Venetian blinds and domestic bliss

William Donaldson
Friday 14 April 1995 23:02

Respectable women invite you to "take pot luck with them on Sunday", adding that "you'll have to take us as you find us! The kids will be here and I'll have been toiling all day over a hot lap-top in the kitchen!"

Be that as it may, and according to a souvenir menu recently discovered among my mother's belongings, the five-course lunch at the Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth, in 1942 cost 5/6d a head - as long as you made do with Pt Maison, Potage Parmentier, Turkey Winglet prepared with Chablis Wine and Mushrooms, and Apple Dumpling. Caviar (7/6d per portion) and Oysters (4/6d for 1/2 doz) were extra.

That was quite a lot of money even in those days, but less than I'll have to spring when I take Debbie Mason to dinner there next week. And that's if she sticks to Potage Parmentier and Turkey Winglet. If she knocks me for the Caviar and Oysters, I'll be embarrassed.

Not that I'll have to take her there, since Andy From The Sixties and his fiance, Michelle, have, very decently, invited us to their place.

You'll gather, perhaps, not only that Michelle is back at last with Andy From The Sixties and that the two of them have moved to Bournemouth, but also that Debbie Mason has had another volte-face, deciding on a whim, and over lunch, to relocate El Independo yet again.

Let me explain. Michelle, once the ideal other woman, vain and demanding, petulant and never there - but, more recently, and having dipped, I think, into Balzac's Guide To Respectable Women ("Respectable women live on the third floor", "Respectable women marry artists"), quite the opposite, returned from Ireland last week and, to my dismay, took up where she'd left off (hair in a bun, always there, sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked under her, reading brochures for clingwrap and dab-it-off.)

I don't know if you've ever lived with a respectable woman on the third floor. It doesn't suit me at all - perhaps because I'm not an artist. I'm a naval man, and naval men - not least those, such as myself, who serve in boats, shipping in green at 90 feet, removing their own appendix with an oyster fork - are accustomed, without the help of a respectable woman, to keeping the place tiddly and Bristol fashion and to putting their own dinner on the table.

Correct me if times have changed, but in my day in boats we didn't sail with a complement of respectable women who, in mid-manoeuvre ("Fire one! Heave ho, me hearties!") did the hoovering ("Just move your feet, will you, Captain?"), passed croissants round or started a ruck with Number One ("Where were you last night? This isn't a hotel, you know.")

To a naval man - and I hope I won't give offence by saying this - women are for one thing only: a quick bit of fun on weekend leave. A naval man, trained to look after himself (on joining up you're issued with a "housewife", a little bag containing a darning needle, a thimble and a length of yarn) doesn't want a woman to be always there.

Which is why Michelle was, for me, the ideal other woman. Michelle was never there at all, or if she was, it was only to pick her petrol money up or to issue sudden, obscure demands - sometimes for croissants early in the morning.

She'd wake up and rub her eyes with her little hands and glare at me angrily and say: "Where's my croissant? I want a croissant. Now!" And, weak with love, I'd run up and down the Fulham Road in search of croissants - later warming them to order and praying that she'd not say "thank you", which she never did.

Perfect, right? Then one day, she dipped into Balzac's Guide to Respectable Women and everything changed - not least in the matter of croissants. To my horror, and early in the morning, she'd bring me a croissant! I had to put a stop to that.

"You should go back to Andy From the Sixties," I said.

"I can't," she said. "He lives in a bungalow."

"Ask him to find a place on the third floor. And he is an artist."

That was true. While doing his eight years in Maidstone, Andy From the Sixties twice won the Arthur Koestler Award.

"See you later," said Michelle, and she was gone. And then, on Tuesday, I got this card.

"Hi there! Greetings from sunny Bournemouth! Andy found a flat on the third floor. And Bournemouth's great. All the facilities - archery, golf, a skating rink.

"His nibs and I have taken up ice-dancing. Best of all, there's a really nice couple in the next flat. The day we moved in they knocked on our door and gave us a lend of their Inspector Morse videos. Plus they invited us in for Scrabble at their place. Really nice. Venetian blinds and digital dimmer switches in the lounge. She's great - a gourmet blue cook and that. Not that she isn't up for a giggle, she's not stuck up nor nothing, quite a laugh over a spritzer and the first to give you a lend of the clingwrap and depositories. You must come and see us. Ciao! Michelle."

On Wednesday, over lunch, I showed this to Debbie Mason, who got up immediately to leave the table.

"I'm going to ring David Liddiment at the BBC," she said. "We must relocate El Independo in Bournemouth."

"You shouldn't sneer at nice young couples trying to get it right."

"I'm not sneering. It's perfect. Venetian blinds. Scrabble. Inspector Morse. I want to film the couple next door. Tell Michelle we're on our way."

I rang Michelle, who said we'd be welcome on Sunday.

"You'll have to take pot-luck," she said. "His nibs will have been practising his Bolero and I'll have been slaving all day over a hot ..."

And to think that once she was the ideal other woman.

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