Friday, 24 February 2012

Chapter Twelve

Chris and I felt hugely sorry for Constance, running into her ex-husband in an off-licence.

‘Working there,’  Chris said, her eyes wide. ‘He’s the guy you ask for cigarettes or a Thunderball ticket.’ She thought again. ‘Although she’d always know where he was.’

I’d run into ex-boyfriends in the street, lost the use of my legs, needed to be sat down and poured a stiff drink before I could speak coherently. We were impressed with her sang-froid in being able to ask for a Radio Times.

We then spent twenty minutes talking about who still buys the Radio Times, will radio factories all close down, are there radio factories? If so, where are they? before we realised Constance made for much better conversation.

The next entry was made two days after running into Malcolm.

27 June 2010

I write overlooking fields and sheep and listening to someone play Mozart, quite well, on a piano two floors down. I am in my darling, huge-hearted, easily-manipulated best-friend Fiona’s second best spare room, Jennifer McIntyre is in the best room across the hall and we are here, filming for our series.

I have two nights off from Nora. I feel like I’m on day release.

I know it’s mad and will probably go nowhere but I’m actually very excited. Fiona has kept wardrobes of costumes from her decades of designing and building. The workmanship is exquisite and I marvel at how even the lure of children and country life could keep her from exercising her gift. Her costumes are works of art.

She threw a pile of brocade and satin on the futon in the attic. Jennifer, arms draped with three other hermetically-sealed wardrobe bags, gasped. Fiona unzipped a cocoon and revealed two decades of 19th century fashion: corsets, panniers, bustles. Fiona treated them casually but with affection. Like dogs.

‘This one, look at this, industrial support. Our heroine was very well-endowed. We had to keep her assets from escaping during the ‘Song of Revolutionary Fervour’. Ah, this. This was Jane Bennet’s cloak, for getting sick on her way to Netherfield.  Look at the seaming on the bottom edge.  Fabric is a half-circle, we wanted it full; very full cloak.’

She peered intently down at the neat row of perfect stitches. I saw Jennifer drool.

I looked about the converted loft, at the half-dozen wardrobes stuffed with garment bags, all labeled like specimens in a laboratory.

‘Isn’t this illegal? Have you stolen these?’

Fiona laughed.

‘They get left behind. Some I bought back. They are always more value to me than the company. They move onto Pinter. No corsets in Pinter. Right, here we are. 18th century. That’s what we want.’

She relieved Jennifer of the third and heaviest bag. The zip undid slowly, liberating a pearly-pink gown, ruffled and petticoat-ed and, beneath it, a deep red riding coat-dress. I fingered the cloth. Fiona put on her glasses.

‘There’s a light gown underneath, you can see the boning, lovely work, I had marvelous help and - ah, yes, she spilled her coffee, just here. She was very talented but clumsy as a mule.’

Jennifer had taken the riding coat over to a mirror. I could see her reflection. Her face softened and I noticed for the first time that she might be seen as attractive. Her eyes are a bit close together and she has the hair of a stenographer but her face has quite a good shape and her smile is lovely. Beautiful, even, if she’s in the right mood. Which she was now.

‘My mom will just - die,’ she said with difficulty.

Fiona turned, beaming, pleased to see the effects of her artistry.

‘Well let’s get you in it,’ she said.

 ‘And knock her dead’ I said, standing up and clapping Jennifer on the back.

Sometimes it’s good to have an inner-American to channel.


I hadn’t thought that Jennifer was taking time off from being an abused secretary to help costume and film me but when I saw a call coming through from Agent John Wood I remembered that we were both working for him now. Or supposed to be.

I was being laced up into the pink froth by Calla, Fiona’s eldest, when I answered, and was deafened by the sound of John shouting at 180 decibels ‘Where the fuck are you?’

I excused myself from Calla, pulled up my panniers, and shuffled into the hallway.

‘I’m in Wiltshire,’ I said, glancing out at the sheep, spreading across the grass, forming and re-forming like flocks of birds. Or  - roaches, actually.  I’ve spent some time in New York and I once saw a wall go black with stampeding cockroaches. That’s when I decided never to live on the east coast. I was wondering if there was some universal force that shaped the wild kingdom into predictable stampeding patterns when I was yanked back into the present by John yelling  -

‘What the fuck are you doing in Wiltshire? You have an interview.’

I panicked.

‘With whom? When?’

‘With me, now.’

I swallowed. John had mentioned he wanted me to do some promotion on his web site but it was – just his web site. It wasn’t real promotion. It wasn’t Friday Night with You Know Whom. Which I’ve done. Half a dozen times. At least. I was thinking of You Know Who, how he is completely, wholly and utterly charming  and adores his children when John bellowed

‘Are you listening??’

‘Yes,’ I lied.

‘With me, now so that I can post it tomorrow morning when I have said I will post it. An exclusive interview with Constance Hill, live at JohnWood dot com. People have signed up. There are members waiting. You are not going to let me, or them, down.’

I felt tears rise up and I don’t know if it was the fact that, like Desdemona, I am a child to chiding or that there were actually people, wonderful, lovable, glorious people who wanted to hear me and whom I didn’t want to let down so I said ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, what can I do?’ and didn’t even mind when John Wood said he was driving up to see me that very minute and we’d interview this evening.


From the next instalment:

28 June 2010

Hilarious! Hilarious! John Wood arrived and was thrust into the costume of a naval hero (had to admit he looked very fetching) but only after he spent the afternoon making up cod-period-speeches for me to deliver to him, as Jennifer films.

It is too, too divine. And ridiculous. But we are all loving it.

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