In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset. In 1915 Edward Steichen photographed a milk bottle on a tenement fire escape, an early example of a quite different idea of the beautiful photograph.
- Susan Sontag, On Photography
And so in the houses of the snooty and well-to-do a rumour ran about that the last bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the nation had that afternoon been purchased by a rather tiresome octogenarian who became disorientated in the supermarket and mistook it for a somewhat fancy mineral water.
'Expensive bloody mineral water,' Margaret quipped. 'Damn cheek if you ask me.'
'Yes, yes,' agreed John. 'But, Marge, what the hell are we to do now?'
'Well it is all rather a bore.'
'It's not just a bore, Margaret, darling, it's a bloody crisis.'
'I know,' said Margaret. 'It's like end times around this bally place. Well, there's nothing for it. Let's up sticks and bugger off to Pecherskyi.'
'Pecherskyi? Where the hell is Pecherskyi?'
'The Ukraine I believe. Or is it Belarus? Well it's somewhere around that neck of the woods.'
'Right, I see,' said John, suddenly struck with visions of a forthcoming logistical challenge of some proportions. For one, he was always rather dubious about allowing his golf clubs to be shunted off into the bowels of the aircraft with all the other luggage. And it was all rather a mission getting the ruddy things padded up to the nines in bubble wrap.
Image No. 1
'So John and I are tootling off to Pecherskyi,' Margaret announced over the telephone to her chum Daphne.
The news was met with a static silence.
'Oh, my dear, I mean are you sure?'
'Quite sure,' said Margaret. 'This place is going to the blinking dogs. One just can't be doing with it anymore.'
'Rather, yes,' agreed Daphne. 'But Pet, all the same. Pecherskyi. I mean. rather grim isn't it?'
'Oh I don't know. It probably has a certain sort of charm to it.'
'Well, hmmn, quite. Just pack a jolly good pair of shoes. The terrain's probably frightful on the old hoofers.'
Image No. 2
John didn't sleep well that night. He tossed and turned. He suddenly thought: what the hell are we going to do with Yum-Yum?
'Darling, what are we going to do with Yum-Yum when we go to Pecherskyi?' he asked over his breakfast piece of toast with apricot jam.
'Well can't the old girl come with?'
'Might be a bit tricky old thing. Not sure what their laws are about importing live poultry.'
'Well Yum Yum's hardly live poultry is she? Or is she?'
'Um. Guinea fowl qualify as poultry the last time I checked darling.'
'John are you sure?'
'Pretty certain old thing.'
'Yes, what am I thinking. Of course they do. Silly me. Busy going doolally here. It's just all too much.'
'Oh darling do come sit down and have a breather. I'd fix you up a nice G&T if we had one. You know I would.'
'I know. Oh John dearest, you're such an angel.'
Image No. 3
'Now look Trixi old thing, she's as good as gold. You'll hardly notice her. She just sort of struts and flutters about the garden. Happy as a peach. Hardly makes a sound. You'll hardly even know she's there. Every now and then she likes her tummy scratched. You know, that soft velvety bit on their belly and under their wings. Well, that and we sometimes put a heater on low for her when it's really nippy and she sort of roosts by it. All rather sweet. We would take her with us to Pecherskyi but John rather thinks that lot will take one look at her and chances are the old girl will end up simmering away in a pot along side a couple of sliced onions and a heap of grisly garlic rather sooner than later, so, you know ...'
Image No. 4
John waltzed off to his travel agent to book the flights to Pecherskyi. The door was closed. Everything seemed shuttered up. In fact the whole bally place was totally deserted.
'What the bleeding Dickens?' he said, aloud to himself. 'What the hell's going on?'
Image No. 5
'Well it's been all over the news, Margaret, I mean there's quite a big little hoo-ha about it at the moment. Surely you must have seen?'
'Oh we don't watch the news. The news is always so depressing these days, isn't it?'
'Yes, but needs must and all. One has to keep informed Margaret.'
'Bugger that. It's nothing but never-ending griping about that ghastly Yankie bloke no one likes. What's his name? Well, never mind. This is all rather inconvenient now. It's rather a bore. But I guess it rather explains why BomSaph has ruddy well gone short.'
'It's not just BomSaph you have to worry about my dear.'
'What, you mean there's no Lindt either?'
'Hasn't been for weeks.'
'Blast. And we had our last nibble of Intense Orange only last night. John does feel let down, poor sausage, if there's no after din-dins Lindt in the place.'
'It's not Lindt most people are worrying about. It's bread and milk you know. The basics.'
'Oh you really are so tiresome sometimes, Janice, you know that?'
Image No. 6
'Looks like there's a bit of a spanner in the old works. I dare say it's all a bit of a pickle out there. Hardly a single retail outlet is open. Hardly a car on the roads come to mention it. Then I was stopped by the ruddy police. Had a good mind to give them short shift but apparently there's been some sort of curfew put in place.'
'A curfew darling. We aren't supposed to leave the house. Something about some sort of global crisis. People are dropping off like flies apparently. Back in Blighty poor old BoJo even ended up in the blooming NHS for a week.'
'What a ghastly ordeal for the poor chap.'
'Quite. Well it all sounds rather OTT if you ask me, but there you go. So we've got to hammer down the shutters and sit tight old girl. Steady the buffs and all that.'
'Yes I had an earful from Janice Potter about it just now. I mean it's outrageous. It's positively sinister.'
'I feel quite like things are suddenly spiraling out of control. Well the sooner we get to Pecherskyi the better. I'm altogether off this place. The blooming nerve of it all.'
'Well, thing is old fruit, we can't go to Pecherskyi now.'
'We can't go to Pecherskyi?'
'You see the travel agent is closed. All flights have been grounded. It seems it's rather impossible to fly anywhere, in or out.'
'John, does that mean?'
'Afraid so old girl.'
'With no BomSaph or Lindt to be had for love nor money?'
Image No. 7
'It's all rather tedious now,' said Margaret over the telephone to her sister Maureen in Yambio some weeks later. 'I mean it's been positively yonks since I last played bridge and almost as long without a ruddy G&T. One has to ask just what the world's jolly well coming to?'
'What's that old tart? The line's terribly crackly, don't you think?'
'I said ... oh never mind. Yawn. I'm tired of it all now.'
'I can't quite catch what you're saying? Phone's never been good in Yambio, you know.'
'Well I'll speak to you some other time then. I'm hanging up.'
Margaret did hang up. She glanced outside the window. In the absence of their good man Sixpence, John had at last remembered to put some water on the pot plants.
'Jolly good chap,' she called to him. 'Keep the home fires burning and all that.'
'Rather old thing, you know me, jolly hockey sticks galore, good straight bat and stuff,' he replied.
To placate the tedium and monotony that her life now entailed in the shadow of the great pandemic, Margaret thought she'd do a spot of sunbathing out on the lawns. The weather was a picture this time of year and it would wile away some time before John came in to knock together her makeshift sundowner snifter from whatever grog was left on the battered and bullied booze trolley.
'Chin, chin' he would say to her. 'Bottoms up old girl.'
'Cheers darling,' she would reply.
God, it was such hell in Africa.