August 10 1999
3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5ZZ
Thank you for your message of encouragement received on my ‘voice mail’ yesterday evening. Do you like this new phrase? It seems to be buzzing around the city right now. I suppose it is less clunky than ‘answer phone message,’ but I am not much of a one for fitting in – and following hot new trends – as you know!
I was out because I had been invited round to Richard Parker’s house for a barbecue. He nobbled me a couple of evenings ago when I was standing outside and wondering if my black-painted metal railings, with associated arrow finials, could do with a lick of paint. I had not made my mind up about this neighbour, Mum. He looks slightly feral with a rather bushy moustache overhanging his top lip, and one or two whiskers sprouting out of his nostrils.
However, I duly materialized on his doorstep at 7pm – clad in dusky pink shorts, new white sneakers, and a navy-and-white-striped long shirt – and depressed the door bell. I only had time for a very short, electric, buzz because Richard, who had surely been standing just inside the door, whipped it open and embarked on some lavish compliments concerning my ‘fetching’ outfit. It was not that fetching Mum. I had my black hair held back by a pink ‘Alice’ band because I did not want to go up in a ball of fire near the barbecue. And also I was wearing very little make up.
Richard, who was attired in very little – most notably a black T-shirt and orange shorts – then invited me into his tall, thin, house. We paraded through the hall, and sitting room, towards open – sliding – doors and an expanse of patio. I didn’t have time to notice very much about the décor, only that there appeared to be a striking contrast between the beige of the carpets and the glitz of all the golfing memorabilia adorning every available surface. Richard was evidently a skilled player if the multiple plaques and cups were anything to go by.
Out on the patio, the first thing I noticed – apart from the fact that I appeared to be the only guest – was a ‘state of the art’ gas-fired barbecue, which was occupying a central position on the stone flags.
“Oh my,” I said. “That is quite some whopper. I was expecting bags of charcoal and one or two briquettes.”
“Yes,” said Richard, who seemed to be positively swishing his tail with delight, “It is a ‘Bonaparte Warrior’ model. It has six grilling zones, three searing stations, high intensity lighting, and the heating capacity of a small rocket.”
There didn’t seem much else I could say to this Mum although, of course, I was actually quite aghast. What sort of person equips themselves with a two-metre-long stainless-steel monstrosity of this type?
And, gazing about the garden, I was also struck by the long sward of immaculate grass interspersed with what appeared to be around 18 white, and sunken, circles.
“What are those?” I said. “Those white things wending their way through the grass.”
“Those, my dear,” said Richard, “are my putting holes. We can have a go at those later on . . .”
I must say, Mum, that the food itself was perfectly cooked, even if completely devoid of any natural aroma. Wood smoke for instance. But Richard himself was the perfect host, filling my plate – and glass – at regular intervals.
I did think he might have forgotten about any al fresco session of pitch and putt but, after about four drinks each, he suddenly said,
“Ready for a go, are you?” And gestured at the lawn.
“If you like,” I said.
I find pitch and putt to be a very irritating game Mum. The ball never seems to go in the direction of the hole and, looking around me, I thought that it wouldn’t take much for it to get utterly lost in the stands of bamboo which flanked us on either side.
Richard then set about equipping me with a metal putting stick and small white ball. But the look on his face had changed and his top lip seemed to be rising in a sort of snarl. He was offering to demonstrate the ideal putting stroke and put his arms around me – one front and one back – in order to do so. And then, I’m sure I’m not imagining this, his teeth chattered in the way that cats do when they sight prey.
His back hand slid down on to my bottom Mum and I felt seized by a terrible tension. As you know, for years, I have been the sort of woman who tries to extricate herself from the worst of excesses, with barely a demur, and who always tries to think the best of the most abusive of behaviours, but perhaps – now – I am starting to change.
I snatched my stick from the hands of Richard Parker and put its whole length between him and me. “I am not here to be mauled by you,” I said. “I am going home.”
It is lucky, isn’t it, that predators can be out-faced like this, for Richard Parker’s face changed and he backed off, growling.
I just wish, Mum, that I had had a niblick sort of golfing stick with me, because I have heard that they can administer quite some crack and lift!
Your daughter (but not in-law, any longer)