Apologies for the Faint Smell of Fish (starring the actor laddies from Home Fires Burning)

“Apologies, apologies, apologies, apologies. For the faint, for the faint for the fai-ai-ai-ai-aint, for the faint smell,” the singer paused imperceptibly and took breath, “for the faint smell…of fish. Of fish. Of fish. Apologies, apologies, for the faint…” and she was off again.

Toby groaned. Modern avante bloody guard opera? You could go and stuff it. Give him a nice Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, any day, or something swish by Cole Porter, but not this load of old cobblers’.

“Remind me why we’re here,” he whispered into Alasdair’s ear.

“Supporting the boss.” Alasdair grimaced, making his heavily insured eyebrow dance an expressive jig.  “Surely you can’t have forgotten his protégée? She’s loud enough.”

“Protégée? Is that what they’re calling it this week?” The girl didn’t have a bad voice, she was pretty enough—in a Junoesque way—but why on earth had she decided to launch her career in such a dire production? The Fishmonger’s Daughter. Even the title made your flesh creep.

***

“This should earn us plenty of credit.” Toby sighed. The relief of the interval, the even greater relief of the bar and a glass of red wine, the greatest relief of their companions for the evening having gone to powder their noses—at least he and Alasdair could steal one moment of quiet pleasure.

“Not the best faux-girlfriends they’ve ever foisted on us.” The eyebrow flew up again.

“More ‘protégées’, do you think?” Toby shrugged. “Still, if we smile for the cameras and applaud in all the right places, we’ll get to go to the bucks’ do.”

Boxing, Bethnal Green, black tie and not a woman in sight. Landseer actors out in droves to promote the new film about a gentlemen boxer of Victorian times. Toby couldn’t wait. Maybe there’d be pre-bout singing—it couldn’t be worse than what they’d had to endure in the first few acts here.

“I’ve never been to a boxing match before.” Alasdair seemed equally delighted at the prospect. “Will there be lots of blood?”

“Gallons, I imagine. And styptic pencils and grease and all sorts of black arts being practiced in the corners.” Toby laughed. “Good, honest sport. None of your sissy rubbish.” The last remark had not been just for the benefit of bystanders. Gay they might be, but effeminate they were not—which was all to the good as far as the studio was concerned.

“I’d like to see you try it.” The glint in Alasdair’s eye—the same glint he’d used in their pirate film—spoke volumes.

“Me in shorts, dripping sweat?”

Alasdair swallowed hard, concentrated on his wine glass and whispered, “Stop it” from the corner of his mouth.

“Landseer wouldn’t let me. Spoil my looks.” Toby grinned. “And here come the girls.”

“Maybe that’s a lucky rescue, for once.” Alasdair got his best welcoming smile ready.

The five minute bell sounded.

“Seconds out, round two!” Toby said, brightly. “Prepared for more haddock, ladies?”

The girls giggled, Alasdair rolled his eyes. Business as usual.

Although Toby could have sworn a certain voice breathed, “Wait till I get you on the canvas”, in his ear as they sauntered back to their seats.

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