I do my best to avoid Doris and Daddy but one night he corners me while I’m eating “sausage and mash” in the kitchen. No sooner have I casually mentioned that one of my favorite war films is Zulu than Daddy’s drooping regimental mustache springs to attention and he is off, seizing the opportunity to re-fight the entire Anglo-Zulu War on my plate. I am more trapped than Michael Caine at Rorke’s Drift –
“Let’s say your mashed potatoes are the British encampment near Isandlwanda here… mmm… perhaps that’s a bit too much potato… there, that’s better… your sausage… here… represents the Zulu army under command of Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza… an untenable position I’m sure you will agree… now your broccoli…”
Ah, Swindon! Picture Newark, New Jersey with an English accent but minus the charm. That’s Swindon. Worse, when I am there in 1990, everything in Swindon is shut on Sunday – my one day off. Well, everything but the Spiritualist Church. So, I go. The Reverend in charge is a flaming fruit who goes into trance, contacts a spirit of the departed and then asks his geriatric English audience, “Can anyone claim a George?” (Or Ethel, Victoria or Alfred.) Believe it or not, every Sunday someone in this gray congregation can claim a dearly departed so-named. Then, George, Ethel, Victoria or Alfred, speaking in a sepulchral voice through Reverend Fruit, assures the claimant that all is well with them beyond-the-veil in Summerland. The Swindon faithful swallow this bilge and fill the collection plate with “Love Gifts.”
Reverend Fruit approaches me one week curious as to what brings someone to his church who is still breathing unaided by a portable oxygen tank. I think he also suspects that I’m on to him. I mention that I had almost claimed the spirit George who had “come through” in the service because I had a dearly departed Uncle George. “Silly,” he lisps while giving me an affectionate, limp-wristed slap on the shoulder “you should have so done.” Then, while shaking hands, he tickles my palm with his middle finger. Summerland in Swindon.