03 April 2008

Plagiarize Plagiarize

("Let no one else's work evade your eyes" - T. Lehrer)

Linda is a striking woman in her mumble-50s and the dragon of our literary group.

Think Edna O'Brien meets Sue Sarandon meets Alison Janney.

She stands erect (quiet in the backrow, you smut-heads) and has a way of tossing her tresses without her piercing eyes leaving yours.

She is a 'writer', a winner of short story competitions in various literary mags and in touch with the great and the good.

She submits poems to the local rags which are of course accepted and complimented at the next meeting and often read aloud in her mellifluous voice which makes it hard to assess them for actual worth.

Now and then she has amusing articles printed which are not bad and which are quoted back at her by sycophantic swain while she smiles wanly and touches their arm and thanks them so much.

Now and then she mails me draft for me to "look over" which I do with trembling eyeballs and suggest the minorest of changes, rather like when asked in interviews to name a fault and one sheepishly owns up to being a perfectionist or impatient with fools.

Once when I had read a faultless piece about my grandmother draping her deaf aid inside my Baguio nylon-string and instructing, "Now, luv, sing me your busking song again. I don't think I caught all the verses", Linda asked, "May I make a suggestion?"

She may'd and I noted it with a "Noted, thanks, but you're wrong."

She came up to me later over the wine and houmous and said, "I like a man who stands up to me."

"Ooh hoo," cackled Brian, "so, if you say she's got a beautiful body would she hold it against you, right?" My dear, her withering look.

Word had it that Bri' sometimes got to hang his Y-fronts on her bathroom door handle so I nodded at her power breasts and murmured with a foolhardy wink, "Well, he ain't seeing none of them tonight."

My dear, her look.

Last year a dear friend passed away, a lady the Pearly Gates side of 90 with a library to die for. She told her mother she wanted us to take everything, choose for ourselves and donate the rest to the church.

I finally got round to dipping into some of the gems and went to bed with a 1920 first-edition uncut volume of Wm. Heinemann's publication of Max Beerbohm's essays, "And Even Now."

I reached his essay "How shall I word it?", a witty parody of an eponymous 1910 self-help subtitled "A complete letter writer for Men and Women".

[I shall fill in some titles anon. They are hilarious in their precious datedness]

Beerbohm dishes up some hob-nailed alternatives, uncanny in their universality and timeless appeal.

My dear, I froze.

It was almost word for word one of Linda's most hailed pieces. I even got up, checked against the relevant article and headed for the drinks cabinet.

I tried Googling phrases from other pièces de résistance but nothing, thank God. But there was one that had vexed me for its excellence.

Two days ago I found myself back in touch with a decrepit Oxford don whose reading is formidable in the field of wit and parody. I sent him the piece and asked did any phrases ring a bell.

"My dear Christopher,
Shame on you. I distinctly remember recommending darling Arthur Marshall as light reading away from Lycidas and your obsession with the wit and wisdom of Falstaff.
The text you sent me is straight out of Arthur's "Girls will be Girls" and his essay on the schoolgirl novels of Angela Brazil, 'For she's a jolly good fellow.'

"I had you down for the colonial service and eternal suffering in wedlock to The Hon. Jane Champion, otherwise you would have spotted this in a trice.
Moving on, your photographs of your mother's garden are superb and Janet needs to know what soil she recommends for our far from blossoming anthemis.

"I have a new book out this autumn which your Amazon people resolutely refuse to display to any effect."
Etc etc.

What to do about Linda-gate?

I carried the 'bohm with me to the last gathering and made sure L saw me perusing it. Not a blanch. Quel femme.

But I have ideas up my sleeve. More anon.

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