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The Thing About

07/07/2017 14:40

The thing about being married to a man who was old enough to be my father was people really thought he was my father. A confusion not helped by the fact that we really do look alike. So it was understandable when people made mistakes. There were some interesting moments. Awkward moments.

And when is the right time to put people right? You tell me. Perhaps there is some established etiquette to this that I failed to pick up on. There's nothing in Debrett's. And I don't like to offend although my reticence resulted in more problems. The honeymoon suite, for example. The Lord Byron Four Poster. An opulent bedroom with an ancient oak bed. Its dark red velvet curtains drape to the floor, a sheepskin rug lies in front of the fire. There are candles on the bedside, candles by the fire and candles by the taps of the 'his and hers' slipper baths. A romantic extravaganza at the top of a flight of creaking stairs. A room we had only heard about. A room at our favourite moorland pub. The Oak. We've been going for years but it was a long time ago that I missed the chance to correct the barman.

"Does your dad want roasted or salted peanuts?", I said nothing.
"Does your dad want English or French Mustard?", I said nothing.

And years later when he asked if my dad was going to teach me how to cast a fly rod, I said nothing. Besides, Jack is the best barman on Exmoor. The best bar with the best barman. His smile always welcomes you in from the cold to sit beside the roaring fire and no matter how long it's been since our last visit, he always remembers: double gin and tonic for me and a pint of Exmoor for my dad.

Did my ex say anything? No, he just sat by the fire laughing into my dad's pint.
Which was all fine until one winter when we got snowed in.
"Have you got any rooms left?"
"Honeymoon suite is all we got left." Jack said.
"Is that the one with the four poster?" My ex drunkenly shouted from the back of the bar.
"Aye" Jack said. "But don't worry, I can fetch the pull out bed from the back."
"No need." My ex said sipping from his pint. "Four poster sounds perfect, besides, it's like the one we have in our bedroom, Isn't it darling?"
Home, I thought as I took the room key, is where I'd like to be.
Jack's eyes remained fixed on the floor.

Twenty-eight years is quite a gap. What did my parents think? It's not been easy for them. It's been hard. I'm sure he wasn't quite what they had in mind for their only daughter. It caused a rift, a gap, a gorge that was hard to bridge. One that even Isambard Kingdom Brunel would struggle to construct. What did my father say? On one visit back home my parents said very little until my father drove me to the station. As I got out of the car he said, "was it a father figure you wanted?" He handed me my suitcase. "You must have loved him very much then?"
I looked up at the sign: Manchester Piccadilly. " I must have. He's a Man United fan."

So what is it about him? He had a certain something. Something which drew people in. There was the time at The Hay Festival when an extraordinarily attractive young woman walked into the bar and stood right next to us. She sipped her drink and assuming I was the daughter she eyed him up and down.

"Whatever you do", she said huskily, "whatever you do, don't leave here tonight without me."
Then she walked back to her table.
"That's never happened to me before", he said.

"Yeah", I said, "wait till she hears about your winter fuel allowance."

Once on a family holiday with my step-daughter and her young son, two couples joined us by the swimming pool. "Look at you two!", said one of the women. "You two are lucky. I never got on with my sister. I couldn't bear to be in the same room as her."
My stepdaughter laughed nervously. As did I. Then they waited for some information.
"You swim so well. And so pretty too."
"We're not sisters", my step-daughter said.
"Oh! I didn't think you looked alike."

Then the four of them waited. I sculled. They pondered the various possibilities. But they were holiday gannets. They'd been coming to the island since Thatcher. Same cottage, same week, same conversations. They were on the prowl. I'd seen them at the bar, in the shop and by the pool; they were feeding off the other guests. And what did they have here? Little did they realise, they were about to strike the holiday conversation jackpot. This would be a double rollover week for them. I smiled as I tried to imagine their lunchtime conversation. But my step-daughter's son had grown tired of the lack of attention and as I said, "this is my step-daughter," he leant out of his rubber ring, pulled my bikini top down and shouted, "titties!"

They didn't know what to react to first. The sudden display of nudity or the realisation that they were now talking to a topless gran. My step-daughter tried desperately not to laugh and disguised her shuddering giggles by doing a quick lap of the pool.

I was left trying to tie my bikini top back together, my grandson floated down to the other end of the pool, he looked like I felt: strained and uncomfortable, then I realised with dawning horror, he was doing a poo in the pool.

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