News From Home 15, Part II
5/9/2004 (updated 5/9/2004)

Witherstock is certainly doing a wonderful job as housekeeper – the place is as bright and shiny as a new pin, and once you get used to her system of things, then it only takes thirty minutes or so to find anything. I dropped in on her back at the guesthouse to see how she’s settling in, and we had a good chat about Britain as it was in the sixties. Mavis had given her one of her candles in the ‘My Old Flame’ series, and she was burning it now. This one was called ‘Whitely’s Department Store’, an evocation of the old establishment in Westbourne Grove, and I must say, it hit the nail on the head. That cloying potpourri of the perfume and make-up departments, the dry, thick smell of haberdashery and clothing, and the faint whiff of friction from the centralized cash system, with its vacuum tubes and overhead cables. I deduce Witherstock is not a wholly happy bunny. She has a small, square, traditional suitcase with her initials engraved, which looks ancient, containing her few clothes; she then has a huge steamer trunk, also ancient, which is stuffed with memorabilia, mostly of her late fiancé. She seems to have turned him into an icon to be worshipped, as some worship Elvis. My eye happened to alight on a college scarf draped around a landscape painting, and I chanced to remark that it looked familiar – one of the Cambridge Colleges? Yes, replied Witherstock, King’s, where her beloved Cedric had received a First in Political Science. Would I like to touch it? Indeed, she would be thrilled if, on occasion, I wore it, to perpetuate his memory. I politely declined, saying that the honour was too great, not worthy, allergic to stripes, etc. She then fished around in the trunk for several minutes, and emerged with a cricket bat, and handed it to me. This, she said with whispered reverence, was the bat with which Cedric had scored a plucky fifty not out against the all-powerful West Indian touring side in nineteen-sixty-whatever, playing for Cambridge at Fenner’s. Would I like to hold it? I was starting to get a bit spooked by all of this, but I gingerly accepted the bat, and took a couple of practice swings, noting the light weight and excellent balance. I foolishly said that I thought it was a fine bat, and handed it back, but Witherstock pressed it into my hands and said that I should borrow it for a while, just to keep his memory alive, don’t you know. I could see there was no refusing, and I needed to beat a retreat at this point, fearing a little for my sanity, so I religiously grasped the bat and backed out.

Speaking of ‘My Old Flame’, the range is selling tremendously, and is expanding all the time. The latest line, ‘Locker Room’ was originally inspired by a Mr., Sheldon, of Croyden, Surrey, who suggested ‘Cricket Pavilion’ – this concept has now been broadened to include almost every sport, and although the basic ingredients are the same – tons of human sweat, lineaments, muscle rubs various, and bad after shave – the proportions of leather, cotton and synthetics vary, and the boxing version, for instance, (called ‘K.O!’) is heavy on the disinfectant and fresh blood. A brand new product, ‘Ladies Locker Room’, is proving very successful with male purchasers, especially those, I suspect, that used to be arrested for sniffing bicycle seats.

continued to Part III