It was the morning of the prostate pitch so I had to clear my head of everything that didn’t relate to senior male bottoms and how we could convince them that a rubber-gloved thumb should be welcomed as a friend.
I had just poured myself a bowl of Coco Pops at my desk and was adding a splash of skimmed milk while whisking through email. There was one from Mr Bond. It’s about time he realised he had already met Dr No, I thought as I pressed delete.
My pitch outfit was really cool. It made me look like that woman out of The Matrix, only the long coat was really a long Merlot-coloured, mandarin-collared Marino-wool jacket over trousers and a crisp tailored blouse. Teamed with the pointiest, most important boots in my wardrobe, in a soft burgundy suede, I was feeling super confident and ready to rock.
BTB showed up as I was shovelling down a huge mouthful of Coco Pops.
‘How did the date with the transsexual go?’ he boomed out across the office with a wolf-like grin.
Cheeks now red as well as crammed to capacity with puffed wheat I really didn’t have any option on a crisp rejoinder. I just glowered and gave him the circled finger and thumb universal divers’ signal for A OK. You could have heard a pin drop as every eye riveted itself to my face, but the moment had passed.
Having done a minute post-breakfast inspection of my teeth in the ladies loo I marched into BTB’s lair with the bound documents and the presentation burnt onto disk.
‘And how was your date, might I ask? You two looked incredibly cosy at the bar. You could almost see the sparks.’
‘Date?’ He looked bemused.
‘Yes, you know, the incredibly beautiful long-legged creature. Although I’ve no idea how you got her to go out with you.”
“Oh her. Easy enough. She’s my sister.”
I blushed. “She looks really nice. I didn’t notice the family resemblance.”
Actually I did now he mentioned it. Brian is tall, dark and has grey eyes.
“Look that guy, he wasn’t a date OK, just a new best friend I’m kind of trying to get rid of. I hadn’t seen him, er her, for years.”
He gave me a double eyebrow-raise suggestive of an invitation for full on sex.
‘I don’t think my boyfriend would be terribly pleased if I went on a date and it wasn’t with him, transsexual or no,’ I stammered.
Brian held my gaze a little longer than was absolutely necessary and then turned his attention to the matter at hand.
The pitch had been faultless (or at least we thought so). All the buying signals had been there and, the very best bit, the girl on reception had asked me where I’d got my boots. I was relating this story on the way back with BTB at the wheel, me in the back and Nik in the front.
“Oh,” said Brian innocently, “I thought she’d asked where you’d got your boobs. I was going to chip in you that you probably got them the same place as your little carrot-top friend got rid of hers.”
We all laughed heartily while I made secret stabbing motions at his seat back.
Nik and I buggered off to a favourite wine bar after work for a few scoops. She assured me that the girl had said ‘boots’ and that I did, indeed, look like the girl out of The Matrix only, in her opinion, thinner. Love her.
I re-lived with her about the marvellous, malicious joy of unleashing just the tiniest hint of Fabio on an unsuspecting BTB. While we laughed about the scenario she flagged a note of caution.
‘Be careful. There are some people it doesn’t do to lie to and I suspect BTB’s one of them.’
I shrugged it off as we tucked into a bowl of microwaved hickory-smoked nuts and ordered ourselves a second glass of NZ Sauvignon.
It was a warm and pleasant evening and, once home, I saw to Twinkle and then lounged outside on my ancient steamer chair, the third glass of wine of the night doing the post-pitch euphoria no harm at all and St John purring on my knee. He was curled into a puffball and I was fashioning his huge plume of a tail into a handlebar moustache across his nose. It amused me but I suspected that, should he wake up, the price would be dear.
To amuse myself further I had pulled the steamer’s twin out of retirement and it was at the other side of the occasional table. I had drawn the line at pouring my imaginary lover a glass of wine – hell, I’d only drink that too.
But then, what if someone called round? I could leave an empty glass next to his chair and then say they’d just missed him. It would be like discovering clues in a detective novel, but in reverse.
I wasn’t going to disturb St John until my glass was empty but felt like joining him in a little completive purring. I was smiling as I dozed languidly. The light from the setting sun turning the insides of my eyelids a warm and fuzzy pink. The pieces were dropping into place perfectly. Hmmm.
Next to me Fabio was stretched out. His long, well defined legs crossed at the ankles, hair slicked back and an indolent look of longing in those half-hooded eyes. Not long now my love I thought as I placed a tattoo of my name in a heart on his arm, then moved it to his chest, and then removed it altogether as being a touch too trashy.
Awful Paula is a woman I have been trying to shake off for years. She insists on being my friend when it suits her. This usually means when she is a. single or b. wants some help with something. She is entirely self-centred, jealous and covetous. I have tried various ways of extricating myself but always manage to get myself into ‘situations’. Meaning she manages to get me to agree to go to things I don’t want to go to and do things I don’t want to do. I think Fabio may be something of a secret weapon here.
Awful Paula was born in Birmingham and for the first sixteen years of her life had a broad Brummy accent. Now it’s pure plummy, her pushy mother having sent her for elocution lessons for two years solid. Her hair is as brassy and brittle as her personal warmth – which also comes out of a bottle.
She attracts men because she is one of those women who are, in male parlance, ‘a sure thing’. In fact she’s slept with more men than there are entries for my senior school in Friends Reunited – whatever happened to that by the way? Awful Paula is charming, high octane fun and a risk taker. What she isn’t is trustworthy or loyal. She will always take the back-to-the-wall chair with ‘the view’ at a restaurant table, she will always be looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more interesting to talk to in a bar. Every time she has a one night stand (ditching me in the process – ‘you don’t mind do you daahling’) the sex is always fabulous. A little bit of poetic licence there I think. Not that I’m against poetic licence….fairly obviously! Paula is shallow, but she’s ok with it. She hasn’t the depth to cover a flip-flop. Me, I’m more of a Wellies girl.
Some weeks in the time BF (Before Fabio) she had enlisted my attendance at a celebrity charity bash – her being a party organiser for clients who felt it added to their cache to have access to a range of b-list celebrities for rent.
She wanted me to go (basically to do the write up afterwards for her) but had further discouraged demur by pledging a yard of champagne and two c-listers who were available, straight and ‘liked bigger women’. A bit rich coming from a woman with more chins than a Chinese telephone directory who scraped five foot in heels but made up for it in width.
Tonight was the night of the ‘do’ and I really didn’t want to go, but I decided to view it as an investment in a future free of Awful Paula.
Del was coming with me, her being a bit of a celebrity in her own right. She’s the editor of a glossy, intelligent and very well thought of women’s magazine. Another reason for Awful Paula to maintain relations with me is my ability to coerce Delilah into accompanying me at these dreadful bashes allowing AP to claim another celebrity attendee for her client.
I was to go over to Del’s house for a girlie get ready session. Her gorgeous husband Charlie would probably join us later at the bash, he was already at a works do so Del’s mum was babysitting.
Arriving at Del and Charlie’s Victorian villa with the sun still shining strongly at about 6pm, we were going to start with a bottle of fizz in the garden.
Del’s mum opened the door and gave me a big smacker. ‘Hello honey, come on in. Delilah’s in the kitchen.’
Delilah was indeed in the kitchen wearing a towel on her head and Charlie’s oversized bathrobe and disreputable slippers and managing to make the whole ensemble look adorable. On closer inspection I was pleased to note some dried on egg dribble on the lapel.
She thrust a glass of fizz at me and ushered me into the nearest shower room so we could then both bask in the garden, glass in hand, and do toenails and body lotion.
Pink-faced and squeaky clean we sat painting our toenails and sipping wine as I talked her through tonight’s plan for ridding myself of Awful Paula for life.
‘I’ve decided that Fabio will be coming on later with Charlie.’
‘Well doesn’t that have one basic flaw in the plan?’
‘Not really – I’ve brought this.’ I rustled in the large carrier bag tucked under my garden chair and produced a man’s silk scarf.
‘What are you going to do, rumple it up together and produce him from it like those old magicians do with doves?’
‘No, silly, men always leave their girlfriends holding things when they go off to do something. I thought about holding a pint as well as my own drink but that could be a bit restricting. This is just perfect.’
‘Right so how will it work then?’
I told her as we shimmied down the bottle, our toenail art becoming more expressionist along the way.
In the taxi, looking fabulous and smelling gorgeous I drew Fabio’s scarf from my evening bag for a dry run. I’d been shopping for it that day. It had to say expensive, it had to say Italian, it had to say male. I had gone for a very pale shell pink (Italian men are not afraid of pastels) and given it a sprinkle of one of Charlie’s favourite aftershave fragrances. I draped it over my arm as though I was holding it for my boyfriend who’d gone to the bar/gents/to talk to someone/out for a fag.
‘What do you think?’
‘Barking. Absolutely, bloody, barking.’
‘But will it work?’
‘I have absolutely no idea but I’m also up for some serious mischief with Awful Paula – it’s about time you shook off that woman – so let’s go girl.’
There was a red carpet thing going on where the taxi pulled up. We tipped the turban-wearing driver of our Nissan Sunny circa 1984 and stepped proudly onto the tufted Wilton.
Del, being possessed of Nicole Kidman style Titian hair and a light dusting of pale golden freckles was wearing a bronze sheath gown that pooled elegantly to the floor over sparkly gold mules.
I was wearing a grey/lavender coloured dress and long jacket combo which teamed a deep v neck on the dress with a little stiff mandarin collar on the jacket. Strapped silver sandals with a heel that did not instantly cripple completed the look. Fabio’s scarf was safely concealed once again inside my bag which was held protectively across my stomach bulge.
We did ‘team gorgeous’ pictures on the carpet and then joined the throng inside. The usual lack lustre soap stars were in evidence and the ‘darling’ quota was outstripping the ‘fuck’ quota at a premier football match. We scored a flute each and moved through the room. Once among the crowd I allowed myself to breathe out as no one could really see below chest level.
It wasn’t long before we appeared on Awful Paula’s radar.
‘Hi Paula, I …’
‘Delilah, how lovely to see you, so glad you could make it. Can I give you one of these packs that explains everything about Register, Register & Black? It just slips neatly into an evening bag. Got drinks? Lovely darling. And where is that handsome husband of yours?’
‘Oh he’s joining us later, he’s at some other do with Logan’s boyfriend.’
Good girl Del, I thought, what a little star.
It didn’t register for a moment. AP was still, obviously in the grip of a little lust fantasy about Charlie. When it did she almost staggered.
‘You’ve got a boyfriend? You didn’t tell me, when did this happen? Who is he, what does he do?’
What she meant of course was that he couldn’t be anyone of interest (ie rich) otherwise he’d be going out with her.
‘Oh we’ve been seeing each other a little while. You’ll meet him later. He’s Italian, his name’s Fabio.’
Her eyes widened dangerously. ‘So, is he in the restaurant business then?’ Cow. ‘No, he’s not.’
‘So what then?’
‘Well he has quite a few different business interests. Mainly it’s luxury yachts. His family builds them’
Awful Paula was quivering like a small and mildly incontinent Poodle. Her mouth had dropped open.
She recovered and said: “So tell me more, nice looking, quite a bit older?’ This last bit was said with rising hope in her voice.
Del said: ‘No actually, he’s about six or seven years younger and absolutely gorgeous.’ I could have kissed her.
Just then the editor of the local evening tabloid wandered past (an object of Awful Paula’s lust for some years and definitely on her to do list). ‘I’ll be right back, I need information darling, and I definitely want to meet him!’
I noted gleefully that Mrs Editor was forging along in his wake and had already clocked Awful Paula’s move. Her counter move would be definitive.
The beauty is the avaricious vixen would never be getting her hands on Fabio. He is, after all, completely trustworthy. I resisted a camp Dr Evil laugh and instead wandered off with Del to find canapés and interesting men to entertain ourselves with until her delicious husband and my phantom arrived.
Charlie wasn’t due to arrive until about 10.30 so we had an hour to fill until I whipped out the scarf.
I spotted Brian the Bastard’s sister elegantly waving away the canapé lady as though she was bearing a tray of size 18 knickers. Before I could hide she had widened the wave to include me and added a big friendly smile.
Del was already talking to Christoff the enormously handsome and sadly gay makeover guy she used for the magazine and I had been looking forward to enjoying 10 minutes of unrequited lust, but I was on the hook. I wandered over smiling back.
‘Oh hi, you work with Brian don’t you.’
‘Yes. How are you? I didn’t know he had a sister’
‘Great thanks, yes. Where’s your boyfriend?’
I realised with horror she was referring to Bond. I decided to butch it out.
‘Oh he’s coming on later with my friend’s husband. But I don’t think you’ve met him?’
‘Right,’ she said looking a little puzzled.
We made the usual small talk and I found that her name was Rachel and that I liked her. Actually I liked her quite a lot. Rachel is PA to the chief executive of a huge organisation that has fingers in just about every pie from holidays to music.
I was curious to find out a little more about Brian sans ‘the Bastard’ which I assume occurred only once out of the office and in a family environment, but I didn’t want Rachel to suspect I was in any way grilling her.
‘No, he had another thing to go to and anyway I’m here with my boss who’s around somewhere. I’m staying at Brian’s for the weekend though, I have an apartment in Paris where my boss’s office is, so when I come home I either stay with Brian or with Mum.’
Brian the Bastard has a mother? And a really nice sister. Something was amiss. My spider senses were tingling.
‘I’m sure we met your boyfriend. You remember when Brian and I were at the pub and bumped into you?’
‘No he’s not my boyfriend, my boyfriend couldn’t be less like the guy you met. He’s much taller and, er, Italian.’
It didn’t sit comfortably telling her this whopping fib. She was nice, she could easily be ‘one of us.’ I started speed troughing olives in a vague attempt to comfort eat and look sophisticated at the same time.
‘I’d love to meet him. But, actually, it’d be great to catch up with you. Find out a bit more about my brother in the workplace. I suspect he’s a bit of a bastard,’ she said with a big grin.
Ok I couldn’t lie to her. I’d tell her the truth. But not yet.
‘Oh, I’ve got to go and say hello to Henry, I’ll catch you later, maybe we could have lunch or something sometime?’ she said.
‘I’d love to,’ I said, and meant it. We swapped cards and promises to fix something up. She rustled away in a swathe of black lace and I stuffed six olives in my mouth at once. It was guilt.
As part of the ‘do’ there was a river cruise after the canapé and champagne thingy. There was already a light drizzle as we boarded the boat. The fairy lights were shimmering off the rain spattered seats as the attendants made ineffectual passes with giant rolls of kitchen paper.
Del ushered me to a dry-ish spot and beckoned over the biggest geek on the barge. His hair was plastered in a side-parting, he was wearing a red short-sleeved shirt tucked into brown corduroy trousers. Black ‘Cornish pasty’ shoes and navy socks finished the look. Turns out she knew him – he was from the IT department at work. (Oh God, I bet he’s on an internet dating site). His face was lit up with hope and expectation as she curled her index finger suggestively inward, very slowly. He followed the finger. When up close she said, and I swear the woman has balls of steel, ‘Oi, Spongebob Squarepants, have a seat’. He sat down on the damp bench seat immediately like an overweight and overzealous loved up Labrador. She nattered on ignoring him for five minutes. ‘OK, up’, she said to him. To me, ‘Right we can sit down now.’
I hadn’t appreciated the superior absorbency of corduroy before, especially when stretched over such an impressively huge arse. Even better the seat was warm as well as totally dry.
The ‘boys’ joined us for the final stage of the proceedings, back at the bar on blighty. Charlie arrived and gave each of us a huge kiss and a friendly goose. Rude not to. By now I was on my eighth glass of champagne and was feeling none. Pagne that is.
I ambled off to the loo, whipped out my boyfriend’s scarf and, on the way back added a pint for effect. Because I kept spilling it as I juggled the scarf, a handbag, a champagne flute, the hem of a long dress and the pint glass, I drank some of it as well. It was all sitting none to well with the 94 olives, some of which had been stuffed with anchovy fillets.
I had had the sense to gather my thoughts in the ladies. Consequently I had realised that I was now in no fit state to bait Awful Paula successfully at any length, so she would be best avoided.
“Aha, there you are!”
“Hi Paula, we’re just going,” I said indicating the half drunk pint and the sploshed pink cashmere.
“We, where is el Macho then?”
“Oh, he’s gone to talk to someone over there,” I said making a wide sweep with the pint glass. “Not staying much longer actually, got to get back you know….” This final line was delivered with a knowing wink.
“You come with anyone?” I asked innocently.
Awful Paula never goes anywhere with a man in tow if there might be men from her pension plan attending (pension plan = Times Rich List). Instead she prefers to come with some poor female she’s brow beaten into going with her and then ignores all night apart from taking orders for the bar and ringing taxis. I noticed her scanning the room in the direction I’d indicated pint-wise, but her attention was all mine.
“Oh, no darling, far too busy to bring anyone…well I did come with Jenny, she’s over there somewhere. Anyway, where did you meet your man?”
“We met on holiday. I was …”
“Whereabouts did you say he was from, married I suppose?”
“No, single actually, he’s from Milan, but he divides his time between Europe and the US.”
“So what’s he like then?”
“Kind, charming, lovely eyes..”
“And has he taken you anywhere lovely?”
“Yes, always. We’ve spent some time on the boat which was magical (well invisible was nearer the mark!) and had a week in New York which was lovely”
“How big is the boat and where is it? And where is he?” Another mere-cat scan of the room.
“Oh I don’t know how big the boat is really. Big enough to land a helicopter on it.”
I swear, I thought she was going to keel over. All the hair on her forearms stood up on end and she had started to grind her teeth.
“Anyway, must go and find my other half…”
“Hang on, I’ll come with you, I’d love to meet him…”
I wove through the crowd and sped up to Del. A text announced itself on my phone. It was the first of 12 during the course of the rest of the evening. They all read something like this:
‘Darling, where ARE you. Can’t find you ANYWHERE. Txt me where you are and I’ll come straight over. I have champagne!!!’
Del and I had Charlie primed and spotting. Him being a tall boy he was sort of ‘periscope’ for the last hour. When he saw white water curling off in a worrying wake he would sound the AP and we’d scuttle off course. Hey, sail gives way to steam on this occasion, to use a fitting nautical metaphor, and Awful Paula was steaming.
Unfortunately, next morning, I discovered I had been steaming too. I had a thumping headache and had got into the guest bed at Del and Charlie’s without removing my shoes. The buckles had been too fiddly as I recall. I had slept with Fabio’s scarf bundled next to my face. It was now wearing my face. Last night’s lipstick and mascara mainly.
During the course of our traditional nine cups of tea at the breakfast table Del and I went through the key learnings of the night’s adventures. Never mind about stuff like – don’t sleep with spangly shoes on or remember to take your face off – it was all about Fabio and Awful Paula. Ships in the night bless ‘em.
While Charlie snored enthusiastically on upstairs Del gave me some updates from her side of the evening.
AP had pinned her up against the wall while I’d been in the loo and Del felt she’d had to improvise a bit. It was important that her comments go into the dossier which outlined history and character.
“I told her he was apparently hung like a donkey, because I’ve never seen you smile so much, but actually she was far more interested in his family and job and the length of his yacht.
“I said I had no idea on metres but I did know it had crew” – she looked at me for an approving nod, and got one – “and that his family have strong aristocratic links.”
Wow, this girl’s good. I hope she’s not cheating on Charlie with Fabio’s twin, Sergio.
“I said that for years the family business had links with wine production, and that they have vineyards. I also said that the main family home is a vineyard estate although they have coastal properties in a number of countries. Do you know I just loved it.
“Then she tried a counter move by saying her ex boyfriend – ex, pah, I ask you, call that a trump card – had a beach house in Jamaica and there is a boat house attached. I hope you don’t mind, I told her that was such a coincidence because Fab has an island in the Caribbean. I said you hadn’t been there yet because Elton John or Mick Jagger or someone had been loaned it for a month. Then I just wafted off.”
I just looked at her. I really needed to get myself up to speed here. I had a runaway imaginary boyfriend. She was grinning away as she flipped tea bags into our cups. “Re-fill?”