I met Edmund at a club in Kensington where my father had introduced me as a twenty first birthday present. Edmund said he was a poet, put his hand on my knee and invited me to lunch. I thought he meant just the two of us, and imagined he would turn up with a sonnet penned to the beauty of my brow, but it turned out to be an altogether different kind of outing.
Edmund said we were to drive down to West Sussex, to the home of Sir Somebody whose name I didn’t catch and never knew. There would be four other poets going and if anyone asked me I was to say I was one too.
“No-one will expect you to recite, dear boy,” he said. He had exquisitely bushy eye-brows which curled when he winked.
Edmund rented a car from Harrods for £5 and we all six motored down together. The combined scents of the leather seats and stale tobacco were oddly intoxicating. Or perhaps it was the proximity of such talent. Two of the poets were quite famous, one Irish and one American, but I didn’t hear so much as a line of poetry from any of them. On the way down the talk was all of what we would eat at lunch.
“Our host keeps peacocks,” said one of the lesser poets. “He will surely have had one of them roasted for us.”
There was much shocked hilarity at this suggestion.
“What does peacock taste of?” I asked, and immediately regretted it as the eyes of the poets in the front seats swivelled in my direction.
“You’ve never eaten it, darling boy? Then you absolutely must,” said one of them.
Edmund drove with bravado, hooting at any other vehicles we met on the way. I was relieved when we arrived, having begun to feel queasy on the winding country roads. While the others drank a preprandial sherry on the terrace I pleaded a need for fresh air and strolled down the lawn. I could hear the shrieking of peacocks and had visions of their heads being chopped off behind the high hedge at the bottom of the garden, but to my relief one appeared, intact. It displayed in front of me with a great rustling, its tiny eyes glinting as Edmund’s had done when he picked me up from my parents’ home that morning.
“You’ve met our gorgeous boys,” said our host when I rejoined the party. “Don’t worry,” he continued with a guffaw, “it’s not peacock pie for lunch.”
It was rare roast beef, as it turned out, but there was nonetheless an arrangement of peacock feathers in a great glass bowl in the wood panelled dining hall.
“Mother says they bring bad luck,” I whispered to one of the lesser poets.
Within the year four of the poets were dead. Somehow, Edmund and I were spared. He lived to a great age, I believe, though I never saw him again after that day.
Image via Pixabay