There was no reply; it was easier, for the moment to leave it.
She toyed, in desultory style, with the alternative of calling her son.
But that idea was preposterous.
The last time she had phoned, Lizzie had picked up and had requested payment for the coraline and freshwater pearl bracelet – her birthday gift from Richard:
Just the cost of the materials – obviously I wouldn’t charge you the catalogue price…
Before embarking upon a breathless description of their proposed Christmas break in Geneva.
She had made no plans herself – except to determine that she would rather sit in a soup kitchen than fall back again upon the fractious festivities of Fengrove.
The sight of the town hall – the city’s sole claim to civic grandeur, trussed up like a turkey in bilious orange lights – and the smell from the adjacent burger stall mingling with cut price perfumes in a boxed set – denoted its definitive style.
So very different from the Georgian sweep of the Dorlich streets: Adelaide Grove; Palisade Gardens and of course, Wellington Parade, where Leslie Potts had
reigned at number 14a complete with balcony and stone staircase.
She and Lynne had crashed a couple of parties there – until the abrupt termination of Sandra’s romance with Leslie, cast the three from paradise.
They had wafted from room to room, ignored comprehensively by superior beings clad in velvet and fur and kohl and feathers, smoking and smirking and speaking in code of red leb and quid deals.
Not that they had tried these drugs, scrunched in tinfoil and reputed to come, as these things do, from the local art college.
They had not tried sex either – which was becoming a problem.
Decades on, Lynne had bumped into Graham Pelham from her Dorlich Euripides seminar, who had morphed into a global energy expert, over a tea and taster briefing for Section Heads at the Department.
When he had recovered from the vision of Lynne in a Katharine Hamnett suit and rimless spectacles (well, what did he think I’d be wearing, loons and cheesecloth?) he had felt the need to abandon the challenge of solar power, in favour of re-visiting their execrable reputations at Dorlich:
He actually told me IN MY OWN DEPARTMENT that everybody thought we were out of our heads on drugs – that you had two abortions in the second year and that I had to re-sit Finals!
I’m surprised he didn’t accuse us of being a pair of raving lesbians – although I’m sure that would have been his next gambit if the Permanent Secretary hadn’t pulled up stumps because of a call from the Press Office.
It was all very far from the truth.
They had colonised the corners of parties because nobody spoke to them and were not out of their heads on drugs because they had not been offered them.
And as for sex, everyone else was at it – even Sandra Milford – except them, because they did not possess even one steady boyfriend between two.
As usual, Lynne, later to win praise for her forensic ability to strip the meat from the bone ( Lessways L: Sessional Review, 19.6 96)
was at hand with the answer:
Brook Advisory; steady boyfriend, safe and sensible.
I refuse to graduate with special mention as the last living virgin in Dorlich!
In the absence of hearts, flowers – even street cred as the female half of a joint membership of The Dug Out Disco and Drinking Club - it seemed the preferable option.
Clearly, they weren’t attracting steady boyfriends because they lacked the inner glow of sexual confidence.
This was doubtless the reason that Lynne was shunned on a regular basis by Ben Bex- Oliver – he of the fur coat, Disraeli hair and Texan boots – later displayed to the nation on the picket line at Grunwicks.
So they had booked separate appointments at the Brook – courtesy of contact details provided in the latest edition of Dorlich After Hours, published and printed by the Student Union Council.
The interviews had been perfunctory but professional; they had spouted the boyfriend mantras and submitted to the routine internals, care of speculum – prior to equally professional chats about the coil , the sheath and the safe period – before departing with three month supplies of Eugynon 30 - the unspoken, but recognised, object of the exercise.
And they were relieved that after a month of ingesting pills on a daily basis – any rumoured weight gain was more likely to have been occasioned by Danish open sandwiches followed by raison cheesecake – their daily lunch in the Union Mandela Bar.
In the spirit of first over the parapet, Lynne had determined to set the pace and did - casting all to the winds with the owner of Bunters on the third Thursday in November, after customers had been enjoined to celebrate the fact that Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!
Her own initiation, courtesy of a spin bowler from the County Cricket Club – had taken place a few weeks later.
It had not been nasty, brutish and short - it had not been anything, really, but she fancied that a carefully modulated bevy of squeals deployed at appropriate junctures had convinced him she was an old hand at the game.
Not that it signified; he was not part of the university set and she had carefully provided him with a false address and telephone number - to avoid a return match.
As she recalled these events of thirty years ago – she winced at Vanessa’s revulsion
when her husband had jeered:
This was your mother – was it twenty/thirty or did you stop counting?
as he attempted to justify abandoning the family, two weeks’after her election to Parliament.
The truth was, she had probably stopped counting. As you did.
Because you got sex out of the way first and then decided if you wanted a relationship.
It was all pre Aids – and pre Paul who returned from his family to her home her bed and her life – and frm whom – unlike Aids, there was and remained – no antidote.