by Emma B. In which - here comes Johnny!
The Crimson Rhombus was a wine bar in Horseferry Road; not stylish but conveniently situated near to the cinema where they had spent Saturday afternoon.
They had watched The Shining; a new and experimental Kubrick adaptation of Stephen King’s novel – and in retrospect it was an unwise choice.
Her appreciation of this cinematic milestone - a horror film bathed in light, was ruined by the performance of Jack Nicholson.
His rampant sexuality was unleashed by the character of Jack Torrance; an arrogant writer – come- caretaker, who masked the most appalling treatment of his family with a supercilious but ineluctable charm.
It might have been a study of Paul. When Torrance attempted to correct his wife at The Overlook Hotel, showcasing his limited literary skills in a manic typing session:
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
She felt thoroughly violated. It was as if Kubrick had directed his entire picture from a secret location in Dorlich.
For Lynne, Shelley Duvall, with Marty Feldman eyes and hangdog demeanour, was a Sandra Milford doppelganger and as Torrance wielded the axe with a triumphant cry of Here’s Johnny! her sympathies lay firmly with the abuser.
It was ridiculous to compare a miserable trip to Marrakesh with the implosion of a twelve month marriage, but Lynne managed it and would not be satisfied until she had disgorged every lurid detail of My Horrible Holiday.
She was selfish in the extreme.
Lynne and Sandra were not natural soulmates but had both relocated to London after university. They had fallen into the habit of the occasional drink after work and on discovering a double cause for celebration ( in Lynne’s case, a much desired Departmental transfer from Defence to Environment and for Sandra, a promotion to the elite Quality Testing team), had booked a budget fortnight to Morocco.
Disaster struck at Menara Airport due to the fact that Lynne’s suitcase, far from routinely preceding Sandra’s neat wheeled contraption on the luggage carousel, had been erroneously dispatched to Dubai.
Raiding Sandra’s clothes selection was impossible even if desirable because Lynne was four inches shorter and a size larger than her friend. The immediate but unfortunate solution was an emergency wardrobe of three unflattering kaftans, purchased in the nearest souk and destined for a charity shop on return.
A single underwear set necessitated daily hand washing, and Sandra’s reading material; the collected works of Ruth Rendell, Virginia Andrews and The Physical and Chemical Components of Food, was unappealing to someone who had anticipated an enjoyable fortnight courtesy of Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai and Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers.
They spent the first day aimlessly traversing the Djema el Fne square with its Barbary apes and snake charmers and then opted for a walk in the elegant, cool space of the Majorelle Gardens.
It was there, as they passed an ornamental fountain, that Sandra spotted her new Head of Section at Quality Testing, emerging from behind a giant cactus with a male friend and three Moroccan companions.
A welcome surprise for Sandra was the stuff of nightmares for Lynne, who then found herself abandoned for the next ten days – save for the interminable hour at breakfast when Sandra would regale her with tales of the wonderful clubs, restaurants and shops that she had visited with Bill Cornish, his friend Frank Creswell and the charming Moroccan youths who appeared to be functioning as amateur holiday guides.
It was a heaven-sent opportunity for Sandra to impress the boss away from the formalities of work; Bill was absolutely charming and so knowledgeable and his friend Frank was equally delightful.
In fact, it was a fortuitous meeting for all concerned. Nazim, Hassan, Abdullah and Mohammed were wonderful young men but perhaps a little too assiduous in their natural desire to be good hosts to the tourists. Her presence meant that it was so much easier for Bill and Frank to escape them in the evenings when they made up a threesome at some of the smarter restaurants in the French Quarter.
And this had been the template for the holiday; drinks in the famous Churchill Bar of the Mamounia Hotel for Sandra; goat’s head tagine and orange juice for Lynne in the Medina.
By the time she was reunited with her suitcase, four days before the end of the holiday, it seemed simpler to remain in the kaftans. Worst of all, with the sensitivity of a rhino, Sandra had waved a cheery goodbye at Heathrow, accompanied by effusive comments about the holiday of a lifetime. But the most peculiar thing about it, concluded Lynne with a self righteous flourish, is that he was exactly like Leslie Potts, with that awful sense of slightly damp weediness! It took less than 48 hours for Sandra to begin every sentence with: Bill says ---- Absolutely excruciating! All very well for you – you were in Dorlich!
It was undeniable. She was. The unique focus of public report and ridicule as the 25-year-old woman whose new husband had done a runner with a grandmother.
When at last it was her turn to talk, she noticed that Lynne’s attention was less than engaged. She was tapping her foot, smoothing her new highlights, courtesy of Jean Pierre at Crimper Chicks and sucking on a Disque Bleu in her best Birkinesque manner.
I think, she said, picking up her glass and shrugging black denim Gloria Vanderbilt shoulders as she walked towards the corner of the bar It could be time for a refill ……….
Back at Conyham Crescent the following Monday, she felt refreshed, exhilarated and satisfyingly smug.
Vinnie and Joe were graphic designers from an alternative agency in Manchester and had popped into The Crimson Rhombus before hitting the town. Against the odds, they had beaten off the competition from more experienced teams and had won a lucrative account to design the logo of a major teen fashion line.
Whilst she had been lost in the mists of her marriage implosion, Lynne had observed them standing at the bar attired in cricket blazer; brown leather bomber jacket and faded jeans. They bore striking likenesses to Roger Daltry and Ben Bex-Oliver respectively and there was nothing for it but to head for the bar and lean elegantly at it, bemoaning the terrible service – so untypical for an early Saturday evening.
It was then an inevitable and entirely natural progression to accept the kind invitation to share pre-prandial nibbles of kalamata olives and hummus with the welcome accompaniment of a good bottle of Sancerre. After a year’s subjugation, courtesy of Paul, she was performing at less than her flirtatious best, but fortunately Lynne was at hand, on absolutely top form: Gosh – the two of them were just so ditzy that they simply never ate; this weekend, they’d existed on total starvation rations ---- nothing but tins of cold custard and baked beans!!
And yes, it would be super – and positively medicinal to come on board for a spot of dinner at the famed Trader Vic’s restaurant at the Park Lane Hilton where Vinnie and Joe were staying for the weekend…
Of course for her friend here, it might even serve as a little celebration!
She had been virtually a child bride; quite a lamb to the slaughter in the clutches of an older man, but had risen to the challenge, dumping her buttock-clenchingly boring pensioner of a husband on a woman more his own age and well really, girls just had to have fun!
If fun was to be had (and it had been singularly lacking since Paul had absconded with Frances), then Vinnie and Joe were the ideal providers.
They were in their late twenties and had been spectacularly successful since graduating with acclaim from Central St Martin’s School of Art.
The move to Manchester was prompted by shrewd business acumen and they were fast accruing the finance and contacts to go it alone in London. They were witty (Vinnie’s account of the time they gatecrashed The Bunny Club), wealthy and liked a drink (or two).
And easy on the eye.
In default of the original, Lynne’s acquisition of Joe proved to be an acceptable Ben Bex-Oliver substitute - for the next two years. Vinnie, meanwhile, with his sexily tousled Roger Daltry curls, was the physical manifestation of a land flowing with milk and honey out with the gates of Chudleigh. It was a cause for lament that such impeccable males had not been to hand (instead of Percy), for escort duties in The Compleat Snapper or 14a, Wellington Parade. Or The Falcon, Bunter’s and The Trade Winds Wine Bar. Or anywhere in Dorlich.
She wished she had brought her camera….
When she looked back upon that weekend (and the subsequent two visits that Vinnie had made to Dorlich in his black Ferrari Mondial ) she remembered food, drink, restaurants and music but, apart from the anecdote about the Bunny Club, little or nothing about who had said what to whom about anything.
Trader Vic’s (where they sipped Mai Tai cocktails in the Boathouse Bar), had served up a banquet of Wasabi Beef, Jumbo Prawns, Almond Crab and Steamed Octopus. On Sunday they sampled the equally desirable and completely different treasures of Hickory Smoked Chicken and Potato Skins at the Hard Rock Café.
Eric Clapton’s Red Fender Lead 11 guitar hung from the wall opposite their table and she had tossed her hair whilst laughing and crossing her legs in synchronicity with Lynne – as if they had rehearsed for weeks.
But not in the bedroom at the Park Lane Hilton - or again at Conyham Crescent after a meal with Vinnie at Vesuvian Nights…
She was on her own there – and if the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak The sight of the black and silver ribbed condoms in a pack of three, primed as it were, for duty, on the bedside table, occasioned an unaccountable tiredness. It lasted until she was certain that Vinnie was safely asleep and then she took refuge in the wheel-backed chair, smoking and drinking vodka until dawn.
Of course this was natural; only a month ago, she had been reprising the more athletic behaviours of Fiona Richmond in her role as enthusiastic young wife. .
But the temporal nature of her budding relationship became unmistakable when she realised that her pleasure in Vinnie’s company was contingent upon the presence of an admiring and envious audience.
In neither The Bear, The Trade Winds Wine Bar, Bunters nor even the arty new Japanese eaterie, Haiku, did she encounter anyone she had ever known.
She had fantasised about the exquisite delights of parading Vinnie, like a prize winning steer, before the covetous eyes of anyone and everyone who had witnessed her humiliation at the hands of Paul and his loathsome paramour.
When even The Falcon failed to surrender a Truscott, she knew that the game was up and said her farewells with regret and relief.
He was handsome, clever and rich and seemed to unite the best blessings of existence.
He was everything – and nothing.
It was not enough.
A week later, just like Johnny, Paul returned………………