Tales of the City: commonwealth

Several years ago, whilst in South Africa, I had the pleasure of being invited for elevenses with the formidable Lady Henry-Nesbitt at her magnificent home in the wealthy suberb of Newlands.

As a British lady schooled in the ways of the “old commonwealth,” I have been thinking of her a lot lately and how her way of life and attitudes differ from how we view the commonwealth today.

I thought it might be interesting to share a little of this encounter with you given that Glasgow is hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games this summer.

Names have been changed, but elevenses with the Lady went a bit like this:


Where is that wretched boy?

Terribly sorry Olivia, I shall be having words with cook later about this tardiness.

I simply don’t know what has got into them today. Worse than useless!’

Lady Henry-Nesbitt had been fanning herself furiously for around five minutes with little or no apparent awareness as to my own imminent expiry when a young local lad finally appeared at the terrace door with a tray.

`Ah, Nico, there you are.

Did you not hear me ring the bell?

A jug of iced lemon is required.


That means at high speed this time if you would.

Miss Hyde and I shall be forced to become native if we are left much longer out here to parch.

Do hurry boy.’

She paused briefly to raise an eyebrow at the young man tearing off towards the pantry.

I pitied the poor fellow, having to be her lapdog (particularly given that in this heat, she smelt not unlike one).

She belched suddenly, as if to signal my attention,

‘Where were we again?

Ah yes, Patricia Varnon?

Quite simply a frightful woman don’t you think?’

At this point, I half expected her to do a pantomime bow. I hadn’t even mentioned bloody Patricia Vernon, and as it happened; no, I didn’t think she was a frightful woman but actually rather sweet.

As usual an answer was neither expected nor advised and so I caught myself nodding somewhat involuntarily.

‘My dear, did I tell you that I recently received an invitation from her in which the small print suggested that I might want to “BRING A BOTTLE”?!

I don’t quite know who she thinks she is?

Or indeed, who she thinks I am.

Her sister-in-law’s husband owns a bloody vineyard in the south of France for heaven’s sake!

…..And that new toy boy of hers, well.

He is a piece of work.

Poor Barney must simply be spinning in his grave.

I first set eyes on him last August when he happened to be loitering around outside the Fitzjames Club smoking a cigarillo like a common or garden gigolo.

He pounced on me quite contrarily, and offered me his arm up the entrance steps.

I mean really.

And not nearly as handsome as she’d have you believe though.’

The ageing cyclops lifted her eye patch, scratched whatever was underneath, placed her hands on her lap and then stared at me searchingly.

Lady Henry-Nesbitt was a poker player all right.

`Anyway, he knew precisely what he was doing.

Daddy warned me years ago about dipsomaniacs and charitable gestures mixing about as well as oil and water.

Had I known, I would have never let him step over the threshold at FJC. Now we’re all stuck with him.’

`Of course, I don’t blame myself; FJC simply went to the dogs whilst I was in quarantine.

I dare say that he would have found a route in through the lavatory window if he had to.’

I twisted my signet ring anxiously as the iced lemon arrived, wondering what exactly she knew about that fateful evening last summer.

She was waiting for me to deal my hand.

I shall leave it to your imagination what did happen that steamy summer night, needless to say it was all terribly juicy gossip. Not something to entrust with the Lady anyway.

Do you have any tales of the Commonwealth; old school or modern?






16 thoughts on “Tales of the City: commonwealth”

  1. Fascinating writing… is this fiction or a real occurance? I’m thinking real after I finish reading. What are ‘Elevenses’? And Commonwealth Games? I have heard of these things, I’ll have to look them up. I found your use of the word ‘expiry’ interesting. (I definitely had to look that one up)


    1. Hi Ted! Firstly thank you for reading, commenting and for your excellent and inquisitive attention to detail. All these terms are from traditional British (mainly English) social convention and events are based on real life. I’d equate elevenses to afternoon tea except it traditionally happens late morning around eleven – hence elevenses- but not sure if you guys do afternoon tea parties either? Again, expiry is a posh phrase for being parched with thirst to the point of death! Commonwealth Games is a worldwide event in which countries from the old British Commonwealth compete in same events as the Olympics. A pretty massive event over here, this year it’s being hosted in Glasgow, Scotland – where I am living at the moment. We are all very excited! Hope this clears things up! 🙂


  2. I have never had the pleasure of traveling to South Africa, but I did spend about 6 weeks in various parts of Britain in the mid nineties due to my relationship with an Englishman. I met people much like your “poker” companion here. Along with its other charms, this piece should be included in any text book that tries to explain the attitudes of British colonialism. (If it isn’t true, it certainly could be.) And with your ear for dialogue you should be writing serial programs for the BBC.


    1. Kathy, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this post and I’m particularly over-the- moon about your compliment on dialogue and the BBC. I would love to hear about some of your experiences in Britain in the nineties. Please get in touch!


  3. I’m on Facebook under the same name. If you contact me I will give you my email address. If you’re not on Facebook, let me know. I’m a fan of your writing, and if you want to hear about an ugly Amercan’s take on parts of Britain in the nineties, let me know. One hint; I loved my travels there.


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