The Changing of the Guard

Scene 3

The Canteen

The staff, except Grainger and Slocombe, are seated at their table.  Peacock is looking at his watch.  Slocombe enters with a shopping bag. Her hair is turquoise.

Slocombe:       Ooh, and I was worried about my lunch gettin' cold.  Hasn't she
                       brought  it yet?  What time is it, Cpt. Peacock?

Peacock:         It's nearly a quarter past.

Slocombe:      Tsk!  Well, thank you for allowing me to slip away a few minutes
                       before lunchtime, Captain.  I was just able to get a few things
                       I need for my holiday.  (sits)

Brahms:         Did you remember your sunburn cream, Mrs. Slocombe?

Slocombe:      Oh, I knew I'd forgot something!  Well, maybe Mrs. Axelby will
                       bring some.

Peacock:         Ah.  Where are you going this year?

Slocombe:       We've booked one of those package tours at a singles' resort in
                       Costa Plonka.

Brahms:           Did the Tropic Boutique get your bathin' costume in?

Slocombe:        Yes, talk about timin'.  They'd just got one in my size
                         this morning!

Brahms:           Ooh, the ones on display are gorgeous!  Let's ‘ave a look.

Slocombe reaches into shopping bag and pulls out a sequined black bikini.  Brahms frowns a bit; the men look at it bug-eyed.

Lucas:             A bikini!?

Slocombe:       Yes, isn't it somethin'?  Miss Wetzler tried to talk me out of it.

Lucas:             (aside, to Humphries) She should have kept at it.

Peacock:        There's, er, not much material to it, is there?

Slocombe:      Well, you know me, Cpt. Peacock.  (coquettishly) When I'm on
                       holiday, I like to like to let it all hang out.

Lucas:            Oh, it'll be hanging out, all right!

Peacock:         Mr. Lucas!  Mind your tongue!

Slocombe:      Of all the nerve!

Humphries:    Pay him no mind, Mrs. Slocombe.  Here, did you ever find out
                      about puttin' your cat up while you're away?

Slocombe:     Yes, as it turns out, Mrs. Akbar from next door will come in to
                      look after Tiddles.

Brahms:        Oh.  Didn't you ring that place near you that boards pets?

Slocombe:     Yes, but they wanted two quid a day!

Lucas:        That's entirely too much Mrs. Slocombe.

Slocombe:     Indeed it is!

Lucas:           Yes, there's plenty of people who'll watch your pussy for nothing.

Slocombe:     (warmly) Well, I like to think so.

Peacock glares at Lucas.

Lucas:           I'm sorry, Captain.  I'm just famished, is all.

Brahms:        Yeah, where's our food?

Peacock:       I'm sure it's coming. Let's try to take our minds off it and talk
                     about our holiday.  Tell us your plans,  Mr. Lucas.

Lucas:           All right.  I'm going bird hunting.

Peacock:       Hmmm.  Any bird in particular?

Lucas:          Oh, yes.  I met her at our Council fete last week, where her father
                    was entertaining.

Peacock:       Ah.  What struck you about her?

Lucas:          (ponders) I think it was the way she looked by firelight.

Brahms:        (romantically) Oh, was there a bonfire?

Lucas:           No, her father is a fire-eater.  She invited me up to their house
                     in Skeg Ness.

Humphries:   Well, be careful if he asks you for a light.

Slocombe:     Where are you off to, Mr. Humphries?

Humphries:    Oh, I'm going to Guernsey this year.

Slocombe:     Guernsey?  There's nothing in Guernsey but cows.

Peacock:        Why that's "udder" nonsense, heh-heh.

All groan.

Humphries:    Let's just keep moving.  Miss Brahms, how will you be
                      spending your holiday?

Brahms:         Ooh, I'm very excited about it!

Humphries:    Oh, where are you going?

Brahms:         Nowhere.

Humphries:    Nowhere?!

Brahms:         Right.  I'm takin' my lolly and puttin' in on a refinement course,
                      what will teach me to talk proper and act all ladylike.

Lucas:            Refinement course?

Brahms:         Yeah, the place is called Madame Footscott .  It's over in
                      Bond Street.  I'll be taking a six-day course in deportment
                      and electrocution.

Peacock:       Electrocution?  Are they going to shock you into a higher class,
                     Miss Brahms?

Lucas:           Oh, I've heard of Madame Footscott.

Peacock:        You have?

Lucas:           No, wait a minute, I tell a lie.  I was thinking of the door-to-door
                     salesman I turned away the other week.

Peacock:       Indeed?

Lucas:            Yes, that was the last thing he said to me: "‘Madame Footscott' in
                      the door!"

Slocombe:      Tsk!  It's more than flesh and blood can stand!

Brahms:         What about you, Cpt. Peacock?

Humphries:    Off to the Isle of Levant again?  To the naturist camp?

Peacock:         No, I am not, Mr. Humphries.

Humphries:    That's too bad.  I'd go meself, but I haven't got a thing to wear!

Peacock:       Ahem.  For those who are actually interested, Mrs. Peacock
                      and I are going to Switzerland this year.  There's an Alpine horn
                      competition I'm keen to enter.

Slocombe:      Ooh, I didn't know you played one of those!

Peacock:        Yes, I, ah, first acquired proficiency during the war.

Lucas:           Yes, we've all heard of the Second Armoured Alpine Horn Brigade,
                     and their victory at Cor Anglais.

Peacock:        (looks at Slocombe) Would you, Mrs. Slocombe?

Slocombe:      Gladly, Cpt. Peacock.  (to Lucas) Shut your cake hole!

Canteen Manageress enters with trolley and starts serving.

Brahms:         Well, it's about time.

Peacock:        I should say.  (looks at watch) It's been nearly 20 minutes!

CM:               Sorry, you lot.  A couple of my staff had to leave early today.

Humphries:    Oh, to get an early start on holiday?

CM:                No, to get to ‘ospital.  They'd gone septic!

Slocombe:      (looking at her meal) Ugh!  That's put me right off.

CM:                (holding plate) Here's Mr. Grainger's macaroni cheese.
                       Won't he be comin' in, then?

Peacock:          He should be here directly.  Just leave it there, if you please.

CM:              Right. (serving last plate, to Lucas) And ‘ere's your ‘amburger,
                        rare, as you asked.

Lucas raises bun, looks at burger skeptically.

Humphries:    A hamburger?  I thought you were going to have the Steak Tartar.

Lucas:            I was.

Brahms:         Steak Tartar?  (makes a face) Isn't that raw hamburger?

Peacock:        Well, yes, but if seasoned correctly it's quite delicious.

Brahms:         Ugh! (To Lucas) D'you fancy it?

Lucas:           Aye, and I was goin' to have it until I saw that it costs more
                      than a hamburger!

Peacock:         I noticed that, as well.  (to CM) How can you charge more
                       for uncooked meat?

CM:                It's simple economics, innit?

Peacock:         What do you mean?

CM:                If you're daft enough to eat it uncooked, you're daft enough
                       to pay more for it.  Ciao!  (Exits with trolley)

Grainger enters using a cane.

Humphries:    Oh, here's Mr. Grainger now.

Brahms:        Oh, you got yourself a lovely cane, Mr. Grainger.

Slocombe:      Ooh, most handsome.

Peacock:       Very becoming, Ernest.

Humphries:    Yes, it's almost worth getting your foot run over.

Grainger:       Let's not get carried away, Mr. Humphries. (he sits.) It does
                      make walking a bit easier, though.  And Mr. Rust gave it to me
                      as a, er, retirement gift.  It costs nearly £11, you know!

Humphries:    Well, you're held in high esteem throughout the store,
                       Mr. Grainger.  Did you fix your holiday booking?

Grainger:       Oh yes, we're booked at Mrs. Featherstone's for a full week
                      starting Sunday.

Peacock:         I thought you had booked there in advance.

Grainger:       Oh, I had, but it was, er, only for four days.  Mrs. Grainger and
                      I were going to spend the rest of the holiday with her sister's family
                      in St. Albans.  But now I'm retiring, it seems there'll be plenty of
                      time to visit them. (mutters) Damn it.

Peacock:       Oh, now cheer up, Ernest.  You've certainly earned a rest, and it'll
                     be a chance to catch up on all those things you've always wanted
                     to do.

Grainger:      Yes, but for all those things I always wanted to do, I rather need
                      both feet.   (starts eating)

Rumbold enters with clipboard.

Rumbold:      Ah.  You're all here.  Enjoying your last lunch here at Grace
                      Brothers, Mr. Grainger?

Grainger:        (slurping food) Oh yes, very much.  They've given me macaroni
                       cheese, just as I had on my first day at Grace Brothers, in 1937.
                       Of course, er, it only cost tuppence then.

Lucas:            And worth every penny!

Humphries:    Have you come to tell us who's being promoted, I hope?

Rumbold:      As a matter of fact, I have received the details (indicates
                      clipboard), but I'm not at liberty to reveal them until closing time
                      today, as per Mr. Grace's instructions.

Lucas:           Couldn't you give him a hint?

Rumbold:      I'm sorry, but that is the procedure.  Actually, I'm here to tell you
                      I've just now finalised the details of your retirement dinner tonight,
                      Mr. Grainger. As you know, it will be held (looks upward) in the
                      Board Room at seven o'clock, and the menu — (he consults
                      clipboard) will consist of roast chicken, as you specified, along
                      with potatoes au gratin and hearts of artichoke.   And for afters,
                      (looks up proudly) Savoy pudding!

Peacock:        Ah.  It sounds like it will be a splendid evening.

Slocombe:      Yes, I'm quite lookin' forward to it.  Fancy gettin' Major Merkin's
                       Dance Orchestra!

Brahms:         Yeah, usually they only play at swanky occasions.

Lucas:            Like bar mitzvahs and laundrette openings!

Rumbold:      Er, there's been a change there.  I'm afraid Major Merkin has had
                      to cancel.  It seems the orchestra was playing last night at a football
                      league banquet in Edinburgh, and a fight broke out.  Unfortunately,
                      the orchestra was rather in the middle of things, and I'm told it will
                      be at least a week before they'll be able to perform again.

Peacock:       Oh, dear.  Were they injured?

Rumbold:      Not really, but it'll take that long to clean the haggis out of their

Lucas:           Oh, the humanity!

Rumbold:     At any rate, we've had to book a substitute, and as it turns out,
                    we were quite lucky indeed. Despite the short notice, we were able
                    to book one of your favorite orchestras, Mr. Grainger.

The staff look at each other apprehensively, except Grainger, who beams at Rumbold

Grainger:       Not Madame Trixie!

Staff:             (pained) And the Trixie Trio!

Rumbold:     The very same!

Lucas:           (groans) Who's luckier than us, Mr. Humphries?

Humphries:    Let's start with Anne Boleyn.

Mash enters with a parcel.

Mash:            Oy!  There you are, Mr. Rumbold!

Rumbold:      What is it, Mash?

Mash:             Just off the lorry, sir, from our Birmingham branch.  It says ‘ere
                      to deliver to you personally.

Rumbold puts his clipboard on the table and takes the parcel.

Rumbold:       Hmm.  I wonder what it is.

He shakes the parcel, and from within comes a "cuckoo" sound.

Mash:            Oops!  I guess the bird's out of the bag, eh?

Rumbold:      Oh!  Sorry, Mr. Grainger.

Grainger:       Oh, that's all right.  I'm quite expecting to get the cuckoo clock
                      this time.  I'm rather thankful for a long, satisfying career, er,
                      here at Grace Brothers.

Rumbold:      I'm happy to see you're making the adjustment to your retirement
                      years, Mr. Grainger.

Grainger:       Well, as they say, time marches on.

Lucas:            (looking at Slocombe) Double time, in some cases.

Slocombe slaps Lucas' arm.

Humphries:    Me mother always says, there are three ages of man: youth,
                      middle age, and "you're looking wonderful."

Mash:            Yeah, it ain't easy, is it, gettin' old?  I mean, first you forget names,
                      then you forget faces.  Then you forget to pull your zip up.
                      (leans in) Then you forget to pull your zip down!  Heh-heh!

Slocombe:       Ugh!

Grainger:        You're not making me feel any better, Mr. Mash.

Rumbold:       (removes glasses) That will do, Mash!

Mash:              Ha!  Just tryin' to cheer ‘im up, is all.

Rumbold:        I think you've spread enough cheer for one day.  (puts glasses
                        back on)  Take this parcel to the Board Room, then get back
                        to work.  (hands parcel to Mash)

Mash:              (takes parcel) Right!  That's what I get for my efforts!  Well,
                        I've got better things to do than ‘ang around with you lot — as
                        Mae West said to the Salvation Army.

Mash starts to exit but returns.

Mash:             Oh!  I forgot to tell you, Mr. Rumbold.  Your secretary called
                       lookin' for you.  You're wanted in the Board Room.

Rumbold:       Ah!  The decorators must have arrived!  See you all at seven
                       o'clock.  (starts to exit)

Mash:             Just a minute, sir.

Rumbold:       What is it now, Mash?

Mash:             As long as you're goin' to the Board Room, would you mind
                       takin' this parcel?  (hands it to him)

Rumbold frowns, takes the parcel and exits.

Mash:            Oy! Old Rumbold ‘urried off without ‘is clipboard, then.
                      (picks it up)

Humphries:    Just a minute! The clipboard!

Brahms:         Ooh, it's got the staff changes in it.  Let's take a look and see if
                      Mr. Humphries got the job!

Slocombe:      Yes, let's have a look!

Mash starts to flip through pages of clipboard.

Peacock:        Stop right there, Mr. Mash!  (takes clipboard, puts it on table.)
                      No one will take advantage of this situation.  This clipboard
                      contains classified material, and as such its contents are not to be
                      divulged until the proper time.  Mr. Humphries, I'm just as curious
                      as you are to find out who will be the new head of your department,
                      but we must observe protocol.

Lucas:          You're goin' to observe a nervous breakdown if you don't tell ‘im!

Slocombe:     Oh come along, Cpt. Peacock!  It won't hurt to take a peek.
                     We won't let on that we know!

Peacock:       I'm sorry, Mrs. Slocombe.  It would be easy to yield to such a
                     temptation, but it is, in the end, a simple matter of doing the right
                     thing.  Obtaining the information this way would be the mark of
                     a scoundrel.

Mash:            Right!  I've been called worse.  (grabs clipboard and starts

Peacock:        Mash!  Put that down immediately or I shall put you on report!

Mash:            Oh!  Too late, Captain.  I've seen it.

Peacock takes clipboard, puts it back on table.

Humphries:    What did you see, Mr. Mash?

Mash:             Bad news!

Humphries:    Oh, dear.  What?

Mash:            You're ‘avin' the Trixie Trio for your dinner, Mr. Grainger!

Humphries:    No, about the senior's position on the Men's Counter.

Mash:            Oh, that's good news.  You got the job, squire!

All congratulate Humphries.

Humphries:    Oh, I'm so happy!  My leg is goin'! (steadies his knee)

Peacock:         Well deserved, Mr. Humphries.  (frowns at Mash) However
                       ill-gotten the information was.

Humphries:    Still, I'm sorry to have to take over from you, Mr. Grainger.
                      I wish you were stayin' with us.

Lucas:            Yes, or getting one of the other positions.

Grainger:       (sighs) Yes, I wouldn't have minded finding another position
                      with Grace Brothers.  Er, one that I wouldn't have to be on
                      my feet quite as much.

Humphries:    Yes, we were thinking of that position in the Railyard Boutique
                       in the new Brighton branch.  It would've been perfect.  Mr. Mash,
                      did you happen to see who got that one?

Mash:            Well, my eye did not quite travel that far down the page before
                      the clipboard was rudely snatched from my ‘ands.

All look at Peacock.  He sighs.

Peacock:         Since the damage has already been done, as it were, I shall look
                       the other way.

Humphries:    That's very nice of you, Cpt. Peacock.

Lucas:            Yes, but so like a scoundrel!

Mash grabs clipboard and lifts a sheet.

Mash:             Oy!  The Railyard Boutique, you say?

Slocombe:      Yes, in Brighton.

Mash:            (reading) Ah!  It's our Mr. Tebbs.

Grainger:       Mr. Tebbs!  I should have known.

Lucas:           How do you mean?

Peacock:       Mr. Tebbs is quite a train enthusiast.

Grainger:      He's a BASTer, as well.

Lucas:          He is?!

Grainger:      Yes, and so am I.

Lucas:           You are?

Grainger:      Yes, and er, so is Cpt. Peacock.  Aren't you, Stephen.

Peacock:       Yes, I've been a BASTer for several years.

Slocombe:     No argument here.

Brahms:        What do you mean?

Peacock:       We belong to BAST, Miss Brahms: the British Amateur Society
                     of Trainmen.  We meet every month and discuss trains and all
                     things related. Several times a year we go on special day trips
                     and so on.

Lucas:           Fancy that!  Do you have a special handshake, or a special greeting
                     when you see a fellow member?

Mash:           Right, like "'ello, you old BASTer!"

Peacock:       Are you still here, Mash?

Humphries:   I had no idea Mr. Tebbs wasn't happy in Bedding.  Did you,
                     Mr. Lucas?

Lucas:          I had no idea, Mr. Humphries.

Mash:           Oh, I did.  He don't get along with Miss Comlozi in Cosmetics.
                    ‘e says she's always tryin' to gas the Bedding Department with
                    ‘er scent displays.  An' of course there was 'at little incident at the
                    Christmas party with Mr. 'an of Novelty Candles.

Lucas:           Oh yes, Mr. Tebbs had one too many glasses of nog, as I remember.

Humphries:    Yes, when that nice Mr. Han brought that candle that resembled
                      Cliff Richard to the party and asked where to put it, I thought
                      Mr. Tebbs' suggestion was quite out of place.

Mash:            Ha!  So he's keen to get off the Third Floor, is Mr. Tebbs.

Peacock:        Well, be that as it may, Brighton is a rather lovely city to live in.
                      And no doubt the appeal of the new Railyard Boutique had a lot
                      to do with his decision.

Slocombe:      Tsk! I don't suppose we could put him off trains to give
                       Mr. Grainger another chance at it.

Lucas:            Not a BASTer like him.

Humphries:    Just a minute!  We can't put Mr. Tebbs off the department,
                      but maybe we can put him off Brighton.

Brahms:         What's so bad about Brighton?

Slocombe:       Yes, as Cpt. Peacock said, it's a lovely place to live.

Humphries:     Not when we get done with it, it won't be.  (He looks around, then
                        beckons the others to lean closer)  Here's my idea . . .

Onward to Scene 4


(c)1999 John F. Crowley