The Lady Vanishes

Well here’s a thing, turns out that Greg was right when he said that he couldn’t guarantee that his lady friend would be free on the dates I suggested. She’s given him the old heave ho.

So I was wrong to consider the notion that he was embarrassed of me. More like he was too mortified about what had happened.

I finally pinned him down to having a pint at the Fish-Under-Water by Parsons Green and he sheepishly turned up wearing a pair of sunglasses. It was still a particularly dull February day, so I confess I had a dig at him about his Hollywood look, so I felt rather bad when he took them off to reveal a pretty decent shiner. Fearing the worst, I asked him what on earth had gone on between them.

It all happened a couple of weeks ago. He said that he had stayed at her place on the Friday night and all had seemed normal. (Some of us don’t really consider putting off having dinner for two hours whilst we wait for our dealer, who has had a puncture somewhere on the South Circular, normal but each to their own.)

They woke up on Saturday morning, wandered to a little place for brunch. Well, from what I gather at the very least Greg had brunch, she sounds like the type to have some fennel in a cup of hot water and call that a meal, but as I say, each to their own.

Afterwards, they agreed that he would pop along to find somewhere showing the England match and she would join him later. He ended up heading to The Gallery. (It was the only pub in Pimlico he could find that was showing the rugby, which seems decidedly odd as you’d think that the area would be chocka with the ideal Rugger demographic. I suppose that most of them were either at the match or watching at their place in the country.)

She’d said that she would join him for the 2nd half. When she didn’t turn up he wasn’t unduly concerned as she’d never seemed the type to be too interested in the intricacies of the lineout, plus he was so caught up in the match, that he didn’t realise until 5 minutes before the end that she wasn’t there. A chap can get awfully engrossed in the rugby.

Anyway, he waited until the final whistle (it was only another 5 mins after all) and then left the pub. As he walked out of the door, there, sitting in the queue at the traffic lights was his squeeze, in the car with her drug dealer. And she was doing more than helping him change gears by all accounts (which seems to me a highly dangerous thing to do in the queue for the traffic lights, you could have to shoot off at any moment).

Well he was fairly stunned and before he could attract her attention, they had driven off.

He immediately walked round to her flat but there was no answer and her phone went straight through to voicemail. So, obviously feel fairly mixed up inside and not really knowing what to do, he went back to the pub.

A fair amount of sorry-drowning later, he staggered out back out. He wasn’t sure what time it was but he’s pretty sure that it was dark.

He decided to go to her flat again to try and have it out. He was obviously quite upset (and tired and emotional) about what he had seen and wanted to know exactly what and how long it had been going on. Plus he’d left his rather nice Louis Vuitton wash bag at hers and those things do not come cheap.

The lights were on when he got there. Even in his state, he very quickly realised that he couldn’t make too much of a scene, as her new friend made it quite plain that he had some pretty lethal ‘insurance’ in a holster under his arm.

She was politely apologetic about the whole business but from what he gathered the main reason she had for making her choice was the having a continual onsite supply of Bogota Bugle.

Realising that there was nothing more to be said, he clutched his Louis Vuitton to him and left. It is a bit unfortunate that he then tripped and fell down the front steps to the pavement.

The poor chap is terribly cut up about it and of course I feel dreadfully sorry for him but I can’t help thinking that he is well out of it.

When it’s got to the point that the chose is between you and the Bogota Bugle, you can guarantee what they will choose every time.

I’m going to organise a bit of a night out to try and take his mind off it.

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Everything does not appear rosy between Greg and his new inamorata. When I rang him last week, to say that I was finally going to be back up in town and it would be lovely to meet the young lady in question, he said that of course it would be lovely but that she was very busy at the moment, a lot of foreign travel coming up etc, so he couldn’t guarantee that she would be free on the dates I suggested. I said that I’m pretty flexible actually but he didn’t really seem too keen on the idea so I let it drop.

Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong with regards to her. Perhaps old muckers like me are an embarrassment to him, although I can’t imagine this to be the case. I once came out of the toilets at an extremely expensive restaurant completely covered in liquid soap just as his parents arrived to give us lunch, the dispenser having exploded due to my too vigorous pumping. In explanation, this was during a particularly stressful period of my life, involving upcoming exams, some far too potent caffeine pills and a not insignificant amount of heartbreak over a Venezuelan exchange student, so I wasn’t at my best. Barring me having to wipe my hand clean before shaking theirs, nothing was said on the matter, then or since. Greg comes from stock that takes things in their stride.

I must see if anyone else is getting the bums rush, or for that matter whether anyone has actually met the girl. It’s all a bit mysterious. One day when I’m up, I may just resort to doorstepping him like some tabloid journo and see what I find.

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Blandbury St Michael

I’m never hugely into Valentine’s Day, even when I have somebody special to spend it with, so I was determined not to get caught up an anything associated with it.

Unfortunately, this year the blasted thing fell on a Saturday, so virtually everywhere had some sort of Valentine related motif shoehorned into their evening. Speed dating, vastly marked up, candle lit set menus, even the old Sport and Social club in Blandbury St Michael had a sandwich board out the front, with a giant heart drawn on it, offering “an assortment of complimentary romantic snacks”. I’m not quite sure how romantic it is possible to make a bag of pork scratchings. The less said about the slightly wilting pickled gherkins they have in a jar behind the bar the better.

At least that’s how they looked when I first went there, soon after the place had officially changed from the Blandbury Miners Friendly and Social Club. It was a relic from the days when there used to be a bit of tin mining in these parts, but as the number of miners depleted, the place started to take in all comers. I doubt there were actually any miners left when it was decided at the turn of the millennium to officially ditch the past and rebrand as a sports bar.

One Saturday afternoon, after partaking in a very enriching poke around the local church (wonderful vaulting, and containing the grave of the father of a man who after attempting to steal the Crown Jewels, ran off to Australia, where he passed the rest of his days claiming to be the Dowager Duchess of Kent), I quite fancied a pint, so popped my head around the door.

The place couldn’t be described as packed to the rafters but, it’s actually deceptively large. There was this old chap sitting, seemingly quite happily, by himself at the end of the bar. In front of him was a pint of Bushens and next to it was a tumbler of what I took to be whiskey of some kind, which had a beermat placed over the top. Apparently this was being saved for later. He had half an eye on the TV and at the same time was idly turning the pages of a copy of the local paper.

Not wishing to disturb him, I placed myself further down the bar and then looked around for the barman.

“You’ll be waitin’ a while. ‘e’s gone to change the barrel. ‘elp yer self to drink”

Turning, I found the old fella, look of intense concentration of his face as he had started to roll a fag, nodding in the direction of a door behind the bar.

I replied that it was no trouble at all, that I didn’t want to put one to any trouble and that I was sure that it wouldn’t take too long to change a barrel.

“That’s as maybe,” he replied, a grin breaking through the look of concentration, “but it takes lon’er to ‘ave your way the barmaid.”

Well, it turns out that the bar manager chap, Eric was having a torrid affair with the barmaid and whenever it was quiet upstairs, he’d take her down to the cellar and they would inspect the piping.

Through my profuse remonstrations, Pete got out of me that I fancied a pint, so shuffled round the bar and started to pour me one.

I didn’t have to insist for too long before he agreed to have one with me and after leaving some money on the bar for it, we got to chatting.

After a short while, he announced that he was going to step outside to have his fag, and after gingerly descending from his bar stool, he shuffled out.

After a few more sips of my pint, and with the bar staff seemingly still occupied, I decided to join in the á la carte atmosphere of the place and help myself to some nuts.

Whilst I was bent down, rummaging round behind the bar, a particularly stern voice from above demanded, “Who are you and where the hell is my husband?”

I stood up, with only a bag of dry-roasted to defend myself, and found an extremely angry looking woman glaring at me.

“I’m terribly sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know, I was just helping myself to a packet of nuts,” was all the response I could come up with.

Her reply was something in the nature of that she hoped they were the only packet of nuts that were being helped to in the establishment.

All of a sudden, a man who turned out to be Eric, came gliding through the front door of the pub, saying what a surprise and how lovely it was to see her.

Almost at the same time, the barmaid strode through the door behind the bar.

I, waving my nuts in a placatory manner, beat a retreat to the correct side of the bar.

At a short while, Eric’s wife, sufficiently placated for the moment, was escorted out.

When he walked back in, followed slowly by Pete, my pile of money was insistently pushed back across the bar to me, and a round of pints with chasers appeared.

It turns out that as Pete was having his fag, he had seen the lady entering the building, cottoned on to what was about to happen and so had opened the hatchway to the cellar and shouted a warning. The bar manager had proceeded to scramble up the hatchway and enter from the front of the building.

For Pete’s help, and for my not immediately dropping Eric in it, we were treated to free drinks all afternoon, and whatever one’s feeling on the morality of the situation, I never say no to a free drink, so I partook heartily.

Since then, I’ll often pop in if I’m around to see if Pete is there to have a chat. In fact, he was in the Sport and Social on Valentine’s Day, as Eric went about putting candles on each table and setting out the “assortment of complimentary romantic snacks”.

When I saw him a few days later, he said, “I never thought ‘bout doin’ that with a sausage roll an’ two pickled eggs.”

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Dry January

This year has gotten off to a fairly muted start amongst my crowd, since so many people have been indulging in that godawful contrivance, ‘Dry January’. At social functions throughout the last month, you couldn’t move for it, or for people telling you about it. In fact, I attended a pub lunch near the beginning of January where one of the party actually turned to the barman and asked for a Virgin Mary! I mean I ask you, it almost seems like sacrilege. If you’re not going to have any booze, just order yourself a tomato juice.

The lunch itself had been arranged for the absurdly early time of noon but there was a young child to be brought along, which I suppose is only going to happen more and more from now on, and their parents had been awake since 6am so their body clocks probably felt as if it was a civilised time for lunch.

Some of us however had got home rather late the previous evening from a fairly heavy dinner party and when I woke at 10.30, with the room still spinning, I thanked the lord that Greg had offered to give me a lift to lunch in the Land Rover. He was in fine fettle as he pulled to a halt outside the old cottage. He’d driven down from London that very morning, and on the short drive to the pub filled me in on about this girl he’s currently romancing, and how he’d spent the night before at her place in Pimlico. They’d been to Grumbles for dinner and were meandering back to her place when she asked if they should order in a little Charlie from her dealer. Whilst I’ve never been one for the stuff, Greg has always been a bit partial now and again, but he was puzzled as to why she was asking him at that particular moment. It turns out that due to the Bedroom Tax, her usual man has been forced to move from Battersea to somewhere south of Morden and he needs time to be able to get to Zone 1 on his scooter. Apparently on Saturday nights he just drives in and parks himself in a side street, waiting for the calls to come in, like some sort of narcotic minicab.

Obviously he could probably afford to buy the flat next door to hers but as all his income is ‘off the books’ he’s had to go along with it. So don’t let everyone tell you that we are not all in this together. Benefit cuts are hitting the coke fiends of Zone 1 as well!

Well, we were the first to arrive at the Peal o’ Bells and I was in desperate need of a bit of hydration so I immediately ordered us both a Bloody Mary. Then Nick pushed opened the door, followed by Suzy pushing little Athelia in her pram. Suzy’s eyes fairly lit up when she saw what we were drinking so I ordered a couple for them.

The last to join was Jennifer, who wafted through the door with and planted us all with air kisses.

She then turned to the barman, and in what I thought was an unreasonably loud voice, said “One of those but Virgin, please”.

She then turned back to give us the full weight of her wisdom, “I think it’s vital to give the body a rest and time to regenerate, don’t you?” She then proceeded to enlighten us about what else she had given up for January, along with booze.

Well I’m sure it’s a jolly good idea, in general, but you should have seen the look of guilt in the eyes of Suzy and Nick, caught taking a slug of their drinks while Athelia was distracted by the starched napkin. I mean they are currently in the enforced detox of early parenthood and all they wanted was a little fun with some other grownups.

In all this, I am graceful drawing a veil over the fact that I have seen the sober lady in question face down in the grass at the Guards Cup Polo match on more than one occasion.

What could have been a really awkward moment was saved by Greg asking Jennifer’s opinion on what kind of flooring he should order for his new kitchen.

That started her off on a long diatribe on the merits of underfloor heat and slate, during which I ordered a pitcher of Bloody Mary’s and made sure that I filled Suzy and Nick’s glasses before mine. The look I got from Suzy told me it was appreciated.

By the time Jennifer finished expressing herself and turned her attention back to the rest of us, we were all nicely insulated against her views.

She’s a good girl at heart, Jennifer, but sometimes she gets a bit too caught up in herself to be able to think of other people.

The rest of the meal passed in a convivial, and for some of us well lubricated, manner. Young Athelia behaved beautifully, and it was only towards 4pm that she started to get a bit restless, prompting Nick and Suzy to start to collect all her paraphernalia. As they said their good byes and swayed off, I thought to myself that they certainly seemed more relaxed and happy than when they had first arrived.

After we had paid and shrugged on our coats by the door, Greg nipped out to bring the Land Rover round.

Jennifer took the opportunity to turn to me and say, “Well, I don’t know how Nick and Suzy can do it. They’re so run down, what with looking after Athelia, I don’t know how they think that pouring Vodka into their system is going to help them keep energised and motivated.”

I tried to keep any tone out of my voice when I replied, “Perhaps, Jennifer, they were just trying to grab a little bit of pleasure when they can, and to hell with the consequences.

I wish that I could have waited to listen to her reply but Greg was suddenly sitting there, gunning the engine.

Still now that godforsaken month is over and people are sloshing around in Drenched February. Although, oh balls, didn’t Lent start this week?

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