Thursday, 15 December 2011

Aunt Cecily's Electric Kettle

Mince pies and mulled wine greeted us at Rob’s house, where we met on Tuesday, December 13th, to listen to Tony’s story ‘Visiting Aunt Cecily’. Quite how we found ourselves discussing the origins, use and pronunciation of the word ‘chagrin’ within five minutes of our arrival is not clear from my notes, but it may have had something to do with the wine. Annie added to the merriment with a demonstration of her uncanny ability to ferret out a double entendre from unlikely material.
When we’d settled down again, Tony read his 1500-word story in which the narrator, Aunt Cecily’s nephew, recalls his relationship with her, his visits to her house both as a child and as an adult, and a meeting at which he was coincidentally present, between Auntie C and her old friend, Dorothy Morton. The story enchanted us all: Tony had succeeded in creating a ‘sense of an era’ (Chris), and feeling of nostalgia. The microscopic detailing and imagery, especially the ‘dying rose’, attracted plaudits from us all. The piece was variously described as ‘warm’, ‘touching’, ‘moving’ and ‘quirky’ and no critique of a Gillam work is complete with at least one mention of Garrison Keillor and ‘whimsy’ and, sure enough… There was, however, a significant caveat which inhibited unalloyed approbation.
When Cecily’s old friend Dorothy unexpectedly arrived, Cecily displayed considerable disquiet – her demeanour was ‘different’, ‘slightly nervous’, ‘embarrassed’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘irritated’ – and we all wanted to know why. Tony couldn’t tell us. He was only a compere introducing his guests – whatever they had been up to backstage was none of his business: like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, he knew nothing. He actually started to say “My best guess is…” but was silenced by disbelieving howls of outrage. Chris in particular found this all this most unsatisfactory and, had Chris remembered to bring his Inquisition kit, Tony would undoubtedly have ended the evening an inch or two taller (than he was when he arrived) . A rowdy debate ensued, involving a Greek island, a poet called Sappho and Margaret Rutherford’s tweed jacket: yes, it was that kind of evening! After Rob somehow managed to drag Ngaio Marsh into this quagmire, he remarked that ‘it’s always a pleasure to read Tony Gillam’ and we whole-heartedly agreed.
The eventual conclusion was that, yes, the two old dears had probably shared a mutual affection that may conceivably have ventured beyond the Platonic: they had, after all, shared a flat in Birmingham (that notorious centre of lust and carnal venality), both been members of the arcane and possibly esoteric Elektra Club, and, to cap it all, had bought each other electrical appliances – for water, the boiling of. The kettle, a Premier Quickset, may indeed have somehow symbolised their relationship: the mind can only boggle. But how was Tony subtlely to convey this to his mystified readers – Annie had the answer. Old friend Dorothy would be introduced to the nephew as ‘Miss’ Dorothy Morton, thereby dispelling any lingering doubts (as the cliché has it). And that was that. One point of possible merit elicited by the discussion was that a short story can be compared with peering though a gap in a fence, insofar as the views to left and right of the gap are understood to exist but are invisible and cannot therefore be portrayed and whatever is happening there can only be guessed at, as Tony tried to point out. Short stories are fragments and a resolution is by no means a sine qua non.
The news, as can easily be imagined, proved somewhat anti-climactic. Rob had none, except that he is knocking out 2000 words a day, with which he’s unhappy (the quality, not the quantity) on ‘The Sting Inside’; Tony reminded him to contact Radio Scotland. Tony described how to write a dash, using ALT+0+151 (that’ll be the dash also known as a ‘Scouse accent’); this led to a confusing and desultory discussion which was too boring to merit description here. Chris handed out for distribution some leaflets advertising his talk at the Rose Theatre Kidderminster on Saturday, February 11th at 2 p.m. and Linda advised us to desist from employing the past continuous tense. (Filthy habit!) I had no news, and if Annie did, I failed to make a note of it: sorry Annie! She did, however, suggest that we instigate a Round Robin of 100-word stories for the Reader’s Digest competition, which closes on January 31st, 2012.
We agreed to meet next on January 3rd at Chris and Linda’s when Annie will read and Tony will blog, exchanged season’s greetings and stepped out into the night.