Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 9 September 2012
Olga crashed my car
Last night, I reluctantly lent Olga Lawrence my car and she crashed it into a wall before driving off and leaving me stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I should have known better than to let her get behind my wheel, as she was always a terrible driver even when younger, but now she must be close to 100 years old. It doesn't help that she has been dead for quite a few years, either.
Olga came from what she herself described as a 'terribly grand', Russian family who were directly related to Tchaikovsky, and her mother was a hand-maiden to the last Tsarina. The whole family fled Russia at the outbreak of the Revolution and are - to this day - interspersed around the four corners of Europe. She could not talk of the murder of the Romanov family in that cellar without becoming tearful, and maintained to the end that rumours of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality were untrue. "He was not a bugger", she insisted in her undiluted, thick Russian accent, against all accounts to the contrary.
She came to England as a result of a friendship with Sir John Lawrence (Bart), but ended up marrying his less decorated brother, who never quite recovered from an undistinguished career as an intelligence officer in WW2 compared to his titled brother's exploits, which saw Sir John torpedoed into the freezing waters of the Baltic and becoming a high-ranking diplomat who left the Hot war to work for 'Amnesty International' during the Cold one. He inherited his title from the original 'Lawrence of Lucknow' - an even more distinguished member of the family.
Because of the white Russian background of Olga and the diplomatic connections of Sir John, the large and rambling Lawrence household became a regular 'safe house' for visiting Soviet 'Apparatchiks' (as Olga playfully referred to them), and small parties of Party Members would often spend a week or so there, calling up the Soviet Embassy four times a day, just to let them know that they had not defected.
The spirit of noblesse oblige had never died since one of the Baronets gave work to the locals during the Great Depression by having them build a squash-court on the estate, and they would often find me little things to do when I ran out of work, as often happened in the 1970s. I would sometimes play squash in the court on my time off, and I have never seen a more quirky squash-court than theirs, with balls stuck into crevices in the ceiling, where they had been struck sometime between 1930 and 1960, never to fall to earth. What were the chances of that? Quite high, judging by the quantity of trapped balls, and I even managed to trap a few myself when firing a wild shot toward the rafters.
On one occasion of unemployment, I found myself up an extremely high ladder, painting a section of barge-board in the same manner as they used to paint the Forth Bridge in hearsay.
I had just finished a long lunch in their dining room, and the guests to this lunch included an elderly Turkish princess, a Polish dissident and two extremely large and intimidating Soviet women who spoke not a word of English.
As is the Russian custom, quite a lot of alcohol was used to wash down the potatoes and beetroot soup, and the lunch finished with Olga's husband face-down in his empty soup bowl and snoring loudly between shouting the odd incoherent phrase, all the while ignored by the rest of the party.
At some point, I somehow mentioned the word, 'make-up' (as in cosmetics) and both the Soviet women looked up from their plates at me and began murmuring the word to themselves repeatedly, with a distant expression of reverie on their hard-boned faces. In those days, I had very long and dark, curly hair, and the women began talking to each other whilst staring at me. Eventually, they decided where they had seen me before, and began calling me 'Botticelli'. The name stuck for the rest of the afternoon.
As I was up the ladder with a flame-torch, stripping layers of old paint away from the board in the hot, summer afternoon, my eye was caught by some movement in an upper window of the house.
To my horror and fascination, both Russian women were standing at the window, dressed in nothing but Soviet issue bra and underpants, smiling and waving at me enticingly.
I held their stare - like a rabbit in the headlights - for a little too long, and when I looked round again, I noticed that I had set fire to the huge roof of the house by playing the flame over the generations of dry cobwebs which ran beneath the slates and up into the rafters.
By some miracle of fortune, I had placed a hammer and a bucket of water at the foot of the ladder, so I ran down to retrieve them, then ran back up to smash as many slates as I could before dowsing the flames with the water, as thick smoke billowed out from the gaping hole. My next job was to replace the slates, and this I did for no charge.
I was only putting off the inevitable, however. Thirty-five years later, the house burned down completely, and remains a blackened shell to this day.
Word of advice - never lend a car to Olga Lawrence, even in a dream.