Bea's house terrifies and overwhelms me. It has six bedrooms, four bathrooms (two ensuite), three reception rooms, two studies and a huge garden with rolling lawns. I always feel like the poor relation when I visit and, to compensate, become overly confident and always end up spilling, dropping or breaking something. Bea, to her credit, doesn't come over all Hyacinth Bucket but merely laughs her tinkly laugh. During my last visit I dropped an antique serving dish, broke that and chipped a kitchen tile. Today she was dressed in a linen shift dress, wafting Chanel Number 5 and clutching a full wine glass when we arrived at nearly noon. I was shocked by the appearance of Enormous Au Pair (hereafter to be known as EAP) and it must have shown on my face. "I know!" Bea stage whispered as EAP bore Mac and his cousins off to the garden. "She's taken to eating two whole garlic baguettes every night before bed" Bea continued. She's certainly put weight on in the past fortnight. "She certainly didn't have that third chin on Wednesday" Stephen advised as he greeted us in the hallway.
We immediately settled into a good old gossip as we watched the children frolic on the lawn - David and Stephen had disappeared into the television room to watch the football and drink a bottle of wine each. She was suitably horrified to hear about Katie, excited to hear about our planned holiday and roared with laughter when I told her that Mac had fallen off a boat. "Darling, it could have been worse, sailing is an excellent hobby - let's face it, he could have fallen off a skateboard on a council estate!". Sometimes, I don't understand Bea's logic. "I insisted that EAP visit the doctor, her eating is getting quite out of hand." she said as she poured me some more Aqua Libra as we watched EAP baste the lamb. The doctor had informed EAP that she had gained "far too much weight for her frame" and was in danger of developing all kinds of nasty illnesses that come with "excessive and rapid weight gain". EAP, being incredibly sweet and from Argentina, smiled broadly at him and came home via McDonalds. Bea is torn between wanting to reduce her weekly food bill and not wanting EAP to return to her former lithe self. "It's not that I don't trust Stephen, it's all the others. When she took the cherubs swimming during the Christmas holidays she completely distracted the lifeguards by wearing a white bikini and an ankle chain. I simply can't leave my babies with a woman who distracts men in case they distract her."
"Lunch to be here at 1 of the clock on the knob." EAP chirruped as she passed us to join the children on the lawn. "She means on the dot, she has to eat carbs and protein every four hours or she becomes quite impossible" Bea revealed. "We were in Oxford Street last week and we were ten minutes late for lunch, she practically battered down the door of Yo! Sushi and then just ate her way round the conveyor belt." Bea shuddered at the memory as we watched EAP hoik up the folds of her skirt and plonk herself down on the lawn. Bea then launched into a long and incredibly complicated tale about one of her vaguely well known neighbours - all too juicy to reveal here as I don't want to end up being sued for libel and defamation of character but let's just say.....no, I can't. My lips are sealed.
This tale took us right up to the moment we were seated at the dining table. EAP was wielding a carving knife and served the children first followed by myself and Bea, then David and Stephen. She doled out carrots and broccoli and potatoes and parsnips and mint sauce "of this I made all by alone!" she beamed as she waved the green goo around over Caitlin's head. I lost my powers of speech at that point - firstly because the lamb was simply amazing, secondly because of the food mountain that EAP was piling onto her plate. Stephen and Bea were tightlipped as they watched eight slices of lamb, four gigantic potatoes, three parsnips, two carrots, three florets of broccoli and six yorkshire puddings disappear out of the room with their au-pair.
"Her room is quite simply atrocious." Bea said, regaining her composure and spearing a parsnip. "I asked her on Friday to bring down all of the crockery she had upstairs - I thought we'd been burgled. Twenty minutes later she brought down damn well nearly my entire dinner set. And yet, this morning, I found another three plates, two side plates and a dessert bowl lurking on her tallboy. I don't know where she puts it all." Just as I was working my way through my plate of food, EAP returned with an empty plate and whisked off into the kitchen to "look at the cold dinner" barely ten minutes after she'd served the hot one.
"Moco de caca!" came the yell from the kitchen, closely followed by EAP who appeared in the doorway, hands clutched to her open mouth before repeating the phrase and rushing from the room. All three children took up the chant - I twigged immediately that it was not a phrase I wanted my son to repeat outside of this room or, for that matter, inside this room again. A flurry of South American expletives issued forth from the kitchen. I only caught a few but, judging by the giggles from Caitlin and Ian, they'd heard them before. Bea shot out of the room and returned minutes later to announce that the pavlova had been dropped on the floor and that we'd have ice-cream for dessert instead. She disappeared back to the kitchen where EAP was now sobbing noisily and wailing something about "monthly, monthly". What sounded like a tussle took place and Bea returned once again, hair all over the place. EAP joined us once more to slam down some spoons and bowls. "Go to your room!" Bea snapped - one of the bowls had already been filled up with Chunky Monkey. "Tu Madre et loco huh?" EAP snapped at my giggling niece and nephew as she grabbed her bowl and flounced from the room. We counted her (very) heavy steps on the stairs, the slam of her door and the very best of Ricky Martin as it boomed forth on the state of the art sound system. Bea and Stephen exchanged A Look.
Still, as David pointed out on the way home, at least I hadn't dropped anything this time.