Had a lovely time yesterday – tea with the Bishop of Winchester in the gardens of Wolvesey House. OK, it wasn’t just me, but many another chair of governors or headteacher of a church school. The Bish was great, talking a lot of sense (if slightly controversial sense) about not wanting Christians to be known for the women bishop debate or being ‘gay bashers’ but being known for the actions, like running food banks. Talking of running, I broke into a short sprint to overtake someone on the way back to the car and completely upended myself. My hands and knees (and thighs!) look like a seven year old’s.
Have spent much of the month editing, mainly Best Corpse for the Job, which is out in November, and a going over of Lessons for Survivors, which will be out in the new year. Looking forward to a week’s holiday, then lots of exciting stuff in July, including a visit to the Museum of Army Chaplaincy. Will mind my p’s and q’s. Which is more than ‘Madeleine’ from Awfully Glad does.
Madeleine smiled, then inclined her head regally. “Now, tell me about yourselves, lads. Have you got sweethearts at home?” She winked at Corry again, the pair of them evidently enjoying the discomfort of the younger men. “Or would it be wrong to mention them? I understand a lady’s name should never be mentioned in the mess. We should adhere to that rule.”
The conversation turned to a gentle probing of where the officers came from. Gradually they lost their unease, opening up their hearts to pour into Madeleine’s willing ear—to the extent that they became bold, bolder than was perhaps wise, in the circumstances.
“Sorry if we’re being forward, but we wondered if you would join us for a drink, afterwards? There’s a little estaminet…” Hampson’s words petered out under Madeleine’s piercing blue gaze.
“But of course. Once I’ve changed out of my working clothes.”
“Oh, yes. Come on chaps, let’s leave the lady to it.” Whether Hampson was in a hurry to leave the room to spare Madeleine’s modesty or hide his own blush, who could tell. The blush deepened to an ugly red at her reply.
“Oh, no need for that.” She favoured Corry with a wink. “Stay and keep me company.”
“I…ah…we…oh!” Hampson’s eyebrows shot up as Madeline unpinned her wig and removed it, to reveal short cropped hair, a couple of shades darker than his, dark auburn with sweat. She smiled, but not her usual coquettish smile; this one was masculine, the lines of the mouth suddenly hardened. The illusion had been broken.
“Lieutenant Samuel Hines, gentlemen. Female impersonator extraordinaire. And a very old friend of the family,” Corry added, maybe in case his officers thought he spent all his off duty hours hanging around with men wearing lipstick.
“Not so much of the old,” Sam replied in a voice which had gone down an octave since he’d last spoken. He began to wipe the make-up off his face. “Sorry to shatter any illusions,” he said, addressing Cole, who was clearly trying to give the impression he’d known all along. “Better you know now before we get to the estaminet. A bit of footsie under the table might have ended up with you getting your shins raked.”
Corry laughed. “You should have seen Sam on the rugby pitch. Usually played hard but fair, except when the ref wasn’t looking!”
“That’s the point of the game, surely?” Browne said. “Always used to be the point at Rosslyn Park, anyway.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Madeleine—Sam—smiled at him. They’d barely shared a sentence or a look, apart from the usual stuff that surrounded introductions, so maybe this officer wasn’t so easily swayed by femmes fatales as the rest of them. And maybe he’d spent so much time being fawned on, he now expected it as of right; that would have to stop. All this admiration could go to a man’s head.
Sam swung one leg over the other, revealing a silk-stockinged calf which might have been described as beautifully Junoesque had its observers not known better now. Still, plenty of women might have envied him his pins. “Right. My mouth feels like the underside of a dromedary’s saddle. Oh come on, don’t look so shocked. I’m not a girl, remember?” He laughed at Hampson’s horrified reaction, soon smothered, but not soon enough.
“You’re forgetting that he’s only Miss Madeleine onstage,” Corry said, cuffing Hampson’s arm. “This is the real man talking.”
“Sorry sir, sorry Ma…Lieutenant. It’s just…”
“Forget it,” Sam said. “It happens all the time. People don’t expect lips which wear lipstick to utter crudities. Talking of which, let me get this muck off or we’ll never get the beers in. As I said, I’m gagging.”
BTW, the Penzance gig has been put back half an hour so they can clear up after the Gruffalo. 🙂
Inspiration: What we hope to see in Wales.