Our red and silver Chevrolet station wagon bounced along the dusty tarmac road through the desert to the Yacht Club. I had decided we would take Genevieve, and Robin and Ingrid were in the ‘back back’ where the crazy pet-owning people put their dogs. Fortunately I’m good at tuning things out, but Robin and Ingrid pretending to be dogs did get really yappy. Genevieve professed to be enchanted.
We settled on the Yacht Club veranda with Seven-Up or Canada Dry, looking out at the beach, mapped with strips of yard-wide brown sack matting to save us from the burning sand. The heat could strike through our thin canvas shoes or even through the thicker soles of flip-flops. The children ran off the matting to the sea then threw their flip-flops onto the beach. When they came out they belted up to them, a moment of triumph if they were right way up and facing away from the sea, some frustrated hopping if they were upside down, if the plastic uppers had twisted or the centre piece pulled through. Then back to the matting, either placing each foot carefully so as not to flip the hot sand up and onto the toes, or another careering run, depending on personality. I wore my shoes in the sea – canvas ones soon dry, and you can hold flip-flops on by tensing your toes.
Ingrid and Robin had shot out to the beach with a bunch of friends. Most of the girls were dressed in the look of the month – a towelling outfit of striped shorts and short sleeveless striped matching tops with fringes, doubling as clothes and swimming costumes. Their project for the day was building something out of sight of the clubhouse, using sand, driftwood, and anything else that had washed up. They also had wedding plans to complete. Robin was set to be bride, with competition for the role of groom. So proud.
I talked about how inviting the sea looked and sighed about not wanting to risk getting my hair wet. Genevieve was easily tempted, and peeled her dress off over her head to reveal my triumph of the day – my white bikini, the same effect as the black – neither the top nor the bottom quite big enough. She left her shoes and we were riveted, watching her wriggle down the hot matting and then sprint over the scorching sand to the sea. The children laughed around her. I turned to Spencer.
‘Look, isn't Robin adorable? I do miss Richard though. I know it’s the right thing for him to be at boarding school, but it isn’t easy.’
‘Oh, Peggy, I know, it’s awful for you.’
‘I’m worried about you, Spencer. What is it? You can tell me.’
Head Office in London thought there might be trouble. But I wasn’t worried, I’d heard it all before. Israel threatening Syria. Jordan and Egypt threatening Israel.
I didn’t think Kuwait would get involved. Spencer said,
‘A lot of people, maybe even people working for the Company, think the British and Americans in Kuwait are on the side of the Israelis.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that Spencer, I’m sure they all realise they are on to a good thing with the company. I was thinking...’
‘Peggy, honestly, don’t worry about it, I’m sure no-one would attack the refinery or our workers...’
‘Ok, no, heavens, it’s fine. Look, why don't we have a dinner party on the 1st of June, invite Boyd Gentry, the new Artemesia Club manager, you know I was telling you he's Delbert's nephew, help him to settle in, since you're the Club President. We could have the Simpsons and the Greens and the Aldertons. I'm sure he'd appreciate an introduction.’
‘Oh, so we’re not talking about the Arab-Israeli situation any more?’
‘No, well, it will be fine I’m sure. And it would take your mind off things.’
‘Very kind of you, Peggy. So, what? Invite our friends and Delbert and Clara and the rest of the Embassy people, and Candida to smooth the wheels? I’d rather not see the Simpsons and that lot, God knows I get enough of the men at work.'
Some people loved the Embassy people because of their easy access to alcohol that hadn't been made in stills in their showers like the rest of the ex-pats – when full prohibition came into force in 1964 diplomats were exempted. When you went to the Sheraton with the Embassy people they gave their lovely proper Embassy alcohol to the staff and the staff decanted it into silver teapots. So it all looked the same, and you had to pick a teapot and sniff before pouring it into a glass. Red wine, white wine, whisky, brandy. It was absurd, but it made the evening more amusing somehow. Robin went with us once and she loved the Sheraton and the Embassy people – more for the pool than the alcohol (she’s not really allowed any). Spencer loved the Embassy people more for their high level access to information and posh conversation than either the alcohol or the Sheraton pool. I didn't love them at all. Superior bastards. Half of them were at Eton with my brother, chinless wonders. Delbert was the only one worth anything.
‘And exactly how is Candida supposed to ‘smooth the wheels’? Since when did we invite our employees to our parties? I notice you’re not suggesting we invite V.N.Sharma, who is actually your secretary.’
‘Candida is a colleague, Cleopatra. She knows all the Embassy people. She went to Rodean. You know, cultured. Educated. Not that...’
Spencer calls me Cleopatra when he is annoyed. He wasn't the only one who was annoyed.
Spencer calls me Cleopatra when he is annoyed. He wasn't the only one who was annoyed.
'Right. Candida is EDUCATED. Properly educated. Not like your wife, who got sent to a poxy tiny girls’ day school so her parents could keep my brother at Eton and left at 16 because it was so mind-bendingly dull. Who got a job, a proper job to stop her parents going on about the burden of children and left it for you because the civil service wouldn't let married women work. But what you want at your party is a teeny weeny properly educated person. Someone to talk about theatre and literature and CULTURE. Someone who isn’t boring and limited and doesn't spend her time looking after you and your house and your CHILDREN.'
I didn't actually say that. I just let Spencer's half-finished sentence hang, making him feel bad. I've read that suppressing your thoughts and feelings is meant to be bad for your blood pressure. Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t exploded yet.
God, Candida. That wretched girl had worked for the Big London Man so in Kuwait she was the secretary of the Big Ahmadi Man, even though he had a perfectly good Indian man as an actual secretary. She wasn’t even that good looking, for a 20 year old.
At the Sheraton they have a little pool which is indoors and downstairs and has lights under the water and the water lights the room. There was a girl from the Embassy called Verity. She had yellow hair and huge blue eyes. She had beautiful clothes – she had one thing on, then a swimming costume, then another thing, when I had to put my first clothes back on. I think the second thing was to go to bed in, because we were out so late, but it didn’t look it. The grownups didn’t swim, they sat round with their silver teapots. We saw who could hold their breath under water for longer. It was me, because I do that all the time. I only swim under the water, so I don’t get very good at the different badges where you have to do all the strokes on top. Richard is brilliant at all the swimming and he has all the badges, except the five mile one, but he could easily get that too. I had my badges on my old costume, but not on my new one. I don’t think Verity's mother would put badges on her costume. When we came out of the pool in the Sheraton they wrapped us in towels and we had heavenly food and they let us go back in. They usually say food will make us sink. Verity lived in Kuwait city and she didn't come to school in Ahmadi so Ingrid didn't need to meet her.
I didn't tell my parents anything about Vaughn and Auntie Gretchen and Uncle Daniel and Vaughn being adopted. I told Connie though.
I regained focus just as Genevieve was wallowing towards the shore, obviously about to exit the sea. I began hoping for Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’.
Her wonderful red hair was hanging in wet waves, forward over her shoulders, doing its reaching her nipples thing, some of it plastered into her cleavage. Was she going to...? Yes! As she stood up in the shallows, ankle deep in water, she reached up to squeeze her hair out, just like in the Bond film. The cleavage lift was tremendous, and a little sigh escaped from the watching group in the clubhouse. She then fell over the children, poise gone, but little girl in need of looking after effect increased.She came to the veranda, dress back on over damp bikini, which made the dress cling to her curves. Candida wasn't a patch on her. Who should I unleash her on?
The Tuttles arrived, and Melvin settled in for his stint behind the bar, never happier. Gloria-Jane looked glorious, absurdly over-done for the Yacht Club, but heavens, she got away with it. And she doesn’t like the sea, so no chance of the make-up getting washed off. They agreed to take Genevieve home, and we ladled Robin and Ingrid into the back back, where they quickly forgot to yap and fell asleep on each other. Spencer carried them to the house, they woke up long enough to eat a little with us, then snuggled into Robin’s bed while we showered and snuggled into ours for a chance to make up. Not that Spencer even realised there was anything to make up. I loved those Thursday afternoons.
'All things bright and beautiful', said Spencer.
Go to Chapter 6