Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Side Boob and Insensibility

The family of Phaeton had long been settled in London’s Canary Wharf. The topiary of their hedge funds was in splendid order, and, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner, as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. Though an indulgent and obliging father, Sir Thomas Phaeton was well aware that his daughters, Elinor and Marianne, were two of the silliest girls in England. While their contemporaries were scuttling up trees to protest attacks on the environment, or making their insouciant way into comfy corners of corrupt corporations, Sir Thomas’s offspring were posing for selfies, trying to get an audition for Big Brother or The Apprentice, tweeting, twerking, tweezing, tattooing, drinking vodka-laced frappuccinos, and watching Danish TV series about murdered women. They could neither boil an egg nor butter up a boss. Their education was minimal, their aspirations absurd, their spats legendary.

It had occurred to Sir Thomas on occasion that their expensive schooling, at Bedales and Benenden, had been insufficient to instruct them in the intricacies of adult life. To redress these deficits, he sometimes made an aggravating effort to persuade his daughters to read a book. He himself favored the novels of the long eighteenth century. But they refused even self-help books: they needed no “help.” They preferred more immediate sources of merriment and deviltry, and spent their days (and nights) with models and rock stars. The Phaeton girls could have been models themselves, had they displayed more passivity, more poise, and more pouts; and they would have excelled at the guitar, had they ever learnt.

Following a tempestuous decade of marriage, it was noted that Lady Phaeton now lived elsewhere. But it was a surprise to many when she was discovered subsisting amongst the glitterati to be found, in decreasing numbers and increasing decrepitude, in Biarritz (which, to her daughters, seemed horrifically uncool). She left in her place a widowed sister, though Aunt Norris had little more interest than their mother in tending to either Sir Thomas or the girls, who, in their turn, ignored their aunt whenever possible. This left Sir Thomas in the position of sole protector of the two flibbertigibbets, who nonetheless could charm him, when they applied themselves to the task. Why would anyone wish to harm these beatific beings, Sir Thomas wondered jovially, as they spooned lobster pâté onto more and more crackers for him, in the hopes of a handout.

The girls enlarged their set of acquaintances to include stand-up comedians with god complexes, VIPs at the loucher end of the spectrum, humble sycophants, newspaper magnates, Conservative politicians, and aristocratic wannabes. But the sisters had their enemies too. Paparazzi stirred into action whenever they left their three-story penthouse (adjoining the equally well-proportioned London residence which their father shared, resignedly, with Aunt Norris). The object of the paparazzi’s assiduity was to get a photo of those two zany Phaeton chicks looking zany.

Sir Thomas was forced to await, on tenterhooks, the inevitable slaughter, by media, of his darlings; but when it finally came, it was an embarrassment, not just to him, or to Marianne and Elinor, but to the country at large.

The Phaeton girls had successfully evaded censure for two, three, perhaps four years of high living. Despite trashing every nightclub in the British Isles and beyond, slurring their speech on talk shows, and shoplifting heritage carrots from Harrods’ Food Hall, the worst of the crimes of which Marianne and Elinor had yet been accused were cellulite sins, muffin-top miseries, Chihuahua cruelties, and occasionally going about color-uncoordinated. The ups and downs of their love lives had been finely milled for scandal, but none could be found: their boyfriends were all rotters, to a man—but so were everyone else’s. (In a society in which just about everything is ill judged, it can be hard to find the right way to go wrong.) Ominously, though, as Sir Thomas would later recall to his chagrin, there had once been a curious accusation of “cleavage overload” hurled at his daughters, which might have served as a warning of the imminent debacle. Both girls had laughed it off, however, ridiculing the notion that anyone could ever get tired of breasts.

But finally, there transpired the biggest sartorial transgression currently known to humankind. England, a nation already famed for sexual confusion, was suddenly saturated with disturbing photographic evidence of sleaze. The center of the controversy was Marianne, as Sir Thomas might have guessed it would be—Marianne, who had always had the least fashion sense of the two (though neither daughter could ever have been said to dress sensibly). Her crime? The exposure of a “side boob.”

by Alexander McCall Smith, The Baffler | Read more:
Image: Imgur