I suppose it had to happen sooner or later but it still hurt me deeply. That was her intention. She rang at the worst possible moment. I was sitting at my little table in Carnoustie, wrestling with my VAT return, trying to reduce three whole months of anarchic life to neat columns of figures. Mathematically, I’m not a convincing liar. It was a gruesome chore and not helped by the fact that I had, as usual, left it until the eleventh hour. We were parked in a gateway down a quiet country lane in Berkshire. Nobody was about. Even the birds were muted. Facing up to the reality of my financial situation is something that I can only do in the utmost privacy.
I was soon invaded. The telephone interrupted me and threw my calculations into disarray. I snatched up the receiver in a foul mood.
It was Rosemary. Her voice was a cocktail of charm, hostility and polite malice. With plenty of ice.
‘What do you want?’ I grunted.
‘I have something important to tell you.’
‘That makes a change.’
‘Don’t be sarcastic.’
‘Then don’t provoke my sarcasm.’
Her famous sigh. ‘Must you be so tedious, Alan?’
‘Get to the punchline.’
‘It’s very tiresome.’
‘State your business and depart gracefully.’
‘I’m going to get married.’
The words were like a mallet on my eardrum. My head echoed with pain and I was overcome with such a sense of betrayal that my eyes filled with tears. It was ludicrous. Rosemary had every right to get married again. We’d been divorced for years now and there was no legal barrier to hold her back. By the same token, I had a good reason to want her to find another husband. It would be wonderful to have someone to take the emotional strain off me, not to mention the monetary burdens. In theory, the news should have come as a blessed relief.
And yet I was wounded. I was angry, lonely, suddenly desperate. Could I be—no, it was unthinkable—jealous? As I slumped over the table in my motor caravan, I felt like an old stuffed sack that has just been expertly ripped apart during bayonet practice.
‘Alan?’ She jabbed again. ‘Are you still there?’
‘Then say something.’
‘What do you expect me to say?’
‘You must have some comment to make, surely.’
‘David is an extremely nice man.’
‘You’ll soon put a stop to that.’
‘Why must you be so disagreeable?’
‘I take my cue from you, Rosemary.’
She inhaled deeply through her nose. I could see her at the other end of the line, putting a hand on her hip as she drew herself up to her full height, pursing her lips in righteous indignation. More ice was added to the cocktail. It rattled in the glass.
‘I realise that this has come as a shock to you,’ she said with effortless condescension. ‘Coping with change was never your strong point. In fact, I can’t actually remember what was. David asked me why I married you in the first place and, I must say, I’m hard put to it to come up with an answer. I mean, it’s not as if it was a case of adolescent infatuation.’
‘Nobody could accuse you of that!’
‘You’re being sarcastic again.’
‘Why are you so piqued?’
‘I’m not,’ I lied. ‘You’re a big girl now, Rosemary. Free, white and over twenty-one. There’s nothing to stop you getting married twice a week if you develop a taste for it. I’ve got no axe to grind. It lets me right out.’
Rosemary swung the mallet against my eardrum.
‘I need to see you, Alan.’
‘Because there’s so much to discuss.’
‘Talk it over with David.’
‘We must make decisions.’
‘You’ve made the only one that matters,’ I said tartly. ‘It’s happened at last. You’ve found another sacrificial victim for the marriage bed. How do you propose to kill this one off?’
‘We must meet.’
‘Why? What else needs to be decided?’
‘Lots of things.’
‘We’ve come to a fork in the road.’
‘Listen to me…’
‘I go this way. You and David go that way.’
‘And what about Lynette?’
She exchanged the mallet for a sledgehammer now and she swung it with the precision of a blacksmith. My brain was a clanging anvil. I’d been so dazed by her initial announcement that I did not see all the consequences. I had simply not thought of Lynette. Remarriage would not only substantially alter my relationship with my ex-wife, it would have a profound effect on our daughter. I saw her little enough as it was and my rights of access were continually blocked and frustrated by Rosemary. With a new husband in the frame, my problems could only increase. I might lose the most precious thing in my life. It put a hoarse note in my voice.
‘This must make no difference,’ I insisted.
‘That’s why we must get together to thrash it out. This sort of thing can only be done face to face.’ She softened slightly but I was not deceived. ‘I don’t think I’m an unreasonable woman and I’m sure that we can come to a compromise somehow. All that it requires is a little patience and good will on both sides.’
‘Yes—yours and David’s.’
‘Lynette will have a new father.’
‘Not while the old one is alive and kicking!’
‘It will have to be Friday.’
‘Out of the question.’
‘I’ve already reserved a table for lunch.’
‘Thanks for consulting me first!’
‘Now don’t be difficult, Alan.’
‘Well, I know it may seem churlish of me but I do like to have a say in my eating arrangements…As it happens, I’ve done just that. I’m having lunch with someone else on Friday.’
‘Not a chance.’
‘This takes precedence.’
‘We’ll talk through our lawyers. It may be slower that way but it’s a damned sight less painful.’
‘Be there at one o’clock.’
‘The Dog and Doublet.’
‘Rosemary, I’m lunching with a publisher in London. Even if I wanted to—which I don’t—there is no way that I can get out of it.’ I heard what she said and blinked in astonishment. ‘The Dog and Doublet?’
‘That’s cruel!’ I protested. ‘Positively sadistic!’
‘No, Rosemary. I draw the line at that.’
‘We’ll be waiting for you.’
‘Then you’ll wait in vain.’ A pause. ‘We?’
‘Lynette must be in on this,’ she said, playing her trump card with a ladylike flourish. ‘It affects her whole future. Even you must concede that. We have to get together as a family once more—for the last time. I’m sure you’ll be able to find the Dog and Doublet.’
‘Don’t bank on it.’
‘Oh, by the way,’ she said, grudgingly. ‘Message for you from Lynette.’
‘She sends her love. Goodbye.’
The line went dead but Rosemary’s voice continued to buzz around inside my skull like an irate swarm of bees. All my resistance had been swept aside. I knew that I would do exactly as she ordered even though the prospect was quite terrifying. To see Lynette was usually an occasion of pure joy for me but to meet her in those circumstances would be an absolute ordeal. Rosemary had chosen the ideal venue for my humiliation.
The Dog and Doublet in Sissinghurst.
It was where I proposed to her.
Carnoustie is my only true home and I have no complaint about the warmth of her hospitality but there are times when a motor caravan is just not big enough to contain my whirling emotions. This was one such time. Rosemary had turned the place into a prison. Needing space and fresh air and the illusion of freedom, I let myself out of the vehicle and set off at a steady jog. It was only when I was halfway across the field that I realised I was holding the VAT return in my hand. Vengeance stirred. Giving way to a rare destructive impulse, I tore the form into pieces and threw them into the air to create an impromptu snowstorm.
It was an absurd gesture but it gave me satisfaction.
There could be awkward repercussions.
I didn’t care.
# # #
The building was in one of those dirty, narrow backstreets in Soho that have become a wheel-clamper’s paradise. Cars and vans littered both kerbs or mounted the pavements at crazy angles like mating tortoises. A couple of bicycles were chained to a lamppost. Someone had been spectacularly sick outside the pub. An empty pram was standing incongruously outside the sex shop. Refuse bins awaited collection. Piles of empty cardboard boxes completed the obstacle course. A stray dog sniffed its way along the wall to check if anyone had left a message on one of its answerphones. Pedestrians ambled along in the light drizzle. It was a depressing sight and only added to my feeling of despair.
I went up a short flight of steps and in through some double doors. After the filth and decay outside, I was plunged into hygienic modernity. Thick carpets, plain walls, gleaming leather upholstery. Reception was staffed by three well-dressed young women with competing hairstyles. My name meant nothing to the brunette with the plaits and she passed it on over the intercom with calm indifference. I was waved to a seat where I picked up a glossy catalogue of forthcoming publications. None of them aroused my interest, let alone the desire to buy them. How on earth did authors come to choose such weird subjects? I was still wondering who would want to read a book about a disused railway line in the Forest of Dean when a pert blonde came bobbing up to me.
‘I think so.’
‘Follow me, please.’
I hauled myself out of the chair and went across to a small lift with her. In the confined space, her perfume was quite overwhelming. We rode up four floors then came out into a large area that had been divided up into offices by a series of screens. Most of the desks were occupied by Sloaney females, poring over art-work or leafing through manuscripts or engaged in nasal conversations on the telephone. Some of them recognised me from the sports pages and I got the usual mixture of curious stares and welcoming smiles.
My guide took me to the far end and opened the door of a glass-walled inner office. Its occupant leapt up from his swivel chair.
‘Alan, dear chap! Come on in!’
‘Nice to meet you at last.’
Harvey Jansen belonged to the Firm Handshake Brigade and he had that look-you-straight-in-the-eye technique so beloved of insurance salesmen. In my weakened state, I found it unnerving.
‘You’re even taller than I imagined,’ he said.
‘And your hair really is grey.’
‘I worry a lot.’
‘On the telly, it looks silver.’
‘The camera doesn’t do you any favours, Alan. Makes you seem much older.’
‘A cunning ruse to fool the opposition.’
‘It obviously works.’
‘Sorry about having to cancel lunch,’ I said.
‘These things happen,’ he said amiably. ‘Main thing is that we meet before you jet off Down Under. I’m very anxious to get something down on paper.’ He indicated the chair in front of the desk. ‘Take a pew.’ I sat down. ‘What would you like—tea, coffee, hot chocolate?’
‘How do you take it?’
‘Touch of milk. No sugar.’
‘Hear that, Sandra?’
He grinned at his secretary and she went off to organise the refreshments. Her perfume still teased my nostrils. Jansen chuckled.
‘Sandra prides herself on her fragrance.’
‘Asphyxiation at five paces.’
‘You get used to it.’
Harvey Jansen beamed down at me then perched on the edge of the desk. He was a big, sleek man in a blazer and flannels with a club tie. Years older than me, he was in remarkably good condition with a healthy complexion and no excess weight. Jansen was a former rowing blue from Cambridge and he still looked as if he could pull an oar. His blend of education and physique was intimidating.
‘I do hope we can work together, Alan.’
‘So do I.’
‘We already have a number of golf titles on our list but there’s always room for something special.’
‘Alan Saxon on Golf. A subtle blend of instruction, anecdote and autobiography. With lavish illustrations. All we have to do is to package it properly and it could really take off.’ He sounded a warning note. ‘Not that it’s going to make a fortune for either of us, mark you. Sporting books don’t often turn out to be overnight sensations, I fear. More a case of steady sales geared to a promotional drive.’ He gave a wry smile. ‘Of course, the ideal time to launch you would have been in the autumn, immediately after you’d won the Open. That would’ve given the book lift-off.’
‘We’re several years too late for that.’
‘No matter,’ he said breezily. ‘We’ll market you as the elder statesman of British golf, as the mature voice of the game. There’s no substitute for experience in any sport.’
He laughed with masculine heartiness then opened his door wider when he saw the blond head bobbing towards him. His secretary brought the two cups in on a tray. She handed me my coffee, gave him his tea, then took her fragrance away again. Jansen shut the door before sitting down behind his desk. I got my first uninterrupted view of the office. It was small but impeccably tidy. Books lined three walls and I ran my eye over some of the titles.
‘If there’s anything you want, let me know,’ he invited. ‘You can have it with my compliments.’
‘Might even have an advance copy of Clive’s book.’
‘Fifty Famous Golfers?’
‘That’s it. You get in as number fifty.’
‘I hope they’re in ascending order.’
‘What else?’ Another hearty laugh. ‘Clive’s a great fan of yours. It was he who suggested we got together.’
‘Best golf writer in the business.’
‘When he’s sober.’
‘Quite the reverse,’ I said. ‘It’s the drink that puts him in a league of his own. It liberates him. Clive says that it makes his creative juices flow. And it doesn’t seem to get in the way of his game either. He can play a mean round of golf when he’s had a few.’
‘So I hear.’ He sipped his tea. ‘I’m glad you have such a high opinion of Clive Phelps. I don’t suppose you’d consider letting him write this book with you?’
‘No,’ I said firmly.
‘He thought you wouldn’t.’
‘If you want my story, Mr. Jansen—’
‘We do, we do.’
‘Then you get it in my own words.’
‘I’ll settle for that.’
Jansen had some more tea then set his cup aside so that he could lean forward across his desk with his hands clasped together in front of him. Having established eye contact again, he launched into what was evidently a well-prepared lecture.
‘Let me give you my thoughts on this, Alan…’
His arguments were intelligent, lucid and highly persuasive but they still could not hold my attention for more than a few minutes. Someone else had come into the office with us. Rosemary. Though I was held prisoner by his hypnotic gaze, all I could see was her. It was not Jansen’s fault. If we had met for lunch as planned on the following day, we would have got on extremely well and hammered out the format of my book over a bottle of Chablis in L’Escargot. Rosemary had sabotaged all that.
Instead of having a serious discussion with my publisher, I was only half-listening to him and throwing in the occasional nod of agreement. My mind was really focused on the news about Rosemary’s second marriage. Who was this David and how did she meet him? Had he been married before? What sort of stepfather would he make for Lynette? Would he have any respect for my position?
How much had she told him about me?
‘Well, that more or less wraps it up, Alan.’
‘Did I send you to sleep?’
‘No, no, Mr. Jansen. It was fascinating.’
‘So what’s the verdict?’
‘Broadly speaking… I agree.’
‘Even about the author tour?’
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for but my acquiescence pleased him. He rubbed his hands together then sat back in his chair and swivelled to and fro. A thought struck him.
‘Oh, by the way, you may have seen some rumours in the press about a possible takeover of HJB.’ His chuckle was meant to reassure. ‘Pay no attention to them. It’s only sabre-rattling. Harvey Jansen Books will survive. And even if the parent company were to be taken over, we’d still preserve our editorial independence. You have no cause for concern. Either way, this book will go ahead.’
‘Glad to hear it.’
‘I’ll draw up the contract for signature when you get back from Australia.’
He stood to signal that the interview was over. I had to endure another crushing handshake. While he went off to find me a copy of Fifty Famous Golfers, I browsed along the shelves and took my pick of the HJB imprint.
I settled on books about squash and cricket, the only other two sports at which I’ve ever shown any prowess. Jansen came striding back with a handsomely-produced volume under his arm.
‘Get Clive Phelps to sign it for you,’ he said.
‘I wouldn’t be able to stop him.’
We shared a smile then he conducted me out. I stole a last glance at his office. Everything was so firmly in its place. A sense of order was paramount. Harvey Jansen was a man who had his life completely under control. It made me rue the chaos of my own existence even more.
How did I let myself get into such a mess?
‘Let’s walk down, shall we?’ he said.
‘I need the exercise. Cooped up in there.’
We descended the steps side by side. Now that we had finished our business discussion, his manner became more confidential. There was the hint of a sigh.
‘Actually, your call was a godsend.’
‘Lets me off the hook slightly.’
‘My eldest son is playing with the school orchestra tomorrow afternoon. Violin solo. His début. I’d promised to go if at all possible but our lunch date put a stop to that. Now I’ll be able to sneak off and support him.’
‘What school is he at?’
‘Marlborough. Do you have kids?’
‘Just one. A daughter.’
‘You’re lucky,’ he said. ‘I’ve got six.’
‘More by accident than design. Two from my first marriage, three I inherited from my second wife and a baby boy of our own. It makes for all kinds of complications, I can tell you, not least because my two eldest live with their mother who insists on waging a war of attrition. One long saga of divided loyalties. The recurring problem of birthdays— not to mention Christmas. I do everything on a rota system.’ He put a cautionary hand on my shoulder. ‘Keep it simple, Alan. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, believe me.’
I warmed to Harvey Jansen. I’d been far too ready to take him at face value and pigeon-hole him as an educated hearty. In fact, he was not all firm handshake and piercing gaze. A degree from Cambridge had not saved him from marital disaster. Here was someone who knew all about the pangs of domestic suffering.
He had his own Rosemary.
I got the feeling that I might actually enjoy writing a book for him. Though we were poles apart in just about every respect, we had a bond. It was an unexpected comfort. On a dull afternoon in central London, he had done something I would not have thought possible.
He’d cheered me up.
It was a small victory.
# # #
Sissinghurst is a long streak of history in deepest Kent with many of the old white-painted weather-board houses looking much as they did when first built. The village is best known for its famous manor house, Sissinghurst Castle, but it was another building that held significance for me. The Dog and Doublet. An old coaching inn which dates back to the Restoration and which had been well-maintained throughout its life. Still privately owned, it had kept much of its character and individuality and it had yet to be contaminated by muzak, fruit machines and computer games.
Carnoustie was sluggish on the drive down, as if sharing my own doubts and reluctance. She squeezed in under the arch at the rear of the pub and rolled uncertainly across the cobbled courtyard. We parked beside a white Volvo. A quick check on the other vehicles in the car park suggested that Rosemary had not yet arrived. She favoured French cars—expensive Renaults or roomy Citroëns—and there were none in sight. I was glad. It gave me a chance to sit there while I came to terms with the place and with the vivid memories which it held for me. Only when I felt strong enough did I get out, lock the door and head for my date with destiny.
The lounge bar was fairly crowded but I saw her at once. Rosemary had taken up a position in the window and was glancing through the menu. An untouched glass of sherry stood on the table beside her. She looked stunning. The light was catching her fair hair at the perfect angle and taking years off her face. Her slim-waisted blue suit with matching shoes and handbag showed that she had lost none of her elegance. My heart missed a beat. Seeing her again in this particular setting made me conscious of how beautiful she still was.
Momentarily—to my horror—desire rustled.
Then Rosemary looked up. Her cold stare robbed me of all lustful fancy. She beckoned me over as if summoning a waiter in order to make a complaint.
‘I’m glad you’ve come early,’ she said.
‘We can have a word alone.’
‘I didn’t notice your car outside.’
‘Don’t stare at me like that, Alan.’
‘I’m surprised to see you, that’s all.’
‘Sit down. I hate people hovering.’
I obeyed instinctively. ‘Isn’t she joining us?’
‘She’ll be here directly.’
‘What does she think about… all this?’
‘Lynette is in favour of it,’ she said briskly. ‘I talked it over with her. She feels that I’m ready for a new husband and it’s high time she had a real father.’
‘That’s unkind, Rosemary!’
‘Truth often is.’
‘I’m her real father.’
‘Only in name.’
‘I won’t let you turn my daughter against me.’
‘You don’t need my help in that department.’
‘What do you mean!’ I protested angrily.
‘Keep your voice down.’
‘Explain that snide remark.’
‘We’ll get nowhere if we bicker.’
‘Lynette is mine!’
‘No, Alan—she’s ours. That’s the problem.’
Rosemary reached for the glass and sampled the Amontillado. She had got me exactly where she wanted me. On the defensive. While I was seething, she was calm and unruffled. It was just like being married to her all over again. I took a deep breath and excused myself. Crossing to the bar I bought myself a large bitter lemon and a few minutes to collect my thoughts. Rosemary had got there before me so that she could seize the initiative. She’d taken me unawares. I had to exercise more control. When I rejoined her at the table, I felt able to do just that.
She attacked my composure at once.
‘There will have to be some changes, Alan.’
‘Oh, no,’ I said warily. ‘Not compromises. Your idea of a compromise is that I should do exactly what you want. You have no concept of give and take.’
‘We’ve gone beyond that stage,’ she sighed.
‘So what are these changes?’
‘I’ve written them down.’
She opened her handbag and took out a folded sheet of paper, handing it to me as if serving a writ. I opened it out and saw a typed list of twelve items. None of them could be construed as good news for me. I fell back on heavy irony.
‘Wouldn’t thirteen have been more appropriate?’
‘Those are just the major changes.’
‘Losses, you mean.’
‘Improvements,’ she countered.
‘Well, I don’t agree with any of them.’
‘Take the first one, for instance. I will not let you deny me access to Lynette.’
‘That’s not what I’m proposing. You’ll still be able to see her from time to time.’
‘But only in your presence.’
‘Heavens above—she’s my daughter!’
‘Then try to act in her best interests.’
Her coolness had me on the run again. I put the sheet of paper down with a gesture of contempt and tried to assert myself.
‘Where is Lynette?’
‘Don’t be so impatient.’
‘I want to see her.’
‘They’ll be here any moment.’
‘She and David.’
I blenched. ‘David! Why the hell is he here?’
‘Because I asked him to be,’ she said. ‘He dropped me off here then drove on down to Benenden to pick up Lynette. You should be grateful to him for making this brief chat alone with me possible.’
‘That’s reason for gratitude?’
‘Look, whether you like it or not, David has a stake in this discussion. He has a right to be here. Lynette agreed about that.’ Her smile completely disarmed me. ‘Besides, I thought you’d be interested to meet him. You always said that I’d never find another man to put up with me. David has proved you wrong.’
I was speechless. It had taken all my energy to gear myself up for a meeting with Rosemary and Lynette. The thought that David might be there had never even occurred to me. I detected Rosemary’s hand once again. It was a covert act of aggression. I was fairly confident of having Lynette on my side when it came to the threatened changes on Rosemary’s typed list. Not any more. David altered the balance of power. It would now be three to one. Insuperable odds.
Rosemary turned to the window as another car glided into the courtyard. She gave a complacent smile.
‘Here they are.’
I peered hesitantly through the glass. The vehicle was the latest model and looked as if it had just left the showroom. When it halted silently beside Carnoustie, the contrast was embarrassing. My motor caravan suddenly began to show the defects of age. Lynette was in the passenger seat of the Jag and she seemed very subdued. She had none of the bounce and sparkle that she usually brings to meetings with her father. Even when she got out of the car and gazed across at us, her expression did not change.
David Ridger escorted her towards the building. My preconceptions about him were shattered at a stroke. He was not a bit like the Identikit picture I’d created in my mind. He was much shorter and far older than I’d imagined. His hair was thinning fast, his face was quite anonymous, he walked with a slight stoop. He did not look like the owner of a brand new Jaguar. As a man, he was singularly uneventful. Rosemary had chosen as her second husband someone whose physical attributes were the opposite of my own.
Spider Woman was marrying the Invisible Man.
When they came into the lounge bar, David hung back so that Lynette could greet us first. She gave her mother a peck on the cheek then turned to me. As a rule, I get an impulsive hug that is worth driving a hundred miles for but something was clearly holding her back now.
‘Great to see you again.’
I had to settle for a peck on the cheek as well. If this was what supervised access meant, then it would never get my vote. Rosemary moved in to perform introductions. David Ridger gave me a limp handshake and muttered a few words. He seemed totally innocuous at close quarters and I wondered what on earth attracted Rosemary to him. She took control with characteristic ease and shunted us through into the restaurant. I was pleased to sit next to Lynette, especially when she gave my hand an affectionate squeeze under the table. Rosemary and David sat opposite us. They made an unlikely couple.
Lynette was full of news about Benenden. She had got a part in the school play, scored a goal in a hockey match and spoken in a debate on blood sports. I listened with interest and was profoundly grateful. Her excited babble was getting over those first awkward minutes. Lynette was fourteen now and beginning to resemble her mother more and more. I searched in her face and manner and gestures for the faintest hint of me. There was none.
Rosemary soon hijacked the conversation. As a former head girl at Benenden, she was able to pull rank on Lynette and to talk expansively about how things had been in her day. She waxed lyrical about the virtues of the school and implied that its training had fitted her for a higher calling than marriage to an erratic golfing star.
Rosemary had clearly had a wonderful time at Benenden and I was forcibly reminded of my own unhappy schooldays at a Leicester comprehensive.
How had we ever got together?
The Dog and Doublet was to blame for that.
A waiter arrived and Rosemary more or less bullied us into having what she wanted us to eat. I was peeved when the wine list was handed to David as if he were the host. I tried to undermine him.
‘By the way, this is on me.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Rosemary.
‘David will pay.’
‘I wouldn’t hear of it.’
‘The table was booked in his name.’
‘Thanks for telling me!’
‘Stop making a scene.’
‘I want to pay the bill, Rosemary.’
‘We’ll discuss this later.’
‘There’s a principle at stake here.’
‘Alan is quite right,’ said David. ‘You must try to see it from his viewpoint, Rosemary. He’s summoned to a vital conference with his ex-wife and daughter and he finds he’s here as the guest of a complete stranger. I sympathise with him.’ He turned to me. ‘I really must apologise. This was not my idea.’
It was surprising enough to get such support from him but there was a bigger shock to come. Rosemary backed off. Instead of challenging him and beating him down, she accepted his comments and nodded in agreement. David Ridger’s quiet, cultured voice had a strong influence. He handed me the wine list.
‘Why don’t you choose?’ he suggested politely. ‘I’m sure you know far more about wine than I do.’
I studied him for a second and wondered if his self-effacing manner was simply a form of disguise. Who was the man and what did he do for a living?
Lynette answered the second part of the question. ‘David’s a consultant psychiatrist.’
‘It’s a fascinating job,’ she said helpfully. ‘He’s been telling me about it. I think he ought to take on some of our staff. They’re as nutty as fruitcakes. Miss Pomeroy’s a manic depressive, Hilary Turner is a schizophrenic and old Lezzie Leadbetter is a sadist.’
‘Thanks, Lynette,’ said David pleasantly, ‘but my case-list is long enough as it is. Besides, the problems of a school like Benenden are beyond my scope, I fear. They’re inherent in the fact of single sex education.’
‘Boys would spoil everything,’ argued Lynette.
‘Psychologically, co-education is far healthier.’
If I had said that, Rosemary would have dropped on me like a ton of bricks but she raised no protest here. She deferred once again to his judgement. A thought began to flicker at the back of my mind.
Had she had a professional relationship with David?
Was that how they had met?
Lynette swung the conversation in another direction.
‘When are you off to Australia, Daddy?’
‘Wish I could come with you!’
‘So do I.’
‘Will you send me a post card?’
‘And bring me back a boomerang? I’d love that.’
‘Are you going all that way just to play golf?’ said David. ‘Seems a strange thing to do.’
‘It is,’ I agreed. ‘We’re a strange species.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne.’
‘Do you like Australia?’
‘Been a lucky place for me.’
‘Rosemary tells me you took her there once.’
‘It was hateful,’ she said with disdain. ‘All those dreadful people with their dreadful accents. They’re so graceless. Australia likes to think of itself as modern and progressive but that’s just not true. They’re ridiculously provincial and old-fashioned. As for their notion of taste—well, just look at the Sydney Opera House! It’s obscene. No, Australia is unspeakable. Apart from anything else, it’s the world capital of male chauvinism. I loathed the whole trip.’
‘That’s not how I remember it,’ I said.
‘It was an ordeal from start to finish.’
Rosemary aimed the sentence at me like a spear and it sunk in deep. Our holiday in Australia was one of the happiest times we ever spent together. It was a second honeymoon to celebrate my winning of the British Open at Carnoustie. For once in her life, Rosemary had surrendered to the experience and revelled in it. We were never closer than during those three long, luscious weeks when she was somehow able to shed her inhibitions at last, to forget that she was a former head girl of Benenden and to commit herself totally to me and to our marriage. To hear her repudiate all that now was very painful.
The first course arrived. I had no stomach for the food or for further argument and so I ate little and remained largely silent. Rosemary pushed various conversational topics around, Lynette chattered to hide her discomfort and David was wise and watchful. As the meal progressed, he and Rosemary began to look more and more like a couple. I’d proposed to her in a drunken moment at a table in the corner. We stayed the night at the Dog and Doublet. It increased my overdraft alarmingly but did wonders for my ego.
I now found myself asking where David had popped the question. Over a meal? During a consultation? At the wheel of his new Jaguar? I refused to believe that the great moment took place—God forbid!—in bed. Whatever else Rosemary was choosing him for, it could not be his sexual prowess. And yet, presumably, they must have slept together by now if only out of curiosity. I immediately censored the mental picture that came into my mind.
Rosemary decided that it was time the men were left alone for a while. She stage managed it with aplomb.
‘Come along, Lynette.’
‘To the Ladies’ Room.’
‘But I don’t need to go, Mummy.’
‘I think you do, darling.’
Lynette was whisked away from the table before she could say another word. David watched with amusement. Now that I was on my own with him, I felt distinctly uneasy. All at once he became a more positive and formidable human being. I was at a disadvantage. I knew very little about David Ridger but he knew a great deal about me. He started to probe.
‘Is that Carnoustie outside?’
‘Why do you live in a motor caravan?’
‘I like it.’
‘Isn’t it rather small?’
‘That’s the attraction. Back to the womb.’
‘But you’re such a tall man, Alan.’
‘You can’t even stand up straight in that vehicle.’
‘It’s not a vehicle,’ I corrected. ‘It’s a home.’
‘Why live in such cramped conditions?’
‘Because it’s not space that I need, David. It’s privacy. Carnoustie gives me that every time. She makes me feel private in the middle of a traffic jam.’
‘Do you need somewhere to hide, then?’
‘Wait till you’ve been married to Rosemary!’
He laughed but it was only to humour me. His steady gaze was unsettling. All my insecurities were set off. The last thing I wanted was for him to stroll around inside my head to make an inventory of my shortcomings.
‘You’re an introvert, aren’t you?’ he said.
‘I’ve been called worse.’
‘In what way?’
‘Yours is such an extrovert profession. Golfers play in the full glare of publicity. You must rub shoulders with the mass media every time you play in a tournament.’
‘I’ve learned to isolate myself.’
‘Years of practice.’
‘What’s the secret?’
‘Are you charging for this consultation?’
‘Sorry.’ He was mildly offended. ‘Let’s turn to more pressing concerns. We have to discuss money.’
‘I’m picking up the tab for the meal.’
‘Please yourself. I was talking about Lynette.’
‘If I marry her mother, your financial commitment will virtually disappear. No more child-support to pay and no more school fees.’
‘But I want to pay the school fees.’
‘That’s not what Rosemary says.’
‘Don’t listen to everything she tells you.’
‘Apparently, you always complain like mad.’
‘Who doesn’t? Those fees are exorbitant.’
‘Then I’ll relieve you of them, Alan.’
‘They’re my responsibility,’ I said, ‘and I accept it willingly. You’re free to marry Rosemary but you are not going to buy Lynette off me!’
‘That was never my intention.’
‘As long as we both understand that.’
‘Must you be so obstructive?’
‘Force of habit.’
‘So I observed.’
‘I hope that concludes our discussion of money.’
‘You’re not the most flexible man, are you?’
‘How long have you suffered from tunnel vision?’
‘Since the start of this conversation.’
‘Rosemary warned me about you.’
‘Then let me warn you about her.’
‘I thought we could sort it all out man to man.’
‘Because you’re far too reasonable.’
He was still trying to work out what I meant when the others returned to the table. Rosemary read the look in David’s eye and clicked her tongue in irritation.
‘Time to go,’ she announced.
‘Goodbye,’ I said.
‘You’ll have to bow to changed circumstance, Alan.’
‘Thank you for coming, anyway.’
‘Did I have a choice?’
‘No.’ She turned to Lynette. ‘We’ll go out to the car, darling. Since your father is determined to pay the bill, why don’t you wait with him?’
Rosemary turned on her heel and stalked out with David in close pursuit. If he was going to be her husband, he would need to sharpen up on his speedy exits from public places because she had a weakness for them. Our meeting had been fairly inconclusive but I had at least turned up to face the insults. By way of a concession, Rosemary had given me a few snatched minutes with our daughter. It made all the upset worthwhile.
Lynette giggled and gave me a proper hug.
‘What do you think of him?’ she asked.
‘David? A bit creepy.’
‘He’s very nice when you get to know him.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of, Lynette.’
She giggled again. The waiter brought the bill and I put my Access card on his plate. He withdrew. Lynette was now looking uncannily like her mother. In the early days, Rosemary had smiled at me like that.
‘Good luck in Australia!’
‘Everybody who’s been there says it’s a fab place. Except Mummy, of course, but that’s just her. She’ll never admit that she enjoys anything. It’s sad, really.’
‘How did she come to meet David?’
‘At some party or other. A charity do.’
‘What does she see in him?’
‘Oh, that wasn’t meant as a dig at you, Daddy,’ she said, grabbing me by the arm. ‘You’re the only father I want and nobody will ever replace you. But Mummy has her feelings, too. She was starting to get very mouldy before David came along. He’s made all the difference.’
‘Has he been married before?’
‘I thought not.’
The waiter returned and I signed the counterfoil. He bowed in gratitude at the size of the tip I had left then he tore off my copy and handed over my card. Lynette and I were free to go. A new Jaguar hooted in the car park.
‘That’ll be Mummy!’ said Lynette.
‘Listen… this marriage of hers…’
‘Don’t be too worried about it.’
‘I can’t say I feel like celebrating.’
‘It won’t alter anything. Between us.’
I kissed her on the forehead and gave her a squeeze. Out in the courtyard, the Jaguar was getting impatient. The second blast on the horn was longer and louder. We drifted across towards the door.
‘Do you really like him?’ I said.
‘What does that mean?’
‘Well, I can’t honestly say that I’m mad about him or that I’d even look at someone like that for myself…’
‘There’s nothing to dislike about David.’
It was an honest comment but not reassuring to me. We came out into the courtyard and had a final embrace. David held the rear door open for her and she got in. There was a flurry of goodbyes then I walked across to Carnoustie. As I got into the driver’s seat, Rosemary let herself out of the Jaguar and came around for a last thrust at my self-esteem.
‘You behaved appallingly,’ she said.
‘I have a tradition to keep up.’
‘David was very disappointed in you.’
‘As long as he doesn’t try to charge me a fee.’
‘Anyone can diagnose your problem, Alan,’ she hissed. ‘It’s quite obvious that you don’t have anyone at the moment. That’s why this has caught you on the raw. While I’ve found someone to make me happy, you’re still living alone in this piece of junk. I wonder why!’
She got back in the Jaguar and it drew away with impressive smoothness. I watched it in my mirror and saw Lynette waving bravely out of the rear window. It was lovely to see her again but I’d had better lunches. The parting jibe had contained too much truth for my liking. I was going through a fallow period on the emotional front and Rosemary had been quick to remind me of it. The trouble was she reminded me of something else.
How much I still loved her.
It was time to go to Australia to find out why.