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Reading Aloud

Evening at Aldous’

We regularly meet with Aldous and his wife – once a fortnight at least. I don’t know what keeps them interested. We don’t have all that much to offer. Not to an academic of his calibre. However, he doesn’t seem to mind. He has interesting things to talk about and strongly makes his views known on all kinds of subjects with the inborn authority so characteristic of him, repeating himself if necessary – he has great patience with his listeners.

We were at his house last night, together with Yan and his wife. Aldous was in excellent form, I could tell when he opened the door. A model of politeness – he wanted to relieve me of my stole, but I preferred to hang on to it. He was less attentive at the end of the evening – Yan had to search for his coat on his own. From the beginning the conversation sparkled. The first thing we heard was that Aldous had been indulging himself in…roes. Cod-roes, hard, cooked and fried, so utterly delicious apparently, he was shuddering with delight in his arm-chair. What about soft roes? No, he couldn’t bear the idea and shuddered with disgust. Their neighbour, a doting old lady of eighty-five, had brought him home-grown peas at lunchtime. “My goodness, these peas”. He shut his eyes and intensely remembered their flavour. The most heavenly peas, he thought. A plateful of them and he wouldn’t need anything else for a meal. It sounded just like him. He is so enthusiastic. And easy to amuse, his wife, too, of course. They told Yan the little story of when we were in Stratford with them and looking for something to eat. It was my husband who had caused them amusement by talking about Sauerkraut. They would have loved him to have some, I don’t know why, but none was available. “Do you know what he had in the end?” Aldous’ wife asked giggling. “The same as Aldous, steak and kidney pie!” They both split their sides with laughter. We joined in politely. Pity there was no garlic. They know my husband loves it. Aldous loathes it. “How about Sauerkraut and garlic?” Aldous asked. My husband said this was possibly not a good combination. However, Aldous would not accept this and accused him of having a closed mind. More laughter.

Then Aldous told the story of how he had to dance cheek to cheek with a lady friend of theirs in order to avoid the smell of garlic… After that he switched the conversation from food to sex. Some people establish a link between these two, he told us. How do they do that, I wondered. I leave it to your imagination, he answered. His wife hadn’t heard and asked again. He still refused to be specific.

Anyway, to come back to trace-elements: All of Aldous’ friends know how best to treat a certain condition in young girls, but would you believe it, Aldous was disgusted, some people make abnormal sexual behaviour of the parents responsible for the girls affliction. Everybody present joined in his indignation.

My husband was still pondering about the connection between the two above mentioned phenomena and made the interesting contribution that there was a restaurant in Paris associating each dish with some sort of sexual idea. Like banana with a dollop of cream. Ladies were supposed to eat this in a certain way. Aldous looked incredulous, if not impressed whereas his wife did the shuddering for once, saying she would refuse to go there. She was wearing quite a low-cut jumper in a large lacy see-through pattern, by the way, I was surprized to see it. I suppose she can afford to do that with the fullness of her figure. The neckline tended to slip down the front, but not beyond a certain point. She adjusted it from time to time. The immorality of our time! A restaurant! There were professors of “sexology” in a certain country, Aldous told us. He had us interested now, but wouldn’t say any more.

The rise of feminism and the decline of woman, another subject dear to his heart. I referred him to the teachings of the Church, there was something he could agree with. However, he is not a church-goer any more. Not the thing for him, he said, but why not good for others? Better go to church than hang around, it won’t do you any harm and might improve you spiritually.

Then he started talking at length about the concert he and his wife had been to recently. I should have gone as well, but had declined the invitation. This wretched modern composer. A cacophony. Beauty, harmony, tunes – totally absent. A madman’s view of the world – that’s what he called it. We had heard it all before, but Yan and his wife hadn’t…Pity there wasn’t an instrument “cacophone”. We laughed. I asked him why he kept on talking about something which according to him was worthless? I don’t remember what he answered. I think he passed on to another subject, or his wife did.

She informed us that her brother had had the most miraculous operation performed. As a consequence he was going to be in a medical book, an outstanding case of a successful b…cancer operation. So successful – she and Aldous were delighted. We had heard it all before. It was three years ago, and the patient absolutely fighting fit without a trace almost to show what had been done. All the people they had seen in the hospital at the time. Disfigured. Having lost parts of their faces. Some of them having artificial faces put on. A nephew of theirs having an artificial palate. Mind you, she said, you don’t notice that at all.

We passed on to the next subject. Biological warfare. Damn worse than nuclear impact, Aldous said. People would be well advised to think about that. A bit of light on his horizon, he went on. They had just received so many thousand pounds. I was wondering how they had done that when I heard it was money for his professional body which would enable them to go on researching into ways and means of tackling one of our dreadful diseases. They had already made some interesting discoveries. The problem was, I gathered, to find competent people. Many good ones went to another country and they had to fill up with Iranians, Iraqis and so on. Together we deplored this state of affairs.

What will be the outcome of the Cwealth conference, somebody asked. I hadn’t heard about it and was informed they were going to take to task an unruly member, one who had a great problem and refused to tackle it. I managed to put in a question: Why doesn’t this country, the one we’re in, tackle its own problems first – I knew they had one with an unruly island – before helping other nations tackle theirs ?It turned out that for once the Prime Minister’s views coincided with Aldous’ and in fact he agreed it might be economically disastrous to become involved. As for the unruly island he couldn’t see any solution to that problem. Maybe they should let the R…s invade it, thus forcing the opposing parties into union. Quite an original idea. Maybe the Prime Minister should be the agent of some foreign power. He would then be able to arrange the necessary. “Don’t write about that,” Aldous begged me. I reassured him. I don’t write about Prime Ministers. Anyway, the Cwealth member in question was in for a bloodbath, Aldous’ wife thought, and she was glad not to live there.

The conversation became a little shallower, the subject being other people’s houses and how badly designed, constructed and maintained they were. Aldous and his wife marvelled for weeks how a lady-friend of theirs could have moved into a house that carried a great name, it is true, but had absolutely nothing else to show for it. They were sure she would be disappointed. She wasn’t when they saw her once or twice after the move. Next time, though, she apparently insinuated she didn’t know how much longer she would stay there. Aldous and his wife could have told her…She had sold her former house at a profit, they knew that.

Their next door neighbours’ house was on the market again. After only two and a half years. The previous owner had wanted a large sum of money for it, but had to come down because of faults in the construction and there was no foundation. “It used to be a hen-house”, Aldous’ wife exclaimed. “Fancy living in a hen-house.” They had never liked these neighbours much who snubbed them on the occasion of the last concert in their barn: they had refused to buy tickets – claiming to be musical as well !- on the grounds that they wouldn’t be at home. Everybody could see on the night in question that they were.

Aldous and his wife were also highly critical of their neighbour’s dog who barks a lot and seems to be kept in an objectionable way. Their own dog runs around loose, keeping people at bay, their son had taught him that. The dog bit Johnnie once. I don’t know whether I can forgive him for that. Anyway, they weren’t sorry to lose their neighbours. Had we seen the house advertized? Asking an incredible price. They had improved it quite a lot, it was true.

After that we heard about a young man who had paid them a visit the night before. So self-confident. So determined to make the most of life. And absolutely no sense of humour. How can one go through life without a sense of humour? Her mind “boggled” at the idea, Aldous’ wife said. “He probably wouldn’t notice”, I suggested. Anyway, Aldous had tried to probe and prompt him by asking, “how about going into…….newspapers?” Do you know what the result was? Aldous said, showing comical despair, “he embarked on a talk about Fleet Street for fifteen solid minutes. I couldn’t get a word in !”. I wished to myself I could have met that young man.
“You are quiet,” Aldous said to me after a while, “why is that?” I assured him I was listening. He didn’t like that either. Somebody said “book”. Aldous sighed, the idea made him uneasy.

It was time to go home. Aldous and his wife had enjoyed the evening. Yan who is an easy talker had kept the conversation going. Yan’s wife hadn’t said much, my husband hardly anything, and I, well… On the way home my husband said: “I didn’t like that evening.”