The Bonfiglioli ABC (continued}
B: Bangs, loud. Balls, crystal. Brighton?
Picture this, if you please. It's summertime, 1954 - fairs and fetes and suchlike jollies. The Gordon Highlanders have thrown open their barracks to the public at an Open Day. Children are clambering over armoured scout cars and trying to fire anti-tank guns, while their parents are firing missiles at coconuts. Sergeant-majors are practising the unfamiliar skills of interacting socially and speaking softly.
In one corner of the playing field a small tent has been set up and and a sign announces the presence of 'Count Bonfiglioli, the Bosnian Seer - sees all, knows all, reveals your future.' Later I come to wonder whether this may have been his first tongue-in-cheek use of the title.
In the dim interior sits Bonfig, apparently communing with a crystal ball. Now where did he find that? He is wearing a lurid silk dressing gown and totally inappropriate sandals, a travesty of a turban and a layer of brown make-up whose origin I do not question,
I stand outside, away from the entrance, casually close to where he sits at the back of the tent. I'm trying, you see, not to look like a fortune-teller's minder. This is probably where I need to assure the more timid reader that I was never the template for Jock Strapp, the solicitous thug always at the shoulder of the Hon Charlie Mortdecai, Bonfig's fictional hero and alter ego, On the other hand, we did know one or two Gordon Highlanders who could have filled the bill.
As people approach our tent who look as if they may be considering a consultation with the mystic Count, I mumble to him in an odd mixture of A level French, O level Spanish and some scruffy Italian* (did I mention I have a Prada or two in my mother's line?) and I'm telling him a few salient facts with which he can astound the credulous client. I tell you now, it's not easy to mumble in Italian.
Inside the tent a few minutes later she's wondering (it's always a woman), 'How does he know that I have a little fair-haired girl and an older boy? I left them with my husband at the coconut-shy.'
As Bonfig said later, 'Just tell them one thing that they think you couldn't possibly know and they'll believe anything else you tell them. Anyone can do it.' (Mr Derren Brown would be proud of him.) From outside the tent, I could hear the tremor in their voices and sense the shaking of their hands as Bonfig held them. He would have enjoyed that.
I hope we did no harm.
* This is not to be taken as a reference to any person, living or dead, of that time or since.
Reading the chronology list in Margaret Bonfiglioli's excellent compendium, 'The Mortdecai ABC', whose format I have so blatantly half-inched, I wondered whence the bald entry, '1954: In Brighton Barracks', had revealed itself. Could it have been the deciphering of Bonfig's tired and emotional handwriting or some Sassenach gremlin in the Spellchecker? In 1954 Bonfig was most certainly at the Bridge of Don Barracks - known to every native Aberdonian as Brig o' Don.
Brighton? Brig**on? Brig o' Don!
Next letter in the Bonfiglioli ABC
C: Concupiscence. Coat-of-Arms. Career, university. Contradictions. Correlations.