I got a glimpse of what life may be like for my husband and by golly, it is not all roses. I presumed, since he was married to me, life overall would be pretty good. But this traipsing up and down to London is not easy. Sometimes he stays with friends and sometimes he stays in hotels. I had to go down to London again this week on business and this time, since I was going down for a dinner which probably would not be over till around midnight, I thought I would stay in a hotel rather than fetch up on a friend's doorstep in the early hours or indeed wander the streets. I booked the hotel on-line in a bid to be more organised. It boasted of a gallery of pictures on its walls and an atmosphere which encouraged travellers to return again and again and was central. Sounded perfect. I congratulated myself on my foresight as I climbed on the train.
I was cutting it fine to make it to the dinner so I decided I would do my make-up en route and change into my frock at the hotel. I spread out my bottles, potions, powders and creams on the table in front of me. There were a lot of them. There were so many I put around two-thirds of the ones I did not immediately need back into the bag. There were still a lot of them. I started work. It took quite a long time. The guard passed me twice. The tea trolley lady also passed me twice. She was about 20 years younger than I am and looked at my collection with a fair degree of interest. I think she understood what I was doing. Virtually anyone else who saw me would have considered me entirely vain. It took forever or at least till Peterborough. I felt like explaining: "It is not a question of vanity. It is merely that I have been ravaged by time." Eventually I finished. I considered the power point under the table. I thought about plugging in my ceramic poker with which I planned to curl my hair. I decided against it, not so much on the grounds I would make even more of a show of myself, more because I thought I might set my bag on fire when I put it away again.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was slightly disappointed at the "gallery of pictures" which had the look of prints you pick up in boxed-up batches at auction at a knock down price because no one else wants them. I collected my key. Usually I travel light, but this time I had shoes, a laptop and half a tonne of girly clart with me which I then had to heave up four narrow flights of stairs to the second floor. I pushed open the door to something that was not so much a room as a stopping-off space in front of a window. Twin beds lay end to end along one wall with a sink like a full stop at the foot of one of them. The strip lighting above the sink did not work. I suddenly realised if I could see a sink, the room did not have a bathroom. I did not know there were any hotel rooms in the centre of London without bathrooms. I sighed deeply and threw my bag down on top of one of the beds.
I had decided to wear ridiculous shoes for the occasion. I am not sure why I decided this. It had something to do with the fact, give or take the odd hunt ball, I do not go out a lot these days. They were black satin stilettos with a droopy bow at the back and shiny silver heels. Looked good. Felt bad. I dressed, primped my hair and tottered down the four flights of stairs and into the London night. I stood on my too high heels by the road for a long time without a smell of a cab. At last I caught sight of a lit-up taxi sign and just at that moment, a couple dashed out of a door further up the road and threw themselves into it. If my heels had been slightly lower I would have run up the road and berated them for being so un-British. As it was, I glared into the blackness of the cab's interior as it passed me by. I am sure it made a big impression on them. I had little alternative. I agony-staggered along and round the corner to a busier road and there, I finally caught a taxi of my own, with a driver who was a jazz drummer in his real life.
By the time I arrived at the restaurant, I was half an hour late. I slid into the bar where a group of people were drinking together. I told the maitre d' the party I was with and he gesticulated to the people by the bar. He took my coat which is black boucled wool with a velvet collar and a lush silk lining. It has a vaguely early nineteenth century look to it and is entirely inappropriate to country living. Since I am very short and it is very long, it risks dragging on the floor but since my heels were so very high and I was in town this particular night, I wore it. As I turned my back to him and he shucked it from my shoulders and gathered it into his arms, he said: "Ah....beautiful". He meant the coat though for a brief moment I thought he meant me. Then he went over to get me a drink from the bar. I stood to one side watching the group. I could not see the one person I was certain would be there. I thought it possible she too was late. I looked at them. Quite a few were slightly over weight. One slightly blowsy woman stared at me as if she did not even have to speak to me to know she did not like me. I collected my drink, smiling sweetly at the maitre d' on the off-chance it had indeed been me and not the coat and walked over to the one black guy in the group standing by himself in the middle of the room. I held out my hand and introduced myself. He introduced himself. I nodded as if I might have heard of him. I said: "And who is it you're with again?" "The Metropolitan Police," he said and gesticulated to his colleagues. "Right," I said. "I won't be a minute" and sidled away.
I eventually found the right dining room and dinner was very nice although a part of me thought: "I wonder if I would have been happier with the police?". There were about 17 or so people at the table including the person I knew and another young woman who, years ago, had come into the newsroom I was working in for a couple of weeks work experience. She is very talented, already successful and will doubtless be even more so. I said hello and reminded her she had worked with me when she was a university student. She said something to the effect that the fact I remembered was "amazing" when it was so long ago. I waited for her to say: "I remember you, too - you were great." She did not say it.
When I worked in that newsroom, I was regularly assigned the young work experience folk on the grounds that I would not eat them up and spit them out. I listened to who they were and what they wanted and tried to be very nice to them. I wanted them to be useful, to shine; tried to get their name in print and make it a positive experience for them. Naively and entirely selfishly, I also wanted them to remember me as someone who had been kind, briefly significant even, as I advised them with immense wit and wisdom on how to make their particular dream come true. Sometimes they would come in and be useless. Occasionally, they would be great. This girl came in and was great. Over pear and almond tart with a scoop of chocolate ice-cream, I tried again, a little more desperately, for that elusive validation of my past. I wanted to say: "So do you remember me?" I did not. Instead I said: "So do you remember anything about it all?" She said gosh yes. She mentioned one colleague then struggled for the name of another in arts. Maybe she did remember me - I could not tell. I finished off my ice-cream and licked the spoon. I thought: "I hope this isn't what motherhood turns out to be - you think you're making a difference that'll last them a lifetime and actually, after a while, they can't remember who you are."