31 December, in the year of our Lord 2020
Up, the day cold and a light snow, but cheered a little for my Almanack says it will be six minutes and a second longer than the Solstice, the sun a fraction higher — then un-cheered, for yesterday I allowed myself to run out of oyl and the house freezing, so at eight a-clock lit a fire of coal in the hearth. By and by a knock at the door, which I opened, where stood a stout figure, young and with a little stubble, sporting an auburn wig with ringlets, and bearing a whicker basket full of china oranges and a package of card board so large he could bearly see over it, attired in a cape and dress of a shimmerie emerald, offset by a frilly white décolletage enhanced by a string of satsumas.
‘Morning, Mr. Peasoup! Amazonian deliveries!’ chirped he.
‘Ah! In that enormous box may be my onion goggles,’ said I, cheered again. ‘Or else a new louse comb. You had better bring it in.’
He placed the package on the kitchen table and whilst I set to the opening of it gave a theatricle twirl. ‘What do you think?’
‘It is very lovely. The outfit hath a familiar look.’
‘Nell Gwyn!’ he trilled. ‘Mistress to the King!’
‘Ah, yes. I saw her in The Mayden Queene.’
‘I am so thrilled! I know it will be a small event, since we are in Tier the Fourth, but tonight I am in the final of the St. Pauls Drag Race!’
‘Well, you are more realistic than anything I have seen on The Crowne, which doth not even feature the King. Is the frock sattin?’
He sat and slumped, downcast. ‘I cannot afford sattine, Mr. Puppies. It is polliester.’
‘Oh, look!’ I then exclaimed, removing from the box on the table a device like a wooden stapler. ‘This is my new handy chestnut pricker! “The arm hath a good Leverage to penetrate the shell while the other hand securely holds the chestnut.”’
‘Are you sure it is not as easy to use a fork?’
‘Pfff!’ I admonished him. ‘I do not buy things for no reason! I shall set it here in this convenient recess, between my melon seed tweezers and my peach fuzz remover.’
But the young man was siezed with his customery doubt and looked to me for reassurance. ‘Do you think I am in with a chance?’
‘Well — ’ said I, and paused for a second. ‘I realise I do not know your name,’ I confessed, seating myself at the opposite end of the table to provide avuncular advice.
At which the other blushed scarlette. ‘None other to whom I deliver hath ever asked my name, Mr. Peaspy,’ said he, sweetly. ‘It is Gerard. Gerard Small.’
‘Well, you must have confidence, Gerard Small,’ sayed I.
‘It is a thing I have always lacked,’ sayed he, disconsulate. ‘My life has been beset by Anxietie and a failure of courage. This competicion has been my Lock Up saviour. To win it would change everything.’ He brightened. ‘Oh! I am to speak a short verse that tells the judges something of who I am as a person. May I rehearse it for you?’
So up he stood and, casting his anxious eyes to the ceiling, turned his back to me for a moment to collect his thoughts. Newly composed, hands clasped in front of him, he turned, took a deep in-breath, and began to recite:
‘I’ve played my part in all your scenes:
I’ve quit benzodiazepines
To sit all night with crinolines,
So much to me this title means.
So as they roll out plague vaxines,
And when your panel reconvenes,
I hope you like my tangerines
Enough to crown me Queen of Queens!’
Concern crossed his face again and he bit his lower lip. ‘What do you think? Is it aweful?’
‘It far outdoes The Mayden Queene!’ said I, in admiracion. ‘Who could not be swayed by such a mix of innocence, hope and self-disclosure? You shall not always deliver parcels. Your true métier lies elsewhere, and if you examine your heart you know it. Believe in yourselfe and I see a great future for you! Not small, Gerard, but medium, and large!’ I cried, forgetting myself in my own rhetorique. ‘In this competicion there is no reason you cannot go all the way — though I would not let the King see you,’ I added, ‘or he will want to do the same. His eyesight is not what it was.’
‘I am so hopefulle,’ sighed he. ‘Though now I am worryed my five a-clock shadow may count against me.’ At which of a sudden, seeming caught by a wild idea, sat he bolt upright and wide-eyed, his fingers to his open mouth. ‘Wait! Did you say peach fuzz remover?’
And so away sashayed he, a-skip with a new if tempory assurance, and again I think him one who will bounce back whenever life will trip him up, for in his lack of guile lies a strength others envy, were he to recognise it.
After dinner to my office and the writing of my Journalle since Christmasday, when with my mother and father, which was to the great content of us all, though for the day only, and a thing I did not imagine, when a younger man, to still celebrate together; and it joys me their surviving through the plague, and other ill dispositions, for which thanks to God, and I hope in eight weekes to see my father enter his ninety second year in good cheer, and my mother also for her turn. The day after it, which was the Twentysixth, to the house of Mr. M. Jones, in a great storm, who cooked a fine Turkie stuffed with all the trimmings, and there drank a pint of Champayne and partook in a quiz on the magick screen with Mr. T. Radford, where we came 5th, I think, though I knew the answer to Q. 36, which concern’d when there was a Law that for 14 years forbode us to celebrate Christmas in England, ‘as it was deem’d immoral to indulge in pleasure on a Holyday’: which answer was the Fifties, the years of the Puritans, which memory is as cleare in my mind as this morning.
Thus ends a year as sorry as any I ever saw in my life, of a strangenesse none thought to come to pass these twelvemonths, it being a whole year since a man caught the plague from a china bat. In 1665 the pestilence was abated almost to nothing at year end (I wrote then), whereas we are still bound by Support Bubbles and separated by Special Distances, condemmed to masques for the face and jells for the hands, while the plague resurgent joys its winter season by filling the Hospitalles, and the whole number dead lying at 70000, when 20000 were said in March to be a grievous tally. I have sought to discover when I might role up my sleeve for the vaxine, and find I should keep May free.
As to other public matters, all again is in a hurry since the First Lord of the Treasurey hath severed us finally from the Continent, but in the doing of it made us a nation perceived incontinent, of temper and of bile. He will find the country far from in so fine a form as he thinks, for it will be diminished in the worlde, and I hope that having fabricated enemies without he doth not fabricate enemies within, and the state not consume its own. For, Lord! the mischief to the nation the deceit hath wrought four years or more, till the people wished it all finished; and so, as sad am I to see our flag in Bruxles furled away, it is finished — as much as History is. The Great Weather Change continues without sufficient abatement, which is to the detriment of the globe, the place of frost Fayres taken by monsune; and the Plymouth Colony hath a new leader, to the great disbelief of the old, who even yet hath time to barrackade himself in his white house. Yet my own health is in as good plight as it ever was, and I have as fine friends as any man, losing none to the Covy, and I am held, I hope, in good esteem. This year hath been kind to me, not least in the matter that when I took up my Journalle again in March, I thought none interested to read the inconsequences of my life; but it seems they are, and a gratitude of debt is owed by me to those who find it entertanes them.
At supper, supped of a rare strong water of genever flavor’d with oysters, a gift of Mr. M. Jones from a Distiller in St-Mary’s-in-the-Hollow, who came (which is Mr. Jones) to dine with me on a fine meal of cock o’van made by Mr. Chas. Bigham of Corryander Ho[use], in Brent.
‘I hope you have found my Christmas gift to you of some use,’ ventured I.
‘The bespoke Ready Meal Film Piercer Set?’
‘The very same,’ replyed I, feeling a warm pleasure that he finds some worth in it.
‘It was very kind,’ said he, ‘especially to have it monogrammed. But is it not as easy to use a fork?’ (he being the second to put that question in a single day).
At midnight we lighted up the magick screen and, hopping channels, hoppened upon the spectackle of fanfare music and fyrewerkes at St. Pauls. Whereupon we sat bolt upright, for there we beheld, fludde-lit and specially distanced atop the steps, with Bodacia on one side and Tittania, Queene of the Faeries, on the other, be-crowned and cradling with one arm the biggest boquet I ever saw in my entire life, and with the other a familier basket of oranges, none but a beaming Nell Gwyn, teares of joy flowing down his perfect cheeks, while half a dozen passers by yelled ‘Happy New Year!’ and one cried ‘Show us yer pips!’. So we raised our glasses in a merrie toast, for we knew of one at least whose year could not end better.
And so, with great content, to bed — though vexed to find the pin hath fell out of my chestnut pricker, so I must send it back. My father’s year, by the way, does not last only ninety seconds; it is the same length as everyone elses (though I admit this one seemed longer).