Some people ignore distractions. Distraction is my bread and butter. But today I’m going to make a list.
1. Get up.
2. Put a stop to this sofa surfing.
3. Phone up Inland Revenue and tell them to stop doubling my fine. I’m never going to submit my tax return now. Why can’t they get over it?
4. Clean Clio.
4b. Clean my clothes. I can’t survive by reversing my knickers.
4c. Clean the burnt scone out of the top oven.
5. Do some work
6. Fix my phone
7. Learn how to play croquet.
pupate from the sleeping-bag. Signe is already up, complaining about my bed being too narrow and squeaky, (what with its mattress, clean sheets and all). Meanwhile, I’m covered in a fine layer of dog spit and orange fur. I’ll probably have to shave to get rid of it.
Signe runs to the loo and throws up.
I do the least pleasant thing on my list first. Call Tom.
It’s hard to tell but I think he doesn’t actually like me contacting him.
‘So Tom. If I had dropped the phone in the toilet, how would I fix it?’
‘How did you…? Never mind. First. Is it still wet?’
‘It happened a week ago.’
There’s a gap of about ten seconds. I guess ‘cos New Zealand’s so far away.
‘Right. Put the phone in a bowl of rice for two weeks. Dry. Rice.’
‘Rice. Are you joking me?’
No. Tom doesn’t joke.
‘Lizzie says you’re coming home soon.’
‘Yes, in about a week, so you’ll have to move out of flat. If you’re ever in it. Hey, Miriam. I hope you’re treating Lizzie nicely.’
‘Why shouldn’t I?’
‘Cos I think you take advantage of her very good nature!’
‘She’s MY sister! I know her better than you!’
Another of those time lags.
‘I’ll be home weekend after next. I’m coming back via the US. I’ve got work and then I’m DJing in Santa Monica. So hand the key to the caretaker if necessary.’
The phone goes into a bowl of rice with a sign; ‘Don’t Add Water.’
Then I plunge my head into the top oven. My younger brother’s jetting around the world, DJing and brain-storming new campaigns. I am chipping carbonised lumps off a furnace-hot oven with a knife. This is not how I saw my life panning out.
Where is Kit? Dare I ask anyone? Perhaps the Hebbindons have immured him in the terrace. Is Wym really sleeping with Anna? Are they mad? Am I mad? Do they think I’m mad?
Wym was my last gasp at any fantasy. I just need something – even a crush on a pop star to get me through. I really can’t bear the idea of being on my own with nothing but my own wrinkly, ugly soul to stare at.
Tonight at six we’re invited to the croquet lawn to dine. I always know when I’ve nothing left to wear except a ball gown and corset that it’s time to wash my clothes. Tonight’s a bit like that. Signe’s in my rockabily outfit and I’m in my seduce-the-boss kimono.
The evening’s still warm. The scent of home-killed button-sized lambchops and tiny-lamb burgers lays a trail towards the garden.
In position already are some couples I don’t know, as well as The Marquese and Prop propped someway off, plus Anna and Wym.
According to Google, croquet is simple; there are about three rules. But as none of the Hebbindons are talking to each other, diplomacy’s another issue. Eventually we are broken into four teams of people who do not want to scratch each other’s eyes out. The Marquese and Prop sit pitch-side, separated by the drinks table.
The hoops are embedded in a kind of H-Block formation. A child’s coffin holds the mallets which are grey, wood-lousy and electrical-taped. As it’s a knock-out competition, most of the players hurl abuse from the sidelines until their turn. Wym and I are opposing a beefy man called Chalmers and his wife, a narrow blond called ‘Dessie-darling’.
When asked what colour I’ll play, I blurt ‘I like my balls the way I like my men, black and…uh…rolling. In it.’ The wrongness of this goes off the meter.
It’s such a civilised game. The sound of mallet-on-ball is just the sort of ‘plink’ intended when the word ‘plink’ was invented. The only positions are ‘the-slight-lean’, the ‘ponder’, the ‘dramatic-plotting-grin’ and the swipe (front-facing or sideways). Add to this the ‘dance-of-dismay’ when the ball bounces off the hoop instead of through.
The free-flowing bile and distrust seeps into the game. When an opponents’ ball is shunted out of the way, they are practically sent into the next county. At last I make the first hoop and clink Chalmer’s ball. I line up the twinned balls, put my foot on mine and rocket his ball into a flower-bed. Suddenly a chorus from the lines – the Marquese’s waving her arms.
‘American rules! The City Girl’s playing American rules!’
In the commotion, it seems I’ve smashed an important class edifice.
Wym shows me the less-satisfying British method. He puts his arms around me – it should be a lovely moment but actually I’m embarrassed and uncomfortable.
Once I’ve played, me and my ego retreat to the edge. Having excellent hearing, (to my occasional advantage and regular downfall) I hear and translate the hard syllables of the Marquese. ‘Well of course she doesn’t belong here. How could she? To send her back would be a kindness!’