Need I say more?!

(A room at the local community center visited by a somber (and sober) band of brothers and sisters at 7 pm. Three rows of folding chairs are quickly taken up. They are men and women from every walk of life. After a few introductory remarks by the chairman, a single figure rises.)

‘Hi, my name is Charles.’

(All: ‘Hi, Charles.’)

‘It’s been 50 days since I watched Masterpiece Theater.’

(Applause.)

‘This is my first time, so… I might sound a bit of a twit.’

(Uncomfortable shifting of feet. Someone says, ‘It’s OK. We’re all friends of Bob Cratchit.’)

‘Sorry, I’m sorry. Well, I… I guess my story’s nothing special. A lot of you have been there.’

(Nods, shrugs. Rueful laughs.)

‘It started simply enough— I stayed up late in college one night when everyone else was asleep and watched Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol…. There was nothing else on. I just thought I’d try it, because—’

(Noises of concern, throat clearing)

‘And then, everything seemed different somehow after that. The… the next morning, I mean. There was this craving for… for— I don’t know— vocabulary. Manners, and—’

(Silence)

‘Victorian clothing!’ There— I said it! I said it.’

(Smattering of applause)

‘I started feeling anxious, a kind of quiet desperation. I worried about missing Monty Python… I’d feel empty. Maybe it was lack of self-esteem. I began saying things like ‘Bring me some shrubbery.’ And, ‘Thingy.’ I thought I was complimenting a girl once when I said she had, ‘Vast tracts of land.’ One day, my roommate came home early from class and found me… practicing. Well, you know— those…. I can’t say it. I can’t, really. Do I have to?’ (Looks appealingly at the chairman. He frowns.) Oh, all right— The Ministry of Silly Walks! I was practicing! Alone.’

(Person at the rear of the meeting rises suddenly and sticks one leg straight out, but is restrained by friends and made to sit down.)

‘Should I stop, now? Can I? No? All right…. It was a complete crash, no stopping from there— saying “Bollocks!” tea drinking, binge watching— I blame those watcha-ma-callits— those, those video players! It made access to BBC movies so easy! All before Netflix, this is— which, if ask me is just an invitation to mainline. And they know it, too! Oh, don’t they, bucko! Every bleedin’ Jane Austen movie ever made. Why not? Keep watching for hours, days! I called in sick to work. I did! Lost friends. God, it was lonely. So, so lonely. For years, I wandered lonely as a cloud.’

(Sympathetic sniffles. Someone asks, ‘When did you realize you had a problem?’)

‘When? People at work began noticing that I was losing weight. I was living on toffee, scones, and Earl Grey. God, even Star Trek— Jean Luc Picard— ‘Tea. Earl Grey, hot.’ The triggers were everywhere! And Masterpiece Theater— that’s been everything to me! Everything… It was just so, so good… so good. (Leans forward and rocks back and forth.) And they just keep making them, don’t they? And making them, and (shouting)— Oh, damn Downtown Abbey! Damn you, Poldark, and Wolf Hall, and you, Mr. Selfridge— which is the stupidest show, I’m so ashamed to watch, but I do, I do!—’ (Puts head in hands. Chairman rises.)

‘I think we should show our support of Mr. Shields. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s just done.’

(Applause)

‘Now let’s repeat the pledge. (All rise) ‘God grant me the serenity to accept that I am not British. To accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference between Hercule Poirot and David Suchet.’

(‘Fetchez le vache!, someone shouts.)

‘Right! Who said that?!”

 

Charles J. Shields is a literary biographer and a recovering Anglophilic.