In today’s department for things worth reading we bring an excerpt from Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus, which could be described as a comic mystery novel – though there is no crime involved, only some vaguely magical healings with an ingenious solution in the end. Howlingly funny and full of little side stories like this one, which you will find towards the end:
When Gordon Fell was knighted in 1987 he threw a celebration binge afterwards at the Savoy. Not the Dominion Club of course, as it should have been, but the Savoy. During the party he described to us the ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Gordie hadn’t been the only man there that morning to be knighted, naturally. The Queen contrives to process dozens of candidates in one hit. They are disposed, it would seem, in rows of chairs, as at a lecture, while a band of the Guards plays anus-contractingly inappropriate tunes like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in the background. Gordon was due to kneel and be dubbed next in line after the self-important fool sitting beside him. This pompous little pip-squeak had wriggled his way into the chairmanship of some large charity or another and was now coming to collect what he regarded as his due reward.
The figure introduced himself with pride and whispered, after Gordon had told him his name, “And what do you to, then? The diplomatic, is it?”
“I’m a painter,” Gordie said.
“Really?” said the fellow. “Not one of those awful moderns, I hope.”
“Oh no,” said Gordon. “Of course I am not a modern painter. I was born in the sixteenth fucking century, wasn’t I? I’m an Old Master, me.”
Not quite Buck House language, perhaps, but justifiable under the circumstances. The chap turned his shoulder on Gordie, disgusted that he could be sharing an honour with such an animal. Gordon pointedly scratched his groin and yawned.
Anyway, the turn came for the charity weasel to kneel and be serviced. It so fell out that this investiture into the Knights Commander of the Crawling Toads, or whatever order it was that he was in line for, took place unaccompanied by melody, the band being engaged in taking the sheet music of “Consider Yourself” off their stands and replacing it with “Born Free”. her Maj’s sword tapped the man’s shoulders in hushed silence and he rose to an upright position with becoming dignity, bowing his head with a crisp snap that would have shamed an equerry. As he did so his nervous, uptight and excitable system delivered itself of an astoundingly sustained and quite startlingly loud fart. The monarch stepped backwards, which was all part of the programme as it happened, but which seemed to everyone present to be an involuntary reaction to the man’s violent rip. The expression on his face as he trailed miserably down the aisle was one of deepest woe. Every person in the room stared at him or, worse, waited until he was level with them and then averted their eyes. Gordon, passing him in the aisle as he made his own way to the steps of the throne, murmured in a growl audible to all, “Don’t worry, old boy. She’ll be used to it. Keeps plenty of dogs and horses, don’t forget.”
The lips of the Queen, according to Gordie, were seen to curve into a smile at this and she detained him in conversation for longer than anyone else. When he returned to his seat next to the still-scarlet farter, Sir Gordon rasped out, in time with the band which was now operative again, “Bo-orn free, a-free as the WIND BLOWS.”
Being the vindictive sod that he is, Gordie didn’t stop there, naturally. In the mêlée of press that gathered outside the palace and especially around him, he was asked how the occasion had gone.
“That man over there,” Gordon said, pointing at the chap, who was standing with his wife and only a photographer from a local Hampshire newspaper to bolster his self-esteem, “let out the most extraordinary fart, virtually in the sovereign’s face. Quite astonishing. Some kind of anarchist, I suppose.”
The pack flew to the spot like flies to a cow-pat and the pathetic creature was last seen streaking down the Mall, his silk topper bouncing on the pavement behind him. He lost his hat, his reputation and in all probability his wife in one Gordon Fell swoop. Never insult a painter. Not worth it.