Six degrees of separation: Alice inspires a literary treasure-hunt.

It was a particularly soggy Saturday afternoon, and the heat from the wood-burner was beginning to make me drowsy. “November is such a very predictably weather-full month,” I muttered to Rusty, who had taken possession of the hearth-rug, in a somewhat Elinor Glyn style. “I can’t think of anything better to do than leap into a literary rabbit hole, can you?”

At the word ‘rabbit’, Rusty had opened one eye. He watched me for a moment, then sighed and closed it again.

When outside he’s as keen as Mr McGregor on chasing the little carrot-nibblers. Merely naming that rodent sets him in search of a scent.

Rusty’s nose is phenomenal. Certainly as discerning as Jean-Baptist Grenouille’s. Though I don’t remember Patrick Suskind mentioning its dewy nature, I wonder if that was the secret of Jean-Baptist’s dubiously employed skills.

Unlike Rusty, Jean-Baptiste was not an attractive character, even without mention of a wet nose. I can still remember how I was held by his story, though, both fascinated and horrified. Rather like Ripley, now I come to think of it.

I’ve followed his journey more than once, trying to figure out not just what he is, but who, as he sheds friends and adopts new identities. In some ways, Ripley is the reverse of Jason Bourne, who is trying to remember his real identity.

Glancing across at my DVDs, I realised that the same actor played both rolls, and there was an interesting angle that ought to be pursued.

I’ve never been too good with doing what I ought to. I was already thinking about Fanny Logan, who tried pursuing love, but was frequently to be found in the airing cupboard, with her cousins, because the enormous mansion they lived in was incredibly drafty.

I’d worried over this since first reading Nancy Mitford’s novels, as a teenager. Drafty houses I understood, because we didn’t have central heating or double-glazing at that time, either. But Fanny would have needed to curl herself around the water cylinder on a narrow shelf full of folded laundry, to fit our airing cupboard.

Since then, when visiting stately homes or castles, I’ve taken special note of the airing facilities, trying to estimate how many Mitfords could comfortably gather within them. The girls have refused to materialise.

Rusty watched, without interest, as I went to check my airing cupboard. Three well-bred faces glared out from behind the heaps of sheets and pillowcases. There was a horrible silence, then in a “U” accent, one of them asked, “Are you an Hon?”

“We’re moving away from using titles,” I said.

“How too awful,” replied the one I thought might be Linda. She exchanged glances with the other two, then smiled sweetly and added, “I say, would you be a perfect darling and shut the door?”

“Look here,” said another voice, as I was beginning to comply. “You won’t believe what I’ve found at the back. Isn’t it too frightful?” She was waving a dusty pyjama top that I hadn’t seen for years.

There was a burst of sneering laughter.

“Barely a rag,” cried Lynda.

“Counter-Hon, without a doubt.”

“I just knew it.”

I threw the door open. “That’s an old favourite, if you don’t mind,” I said, making a grab for the brushed-cotton.

“Don’t snatch,” admonished Lynda.

Then came a loud, “Halloo,” and a bunched-up hand-towel was launched at my head.

A duster followed.

Someone yelled, “Death to the horrible Counter-Hon.” In moments, the contents of my shelves were raining down on me. If it hadn’t been for Rusty, arriving with his lead, who knows what might have happened then…

I struggled out from under the heap and noted that the world beyond the window looked a little less grey and cold than it had earlier.

“Good idea,” I said to Rusty, “I think we both need some fresh air. As for you three…” The Mitfords hung their heads, and began to look like any other teenage delinquents. “I expect that laundry to be just the way you found it, by the time we get back.”

Thanks to Kate, at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, and I hope she doesn’t mind my taking liberties with her excellent six-degrees-of-separation meme. Alice was a temptation I couldn’t resist.

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