A wry view of life for the world-weary

Tag Archives: matryoshka doll

Brief Notes

Recently I had to have a medical procedure, the preparation for which required me to sit on a toilet for several hours. The ominous gurglings emanating from my bowels brought to mind Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “what comfort can the Vortices of Descartes give to a man who has whirlwinds in his bowels”.

Rather than seeking solace in Descartes’ vortices, I found myself scrutinising the label of the inside of my briefs. I have already pondered the meaning of the warning “keep away from fire” – yes, it was there again – but this pair had another somewhat mystifying notice, “part of a three piece set”.  Without anything else to do and fearful of the consequences of moving from the porcelain throne, I mulled this over in my mind.

When I buy underpants, there are a number of criteria that that the garments have to satisfy. They have to be capacious enough to accommodate my nether regions comfortably, they have to be of a fabric that won’t irritate, there has to be the correct number of pants in the packet and they have to be of a colour that wouldn’t cause me to die of shame if I was carted off to hospital unexpectedly and they were revealed to the medical staff. I can understand that the reference to my briefs being part of a three piece set being marginally useful at the point of sale, but is there a deeper meaning, I wondered?

Slightly horror-struck, I began to wonder whether I had been wearing underpants incorrectly throughout the years. Perhaps they had to be worn in layers, three being designed to provide maximum comfort. And rather like a matryoshka doll, was each imperceptibly bigger than the other to ensure that perfect fit? And how do you know the order in which to put them on? When I was able to liberate myself I saw that the other two pairs of briefs had the same label. No help there, then.

Perhaps I had inadvertently bought a packet of briefs designed for the exclusive use of triplets. You can imagine the scene. A person is found wandering the streets. The helpful sign in their underpants alerts the authorities that they are one of three. This sort of knowledge may help enormously in returning the lost soul to the bosom of his family.

Perhaps on a more mundane level, the label is designed to engender some order into the drawer containing your briefs. Helpfully, the label will allow you to store two other pairs of briefs bearing the same label with this one. But the system breaks down if you are wearing a pair – clearly there will only be two in the drawer – or if you were foolish enough to buy several packs of briefs bearing the label. Think of the chaos.

The only sane conclusion was that it was of no interest to the wearer but at least pondering the question gave me something to while away the time. Fortunately, the results of the procedure were rather like my bowels – all clear.


Everything Is Possible For An Eccentric, Especially When He Is English – Part Eight


Sir Tatton Sykes (1826 – 1912)

Near Driffield in the East Ridings of Yorkshire (as was) is to be found a rather imposing Georgian house set in grounds designed by Capability Brown, Sledmere House. It was and is home to the Sykes family.

The fifth Baronet, Sir Tatton Sykes, by anyone’s standards was a bit of an eccentric cove. As another famous resident of the area, Philip Larkin, once said “they fuck you up, your mum and dad” and part of Sir Tatton’s problems could be laid at the door of his parents as he grew up even by the standards of the day “in an atmosphere devoid of love”.  His mother used to hide herself away in the orangery and his father spent most of his time with his racehorses. As soon as he inherited the estates on his father’s death in 1863 Sir Tatton wrought his revenge, demolishing the orangery and selling the racehorses for £30,000. Revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold.

As a landlord Sir Tatton had some rather peculiar traits. He could not abide seeing women and children loitering about at the front of their rented cottages and so he ordered his tenants to bolt their front doors and only use the back entrances. He had a pathological dislike of flowers and if he ever saw one whilst out walking, he would flog it mercilessly with his walking stick. Inevitably, his tenants were banned from growing flowers – “nasty, untidy things” – in their gardens. “If they had to grow something”, he fulminated, “grow cauliflowers”.

As he grew older, Sir Tatton developed what might only be termed hypochondriac tendencies. He was obsessed with maintaining a constant body temperature and used to order his coats and trousers in varying sizes. He would put the smaller ones on first, the medium-sized ones next and finally the largest so that he resembled a matryoshka doll. As he got warmer through his exertions he would simply remove a layer of clothing, letting it fall to the ground to be picked up by one of local children who would receive a small reward for their troubles.

Perhaps he had got a taste for revenge because towards the end of his life he lived almost exclusively on cold rice pudding. When his house caught fire in 1911 – the house was pretty much destroyed and what we see today is the result of careful reconstruction – he would not be moved until he had finished his bowl of food. His poor servants and tenants were left to save what they could of the artefacts in the house.

Sir Tatton had a disastrous marriage, to Jessica Cavendish-Bentinck aka Lady satin Tights who was thirty years his junior. Although she bore him a son in 1879, by the 1890s the couple were estranged, Jessica running up enormous debts. In a spectacular court case Sir Tatton refused to honour her debts which caused a major scandal at the time and Jessica died prematurely in 1912, ironically the same year as her husband.

For all his eccentricities, Sir Tatton was a shrewd business man and the sale of his father’s horses enabled him to build up a stud of winning horses and increase his landholding. By 1892 he had 34,000 acres and his estate turned in a profit most years despite the prevailing agricultural depression. He built or restored 18 churches at a cost of £10,000 a time, employing some of the greatest architects of the day, monies which he funded from his own purse. I just hope the grateful church didn’t present him with a bunch of flowers.