To M’ Colleague
We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded
Which way please themJohn Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, Act V Scene 3
It all began some time in the last century, in an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used coloured inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing-paper with scent.
41 Plough Lane,
Monday, June 2nd 1980
I’m sorry about the smell. I hope you ye opened this somewhere private, all on your own. You’ll get teased to distraction otherwise. It’s calledRive Gauche, so I’m feeling like Simone de Beauvoir and I hope you’re feeling like Jean-Paul Sartre. Actually I hope you aren’t because I think he was pretty horrid to her. I’m writing this upstairs after a row with Pete and Hillary. Ha, ha, ha! Pete and Hillary, Pete and Hillary, Pete and Hillary. You hateit when I call them that, don’t you? I love you so much. If you saw my diary you’ddie. I wrote a whole two pages this morning. I drew up a list of everything that’s wonderful and glorious about you and one day when we re together for ever I might let you look at it and you’ll die again.
I wrote that you’re old-fashioned.
One: the first time we met you stood up when I entered the room, which was sweet, but it was the Hard Rock Caf? and I was coming out of the kitchen to take your order.
Two: every time I refer to my mum and dad as Peter and Hillary, you go pink and tighten your lips.
Three: when you first talked to Pete and – all right, I’ll let you off – when you first talked to Mum and Dad, you let them go on and on about private education and private health and how terrible it was and how evil the government is andyou never said a word. About your dad being a Tory MP, I mean. You talked beautifully
about the weather and incomprehensibly about cricket. But you never let on.
That’s what the row today was about, in fact. Your dad was onWeekend Worldat lunchtime, you prolly saw him. (I love you, by the way. God, I love you so much.)
‘Where do they find them?’ barked Pete, stabbing a finger at the television. ‘Wheredothey find them?’
‘Find who?’ I said coldly, gearing up for a fight.
‘These tweed-jacketed throwbacks,’ said Pete.
‘Look at the old fart. What right has he got to talk about the miners? He wouldn’t recognise a lump of coal if it fell into his bowl of Brown Windsor soup.
‘You remember the boy I brought home last week?’ I said, with what I’m pretty sure any observer would call icy calm.
‘Job security he says!’ Peter yelled at the screen. ‘When haveyouever had to worry about job security, Mr Eton, Oxford and the Guards?’ Then he turned to me. ‘Hm? What boy? When?’
Healwaysdoes that when you ask him a question – says something else first, completely off the subject, andthenanswers your question with one (or more) of his own. Drives memad.(So do you, darling Neddy. But mad with deepest love.) If you were to say to my father,’Pete, what year was the battle of Hastings?’ he’d say, ‘They’re cutting back on unemployment benefit. In real terms it’s gone down by five per cent in just two years. Five per cent. Bastards. Hastings? Why do you want to know? Why Hastings? Hastings was nothing but a clash between warlords and robber barons. The only battle worth knowing about is the battle between…’ and he’d be off. Heknowsit drives me mad. I think it prolly drives Hillary mad too.