A civil tongue
'Ow!' Hermione, dear devoted Hermione, stopped waving at the departing car and turned to me with tender concern etched on her finely chiselled features: 'What's the matter, darling?'
'Idz mah hung.'
'I beg your pardon? Try again, please.'
I made an effort to achieve coherent speech, delivering the words carefully one at a time: 'It's…my…tongue…it…hurts…like…hell.'
'What's wrong with your poor old tongue? I do hope the tomato and courgette soup was not too hot.'
Eventually, between grimaces of pain on my part and Hermione's efforts to clear the dining table, the cause of the discomfort was coaxed from my contorted mouth. I had been clamping down on my tongue between fixed jaws in order to prevent words escaping that might (that surely would!) have offended our guests. In the past, I would not have been so patient. Maturity has conferred some small measure of wisdom which allows me to understand that people - except maybe stand-up comedians - do not like being called mad.
Such suggestions tend to lead to misunderstanding and to sour the niceties of polite conversation. It should be stressed that, when measured on the madness scale, Mona and Rick come in at the sane end of the spectrum every time. Mona and Rick are a happily married couple, proud parents, doting grandparents, resident in a small provincial town at the heart of a lush English shire. They are the very essence of respectable, likeable, level-headed Britishness who make for good and cheerful company.
It's just that they voted for Brexit.
The fact came up casually during conversation over the tea and macaroons which brought dinner to a pleasant close. Rick looked forward in his soft-spoken way to having British judges lay down the law without having the European Court of Justice peering over their shoulders. Mona reckoned gently that leaving the EU was a move taken in the interest of future generations before we all moved on to other subjects. I successfully choked back the impulse to respond loudly 'nonsense!' though the effort to stay silent almost dislodged vertebrae in my neck. Bellowing 'poppycock!' or 'balderdash!', as I went so close to doing, would have destroyed the congenial mood around the table and caused alarm.
I refrained from pointing out to our British friends that the history of progress by nations is a history of sticking together, not drifting apart. There was not excuse for hurling rhetorical questions at innocent British voters such as Mona and Rick.
Why do you follow an agenda set by a bumbling, self-serving Boris or a rabble-rousing, posturing Nigel? Why do you fear living next door to perfectly nice Poles or Lithuanians? Why do you believe that the Empire is not dead? Why do you think that Donald Trump will do a trade deal with Britain that does not screw you to the wall? Why do you read anything in the 'Daily Mail' other than the sports pages and the funnies?
It's a mess and one of the most intriguing parts of the mess is that the mess was created by the generation of Mona and Rick. The oldies in Britain carried the day in the referendum, taking a wild punt on cutting their country adrift from most of their principal trading partners. The youngies who will have to carry the Brexit can woke up too late to stop their elders and only came to life in the general election which followed.
Though moves are afoot for a campaign to reverse the decision,neither of the two main political parties is for turning. The Conservatives are led by a Remainer who cannot be seen to back-track on the issue. Labour's leader may have campaigned to stay in the EU but he is a closet Brexiteer at heart.
Britain may bumble along with a deflated currency and a more insular attitude to the world, but the scary aspect is that Ireland could be the chief casualty of the decision taken by UK voters on June 23, 2016. My tongue will repair itself but the Irish economy may be facing a long, slow haemorrhage. Ow!