The Rules of Etiquette

This is an improvised routine, which I performed on 03 September 2003.  A bit of a treat, because most of my performance material is lost or forgotten.
Forgotten by me, that is, and never transcribed, but people often quote me with things that I have come out with on stage, but do not remember saying.
Typically, in this instance, I had nothing to say when I took the mic, but I had been browsing through Bailey's Microscopic Anatomy in the wings (us clever f**kers read stuff like that all the time), and had several sheets of paper in my jacket pocket, which contained notes for Old Spice : Love Undying.  I took the book with me when I went on.
Once I got started, a friend frantically copied down what I was saying, then, because I don't read shorthand, she copied it all out into longhand; then, because I couldn't read her Godawful writing, she typed it out for me.
By the time she had it typed up I had moved on, so she had to follow me across the English Channel to the continent, in order to deliver it to me – crawling the last five miles on bloody, shredded hands and knees, to place it in my hand.
When I told her I prefer the Ariel font to Times New Roman, she hit me with a lamp-stand.   

I was wearing a dark, two-piece narrow pin-stripe, white shirt, and a mid-grey diagonally-striped tie, which gave me a formal appearance.  I spoke with a BBC English accent, occasionally bending it into 'pompous ass' or 'Army Colonel' (British army, that is -- what-ho and pass the brandy, old chap!).
As always, I did not identify myself or give any greeting, but ploughed straight in.
I have taken out most of the the 'pause for laughter to die down' comments – but people did laugh, honest!


{Enters right, raptly engrossed in (a very large, hard-cover) book.  Stands at mic for several seconds, reading it, while A. noise builds.}

Oh, of Course!  How could I have ever forgotten that?

{Closes book with a snap, and holds it out lightly.  Silence from A.}  Do you know, I should be lost without this!

{Reads title from spine}  "The Rules of British Etiquette in the Dining Place", by Handsome and Dashing.  Required reading.

When I was a boy, I was instructed to read and study this book from cover to cover.
Naturally, being a diligent and obedient child, I did so; but I discovered that the easiest way to do it was to start from the back {holds book back cover upward}, and work my way to the front {turns book over}; as this meant that I had to do a lot less reading -- and, in my defense, I have to say that I studied every word on the cover so well that even now, many years later, I can still quote the title of the book and the name of the authors without so much as a glance!

Later in life I realised the importance of such things, as I had to hold luncheons or attend garden parties at the palace, and I have always been astounded at the versatility of the book.
Obviously, most of you will have copies at home, which you read often, so you won't need me to tell you which fork to use to flick cockroaches away, when at a dinner party in Midiq, or which finger to pick your nose with when eating asparagus {wiggles little finger at nose}; but the fact that it covers every possible situation where people and food come together makes it an invaluable addition to any British home library.  {Confession: I was struggling at this point, as I could see a couple of directions I could take it, but none were particularly impressive.  I was still well in control, though, and getting a great response, so I just rolled with it, hoping something better would come to me.}

How many of us have been spared embarrassment by knowing how to deftly finish off a lobster that managed to survive being boiled alive, before it could get a grip on our nipples?

How many of us have saved money on restaurant bills by knowing the Swahili for 'You're a pain in the arse, Mate, but I'd shag your missus', which is in the appendix on common phrases used by waiters?

{Opens book, and flicks through to last page.}  Six hundred and forty-three pages, all dedicated to making sure that we Britons know how to behave and act properly when eating.

{Closes book and drops it to the floor, where it lands with a loud BANG!
Dives to the floor away from the book, shouting 'COVER!', and covering head with hands.
Gets up slowly and sheepishly, and goes back to mic, twitching nervously.  A. is in bits!  Didn't expect slapstick!}

{Stammering and dithering} Um...  Sorry...
It's the... ah... it's the practical sessions, you see...
They can be a bit... em... a bit worrying...
Especially the one on 'How to enjoy a light salad with cold meats and dressing whilst serving in Her Majesty's Royal Engineers and clearing a minefield'.

{Clears throat and squares up} Anyway, I'm glad to announce that other nations have seen this good example and followed it.
I have here {pulls single sheet of paper from pocket, unfolds and dangles it by a corner} the American... {HUGE laugh from A.} ...the American version, which was compiled, after extensive research, by Ronald MacDonald, himself!
If I may...

{Reading from paper} 'Behaviouralisationary Requirementations Eating-Out-Wise'

Chapter One: The greeting.
It is customary, in higher-class establishments, for waiters/servers to greet diners with: {Weedy US accent} "Can I take your order?"
The customary, and most appropriate, response to this is as ignorant a grunt as possible, followed by {low, gutteral} “Big Mac...”

{Suddenly flustered!} Hold on!  MacDonalds sue people who take the piss out of them, don't they?
Ok... um... let's forget McD, and, um, say er... how about Wimpy's?
Yeah, Ok, Wimpy's.
{Visibly calming down} Right.  So.  Where were we? {Scans paper}
Ok... um... Grunt, and then say: Big M... er... Big Wimp!
{To A.} Ok, we should be safe with that!

{back to reading} Right, er...  This will receive the response: {US, with chewing action} You want fries with that?

{To A.} Oh, in case you don't know: 'fries' are like chips, but chips that are made by cutting a proper chip into four spindly little things, then they're bleached, to remove any natural flavour, cooked, and sprayed with essence of cardboard.  That's just so we understand the terminology.
{Back to the paper, talking briskly without pause but switching voices and accents} So, the reply is: "You can stick those farty little things!", and the food is handed to the diner with a bright "Enjoy your meal!", to which the diner replies: "Go f**k yourself!" under his or her breath and retires to a table, and we move on to chapter two: the Meal. {Deep breath}

{Got the 'wind up' signal}{...and Panicked!  I didn't have a finishing line!} The Big M... Wimp may be eaten with the fingers, ignoring the normal protocol of never picking up finger food which cannot be held in one hand.  Chopsticks are also permissable, if one is hard of hearing.
The only procedure which must be followed is that of {mimes actions} removing the upper portion of the Sesame Street bun and fiddling around in the mixture of ketchup, hair, and mayonnaise until the slice of gherkin is found.  This must be removed and stuck to the underside of the table, next to one's chewing gum.

{Holds paper high in the air} And that is only the beginning!  The rest of the document goes deeply into such things as 'How to Hold the Fork in the Wrong Hand', and 'How to Gain Weight by Judiciously Eating Enough for Three'.  It throws up all kinds of ideas, that...

Oh, I'm sorry.  I shouldn't use the term 'throw up' in the context of food, should I -- unless of course one is out for a meal with Paul Gascoine, when it's necessary to throw up the previous night's kebab, before stuffing one's face with a new one... {Looks thoughtfully down at book} Page one-seventy-three, I believe.

{Picks up book and holds it out} Suffice it to say that Britain is once again leading the world in something that no-one cared about until we harped on about it!
Now all we have to do is teach all those bloody foreigners how to cook decent Fish & Chips!
Thank you!
{Bows and strides from stage to rapturous applause!}

Ok, Ok, so it was a bit of a lame ending; but solo improv is bloody hard going, and you're lucky if you've got a beginning and a middle, let alone an end!  At least I got out of there alive!


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