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For this role, I must learn the art of silence

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Well, I've been promoted to colonel. This rise through the ranks was not, I modestly admit, entirely unexpected. I suppose I might have aimed at a professorship instead, but that empty chair - of phonetics - was more appropriate for a younger man.

My real aspiration was to be an undeserving cockney dustman with a generous way with words and a penchant for doing as little as possible. But it wasn't meant to be. The auditioning committee, after about a week's cogitation, decided in their wisdom that I should be Colonel Pickering.

"My Fair Lady" buffs may have some inkling what I am talking about. Professor Higgins; Eliza Doolittle, the flowergirl; her father, Alfred, the London dustman - these are the chief protagonists of that fine piece of musical theater. But our amateur drama club doesn't do musicals. What we are doing instead is the play on which the musical was much later based: "Pygmalion," by George Bernard Shaw.

Colonel Pickering - the product of Cheltenham, Harrow, Cambridge, and India - is an amiable, upper-crust, and minor cog in the "Pygmalion" wheel. He is a sort of straight man to the preposterous "genius," Higgins; he's a fellow phonetician and background chum. Pickering helps the story on its way by laying a wager with Higgins that he can't turn the cockney flowergirl into a socially acceptable "lady" in time for the ambassador's garden party. It is he who pays for the lessons. It is he who, in contrast to Higgins's highhanded and bullying ways, wins Eliza's fond respect by being consistently courteous to her. He is a nice man. (You might be justified in asking if our club goes for type casting, and I might be justified in evading the question.)

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