“Reprimand, my arse. What that lad needs is a bloody good balling out.”
“Yell in his face until his earwax melts, then kick his backside down the stairs.”
“Manky little crumb of mildewed dog shite. Who does he think he is?”
“He thinks he’s the cook, sir. As far as that goes, he is perfectly correct.”
“If he shows his face in here again I’ll cook him. I’ll have his todger in the pan between the egg and the tomatoes. You tell him that.”
“I will sir. I’m sure he will be most gratified.”
One of the ring of listening chairs sniggered. Another leaned closer to his neighbour.
“Has anyone actually said ‘todger’ since 1958?”
“Not south of Watford.”
From the opposite side of the circle: “What is a todger?”
Quick fire explanations from all directions:
“Ha! Like it!”
“Winkle? Oh, please!”
“It’s your best friend.”
“It’s the meat you beat.”
“Darling, it’s your manhood.”
“Thank you, thank you. You’ll all get a turn.” Tweed jacket and denims moved behind the chairs. “That’s great you two, sit down. A bit P.G. Wodehouse meets Arnold Bennett, but never mind. Next on, you… and you. Don’t stop to think, pick up the story.”
“Milord, have mercy. The boy’s heart is in the right place, wherever his todger may be.” Laughter. “But he has fallen into bad company, learned the ways of… nouveau cuisine.”
The improvisation continued. Now and then the metal leg of one of the stacking chairs scraped on the floor. The boards were scuffed and worn through to the grain. More chairs were piled along the wall. By the door a curling sheet listed fire exits, assembly points.
“Well, we’ve got a strong cast. I can see a couple of Sir Tobys. I must say, though, I wasn’t expecting the cooking.”
“Mm. They all have to talk dirty to start with, of course. You expect that. But after a bit they settled down and… Everything seemed to lead round to food.”
“Welcome back gentlemen. Could you take a seat, please? Doesn’t matter where. You’ll find a copy of the play on each chair. Inside the front cover there should be a card with the name of your character. Pick a place and see who you get – you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Just now it doesn’t matter, we’ll all be swapping roles later on.”
The ring of chairs had re-formed, smaller now.