My mother hadn’t finished roping the family into her efforts to foster Anglo-Iranian relations on behalf of the British Council in Teheran (see previous blogpost). She got us all in the end, even my father – twice.
Dad was stiff-necked – literally. As a young man in Japan he and some friends were reported to have commandeered a tram and driven it all around Kobe. Dad ended up in a ditch where he spent the night, waking up in the morning with what turned out to be a permanent injury to his neck. As a result Dad had an air of being stiff-necked in personality as well – a haughty look that could wither but didn’t reflect the man inside – unless he wanted it to.
Mother found just the vehicle for him. She talked him into the starring role as the king who wanted a little bit of butter on his bread. The King’s Breakfast, A. A. Milne’s jolly, bouncy poem, began:
“The King asked the Queen /And the Queen asked the dairymaid: / Could we have some butter for / The Royal slice of bread? / The Queen asked the Dairymaid /The Dairymaid said Certainly / I’ll go and tell the cow, now / Before she goes to bed. / The dairymaid she curtsied / And went and told the Alderney: / Don’t forget the butter for / The Royal slice of bread.” The cow, it seems, was too sleepy to oblige.
I think I was the dairymaid but can’t be sure. I was too enthralled by the sight of my father as he capered around to gales of laughter from the audience when he threw a hissy fit: “Nobody,” he whimpered / “Could call me a fussy man; / I only want a little bit / Of butter for my bread!” The cow eventually relented and provided both milk and butter. “The Queen took the butter / And brought it to His Majesty / The King said, “Butter, eh?” / And bounced out of bed.” And so on.
Mother wasn’t done yet. The British Council staged “Twelfth Night” and Dad was a hit in the ridiculous yellow stockings and cross-garters of the buffoon Malvolio. He must then have said “enough!” – after all, he had a career to consider – so Mother had to make do with us three children for the outdoor production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. She was therefore responsible for turning my brothers and me into fairies. And I never let the boys forget it.