Chapter VIII ‘A Few Oughts’

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Some of my grandfather’s quotations from Dickens were developed and amplified into the form of small dramatic performances in which the whole table took part and gave their allotted responses. There was one special favourite from The Pickwick Papers which went, as far as I can remember, like this:

my grandfather (pouring himself out another glass of sherry): ‘What was the last thing you devoured?’ says the doctor.

my brother: ‘Roast beef,’ says the patient.

my grandfather: (pausing with the glass in his hand): ‘What arter that?’ says the doctor.

myself: ‘Crumpets,’ says the patient.

my grandfather: ‘That’s it,’ says the doctor.

my brother: ‘What’s it?’ says the patient.

my grandfather: (through the sherry glass): ‘Crumpets,’ says the doctor.

my brother: ‘But crumpets is ’olesome,’ says the patient.

my grandfather: (hanging down his empty glass): ‘Crumpets is not ’olesome,’ says the doctor, wery fierce.

This was the bon bouche we had all been waiting for. It never failed to bring the house down and was the juiciest line in the whole performance. My grandfather put all he knew into those stirring words, ‘Crumpets is not ’olesome,’ and I can hear his chuckle of satisfaction now after ‘wery fierce’, as he beamed round the table in the dull glow of the lamp from the sideboard. It did not matter in the least that we had been through the whole performance the evening before and would undoubtedly do so again the next day. In fact there is something comforting about repetition for its own sake, especially to the ingenuous and unwary, as all concocters of propaganda, from religion to politics, know. The human mind takes kindly to repetitions. One has only to say a thing often enough and the critical faculties, lulled by the tom-tom-like rhythm of sound, will accept it without a murmur. The very fact that my grandfather had said those words so many times before made them seem part of his daily life and one of his necessary comforts, like the glass of whisky and the after-dinner cigar.

In spite of his bold decision to buy a grey bowler and his taking to marmalade my grandfather was at heart a confirmed ritualist

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