No, she said
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It wasn’t for me.
They were drinking wine in the lounge of the Pimlico flat, waiting for
8pm and The Nantwich Hour; a television slot hosted by the presenter who had shared her bed on two occasions in Dorlich.
They had been grisly events and she usually switched channels to avoid his clipped moustache and hairline that was rapidly receding (despite an Elton John weave) but tonight there was no respite.
The subject of the interview was to be Sandra Milford Cornish; their old university friend whose actions over the last 24 hours were threatening to bring down the Government.
She replied to Lynne, who was insisting that a woman was only truly fulfilled when she had given birth.
Lynne’s view was understandable. Greg had caught mumps in late adolescence and was unable to father children.
He was also unwilling to taint the Salt bloodline by allowing Lynne to have children by donor IVF and so reluctantly, but then stoically and with relish, she had settled upon dogs, and compensated by deploying the Salt money as midwife to a stellar career.
They were sitting in the tasteful lounge of Lynne’s London flat; two women in their late fifties who had known each other, statistically, for nearly forty years – but who had never really understood each other at all.
Dorlich had been the stage for a double act and they had played it to perfection; revelling in their reputations for outlandish and daring eccentricity, but safe in the knowledge that beneath the Afghan coats, bare feet, silks and satins, were two extremely conventional, hard-working young women who seemed to unite the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly 21 years in the world with very little to distress and vex them.
If the first 21 years had been plain sailing; the subsequent 36 were best described as a bumpy ride.
There had been success – of a sort.
Lynne had made a marriage paved with gold.
Greg’s money had given her intellectual ability; academic flair and natural vivacity a launchpad that would bear comparison with Cape Kennedy. She was an internationally acclaimed environmental consultant and author, with one best-seller to her name - and no doubt more to come.
But the husband who had made all this possible was in reality,an insufferable bore with whom she had little in common apart from property and pets.
The arrogant nincompoop for whose sake she had remained childless had run off with a clerical assistant from the Lyndhurst Chambers – and they had even appropriated the dogs.
As for herself; the triumphs of prising Paul away from the embraces of Nicola and the clutches of Frances Hunt had been hollow indeed.
After the briefest of lulls, Paul had recommenced his sexual foraging with renewed vigour; generally adding a further notch to his bedpost whenever she fell out of line by scoring a political success – or even by making new friends.
Yes, she had been an MP – for what it was worth. (Eight years of underachievement; constantly soured by ‘family problems’ triggered by her failed marriage).
Yes – unlike Lynne, she was the mother of two children.
But she could not think of the guarded faces of Richard and especially Vanessa without guilt for the years when her children were unwilling adjutants in a parental war still being waged from beyond the grave, as the reading of Paul’s will would no doubt prove.
Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.
The gods had enjoyed a high old time with herself and Lynne
She thought of Paul; dark and handsome as he had been when they first met at Bunters; recalled how he had compared her to Tessy dearest, and knew that whatever it was that had dogged her footsteps, for as many years as she could remember, was not played out yet.
The president of the Immortals had not ended his sport with Tess...
What the fuck is she going to say?
Lynne’s voice came from the end corner of the Conran Habitat divan that she had bought for the flat in pre-Greg days.
After a 20-year break, the events of the past week had propelled her to the cigarette packet and there was a flicker of the 20-year-old classicist surveying movers and shakers at a Wellington Parade party.
Of course, Robbie Nantwich and Sandra Milford would also have been present at the ghostly party – and the fact that the pair would soon be duelling before the nation on prime-time television was utterly surreal.
She quelled a sudden impulse to ask Lynne for a cigarette, and switched on the set.
After weeks of humiliation that had seen her replaced in her husband’s affections by a male lover; castigated by commentators and her own children for displaying Stone-Age homophobia; and to add insult to injury – witnessing said beastly husband rise to a career high as Secretary of State for Children, Families and Communities, Sandra had cracked.
And being Sandra, she had cracked spectacularly.
The rejected girl who had pursued Leslie Potts through the highways and byways of Dorlich,erupting banshee-style at Belinda Briscoe’s party, had become the woman who had bared her soul to Ponia Tindall and Jessica Trotter from The Crier on the front page and then pages 4-8 inclusive.
Tindall and Trotter, who must have linked up with Sandra after her hysterical display in The Fifth Column.
They had observed the shameful proceedings from ringside window seats and when she and Lynne had abandoned Sandra to her fate; alone at a table, cradling an empty wine bottle and crying piteously, they had moved in for the kill.
The article was shocking; covering topics and making allegations that might be commonplace on the internet (on the Vlad site for example) but would never appear in print, because no editor could get away with non-attributable material of that nature.
Even the time-worn device of a close friend or senior colleague could not be used to report that Cornish and Morledge had engaged in homosexual congress in the kitchen at No 10 in the time gap between jellies and ice cream and presents from Santa at a children’s Christmas party hosted by Wendy.
Or that Home SecretaryDerek Kingsmill was reliant upon respected geneticist Sir Leslie Potts for a supply of pliant rent boys hailing from Malawi and Somalia, who would do anything for Indefinite Leave to Remain, thus corrupting the entire asylum system.
And that Terrence Gale and Wendy herself had turned a blind eye to the gay film club which met in Committee Room 16 whenever there was a screening of an international football match featuring the England team.
A giant St George flag draped over the locked door knob, sufficed as a Do Not Disturb notice and the squeals and yelps from therein , echoing the length and breadth of the corridor, were natural eruptions of joy whenever the team scored a goal...
There was much more in the same vein, and of course it had been printed, because Sandra had put her name to it.
Though even with a name, I’m amazed that it wasn’t legalled, she commented as the familiar introductory jingle heralded the start of the Nantwich Hour.
The programme was live from the studio, and Robbie Nantwich, as was his wont, prowled across the stage and took his seat in one of the two Mastermind-style black leather armchairs.
His well modulated measured delivery had a new tone of repressed excitement as he prepared viewers for:
The interview of the century and the woman whose revelations in today’s Crier have brought Wendy Runcible’s Government to its knees and turned the Profumo Affair into a children’s nursery rhyme.
Welcome to the Nantwich Hour and the woman of the hour – Sandra Milford Cornish!
Sandra walked on from stage left, settling herself into the chair and crossing her legs.
Her first thought was that Sandra was looking remarkably well; better in fact than she had looked in years.
Gone was the gaunt turkey neck and sense of desperation. Sandra had put on weight; her hair was swept into an updo reminiscent of her party style at Dorlich, and her lilac dress suit was pure Bruce Oldfield, setting off her legs to perfection.
Even the pop eyes; always her worst feature seemed somehow less prominent, and anyone who had tuned in hoping to see Sandra’s version of a stricken Diana (There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded) was in for a shock.
This was Sandra’s interview: her story, her moment.
She looked at Lynne, then back at Sandra, as Robbie Nantwich prepared for the first question and the truth dawned, accompanied by twinges of horror and disgust.
Sandra was enjoying this.