To pass the time on the long train journey back from London this week, I listened to a double bill of plays by Alan Bennett.
"Forty Years On" is set in an English public school, with John Gielguid the very pith and sinew of an old style headmaster. During the school play, he's outraged by his students' use of improvisation: "I'm all for free expression," he says, "but only if it's rigidly controlled." It's a fine reflection on an age that was already passing into history when it first appeared in 1968.
The other performance on the CD was a monolgue titled "A Woman of No Importance". Patricia Routledge plays Miss Margaret Schofield, an office worker whose only ambition is to reach the canteen before the lunchtime rush. Her futile, boring life is described in mind-numbing detail. But, this being Bennett and Routledge, magnificence is wrought from the mundane. Taken into hospital for a stomach complaint, her inevitable decline fails to dim her own sense of self-importance. Even the most tenuous connections to the great and the good are sucked into her maw: "This is the bed that Princess Alexandra stopped at when she came here, apparently."
In such good company, it's hardly surprising that, before I knew it, the train was drawing into the station.