The better half is in Italy again.
It is another celebration by one of her Russian friends: a birthday this time, an important one, fortieth I think. I rang to congratulate the birthday girl. She said that she was sorry that I wasn’t there. I replied that nevertheless I was touched to have been asked. You’re too busy, she shouted, a sudden note of panic in her voice.
I reflected that the conversation had got out of sync. I should have said the last bit.
The better half tells me stories late at night on the phone, when she has gone to bed and the last of the hostess’s girlfriends’ husbands has given up scratching at the other side of her hotel bedroom door. She describes them all warmly as witty, rich, modest, well-read, rich and good-looking. She says that the woman whose fortieth birthday it was appeared at her party practically naked and could be said to have got away with it. Some of them have a real talent for karaoke.
I reflect on the attractions just sometimes of being inside the tent pissing out. How often does one get the chance of being part of a shiny Russian karaoke party as opposed to being a spectator? I remember the similar pleasure years ago of crossing the forecourt of Victoria Station in the company of a close friend who was a drunken, dangerous and noisy Glaswegian, and how the crowd melted away respectfully to each side of us.
Nevertheless I woke up last night from a nightmare in which I was being harassed by women whose faces resembled that of the good Captain Beefheart on the cover of his celebrated album Trout Mask Replica, and by men in blazers stumping angrily around on their little legs.
It is of course ridiculous to think that there was any connection between the better half’s fun in Italy and my nightmare. Blazers in Italy in July! But you know how it is with nightmares. They mix different things in your mind so that they feel as if in fact they’re the same thing. I was thoroughly at sixes and sevens by the time I actually got up, and it took a second pickled egg with my matutinal whisky to be able to face the day.
It was as well that I was prepared, for when I opened the front door I was met with a scene of pure terror. Some ten or twenty creatures, men and women both, stood there, their faces hideously mutilated and immobile. The women were all clutching enormous bags. God knows what horrors they contained.
Aaargh, I said, and slammed the door.
It was the creatures from my nightmare!
No, that was stupid; in a flash, common sense returned and I was thinking straight again. Obviously it was the zombies from the M- restaurant. I found my mobile and texted Aubergine Small, selecting the ‘Urgent’ option.
DIDN’T YOU SORT OUT THE Z PEOPLE IN KNIGHTSBRIDGE? I THINK THEY’VE COME TO GET ME
He replied quite quickly and to the point.
ALL TERMINATED! NOW BACK AT SEA, TERMINATING SOMALI PIRATES! OOPS! JUST TERMINATED ANOTHER ONE! LOL, SMALL!
So it wasn’t the zombies from the M- restaurant either.
Before I knew where I was there was a knock on the front door. I pulled myself together. Was I the man who stood shoulder to shoulder with his Uncle Edgerton in man-to-zombie fighting? If I failed would I be able to look the son in the eye again? I took a letter opener from the hall table and, grasping it in my dagger hand, opened the door a fraction.
Speak, I cried, in my most hieratic tones.
There was a shuffling sound, and then one of them spoke.
Can the better half come out to play?
No, I said, through my teeth and the gap between door and jamb. She’s in Italy.
Ah, said the voice. We weren’t invited.
Nor was I.
It was not the zombies or the birthday guests or the creatures from my nightmare. It was a fourth contingent. I should have made common cause with them. They were harmless, all too human, a dawn chorus of the unattached doing their best in a strange city. They weren’t pissing out of anything. I should have asked them in, and offered them tea.
But I didn’t.
They shuffled off down the path again. There is a loose paving stone and every single one of the women got her high heels stuck on it. When there was no longer any danger of their rushing the door and occupying my front parlour I opened it and called after them.
There’s a private view of a show of fabulous Russian conceptual art at 22 Calvert Avenue tonight. See you there, eh?
And I did, but that’s another story.