Journey through space to the Planet Fabulous, where the Ruler of the Universe will see you shortly.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Great Mysteries of the World Solved: Part VIII

Maybe it was the desert wine, maybe it was the egg sandwiches, but Angela Lansbury had been acting funny all morning. At first we thought it was a violent dislike to Kirsty Young, whose arrival was somewhat unplanned. No-one was quite sure who’d invited her, but she’d brought some absolutely grade-a pineapple cake and was begrudgingly offered a place on the tartan rug. Now she and Aggie were getting on like a house on fire. They’d even planned a Tupperware party together.

“The Queen loves her Tupperware parties,” said Dame Aggie said, in mock confidence to everyone. The two of them had been hanging out more of late; trips to hairdressers and monster truck rallies, and Dame Aggie made no bones about telling everyone about her new best friend. We all thought that coming to the picnic in a crown and an ermine robe was a little gauche, but she said it was a bit nippy, so we let it pass. Besides, every time she shook her head, the crown fell over her eyes. The first time it happened, Carol Vordermann had just got a mouthful of tea, and laughingly sprayed it over a small child who’d come over to get his ball back. He went back to his parents, crying his eyes out, screaming about the ‘Maths Witch sprayed him with acid!’

Kids these days.

We sat for a moment, watching the football game at the bottom of the hill through the summer morning haze. A bee had taken an interest in Kirsty’s handbag, and she shushed it away with her hand, accidentally in the direction of Cher. Drunk on the heat, it flew straight into her wig and we never saw it again.

“What’s the matter, Aggie?” I pressed. She was normally more ebullient than this. And for ebullient, read ‘drunk’.

She rolled the remains of some pineapple cake around her mouth in thought. “I’ll just come out and say it. Whatever is a ‘cock horse’?”

For some reason, my gaze flicked to Carol. As I thought, she’d stopped with the glass to mouth in shock and was looking directly at me under her fringe. Our gaze met, and we instantly looked away as casually as possible. Unfortunately, her effort to look relaxed left her putting her hand down in the margarine.

Aggie pressed on: “You know, as in ‘Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross’?”

I coughed politely to hide the choking sound from Carol.

“I’m sure it’s just an expression,” said Cher. Her voice was odd this morning: she’d just had the vocoder installed to record her latest single, leaving her sounding like she was constantly on the other end of a phone. Two hours and five bottles ago, we thought we were picnicking under a new electricity pylon, but it was revealed just to be Cher humming to herself.

“Yes, but where does the expression originate?” asked Dame Aggie. Kirsty shrugged. So much for investigative journalism in this day and age, then.

I tried to change the subject, idly pointing out that the flowers this year were magnificent. It was unfortunate that Carol tried at the same time – something about zucchinis – and it all started to look slightly suspicious. For one, Carol and Aggie had never really seen eye to eye after that incident a few years back. Little did they realise that they had more in common than they think, and was the reason why Carol was currently surreptitiously wiping margarine on Kirsty’s parka. It transpired that she’d fallen on hard times a few years back, and finally agreed to do an ‘adult’ video. This drunken confession to me occurred in Cher’s kitchen a few months ago, followed by a steady flood of tears. She’d never really elaborated on it much after that, but what I did garner was that it was thankfully no longer available, and that it may or may not have contained animals.

In retrospect, the above actions proved at least the animals point.

It was a few weeks later that I discovered its title: ‘Three From The Top And One Up The Bottom’.

Well. I won’t go into Aggie’s ‘history’, as it’s fairly common knowledge these days after that magazine article. Let’s just say I’m very proud of my copy ‘Big Nobs and Broomsticks’ – more so as I got her to sign it. After the party passes into that drunken camaraderie when the stereo gets louder and the lights get dimmer, it’s always Aggie that calls for me to stick it on. She’s not proud.

The heat was swelling as the morning ticked on, filling the air with lethargy. I reached for my sun hat, and Aggie and I hauled the tarpaulin over Cher (the buzzing continued; we were too polite to ask whether it was her humming or the trapped bee). Kirsty lightly fanned herself with her copy of ‘Bella’, head inclined in thought. “Thinking about it, I know what a cock horse would be.”

We all leant forward, eager for the answer. Kirsty waited until she’d got the maximum attention before launching forth. “Well, a cock horse surely has to be a wooden one,” she said.

We mulled it for a moment, and all ‘aaah’-ed in appreciation. That had to be the answer – it fit so well. A wooden horse, to Banbury Cross. Of course! As everybody else chittered on, I caught Carol’s eye, content that the matter would be covered up now, and we could get back to normal.

She was choking on her cake again.

Oh Lord.

Ah. Happy days.

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