We were both at Bea’s at 4pm on Saturday but there was nothing for us to do. The caterers were doing their stuff in the kitchen, the pyrotechnic guys were setting up the fireworks and Enormous Au Pair was rearranging the dining room, single handed. “It’s amazing how, now she’s put on so much weight, she’s got so much strength. She was sweeping leaves this morning like a whirling dervish”. Bea wandered over to the French windows and peered out at the dusky leaf-free garden where a handful of white T-shirted youths were trampling around the enormous rolling space. “Whatever happened to the man of the house lighting a few fireworks? There’s surely no need to get a firm of people in to do it for you?” Amelia asked in a tone of voice I recognised so well. She had had 24 hours of not feeling able to hector me and so had a surplus of bile. Bea didn’t hear her, she had to run over to EAP as she manhandled her Meissen collection with “flagrant disregard as to the cost and age of the pieces”.
When we got home, Jack Next Door was already in situ on our sofa, salivating over our DVD collection. He hasn’t got a DVD player himself and so was receiving instructions from David on how to use it. When David got stuck on how to select from the menu, Mac intervened with a roll of his eyes. Jack didn’t mind “at all” that “this lovely lady would be spending the evening with me”. Jack either has a very short memory or he hasn’t spent enough time with my mother in law. We left them to back-to-back viewings of Flood, The Day After Tomorrow and Titanic. Amelia loves a good disaster movie and Jack was more than willing to go along with her plans. We left amid much winking and nudging and general adolescent giggles. From us, obviously.
The party was in full swing when we got there at half past 6 - kids ran around being chased by au pairs of every nationality whilst Yummy Mummies gossiped over glasses of wine and delicate canapés and City Daddies stood in groups and discussed the FTSE and other stuff that I really don’t understand. David headed off to one of these groups while I headed over to find Auntie Ivy and Auntie Daisy. Both were tiddly, having been at the sherry since 5pm and kept going on about “the duck spring rolls, ooooh!” Enormous Au Pair was standing guard in the dining room as what seemed like a hundred children descended on the Coq au Vin and Mussels with Garlic and Parsley. A well spoken child held up a baguette dripping with butter and guffawed "Garlic bread?" in a derogatory manner. It was the best Peter Kay impression I'd seen in a long while - I was waiting for him to start in on the cheesecake.
“Everyone?” Bea tinkled sweetly on a crystal bell. “The firework display will begin at 8pm, please keep to this side of the barrier, we don’t want any impromptu trips to Kings do we?” Polite laughter from the Yummy Mummies, blank looks from the City Daddies. “I am actually at the end of my tether!” Bea hissed as she flounced up to our little group as we stood by the buffet table. We had been joined by Janey (who was worried that her baby would be frightened by the fireworks and would kick her in the kidneys) and Darren who still had his arm wrapped in bandages. “She’s hoarding food!” A whole platter of mini chicken fillets have disappeared, as has a pot of tandoori chicken. I found them in the sideboard!”. I took it that she meant EAP who I could see had started in on the newly arrived vol-au-vents, seemingly unaware that her game was up.
The Yummy Mummies were ignoring such culinary delights as chicken wings, the array of curries and bowls of heavenly smelling rice and pasta and were picking at the decorative garnishes instead. One Yummy Mummy (dressed entirely inappropriately in a white silk dress) shuddered in horror as her fingers grazed a Prawn in Tempura batter as she reached for a clump of lettuce. “Well, I suppose she is catering for the masses” she drawled as she air kissed a greeting to another Yummy Mummy who was wearing Ugg boots and loudly bellowing “It’s okay everyone, I’m here, sorry I’m late - I had to collect Portia from Latin”. Lots of Yummy Mummies descended on her in a tangle of stick thin limbs, air kisses and red lipstick. “It does look a bit church hall fayre doesn’t it?" Ugg Boots said as her Latin learning progeny grabbed a Langoustine and ran off with it. “Bea darling, such wonderful food, you clever girl!” White Silk Dress cooed as Bea rushed past. More air kisses were exchanged and, as my sister shot off into the hallway to greet yet more arrivals, Ugg Boots and White Silk Dress shot each other a smug smile and beat a hasty retreat from the food.
The children and au pairs had taken over the playroom and were having a whale of a time. Lots of exotic chatter pierced the excited screams of the children as Swedish, French, German, Danish and Italian au pairs discussed their employers unashamedly. “I ‘ave new car every year!” boasted one gorgeous French girl as she nibbled on a carrot stick. “I ‘ave the new car every year and the new handbag every season” added a rather austere looking German girl who managed to catch the trouser band of the upper class child who was last seen doing the Peter Kay impression as he ran past her, shirt tails trailing behind him. “Jago, what is it that I have already been saying to you about your shirt to be tucked into the trousers?”. Jago shot her a look and scooted past an ethereal looking Italian girl, her raven hair flowing down her back and almost reaching her waist.
“You hava the new car for the every year and the new-a handbag every season - I have all that and many presents and I hava the ‘usband in my bed nearly every nighta!” Ethereal Italian said triumphantly. Exotic jaws dropped at this revelation, including one not so exotic - mine. “So, which man is it?” Janey asked, jabbing the Italian beauty in her fleshless arm. Italian beauty gazed at Janey with heavy lidded eyes before smiling and melting away. “Bloody hell!” Janey breathed as she and the other au pairs stared after her. “Always she does this, she is on third family this year. It is the one with the belly and face like spots!” The German au pair looked even more austere at this news, even though she was demonstrating the hugeness of the ‘usband’s belly and copious amounts of spots.
Janey and I spent the half an hour before the display was due to start looking for a rather portly, spotty gentleman. There were a few contenders but we weren’t sure which one was THE one. I have to say, judging by the specimen’s we saw, I would hope it wasn’t any of them.
After the fireworks (excellent and provoking lots of “ooohs” and “aaaahs” and a “bloody hell Bea, that’s the conifers gone for a burton” from Stephen) some of the guests started to depart, claiming tired children, exhausted husbands (“Charles was up at five this morning using our new gym - have I told you how much it cost to completely refurbish it?”), and au pairs “going onto double time if I keep her out of the house later than 9pm”. Bea stood at the door, effortlessly smiling and kissing and hugging like a pro, all the while hissing asides to Stephen (“If I ever suggest doing anything like this again, please stop me” and “keep an eye on EAP, she’s already demolished the white chocolate mousse”).
White Silk Dress, who wanted to “buttonhole Bea about a place on the Christmas Charity Ball Committee”, watched as Ethereal Au Pair buttoned her child into a sheepskin coat. “I’m staying for a while longer Liberty darling, Daddy and Elisabetta will take you home”. Liberty (one of Caitlin’s best chums at school according to Bea) had eaten nothing (“she’s on a special diet”), stayed inside for the fireworks (“she’s not a people person”) and didn’t look as if she’d enjoyed one single minute of her visit. Elisabetta (for it was she) swirled her hair from one petite shoulder to the other as “Daddy” appeared in the hallway. Brad Pitt, he aint. No amount of new cars, new bags and presents would be enough to induce me to go anywhere near that man, it’s true what they say: au pairs do work hard for their money. All three left and I swear I saw “Daddy” lick his lips as he bore them off down the driveway. White Silk Dress, freed from the shackles of her child, husband and au pair, went into Major Flirt Overdrive and practically chased Stephen around the dining room.
We got home at nearly 10pm to find Amelia skittish on wine and awash at Titanic, Jack handing her tissue after tissue. “Bless her, she’s been in tears since you left!” he said, giving my mother in law a fond look. Yes, a fond look! Amelia responded with a playful shove before she turned her attentions back to Leonardo Di Caprio losing his grip and sinking to his death. "She's actually very lovely your mother" Jack whispered as David sank down on the sofa next to him.
It was an evening for revelations.