Swings and Roundabouts

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“What was he doing on The Patch?” Simon asks again as we do another loop of the Kingston Hospital car park, still unable to find a space after 20 minutes.

Me: “I don’t know!”

Si: “But how does he know General Smith and the pitbull?”

Me: “He’s a neighbour in Monkton Deverill.”

Si: “Of course, he is.”

Me: “Stop saying he like that.”

Si: “Like what?”

Me: “Like he. (Beating the driving wheel) Come on, we need a space!”

Si: “Because this toilet of a man deserves my respect?”

Me: “You asked to come. You could have looked after the kids so I could come on my own but no, you wanted to hang out with my ex, too.” I wave at a man getting into his car. “Are you coming out?”

Man: “No, I’m eating my lunch.”

Si: “Why can’t he eat his lunch a table like a normal human being?”

Sienna: “Is it lunchtime?”

Si: “No.”

Sienna: “I’m hungry.”

Si: “No, you’re not.”

Sienna: “I am.”

Si: “You only had breakfast an hour ago.”

Sienna: “My tummy hurts.” Vita starts to cry. “See, she’s hungry too.” Adds Sienna.

Si: “Why are there no f**king spaces!”

Simon gets out. He’s probably going to go and punch someone in the face so we can get a space that way.  Ok, this looks promising – he’s found a Granny and is helping her into her car, mind your head dear, he shuts the car door and is now directing her out of the space. The old bat drives off waving at Simon and I park up, the children still howling. Humphery will have to wait, we need to hit Costa for cheese sandwiches, NOW.

***

I tap on the door of a private room. Humphery is sitting up in bed, look distinctly perky.

“How are you?” I say, still mortified I shouted ‘I love you’ in the throes of cardiac arrest.  I want to backtrack and say, what I meant was love in a nostalgic, vintage way, like savouring a time that has passed and can never be again. But I have Simon standing right behind me touching my heels with the tips of his ageing Hush Puppies. He has a child in both of his arms – they are his props.

“You went in the ambulance!” Says Sienna.

Humphery: “Yes. I’m fine now. It was nothing, just a blip.”

Me: “Well, it didn’t look like a ‘blip’.” Simon purposely treads on the back of my heels. I gesture to the men to do the introductions, too awkward to make them myself.

Humphery: “Simon. Humphery Hurtwood. So you inherited a handful.”

“Hi,” says Simon shaking Humphery’s hand. “I fell on that particular sword.”

Humphery: “Interesting way of putting it. It takes a real man to handle a filly like Vanessa. Totally cooked.”

Si: “A gentle hand on the reins and a bit of stick from time to time.” They both laugh in a forced way which makes me want to puke.

Me: “Can you stop comparing me to a bloody horse. Hashtag MeToo, hashtag TimesUp.”

Humphery: “Hashtag Yawn.”

Si: “Hashtag WhoStoleMySpear.”

Sienna: “Hashtag CanWeGoHomeNow.”

***

Simon and Humphery are getting on too well for my liking, but it dawns on me why, they are cut from the same cloth: chest- beating warrior types with traditional views and tastes. I run through my other former flames,  even my younger Australian man-bag, The Party Guy, is a modern version of a macho chest-beater.  Hard-bodied cave men make my fanny twitch; pasty computer nerds do not.

There’s a sudden and foul stench in the room. Si and I automatically look at each other in silent accusation but it’s not us, we both look at Humphery – is it him? Of course not, Humphery never did a single ‘Donald Trump’ in the time I knew him and I’d had four years of tummy ache unable to let my wind blow free. The culprit, of course, is Vita, which is excellent timing because now Simon has to go and change her nappy. He ums and ahs and says it’s my turn. I flash him a ‘pillar of salt’ look and encourage him to take Sienna as well but he refuses.

He looks at Humphery holding the ripe baby at arm’s length and shakes his head, “Who stole my spear?”

Humphery: “You shouldn’t be making him do that. It’s women’s work.”

Me: “And now I remember why I left you. As well as the fact you’re 105 and the tip of your penis was beginning to turn blue.”

Humphery: “No, it wasn’t. Isn’t!” He looks at Sienna who is now watching Cebeebies on my phone to see if she’s listening. “Not in front of the child.”

“Potential girlfriend?” I add, knowing he has a 20-year-old now under his spell.

He whispers conspiratorially, “I didn’t have a heart attack.”

“Yes, you did Humphery.”  I sigh, thinking he’s in denial.

Humphrey: “I faked the whole thing.”

Me: “What?!” I get up to go.

Humphery: “Wait. Hear me out. Fiona got me there under false pretences. I thought we were all going to this new club in Shepherd’s Market…”

Me: “Are you’re swinging with them?! And you tried to get me to have that ‘dark evening’ in Reading…”

Humphery: “No, it’s a members’ club, interestingly enough called A&E.”

Me: “Total Swingers Club.”

Sienna: “I like swinging. Granny’s got a swing in Wiltshire.”

Me: “That’s right, darling.”

Humphery: “I’m reformed, Doctor says only one woman at a time since my heart attack; the real one.”

Me: “Get to the point.”

Humphery: “Fi-fi said, we’re not going into town because I had to sign some papers and in return she’d give me a…”

Simon re-enters with Vita and a coffee. I want him to go away again but I decide Humphery can bloody well tell Simon too. I bring him up to speed with the fake heart attack and Fiona.

“What papers did she want you to sign?” says Simon eyeballing Humphery steadily.

“Legal papers claiming she was with me in Deauville last summer and they were both skiing with me in December.  Alibis. I said no and she threatened to expose our relationship.”

Me: “What relationship?”

Humphery: “We used to swing from time to time.”

Simon chokes on his coffee.

Sienna: “Daddy, I told him Granny has a swing.”

Me: “See.”

Si: “Fuck.”

Humphery: “She had me over a barrel, and not for the first time, so I faked a heart attack.”

Si: “You did the right thing, Humphery.”

Me: “What? The NHS is in crisis, it’s a waste of money.”

Si: “You’re now a witness in a covert investigation. I have to make some calls. I need you to tell the Military Police everything.”

Me: “F**k. What have the Smiths done?”

Humphery throws his head back on his pillow and closes his eyes. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.” Si exits, talking on the phone. “I’ve got over 100 grand in my safe from a bent polo sponsor who uses the Filipino national bank like his personal account, the last thing I need is the police wading in.” He starts disconnecting himself from various machines.  I know the old fox is going to make a run for it.

I open the door and shout down the corridor to Simon “Quick, he’s escaping!”  Humphery’s out of his bed, I can’t let him go, he’s Si’s key witness.  I stand in his way. He dances with me to get past. “No, you can’t leave.” He picks me up and places me to one side. And that’s when I shove him in the chest to stop him leaving. He stumbles backwards, misses the bed and crack…

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