The people who lived in Avenue Road
just didn't catch Very Disgusting diseases. So Barbara's news was going
to be a big shock for the family.
Jack Trevor Story
`What are your parents really
like?' asked the young man on the twenty-seventh date.
Anna told him again:
'They play bridge, they dress for dinner and the theatre once a month,
they listen to Samuel Beckett plays on the 3rd—that is to say Radio 3.'
Said Yolly : 'In
other words, they're phonies.'
be perfectly honest I'm not sure,' Anna told him, quite frankly—since
after all they were only her parents. 'I mean they really enjoy it all.'
said, gloomily: 'And that's the worst kind of phoney. Genuine phonies.'
held his hand. 'I'm sure they'll love you, Yolly. Once I can slot you
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As a family the Frys were about
as close as cacti in a desert. If you had a problem you went to Beachy
Head. Or took a taxi to some unknown native doctor, as Mrs Fry had done,
giving a false name.
sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs Kelly, but you have gonorrhoea.'
Barbara gave her well-known Yogi Bear blink. 'But I always thought that
was a venereal disease?' She was right. 'But I always thought you could
only catch that by going with somebody—you know—sexually?'
Perhaps she should have gone to an older doctor. These young blacks only
knew what they were told. On the other hand she couldn't go to Phillip's
doctor. They played bridge with Phillip's doctor.
don't think you quite understand, doctor. I'm a married woman. I'm not,
well, friendly, with anyone but Phillip.'
you had better ask your husband to come and see me, Mrs Kelly.'
can't tell Phil! He's terribly strict. He turns off television. Well,
anything realistic. He's partly Belgian, you see. He's just put a pelmet
round the lavatory cistern.'
young doctor said: 'If you haven't picked it up somewhere else, then
your husband has.'
could have slapped his face. He sat back in his chair to avoid this,
then gave it to her straight : 'I'm sorry, but facts are facts.'
the Fry family, the last thing facts ever were, was facts.
had one queer son, Peregrine, always euphemistically referred to as a
possibility is,' continued the young black doctor, ‘you're both clapped
don't know what it means,' said Barbara, `but I can't accept it. I want
a second opinion. I'd like to get dressed now.'
young black doctor never could work out why they got undressed. He gave
it a moment's thought after she'd gone, wondered if perhaps she was his
bank manager's wife; why she had given him a false name.
- - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
`Can I bring Yolly in tonight?'
asked Anna. `No, you can't,' she replied to herself as her mother was
attacking something on the chopping board as if it were an enemy.
`Who's Yolly?' Barbara asked, letting the last bit of carrot fly across
told her all about Yolly again. They'd soon be having their silver
anniversary and he hadn't met any of the family yet. 'It's starting to
sound really Gothic, all these excuses to keep him away from Avenue
Road. He thinks you're lepers or something.'
Barbara blinked again. A most unfortunate exaggeration under the
circumstances. Gonorrhoea in Avenue Road was worse than leprosy,
especially amongst middle-aged parents. Two heads would have been more
acceptable. 'I'm afraid you have another head growing from your left
ear, Mrs Kelly.'
you avoiding the question, Mummy. Or just talking to yourself?'
preparing a salad, Anna.' That's another thing you do in a disconnected
family is prepare salads. And, when bored, Barbara counted things -
radishes, washing up, laundry, hair-rollers, lamp-posts, years . . .
'Bring him another night, darling. Tonight I've got something very
serious to discuss with your father.'
- Phillip?' asked Anna. You couldn't talk to Phillip Fry except on the
telephone. If you were face to face with him he did this thing of
cupping his right ear with his hand and talking into his sleeve. You
watch any advertising space salesman conducting a conversation with his
family. 'Hello, there . ..’
said: 'Funnily enough, Daddy has something very serious to discuss with
you.' `Oh God,' thought Barbara, 'and Jesus Christ. Did that mean the
diagnosis was right? That Phillip had also consulted a young wog doctor
in a little-used part of town? "Ask your wife to come in and see me, Mr
Kelly . . ." '
`What's so important? What's happened? Stop chopping up carrots, Mummy!
It looks so symbolic!'
Barbara started on the onions, which are always good for disguising
emotion. She was going to have to watch it. Both the kids were very
strait-laced. Well, as far as she knew, which was not very far. She
didn't quite know what Anna did with Yolly but certainly Peregrine had
got rid of his rabbits as soon as he reached puberty. `Can I make my
mayonnaise?' Anna was asking.
can make whatever it is you make.' The problem was immense. She hadn't
been with anyone else and Phillip's most intimate relationships were
conducted on the phone.
you get VD on the phone? Young people knew more about these things. She
was going to need help and it needed great delicacy and tact. She said :
`Do you think your father has sexual intercourse with other women?'
`Don't ask me questions when I'm adjusting the gas. I don't know. How
the devil should I know?'
Anna didn't know anything then Peregrine wouldn't know. 'What's this
boy-friend of yours really like?'
Anna, who had adjusted the North
Sea gas to a barely finite level, now put it out. `Damn. Now you ask me.
I'm surprised you know he's a boy and not a girl. We have some very
strange tendencies in this family. Yolly is young and handsome
underneath it all—you know, the hair and stuff. And he's very
enough mayonnaise for Yolly,' Barbara said, reaching a decision.
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- - - - - - - - - - - - -
`Daddy, this is Yolly, this is
Mummy, this is my mayonnaise.'
evening, Mr Fry,' said Yolly. `
`We'll wait for Peregrine,' said Barbara Fry.
`Peregrine won't be coming tonight,' her husband told her, holding his
it's his laundry night,' she reminded him. Phillip Fry said: 'Not any
more. I don't think Peregrine should expect you to do his laundry. It's
time we told him. I wanted a serious discussion. I thought we'd be
alone.' And he hung up on the subject by simply putting his receiver
hand back on the arm of his chair.
see?' Anna said, to her mother. 'It's not another woman at all.'
said : 'Would you rather I came another night?'
pushed him onto the settee. 'Of course they would. Quickly, tell them
I'm pregnant, then at least you can stay to dinner.'
Barbara said: 'But I like doing his washing. It's all I've got left of
him.' Then she said:`Besides, I've got VD. I want him here.'
Phillip Fry peered at his wife and daughter and the strange young man,
hoping they would disappear.
say, is that right?' Yolly asked, brightly. It was the first bit of
conversation that rang normal bells with him and he became animated.
'Have you caught a dose, Mrs F? That's jolly rotten luck.'
`Don't be silly,' Anna said. 'She's just trying to attract attention to
herself. How would Mummy catch VD except from Daddy? And how would Daddy
Phillip Fry's soup spoon crashed into the bowl and red polka dots
appeared like measles in a Marx Brothers' film all over Barbara's face.
She wanted to remove them but felt that they were oddly appropriate
until the subject had been properly aired.
Before this happened Peregrine came in with his hairdressing partner
Kenneth. `I told you not to come,' his father said, swerving his
frustrations to something more important than dirty talk.
'Correction, Daddy,' said Peregrine. 'You told me not to bring my
smalls. Well don't worry -Kenneth is doing them for me. Phew, it's ever
so warm in here.'
Peregrine was holding a poodle
under his arm. Peregrine was dressed in green flared
trousers and a contrasting green
high-necked woollen jumper. Sharing a secret communion of opinion, Yolly
went cross-eyed at Anna who blamed it all on God. Kenneth kissed
everybody including Mr Fry and then said to Barbara: 'And what were we
doing at that doctor's this afternoon?'
Everybody looked at Mummy. To her daughter, suddenly the day became
clear, spots and all. 'You're preggers, Mummy! We're going to have a
belated little stranger!'
this true, Barbara?' Phillip Fry asked, in justified surprise.
`Don't tell them, darling,' Peregrine told his mother. To the others he
said: 'It's female, private, and personal. If you must know, I sent
her.' And to Barbara: 'That doctor's ever so good, isn't he? He injected
my piles. That's how I met him. Oh, and he gives Kenneth his drops…
doesn't that sound awful!' Then, hungrily: `Mmm! Something smells nice .
..' As he sat down to eat he pressed his mother's arm and gave her a
confidential, womanly smile: 'What did he say, dear?'
got VD,' Barbara told her family again. Suddenly it didn't seem any
worse than having a son like Peregrine. `Gonorrhoea, in fact,' she
added, as though to give it a little status.
Phillip said: 'Must we have that dog at the table?'
was a moment during the war that Barbara remembered when the engine of a
doodle-bug bomb cut out directly over a Lyons' tea shop in Sloane
Square. Nobody moved, but nobody ate.
doctor wants to talk to you about it, Phillip,' she said.
Phillip Fry went on the phone and came off, tried to make them vanish
and failed, then finally said: 'Did you say VD, dear?'
V for very, D for disgusting. Venereal disease.'
said: 'I'll put the dog in the kitchen.'
no,' Peregrine said. 'He's all right, he doesn't understand yet.'
Yolly, as a long-banned outsider, the subject seemed surprisingly human.
'Soon get rid of it, Mrs Fry. Trot along to the clinic – have to lay off
the booze for a bit . . . '
. . . ' said his young mistress. Peregrine unaccountably turned to the
visitor and shook his hand. 'And where did you two meet?'
Phillip Fry said: 'Why didn't you go to Dick Yates? He's your doctor.'
Avenue Road's doctor,' Barbara said. And although no-one had questioned
it, she said: 'I'm not angry. If you've been having affairs, Phillip,
it's your business. Giving me VD is my business. Who was it?'
`There's been nobody else but you, Barbara.'
don't believe you,' said Barbara.
Phillip said: 'And I don't believe you. I want a divorce.'
Peregrine said: 'Oo, we are cross!' He started eating.
- - - - - - - -
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The great mistake Mrs Barbara
Fry made was in wearing a leopard fur coat in front of a judge who was a
prominent member of the Wildlife Trust Fund. The evidence was relatively
did your wife come to you and confess that she had contracted venereal
this in the presence of witnesses?'
you shocked and horrified by the nature of her – ahem – illness?'
did your wife suggest that she had contracted venereal disease from
did you subsequently visit a doctor and have certain tests made?'
what were the results of those tests?'
other words, she had VD and you did not.'
`That's right, sir, yes.'
It was a full court following
unusual public interest and a good deal of wet weather.
do you explain your immunity?'
had not made love for two months. Not since my pneumonia. Barbara must
have picked it up during that time.'
your wife in the habit of "picking things up" Mr Fry?'
don't know, sir. It came as a surprise. She went to a different doctor
and gave a false name. Mrs Kelly.'
you get the impression that your wife was leading a double life?'
did, sir, yes. The doctor was black, for one thing. He had a mangle in
his consulting room. He criticized our married life. Very impertinent.
He said that my wife was frustrated. She undressed to have a urine test
and then she undressed to hear the result. That was while she was Mrs
Kelly, of course.'
Phillip made a good witness. When he wasn't cupping his ear and talking
into his cuff, giving the endearing impression of old age, he was
dialling telephone numbers in the dust of the witness stand ledge, as if
totally bereft and broken if not actually insane.
I want you to answer this with utter frankness, Mr Fry. Have you ever
had sexual relations with a woman not your wife?'
sir, never ever …’
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
you know, no drinking, advertising man can make such a statement with
any degree of accuracy. Phillip Fry, who had spent twenty years helping
to create the cloud-cuckoo land of consumer goods advertising, had a
special gift for making reality disappear. One of these realities was
the girl who came into his office to clean his telephone some months
after his family had successfully broken up.
morning!' she sang. This rang no bells for Phillip.
'Shall I give your equipment a little rub up?'
rang bells. Christmas, was it? Or Easter? Or somebody's leaving party?
He seemed to remember a bottle of Pernod in the goods-lift with an 'out
of order' sign on the doors to keep out intruders. This didn't sound
like him. He was very slow at making overtures.
all right. Don't move. I can manage. . . '
grief. It all came rising up again as she slid between him and the desk.
'You look ever so sad,' she said.
he was sad. Everybody appeared to have come out of the divorce in good
shape except himself. `Mrs Kelly' was now a flourishing boutique in
Market Street, run by Peregrine, Barbara and Kenneth. Anna and Yolly
were living somewhere on the borders of sin and domesticity. Only
Phillip had landed in the lonely desert of middle-age. Still, it wasn't
too late to ring Barbara now and make a full confession and apology.
Salvage something of what they had had.
a minute. Let me get rid of all the nasty germs. 'scuse my legs . . . '
what had they had in Avenue Road? Nothing quite like this.
what are you doing tonight?' he asked her.
about your wife?'
that's all finished and done with. She let me down rather badly in fact
. . . '
After a time, without much
difficulty, he came to believe this. You'll find him in the Coach and
Horses, or sometimes in a drinking club in Rupert Street talking to that
chap who forges Equity cards for aspiring actress dollies.
it's a true story, of course. Only the names have been changed to
protect the guilty.