STEVE AND GEORGE
STEVE AND GEORGE
Two Character Studies
BEING A GOOD HOST TO STEVE
I had decided that it would be nice if Steve could stay for a few days in London, as he had felt somewhat bored, trapped in the wilds of Norwich. We hadn’t met in the flesh, and although he had my address, I thought it would be boorish if I were to just let him arrive and not pick him up from the station. So we arranged that he should ring me to tell me when he would be arriving and I made a point of being close to the entrance of the station at Norbury-sur-Mer when he arrived,
The train arrived, and as I had parked about a couple of minutes’ walk from the exit, in the sunshine, I was aware that it had pulled in, because a few people came out of the main doors from the ticket hall, and into the street outside.
Then Steve arrived. Although I had never met him, I knew that it was him immediately.
On his feet he wore what could only be described as the result of a successful but unwise mating between a pair of deck shoes and a pair of carpet slippers.
A jacket that defied even the term faux leather… It was fake leather of the most hideous and plastic variety… although “plastic” didn’t really describe it… Plastic, to me, implies a slight softness, a suppleness… the word implies a substance that has been moulded to take on a particular form, with give; with suppleness… but this jacket resisted that description… for who would, or could, have taken the time or wasted the energy in creating such a garment. This jacket, over a period of time… a period in which it had most decidedly fallen out of fashion (but not before it had fallen out of favour), had folded where it had been bent… and cracked where it had folded.
It was too large for him, but if it had been worn as a jacket, it may not have looked quite so unattractive… but he had draped it over his shoulders as nonchalantly, yet as provocatively, as a thirties dowager would have draped a fox fur over hers. The contrast between the former and the latter was less than pleasing to the eye.
He had obviously decided to wear it in this manner to give maximum viewing space to the black string vest which he wore. This garment was also made on the generous side; the prime reason for his wearing it being to show off his décolletage; that being somewhat pale, but chubby flesh, out of which sprouted, randomly, tufts of hair of an indefinite colour.
He wore combat trousers. Not khaki, but in shades of black, grey and off white. What more can I say?
What more can one say? Nothing; apart from adding that he carried his cigarettes and lighter in one hand and a wallet and mobile ‘phone in the other, but in a manner that emulated Joan Crawford looking down over the balustrade in the film ‘Grand Hotel’… It emulated Miss Crawford in the way in which he held these objects, with palms and wrists held up to the sky, but the aforementioned Miss Crawford would possibly not have realised how she was being mimicked… or if she had, would definitely have shuddered.
Ah! ‘Tis an onerous task, being a trend setter and gay icon.
May I here hasten to add that by "trend setter and gay icon" I am referring to La Crawford, and not to Steve.
He stood there, looking vacantly about him. For one brief moment, I was tempted to drive away and return home. But how would I explain my absence to him if he rang and said that he had arrived? Or worse, if he remembered my address and eventually found his way to my front door?
Making sure that I wasn’t being observed, I got out of the car and walked quickly towards him. As I approached, he noticed me and turned a seemingly vacant gaze towards me. I have always been a kindly soul; noted for my caring and protective nature. So I chose my words carefully:
“I hope you haven’t been standing there looking like that for long. I am surprised that you weren't arrested. Quick, get in the car”.
He sauntered slowly, far too slowly for my liking, towards my car.
“Did you come on the train looking like that?” I asked, hoping that nobody I knew would see me with him. “Quickly; get in the car,” indicating my vehicle which I had parked close by. Taking what seemed to me an unnecessarily long time to do so, he put the case he was carrying onto the back seat and slid into the front passenger seat. I held my hand out… He looked at it vaguely for a few seconds and then held it in a limp grasp.
“Hello, Steve,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, and then, as an afterthought, “Ah!”
I was immediately reminded of George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent.
George: A thumbnail Study
In my youth, I had known a rather strange and interesting Anglo-Argentine who went by the name of George Somerville… Somehow, Somerville wasn’t enough of a surname for George, and, as his father had been rather remiss in not allocating him a grand enough surname to suit his character, out of kindness on my behalf, I filled the vacuum which his presence required. So George Somerville became George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent. At this stage, I cannot recollect whether he showed any gratitude for my thoughtfulness or not…or whether in fact he felt any gratitude: but I had felt it my duty to be of assistance, and I think I fulfilled one of the obligations that friendship requires. As far as I know he has carried that surname with him to the present day.
George was quite capable of conducting a conversation using only the interjection or exclamation: “Ah!” and he had such presence that few questioned him.
George looked remarkably like a rather tall frog. He was not, as many of us would suppose, of a similar hue to a frog, which are known to be either green, or greenish. George was not green in the slightest. In fact, he was a rather subdued shade of chalk.
So he was tall, with a frame that was angular and skinny to the nth degree, but in consequence, he was a perfect clothes horse. Whatever he wore, he had presence and his dress implied authority. He had what in earlier time would have been described as gooseberry eyes, set in a face that had all the arrogance of a Renaissance Prince; a pale and haughty demeanour. This haughtiness was a result, I suspected, of myopia and, I am certain, a mental vagueness which was monumental. George had the capacity to gaze from his myopic, gooseberry eyes, all the way down his aquiline nose in such a way that would momentarily paralyse into submission the staunchest of human beings; even the staunchest of the staunch; Polish labourers and spinster schoolteachers had been known to quail before his gaze.
GEORGE SAVES THE DAY
There had been a memorable incident when King Peter of Yugoslavia had been visiting the city of Perth, West Australia, where we lived. Not together, may I add, but we lived in the same State.
Somehow George (George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent) had become enmeshed in King Peter’s retinue. At one dramatic moment, a slavering Balkan Freedom Fighter had broken through the crowd of sycophants and hand kissers that surrounded the King, mouthing what appeared to be obscenities, republican slogans and rallying cries, all in Serbo-Croat. The King and his party drew back in horror and dismay; George, our George, (G de L de S de S de C de B de T esq.) turned his supercilious and haughty gaze upon the miscreant.
George uttered but one word… one sound.
“Ah!” he said.
The Slavering Balkan Freedom Fighter, albeit more heavily bearded and hirsute than your common or garden Freedom Fighter needs to be, fell back before that gaze, seemingly mortally wounded, and the Regal Party moved on.
Apparently, later that day, an official from the Royal Party sought out George, and with tears filling his grateful eyes, clasped George’s hands in his; kissed him three times, one on the right cheek, one on the left cheek and one on the right again, and thanked him profusely for saving the day.
“Ah!” George is reported to have replied.
I LEND A HELPING HAND
George, as I have already stated, was pale of face, and upon inspection, proved to be pale of limb and torso, and, no doubt, of other parts of his epidermis.
We lived in West Australia; the state that should have been called the Sunshine State, except Queensland had hijacked the name. West Australia: the state in which anybody, at that time, who wasn't as brown as possible (not only in the Summer, but in the Winter, also), stood out like a sore thumb. George’s face, in its almost British paleness, stood out, not so much like a sore thumb, but like a beacon… a very pale and obvious beacon.
I decided, out of the goodness of my heart, to set things to rights.
If George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent couldn't fit into the general colour scheme all by himself, or with the help of his non-cooperative skin, then I would do it for him.
What I liked about George was his willingness to help me in all my little plans and ventures.
“George,” I said to him one day, “George. You are too pale. You don’t fit in”.
George looked at me lugubriously, as was his wont.
“Everybody else,” said I, attempting to soften the blow, “is browner than you… Even Maureen… and she’s a redhead”.
“Ah!” said George. “Maureen, yes”.
“So we’re going to make you fit in,” I said. I stressed the use of the abbreviation “we’re”; it would make him feel more involved.
We were in George’s flat. He thought that that was the end of the conversation. He reached for a magazine he had been reading, and started to read an article on… for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was about; it can’t have been important.
“I’ll run you a bath,” I said, “You go to the chemist and get a packet of Permanganate of Potash”.
George looked at me quizzically, but, as usual with George, also trustingly.
And so, off he went.
I was just about to turn on the bath taps, when I took a mental peek at George’s face. He, indeed, was pale. I rushed out of the door of his flat, and leaning over the balcony, I called out to his departing figure, “Better get two packets”.
“Ah!” said George.
It was a blazing hot day in December. The air about his departing figure shimmered; almost crackled. Inside the flat it was relatively cool. I started to run his bath; a tepid bath, not too hot, not too cold.
A short aside:
When I had been a much younger person, my father had been gardening and had driven a garden fork into his big toe. It had hurt, obviously, and there had been a good deal of blood. My mother, having been a nurse, had known what to do. She had removed his Wellington boot, which he had been wearing (Note well: Wellington boots are poor protection against gardening forks) and made him put his foot into an enamel bowl of water to which she had added “Condy's Crystals". This is the common name for “Permanganate of Potash” or Potassium Permanganate
The crystals dissolved in the water, producing a deep purple solution. The colour was amazing. Apparently my mother had used this to clean the wound in my father’s toe. However, not only did it make the most amazingly beautiful purple and magenta solution, but after a short period of immersion, the skin of my father’s foot took on a rich orangey-brown colouring.
I was fascinated, and thought that, eventually, I would have cause to be pleased to have discovered the quality of this wonderful substance.
I was not disappointed. It took some years, but I knew that if I waited long enough, I would find a use for my acquired knowledge. Permanganate of Potash and George’s fair skin; a marriage made in heaven.
My Story Now Takes on a Bit of Colour
Eventually the bath had filled with water. I turned off the taps, and as I did so, I heard the sound of George re-entering the flat. He carried a paper bag in his hand; a paper bag that proclaimed in bold blue letters ‘Hugh Howling, Chemist’.
“Got it?” I enquired.
George looked at me through his dark sunglasses, smiled vaguely in my direction, and waved the paper bag at me, as if to confirm that he had fulfilled his part of the plan satisfactorily.
“Bath’s ready,” I announced.
George and I moved to the bathroom. The white enamel bath was almost full to the brim; only three inches from the lip, with sparkling water which had taken on the palest blue-green shade. George peered into the bath with absolute trust on his pale face, his aquiline nose pointing at the surface. He turned to look at me quizzically.
Ceremoniously I opened the white paper bag and took out the small white card box on which was proclaimed proudly: Condy's Crystals and below it, Potassium Permanganate. I opened the little box and scattered the dark purple crystals into the bath. Immediately there was an explosion of colour; the brightest and most vibrant purple; verging on magenta. I bent down and swirled the water with my left hand. The colour was so intense the water looked almost opaque. George watched me carefully, but quietly, and then, as I had the other box in the bag, I took that out also, and added the crystals to the already dramatically dark purple water.
I could almost hear George’s eyebrows rising towards his hairline. George who was seldom if ever shocked or even noticeably interested in anything; George who took virtually everything in his stride; George whose calmness at all times was monumental, said; “Gosh!” and then, just in case I hadn’t taken in his excitement, he said, “Ah!”
“This’ll do it.” I said, “Get in!”
He turned his head slowly in my direction. Then his eyes moved slowly and carefully to the bath. Once more he turned towards me.
“It’s purple.” He said in beautifully clipped accents.
“I know. Trust me”.
“Could you remind me why we are doing this?” he asked.
“You’re too pale. We’re fixing that”.
“I’m not sure whether I want to be purple,” He took a deep breath and looked long and carefully at the bath.
“I know,” I said again, “You don’t want to be too pale do you?” I asked rhetorically. “Trust me”.
As I left the bathroom, I could hear George removing his clothing and then lowering himself into the water.
“How long do I have…” he started.
“Not long,” I called, “I’ll let you know. Make sure you’re completely covered with the water; we want it to work properly, don’t we”.
“Ah!” said George.
It was a hot day. I went into the sitting room. Stretching out in the cane armchair, I started to leaf through the pages of the magazine George had been reading. The flat was peaceful. In the distance I could hear the gentle sounds of children playing on the Esplanade, down by the River. The “Putt! Putt! Putt! Putt!” sound of a motor scooter’s two stroke engine. Calm and peace pervaded the flat. I must have dropped off to sleep.
Suddenly I awoke by the sound of George’s voice. It must have been a good half hour later. His voice had a slight edge to it:
“I think I’m done”.
I opened my eyes. He stood in the doorway to the sitting room. He was stark naked. His hands held protectively in front of him to secure his modesty.
“How do I look? I’ve looked in the bathroom mirror, and I can’t see any change… Except there’s something on my chin”.
The bathroom mirror he was referring to was a small shaving mirror, attached to the wall at eye level. He had only seen his face in this mirror, as there wasn’t a full length mirror in the bathroom. It was equally obvious that he had only looked at his face. If he had looked down, it would have been a different matter.
“Um!” I said. I was lost for words.
There was a full length mirror in his bedroom, however.
He left me briefly. I heard what only can be described a yelp from within his bedroom.
I have seldom seen any marked emotion on George’s usually phlegmatic face. This time, however, there was a little more emotion expressed than I was completely ready to deal with. He looked at me with eyes that I should imagine could be described as brimming with unadulterated hatred.
“Look what you’ve done,” he snarled, and his voice cut through the warm afternoon air like a steel blade. Suddenly the ambient temperature seemed to drop several degrees.
“Look at me,” he growled from between clenched teeth, and with that he raised his arms in a dramatic gesture.
“I’m trying not to,” I replied, “George, your hands! Replace them, please,” and I politely averted my gaze.
“Look – at – me!” said George; his arms still gesturing and waving about at shoulder level.
I unwillingly was forced to grab the bull by the horns, as it were, and I looked. Every inch of George: George de Lancy de Somerville de Smith de Ceased de Brown de Tergent, which had formerly been as pale as the palest peaches and cream English rose; Nay! As pale as the White Cliffs of Dover (albeit less colourful) …Every bit; every square inch, except for one dramatic part, was no longer the colour of the George that one had grown to love.
He was now a colour that I have heard described as burnt orange – or more specifically, orange orange. From the bottom of his feet, I should imagine – almost to the top of George, he was now a violent orange. Yet with the exception of his toenails and fingernails which were a richly deep and glowing burnt Sienna.
George had obediently immersed himself in the Permanganate of Potash solution, but what he and I had both forgotten, or neglected to attend to, was the fact that he would have needed to breathe whilst immersed. So he had lain with as much of himself immersed in the water as possible; with the solution right up to just above his chin.
There was a tide mark just below his lower lip. South of this tide mark, George was bright, vibrant orange; above that, the Northern part, was still a George-like pale pinkish grey.
I considered telling him that if he had taken a drinking straw into the bath with him and completely submerged himself below the surface of the water, he could have breathed through the straw and allowed the Condy’s Crystals to do their work and the colour would have been general, not simply isolated on his neck and lower body, but the look on his face gave me the hint that my opinion as to what we should have done wouldn’t have been very well received at that particular juncture.
George advanced towards me with an expression which I read as being what one would loosely describe as: aggressive, fuelled by intense anger.
The thought was beginning to dawn on me that my little scheme of making him more socially acceptable, by changing his colouring in a subtle manner, had not really worked according to my original plan.
I thought that under the circumstances it would be better to leave him at that stage, as I felt that, for some reason, he didn’t feel particularly grateful for my efforts on his behalf.
I heard later that, due to a good deal of concerted effort; relying on soaps, bleaches, shampoos and scrubbing brushes etc., and support from one or two of his other friends, George and his chums had managed to tone down the orange to something approaching a streaky apricot.
Unfortunately, the rich brown of this fingernails and toenails proved to be more of a problem. These took much longer, and I heard that he just had to wait till the colour grew out with the nails, which took quite a while. Of course he would be wearing shoes, so his toenails being dark brown wouldn’t matter… only he would be likely to be viewing them on a regular basis. I was considering telling him this and also, helpfully, advising him that he could disguise the brown fingernails by wearing gloves, but when I tried to contact him, I heard that we wasn’t ready to talk to me as yet. Maybe it was because he thought gloves would be unsuitable for Perth, in the middle of a hot Summer.
As part of the ongoing saga of Steve and George, you may be interested to know that another hub has been published at great expanse by Twilight Lawns plc
- A Remarkable Likeness
My friend, Steve, became very excited because he had been gaining quite a bit of attention following his photograph having appeared in his Local Newspaper. He showed me the cutting, and wondered if I could explain to him why it had caused such a ple
- Steve Comes To Dinner
It is a story, nay a hub, which deals with Good Manners, Hospitality and the British Way of Life, as personified by my good self (and to a lesser degree) by Steve.