ARABELLA

Roland is such a nagger. Role reversal carried to extremes, I suppose. The less I suffer from his mother's Howard Hughesian fear of finger-marks, the more he homes in on minute amounts of entre plat table-crumbs. Viz: "Arabella, this is a dining table, not a gravelled drive."

"Well do something about it then, if it bothers you."

"I have just cooked dinner, I don't see why I should also be required to prepare the dining surface."

When people start calling a table "the dining surface", they are screaming for help. Roland must be suffering from one of those disorders popular for shallow discussion in magazines aimed at the past-it generation: "You, your prostate, and why it no longer works" etc. Roland's recent symptoms, though, suggest a more complex condition involving a good deal of sighing, staring blankly at the telephone, and a chronic delusion that it is Crumb Awareness Week.

For instance, after the last-but-one of his management courses, Roland brought back a dreadful hand-held hoover which "plugs into the cigarette lighter socket in any car" and - Godhelpus - "will remove pet hare (sic) from upholstery with ease".

I sympathise, but don't see why I should have to suffer too. His latest jag is that I should have a "proper" occupation. He imagines, I suppose, that while he is away, doing grisly things to bring home the bacon, I am lounging about in pyjamas, eating chocolate and watching rubbish on television - ie having a reasonably nice time.

Last Friday, I could stand it no longer. To get him off my back, and on condition that he paid the fees, I went down to the local adult education centre and joined an "experimental" drama workshop. A bit grim, but probably better than karate or bookburning. The blurb in the handbook commended the course as being "... invaluable in it's hand-on experiense, leading to a recognized certificate towards the Stage One phase of a teacher tranning course" (Sic, sic, sic). Apart from the diabolical spelling, the clinch- factor was the accompanying illustrations: a couple of half-wits dressed in cardboard pretending to be Roman Gladiators, and an untitled photograph of a middle-aged man pursing up for a kiss in a Heidi-wig.

Plenty of useful book-type material, I suppose, and possibly more interesting than Roland in his current state of anoestrus, ie quietly sulking because there is no lavatory paper - or perhaps because I couldn't muster up any polite Mmmm!-type noises after he produced an avant garde raspberry sauce to pour over roast pheasant. It's better to be honest about these things; it tasted exactly like Pripsin.

An offer of Cognac was met with more sighs, but I'm not too worried. Conversation may restart any minute, as an enormous van has just pulled up outside with the leged "Rodent Operative" write large in red letters on its flanks.

Must forgive R. for his table description, as the whole world is in connivance at misuse of language, and "rodent operative" is a more stupid combination than "dining surface".

ROLAND

I am not in favour of upheavals. A brief and wholly unsatisfactory marriage in my youth heaved me up quite enough to last a lifetime. Since then I have steered parallel to the emotional isobars, never willingly travelling into an area of high pressure. But a man's 40th year is a time for reassessment, retrenchment and, if necessary, rearrangement and the events of the past week have caused me to brood long and hard on all of life's major issues: work, love and finances.

Amanda hasn't phoned.

My job is satisfactory, but I feel I could do better. I have been at Corporate Communications Consolidated for 12 years now, but in recent months certain issues have been raised on which I do not see totally eye- to-eye with some of my co-directors. The little matter of a stupid complaint from our clients after my most recent course has brought matters to a head. How dare they describe my course as "inappropriate to the requirements of the course members". I've been running that same course for at least ten years for everyone from hotel receptionists to board members of multinationals and nobody has ever said it was "inappropriate". This batch did seem a bit thick though, when I think about it.

Except for Amanda. Plumpish certainly, but not thick. She said she'd phone.

I think it was that night with Amanda that caused me to think again about my relationship with Arabella. I took her in like a stray kitten six years ago and she has been lapping up the cream of my hospitality ever since. Does a spot of hoovering, unreliable companionship, and sex once every three weeks, most frequently - God knows why - on a Thursday, really add up to a relationship?

I had promised not to phone Amanda at work, but when she hadn't rung by Thursday morning, four days after the course, I decided it would not break the terms of my vow if I sent her a fax. She had mentioned that her desk was right next to the fax machine, so I thought it safe enough. It was just a two-line effort, but rather neat and amusing. I wrote:

"Whenas in silks my Amanda lies

How soft, methinks, her welcoming thighs."

and signed it "Roland Herrick".

My financial situation is sound, but I think I am undervalued at Three Cs. I bring in a great deal of business to the company, which is not properly reflected in my salary. It would serve them right if I decided to establish my own consultancy business.

I was never out of range of my phone on Thursday, but Amanda did not call. So I sent another fax:

"That succulent girl named Amanda

Makes all other maidens seem blander.

On bed or park bench

She's the number one wench

With whom I'd most like to philander"

and I made sure that my phone number was on the cover sheet. Humour, of course, is the most powerful aphrodisiac. If she doesn't phone by the end of the day, I'll ring her tomorrow. One broken promise deserves another.

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