Collapse of Stout Party


Popularly supposed to be from a cartoon in the long defunct magazine ‘Punch’ the phrase describes the denouement of a scene in which a person’s confidence subsides like a pricked balloon…but I never came across it in all the long periods spent in the waiting room of the first G.P. I can remember from my childhood.

man in a golden helmet, rembrandt, 1650, oil on canvas
His house was on the corner….a gloomy hedge of laurel giving way to a gravel drive which circled a monkey puzzle tree. You knocked on the door and a maid would direct you to the waiting room off the hall where you sat under the eye of Rembrandt’s ‘Man in the Helmet’ on a chair which creaked with every movement giving rise to disapproving glances from the assembled patients all of whom seemed to be of an incredible age. Apart from the creaking chair, the silence was absolute.

Entertainment was provided by ancient copies of ‘Punch’….probably the least humorous humorous magazine known to man….piled on the table in the centre of the room.
Given the disapproving glances it was preferable to seize several copies on entering the room and pile them on your lap ready for perusal….as you inevitably had to wait for a great deal of time the idea of creaking on and off your chair for one copy at a time was unthinkable.
I cannot say that I was amused by the content, but it was better than the alternatives.
That was an age when a child found to be considering the odder qualities of its elders was considered to be badly brought up so scrutiny of the various types of hats and garments had to be both fleeting and surreptitious, while kicking the legs of the chair was probably a hanging offence.
And one look at the ‘Man in the Helmet’ was enough to put you off art for life.

So “Punch’ it was.
I learned a great deal about the evolution of costume and of transport – rival horse bus companies racing for custom intrigued me. I wonder if these cartoons gave ideas to those who were to ruin the public transport system of the British Isles in later years or whether the whole beastly idea was a product of their own perverted morality…
In particular I liked a cartoon of a stout party gesticulating wildly for the horse bus to pick him up while the conductor observes that he can see him (stout party) with the naked eye.
Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very funny, but it was the best that “Punch’ had to offer and in that time in that waiting room it offered the hope of eventual escape to a life beyond the monkey puzzle where stout parties might gesticulate – or even creak – in total freedom.

Eventually the maid would summon you to Doctor’s presence and you would replace the magazines with due respect to keeping the pile neat before being ushered through to the other side of the hall where Doctor awaited you.
He bore a great resemblance to the Man in the Helmet, which was not reassuring; a view borne out by his repeated attempts to treat earache with warm cotton wool and olive oil rather than penicillin. The idea of wasting such an expensive drug on an NHS patient was more than he could bear….the nations’s finances would have crumbled had he dished it out to the undeserving public patient, no doubt.
Still I have him to thank that, given the results of his treatment, I have never suffered from seasickness since, while others may be thankful that as it is also down to him that I am unable to balance on a bicycle, my lycra clad form has never disfigured the public highway.

All that is far in the past and on the other side of an ocean but it came forcefully to mind today as my husband emerged from the office and sat down suddenly in the chair in the kitchen.

Was he ill?
No…but he had just realised that he had escaped a peril of an altogether different kind.

Since moving here we have become friendly with a chap from the U.S.A….a ticket of leave man whose family trust pays him handsomely to stay out of the U.S.A. with a view to keeping the family escutcheon in the U.S.A. unblemished.
He has, in his time, tried as many forms of excitement as possible: drugs, drink, drugs and drink, women, warfare – you name it, he’s probably had a go at it – though he must be the only mercenary discharged for inappropriate behaviour.
What did he do, I wonder?
Escort an old lady across the road?

Still, be that as it may, he is intelligent, educated and a great talker – or was until recently.
He has always complained that the only women he meets are those who hang about in bars but has never managed to connect this with the repeated experiments in removing them from the bars and installing them in his large house: experiments usually ending in noisy recriminations and vast payments in alimony before he is off to a bar again to find the next candidate.

He broke with his method a couple of years ago….he had had some furniture made for the house and the decorative wife of the carpenter – after due investigation as to his financial affairs – abandoned her husband and moved in with him.

In the time in which they have been together he has acquired eight workers to keep his house and garden in order – all hired by her and loyal to her; his outgoings have risen to an astronomical level and his health has declined to such a state that she has complete control of both him and his bank account.
Given his history she has no difficulty in presenting him as too damaged to be rational on the times that he makes a break for it into town and his doctor is also in her pocket.

She invites people over from time to time…I think to demonstrate that she is looking after him, which, to give her her due, she does….but on the occasion we were invited to his birthday party we found that while there was a marquee on the lawn, bands and drink flowing he – the birthday boy – had been locked in the house: ‘in case he hurts himself’.
Leo had him out of there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but he said himself that he was past help…he no longer had the energy to free himself.
His family would do nothing to help him…they were waiting for him to die and be off their hands. This may or may not be true but as I have no means of contacting them I can’t contradict this.

We were invited to lunch last week – sitting out on the lawn, whence the roof of our new house can be seen across the valley.
She was very interested in the house…how many bedrooms, much big was it, was it bigger than our house in Spain and when lunch was over, unusually, as she normally keeps everyone under her eye, she allowed me to talk to our friend while she took Leo off into the house.
We chatted – his mind was slower, but still there – and I asked him if he wanted to come out when we went; he could stay with us and sort himself out.
No…he no longer had the energy. All he wanted was that she would just stop talking all the time and leave him in peace.

He was tired and went off to bed, so I joined the others.
She had suggested to Leo that it would be nice to visit our friend’s finca up in the mountains and we agreed – if he were well enough. We would check on Sunday to see how things were.

Sunday came, and my husband duly called.

Yes, all was arranged. Our friend would not be coming and she would call for Leo on her quad bike early in the morning as it was a long way.

What did she mean…call for him? Were we not all meant to go?

Oh no…your wife isn’t well so the two of us will go..and don’t worry: if it comes on to rain we can always stay at the house there until morning….

In the deathless phrase of ‘The News of The World’ my husband made his excuses and left….only to sink shattered onto the kitchen chair.

Danilo arrived, and was given an account of the whole thing.

Narrow escape, he said. Your friend’s family will have her out in a dose of salts once he dies, so she’s looking ahead for the next victim. Here you are: quiet guy, big house here, big house in Spain….and she reckons men can’t resist her.
I’d stay off that quad bike if I were you.

But I’m an old age pensioner!

All the better.


49 thoughts on “Collapse of Stout Party”

    1. The sententious might say that if he had more respect for women – and for himself – he wouldn’t be in this mess…but he is in this mess and he can’t see a way out. Illness or weakness makes you vulnerable and only too willing to accept that someone has your interests at heart…

  1. a ticket of leave man…when I encountered that wonderful descriptor in my childhood reading, the fellow saved damsels and forts swarmed by men with daggers between their teeth; they returned home wealthy and were feted on broad lawns, wearing flannels and drinking gin.
    Poor fellow, not living up to standard.

    1. He’s no Beau Geste, that’s for sure…though he could certainly drink gin. He’s a nice man, has done a lot of good on the quiet in helping kids get out of drug dependence and it’s sad to see him in this state.

  2. Your doctor’s surgery experiences brought back long-forgotten memories of going to Dr William’s house. Up the long drive to the cold Victorian house, with the maid, squeaky chairs, piles of magazines …

    Truly sorry to hear about your friend, and pleased about Leo’s narrow escape. And yours. Although I would back you any day.

    1. Those days of doctors having the surgery at their house seem a world away from the group surgeries of today….

      She doesn’t stand much chance….Leo’s attitude to spending money is – don’t: so one look at the huge staff, her clothes, and the cost of the quad bike would be enough to give him the heebies.

      I’d back me, too….

      1. Yeah. Nothing wrong with Dr Williams’ surgery.
        Hey! Me and Leo would get on though. I have the DON’T attitude down to a fine art. I really really need to buy new underwear. There is a limit as to the value of shredded bras. So I could indeed be a big spender. Well, maybe next week, next month …

        1. I only buy when absolutely unavoidable….so when in Europe I buy shoes and sandals as my size is unobtainable in Costa Rica. I made a killing in the tat market in Castellon..pairs of new .leather summer shoes for 2 euros a pair! And the village Poc de Tot had a closing down sale…bras at 3 euros!
          When I shop, I shop….

  3. Sanatogen! or was it Mackeson? Either way, when the fancy ceases to be tickled or titillated by Eros then what is the alternative other than letting the Gin (Djinn) out of the bottle?

    1. If she would expend the same energy on running a business she could make her pile legitimately….and the idea of spending a night in the mountains with her has had sub zero appeal….

  4. It was our dentist who had the office/surgery like that house. They often inflicted pain in those days as well as poor reading matter. My brother called him The Butcher and never went there again. Thank goodness for the stuff they put in toothpaste (and the water) thesedays – Fluoride saves a few from dentists and old magazines.
    Leo obviously has all his marbles!!!

    1. I once bit a dentist. I considered it tit for tat as he said he would not hurt me and proceeded to do so.

      Ah yes…he has indeed! And having experience of predatory women in his past now knows when to pick up his skirts and run!

    1. I have always thought that the comments section is the best part of the blog…..
      As to biting the dentist, I was seven at the time and quite a peaceable, well behaved child (not much option given father’s views on the behaviour of children!) but to hurt me after telling me he would not was too much.

  5. It was probably best that Punch was decidedly unfunny. Who knows what the others in the waiting room might have done had you dared to giggle or, perish the thought, laugh out loud.

    In my neck of the woods we call women like that connected to your friend many names, but “snake in the grass” seems pretty apt.

    1. I think a laugh might have induced some of them to put on the black cap and start intoning’you will be taken from here to a place of execution…’ so yes, just as well ‘Punch’ was the way it was.
      Gold digger is one that comes to mind…

  6. I’m sure old Punch readers thought it hilarious in its day. Mind you, there’s a lot of so-called humour about these days that I find as unfunny as Punch.

    What an amazingly enterprising woman, and it’s such a shame she won’t put her energy into a legitimate business. At least she’s been steered away from trying it on with Leo again. Bet you though ‘Même pas peur!”. 🙂

      1. I suppose it depends if you are on the same you say there is much current ‘humour’ that leaves me cold.
        It amazes me with so many crooks and twisters that they spend so much time on their nefarious schemes when the same energy would see them with thriving businesses…
        As Damilo said, in a way he’d like to see how she’d get on with Leo…she’d have to poison him to get her hands on his cheque book!

  7. Ah yes, silent doctors waiting rooms there was one in Trinity we used. The doctors however were always good guys (apart from the locum named ‘Needle’ who gave me penicillin in my bum! The magazines were always Golf!
    Poor Leo, that’s a problem handsome, rich and desirable men face daily.
    It has not happened to me…..
    I think you need to ensure the dogs stay on the alert.

    1. That doctor would put you off his ilk for life. Luckily we moved and then had a German doctor with a dislike of malingerers. He would open the door to the waiting room and announce that only the genuinely ill should remain. Should anyone dare to continue he would throw them out of the surgery telling them to get back to work and stop wasting his time. Fat chance of a sickie to avoid the Russian Front with that chap….
      Leo denies being rich…I concur with that…but isn’t denying the other two descriptions…
      And if only you would have worn that illuminated sweater you had last Christmas you might have had women throwing themselves under the wheels of your bike….
      The dogs are on red alert…but then, they generally are.

  8. A splendid post, with all parts well threaded into the tale and matching giggles provided for.

    A long time ago there were such surgeries in Germany too; can’t remember what the magazines were. I was probably too little to read them but the doctor always seemed to be the avuncular type.

    I once knew a ‘lady’ like the one you portray; a youngish musician coming down from Scotland to London, having left her husband in Glasgow to find greener pastures down South. She made a play for Beloved (he was a principal in his orchestra) but I soon put a stop to it. In the end she went one better and married the Musical Director. She had him nailed in no time flat. You and I would have made mincemeat out of her.

    1. I’m glad you’re on your feet again…it’s been a funny old year, hasn’t it?

      The German doctor we had was also avuncular – if you were ill. If not…not!
      I remember him making me an arsenic tonic in his surgery/dispensary and curing a problem of what I think was arthritis in my mother’s hands by prescribing a glass of white Burgundy once a day – the minerals were supposed to break up the crystals. It worked, too.

      Oh yes, I have met the type before….the one who inveigled herself an invitation and spent her time infuriating Leo by trying to show him how good a housewife she was….better acquaintance with him would have told her that holding up a shopping trip for an hour while she went to the village to,buy a pack of butter – I’d run out the night before – was not the path to his heart.
      I don’t know what goes on in the minds of some men….if you are about to be thrown on the sacrificial altar and your wallet ripped out why should it be more acceptable if there is a pretty face (well, an expensively made up one at any rate) behind the knife?

      Oh yes…the mincemeat sisters…we might have a future on the halls yet…

  9. Oh dear, poor silly man.

    What a cheeky mare! Does she know about the Marmite-making and teabag dipping rituals she’d be letting herself in for?

    In Kenya we had ‘remittance men’, I imagine that was the British term for your ‘ticket of leave’ chaps.

    There was a poem that used to go around: “Land of parasites and snobs, remittance men with part-time jobs, giving nothing, taking all, waiting for the fruit to fall. Kenya Memsahib, Kenya Bwana, isn’t life ‘mzuri sana'”

    Rather unfair on many of the memsahibs and bwanas, but there certainly were plenty of drawling lispers who seemed to do nothing useful but always had eye candy on their arms and drove flashy cars.

    1. Parts of Kenya had that reputation I seem to recall….
      Yes, he is a complete twit where women are concerned…wants something decorative and then wonders why he has problems when the price of decor does up…
      As far as having her eye on Leo is concerned she is firmly convinced that any man would be so bewitched by her that she will be ruling the roost….as Danilo says, it would be an interesting experiment… would she take to the current craze of making black puddings I wonder…?

  10. The doctor’s waiting room images bring memories flooding back. Our’s was Dr. Kelly and he too had the big house up a drive. One entered through a frosted glass, always cold entrance hall and then to the waiting room where one behaved or else faced the public wrath of mother! Punch, I remember was the preferred reading material of the clever, quiet boys in school, who loved to bamboozle with witty, contemporary references that went way over my head. Poor Leo! If he’s anything like David he will be really wary now, slightly terrified and conveniently hiding if there is a chance the temptress appears in the vicinity. And if you’re anything like me it will be claws out at dawn! Love to you both!

    1. She’s invited him to lunch now! I don’t give much for her chances either for lunch or for anything further as he’s been totting up the cost of her apparel and gewgaws…..

      Those waiting rooms! They had a character all their own – luckily!

  11. Oh my…so if I have this story right, the woman is looking at your husband as a replacement for the guy who was fired as a mercenary for inappropriate behaviour. I wonder if in his wildest moments of imagining your husband could ever have pictured himself as a potential candidate for filling those shoes. 🙂

  12. I loved your description of the GP’s waiting room 😀 I’d get one of those helmets and prepare for battle, Helen. Poor Leo, she sounds like a terrifying woman!
    Mrs Playmo suggests making a batch of rock buns and leave them to harden in preparation for the potential battle. She says that you can add a slingshot armed with natural waste from your pets… then wait for her to appear over the horizon with her designer handbag over her arm.

    1. I think she has a designated handbag carrier….
      I think Leo can look after himself….were I to drop dead tomorrow nothing would induce him to take up with a woman whose lunchtime attire was a bright red chiffon handkerchief dress bestrewn with gewgaws, and a black chiffon rose pinned behind one ear….the high spot being multicoloured braces on her teeth as she is having a dental job while the going is good…
      And should he be too ill to defend himself the dogs should be able to do it for him, ‘no paseran’ being their motto, backed, in the case of the Staffies with claws and forty kilos in weight – she’d make a lovely snack for them

  13. I don’t remember much about my childhood doctors except that in those days they were always regarded as the ultimate authority and any questioning of their infinite wisdom was regarded as jolly bad form. Their waiting rooms were friendly enough, certainly no alarming pictures like “Man In The Helmet”.

    As for the poor chap from the USA, I can’t help thinking he must to some extent have been complicit in his own downfall. He clearly wasn’t strong enough to throw her out at an early stage. She presumably spotted his docility early on and rapidly took advantage of it.

    1. I expect that she is spreading her net far and wide….we’ll know that things are getting tough when she is spotted in Gringo Gulch – the casino area of central San Jose.

  14. Oh gosh she sounds a piece and a half …. and despite the fact that he has clearly led a life that might make the toes of a lady curl, I feel he has made an epic blunder. An entirely irrelevant comment is that my third daughter is called Saskia after Rembrandts wife (Saskia Van Uylenburgh) and at the age of three when I pointed out a Monkey Puzzle to my car load of kinder said in her deep growly voice ‘but what’s a HUNKY puzzle’ and thus they have stayed in our venacular ever since 🙂

  15. I like the idea of a ‘hunky’ puzzle!
    As she is no lady i reckon it would take quite something to curl her toes….perhaps a bad pedicure…..but not when considering the antecedents of a man with money.
    She’s with Vespasian on this…pecunia non olet.

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