winking naughtily, as some poet or other had mentioned, at the brim. Long fingers reached out and his mouth closed on a ripe, juicy raspberry — yes, that was the very moment the sight of that fleshy, rosy papilla had conjured! Now memory jostled memory: he remembered how it had rained that afternoon, and how they had slid for yards barefoot across the velvet lawns, heavy with mirrors of warm rain; how his best friend had got drunk as a lord (which, as it happened, he was) that day and how they had left him naked, coated in chocolate sauce and ricicles, in St. Hilda’s JCR; how he had been spotted by his supervisor, Dr. Wordsmith, as they left their handiwork, and how hard she had swung the carpet beater at their next tutorial.

Still more memories came. Now it was a snowy winter’s eve, and he had trudged through the dark streets to the creamy light and warmth of his rooms and to a casual tea with friends of steaming mugs of Bovril, anchovy toast, quail bouillon, devilled crab, roast ham, pickled onions, lark’s eggs, Coronation chicken, pigeon pie, liver and bacon, kedgeree, cinnamon rolls, Devon fudge, chocolate-filled croissants, Fuller’s walnut cake, apple crumble, Danish pastries, scones and jam and, at the conclusion of this debauch of the senses, "sticky buns" (food could be so … stimulating to the young and energetic). He recalled how he had scaled college roofs with a crony, taking a slate from each until he had a complete set. He recollected reading Dr. Wordsmith the same essay for a third time in a row, and how pleased she had said she was with his progress. He thought back fondly to jovial dinners in his rooms, towards the end of which, in accordance with tradition, the person present who had the curliest hair was affectionately thrown out the window into Broad Street. The next term, other, maturer urges had led him to the Ballroom Dancing Society, where he had groped his way to new friendships. Then there was the excitement of his first flat, a modest four-room penthouse in North Oxford, and the jolly redecoration party after his flatwarming. And then, the formal dinners in hall on special occasions … the company of the Byronists, resplendent in black tie, or mini skirt, and gown; the silver candelabras and long, ancient oak benches; the old portraits and mellow panelling; the sherry, hock, claret, burgundy and port; the guest speaker dodging the broad rolls, potatoes and bones; the games of repartee, jest and insult; the restive atmosphere of romance and squelchy sounds of snogging and indigestion and, most of all, the poetry — the wonderful, uproarious, timeless, cynical, glorious poetry!

Well, time does play some funny tricks.