Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Perquisite. An old word with modern meaning.

Stickybeak’s Lexicon

Expanding my vocabulary one word at a time

Perquisite

This new candidate for the Lexicon is not one of the more unusual ones. Indeed, it didn’t really require looking up when I came across it. This is more than likely because its colloquial form has entrenched itself in our contemporary speech to such an extent that I simply skimmed over perquisite, content in the knowledge that perk and its parent form were one and the same. They are.

However, having come to the end of the chapter (a very interesting one about the life of Eleanor of Castile), I decided to go back to perquisite for a closer look. It is, for me, one of those words which demands closer inspection; surely, I thought, there must be more to it than the single syllable perk suggests.

My thumb index Oxford Encyclopedic offers the following:

Perquisite

1)      an extra profit or allowance additional to main income. No surprise there; I would imagine most of us have at some point in our working lives taken advantage of at least one or two perquisites of this nature.

2)      a customary extra right or privilege.

3)      an incidental benefit attached to employment.

4)      a thing which has served its primary use and to which a subordinate or servant has a customary right.

In the current age of austerity and horror at bankers’ bonuses that phrase ‘customary extra right’ takes on a much more controversial meaning; as does the ‘incidental benefit’. Now, it can of course mean something as simple as health insurance or a free parking space. It’s when that ‘incidental’ perquisite comes in seven figures that one tends to get a touch hot under one’s unstarched collar. Interestingly, perquisite is a Middle English word stemming from the Latin perquirere: to search diligently for. Now there’s an idea: send the bankers off on an Arthurian quest to diligently seek their perquisite; make them work for it. Imagine a kind of financial sector reality show where only the most courageous and talented gets to cash the golden cheque.

In a way, it is a shame that the shortened version perk has become the norm; it’s just so plosive and violent; like a crow’s squawk (if a crow had lips). Perquisite sounds much more romantic, and fits the final usage perfectly. You can imagine a Queen making a gift of her finest ermine-trimmed robe, (such an exquisite perquisite), to an eager Lady of the Chamber, who probably had her medieval eye on it from the very first. The perquisites of the job back in the Middle Ages were just as important as our perks of today, and, no doubt, just as controversial.

 

© flyingscribbler 2012

 

‘Dystopian Dumplings’ or ‘Why I won’t be going back to Bexhill’.

Bexhill on Sea: a place of contradictions. Actually, a place of one contradiction.

For those unfamiliar with this small seaside town on the English South Coast, it is the (unlikely) home of one of Art Deco’s undisputed gems: the De La Warr Pavilion. With its long, clean lines, white-washed facade and sweeping sea views from perfectly restored deco windows, this wondrous building seems lost in the Bexhill of 2012.

De La Warr, Bexhill

It appears to gaze out to sea, looking for a time when its home might have been worthy of its majestic presence. If I were to give the Pavilion advice, it would be to carry on searching the waves and never look the other way; to look behind itself at the town would be to confirm its isolation in melancholia itself.

Such is the pull of the De La Warr’s architectural and cultural heritage that it can still count on staging major exhibitions such as the ‘Warhol is Here’ one which I went to see last week. I cannot deny that it was insanely pleasurable to be able to view his Marylins, Maos and Campbell’s Tins almost entirely alone. I think I counted three or four other visitors. These are amongst the most famous Pop Art images created and in almost any other location the space would be mobbed, even towards the end of the exhibition’s run.

Sadly, what will stay with me longer than the repeated printed images of twentieth century icons, longer than the Polaroid self-portraits, longer even than the intensely erotic nude photographs, is the sheer down-at-heel, melancholic drabness of the place. I’m sorry Bexhill, but it needs to be said. There are architectural and intellectual blasphemies being committed in this town, some of which are enough to make me weep.

For example, the seafront is home to a terrace of Edwardian-era houses, built in a Moghul-esque style with requisite domes and Eastern detailing.

Marina Court Avenue (in original condition)

Odd, yes, but seen as a whole, interesting and, a century or so later, it comes with a narrative of its own. And these houses were intended to be seen as one, with repeated details binding them together, giving the street meaning and context amidst an alien environment. They even featured in the wonderful Art Deco advertising of the time.

Marina Court Avenue, Bexhill. (Google images)

Marina Court Avenue. (google images)

So what has been allowed to happen? A number of residents have removed the original, black framed, latticed windows and bastardised the terrace with white, plastic frames. Not content with this mere vitrinal crime, some have gone a step further and knocked out bricks to make the windows bigger. All so they could have a larger view, uninterrupted by those pesky, annoying Edwardian windows. Never mind the poor souls who have to look at the houses from the outside. To my mind, a distinctive building, well-proportioned with its intended and original features intact, is a thing of beauty for a passer-by to behold, even in the midst of Bexhill’s long-ago-faded grandeur. A butchered property, cosmetically unenhanced by ignorant (yes, I said it) owners, simply reinforces the sense of irreversible decline which plagues towns like this. And no amount of Art Deco enshrined Pop Art can disguise it.

I know I’m stepping into the risky territories of personal freedom and taste; not to mention recession-era necessities, environmental concerns (draughty, those lovely windows), and so forth, but these things are important. The soul needs nourishment too.

Which brings me to this. In the (futile, as it turned out) search for a coffee worth sipping on the seafront, (and yes, I know I should have gone to the Pavilion cafe), I came across a small place offering food and drinks. The coffee’s aftertaste lingers still in my memory a week later. However, it was on the outside of said establishment that true despair and melancholic gloom descended. I think I might have seen the funny side of this had the windows not been haunting me, and I sincerely hope to be able to at some point.

The Handmaid's Soup

Spelling mistake or deliberate?

Read it again if you missed it.

And if this isn’t enough to fill all you grammar/spelling fiends with horror, just around the corner they were offering ‘handmaid’ dumplings in the chicken casserole. Has Margaret Atwood’s terrifying vision of dystopian reproductive hell reached Bexhill? I have visions of thousands of blue (or was it red?) clad women, rolling identical dumplings, to be fed into the waiting mouths of surrogate diners. No. Believe me, never was such slop served up in the kitchens of The Republic of Gilead.

Am I right to feel like this? I don’t know. Do I sound self-righteous and elitist? Yes, probably. But I can’t shake the feeling that THESE THINGS MATTER.

I wonder what Warhol would have thought. I have an idea that uniformity and ‘doing the right thing’ might not have featured at the top of his list and that subversion, maybe even perversion, were probably more his thing. However, I’d like to think that he would not have approved of the ignorant (and willful) destruction of architecture and language as witnessed in Bexhill last week.

It’s over to you. Shoot me down in flames if you must.

‘A Grave Business’. A flash fiction in terrible taste.

Inspiration really does come at the most unexpected moments. For instance, I was driving down the A27 yesterday on my way to a Warhol exhibition at the De La Warr in Bexhill, when we came across a funeral cortege stopped by the side of the road. One of the undertakers was clearly not well. It was a very unexpected sight. I hope he coped with the rest of the day.

Anyway, apologies if this offends.

 

A Grave Business

‘Stop the hearse!’

‘What?’

‘Stop the bloody hearse.’

The driver checked in the mirror before gently applying the breaks. No-one at Skelton & Sons Funeral Directors had forgotten the incident with Mrs Featherington-Smythe in 1978; he’d been an apprentice at the time and had forgotten the firm’s golden rule: “Never break for a squirrel”. They’d ceased carrying relations of the deceased in the hearse after that.

Oscar threw open the door and ran onto the verge. Pete couldn’t see much from the driver’s seat, but he was sure that the family in the limo behind were being treated to an unexpected spectacle.

They were.

Dave, the limo’s driver, told them later in the pub.

‘Like a bloody waterfall it was; the Niagara of vomit. Took their minds of the matter in hand for a minute I should think.’

Oscar wasn’t thinking about any waterfalls; he wasn’t thinking about much else other than how this wasn’t going to go down too well with the boss and whether there was any shoe polish in the car.

‘Feeling better?’ said Pete, pulling back into the flow of traffic.

Oscar turned to the driver and nodded sheepishly.

‘Good. Late night, was it?’

Oscar pulled down the sun visor and looked in the mirror. James, one of the undertakers, leaned through from the back and handed him a tissue.

‘Here you go, young man, wipe it off with this. There’s mints in the glove box. Two things you’ll always find on a hearse, apart from the deceased of course; tissues and mints. No-one likes an undertaker with halitosis. Makes them wonder, you know.’

Oscar didn’t know and didn’t much care. He looked like shit and felt like shit. And something had tasted like shit in that vomit. What was it? He reached for the mints.

‘Where’s your hat, Oscar?’

‘What?’

Charles, the Principle Undertaker, and heir to the family business, repeated his question.

‘Where. Is .Your. Hat?’

Oscar’s stomach lurched violently again.

‘It must have fallen off, Mr Skelton.’

‘Are you telling me one of our pristine, finest silk, top hats is now sitting in a pool of your adolescent vomit on the side of the A27?’

Oscar swallowed back the last dregs of bile and slumped into his seat.

‘Formaldehyde,’ he said quietly.

‘What?’

‘I think I must have overdosed on the formaldehyde this morning.’

‘My God, boy,’ erupted the heir, ‘I know you’re only on work experience with us and clearly have only very limited intelligence, but even you can’t be stupid enough to have actually drunk the embalming fluid!’

‘I didn’t drink it,’ said Oscar, ‘Percy was just showing me the ropes and I tripped over one of the trolleys and knocked over a bottle.’

‘I knew it!’ said James, shaking his head, ‘old Mrs MacDougal came in to discuss her husband’s interment this morning. She left in such a state. I wondered what was going on down there.’

‘Well,’ said Charles, ‘as long as no more damage was done.’ Oscar slouched further into his seat. ‘Oscar? Anything you’d like to tell us?’

‘I don’t think so, Mr Skelton. Percy said he’d be able to stitch up the damage in time for the weekend.’

Charles looked out the window at the passing trees.

‘My Great Grandfather, the first Charles Skelton, would turn in his grave if he had one,’ he muttered.

Oscar looked at Pete.

‘What?’ he mouthed.

‘Trenches,’ whispered Pete, ‘missing in action.’

‘Oh,’ said Oscar, and popped another mint.

‘You, boy,’ said Charles the Younger, ‘are extremely lucky that Mr Skelton Senior is on holiday this week; he’d make short work of you, and no mistake. Now then, did we bring a spare hat, James?’

‘Not with two funerals on at the same time, Sir. Colin and his lads took the rest.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Charles, ‘did they get away ok? No problems?’

‘No idea,’ said Pete, ‘I wasn’t there.’

‘It’s alright,’ said Oscar, eager to prove himself capable of at least one thing, ‘Me and Percy loaded the hearses and put the flowers in.’ There, he thought, not completely useless, am I?

The rest of the afternoon went without a hitch; at least it seemed to from where Oscar was standing. He was asked not to assist with getting the coffin into the crematorium on account of being improperly attired, so instead waited at a respectful distance.

Once the short service was over, and the assembled mourners had taken a quick look at the flowers laid out by the exit, Oscar stepped forward to open the limo’s heavy door.

‘Mrs Melbury, I’m so sorry for your loss,’ he said in his most serious voice.

‘Thank you, dear,’ replied the old woman, dabbing daintily at her eye with a white handkerchief, ‘and it’s Mrs Huffington. But thank you anyway, and I’m glad you’re feeling better now.’

Oscar closed the door on the grieving widow and walked slowly back to the now empty hearse. He sat down heavily in the back seat.

‘Too much for you was it, Oscar?’ said Pete, ‘Funerals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, mate.’

Oscar smiled weakly. He could have sworn Melbury had been the name on the coffin; he’d noticed it when he helped Percy wheel it out from the cold store. Or had that been the other one? Suddenly, he felt a bit queasy again.

‘Um, Pete?’ said Oscar, ‘whose was the other funeral today?’

‘Lord Melbury’s, of course. Big one too, I should think. Quite famous in his day, he was.’

Shit, thought Oscar.

‘And is he being cremated here too?’

Pete looked at Oscar and smiled.

‘Christ no!’ he exclaimed, ‘The Melburys! He’ll be going in the family vault with the rest of them.’

 I don’t think he is, thought Oscar following a thin line of smoke as it drifted away from the crematorium’s chimney. On balance, he decided, a career in the funeral business might not be for him after all.

 

© flyingscribbler 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My New Year’s Intentions. (This is a Resolution Free Zone)

In my fantasy New Year’s Resolutions list (fantasy because I never made it), would probably appear, in no particular order, read more, write more, learn more. Drink less, eat less and worry less. You might also have found, help clean the house more, make less mess when ‘creating’ in the kitchen, and wash the car once in a while. Oh, and learn how to use Twitter properly. (I just thought of that one; it’s something that’s been bothering me.)

Missing from my fantasy list is ‘stop smoking’. I did that years ago. And not by resolving to do it either. Oh no. I tried once on New Year’s Day and failed rather too quickly afterwards. The trouble is, there’s just so much pressure surrounding the whole ‘resolution’ business. And it is a business; just look at all the flyers leaping energetically through the letter box encouraging you to join the gym, go to evening yoga/pilates/zumba (why anyone would want to be doing that rather than sipping a G&T at six o’clock remains a mystery to me). These people want to make money out of your perceived inadequacies. No, I just woke up one day (in April I think) and decided to stop smoking. It worked. No pressure you see. The fact is, I always intended to stop. By intending to do something you can say ‘my aim is to stop smoking/drink less/have more fun, but I shan’t need to beat myself up if I don’t achieve it’. If however you ‘resolve’ to do that same thing, you have rather more to reproach yourself for when if you fail.

Therefore, on this basis, I would like to announce my list of ‘Intentions’ for the coming months.

1) Write more.

I intend to write more short stories and submit more of what I write to journals and competitions. Maybe I’ll even start work on the children’s novel that is occupying a large part of my subconscious.

2) Read more.

Certain people would say that this is impossible and that the dangerously unstable pile of books next to the bed will never be read or diminish (“well, someone must be adding more books to it”), but there is always space for more reading. For example, I now have a Kindle which far from filling me with dread horror simply says ‘you can now read in even more places than before and read things which you might not have bothered to before’. Hurrah!

3) Blog more.

I certainly intend to. As long as you intend to visit more often. Deal?

4) Look for inspiration more. *

I mean by this that I intend to be more aware and ‘look’ more. Inspiration for writing is everywhere, it’s just a matter of remembering, noting down and reviewing. This leads me to…

5) Use my writer’s journal properly.

I hereby intend to stop using my journal to scribble down phone numbers and start using it properly. I know I should be doing this and perhaps I will start. It will surely benefit my writing.

I think that is enough to aim for, don’t you?

So, forget resolutions and their inherent disappointment rate; join me and make a list of intentions. It’s much more relaxing and doesn’t involve any immediate deprivation or hard work. Isn’t that a friendlier way to start the year?

* My intention number four to look for more inspiration got off to a flying start the other day when I looked out of the window on my way back from the States. It was such an amazing sunrise, I decided to record it for use as inspiration at a later date. At least, I intend to use it. If I don’t, well, I still have a pretty picture to look at.

The View from Above

 

Happy New Year.