Friday, December 5, 2008

Piping him in

Our neighbors down the street are the most English couple in the world. He used to be on Fleet Street, which is English for he was a journalist, and she was a midwife in Kensington, which is like being a midwife on the Upper East Side, if wealthy American women used midwives.

But I'm getting away from myself. Their house, which is very southern French on the outside, all peach stucco and wrought iron and clay roof tiles, is all English on the inside: the family silver sits out on the family sideboard, porcelain figurines decorate side tables, and the bookcase in the sitting room (not a living room, a sitting room) is full of first editions of Orwell and Waugh.

I frequently pass Horatio in the lane. He walks their dog, ZsaZsa, at around the same times of day that I take the girls to and from school. Horatio cultivates a persona that stops somewhere just this side of eccentricity: in the spring and summer, he sports a weather beaten panama hat and a blazer with bermuda shorts, lace-up dress shoes, and dark socks. He always has a quick word and a pun at the ready.

Last weekend Horatio went back to the U.K. for the funeral of an old friend. When he came home, I passed him and ZsaZsa in the lane and stopped. I put down the car window and asked how the funeral had gone.

Oh, we gave him a good send-off, Horatio said. There were more than a hundred people at the service, and afterwards, the newspaper association gave a buffet lunch. But the service was really lovely. We piped him in, really nice.

Piped him in? I tilted my head a little, trying to sort that particular English-ism out. Perhaps the service had been at a crematorium, and they had sent the casket down the chute during it? But wouldn't that be piped him up? Or out? And wouldn't that be...strange? Or maybe they had had a recording of the dead man's voice, and they had piped that recording in during the service. Also, though, a little...strange?

Horatio saw my confusion. With bagpipes, my dear, he said, and promptly did a credible pantomime of a bag piper, complete with pumping arms and a low drone.

Two peoples divided by a common language, indeed.

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