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For All Nails #129: The Language of Love

London, England, UK
6 September 1974

"Como esta usted?" Princess Sophia mumbled to herself as she crawled out of
bed.  "Esta bien."  For the past six weeks she had been spending four hours a
day speed-learning Spanish in anticipation of her upcoming marriage to King
Fernando of New Granada.  "Como se dice en español 'sodding knackered'?"  The
process had by aided by the French and Latin she had learned in school; without
them, she was sure it would have taken her a year to reach her current level of
competence.  Sophia was certain she would be fluent enough by the time of her
marriage to make her way in New Granadan society, provided that all those
irregular Spanish verbs didn't kill her first. 

"No entiendo, por favor."  By now, Sophia was starting to wonder whether she
wouldn't have been better off marrying the Earl of Doncaster after all.  There
were worse things in life than pushing an old man around in a wheelchair, and
at the moment, trying to memorize lists of verb tenses felt like one of them. 
With visions of adverbs dancing in her head, Sophia went through her morning
routine.  She crossed another day off of her calendar, bringing her one day
closer to the moment she would board the airmobile at Perivale Airpark and fly
away from Buckingham Palace forever.

She rang up the kitchen and asked the cook to fix her breakfast, telling her
she'd be eating in the small upstairs dining room.  Then she rang up Daisy to
let her know she was up.  In less than a minute, there was a knock on her door,
and Sophia opened it.

One week after the official announcement of Sophia's betrothal had been made,
three people had arrived at the palace from New Granada.  The first was Dr.
Alvarez, who would be tutoring Sophia in the language and culture of her new
country.  The second was Brother Francisco, the Spanish monk who would be
overseeing her conversion to Catholicism.  And the third was the improbably
named Daisy Fuentes, who would be Sophia's lady-in-waiting.

Sophia had always tried to minimise her reliance on the servants in Buckingham
Palace, knowing as she did that their main job was to spy on her for her
parents.  She had meant to keep Daisy at arm's length as well, but it hadn't
worked out that way.  As far as Daisy was concerned, Sophia was already her
Queen, and a queen did not brush her own hair or fetch her own clothing from
the wardrobe.  Sophia had finally resigned herself to the inevitable, and
allowed Daisy to act the part of a full time servant.

In addition to her other skills, Daisy spoke fluent English, so when she
entered the room it was with a cheerful, "Good morning, Your Highness.  Did you
sleep well?"

Sophia sighed as Daisy went to the wardrobe and began to sort through the
clothing within.  "As well as can be expected when I've got a million verb
endings clamoring in my brain."

Daisy proceeded to lay out various items of clothing: black skirt, black
pullover, black boots and black jacket. "Why black, Your Highness?" she asked.

"It's only till I find something darker," Sophia answered with a wink.

"You do understand, Your Highness," Daisy answered with a raised eyebrow, "that
when you become Queen you're going to have to start wearing at least /some/
colors.  Your subjects will expect it."

With Daisy's assistance, Sophia attired herself for the day, saying, "I thought
it was supposed to be the other way round?  Whatever the Queen wears is the
height of fashion?  It always worked that way for Queen Elizabeth."

Daisy clicked her tongue in disapproval.  "They didn't have Maria Alonso [1] in
the sixteenth century.  If they had, Queen Elizabeth would have known that you
don't wear pearls with floral designs."

As she brushed Sophia's hair, Daisy rattled on about what the other servants
were up to.  Sophia knew she shouldn't listen to such things, but she found the
irony of her spying on the servants instead of vice versa irresistible. 
Daisy's gossip was always so detailed that one day Sophia had finally broken
down and asked how she managed to learn so much.

"It's easy," Daisy said with a grin.  "Around the other servants I always speak
nothing but Spanish, so they all assume I don't understand English."

After Daisy left with a cheerful "Adios, mi princesa," Sophia rose from her
dresser.  As she had every day since she was eight, she drew back the curtains
>from a set of French windows, opened them, and stepped onto a balcony looking
out onto St. James's Park.  She stood and watched the people who wandered among
its green spaces.

Sophia didn't tell herself that their lives were better than hers; she knew
well enough that it wasn't so.  She didn't have to work for a living, and she
never worried about bills or where her next meal was coming from.  She was also
perfectly well aware that there were plenty of men out there who made her
father look like a saint.

Still, those people, most of them at any rate, were able to decide for
themselves how to shape their lives: which jobs to pursue, which people to
marry.  They could do or say what they wished without causing a national
scandal.  The outlines of her own life had been determined from the moment of
her birth.

After a time, Sophia turned away and stepped back inside her room, closing the
windows and drawing the curtains shut.  Her breakfast would be waiting for her,
and after that, her first set of language lessons with Dr. Alvarez.

As always, Dr. Alvarez was waiting for her in the library.  This in itself was
a measure of the shifting balance of power within the palace.  The library had
always been her father's domain, from which other members of the royal family
were excluded.  He had no particular use for books, preferring more violent and
disreputable pursuits, but his possessiveness made him loath the thought of
others making any use of them.  Privately, Sophia thought that her father's
policy was directed as much against the books themselves as it was against his
despised family - it suited his spiteful nature to render their collective
wisdom useless.

But the day Dr. Alvarez had arrived, he had asked her where she would like
their lessons to be held, and she had immediately answered the library.  Now
that she was a key component of Sir Geoffrey Gold's foreign policy initiative,
his "Grand Alliance", she had the power to override her father's objections,
and she did so.  In the endless war that was family life in Buckingham Palace,
she had scored a major victory and driven her father in rout from one of his
most heavily fortified redoubts.  The library was the spoils of victory, and
she always felt like a conquering general when she entered.

Which was all to the good, given the struggle she faced there every day.  "Good
day, Your Highness," Dr. Alvarez greeted her in Spanish, bowing his head.

"Good day, Dr. Alvarez," Sophia replied, seating herself at the table where
their lessons took place.

Joining her at the table, the Doctor continued, "How is your translation of the
life of Admiral Rodriguez proceeding?"

"It is proceeding well, Doctor.  I have reached the Admiral's circumnavigation
of South America." [2]  The Doctor was a great believer in integrating Sophia's
various lessons.  Her readings in New Granadan history had reached the Carlist
Wars, the Neogranadan component of the Trans-Oceanic War.  Naturally, then, the
language lesson ought to serve the dual purpose of teaching her about that
war's most prominent naval hero as well as expanding her vocabulary to include
the word "circumnavigadar". 

In this way, the language lesson shaded imperceptibly into a history lesson on
the military maneuvering that led to New Granada being recognised as an
autonomous unit of the Spanish Empire by King Ferdinand VII in 1805.  By then,
it was getting on for 11:30, and Sophia and the Doctor left the library for
their daily lunch break.

The lunch break was another victory by Sophia against her formerly
circumscribed life.  It had become the custom for Sophia, Dr. Alvarez, Brother
Francisco and Daisy to go out together for lunch.  The four of them would meet
in the palace's underground loke park and take a trip out into the city for
lunch at one of London's multitudinous restaurants.  Sophia had never learned
to drive a loke, and she didn't want to rely on the palace driving staff, so
Dr. Alvarez took the wheel while she provided directions from the passenger

Large sections of London had been reduced to rubble in the course of the
various German invasion attempts of the 1940s, and the postwar Whig government
had decided to take advantage of the situation to lay out a new street grid in
the rebuilt areas. [3] Once they left the area around the palace, which had
been restored to its original configuration, a ten minute drive along New
Bayswater Road brought Dr. Alvarez and his passengers to Portobello Road. At
this point, of course, their progress slowed to a crawl as the road narrowed to
a single lane in the nonrevised Notting Hill neighborhood.

There had been considerable opposition to the Whigs' street revising programme,
and sometimes Sophia could sympathise with it; when she was in a loke, though,
she found herself wishing the government would revise the whole city. [4] After
half an hour's driving they managed to locate a parking space within three
blocks of their destination. Dr. Alvarez fed the meter enough New Pound coins
[6] to ensure them two hours' parking time, and Sophia led them to the

Sophia had found that walking the streets of London gave you an appreciation of
the NRP's omnipresence that you couldn't get from the palace. It seemed as
though every vertical surface had been plastered with a poster bearing some
variation of the Party's standard iconography: the Union Jack, the Party's
crossed-hammer symbol, the raised index finger salute, [7] and of course the
face of the Party's late unlamented founder, Sir Mosely H. Leigh-Oswald. [8] It
also seemed like every third man was wearing either a lapel pin, an armband or
the full Party uniform.

It was a relief to Sophia when they finally reached their destination, an
Indian restaurant with the (to her) ironic name of Curry Palace. There were
still traces of NRP imagery inside, but for the most part it had been displaced
by Vedic gods, Bombay cityscapes and Indian film stars.

The restaurant's owner, Mr. Chowdurry, gave her a short, brief bow and said,
"It is wonderful to see you again, Your Highness."

"Thank you, Mr. Chowdurry," Sophia replied. "Have you a table for four

"Certainly, Your Highness." Mr. Chowdurry led them to a table by the far wall,
then left them to ponder their orders.

"You've been here before?" Daisy asked.

"Once or twice. It's been over a year since I was here last."  Before Harry [9]
had been shanghaied into the Royal Navy back in April, [10] the palace staff
had been so busy keeping tabs on him and his brother [11] that she had been
able to slip out from time to time.

"You seem to know the location of every restaurant in London," Dr. Alvarez

Sophia winked at him. "My spies are everywhere."

That set off Daisy's high-pitched giggle, and Brother Francisco sighed at the
sound, as he always did.

"Seriously," Sophia continued, "here we are, in the centre of what used to be
the largest empire on earth. People from all over the world have come here to
live, and they've brought all their favourite foods with them. It's an
unparalleled opportunity, so why not take advantage of it?"

"Because soon your waistline will also be the largest on earth," Daisy
answered. "How you've managed to stay so thin is beyond me."

"I owe it all to clean living and healthy exercise," Sophia solemnly declared.

"I haven't seen you exercise once since I've been here," Daisy insisted, "and
as for clean living -- "

"Shhh! Not in front of Brother Francisco," Sophia stage whispered, which
elicited another giggle and another sigh.

Mr. Chowdurry returned then and the four of them ordered. "You're going to find
the food in Bogotá very boring compared to this," said Daisy.

"No cuisine is boring, except England's of course," Sophia replied.

"I don't find it boring," said Daisy. "Nauseating, perhaps, but not boring. Was
it really necessary to invent a dish such as liver and prunes?"

"I'm afraid there's not much else to eat on this island," said Sophia. "If
you'd like, I can also explain to you what Brown Windsor Soup's made from."

"A word to the wise, Miss Fuentes," Dr. Alvarez interjected. "On no account ask
about Brown Windsor Soup. You're better off not knowing."

"I am firmly convinced," said Sophia, "that the real object of the British
Empire was to find something to eat that wasn't made from animals' entrails."

"A fascinating hypothesis," said Dr. Alvarez. "So, whereas the Romans built an
empire out of reading entrails, the British built an empire out of eating them.
Or rather, out of avoiding eating them."

"As good a reason as any," Brother Francisco remarked, "and better than most."

The prawn vindaloo at the Curry Palace proved to be just as delicious as Sophia
remembered. [12]  As they still had half an hour on the meter as they left,
Sophia suggested they do some window shopping before returning to the palace.

"It is good to see that the English at least are not as consumed by
commercialism as the North Americans," Brother Francisco said as they passed by
a bakery displaying a small assortment of cakes and pastries in the window. 
"If this were New Orleans, this bakery would have every square centimeter of
shelf space crowded with goods for sale."

"I'm afraid that's not moderation," Dr. Alvarez corrected him.  "That's
poverty.  If the English had more goods available to display, I'm certain they
would do so."

Sophia, who had never been outside the British Isles, wasn't certain whether to
believe the two men.  "I'm sure the disparity isn't as great as all that, is

"If anything," Brother Francisco assured her.  "I was understating the
difference.  The North Americans tend to place a high premium on quality as
well.  That is why rapivends [13] are not as popular there as they are in

Even though it was a Franciscan monk saying so, Sophia still didn't quite
believe him.  No place could be /that/ rich, surely.

The question of relative scarcity vanished from her mind, though, as they
passed a pet shop.  There was a litter of kittens on display in the window. 
Most of them were asleep, but one orange tabby was busy trying to capture his
tail.  Sophia tapped on the window and called out, "Hello, puss puss puss." 
The tabby halted his chase and looked up at her for a moment, then decided to
start chasing one of his sleeping littermates' tails.

"Shall we buy one?" Daisy asked.

Sophia shook her head.  "No point."

"Don't they let you have pets?"

"Oh, it's not that," said Sophia.  "It's just that whenever I got a cat,
mother's dogs would kill it.  After the third time, I gave up."

Glancing at his watch, the Doctor said, "Time's running out.  Back to the
palace for us."

Sophia sighed and followed him back to the loke.

(to be continued)


[1] Buenas Aires' top fashion designer.

[2]  See Carlos Th's post on "Autonomous New Granada".

[3] In 1946 a new Court of Estates was established to settle various claims
arising from 1) the redrawing of property boundaries after the new streets were
laid out, and 2) the deaths of thousands of property owners during the war. 28
years later, the court's caseload remains as heavy as ever, and a new
generation of attorneys has grown up specialising in Court of Estates cases.

[4] There is a faction within the National Renewal Party that wants to do this.
Most of the NRP, as well as the Tories, prefer to leave things as they are. The
Conservative Party, [5] on the other hand, advocate tearing down all the
revised areas and restoring their prewar layouts.

[5] A breakaway Tory splinter group.

[6] Postwar Britain has had a bit of an inflation problem.

[7] It is a criminal offense in Great Britain to parody the Party salute using
one's middle finger.

[8] Prime Minister Leigh-Oswald was assassinated in 1971 by an Irish Socialist
named Gerald K. Fitzjohn. Leigh-Oswald's mistress, Ruby Jackson, was also
injured in the attack.

[9] The elder of Sophia's two brothers, Prince Henry George Albert Victor
Windsor, Prince of Wales, age 20.

[10] This was shortly after the infamous "moon over Mayfair" incident.

[11] Prince Edward Andrew William "Fast Eddie" Windsor, Duke of York, age 16.

[12]  British readers who find Sophia's enjoyment of vindaloo surprising should
remember that at the time of our POD in 1777 vindaloo was still a subtle and
complex, albeit fiery, exemplar of Goan cuisine, made with beef and white wine
and flavoured with turmeric, coriander, cumin, black mustard, fenugreek,
chillies, cardamom garlic and ginger.  The FANTL has avoided vindaloo's
unfortunate transformation into a seering hot gunk tasting of little but chili,
and its consequent association with drunken louts trying to outdo each others'
wretched eating habits.

Of course, the Law of Conservation of Badness requires that vindaloo's
redemption be counterbalanced by the degradation of some other dish.  It is for
this reason that every greasy-spoon diner in the FANTL serves a ghastly dessert
made of bleached flour, corn syrup and artificial citrus flavouring that goes
by the name of crepes suzette.

[13]  Known in OTL as convenience stores.

(Special thanks to our own regal Sophia for her comments on this vignette, and
especially for the note on FANTL vindaloo.  She is not, however, responsible
for the cruel fate of crepes suzette.)