She shops for menswear. Black pants and dark sweaters, also black, or the grey of hot fresh asphalt. Fleece (“too casual”) is verboten. He is partial to fine cable knit sweaters with zip-necks. She found a black V-neck cardigan and paired it with a glazed grey shirt, which he loved. He is unafraid of turtlenecks. It’s a neutral style of dressing, like a mime’s, or a stagehand who rearranges the props in between the scenes of a play.
He rolls the sleeves up his forearms during tapings. The wardrobe assistant thinks it’s an unconscious gesture. He shows his flesh to his guests to reassure them, somehow. He wears eyeglasses to deliver the results of the paternity and lie detector tests. It adds a certain gravitas, but also– he’s seventy-four years old and he needs them. People forget because he’s so unbelievably spry.
He never knows the results of the tests beforehand. This ensures that his reactions are absolutely fresh. He pauses to savor the moment before he delivers his catchphrase. “You are the father!” or, “You are not the father!”, depending. He affects a southern accent of varying intensities.
The wardrobe assistant would like to see him take more chances with his eyewear. He prefers rimless glasses, with clear arms. She got him into some heavier black Yves Saint Laurent frames. He grimaced and said, “People used to wear glasses like this because they had to,” but put them on for the show.
He wears sensible shoes to mine primordial urges. He’s up and down the whole show to greet people. He has issued an edict against pointy-toed loafers. His black shoes have rubber soles and good support so he can chase the hysterical guests backstage. Man or woman, he cups their cheeks in his palms to cajole them with the Maury Treatment.
Beggin’ by Madcon blasts before he comes out to start taping. It’s always something lively; Sexy and I Know It; Don’t Stop the Party. The audience goes berserk when Maury walks onstage. The guests can hear the music in the green room. They’re so hyped up some of them start pumping their fists.
The shirts and sweaters go straight to the cleaners at the end of the day, because he sweats foundation onto the collars. The pants are usually fine, if someone goes over them with a garment steamer. This is one of the wardrobe assistant’s responsibilities.
Whenever her job comes up at social gatherings, it becomes a big topic of conversation. People can be so judgmental. There’s always someone who rather proudly informs her that the show she works on is trash.
Two months prior to the banquet, invitations are mailed to six hundred exceptional babies on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As with all royal events, the guests are generally babies who have made valuable contributions to society or charitable organizations. The babies arrive privately at Heathrow Airport, where they are greeted by the Lord-in-Waiting on behalf of the Queen. The gold and red state landau, outfitted with car seats, is driven up the Mall, escorted by the Household Cavalry. Their arrival at Buckingham Palace is heralded by a 21-gun salute. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will invite her guests to the picture gallery to view an exhibition from the Royal Collection of paintings featuring babies.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second loves babies. She appreciates their ineffable qualities, the remote mystery of their thoughts and dreams. The babies’ state banquet celebrates the Averyness of Avery; the divine sagacity of Jaden; the transcendent Thomasness of Thomas.
The babies will assemble in the White Drawing Room for a reception with the speaker of the House of Commons, who will deliver a short address, Babies Equipping the European Union for the 21st Century. Queen Elizabeth will circulate, giving guests an opportunity to meet personally with Her Majesty. Her Royal Highness’ questions might include: “Aren’t you a lovely baby?”, “How long have you been a baby?”, “Is this your first visit to Britain?” and “Do you enjoy being a baby?”
The Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales will play a selection including Old MacDonald Had A Farm, C is for Cookie, I Love Trash, One of These Things Is Not Like the Others and Johannes Brahms’ Op. 49, No. 4. Footmen will circulate, discreetly changing diapers as required.
Babies will be carried into the ballroom in pairs. The table will be set with 18th century porcelain, the 4,000 piece Grand Service tableware purchased by George IV, BPA-free Philips Avent bottles with anti-colic valves, and Medela Calma Breastmilk Bottles, with a choice of medium and slow flow teats. The menu will include savory Aptamil formula, lobster mousse, mashed cocotte potatoes, and roasted loin of Balmoral venison puree.
In a toast dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will begin the banquet by asking, “Are you going to show me your Big Mouth? Big Mouth!” Yeoman Warders dressed in red and gold Tudor uniforms will be on hand to burp guests in between courses. Her Majesty will indicate the meal is over by inserting her pinkie finger into the side of her Lord-in-Waiting’s mouth.
Diners will be attired in evening dress (white tie) with decorations, or national dress. Babies are advised to bring at least two identical changes of clothes. It is requested that they refrain from scratching, kicking, or head butting the footmen and Yeoman Warders. Gilt-edged cots are available for naps. Guests succumbing to bouts of unexplained hysteria will be escorted to the Green Drawing Room, where they will be invited to view an exhibition of presents given to His Royal Highness Prince George on the occasion of his christening.
At the end of the meal twelve pipers will process around the hall playing The People in Your Neighbourhood and guests will retire for handmade petits fours and coffee in the State Rooms, where the Queen will present the babies with silver-framed photographs of herself and the Duke of Edinburgh.
My historical fiction “Panegyre” has been published in Columbia Journal. Pictured above, the attendees of the 1990 G7 Summit: Jacques Delors, Guilio Andreotti, Helmut Kohl, Francois Metterand, George H.W. Bush, Margarety Thatcher, Brian Mulroney, and Toshiki Kaifu: http://columbiajournal.org/fiction-panegyre-by-louise-phillips/
My story “Royal baby born: On the ground with the royalists at the Lindo wing” has been published by The Independent:
General Gamal Abdel Nasser once told his CIA contact Miles Copeland, ‘I picture Beirut as being one big night club.’ In the late 1950s, Copeland and his family lived in the hills overlooking the city. Copeland was keeping an eye on Kim Philby, who had just been cleared in another internal investigation by MI6.
Philby was sent to Beirut by the SIS to monitor political events. He had never been completely free of suspicion after his friend’s defections in 1951. His cover was his work as a stringer for the The Economist and the Observer. He lived in a fifth floor flat on the Rue Kantari with Jackie, a pet fox trained by her master to drink whiskey and use the toilet.
Philby was newly widowed. ‘A wonderful escape,’ he told the correspondent Richard Beeston. He spent a lot of time in the bar of the Normandie Hotel on the Avenue des Français, drinking gin with his sources and writing messages like, ‘Deeper in love than ever, my darling… xxx from your Kim’ on small pieces of paper he extricated from his cigarette boxes.
The tiny love notes were for Eleanor Brewer, ‘a rangy, steady-drinking American who looked tough and sophisticated.’ Eleanor was married to Kim’s friend Sam Pope Brewer from The New York Times.
Kim’s face was bloated and his cornflower blue eyes were glassy and red. ‘Slowly deteriorating and losing confidence in himself,’ was the verdict of Kim’s father, the explorer, author, and cartographer Sheik Abdullah, who’d changed his name from Harry St. John Philby upon his conversion to Islam. Sheik Abdullah thought the rumours about his son being the third man were a load of nonsense.
Sheik Abdullah–who had not divorced Kim’s mother–had moved to Beirut with his second wife and toddler sons after falling foul of the House of Saud. He’d become a celebrity in Britain after mapping the 350-mile Empty Quarter of the Saudi Interior, the largest body of sand in the world. The Daily Mail‘s Anthony Dave Brown often watched the spy and his septuagenarian father–‘potbellied and satanic-looking’– carousing at the Lido and the Kit Kat Club.
It was Sheik Abdullah who’d encouraged his son to confront Eleanor’s husband. Sam Pope Brewer was nonplussed when Philby told his friend that Eleanor wanted a divorce so she could marry him.
‘Well, that sounds like the best solution,’ he said. “What do you make of the situation in Iraq?’
“Hereford United are one of the most celebrated minnows of English football, so how could they collapse into bankruptcy?”
My story about the sad demise of Hereford United Football Club was published in Issue 16 of The Blizzard. The football quarterly also features wonderful stories about the World Cup in Qatar, how football is paying its part in rebuilding the shattered communities near Fukushima, an interview with the former Brazil striker Reinaldo, how a reserve goalkeeper brought Cote d’Ivoire to victory in the Africa Cup of Nations, and many more, including a section devoted to football in Sierra Leone.
Issue 16 of The Blizzard: https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/product/issue-sixteen/