Spectator literary competition No. 2833
This week’s task is a fashionably confessional one. We live in an age of emotional incontinence, where spilling the beans to as many people as possible seems to be all the rage, so let’s have an extract from the teenage diary of a well-known public figure, living or dead. Please email entries of up to 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 29 January.
The most recent competition brought forth an entertaining cast of literary pairings, with gentlemen’s gentlemen, sleuths, teachers and doctors featuring most strongly, but not forgetting, too, a sprinkling of sailors, spies, nannies and ladies of the night.
The standard was high, so well done all round. Frank McDonald, Brian Murdoch, D.A. Prince and Sylvia Fairley were on particularly impressive form. The bonus fiver is Chris O’Carroll’s and the rest take £30 each.
‘Welcome, Silver. Allow me to offer you a glass of wine.’
‘Swab the deck with your blasted wine, Hook. Avast your Etonian airs. Rum or nothing for me.’
‘One is frightfully impressed by your buccaneer authenticity. But surely two battle-scarred seadogs can treat one another with a modicum of gentility.’
‘Don’t be claiming any “battle-scarred” fellowship, matey. A gentleman of fortune who’s lost a leg sailing with Cap’n Flint ain’t likely to be impressed with some toff got his arm shortened by a little boy.’
‘Bad form, Silver, to tax me with the tender years of my nemesis. You fail to take into account the pre-adolescent male’s extraordinary bloodthirstiness.’
‘Oh, I know boys, right enough. When I befriended young Jim, he wished me well even after I’d made off with a cut of the booty. Didn’t join forces with no croc to put the black spot on me.’
‘You’re not Alice,’ said the Queen of Hearts suspiciously.
‘Thou speakest sooth, Lady, I am not. My name is Anne, Boleyn that was, now Queen of England.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said the Queen of Hearts. ‘There is only room for one Queen here, and that is me.’
‘I’faith, Lady, I know thee not, but this realm is mine, and my coronation shall be long remembered.’
‘Coronation?’ She snorted contemptuously. ‘Oh, I’ve had lots of those, sometimes as many as three before breakfast. But I gave them up, as I found they disagreed with my digestion.’
‘Alas, Lady, thy meaning escapes me, and urgent affairs of state call me. Steward, ho! Show the lady from the Palace forthwith.’
She left the room, leaving the Queen of Hearts fuming with rage. ‘What sauce! What impudence! Off with her head!’
The steward eventually appeared, looking flustered, and told her: ‘’Tis done, Your Majesty.’
‘Apart from being lawyers we seem to have little in common. I work for common people’s money whilst you work for the common good. I rarely leave London and you rarely stay there. I take on certainties, back winning horses, while you, riding horseback, go chasing uncertainties. Wemmick, my clerk, looks after my books while your man, Barak, looks after you. I afflict the comfortable while you comfort the afflicted. I am, king of the court, favoured by all and close to none whereas you court the favours of those who are close to the King. I back crooks and you are a crookback. And there, Matthew Shardlake, is where we might have something in common after all. We are, both of us, bent lawyers.’
‘True, Mr Jaggers, but Heaven or Hell bent, who can say? The jury is out and not until Judgment Day shall we know the verdict.’
His features were the kind the newspapers like to call aquiline and his card gave a London address. I wondered why his problem lay in California.
‘It is a matter of some discretion, Mr Marlowe. Officially, I am deceased.’ It was too late to pretend I was the janitor, so I heard a story that would beat The Arabian Nights, involving a hectic chase, his worst enemy and a waterfall.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘But why me? LA’s full of private dicks and I’m way down the alphabet.’
‘Because in observing you I note several scars that can only be the result of courageous military service, while the orderliness of your office reveals a man trained by Jesuits in sober, disciplined ways. And knowing that women suffer from unscientific emotions, you employ the male secretary whose pipe I see there.’
‘Close,’ I told him, wishing I had a panic button.
‘Ah, Mr Panza, how delightful to meet the doyen of our profession!’
‘Profession, Señor Jeeves?’
‘Indeed, that of what you might call a caballero por caballero.’
‘No, Sr Jeeves, my master is an hidalgo of ever so many quarterings, while I am a humble…’
‘Enough, Mr Panza. We must keep our origins obscure, and be beyond questions of rank. Do I not recall one of your wise apothegms? “A closed mouth catches no flies.” Perhaps we may help each other.’
‘Encantado, Sr Jeeves, but how?’
‘I have some reputation in dealing with ferocious aunts, and also in avoidance of undesirable liaisons. I rather fancy that your interfering priest will prove no more formidable than Aunt Agatha. And Dulcinea should be child’s play.’
‘And I, señor?’
‘My expertise is with wild young men. Yours is with the vagaries of dotage. The prospect of a doddering Mr Wooster fills me with foreboding…’