A room of one’s own was sufficient for Virginia Woolf – but by the close of 1982, she had a house of her own, a baby of her own and a pet of her own. The problem was, she seemed to have acquired them via a type of hire purchase.
And they could not be returned to the shop….
Getting pregnant was ridiculously easy. Not for her the five miscarriages; one ectopic pregnancy and one still birth that had been her mother’s lot.
One night of pill – less sex, preceded by a Truscott extravaganza at a Greek taverna during the course of which Philippa had smashed plates; danced on tables and ogled the waiters, was sufficient.
In the pre home-testing era, she had provided a urine sample for her doctor and the requisite rabbit or frog had died or turned pink. And she knew she was properly enceinte when she began to reside in the toilet - evacuating from all orifices throughout the day and most of the night. She missed out on the traditional bloom of preg Unfortunately, a jolly good brag is dependent upon the compliance of the braggee, and here she was sold somewhat short.
Her mother was ecstatic and knitted up a storm – but her response was not reliable because she had also airbrushed the Hunt debacle from history. Her father gave her a cheque instead of saying: You’re stuck with him now. Lynne said: If you call me Aunty Lynne I shall fucking kill you - and meant it.
Nicola and the kiddies said nothing because Paul did not tell them and it would be at least five months before she could brandish the evidence on access weekend in the form of a swelling stomach and a smock from Mystical Madonnas.
So she was left to her own devices; discarding Jane Austen; Erica Jong and Cosmopolitan in favour of Penelope Leach; Miriam Stoppard and whatever Mother and Baby magazines she could buy. It was a world of trimesters; stretch marks; cervixes; brown nipples and heartburn.
What Paul thought of it, she neither knew nor cared.
It was her body; her pregnancy; her baby. And that was all.
Well – perhaps not quite all.
She felt a residual need to maintain some sort of sex life in the changed circumstances. This was difficult – because from the moment she became pregnant, she ceased to find her husband attractive.
It was not that he had altered in any way – or gone to seed especially. He had always been a sartorial mess; the Cleghorn wardrobe had been an aberration and the tousled and ruffled look was – and remained, part of Paul's charm.
It was that their intimate moments had ceased to be a deux – at least in her mind.
In the throes of passion – or what passed for it; imaginary Nicolas would loom into view; or Hunts and Cleghorns.
On one occasion too horrible to dwell upon, she had been put off her stroke by a repellent image of the superannuated bookseller – and by then there was nothing for it but to close her eyes, think of John Lennon and wait for it to be over.
But she kept her counsel, discovering that wine and vodka in judicious quantities deterred unwelcome ‘visitors’ when avoidance was no longer feasible. It was a pre Health Police era and later in pregnancy, copious amounts of medicinal Guinness (for the iron content) did the trick. She found that one bumper unbridled session would do in place of more frequent lacklustre couplings; buying her more time off in between.
And Paul did not complain.
For once, she became inordinately keen to visit Eric and sample the delights of Picks Norton as a guest of Donald and Gillian. She anticipated an Eric in grandfather-mode with the prospect of a new baby toppling Nicola from her perch in his affections.
It was not to be.
Eric was not father material – let alone grandfather - and her pregnant queasiness at the sight of one of his ribs of beef oozing complementary blood, only sufficed to cement her status as resident wimp.
Nicola in similar straits was fondly remembered for chomping her way through the side of a whole bloody calf which she had then washed down with a bottle of his best Bordeaux.
And her own value as something below the rank of amoeba was hardly enhanced by the fact that she had ruined Eric’s attempt to show off to Paul by taking them for a ride in his new Rover (drinks petrol like a fish and purrs like a pussy).
It had been a mistake to venture a boiled egg at breakfast and waves of nausea engulfed her as they purred across Tufnell Bridge above the motorway. Eric had been compelled to make an emergency stop so that she could pour out of the car and deposit the contents of her stomach over the bridge; thence into the open sun roof of an unsuspecting motorist below. Emptied and weak, she repaired to the back seat, praying that stray threads of vomit had not escaped her mouth to settle amidst the creases in the white leather upholstery.
A weekend at Picks Norton was similarly frustrating. Gillian, who had formerly delighted in ramming the mysteries of the Breast is Best League down her un-pregnant ears, was not to be tempted onto the subject.
The increasing independence of David and Susan was a relief.
The tyranny of the nappy pail was now consigned to the past. And we won’t be revisiting that chapter again, will we darling? (with an arch look at Donald).
It was wonderful to exercise the brain after an eternity at the mercy of Roger Hargreaves and the Mr Men and I’ve become a bit of a men-magnet!!
The idea of Gillian attracting anyone other than her legally assigned spouse (and that was debatable) was ludicrous – but the point was clear. Nicola, divorced or not, was on the inside looking out; she was on the outside looking in and it could rain and hail and snow on her - with or without babies.
That was where she would stay.
The fall-out at work was better.
Head of Department Andrew, naturally assumed she would leave – which determined her decision to stay come hell or high water - courtesy of a decent nanny.
Such dedication reaped a just reward and she was astounded to hear Andrew respond in effusive tones – with the promise of a scale promotion on her return from maternity leave. It meant responsibility for university entrance; goodbye to some hated junior classes; a place on the Senior Management Team – and more money.
She bore her nausea; heartburn and cystitis with pride. She was a contender.
Chudleigh’s reaction was mixed.
The snooty Head Master who had banned her from hallowed turf before marriage conveyed a modicum of respectability, offered wintry congratulations when they crossed paths at the Corps Annual Parade.
Betty Glenn was genuinely pleased.
But shock and awe came courtesy of Dorian Chase who turned up one morning bearing gifts – in the form of: a jolly useful little book and some threads.
The book; an obscure, illustrated feminist guide to sex in pregnancy, adorned with pictures of engorged genitalia – was consigned to the bin. The threads took the form of three of Dorian’s old maternity smocks; washed and pressed but infused with the characteristic Chase grubbiness. Paul caught her stuffing them into the back of the wardrobe and insisted on a floor show:
Darling, how kind of Dorian – now you really MUST wear them! Pink and orange swirls are … (struggling) - well you won’t find anyone else dressed in that!!
So she wore the hideous sacks in strict rotation at Chudleigh functions – but never without washing them first in a vain attempt to remove any lingering trace of their original owner.
It was an intimacy too far…
But she was happy – for want of another word to describe the self absorption, epitomised by hours spent examining her body for signs of change. These were an eternity coming and by four and a half months she could still zip up her jeans; unsurprising as so much body weight had been flushed down the toilet.
Pregnancy came with a customised kit and she became inordinately attached to her Co-operation Card issued by the doctor on the occasion of her first routine examination. This large piece of card, meticulously annotated by whoever was examining her, contained fascinating facts about her blood pressure; blood group; results of scans; tests and weight checks.
It was her unique body encyclopaedia; endlessly enthralling and exquisitely intimate. She had to resist the temptation to show it to people.
Not that the occasion ever arose, because, in the absence of anyone with whom to share these exciting times – she was lonely.
Paul pottered on in his own fashion; amicable and not, as far as she could tell, engaging in Hunt or Cleghorn activities – but things had changed.
She had taken him back - but he was what he was.
What he was not, was doting Daddy to his existing three children, so expecting a rush of enthusiasm for a clump of cells was naïve. After the birth, it would be their baby, and she firmly believed that one in the house was worth three in the bush.
For now, there was Betty.
Betty Glenn; the wife of David, was not a natural soulmate and had little in common with the unconventional eccentricities of Lynne. But Lynne was in London; Lynne had no interest in babies and since the advent of Paul their lives were at best disengaged.
And Betty was there.
Betty and David, hailing from similar monied County families, had attended minor single sex boarding schools prior to Oxford for David and an Oxford Cordon Bleu
School for Betty.
(It didn’t signify; the woman was capable of ruining tinned soup).
Betty was averagely pretty in a sandy, freckled way and dressed in a ‘young mum’ uniform of peasant skirts, linen blouses and exercise sandals.
She was never without a baby-change bag for toddler Miles; her reading material rarely extended beyond the thrills and spills of a Jilly Cooper; and she occasionally omitted to shave her legs.
But she was a silent bulwark against the Chudleigh matrons and was not a cheerleader for Dorian after the latter’s off-stage skirmish with David.
She was normal and kind and nice; someone to talk to about heartburn and flatulence.
And she did not prey upon Paul.
She would do.
One of the first things they did was to spend a morning in the centre of Dorlich, shopping for clothes. After an enjoyable couple of hours flicking through the wares at the dedicated maternity shops, Laura Ashley, as usual, was the outlet of choice.
She chose ankle and mid calf length dresses, high on the bust with flowing skirts and sleeves in rust and green and midnight blue velvet. They were tasteful and comfortable without the ‘pregnancy trademarks’ of elasticated waists and panels, because they were not maternity clothes. They were lovely and she felt like a Botticelli Primavera.
With the Chases thankfully off limits since the infamous supper and the Truscotts in abeyance, they began to see more of David and Betty as a couple. The evenings were pleasant; usually a take-away at the Glenns’ (Miles was at a difficult stage in potty training and Betty was reluctant to leave the deck), followed by Bridge.
She was hopeless; Betty was quite good and David was a fanatic; regularly bested by Paul’s mixture of distracted and ruthless play. Wine was drunk; nothing was thrown or thrown up and she was glad that Lynne was not privy to any of it because it was all ineffably dull.
But it was safe.
As summer approached, it seemed natural to re-visit the idea of holidaying as a foursome and Bridge evenings in the Glenns' high-ceilinged school apartment now included this new conversational variant to add to babies and Chudleigh. Maps were bought; routes were planned and Villequier was selected as the destination for a two-week vacation. The men shared driving and she and Paul took a room in a small hotel near to the campsite where David and Betty erected their luxury tent, equipped with the essentials required for a not-quite-potty-trained toddler.
Hotel Caudebec; situated next to a forest, was clean and neat, boasting excellent views and a wood-panelled restaurant overlooking the Seine.
The Victor Hugo Museum was nearby; but she had not realised that the writer’s daughter, Leopoldine ,had drowned in the Seine; weighed down by her sodden skirts following a boating accident. Nor that the river had also claimed the husband, who had attempted her rescue.
It’s amazing – we had no idea! said Paul:
Three No Trumps! (with a flourish).
They were finishing their first rubber of the evening outside a tent door garlanded with drying training pants.
Victor Hugo was virgin soil as far as she was concerned. The film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton in grotesque mode was the extent of her knowledge, but the fact that the author was enjoying a tryst with a lover whilst his daughter wrestled with mortality was disconcerting.
She played a card, thinking of that other corpse, fished from the sea and strapped to the boat on their return from honeymoon.
Water of a different kind engulfed Betty; weighed down by the rows of training pants which had to be washed and dried on a daily basis. David was considered to be a good husband (the dalliance with Dorian was an aberration) but consigned the care of his fractious toddler entirely to Betty, surfacing to read a bedtime story or assist with Lego.
It was hardly surprising that she occasionally forgot to shave her legs. It was amazing that she managed to shave anything at all; or even to wash.
Betty was a good wife and mother with a good marriage – but what next? David would not leave her, despite infrequent Chase-style aberrations; but no doubt his sharpness to her in company would increase; he would take less care with appearance and manners (belching; farting); less note of her birthday and interests. They would live parallel lives and when Miles left home – what?
It was a life lived by many – even most people, she thought, as they walked back to the hotel.
t was all right.
It would not do for her.
Their last day was the day of Diana Spencer’s marriage to Prince Charles and she felt the baby kicking for the first time. She dragged Paul from the shower, clamping his hand to her stomach. He was sceptical; the baby would not perform to order ,which she liked.
She was also glad to miss Royal Wedding frenzy and said so to Paul as he tucked into a huge bowl of moules mariniere at the hotel table.
The restaurant was full; Paul rose to his feet
I would like to propose a toast to HRH and his lovely bride!
The restaurant gave voice as one in a patriotic roar:
HRH – LOVELY BRIDE!!!
Followed by four rounds of God Save the Queen.
Stupid Spencer bitch ---- what dickheads!! sniggered her husband as a French hotel became a little England minus flags and bunting.
He was not laughing the next day – or driving either; having spent the night adorning the bathroom with bodily secretions following a violent onset of food poisoning as soon as they reached the bedroom.
The disgusting smell had precipitated another attack of morning sickness and one or the other of them drowning in vomit seemed a distinct possibility. They paid the bill and she avoided thoughts of the chambermaid.
It was a subdued party on the boat home. Nobody was up to Bridge. Miles was sulky; David picked at his bites; Paul was snappish and Betty was exhausted.
She looked at the sea and thought.
Betty and the training pants; Diana Spencer, worn by her big dress; the floating body; a baby in its watery sac; herself, pregnant.
Perhaps Leopoldine had the best of it.