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Angels and memories

Sixty and groovy

Some people believe in angels … I’m one of them. I’m not too sure whether everyone has angels or whether, like fairies, they pick and choose their clients.

Do they only hang around believers, or does everyone have a guardian angel and, if so, do they get depressed when you don’t believe in them? Do guardian angels come only when they are summoned, in times of great need, and what do they do when they’re not being guardian angels? Is it only a part-time job and do they take turns, especially on behalf of demanding clients, or is your guardian angel allocated to you for eternity? Does he, or she, choose you, or perhaps do they get allocated a really difficult person as a sort of penance. Were they once human? Will they ever be human again?

Are guardian angels the sort of run-of-the-mill angel, and then the really big…

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Angels and memories

 

Some people believe in angels … I’m one of them. I’m not too sure whether everyone has angels or whether, like fairies, they pick and choose their clients.

Do they only hang around believers, or does everyone have a guardian angel and, if so, do they get depressed when you don’t believe in them? Do guardian angels come only when they are summoned, in times of great need, and what do they do when they’re not being guardian angels? Is it only a part-time job and do they take turns, especially on behalf of demanding clients, or is your guardian angel allocated to you for eternity? Does he, or she, choose you, or perhaps do they get allocated a really difficult person as a sort of penance. Were they once human? Will they ever be human again?

Are guardian angels the sort of run-of-the-mill angel, and then the really big jobs are kept for the really important angels. These are named – according to the Book of Enoch in Jewish tradition, as Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel and Sariel. The Roman Catholic church only recognises the names of the first three – the great archangels. However, they do acknowledge that seven angels stand before the throne of God. The Anglicans apparently have adopted Uriel, as well, but Raguel, Ramiel and Sariel are definitely out in the cold.

But take Raguel. Apparently it’s his job to keep an eye on famous people, or luminaries, and call them to account because he is in charge of justice, fairness and vengeance. Do you suppose that Hitler had a guardian angel? When called to account, would the guardian angel have pleaded the case for mercy for his terrible charge, against the wrath of Raguel? The Council of Rome in 745 warned against worshipping “other angels” and Raguel was names as one of the offending angels. I’m sure he called Pope Zachary, who delivered the edit, to account, when he finally eyeballed him.

Ramiel is the angel of hope … he guides human souls to heaven and he is in charge of divine visions. He also acts a bit like Postman Pat, conveying the divine messages to the other angels.

Sariel is known as the angel of death. Like Ramiel, he also, at one time, fell from grace because he “lusted after the daughters of Eve” but he, and the other fallen “Watchers” have been forgiven and received back into a state of grace. Sariel is also known as the angel with the trumpet – quite a character.

Another angel named in Judaic tradition is Metatron. It’s believed he is the angelic form of Noah’s great grandfather, Enoch. The late actor Alan Rickman immortalised him as the voice of God in the film Dogma.

All these angels are portrayed as male. Are there no female angels? Do the male guardian angels hang around when you’re on the loo? Do they look the other way? Do they come when called, and then slope off to accomplish more important things?

When Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she was pregnant with Jesus even though she hadn’t ever slept with Joseph, what was she doing? Hanging out the washing? Peeling onions? A frightening thing, to have a full grown male angel appear and say “Hail”.

I’ve heard that some scientists have worked out that if angels have a human form, their chest muscles would need to be enormous to support the massive wings we all imagine, from centuries of imagery.

Perhaps they just get beamed up and down, like Mr Spock, the Vulcan?

I once sent my daughter, Tanya, to a drama club dressed as a Vulcan for a Saturday morning performance. I had, in my costume chest, a pair of Spock-like pointy silver ears and I improvised with witches green fingertips and a cloak. “I’m supposed to fly in” she wailed. “You don’t need to fly, you just say “Beam me up” I said brusquely, as a Star Trekkie fan.

On the day, my husband studied the programme. “They’re doing Robin Hood,” he said tentatively as we perched on plastic chairs. “Do falcons have pointy ears?” “Falcons don’t have ears at all” I retorted. Tanya entered to the sound of a hunting horn. “Summon the King’s Falcon” shouted the page. She flapped mournfully up the aisle between the packed ranks of parents. “I told you, you wouldn’t listen” she said afterwards. I blamed it on her braces.

Times like that you pray for an angel, and that was only a small crisis.

I sometimes think that we all have a good angel on one shoulder and a slightly less preachy one on the other. An angel who knows that it’s also important to have a good time, which can sometimes entail being human, and being imperfect. Feel the naughtiness and do it anyway? Perhaps an angel who themself was once a human? A fallen Watcher.

I once wrote a song for a play called The Alleluia Gate, renamed The GateHouse by the publisher.

 

What is heaven like, I wonder?

Is there such a place where simple folk like me could simply be

At home? I wonder …

 

What is heaven like, I wonder?

Is it full of angels singing round a Throne?

Though it’s not my place to moan

I feel I ought to say that

I’ve never like parties

I’m really quite shy

I can’t play the harp or the lute

And I don’t think I could fly so …

 

What IS heaven like, I wonder?

Is there such a place where I could

See your face again

Take your hand again

And tell you that I miss you

Tell you that I miss you?

Tell you that I’m missing you, my dear old friend.

 

I think angels are there if we look for them. There was a stone angel who, I’m sure, smiled at me once, as I prayed in Buckfast Abbey, following the death of my husband. My youngest daughter, Sophie, was holding my hand and we were staring at a statue nearby of the Pieta … Mary holding her son, Jesus, in her arms as he was taken down from the cross. As we stood there, a beam of sunlight broke through one of the leaded windows and down the beam fluttered an enormous butterfly, a Red Admiral. “Look, Mummy, Daddy came to say hello,” she said. She was nine at the time. “Do you think Daddy is a butterfly now?” I said gently. “He’s an angel, and angels are like butterflies, aren’t they?”she said. The butterfly settled on the hand of Mary in the sunlight. Beyond, the stone angel seemed to smile. Sophie insisted we go and find my mother. When we got back with her, the sunlight was still streaming, and there was a sweet smell of incense but the butterfly had gone.

 

1,136 words SUZI CLARK copyright 2016

This is a true story.

I saw the old wooden sailboat under a pile of clutter, waiting to go into a skip. My friend, whose husband Brian died tragically the previous year, had decided to clear out accumulated rubbish from the old swimming pool to the rear of their property so that she could have the pool re-fitted in time for the family to enjoy its use when they visited over Christmas.

The boat just under three feet high, and a couple of feet long, longer if you counted the pointy bit at the front which I later learned is called the “prow.” The hull was dark blue, a bit scratched, the main mast had snapped and the three sails were grubby and in a tangle.

I sighed. My cottage is so tiny by comparison, the last thing I needed to take back was a large, broken boat. The problem was, I remembered it from 20 years earlier, when it was shiny and new, and greatly cherished not just for itself but because of a coincidence that seems, even now, almost too strange to be true.

Twenty one years ago my husband, Bryan, told me that his longstanding business partner, also Brian but with an “i”, had a 56th birthday looming. “I’d like to buy a short cruise somewhere, just for the four of us, you, me, Brian and Heather,” he said. “I wonder what it would cost?”

I remarked that I didn’t realise Brian wanted to go on cruise. “He possibly doesn’t,” said my husband. “When I asked him what he really wanted, he said “Buy me a yacht.” We laughed.

I thought no more about it until the week before the birthday the following March. I realised I didn’t have a present.

Driving back from work, I took a different route across The Green at Winchmore Hill because the traffic going via Southgate was very heavy … I think there was a burst water main. As I drove past the triangle of lawn on The Green I saw a small gift shop from the corner of my eye and on impulse I pulled into a spot on Vicar’s Moor Lane, and walked back hurriedly, as it was almost closing time.

There in the window was this big sailing boat, and I remembered my husband joking about about the “yacht” present, so I went in.

“The boat … in the window … it has no price on it,” I said to the lady behind the counter. She said she’d check and she called to someone in the back of the shop, asking if there was a price for the boat in the window.

“There is,” boomed a deep voice, “but it’s not for sale.” Then there was a chuckle. “No pun intended.”

I pointed out that it was in the window and that there was a tag on it, but it was upside down. Did it say “Not for Sale”?  The shop assistant looked as mystified as I was. She turned over the tag. It didn’t have a price on it. It had a name.

“It has a name on it,” she shouted to the back of the shop. A man came out, looking like he didn’t need an interruption. He had a small book in his hand. “It’s here,” he said, “Some chap came in and put a ten pound deposit on it, and then he never came back. We’ve been holding it every since.”

I was disappointed … it would’ve been a great gift for Brian, I thought.

“Mr B. Clark,” the man said. “I wish he’d come and get the boat, and pay the rest. It’s been in the window for months.”

“B. Clark?” I whispered. “That’s my husband.”

The man looked, unsurprisingly, disbelieving. I’m guessing he thought I was trying to get a discount on the purchase, as there was already a down payment.

“What’s the address?” he demanded.

I told him. He looked a bit startled and then he said, “Well, yes, I suppose it is your husband … and why has he waited all this time to collect the damn thing?”

I said, “My husband, Bryan, died last October. Heart attack. He never mentioned the boat.”

I don’t think they believed me, at first. I had to take proof of identity out of my handbag, my business car, and my university pass. I said I lived not far away but I had never seen their shop before, and my late husband very rarely came home from work that way.

In the end, they sold me the boat. They even gave me the discount from six months earlier.

I gave the boat to Brian the following week. The card said “From Suzi and Bry, with love.”

It was such a wonderful coincidence, and it still warms my heart. Perhaps for that reason, I brought the old boat back to my tiny cottage, and I sat out in the sunshine and mended the broken spars with an old chopstick, and sewed the rigging back onto the sails, even if I did use garden twine.

It sits, a little incongruously, alongside my  other ornaments, the Opium smoker, the turbaned head of a woman from the Chelsea Potter, a Balinese carved dancer, and a pair of Murano glass bisons. Sometimes visitors admire it, a little curiously, as I’m not known for being a sailor, or someone who loves boats.

So then, I tell them the story, because it’s not really about boats, at all. It’s about the power of love and how, even when we think perhaps our sails are sagging and our rigging could do with a bit of maintenance, the memory of love lifts us up and carries us on a fairer wind, out of the doldrums, to better days.

963 words

The Flip-Flops

The Flip Flops

Suzi Clark

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Listening to Lisa Tarbuck on Radio 2 whilst driving into north-west London for a family supper last night, I was laughing out loud by myself in the car at the confessions elicited from listeners who were prepared to admit to worrying about the feelings of inanimate objects.

There was a lady who confessed that she had annoyed a head waiter in a restaurant because she couldn’t choose between the last two trifles on the dessert trolley, in case she upset the one she left behind.

Or the man who always blew his car a kiss when it got him to the works’ car park without breaking down on the way.

Or the teenage who admitted that she would never pick something up in a shop in case she was sure she would buy it, in case it got hurt when she had to put it back on the shelf.

Some of these examples were funny, extreme, sad even, but all very honest.

When I shared this with my family, my daughter Rissy admitted that she would never leave just one pea on her plate, in case it felt lonely. My daughter, Sophie, roundly blamed me for giving feelings to her large collection of soft toys with the result that when we eventually bagged some of them up for Oxfam, she cried all the way to the charity shop because she felt disloyal. It didn’t help that one of them, an original Furby, piped up on route with a cheery “Good morning,” which, considering it hadn’t spoken in years, made us both jump and resulted in its being hauled out of the reject pile and taken back home to safety, where it sits gathering dust on my piano, awaiting the visits of the grandchildren who are entertained but also bemused by its pedestrian technology.

Equally bemused as the Furby was my eldest daughter Tanya, who was shocked by these confessions over supper from her sisters. But as she’s the one that never wants to throw anything away, I suspect she’s just a closet carer of things that can’t speak for themselves.

The conversation reminded me of an incident in Key West, many years ago.

In the late 1990s I was visiting my godfather, Georges de Coster, for his eightieth birthday celebrations, and I had driven down through The Keys in the company of an old friend, Rob Ware. We had been good mates in London for many years and as he worked for British Airways he was able to get a cheap fare to join me on the adventure, one of my first forays to foreign parts on my own, since the death of my husband, Bryan. We hired a large car and cruised south through the Keys, stopping at Mangrove Momma’s for a light cocktail.

The following day, Rob, a keen and brisk walker, marched me right across the top of Key West Island from our digs on Elizabeth Street. He was wearing trainers. I was wearing flip-flops. It was hot. It was a long walk, and I wished we’d taken the car, but parking seemed to be a big issue on the island.

725 Duval Street, Key West once housed a beautiful store, stuffed with designer clothing and interesting knick-knacks … now it is an Estate Liquidation shop and, like many of the shops in Key West, has lost some of its charm.

But that day, in the window of the department store, I spotted a pair of “Jesus sandals” – Timberlands, very solid looking, brown leather, wide straps. Comfy, I thought longingly. The soles of my feet were throbbing. We went in. They weren’t cheap, but I felt as if I was suddenly walking on clouds.

I decided to treat myself, knowing that there would be a lot more walking down Von Phister, to reach my godfather’s home for tea. But when I came to take off my flip-flops, my heart sank. “Do you want me to wrap these for you, or shall I bin them, Ma’am?” said the lady at the till. I hesitated. I touched them lovingly.

“Look at them,” Rob said. “The soles are paper-thin. No wonder you’ve been hobbling behind me. Throw them out.”

I pointed out that I had a certain attachment to the flip-flops. I’d bought them, many years earlier, in Bangkok, whilst on holiday with my late husband and they had been on every holiday since. I was used to the look and feel of them. Perhaps I could just keep them for pottering around the house? The lady listened to this exchange with interest, possibly captivated by our British accents.

“Time to let go, Sooz,” said Rob, kindly. “Besides, your suitcase is full already, and they’re not going in mine!” He suggested going to get us both a drink round the corner by the Bahama Village, whilst I waved a fond farewell to my flip-flops and waited for my credit card to go through in payment for the Timberlands which were firmly on my aching feet.

When I finally got to him, he was slurping down a Coca Cola. He eyed me sympathetically. “Tough saying goodby, eh? Even to flip-flops?” I said it was, and made for the Ladies loo, to sort out my eye make-up. When I came back, Rob had disappeared. Maybe he’s in the loo, too? I thought. He re-appeared, a few minutes later, rather red and panting, with a plastic carrier bag in his hand.

In it were my old flip-flops. He looked a bit embarrassed. “I know it’s silly to get attached to things,” he said, “but maybe you aren’t ready to let go of those good memories just yet.”

I had the flip-flops for many years. Eventually they were bagged up and taken to the dump, as I guessed even the charity shop wouldn’t want them.

I didn’t need them any longer. My memories were safely stashed in my heart by then. And amongst them was the memory of the kindness of an old friend, and a pair of old flip-flops.

 

Ends                       COPYRIGHT SUZI CLARK 2016                         1,015 words

On Love and the Internet

On Love and the Internet
Suzi Clark
Sunday, 10 January 2016

This morning, I was idly researching online the origins of the languages developed by J R R Tolkien, having just watched the first part of the film dramatization of his early work, The Hobbit, a Christmas gift from an old friend. I first read The Hobbit when I was sixteen and the following year went on to read The Lord of The Rings.

So immersed was I in the world of the Middle Earth, its heroes and villains, that I read through that Saturday, and through the night and on the Sunday morning I got into trouble with the nuns because it was my turn to awaken the snoozing residents of The Old Cottage, at my boarding school, Hengrave Hall, but in fact I let them slumber on, whilst I fought alongside Gandalf the White, spellbound, and so, we were all late for morning service.

Today, whilst exploring online, I moved from Tolkien himself, together with his extraordinary intellectual and literary achievements – to reading about C. S. Lewis. As a young child, I was always fascinated by the stories of Narnia, starting, of course, with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I had always assumed that following the death of his wife, Joy, Lewis had converted to Catholicism but to the disappointment of his Catholic friend, Tolkien, and to my surprise, he become instead a confirmed Anglican until his death.

I don’t know why I should’ve been so surprised, perhaps because I imagine (as a lapsed Catholic) that the Anglican Church is a much diluted version of Catholicism, and Lewis comes across as a man of strong convictions? I was moved to discover that he died on the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy – as did Aldous Huxley – and so those the light of two great giants of literature was extinguished almost without comment as a post-script to the overarching media coverage of the Dallas murder on 23 November, 1963,

I had heard of Lewis’s work on belief, but not of his work The Four Loves, and so I read on.
At first, I felt comfortable with the terminology. Of course, I thought, I understand that love can be split into “types” ie the Greek concept of Eros (passionate or romantic/erotic love), Friendship (brotherly or fond love between friends, as in Philia in Greek, or even between an owner and a pet), natural Affection (familial love such as a mother for her daughters or Storge in Greek – this can also include love between exceptional friends), and finally, Charity (as in the Greek concept of Agape, considered the highest form of love being the love of God for wo-man, or vice-versa).

But what happens, I wonder, when terms overlap into one another, like watercolours? Or when the nature of love itself evolves within a relationship? So, for example, Charity or Agape is a form of selfless love, a love that requires sacrifice such as the love of Christ (post Greek concept) on the cross, or the love of a man for his family, his fellow men, or his country, for which he sacrifices his life, in the name of duty. So it is seen, always as a noble thing. But yet, sometimes, it seems, individuals feel a selfless love for an unworthy cause … a Nazi prepared to die for his Fuhrer, for example. Is this, then, still Charity?

As for natural Affection, or Storge – what of it? Is it what happens in marriage after the Eros bit has worn thin? Or vice-versa? Apparently, Storge lovers cannot always pinpoint the moment at which their natural affections suddenly metamorphosed into passionate love for one another. Similarly, those who start off by being passionately “in love” ie Eros, can find themselves transforming into a state of loving one another, that is Storge, without being “in love” any longer. From being lovers, they become best friends. Does this make it a greater love, or a lesser one? Isn’t the term “storgic lover” a contradiction in terms? The experts say that for them, passionate sexual intensity is less important that commitment to one another, or trust upheld by a rejection of infidelity. I wonder … wouldn’t that be like the hobbit Bilbo Baggins staying cosily in his armchair rather than pounding off down the track in search of Gandalf’s Company of Dwarves and adventure?

I stumble across a word I’ve never seen before. Limerence. Coined in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov to described the state of being “in love”, it reads more like a mental disorder than the enviable and yearned for state of being in love. Further defined in 2012 by Lynn Willmott as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest” – I become increasingly alarmed.

All this time, have I been praying to attract a mental disorder? Negative pathology or a positively divine encounter?

No wonder my pathetic attempts at hunting it down via Internet dating sites have been so unsuccessful. How can a long list of likes and dislikes, shared or not shared by a stranger, become the basis for magic, the basis for a “true” love? Not puppy love, but the real thing.

And if, in the meantime, I discover that I’ve contracted limerence, the prognosis is not all good news. Apparently when people fall in love, or show symptoms of limerence, it is usually one-sided. It takes time to recover. Up to three years before the loving thoughts stop intruding in one’s life, and allow a return to focus on the really important stuff such as tax returns, what to have for Sunday lunch, or whether to buy new boots in the January Sales, according to the experts.

Physical consummation with the object of obsessive-compulsive passion is apparently one way to speed up recovery, but there’s always a risk that instead of seeing the clay feet of the adored, the love (or I should say “limerence”) deepens, and becomes terminal.

Starvation, or a complete lack of notice or communication by or with the loved one is another way to lessen the symptoms of limerence however, like a cancer, it is just as likely to recur at the accidental sight of the beloved, or a kind word in a Christmas card.

The final suggestion is “transference” of affection from one adored object to another. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t and when it doesn’t, the limerent victim then suffers a sort of love-based schizophrenia. It all sounds very unsatisfactory.

Rather than being seen as a negative, some thinkers pay homage to the act of falling in love as a catalyst to change for the better. The term New Relationship Energy, or NRE to the cognoscenti, suggests that at the beginning of significant romantic and/or sexual human relationships, there can be heightened excitement and even creativity. If reciprocated, it can grow to full force and illuminate every aspect of physical, intellectual and emotional life … before it fades over months to years.

Oh yes, it fades. Eros is a transient state of being, only able to endure in hearts and minds when it is tragically curtailed whilst still in full flow. Think of the lovers of literature and legend. Did Anthony and Cleopatra slip into bedroom slippers and grumble over the Horlicks? Did Romeo have a go at Juliet for not ironing his favourite cod-piece? Must it all end in tragedy? So it would seem.

Or else, in the words of T. S. Eliot, even great love is fated to die “not with a bang, but a whimper”?

Proceed with caution in the face of NRE, say the experts. Don’t allow the surge of bio-chemical energy experienced to warp judgement. Be aware that NRE can damage long-standing, valuable love relationships which, by comparison, may appear pedestrian and even boring.

This short bout of learning more about the nature of love might’ve been depressing had it not been for a 2008 TED.com talk* that I first watched some weeks ago. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, explores the science of love without sacrificing the nature of romance. She says that love is a universal human drive, stronger than the sex drive, thirst, hunger or even the will to live. Having studied the human brain in those who love, those who have loved and lost, and finally, those who remain in love after many years together, she confirms that the part of the brain affected when “in love” is the same part of the brain that is affected in people suffering Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD.

And, just as it is dangerous to be “in love”, it is equally dangerous to suppress one’s feelings.

With millions of people taking anti-depressants to stave off the downside of Western living, with all its comforts yet emotional inadequacies, Fisher says the serotonin enhancers, or anti-depressants, blunt emotions, curb obsessive thinking and help with sleeplessness.

On the other hand, they also depress the production of the dopamine system in the brain, that part of the brain that roars into action when a person falls “in love.” And with the loss of love, comes the loss of Spring. Love brings, she says, “all the colours, sounds and tastes of spring. Pink petals, whizzing bugs, asparagus and strawberries. After months of gray and white and winter foods, these sensory experiences are novel, exciting. Novelty stimulates dopamine circuits in the brain, circuits that can bring optimism and elation.”

Who wants to live in the eternal winter of the Snow Queen of Narnia? Not C. S. Lewis, not J. R. R. Tolkien … and not me.

One love, four loves, who knows and who cares?

Bring on the madness, the whizz-bang and the strawberries, because I still dare to dream.

*https://www.ted.com/speakers/helen_fisher
Words 1,629 COPYRIGHT SUZI CLARK 2016-01-10

Come Quickly to the Stable

From my short Christmas play, The Alleluia Gate, published as The Gatehouse – it always struck me that the scene of the Nativity must be as chaotic as when I was in it at Primary School, Mountbelle, near Chislehurst in Kent. They cast me as the Virgin Mary because I was the only child “of colour” and therefore apparently “looked the part.” I then overheard them say that I couldn’t act for toffee … a comment that always puzzled me, as I’ve always liked toffee. I got demoted to an angel and in those days Daz washing powder were giving out plastic lilies with so many coupons, so I got a lily and carried it in the Nativity. So when I wrote The Alleluia Gate, a play for adults and children, I always imagined a noisy scene in the stable … so much for the Prince of Peace idea. That’s why I wrote this song, one of my favourites. The Nativity model was purchased in Libya in 1963, and has been with me on my life journey … the insubordinate addition of Morph in a bowler hat was thanks to my future son-in-law, Andy, to whom I rashly gave Fimo as a table gift for his first Clark Christmas …

Come quickly to the stable

Come as fast as you’re able … there’s a great surprise

You won’t believe your eyes …

 

Come quickly to the stable

There’s a mess of people there, and shepherd boys

Making such a noise … you ought to hear it!

 

Come and see, there is magic in the air

There are angels everywhere, tucked up high above the eaves

And I can tell you don’t believe me …

 

So come quickly to the stable

There’s a little bit of heaven here in Bethlehem

God has come to men and women, it’s the prince of peace

Come and see him and rejoice

In the wonder and the noise

 

A horse is neighing, a donkey braying, the kings are clapping

and angels flapping

and shepherds queueing

and cows are mooing

and baby’s cooing … drop what you’re doing and

 

Come to the stable …

For there can never be another night like this

Such a night of bliss … until the end of time

 Another night like this

 Til the end of time

 Another night like this

 Til the end of time.

 

 

Mrs de Souza’s Parlour

Suzi Clark all rights reserved 2015

 SYNOPSIS

 The play is set in the late 1990’s in a suburb of a large city in Britain.

 

Mrs de Souza is a formidable Anglo-Indian lady in her late sixties, worldly and yet other-worldly. Her kitchen is her Empire. From here, she dispatches her spicy largesse – home-made chutneys and pickles to friends, Indian restaurants, and the W.I. Her speciality is chutney cake.

 

So popular have her chutneys become that she is being wooed by a company called Chutney Mary’s that wants to manufacture them commercially, while keeping the homely brand “Mrs de Souza’s Parlour.” They want to buy her out, lock, stock and Scotch Bonnets.

 

Slight problem. There is already another parlour in the family, the Parlour next door, belonging to Mr de Souza. It is a funeral parlour, just a step away from the chutney and pickle-making.

 

Mr de Souza and Mrs de Souza are alike in some ways — but not in others. He is solemn, rotund, ceremonious, frequently quoting Kipling to his bereaved clients. She is full of home-spun wisdom. “We’re like chalk and chappattis” she says, fondly.

 

I say Mr de Souza is solemn. This is truer than a truism because, actually, Mr de Souza is dead. Some weeks earlier Mrs de Souza had found him, ramrod stiff, out the back where the hearse is kept. With alarm, and ever-resourceful despite her grief, she noted that he had helped himself to a jar of her experimental extra hot lime pickle. Was this the cause of his sudden demise?

 

Would she be had up for murder?

 

Not one to panic, and a dab hand with the sewing machine, she enlists the help of her employees, Reginald and Stella, and takes the decision to replace her husband – herself. They whip up a velcro mourning suit, and, when required to play the part, she tiptoes the bereaved in and out of the funeral parlour, murmuring suitable epithets and Kipling, all muddled up.

 

Sadly, she also has had to whip off her late husband’s keynote magnificent handlebar moustache, which she keeps in a jar, next to the cumin seeds and coriander on her kitchen surface, under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary.

 

“Being kissed by a man who doesn’t wax his moustache is like eating an egg without salt” as Rudyard would say, Mr de Souza was fond of murmuring.

 

Mrs de Souza is in control. Phew. The funeral business continues. The chutney and pickle business is thriving. Nobody seems to notice that Mr de Souza is a bit strange – but then, they are usually overcome by grief. Or dead.

 

In fact, Mrs de Souza talks to the dead and they seem to quite like it. Sometimes they talk back to her, while she stirs her pickles and chutneys. They tell her their stories. It seems to bring them peace. Her employees – Reginald, a sombre Jeeves-like character, who drives the hearse and does the heavy stuff with his wife, Stella, a twinkly and muscular little Sicilian woman, heavily pregnant  – know what is going on, but keep quiet, preferring to stay in employment. They reason that what no-one knows, won’t hurt them and why shouldn’t Mrs de Souza continue to trade in her husband’s good name, after all?  They live next door. They refer to the dead with reverence and affection as “the dear departed”.

 

Stella and Mrs de Souza are both Catholics, and there is a large picture of The Sacred Heart of Jesus by the stove, to whom Mrs de Souza addresses remarks, and a statue of the Virgin Mary, overseeing the kitchen. A frequent visitor to both Parlours is the Catholic priest Padre Amici, a cousin of Stella’s, who has an enormous Sicilian family which seem to be the main source of the clients for their funeral trade.

 

Then two things happen which rock the boat.

 

The Local Education Authority and the Chamber of Commerce sign an agreement to offer work placements to 14 – 16 year olds in the borough. Mrs de Souza, despite her protests, gets Bill for interview and although the interview is a disaster, she takes him on, mainly because she has taken a dislike to the Placement Tutor.

 

No-one else has ever wanted him. Bill is almost 18, older than the rest of his class – having had to repeat most years at school, a bit of a hard case, into piercing and Gothic dress sense, a no-hoper at school. He has a morbid interest in the business of death. He takes to it like a Bombay duck to water. He is smart. Sooner or later, he is going to realise that Mrs de Souza and Mr de Souza are one and the same. Sooner, rather than later.

 

What will Bill do? What will they do? Kill Bill?

 

Then, even worse …  Mrs de Souza’s long-lost son, Aubrey, or “Sonny Boy” as she calls him, turns up out of the blue, having read about the proposed acquisition of the chutney business. All of a sudden, he is not so ashamed of his roots, his parents and his family semi. The problem is, Sonny doesn’t know that his father is dead. He is bitter, he is ambitious – he is the product of too many jellabis in his indulged childhood – Mrs de Souza blames herself for his rejection of her, and their culture. He is a florid, Engelbert Humperdinck look-alike, and sports cravats and a posh accent. He has told his English wife that his parents are dead and that he was raised by rich relations in the shires.

 

What will Sonny do? Not above a bit of blackmail.

 

And now the LEA are sending around the placements tutor, the lawyer is coming around to sign up on the acquisition of the pickles and chutneys brand – but he seems increasingly interested in acquiring Mrs de Souza herself, another lawyer is lurking from an American Funeral Parlour conglomerate, the priest is popping by to try and wring yet another donation out of Mrs de Souza for the Indian Missions, and it turns out that Stella’s Sicilian relations have a vested interest in the funeral Parlour continuing to run. The Don decides it is time to see this business for himself.

 

As Rudyard would probably have said, in Mrs de Souza’s Parlour insatiable curtiosity is the key – but the female of the species is most definitely deadlier than the male.

 

Ends

 

For the full script apply to the author

 

Mrs de Souza’s Parlour

Suzi Clark

Characters/Setting/notes on author

 

12+ characters to be played by 6 actors

 

Mrs (Blanche) de Souza         early 70’s, from Goa of Eurasian descent, wears a floral dress and cardy, pearls, a crucifix, grey hair in a chignon, usually an apron or pinny.

Well-preserved.

 

Sonny Boy de Souza              aka Aubrey Southampton-Wheeler. Early forties, married but we never see his wife, works as a hospital administrator and has created another life for himself because he is ashamed of his parents and his roots.

 

Bill Brown                                Almost 18, a failure all his life, Bill is angry with everyone and everything. He has a morbid curiousity about death and dying, but  his insistence on a work placement at a funeral parlour is more bravado than obsession. Bill has flirted with the BNP – he has no exposure to other cultures other than Paki-bashing after school.

 

Stella Smith                            38-ish, bustly and busty Sicilian – works for Mrs de Souza in the Funeral Parlour but finding it more difficult as her first pregnancy progresses – they are good friends. Stella has an enormous family, they drop like flies, and  keep the Funeral Parlour in business. La Famiglia di Stella, is no ordinary family.

 

Padre Amici                            Stella’s cousin, the local Catholic priest, a regular visitor to Mrs de Souza’s kitchen and the Funeral Parlour. Very helpful, very unjudgemental – unusual.

 

Reginald Smith                       Principal undertaker, following the demise of the real Mr de Souza. Stella’s husband – despite the age difference, they enjoy a closeness. Mrs de Souza’s  secret is safe with him. In his mid 70’s but very fit – protective of Mrs de Souza, his late friend’s memory, and the business of dying, which he treats with great respect and gravitas. May well be a hit-man.

 

 

Other characters

 

 

Mr        (Stanley) de Souza                 Played by Mrs de Souza. Same height as his wife, also from Goa, rotund, sepulchral voice, moves at solemn pace, wears his top hat and mourning suit in the house, a man of few words, mainly Kipling. Massive handlebar moustache.

 

Bill’s Placement Tutor            Can be played by Stella – an anxious, dithering, haranguing teacher – out of her depth when out of the classroom. Welsh accent. Swings between deference and defiance.

 

Grieving relations/VOICES     To be played by Stella, Sonny and Bill

 

Lawyer from US funeral         Can be played by Bill

Chain (Gianni Vabene)           Sharp businessman. Sharp enough to know when to back off a deal, because the Big Boys are involved.

 

The Don                                  Can be played by Sonny

Elegant, grey-haired, fastidious. A man of few words yet much charisma. A ladies’ man. Has a large ring on his finger that everyone seems to want to kiss, including Padre Amici and Mr Vabene.

 

Lawyer from Chutney Mary’s   Can be played by Padre Amici

(James Abercrombie)             Public-school, well-read.  Loves his grub. A confirmed bachelor – until he meets Mrs de S. He  is much younger than she is, but still smitten.

 

SETTING      Early 1990’s – 1920’s detached suburban house.  A small funeral parlour has been extended out from the side of the house. It is autumn.

 

Act One  – in Mrs de Souza’s parlour – a kitchen area where holy pictures and statues of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus rub shoulders with the cumin, the coriander and the sewing machine on the kitchen table, where Stella runs up the silk linings for the coffins. Hanging in bunches, red chillies, garlic, shallots. Wreaths.  Holy water in a plastic Virgin Mary. Posh tea set. At once cosy and cluttered, it is also slightly sinister – a place with dark corners and three doors – one  through to the Funeral Parlour, a side door beside the window over the sink and a back door to the rear of the stage leading out into a workshop and car parking area.  In one corner, there is a large American-style double fridge/freezer. At night, the kitchen is lit by many candles. There is a central staircase going into the rest of the de Souza house.

 

Act Two –  in the Chapel of Rest, just off Mrs de Souza’s parlour. The coffin is spotlit on a dais below a stained glass window, with upright chairs at its head and foot – rich drapes, silk and velvet, tassels, a sense of grandeur and departure.

 

A slight smell of curry battles against the heady fragrance of the lilies, in vases everywhere. Candles on the window-sill.

 

Downstage, a desk with telephone and notepad and a waiting area with a sofa, coffee table and appropriate reading – a Bible, the Road Less-Travelled etc.

 

Notes about the author

Suzi Clark workedfor Chicken Shed Theatre Company as an education marketing/R & D/corporate relations specialist. Her previous career was as head of press and publicity for one of the UK’s largest universities.

 

Her writing career to date has been sporadic. She has won three international short story competitions, been published and broadcast by the BBC, had her first musical produced and televised overseas, has had a children’s play published, and a jazz requiem performed. Her unpublished play “FairyTales” has been performed four times.  She has written freelance for The Times Education and the Times High Supps, and a number of education journals and magazines.

 

This play was commenced after attending a series of new writers’ workshops at Chicken Shed with Sarah Daniels.