I knocked at the door with the hand not wrapped around the neck of the wine bottle and stood back, slightly puzzled at the dark and quiet. It was J’s birthday party and I was, of course, late.
I’m actually getting much better with my timekeeping but a declaration from boy 2, as I went towards the front door, that he didn’t want to go to Arran on holiday, had to be dealt with immediately. It transpired he was worried that Arran was very close to Loch Ness and was terrified of the monster that stretch of water is alleged to contain. Much reassurance was required and an in-depth examination of the UK road map which eventually convinced him that Arran was probably a safe and monster-free destination after all.
I was also late because, lovely though the van is, it’s not exactly easy to park in the narrow and crowded streets of London. I had driven round in ever increasing rectangles looking for a space large enough to contend with both the van itself and a certain lack of sense of its dimensions on the part of the driver.
So there I was, as I said, on the doorstep, late and slightly disorientated by the walk from the van. Was I at the right house? The door opened quietly and hesitantly to reveal the countenance of A, J’s French au pair.
“Hello!” I beamed.
“Ah, ‘ello” she replied in her charmingly accented English, in a polite but clearly puzzled way from behind the safety of the front door, only her head showing around the wooden bulwark.
“I’ve come for J’s party” I said, valiantly, but the awful truth was beginning to percolate through even the dull senses of my spavined brain.
“J… she ees not ‘ere”, she said, delicately, as though concerned that this information too abruptly conveyed might cause this clearly deranged woman to perform some unpredictable act.
The arm brandishing the bottle of wine drooped and hung listless at my side. I fear my jaw dropped, lax, and my eyes probably resembled those of a week-dead halibut.
Something, I began to realise, had gone wrong.
I knew I was going out. I *had* to be going out. I was holding a bottle of wine, wasn’t I? I was dressed in carefully-chosen mid-week-party clothes. Mascara had been applied, a sure sign that something of great significance was underway. I had, most convincingly of all, entirely pushed the boat out and hired the (expensive) services of a baby-sitter, something my new financial regime (of which more soon I hope) expressly forbids.
A series of dire thoughts chased through my mind, albeit at the speed a horse with severe hoof-rot might summon up after unenthusiastic persuasion. Thoughts like: it’s the wrong night and I’m paying for a baby-sitter and, oh, the expense; it was yesterday night and I missed it and that’s so rude and thoughtless and I’m paying for a baby-sitter and, oh, the *expense*; it’s tomorrow night and I’ll have to hire a baby-sitter again and, oh my god, the expense. (I take my new financial spreadsheets very seriously in case you hadn’t noticed.)
Something of the inner horror may well have manifested itself on the outer countenance. Or maybe I was swaying and drooling in the moonlight and muttering ferociously, anything’s possible. For whatever reason A had been staring at me fixedly in some alarm and eventually asked, extremely timidly, if I was feeling OK.
“Yes,” I announced, firmly. “I know I’m going out tonight but I’ve just come to the wrong place. So sorry to have disturbed you,” and with that I marched down the path to the street.
“You must be at a bit of a loose end,” my father had said when I met him earlier in the week. In fact I’ve probably been doing more in the last month than in the previous year put together, meeting people, doing stuff. The social problem of the moment is plethora not paucity. Thus it was that, with a calendar bulging with excitement, I’d got confused.
I climbed back into the van (it was cold) and thought deeply about what to do next. Bingo! phone one of the gang… F and J and T were all bound to be going to whatever it was I was supposed to be going to. I phoned. I waited. I counted the ring tones. I noticed, with a detached sort of interest, that they all subscribe to the same network. I knew this because the same woman announced its name whilst informing me that the person I had called was unable to answer the phone but I could leave a message after the sound of the tone.
I rested my head on the steering wheel. Perhaps allowing blood easier access to the brain might help. It was intensely frustrating. It was dark. It was cold. I was all dressed up with a bottle of wine, no corkscrew and missing a party so good that three dedicated mothers were ignoring their mobiles, oblivious to the fact that my call might have been that of, oh, I don’t know, a baby-sitter wanting to know how to deal with a blue child choking on a carrot. And, of course, there was the blasted expense of my own baby-sitter.
Eventually even the glacial slowness of my neurones managed to fire up another potential solution. T lived close by and although she was obviously whooping it up at some as yet unknown venue her husband, A, would be at home with the kids. I didn’t have the home phone number but I could trot up the road and find out from A where I was supposed to be.
A word of advice. It is probably not a good idea, when dressed in clothes suitable for a mid-week party, wearing mascara and wielding a bottle of wine, to answer the strange voice enquiring what you want from the other side of the closed front door by saying that you’ve come to see your friend’s husband. This might be misinterpreted by the no doubt entirely sensible person who has been employed to baby-sit the children because both parents are out.
Luckily the person on the other side of the door opened it and I rapidly, I hope, clarified any potential misunderstanding. And she was so sensible that not only did she know where T was, she also knew the address and gave full and accurate directions how to get there. So it was K’s party tonight, not J’s at all.
When I finally arrived at the right place the door was answered by someone I didn’t know. “Who’s that?” K shouted from inside. “It’s the Emily Watson look-alike” the portress shouted back. Apparently I had been discussed earlier in the evening and the resemblance had been suggested, and was now generally assumed to be accurate since someone who’d never met me knew who I was from the description.
I didn’t know who Emily Watson was, but kept quite about it. Obviously I had to check when I got home to see if she was someone I wanted to be mistaken for. I read that she came to fame in Lars von Trier‘s film Breaking the Waves.
I interviewed Lars von Trier once on the beach of some highly expensive hotel north of Cannes. As I sat down opposite him he leaned forward and said “let’s get naked together and run into the sea”. At the time I dismissed this as a calculated attempt to cultivate his already eccentric public image, to make more amusing the otherwise no doubt entirely tedious business of back-to-back interviews to promote his film, and maybe to try to discomfort the questioner. But perhaps I was too cynical. Perhaps there, on the shore, with the crash of the waves and the salty breeze, he mistook me for Emily Watson.
Then again, maybe he didn’t. But it was worth the cost of the babysitter to have that thought.