Saturday, 1 August 2015

Issue 3

The Cocktail Party

by T.S Eliot

A travesty in three acts

Dramatis Personae

Act One

A cocktail party in a lavish private house. Guests are formally attired, the women in evening gowns, the men in dinner jackets or uniforms of distinction. A string quartet plays discretely in the background. George, dressed in a white dinner jacket and gold embroidered waistcoat with red cummerbund, is speaking with Bill. Bill has had a little more to drink than is good for him.

George:       (Taking Bill's arm  impatiently) Bill, Bill, what’s the matter with Wazza? I’ve 
                      given him a bloody doctorate, but still nothing. Haven’t heard a thing from him. 
                      Can’t you have a word?

Bill:               You’ll have to be patient George. You can’t rush the Lord Lieutenant. These 
                      things take time.

George:        Patient? A week after I gave Keaters his I was sitting in a racing car with 
                      half-naked women crawling all over it.

Bill:               It’s hardly the same.

George:        Got free hospitality at the Wanderers from Garters. Even Warby gave me 
                      year’s supply of free crumpets. Nothing from Wazza. Not a sausage.

Bill:               There are protocols.

George:        Protocols?

Bill:               Of course. You can’t just go at it like a bull in a china shop. You have to approach 
                      these things with a measure of diplomacy.

George:        Diplomacy?

Bill:               You can’t just come out and say you want this or that. There’s ways of doing

George:        Ways?

Bill:               Yes, you know, a nod and a wink. You have to be a little circumspect.

George:        Sounds complicated.

Bill:               Not really. It’s a knack. Like for instance, you want to be a Deputy Lord 
                      Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, correct.

George:        Well yes.

Bill:                So you mustn't under any circumstances just come right out and say it. You  
                       have to show some humility.

George:        Humility?I don't understand.

Bill:                I thought that might be a problem. Look, you kind of.... (adopts an 
                      overweaning demeanour, smiles obsequiously) then say something like, “What
                       a wonderful honour it must be to be able to represent Her Majesty the Queen in
                      this distant oupost of her realm.”

George:         Who do I say that too?

Bill:                Wazza of course.  Go on, try it.

George:         What now?

Bill:                Why not?

George:         You sure?

Bill:                Go on, no one’s looking.

George:         (Adopts a grovelling demeanour) What a wonderful honour it must be to 
                       represent her majesty in this distant outpost of her realm. (He’s oblivious to
                       the guests nearby looking at him with amusement. He drops the mannerism)
                       How was that?

Bill:                Very good, very good. It’s as though you were born to it.

George:         (Practising a few more grovelling gestures) Quite easy really. Anything else I 
                        need to know?

Bill:                 Well there’s the business of the house of course.

George:          House?

Bill:                 Yes, needs to be a good size. For entertaining purposes. Anytime there’s 
                        bigwigs in the area, all that caper. Trish is always very good at that you know. 
                        And it has to be over this way. Wakefield’s no good George.

George:          What, here. (Points to the floor). Bolton (Grimaces)

Bill:                ‘Fraid so. Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester. The clue’s in the title

George:          Bugger.

Bill:                 Problem?

George:          Just a small one. Can’t sell.

Bill:                 Negative equity?

George:          Sitting tenant. Sort of. It’s complicated. How much am I looking at?

Bill:                 High sixes. Maybe seven figures.

George:          Jesus! Where am I going to get that sort of moolah?

Bill:                 Surely you can raise a loan somwehere, man of your substance.

George:          Who’s going to lend me that sort of money in this climate. Even if I  
                        could find someone dumb enough, can you imagine the interest rate? At this 
                        rate I’ll never get my bloody knighthood.

Bill:                 Knighthood!

George:          No, no, I never said knighthood. I said I’ll never get my Night Nurse. It’s 
                        getting late, the chemist’ll be shut. Feeling feverish. Caught a bit of a chill 
                        earlier in Keater’s motor. Never said knighthood. Don’t want one of those. 
                        Definitely not. 

Bill:                 Well, well, George, who’d have thought. I had no idea your ambition was so
                        elevated. If you're thinking along those lines I should speak to Trish. She’s
                        been there, done that, got the tiara. But remember, never mention the thing
                        you want. Protocol. (Taps the side of his nose, departs to talk to another 

George practises a few grovelling flourishes of his hand, arranges his face in a variety of fawning expressions. He is self-absorbed as the Mayor approaches.)

Mayor:           Good evening George.

George:          (Collecting himself) Oh, Good evening Mr Mayor. How are you?

Mayor:           I’m grand. (He too adopts an overweaning demeanour) I just wanted to say 
                        how how generous it is of the University to offer honorary doctorates to those
                        who have devoted themselves to the interests of the town. It must be a 
                        tremendous honour to receive such an award from your home town university.

George:          (Startled) You what?

Mayor:           (Visibly losing confidence, turns his head in the direction of the Leader of the 
                        Council and the Leader of the Opposition, both of whom urge him on with 
                        encouraging gestures) I was just saying, (studiously adopts the overweaning 
                        demeanour once more) not that I would ever dream I might be worthy of 
                        such a thing you understand ..... (his voice trails off as the lights fade to black)

Act Two

The same cocktail party. George is at the edge of a group of guests which includes the Baroness, the Bishop and sundry others. He is attempting unsuccessfully to attract her attention.  

George:         Pssst. (whispering) Trish, a word if I may.

Trish:            (Turns, assumes a mildly sour expression, ) Ah George.

George:         Sorry to be a nuisance.

Trish:            (Wearily) Don’t be George. You can’t help it. Something you’re born
                       with.  With me it was talent. That’s life. (Sips her martini)

George:         Bill said I should have a word with you.

Trish:             A word?

George:         Yes, about ... about ... (Remembers the instruction from Bill, adopts a 
                       grovelling pose) How absolutely marvellous it must be to receive an honour 
                       from Her Majesty.

Trish:            Yes, very marvellous.

George:         And I was wondering ... I was wondering ....

Trish:            You were wondering what?

George:         I was wondering if you could ... if you could .. if somehow....

Trish:            What are you trying to say George?

George:         I was wondering, if you could advise, how to.. how you got, you know,  damed.

Trish:             Damned? I wasn’t aware I’d been damned. (aside) At least not until he 

George:         No I mean, how ... you know (he mimes dubbing her shoulders with an 
                       imaginary sword, whispers) I'm not allowed to say it.

Trish:             You mean honoured.

George:          No, no, no. Yes.

Trish:             (Shrieks  with incredulity) An honour? You?

The Bishop, on hearing this turns away from the group to join them.

Bishop:           An honour?

George:          No, no, not at all. Just saying, it’s always an honour Bishop. (He shakes his 
                        hand vigorously)

Bishop:            (Perplexed) You too George. But weren’t we speaking earlier?

George:          Were we? Seems like ages ago.

Bishop:           Are you all right George?

Trish:             He’s after an honour.

George:          No, no, not at all.

Trish:             Didn’t Bill tell me you’re after the Deputy Lord Lieutenant’s office?

George:          No, yes. No. Bill said I mustn’t say. 

(Bill joins the group, even more worse for wear than before.)

Bill:                  Mustn’t say what?

Trish:              Deputy Lord Lieutenant. And more. George wants a leg up.

Bishop:            A leg up? Must be after a Knight of the Garter.

They chortle among themselves.

Bill:                  I was telling him before, grab it quick if you get the chance. Gives you a boot 
                        up the old ladder, eh Trish. Every time there’s a local shindig you’re sure to 
                        get in on the act. Acting on behalf of the Queen. Meet some very interesting 
                        people. (Taps the side of his nose) Know what I mean?

Trish:             Don’t be vulgar Bill. Not in company.

George:          Oh, I don’t mind.

Trish:             No, you wouldn’t.

George:          The thing is, if I’m going to get the Deputy Lord Lieutenant... oh bugger I 
                        said it. Oh bollocks, I swore. Oh Christ. Oh, sorry Bishop.

Bishop:           Bless you my child.

(George’s anxiety has sent him into a semi-robotic state in which he feverishly adopts his repertoire of obsequious demeanours)

                        Are you all right George? You seem agitated.

George:           I’m fine Bishop. Absolutely fine.

Bill:                  He has a problem over in Wakefield. Sitting tenant, sort of. Bit of a tricky one.

Trish:              Really?

Bill:                  Yes, poor old George needs a bigger house for all the entertaining a Deputy 
                         Lieutenant has to do, but he can’t sell his old one.

Trish:              Bridging loan, that’s what you need.

George:           Bridging loan? For a cool million! It’ll cost a fortune.

Bill:                  Who’s even got that sort of money to lend?

George:           Exactly. Although ......

(There’s a moment of shared enlightenment, as Bill and George and Trish all have the same idea simultaneously. They look in turn from one to the other.)

Bill:                   You surely don't mean ....

George:            No, no, no ....

Bill:                   No, couldn’t possibly....

Trish:               Never get approval from....

Bishop:             Approval for what?

Trish:               A million quid loan, for George’s new house.

Bishop:             Yes, well no one's going to be stupid enough to lend you a million quid in this 

George:            Exactly

Bishop:             I mean, the only institution with that sort of money going spare in Bolton is 
                          the University for God’s sake!

Trish:               Ha,ha,ha, the University!

Bill:                   Imagine! The University!

George:            The University!

Bishop:             Perhaps we should just open a bank!

 (They laugh  uproariously)

Trish:                You really are a card Your Worship!

Bill:                    A bank! 

Bishop:             It's absurd. As if the Board of Governors would agree a million pound loan to
                           its vice-principle! People would think they'd gone out of ther collective mind.

George:            An absurd idea, as you say. Absolutely absurd. Though, since you've 
                          brought it up Bishop, .... (Puts his arm around the Bishop's shoulders, smiles
                          at him, and leads him way)

Act Three

 The same cocktail party, outside a toilet/bathroom. George is with Suze.

George:         Now Suze, all you've got to do is convince the Bishop it's in the interest of the

Suze:             Dr. Suze if you don't mind. 

George:        Sorry, Dr. Suze. Anyway, get to work on him. What's your MO?

Suze:             You know what the Bishop's like. Loves a bit of flattery. 

George:        Then flatter him. Appeal to his noble instincts. Yes that's it. 
                      What's good for Bolton's good for the country, that sort of thing. Invoke his
                      patriotic spirit.

Suze:             How do you propose I do that?

George:        I don't know. Sing God Save the Queen. Recite something out of bloody Kipling. 
                      You'll think of something.

The Bishop enters, ushered along by Gordon. George ushers everyone into the toilet. He seats the Bishop on the lavatory, himself on the bidet. The other two sit on the edge of the bath.

George:        Thing is Bishop, this loan is extremely important. It’s for the good of the 
                      University. Means I’ll be able to devote even more time to the job and the town.

Bishop:         I can see that George, but the other Governors, how can I convince them?

George:        Suze?

Suze:            Ahem, Dr. Suze.

George:        Sorry, Dr. Suze. Any thoughts?

Suze:            Well, let’s look at the numbers. Eighteen governors, including you boss. Two are 
                      Deputy Lords, one’s married to another. They’ll recognise the importance of  
                      what you’re trying to do. Then there are the three doctorates, so there we’ll
                      just be calling in a favour. Four are employees, who presumably want to remain 
                      employees. Two are student union reps who would very much like to keep their 
                      funding. I make that twelve. Then there’s yourself and the Bishop, which makes 
                      fourteen. Take one off for double counting Bill who’s deputy and doctorate so
                      that’s thirteen. I’m no mathematician but that seems like a majority to me. 

Bishop:         Can't argue with the sums, but I don't know that I can convince the others.

Suze:            I'm sure you can. A man of your charisma. Your ability to influence others.

Bishop:         (With affected modesty, a coy smile) No, really, I'm not sure that I can.

Suze:             Don't allow your natural modesty to deflect you from your duty. Just remember
                      the entire future of the University, indeed the nation, will be in jeopardy if 
                      George can't move to Bolton. You and you alone hold the key. (She leans 
                      forward, stares intently at the Bishop). You alone have the power to guide 
                      others onto the path of righteousness. I look at you and think of Henry at
                      Agincourt, Wellington, Churchill, Bob Geldoff. It’s the burden men of your 
                      stature are fated to carry.

Bishop:         (Flustered now) Really?

Suze:            It’s your manifest destiny.

Bishop:         Oh come now.

Suze:             Indeed it is. Few men these days are able to rise to the challenge of leading 
                      others in the face of unenlightened opposition. It takes moral courage, mental 
                      strength and a singular will that few men possess. (She rises and declaims in
                      the manner of an orator) If you can keep your head when all about you are 
                      losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt 
                      you (a momentary look of confusion, before continuing with ever more 
                      elaborate gestures) on the road to Mandalay, where the flying fishes play. It 
                      was an ancient mariner and he stoppeth one of three. April is the cruellest 
                      month, I'll go now to Innisfree. I should have changed that stupid lock I should 
                      have thrown away the key. Unravished bride of quietness, river deep, and 
                      mountain high. (she finishes with a flourish and a Scots accent) Gie fools their
                      silks, and knaves their wine; a man's a man for a' that.

George:         (applauds) Well put Doctor Suze!

Bishop:          (abashed) Well, really, I don’t know what to say. I feel quite overcome. 

George:         Well that’s settled. I knew you’d see the reasonableness of it Bishop. So 
                       Flash, how do we spin it?

 Gordon:         Dr. Flash if you don’t mind. I don’t see a problem. It’s for the good of the 
                        town and University, obviously. Nothing whatsoever to do with your social      
                        climbing being underwritten with University funds.

George:          Absolutely not. Never gave it a thought.

Gordon:         You’ll pay a fair rates of interest no doubt.

George:          Will I? Must I?

Gordon:         Yes, take the lead, get a positive story out there. Dish out a few more 
                        doctorates if you have to. Keep ‘em sweet.

George:          Wonderful. That’s that sorted. Let’s get back to the party. (Claps the Bishop on
                        the back)

Bishop:           (Over-excited, intoxicated by the moment) How wonderful. By the way Dr. 
                        Flash, did you hear the  one about the furtive ram imported from South Africa
                        to improve breeding rates up on Holcombe Moor? Krypton Factor, then
                        Krypt...... (a knock at the door. They freeze. The door slowly opens to reveal 
                        the Leader of the Council)

Leader of C:   Oh, I'm so sorry.

George:          No that’s fine Big Man. Come in. Just an informal meeting.

Leader of C:   It's Dr. Big Man actually. Nothing important then?

Suze:               No, just bog standard stuff.

They chortle.

Leader of C:    (squeezing into the toilet) Rather fortuitous actually, George. We were 
                         debating the future of the town in cabinet the other night. And I was thinking,
                         just an idle thought, thinking off the top of  my head, you know, from out of 
                         nowhere really.  (Assumes a grovelling demeanour) Wouldn’t it be wonderful 
                         if the local council were able to find a partner with access to money to help 
                        develop the town centre. Don’t you think it would be just marvellous?

George:           Wonderful Dr. Big Man!

Suze:               For the whole town!

Gordon:          Hooray!

All:                  That’s Bolton! Well and truly Krypton!

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