A guest article by Lorna Campbell. VICARS AND TARTS ALL PLAY THEIR PARTS PHIONNA GOUDIE (pronounced goodie) kicked off her knife-heeled, impossibly narrow toe crushers and sighed in relief. Whoever invented those shoes had been a sadist and hater of the fair sex – an observation that was surprising for one of her usual lackContinue reading "VICARS AND TARTS."


A guest article by Lorna Campbell.


PHIONNA GOUDIE (pronounced goodie) kicked off her knife-heeled, impossibly narrow toe crushers and sighed in relief. Whoever invented those shoes had been a sadist and hater of the fair sex – an observation that was surprising for one of her usual lack of awareness. Partner, Niall, all blond dreadlocks with blue-tinted tips, had his feet – encased in comfortable and expensive trainers – up on the coffee table, annoying Phi, who was just a duster short of being OCD, but she bit her tongue and said nothing. No point in starting an argument she rarely won, she thought fondly. Had she won him by throwing a ring around him as he perched on a block on a hoopla stall at the showies, she could not have been more satisfied with her prize.

Girls like Phi, overweight and just passable rather than pretty or beautiful, rarely caught jewels like Niall Climie, and she had no intention of making it easy for him to escape to the charms of a conventionally lovelier and slimmer member of her sex. Having been elected probably glued him to her side far more than her charms – another uncharacteristically perceptive thought – and he had dealt very capably with that horrible, ugly old female who had shouted a nasty name at her that rhymed with punt. You’re just jealous, sweetheart, had been his put-down, and it had worked because the besom had slunk away, muttering curses under her breath like a witch from olden days.

Being a Scottish Parliament Elected Member (a SPEM) and Niall being a Special Adviser, a (SPAD), they could just afford this lovely flat in an old part of the city, much to the delight of both their parents, solidly middle-class and property-oriented, and a far cry from the cramped student digs she had occupied throughout her degree years. Her own childhood lived in a large, Victorian villa with her civil servant father and headmistress mother, and older brother, Oliver, contrasted with that of Niall’s, which had been lived out in a small council semi in one of the rougher areas of the city.

Her private education also contrasted with his state school education, but they had some things in common: they were both ambitious and cared about everything from Save the Whale to Save the Planet to Save the Children. Indeed, their university days had been punctuated by demonstrations and sit-ins reminiscent of the good old bad 1960s, caring about something or other, and that was how they had come to know each other, the handsome, clever and ruthless Leftie and the sheltered, fat, smug Tory Lite. She supported anything and everything that brought a little relief into a life filled with profound ennui, although she had no faculty for recognising her own voracious and second-hand appetite for vicarious thrills, while he latched on to anything and everything that could possibly be used to his own benefit, drawing their lifeblood like a vampire, and he possessed the faculty of always knowing full well what he was about, and oozed charm to cover the fact – which worked 99% of the time.

He had been inordinately fond of Vicars and Tarts parties at uni, and they met each other in costume (she had an uncle who was a minister of the Church of Scotland, and borrowed a dog-collar from him on occasion) and, while she appeared in costume as an ill-at-ease, well-padded cleric with a penchant for little bits on sticks – actually, a lot of little bits on sticks – and the obligatory pint or two of snakebite, he seemed perfectly at ease in his overblown dress and high heels, falsies and wig. In fact, they had been at several parties before she sussed that he was not actually a bona fide woman. The Road to Damascus discovery was made when she opened the bathroom door at one of the party houses and walked in on him peeing – standing up. Craning her neck just a fraction, she could make out his willie and his stream of urine, both of which gave her a strange frisson.

After she, too, had emptied her very full bladder, with the young man watching and listening (she was not used to alcohol and was too drunk to protest) they staggered into one of the bedrooms and did the deed on the faux sheepskin coverlet with the suede trims. He always said that it was fate, and never once let slip that he knew who she was and that she was in line for a candidacy at an election following a suitable interval after her graduation. She had talked the talk to the right people and walked the walk with them, too, and, to be fair, her politics and economics degree was a good one. Her parents never tired of telling both she and her brother that cream always rises to the top. They failed to mention what happened to the dregs below, the skimmed stuff, but she had plenty of opportunity to witness their descent into early parenthood and poverty, joblessness and, eventually, hopelessness. It was all part of gaining experience in politics, and, if she was never actually touched deeply by anything she saw, she was not stupid enough not to realise it should leave an impression on her that they should see up close during campaigning. She recalled during her student years how she had passed, every day, derelict flats with shattered or boarded-up windows and ragged curtains flapping in submission, and presumably left behind by tenants off to pastures new, sitting like broken-down druggies in the middle of a wasteland of scrub and discarded needles, but it had been a late-night visit to the library that had brought the realisation that they were occupied.

When she told her parents, they had told her to “stay away from those places, Phi” as if she pined incessantly and masochistically for a form of humiliation that would wipe out her privilege. Niall, when she had told him much later, had called those people “losers, Phi” and carried on preparing lasagne for the dinner, while Furball, the massive, black, neutered tom licked his nethers disdainfully, probably wondering what had happened to his balls, peering up at her with his wicked, yellow eyes and meowing, “daft bitch” at her in sweet revenge. With no encouragement from anyone, she forgot very quickly that she had ever been mildly distressed about the incident. Her party would have to embark on a massive social housing project and that cost money, and middle-class people like her parents would not fork out in tax what was needed. Tax cuts, they embraced as just, but tax hikes were a form of persecution perpetrated against the canny. So, nothing to be done, and, anyway, her parents could just about tolerate her party which they would never have voted for at all had their daughter not been chosen to stand for it. They never could see the attraction, but both Phi and Niall knew it was going places. Not far, maybe, but far enough to suit them.

The new policy of ‘queering’ was an exciting prospect, especially for Niall, who appeared to be inordinately fond of his tart outfits and paraded them in front of her, asking for her opinion on this or that frock. She never seemed to be enthusiastic enough for him, probably because all the gear was far too small for her, too long and, honestly, how on Earth could she be seen in those frocks! Her constituents would look askance at her. Oddly, the frocks seemed to be breeding and producing young because they were rarely the same ones from one evening to the next. It was the knickers that made her uneasy and squeamish, though she could not have said why: beautiful silk scraps of material that would not have fitted over her calves, let alone go all the way up her tree-trunk-like thighs to her ample rear end. She had splashed out a bit and purchased some nice-looking undies from Marks and Sparks, and tucked her navy-blue school knickers, which had served her well throughout her academic career, into a bag at the back of the wardrobe. Niall insisted the silk scraps were de rigueur for tarts, and sometimes, he and a few his mates, the ones she did not know very well, whom he had met on-line – were they all SPADS – would parade up and down the Royal Mile, tottering in their heels, as a joke. Occasionally, she would feel a stab of jealousy because their legs looked a lot better in stockings than hers, even if the budgie snatcher look gave the game away.

When he made love to her in his tart outfit, she felt a little sick, but she could never have asked her straitlaced mother what she thought about it. Tweed suits, brown tights and sensible white panties and bra were her uniform, and her father would have passed out with shock had she ever as much as hinted that Niall liked dressing up, although she did once ask a long-time friend from her schooldays what she thought of role playing.
“Well,” said Marion, “it’s not really recommended. My brother, Archie, once blacked up, and Sammy – you know Sammy! – hired a Nazi uniform to go to a fancy dress ball. A young man, who wasn’t even black, because he said he had been offended, punched Archie on the nose, and Sammy had to compensate the shop when someone set fire to his uniform and burned the backside of his jodhpurs because they were offended. Offence by Proxy. I laughed like a drain, but Mother and Father were not amused, you know, especially when Archie had to stay black for a week because the dye wouldn’t come off. I suppose impersonating someone else is okay so long as the context is okay, but people do get very worked up these days about identities, don’t they? I suppose that dressing up as a woman is okay, though, because we’re not supposed to mind – about anything, really. Do you mind, Phi? Your party’s all over this stuff, isn’t it? Maybe you should have stood for the Tories. They do all that stuff and don’t make a fetish of it.”

So, when the ‘queering’ Bill came before the Scottish parliament, Phi Goudie voted with her party, obediently and without fuss, a plump chocolate cream soldier, squishy and malleable. It was after that, that the woman had shouted the nasty name that rhymed with punt at her. As she lay back on the sofa cushions, the instruments of her foot torture abandoned under the coffee table, and awaiting her lasagne dinner, she muttered to herself: the curse has come upon me, said the Lady of Shalot. Niall poked his dreadlocked head through the kitchen door. “Are you getting your period, Phi?” he asked, rather too enthusiastically for her liking. “No, I was quoting the Lady of Shalot. That woman has unsettled me.”
Niall shook his locks at her, the blue tips dancing. “Phi, she was an old prune. Just ignore it. Didn’t the Minister Premiere congratulate you on your loyalty to the party? It’ll be a minister’s portfolio for you soon.” “Do you think so, Niall?” “Yes, bound to be. I was speaking to old Cammy and he is sure that you’re in line for promotion.” “But why did that woman call me that name? I mean, we’re all women now, aren’t we?” Silence ensued. The lasagne must be putting up a bit of a fight, she thought, and she was starving – like those children in –what was it – Yemen, or something. About five minutes later, Niall reappeared. “No, Phi, we’re not all women,” he lisped, twirling around in his Alice-in-Wonderland gingham dress, short, white socks and patent leather shoes, his blond dreadlocks covered by a blonde wig with gingham ribbons. Blue, frilly knickers peeped out from beneath the dress. “Some of us are girls.”

The characters in this wholly unreal scenario are not real people and not meant to be taken as real people, as are the situations and language not to be taken for reality either. Reality is such a nebulous concept these days that make-believe and pretend are not hard to imagine – even for adults – and positively celebrated in many instances.

© Lorna Campbell 2022