Lynne, tripping briskly down the street before being swallowed by the hole in the ground, was to outward intents and purposes, little changed.
The inevitable lines; hair owing more to L’Oreal than nature.
But the eighteen-year-old ingénue was still there in glimpses.
She herself was the more changed – at least physically. Thin/not so thin/plump/thin-ish/less plump – had been the pattern over the years with ‘less thin’ in the ascendant and more than a flash of her mother at fifty when she passed the mirror.
But she knew that, given the right prompts, her rendition of ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ would have been immediate and pitch-perfect – whereas to the Lynne of today – Rasputin would have been just another mad monk with no discernible links to lamp posts.
It had not been a difficult lunch – they never were nowadays because they didn’t talk about anything.
Family. Jobs – both were ‘moving on’ for different reasons; dogs; holidays; mutual acquaintances divorced, disgraced or dead; the weather and the next lunch.
And this was the toxic Hydra that her husband had re-christened ‘Loony Lynne’.
They had known each other for almost thirty years………
If she was part Emma Bovary, the remainder was Emma Woodhouse. Emma had been her A level text and she had always seen it as the heroine’s quest to choose the correct friend rather than the correct husband.
So Emma had catapulted from misery at governess Miss Taylors’ ,defection (marriage to Mr Weston), to the unsuitable Harriet Smith as best friend – spurning the superior claims of the impeccable Jane Fairfax en route - until properly uniting with the latter at the end of the novel.
The likes of Mr Elton, Frank Churchill and Mr Knightley paled into insignificance as Emma uncovered the true stupidity of Harriet.
( Harriet: Is it about sharks?
Emma: Good heavens why would he write a riddle about sharks? )
and the reader rejoices as the genuine accomplishments of Jane are crowned in a triumphant conclusion.
She and Lynne had been the Cagney and Lacey of Dorlich red-brick (Oxbridge –once-removed) circa 73-76. They had endured the noxious, braying refugees from St Mary’s Ascot and Benenden on their corridor at Peony Hall and had responded to the latter’s ‘crumpet and bun fights’ by playing Stairway to Heaven at top volume and smoking aggressively in the faces of the God Squad desert-boot set who were always issuing invitations to Jesus parties.
In Year Two, they decamped before they were removed by acclaim and set up home in a first-floor flat, riddled with mice, courtesy of an ancient landlord with perma- stained trousers and sweet sherry on demand when they came to pay the rent.
They wore matching maxis and bell- sleeved tee shirts, topped off in Lynne’s case with a leather jacket. Her own pride and joy was a white afghan coat that disappeared on the back of the gate-crasher she had caught urinating in the fireplace at their infamous vicars and tarts party. Lynne now favoured crisp tailored suits – gave up smoking when she married Gregory and had been resolutely teetotal since the Falklands War.
Their escapades had been legion and every lunch began with a ritual reminisce – wearing increasingly thin with the passage of time.
First out of the traps were the minor triumphs; Lynne landing on the doorstep at 4am after a party wearing someone else’s trousers and then calmly removing every light bulb in the flat. Or both diving to safety from the door of a hitched lift when the male driver donned a pair of elbow length leather gloves and they noticed that from the waist down he was not wearing trousers.
There had been the holiday in Florence when a drive to the Tuscan hills with three smouldering Italians had ended in a roadside tunnel with virtue just about intact ,but pockets pillaged. They had limped their way back to the pensione, suffered a morning with officials in the British Embassy and and then returned to the café where they had picked up the men, splurging all remaining cash on a slap up lunch, to prove that they still could.
And the piece de resistance – that day after Finals in 76, when they had sweltered in the cinema at the peak of the heatwave, watching Don’t Look Now, before arriving in the Falcon to discover both sets of parents and the Regis Professor of History, sobbing in the arms of a posse of uniformed constables. An escaped convict from the local prison had broken into the flat; ransacked the cupboards and phoned her mother, saying that they were being held at knifepoint at an undisclosed location and demanding £10,000 up front within 24 hours.
Whilst they had been watching Julie Christie thrashing in the arms of Donald Sutherland and buying Biba lipsticks at Snob, their faces had been beamed into the homes of the nation as the University Vice-Chancellor had issued a television plea for their safety; flanked by the Chief Constable of Dorlich and a psychological profiler.
The prisoner had been recaptured in the Trade Winds Wine Bar, where he had attempted to flog their entire record collection – including original copies of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and Sergeant Pepper.
And then they had cleared the flat, Lynne had gone to London and she had stayed in Dorlich for the MA, moving into a house with students from her course. But there had been a Lynne-shaped gap in her life that had not been adequately filled by Sandra Milford, who had made up a three with them on many a Friday night.
As she left the bistro and stepped out in the direction of the nearest taxi, she remembered how she had answered her daughter as they left the church.
‘Why on earth did you marry Dad?’
Because Lynne went to London of course. Obviously.