Her need to escape the Au Pair Face Off was very intense - she agreed to meet Charlie and I at IKEA in Croydon. "Bea's coming?" said Charlie when I finished BlueToothing. "Yup" I said wearily as I headed past Selhurst Park. "To IKEA? To Croydon?" Charlie went on, flopping back in her seat as if winded. Bea does not do IKEA or Croydon - a school concert at Fairfield Halls was an exception but she needed a lie down in a darkened room afterwards. "Yup" I added grimly. "Bloody hell fire" Charlie breathed.
We aired our plans briefly before we arrived "Keep her away from the fabric section - she won't be able to cope with the colour schemes", "Don't suggest she actually buy anything." and "If she gets too imperious, we can always pretend we don't know her".
We had agreed to meet in the cafe section, Bea promised she'd find a "salesperson" if she got lost. She didn't, she assured me, as she grabbed me into a bear hug when we found her sitting over a black coffee. "Darling, they don't do latte!" she said, eyes wide. "And they serve a full breakfast for just 97 pence! How on earth can they do that? I asked for muesli and got short shrift."
Charlie returned with two hot chocolates and another black coffee and we outlined our plans for the visit. Simple really: a mooch round but Charlie really needs some "pretty vases", a couple of fold away chairs and some "kitchen things". I didn't really want anything in particular but already my eye had been caught by a woman who was stacking some rather gorgeous cushions in her trolley. "Are you buying anything Bea?" Charlie asked, wincing as she broke one of the cardinal rules. "Buying?" Bea's eyes lit up briefly but then her thoughts turned to the massacre at home. "It was awful! She's got a bit heftier than she was but Still Skinny and Everso Tanned - she took one look at Flavia who was making pasta for supper and I thought she was going to eat her. She snarled!" She shook her head as if to get rid of the image in her brain. "All this and a major decision to make!" Charlie looked blank until Bea informed her that her kitchen "is a year old now, so old fashioned so I'm auditioning designers. Stephen's having a fit at the cost but, as I said to him, I can't be doing with an MFI lash-up, not with all the entertaining he expects me to do"
She returned to the original topic of conversation with a sigh. "She's back for a week - to see how the land is lying apparently - before she decides whether or not to return to us. It was then that Flavia appeared covered in flour and asking me if I wanted her to make the ravioli I like so much. Still Skinny and Everso Tanned Au Pair dropped her flight bag and looked at me as if I had suggested she eat the contents." Charlie was clearly itching to get the tale of woe out so we could head off shopping "So, then what?". Bea dabbed her lips with a paper napkin and searched around in her massive Mulberry for her lipgloss. "She said 'Ah, I see you 'ave the imposter' and gave Flavia a filthy look. I said that Flavia has been here since she went to Argentina and has done a fantastic job, at which Still Skinny and Everso Tanned Au Pair started muttering in Spanish and started texting somebody - I dread to think who - and stalking around the house as if she owned it".
"It was then that I rang you darling - I want to keep Flavia but feel a duty to Still Skinny and Everso Tanned Au Pair. I dread to think what they're doing now. Still, if there had been blood shed, Stephen would have called by now". At this she peered at her Blackberry and allowed us to steer her round the store.
She found the furniture "interesting and affordable" but refused to believe that the leather sofa that took up most of a display stage was real leather. "Darling!" she said in knowing tones as she skittered off to look at the sheepskin rugs.
Stephen rang while we were meandering around the Marketplace to inform her that the "girls are getting on like a house on fire!" She rallied after this and seemed almost like her old self. "Lovely girl, please don't buy those cushions, faux suede is soooo Seventies!"
"I refuse to have a dinner service with the words IKEA stamped on the bottom" she said as she whisked us through the kitchen section, alienating a newly married couple from Coulsdon who were deliberating between the white and lime green set.
During our Oasis walkaround (pictures, frames, lovely little things) she got very excited about an Audrey Hepburn canvas and loaded it into our trolley as a "little present for Flavia". For Still Skinny and Everso Tanned Au Pair she bought a smaller canvas of something indistinguishable but "it could be horses.....she loves horses" and marched through to the checkouts, shuddering as we had to negotiate what was "little more than a warehouse darling, full of packing cases, forklift trucks and sweaty men in aprons".
Once we'd paid and loaded everything into the car we broached the subject of lunch. "Oooh, yes, where?" she said, carelessly chucking Audrey into her empty boot. Charlie and I both looked back at IKEA. "Lunch? In there?" she said, looking aghast. She looked even more aghast once we'd steered her into the restaurant, deposited her at a (shared) table and asked her if she wanted meatballs. "Meatballs?" she queried faintly but rallied when she saw that the family sharing our table had a prawn and egg salad. Once she'd had a glass of organic apple juice and had nibbled on a rocket leaf she relaxed enough to comment that she'd had a "lovely day so far" and that IKEA "wasn't as bad" as she'd thought.
"Although darling girls......." she said as we prepared to depart the car park "Please don't tell anyone of note that, well, you know......" We knew what she meant and watched as she shot out of the car park as if distancing herself.
She rang me at nearly 5pm to tell me that "the canvases went down very well", "the prawns are repeating themselves with alarming regularity" and that the Au Pair Stand-Off was more of a damp squib. "They've discovered they have a mutual love of R&B and horror films and have gone out to a club" Bea added that she's still no closer to sorting out which au pair goes and which one stays but at least it looks as if the decision is going to be an amicable one.
"Oh and darling, thank you so much for putting an IKEA blue bag into my boot - Stephen is delighted I've 'discovered' it and wants to go back next weekend to look at kitchens."