I have never believed life imitates art. But I do now, because Mother is telling me about her courtship with my Dad.
It’s as if they had modelled their early relationship on Benedict and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Mother playing the role of the feisty, young Beatrice and dad is Benedict, the aristocratic wit and marriage hater.
Like the characters in the play, they spent their early meetings throwing barbed comments at each other like rival artillery brigades, their courtship more fight than flirt.
‘I first met him at a dinner party. He was so arrogant that after a few exchanges I simply turned my back on him. Refused to speak to him for the rest of the meal.’
Picture the scene. It’s Chelsea in the late Forties. Everyone’s dressed up for dinner and how you hold your knife and fork says more about you than your bank balance. Turning your back on someone at dinner is a public declaration of war.
‘What did he do to deserve that?’ I ask, not sure if I really want to know. Every time we discuss my father with her, I feel I’m walking through a minefield.
‘He told he was holding a drinks party the following week and asked me if I could ask my sister to it. He suggested that if I could persuade her to come then I could come too. Hardly, flattering, don’t you think?’
Mother’s sister was a successful actress at the time and married to a film director. She was a minor celebrity and would have added some cachet to father’s cocktail party.
I struggle to see my father as this social snob. But I can see him saying something as ham-fisted as this. He was a shy man and didn’t always handle social situations well.
I want to know why she was there in the first place. She comes from a large, working class Irish family with barely a bean to their name.
‘How come you were hob-nobbing in Chelsea given your lowly start in life?’ I say, not meaning to sound patronising but failing.
‘Thanks to my sister’s connections and my looks. I was modelling then. Being good looking has always been a passport to social mobility,’ she says.
‘Sounds like an episode of ‘Made in Chelsea’ with Grandpa as that stuck up p***k Spencer Matthews. Frankly, it’s amazing they ever got married,’ says Daughter, later, as I share the story.
I am not sure which one is Spencer Matthews, but I know the programme is a loathsome celebration of vanity and social neuroses among the over-tanned trustafarians of SW3. I remember lecturing the children on the lack of wit and moral fibre of its participants and begging them to switch over to something more wholesome like Blue Planet. Unsuccessfully.
‘Must be tough for you,’ says Son, as he cuts into a Linda McCartney red onion and rosemary sausage. ‘All those years telling us not to watch the programme because the people were so self-obsessed and stupid. And now it turns out that you were ‘Made in Chelsea’ yourself. How does that feel?’
I want to answer but I can’t find any words. Instead, a picture of Derek Underwood, the England bowler comes to mind, his off stump being wrenched out of the ground by a ferocious fast ball from Michael Holding and him turning immediately towards the pavilion, defeated.
The Man in the Middle writes our funny, thoughtful blog series. Musings from a middle-aged man living with his aged Mother and the Family.
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