As I have mentioned before, I took great care in ensuring my conversation with Ypres was not overheard. Alas, it appeared our tulip-based mirage had disappeared.
The word “breast”, barely uttered from my mouth, was like a bombshell. Heads turned round to access the provenance of the syllables and their effect. Most eyes now became fixated in my general direction. I had to keep up appearances. So, in tandem with the other passengers, I gave a disapproving glare towards Ypres, as if she had been the source of the upheaval.
I shook my head and gave her the stink eye, as I believe it is called. This must have been convincing, for, as soon I did, whispers began to emerge, and I quote, that “It was the cod-faced menace beside the beautiful young lady” who had made the dreadful utterance.
Luckily, the fasten seat-belt sign had been on, otherwise a brouhaha might have occurred. Already a poor old man two rows in front of me had been unable to withstand the shock of the word. He was evidently too fragile. The mere mention of the anatomical term had driven him to a seizure-like frenzy. He had to be rescued by an intrepid flight attendant. She braved the danger of an unstable plane beginning its descent into Heathrow, seat-belt sign blazing, to assist the elderly gentleman. Her resolute disposition seemed to calm him down. As soon as she gently put his head against her bosom, stroking his hair, he was once again fit as a fiddle. Indeed, he rather looked better than when he had embarked, which could not be said for his wife. Perhaps she too would have welcomed the calming reassurance of an air hostess.
I do not know why the word caused such distress. It may not have been à propos, tulips, I have found, is often what is discussed in mid-air in the better class, although allowances can be made for bonds, but not stocks – that would be a tad crude.
Perhaps I should not have ventured to share my observation with Ypres just then. Then again, we all have breasts. We might not all have hefty ones, but I believe breasts are a commonality to the human race. I think Darwin was the first to declare this fact. I distinctly remember there being a chapter titled Mammillar Similarities of the Human Species in his Origins of Species.
In effect, I thought, my observation had democratic benefits.
An answer would certainly have benefited all on board. Surely once I had mentioned Darwin, and my fellow travellers had it impressed upon themselves that my utterance was part of a scholarly endeavour, they would rally towards my point of view.
I thought of writing a letter to The Times on the subject. Perhaps even an op-ed. My thoughts were wondering feverishly, when a sudden tilt of the plane, as it was once more circling around London for a landing slot, brought me back to more urgent matters.
“Ypres,” I whispered, taking care to give the impression that we were continuing our tulip-based conversation, despite her supposed uncontrolled outburst on the subject of “chesticles” – as I think they are referred to in the more bohemian parts of London. I continued, this time focusing to appear as if we had moved on to the subject of tulips’ blooming session, “Should we resume our conversation? I believe your opinion would strongly benefit my observation.”
Ypres looked unperturbed by the whole sequence of events. “We should,” she stated. “We will undoubtedly be landing soon, and I have finished my magazine. A bit of conversation to pass the time would not be amiss.”
“Was your article on the peculiarities of octuplets bearing octopi to your liking?”
“Yes. The peculiarities of octopi bearing octuplets proved a fascinating read.”
“You must tell me all about it when we land.”
“I will, although I should probably do some supplementary reading before I embark on such a conversation. I would hate to mislead due to ignorance.”
“Don’t we all.”
“Embarking on conversations, when one is ignorant, has the potential of causing a scene, which one should avoid, wouldn’t you agree?”
Evidently this comment was directed at me. But I was not to be bullied. I maintained my calm. I was as cool as a cucumber, perhaps even as cool as a courgette. I carried on, putting an end to octopi-related pleasantries.
“About my observation.”
“Well, have you come across a similar one? An observation, I mean. Perhaps through experience or through an acquaintance of yours? I know you are tremendously well-connected, you know, having gone to public school and all that.”
I thought a bit of flattery would not go amiss. Ypres was the only woman to have gone to Eton. Her fish-like morphology and late blooming, as it were, ensured she was passed on as a boy until the age of eighteen. Her parents were quick to take advantage of the situation and the opportunities it allowed.
This did the trick, as she began slowly, but with renewed confidence, and a twinkle in her eye she gets when about to share information only she possesses.
“I believe it to be fairly common. Given our close professional relationship, I shall not discuss my own situation.”
I made a discreet sigh of relief. As close as Ypres and I may be, we are not the sharing-of-undergarment-details type of people. Only a very select group of individuals have access to such information. The Order of the Garter has more members.
I continued to listen attentively, noticing that the plane was finally making an assertive decent.
“Yet, and I share this in the strictest confidence, I have come across an anecdote which bears a striking resemblance to your own observation. I have it from reputable sources – and I have cross-referenced the story to ensure its complete integrity – that the Duchess of Parma found herself in a similar situation on Corfu in the nineteenth century.”
“Was she travelling as well?”
“Yes, indeed. She was on her yacht.”
“How aristocratic! We must travel more often by yacht then. Perhaps the stimulation will lead to more of my perceptive observations.”
“Perhaps,” Ypres said the word with less enthusiasm. She regained her momentum with the story of the Italian Duchess.
“The Duchess was approaching the island in her yacht. She decided a trip to the lavatory would be most appropriate as she did not want to risk having to relieve herself on the island in the company of her guests. She thought it improper to have to go, as it was, so soon after disembarking.”
“I quite agree. Nothing ruins a social get-together like a guest rushing to the commode before they even make their way through the first round of hors d’oeuvres.”
“The Duchess was of a similar mind. As she was finishing up, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. I must add that she shared your indisposition to poor appearance while travelling.”
“Quite so! I say, I must find out more about this Duchess of Parmesan. We seem to be of the same mind.”
“Well, the Duchess of Parma, not ‘Parmesan’, as you so put it, made a similar observation regarding the diverging form of her anatomical features. As she always travelled with her doctor, she rushed to his side for assistance. She wanted to know if everything was shipshape.”
Ypres then paused to drink some water. The change in altitude had no doubt made her thirsty. I could now see fields through the window. I felt confident we would touch down in a few minutes. I prompted her to resume her carefully researched story.
“After a thorough examination, in which the doctor evaluated the Duchess, and the Duchess the doctor, for comparison, they found that both shared the same anatomical indisposition of diverging breast seizes. Yet, to put any lingering doubt at rest, the doctor chose to confirm the matter, by cross-referencing their observation with a scholarly work. It so happened that the Duchess was reading Darwin’s Origins of Species. She was conducting a study on the mating patterns of seagulls in her spare time, and thought the volume would provide information.”
I was startled. I had but moments ago made a mental note concerning Darwin’s Origins of Species and his chapter on Mammillar Similarities of the Human Species. Then, Ypres did the near impossible and astounded me. She revealed that the Duchess and doctor had cross-referenced their very own observations with Darwin’s chapter. I was dumbfounded, and told Ypres as much.
“I am dumbfounded Ypres. I was making a mental note to cross-reference my observation with Darwin’s Mammillar Similarities of the Human Species. I also briefly entertained writing to The Times. Perhaps an op-ed. Did the Duchess find her answer in Darwin’s work?”
“Indeed she did. It ensued that all was normal. She continued her voyage to Corfu carefree and secure in the knowledge that all was well with the world. On her return, she wrote to The Times, as you had planned yourself. I think it was an op-ed.”
“Tremendous! I really must commence research on this Duchess of Parmaham.”
“Duchess of Parma.”
The story on the Duchess of Pram had been so riveting I had not noticed the plane had landed. As soon as we touched the ground, stabilised, and slowly taxied towards our gate, most of the passengers leapt from their seat to grab their luggage in the overhead compartments. The fasten seat-belt sign was still on, but it was ignored. Even the flight attendants did not appear to notice it. One, rather remarkably, was smoking a cigarette.
“When in Rome,” I told Ypres, and proceeded to do as the rest of the cabin. I was removing my Louis Vuitton bag from its stow-away compartment, when I was hit in the head by an inconsiderate traveller’s bulky carry-on. I was about to unleash a torrent of lady-like expletives when I recognised a familiar face.
There she was, good old Lanky Ella Lanesbury.