Perhaps the most charming book to come our way this season is a splendid little tome, printed in a handsome edition by Tilswich Publishers, on Harrow Street, called Nicknames for Dinner. Its author is none other than Sir Harold Auberon. We had the opportunity, not long ago, to sit with Sir Harold for a chat. What follows is a rough (sorry, hangover) transcript of what was said and by whom.
Me: Nicknames for Dinner reads like a dream.
Sir Harold: Not a frightening one, I should hope.
Me: Certainly not. If you don’t mind my asking, Sir Harold, what was the very first nickname for dinner that occurred to you?
Sir Harold: It’s not a thing one recalls easily. Perhaps it was “Old Down-the-Hatch.”
Me: Forgive me, Sir Harold, but I don’t believe I noticed that one in your compendium.
Sir Harold: Yes, yes—it failed to make the cut, as they say. My book should have been dreadfully thick, had we included them all. Brevity being the soul of wit and all that.
Me: What is your very favorite nickname for dinner, Sir Harold?
Sir Harold: I quite liked “Muggles and Bumps,” until it was pointed out to me that those Harry Potter books make rather a fuss over the word “Muggle.”
Me: Rowling employs the word to indicate characters who lack magical powers.
Sir Harold: Call me a Muggle, then. When the word came to me, some years ago, it suggested the unpleasant sensation one experiences when certain foodstuffs travel down the throat. One thinks of mutton.
Me: Very chewy, that. Do you nickname breakfast, Sir Harold?
Sir Harold: Now and then. Here are two examples: “Old Runny-Funny,” “Bit of Ding-and-Splash.”
Me: I see. Tell us about this one, from page 59: “The Bane of Marriage.” It’s a bit cryptic.
Sir Harold: It didn’t please you, I take it.
Me: It pleased me a great deal, Sir Harold, but I simply haven’t any notion of what it might mean!
Sir Harold: Shall I explain?
Me: Do, Sir Harold, do.
Sir Harold: One’s wife says, “What shall it be?” To which one replies, sheepishly, “For dinner, then?” The wife nods. “Let’s see,” one says, while trying not to pull a face. Not a few divorces are rooted in this dinner business, I should imagine. Deciding what one shall eat. Deciding where one shall eat it. That kind of thing. Seen in that light, “The Bane of Marriage” should become clear.
Sir Harold: Interestingly, when one finds oneself alone, one simply rings the bell and feels quite content.
Me: Too true, Sir Harold. What about this one, page 36: “The Butler’s Friend?”
Sir Harold: When I was a lad, we had a butler named Jules. Round about 11 o’clock, summer nights, I would find this old fellow seated at a homely wooden table in the back kitchen, serviette tucked into his collar, like so. I once worked up the courage to inquire, “Having a snack, Jules?” “Why, no, young Harry,” he replied, “this would be dinner.” “Dinner?” said I. “At this late hour?” To which Jules replied, “Why, yes, Harry, dinner is the butler’s friend.”
Me: Curious fellow! But was he a very wonderful man?
Sir Harold: I should say he was.
Me: I should like to mention a few more of your nicknames so that I might hear your reactions to them.
Sir Harold: You are a most brutal interviewer. Have at it.
Me: “Hot Stuff.”
Sir Harold: Rather speaks for itself, I should think.
Sir Harold: Certain dinners fairly cry out for a dash of pepper, that’s all.
Me: This one’s a bit of a puzzle: “Dessert-Hurdle.”
Sir Harold: At times a man feels he must fairly leap over dinner to get to the sweets. The meal seems a bother when a gooseberry pie awaits, or perhaps a vanilla pudding.
Me: You are a champion dinner-nicknamer, Sir Harold. Will there be a sequel to Nicknames for Dinner?
Sir Harold: Heavens, no. I’ve a firm to run, people to see and all that. This book is but an amusement, a memento to let the world know “Sir Harold was here and he had a little something to say about it.”
Me: You are too modest, Sir Harold.
Sir Harold: Perhaps. All this talk of dinner has put me in mind of having a little something. Would you care to join me, young man, for a little “Bumps-on-a-Plate?”
Me: Sir Harold! It would be my pleasure.