Old and the New
‘Folk are folk and women are women!’ I put my soup spoon down and gave him a hard look. What was he on about? Usually he waits till the cheese and biscuits to come out with homespun stuff like this. He is my good friend and mentor (Trubshawe, Arthur, Wing-Commander, Retd.).
We are only on the first course and here he is, already talking about women. Why so soon? We usually wait for that. Me and my pal, the Wing-Commander, Retd., meet and eat together in the Clarence Hotel of a Tuesday: (set lunch: pea and ham soup with dumplings; mutton pie and gravy with potatoes and seasonal veg; spotted dick in egg custard; five quid all in; cheese-board and biscuit basket with pot of tea – extra) and we have what he calls ‘a symposium’. Trubshawe is a stickler for getting things right.
“A symposium, my boy,” he goes, waving a dumpling, “is an eating and drinking party for men. Ancient Greeks did it most dinner times.
“The chaps go and sit around in some pub or other, eat the set menu, get drunkish and then philosophise. The tell each jokes, slap each other on the back, go Haw! Haw! and then settle down to talking about women.
“Plato and Socrates called this ‘A Symposium’, we call it nowadays a lunchtime booze-up with the boys. It’s nothing new. Ah, good! Here comes the pie and gravy!”
Previous to this, my friend and I had been talking over our pea and ham soup about the usual Tuesday stuff: bombs in Bagdad, bombs in London, bombs in Johannesburg, Armagh again, Sri Lanka and in a bullring in Columbia; all bombs, all death. Then, is Madonna pregnant? Then – “body of eight year-old girl found stabbed in water butt in Nottingham”.
Discussing the news over our soup on a Tuesday is always a grievous business. But then our Arthur cocks up his ears at what is going on at the next table where there is a bunch of lunching businessmen having their symposium. Already drunkish and into their puddings, they were past the philosophising and were now – “talking about women”.
You could tell this because of their body movements – arm, hand and finger gestures; heads rocking; mouths gaping; elbows going nudge and bellies going up and down. Oh yes, this was man talk.
We watched them for a bit. “There is, these days,” said Trubshawe to me through his mutton “something called the New Man. He likes women very much. He feels comfortable with their company, laughs with them, does not mock them behind their backs, admires their wisdom and, of course (more mutton pie and gravy) is only too happy to lie down with them and wriggle about together.
“Now I call that a proper symposium. Afterwards they’ll have a meal together, or a drink maybe, giggle and philosophise. New Man? I’ve been a New Man doing symposiums like that since I was 13. But them over there have always been Old Men”. I’m beginning to agree with him then these two things happen.
The little waitress comes and serves coffee to the charcoal greys. As she bends over and pours there is a suppressed silence. When she goes away there is a burst out of guffaws. It is men’s laughter. About a woman behind their back.
Trubshawe licks up the last of his egg custard and says: “You see? Old Men.” But then this happens: one of the suits gets up and goes to the waitress saying: “I do apologise. We were not laughing at you. I hope that you were not embarrassed by us.”
The Wing Commander, Retd., orders the pot of tea and is very gentlemanly to the waitress. “I think, my boy,” he is a stickler for getting things right is Trubshawe, “that we have just seen an Old New Man.” Women are indeed women. Trubshawes are Trubshawes. And folk are folk. That which there is nowt so queer as.