Sunday, December 11, 2005

the Latists

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

September 8th Friday Evening.
Pakistan 209 for nine (bad light stopped play)
By Henry Derwent

Lounging in the afterglow of some very fine second day reverse swing, Pa zapped the sound on the close-of-play analysis and said: “So what are you going to do?”
I polished the third glass of wine off and kept quiet as Pa wandered off to the cellar to find another bottle.
You know I do miss Ritchie Benaud: been with him boy and man. They’ve no depth now these earring-heavy new guys, not even the ex-England captains.
“Do you think we’ll be able to bat through Saturday?” I shouted down the hall. I think Pa answered, something about the overcast mid-September weather and the possibility of turn.

Pa uncorked the second Merlot – a bargain from Waitrose online, he tells me – and repeated the question.
“I won’t be here long, just a while.”
Pa sat at the new kitchen table and nodded with his best bedside manner as he said: “Doing what? Exactly?”
“Ah.” As though this was bad, almost like invading Iraq. Or Wiltshire. “Writing what?”
I let him pour. “Only £3.99,” he said, “Bought a couple of cases. Mary likes it.”
I gave the approving smile and – noting a new name – said: “A memoir.”
“Not about all the…not a response to…?”
“…About my work, pa. It’s going to be like a business book, for students. A tool.”
“Ah, a tool book?”
“For students…?”
He is not going to make this easy: of course he liked Elspeth, hasn’t forgiven me for that. Everyone loved Elspeth.
“Like David Ogilvy, The Man himself.”
Pa raised his eyebrows and watched a slow-mo replay of a tremendous leg-stump yorker that told for the Pakistani captain this morning. “He’s good, that Jones,” Pa said. It was prudent to agree.
“I won’t be that long,” I said.
“Right,” Pa said. “Like one of your marriages then?”
I know it is coming, but what can I do?
“Ha ha,” I said, volunteering to wash up.
Well, I carried the plates over to the dishwasher and loaded them, even if I couldn’t find the soap cubes.
“And where will you write this epic?”
That means the study is out then. What does he do in there? Buys wine, I suppose.
“Oh, a library. The London Library, probably.”
“Are you a member?”
“Probably,” I said.
“Try the British Library,” he said. “It’s almost free.”

When you have run your own direct marketing company – three – for over 20 years and have a box full of Campaign and Marketing Week awards in storage and worked with a client list to die for it’s difficult to down-size. Throw in a few divorces – mostly just the normal uncontested affairs – a pair of spendthrift twins at Sussex University (and one admittedly terrible mistake) and things take a steep turn for the down, rather than the size, no matter how fashionable the concept might be with the new righteously rich.
And so I am living at home, temporarily. A fifty year-old student.
With debts.
“At least there aren’t bailiffs, this time,” Pa said. I tried to make it seem that even in silence Jon Snow was suddenly very interesting on the Channel 4 news. I stared at some footage of another earthquake encouragingly, but the mute stayed resolutely on even when a bovine young reporter in a khaki flak jacket started interviewing the doctors and aid-workers and amputees.
We can wait before I explain the legal stuff.
“Yes, there is that.”
“A book? Well, it’s your life,” he said. “Good luck. I hope you have a good agent.”

My bedroom – unlike Felicity’s – has changed a lot since I lived here. As a teenager I painted it all black and covered the walls with punk pages torn from the NME and a few tasteful stripped-down collages of Lesley-Anne Down and Joanna Lumley and Farrah when she was a hyphenated Major. Thankfully that’s all gone now.
When Ma died two years ago Pa had a pair of Poles in to end what he calls the Living in Beirut effect on the third floor. Now my room’s as cozy as a cheap B&B in Swindon. On the shelves of a small new antique bookcase I see all my old Flemings and Chandlers and whatnots alongside Pa’s textbooks. Not only can a house-guest find out all about Moose Malloy and Smersh, they can also learn how to deliver a child, recognize the symptoms of scarlet fever, and read the in-depth sexual confessions of several kinds of British handymen.
I left my old retreat and went back downstairs.
Pa had been thinking about things; may even have checked his new Blackberry. “I have friends coming first week in October, you’ll be gone by then?”
Three weeks. No-way.
“Oh sure,” I said. “I told you this is just a short-term thing. Anyone fun?”
“And the builders are back after that.”
“Mary thinks we need more light.”
“Who is this Mary?”
I bet she reads the Daily Mail.
“We met running. She’s a furniture restorer.”
And, no doubt, an addict of Elspeth’s bloody book.
“Is it serious?”
Why does that always sound like you are thinking about the will?
“I’m a widower, Henry, not a divorcee. Mary is a good friend of mine. You should think about it: having women as friends.”
“I have a lot of female friends,” I said.
Pa sighed. “You’ve had a lot, I think that’s the verb you seek. Mary thinks you are a misogynist.”
“Then Mary has been reading the Daily Mail too much.”
“Elspeth is a very good writer though. It can’t all be wrong.”
“Have you heard of blood ties, pa?”
“As far as I recall when I was researching our genealogy online the Derwent family has no link with the Corsican or the Sicilian mafia. We tend to be very English about these things.”
Moral humbug. David Davis. Norman Tebbitt. Mary Whitehouse.
“Yes, English. We tend to think that husbands who are cheating on their third wives with a 24 year old personal assistant from Llanduff who can’t spell accommodation in a business letter to your best client deserve all they get.”
“So you have been reading it?”
“Mary gave me the highlights.”
“And where is Mary today?”
“Ireland. There’s an auction in Kerry.”
I think there’s going to be trouble with Mary. I can feel it in my I-Pod.

In a poll this morning in the Daily Mail 43% of Britons admitted they prefer beans on toast to foie gras.

“Don’t you think you’re a bit long in the tooth for drainpipe jeans?” Pa said as I put the plates away.
“But they’re McQueen,” I said. “Skinny jeans. Haven’t you seen…?”
No matter what I do, pa is never going to be fashionable.
“Perhaps you should join my gym,” he said. “They do three month discounted trials.”

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