Lunch is Off
An Entirely Solicited, Occasionally Illustrated and Completely Unreliable Memoir
I was born into a great deal of comfort in 1958. My Australian father, Redding Unction was a property developer and my mother Giselda Fasnacht, a Diva of some renown. I say was because both are long dead at the time of writing.
Yes, that’s right, she is my mother. Anybody who saw her Violetta in La Traviata of 1975 at the Venice Opera, will attest to her skill and her heft. It was said at the time that she could fill the house with both her voice and her abundant physical assets. Not long after, the reviewer who made this remark, met with a fatal accident involving a cement hopper.
Giselda, a notorious snob, insisted on my attendance at the Schloss Private Boarding College in Switzerland, the country of her birth. The fact that this school was a ten minute drive from the family seat, seemed to be one requiring no consideration at all. I entered this establishment at the age of five. To say my time there was unpleasant, would be a gross understatement of the facts. If it had not been for an English master, going by the name of Pickles, I would have been maimed, if not murdered. Below is a drawing I made of the dear fellow.
Pickles sported a mass of wiry hair and bushy sideburns, providing his narrow shoulders with ever-descending drifts of dandruff. He had an accidental opportunity to view my drawing before I could secrete it and it was one of the few occasions he remained silent. Master Pickles found, however, several other occasions to declare his point of view.
One time I can remember, he handed me a private missive as I insolently ambled out of one of his lessons:
Unction, you are destined for a hard life my boy, notwithstanding the fact that yours is the brightest young mind I have encountered in my career. I am compelled to say you are a very unlikeable person. You are in possession of an oppositional nature verging on the psychotic, and as such, bringing out the worst in everyone you cross paths with.
You’re continuous and perverse undermining of conventional wisdom, is so thoroughly reprehensible one can only but fail to view your personality with any degree of indulgence. Having said this, I see it as my mission to protect you. My only reasonable conclusion in regard to my conflicted concerns on this matter is that your case is so extreme; the science of psychiatry will have lost an opportunity to study a truly unique pathology.
I will not be passing this information along to your parents, for I fear your behaviour at school can only be a pale reflection of what they must surely be experiencing, in the tortured chambers of your home. Pickles had the gift of the gab, I’ll give the old fart that much.
Little did he know that any solicitations made in the direction of my mater and eternally absent pater would have fallen unheeded at their feet in much the same way as the passing of autumn leaves from the branches of the maple trees on our family estate. Our garden in southern Switzerland was actually the size a minor national park and the maple was the favourite vegetation of our ancient gardener who was still tending to our lands well past his hundredth birthday, albeit via a wheelbarrow pushed by his also aged son. Before you complain I admit, even by my standards, that was a very long sentence.
The gardeners, Falstaff and son of Falstaff—I never knew them by any other name—were my best friends. They brought me pies still hot from Mrs Falstaff’s oven. I mostly wasn’t hungry during the early stages of my life, making up for it later upon the meeting of a certain individual by the name of Racine in a rather weird catholic church. The Church of Saint Drogo sat in a squalid little square in an equally squalid town south of Naples, Italy. Again, this is another story I may revisit at some point in the future.
‘You are too thin Foster, eat boy, eat,’ was their familiar refrain as the aged Falstaff’s passed pies to me behind the barn. For some reason they thought it prudent to engage in this activity in a clandestine way. They, as did all the staff at my home, were of the opinion my mother could become fearsome for any reason at all. She was a person whose disapproval was both comprehensive and long-lasting, as I myself had learnt from an early age.
Sometimes the Falstaff’s, father and son, actually spoke in unison and then looked at each other, bursting into laughter. I also giggled to the point of exhaustion. I loved the Falstaff family to bits and wished with all my heart to roam in the woods with them, cut the flowers necessary for the diva’s vases, rake the maple leaves and sit at their hearth in the evenings to listen to their gardening stories.
Master Pickles was an ambiguously comforting presence in my life at Schloss but at least he was wrong about one thing; I was not destined for a hard life. I invariably landed on my feet, granted at the expense of others; but one must get ahead. With the above assessment of my early school career and the agreement of my parents, I entered into what became a lifetime of psychotherapy, interrupted briefly by a litigious stint as a psychotherapist myself. That, of course, is another story for which I would need many hours and the presence of my lawyer to explain.
It became clear at an early age I had some talent for drawing and as such, I could often be found practicing in the gardens of my college. These were lonely years but when I was drawing I was happy.
There are many drawings from this time still in existence. I made a drawing of my mother while we were on holiday in Bali, I was about thirteen and it remains one of the few realistic renderings I have produced. She is standing on the beach at Legian in a wide sunhat, peering down at a diminutive fruit seller carrying a large bowl of fruit on her head.
In the drawing and on the day, my mother has an expression of superiority only she could muster. I called the drawing ‘Hate’ but changed it to ‘Hat’, before showing it to Giselda, who predictably found it abhorrent, saying it was not realistic to make a human, namely herself, the same colour as a boiled lobster. I decided not to press the fact that she was, in fact, severely sunburned. By this time she had lost a fair proportion of her weight, although she remained a formidable woman for the rest of her life. The holiday was brief and consisted mainly of her providing me with a babysitter for every day we were ensconced at the resort, while she consorted with a variety of young Balinese men.
Serendipitously, my father was building a two hundred room luxury resort at Ubud in central Bali, on the slopes of the beautiful but now spoiled, Campuan Valley. It was a ghastly Ziggurat of showy opulence; a testament to the heady days of excess exerted by the scions of Indonesia’s ruling classes and ably assisted by chancer’s like my father. Although father promised to be there to meet me (having been an absent parent my entire life) he never showed up, much to my relief. After all, I had never met the man and from what I had heard I would be better off not doing so. In regard to matters family, I should mention here I have a half-brother, Shane who I met much later; fear not I will come to him eventually. Actually, on reflection, it might be wise to be a little fearful.
By the time I was sixteen, I had graduated secondary school and entered Cambridge to read Romantic Poetry under the Laureate, Sir Clement Knight-Clules, an extremely austere fellow who resisted human contact if it could be so arranged. Circumstances arose occasionally, where he could not evade the presence of a member of his own species. The interlocutor would be offered a chair near the door of his vast and poorly lit room in a dreary corner of the campus.
His murky countenance could be viewed fidgeting nervously seven metres away. His desk was piled high with ancient volumes and scribbled notes, some of which collected dust on the floor. The arrangement of distance was a counter-intuitive arrangement, as it was known he had a hearing problem, evidenced by the total lack of acknowledgement of anything anyone said to him. By all accounts, Sir Clement was a great man and despite his physical remoteness I excelled academically. I received only one of his notes in regard to my progress—There is, Mr. Unction, a great deal to be desired in regard to your understanding of the iambic pentameter.
Near the end of my time at Cambridge I was summoned by the great man. I took up my position adjacent to the door and Sir Clement swivelled in his chair so that only the back of his thinning hair could be seen.
‘If you indicate any commitment at all, a doctorate will be yours for the taking.’
He yelled this single remark with great indignation at the filthy window he was now facing instead of me. I wondered if he knew who I was or whether he believed there was another person in the room. Perhaps he was weighing the pleasant prospect of being rid of me against the peer regard I may afford him by my continued presence.
As it turned out I only just achieved a degree in English literature and at twenty-years-old I decided to discontinue my academic studies for the time being. I had more than my fill of poets, romantic or otherwise. John Donne, for instance, was clearly a rampant pants man with an idle talent for verse – although one has to wonder how he managed to get so many lines down between all the wench bedding. He was only marginally eclipsed by William Blake’s penchant for suicidal pessimism. I suspect, when all was said and done, both Sir Clement, Cambridge and the art of poetry were better served by my decision to leave without further ado.
My reputation preceded me in the form of a letter from Cambridge. I purloined it later as result of a request via the Freedom of Information Act. The missive suggested, and I quote part thereof–
…one should have at all times immediate access to psychological services for Master Unction. His behaviour is considered aberrant by all known acceptable standards and should be watched for lapses into unpleasant social interactions and worse. Several students disappeared without a trace during his tenure here and we are sorry to say uncorroborated suspicion fell within his ambit. (Names omitted.)
On another matter, we believe he is still in receipt of his chastity but once this has been rendered, members of the opposite sex may require supervision and counselling. To conclude and having attempted to relate the above without exaggeration, his academic achievements, though of a high level, were won with little grace. Contempt might be a more appropriate characterisation of his stay with us.
It goes without saying the accusations in regard to missing persons and in particular a certain Abdul Persimmon, are specious, to say the least. I always referred to Abdul with an attempt at comradery, as Persimmon the Persian, I even thought we could be friends at one point.
‘I’m not Persian, Foster. If you knew anything about the history of my country, you would not be calling me this.’
He started moving off, doubtless looking for his prayer mat or something.
‘Oh, Percy,’ I laughed, winningly I thought, ‘you chaps are really not up for jolly japes are you?’
‘Nor am I liking Percy!’
He was starting to sound peevishly whiny, seeming to be on the point of tears. I might have given him something more substantial than words to accompany the waterworks.
My parent’s solicitor later exacted a redaction of this matter in the above document. But they would not stretch to an apology and the solicitor unsure of a court outcome let it ride.
I refuse to take any responsibility for Persimmon’s vanishing, although it might be argued that certain verbal exchanges and one of an unpleasant physical nature between us, may have aided his absconding. There may have been a veiled threats of some sort but I have little memory of it. His father, a Sultan of some sort, residing in The Emirates, suspicious of my complicity in his son’s disappearance, sent a minion, proficient in the art of the garrotte, to shorten my life.
To say I escaped by the skin of my neck, might underplay the seriousness of the Sultan’s intention. The assassin was found in the Thames one Sunday afternoon. Needless to say he wasn’t practising his breaststroke at the time. I mean who would, have you seen the state of the Thames lately? As it happened Abdul was eventually discovered employed as a towel boy in a Parisian brothel. Except for the absence of an eye and walking with a slight limp, he was reasonably intact, although he was found to be in receipt of certain psychological disorders, including a profound dislike of feathers.
So pleased were the Sultan and the Sultana to receive their beloved Abdul back in the bosom of the family, several archers were employed for the purpose of shooting all birds venturing within a kilometre of the palace gates.
As for me; to this day I refuse to countenance any sartorial adornment in the vicinity of my neck.
The Slade Art School of London was more my cup of hemlock and I enrolled at my earliest convenience, my thick portfolio of idle sketches more than ample evidence of my arty interests. I was by now turning my attentions to the fairer sex and was of the opinion, Art School might be the venue for my initiation into l’intimité sexuelle. To continue with my woeful French, reading John Donne for years had turned me into a driveling ‘sexuelle frustré’. Madame Hand and her five lovely daughters had become tedious, if not positively arthritic and I longed for a liaison of the penetrative variety. As all young men know, it is a terrible thing to be in possession of the wherewithal without the opportunity for ingress. It was high time I addressed this literally pressing issue.
As it turned out and in refutation of the universities opinion, I was the one requiring counselling. This was because of my relationship with the extraordinary Penelope Flowers. She was an utterly gorgeous creature of the Gothic persuasion, with fiery red locks and a passionate nature to match. Penelope managed to socialise me where others had failed. She took my rather suspect peccadilloes and turned them into virtues. No mean feat considering the state of my moral compass. She taught me to hobnob, to mingle, make advances and tell a joke.
In her company, I clubbed and danced like the love-sick fool that I was. I dressed in a style one could describe as studied dishevelment. I grew my hair to look like Ted Frenzy from the punk band Hate which I suspect, on reflection and given my looks, made me look like a frightened breadfruit and doubtless I smelled like one after a night on the tiles in the vomitus, rat infested pubs we frequented in Islington.
We decided not to stick pointy objects into our earlobes; we sneered at the suggestion of a nose ring and avoided the mosh pit for fear of being urinated on or worse. Neither of us had any inclination to be temporary toilets. This was frowned upon by the true believers of the scene, and we were relegated to ranks of the ersatz punks, ending up to the rear of the mad, seething throng. I have to say there were a lot more in our group than there were in the hardliners, who invariably ended up heavily dosed up with methadone in psych wards or simply dead.
I rejoiced in Penelope’s amply furnished, pneumatic charms. My pent-up frustrations were liberated via all manner of callisthenics of a carnal nature. To say she was gifted in the many arts of love is to evade the genius of this wondrous woman. She was as fabulous an artist as she was a lover, my paltry attempts at art-making were as nothing in comparison. But it must be admitted that everything I know about the libidinous arts I owe to her. Having said all this, I’m not one to create a masquerade and call it a plot, so let me tell you that deep sadness and the most appalling mayhem will follow. In fact, let’s be honest, if you can find any kind of plot amongst this rubbish—you’re a better person (sic) than I am Gunga Din. (Apologies to Rudyard. This may be the only time you will see Foster being politically correct, so savour it. Like the 1994 Château Lafite Cabernat Sauvignon, once tasted, it is but a dear but fleeting memory. If you do note other occasions of the PC variety, please let me know and I will attempt to have him make corrections accordingly).
With this memoir, Foster Unction has asked me to act on his behalf. He said I can correct any lapses in grammar and punctuation. He also afforded me the luxury of amending any incongruities of time and space, to be prudent in regard to legal matters and to say oe or two pleasant things about him. I may fill this last request reluctantly because, as I told him, I’m not particularly fond of him. He replied by saying he doesn’t care for me either or any emotions I might bring to bear, as I’m given to a sentimentality he finds repellent. He insolently quoted Oscar Wilde to my face on the matter–Dreyfus, my dear chap, the sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it. As such, he says, I am thus unreliable on any level a person might care to mention, and precisely the right fellow to be editing his journals.
Unfortunately he is aware of several matters concerning me, which if brought to light, might make an early decampment precipitous. As I quite like it here, I am, at present, obliging the dreadful man.