7 - The Party Proceeds

Ahmadi, Kuwait, Thursday 1st June 1967
Spencer’s Important Embassy Friends arrived all together. It was nice to see Clara and Delbert, though she stuck to his side when I could have done with some help mixing the Ahmadi and the Embassy crowd. They had promised to bring Delbert’s stepson Boyd Gentry, the new Artemesia Club Manager. He had lived all over the world and been married several times. His latest wife was said to be extremely wealthy, and they were obviously separated. He had written some very amusing letters to Clara when she and Delbert got engaged, advice about marriage from ‘one who knows’, that sort of thing. He had been expected weeks earlier. When he did get to Kuwait they couldn't seem to make it over to ours and now some complication had prevented him from coming to the party. Delbert wound his way through an explanation and followed up with:

'Is there anything that lies in my power to improve the situation? An apology on behalf of my disgraceful son I believe would not suffice to appease a disappointed hostess.'

I sighed and once again felt sorry for Clara, and rather guilty for my part in getting them together, though she told me she was fond of him. Delbert was one of those old before their time men, probably born like that. And now that he actually was old he was a wreck – hunched in a creased suit, wearing a frilled neck ruff made of paper.

The men’s outfits were either like this – normal suits with a tiny nod towards the medieval theme, or daft tunics and tights. As Gloria-Jane had feared, Melvin’s side burns and glasses were utterly absurd with the medieval costume and Spencer looked ridiculous too. Just not as ridiculous as Melvin. The women looked graceful, magnificent, and in our beautiful dresses we moved like queens.

We had been swigging away at the ‘mead’ and things seemed complicated and simple all at the same time. The garden and the house were full of people in strange outfits behaving oddly. Spencer and Melvin were doing their Monster Mash dance – their favourite record, most unmedieval. The banquet was brilliant, and not a piece of cutlery in sight, except for Joan’s. We were getting to be as shiny as our satin clothes, between the flow of alcohol and the chicken drumsticks and sausages eaten in our hands. There were ashtrays all round the room and though the cigarettes undercut the illusion the smoke-filled air was rather in period I thought.

The Simpsons and the Greens and the Aldertons were huddled together on the big settee, not exactly mingling, but laughing a lot. I went to look for Spencer, to help me break them up a bit and introduce them to some of our soberer and more interesting guests. 

As soon as I found him, he said,

'Peggy, I'm so relieved I've found you. I've got to go. I am sorry, total emergency.'

Thank goodness I managed to keep hold of my dignity, and nodded as if nothing could be more normal. He went.

In the melee I bumped into Gretchen. Or she bumped into me.

'Cleo, I had to tell you, Spencer had to go.'

'Thank you Gretchen, he told me.'

'Yes. Gone. He didn't tell me why. Why has Spencer gone?'

'Oh, I don’t know, he didn't really say. Work emergency, you know what it’s like.'

So I was stuck as hostess with no help. The rumours about the tensions with Israel had begun to do the rounds, however much I tried to deflect them. People even thought that might be why Spencer had left. 

'How much do you love me?' demanded Gloria-Jane of Melvin, creating a diversion.

'Let me count the ways' he replied.

'Well, take off the glasses and get rid of the side burns.'

'That's a bit much.'

'There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned,' someone murmured in my ear.

It was the Shakespeare 'Anthony and Cleopatra' thing of course. What were my parents thinking? Well, I don't really mind. I'm usually called Cleo, though Spencer calls me Peggy, but everyone knows that my full name is Cleopatra. I get a lot of jokes about it. I don't look much like the general idea of Cleopatra – since Elizabeth Taylor no-one imagines her as a blonde. I turned to see who had been quoting it this time, and saw the only man who was looking good that evening. Dressed for the occasion, but not in tights. He was wearing cream trousers tucked into knee-length black boots, a cream shirt with wide collar and billowing sleeves, open and showing just a little chest hair. The shirt was topped with a brown suede waistcoat reaching his thighs and laced across the shirt. I do love an unusual fastening. 

Not to boast, but he seemed struck with my outfit too.

Boyd had arrived. He couldn't stay away after all.

I ushered him over towards Genevieve, who still had her head down, pretending to read. As we went I explained she needed looking after because she was shy, and magic, his protective nature sprang into action. He looked extremely interested. I congratulated myself on the way I had put the case. A damsel in distress! But not serious distress! Perfect! I introduced them, and mentioned their shared interest in books, remembering some of his letters Clara had read out to me. I left them together. Half an hour later I noticed that Genevieve was reading again, this time curled up on the settee, almost leaning on Stanley Anderton. Not a very appropriate way to behave at a party, but I tried to be patient. Boyd had been cornered by Gretchen, and seemed to be peering down the front of her caftan. I hauled him back over to Genevieve and said,

'Genevieve! Boyd was just looking for you. There's this marvellous idea about a fancy dress competition for the children which you could organise at the Artemisia Club. I'm sure the two of you can sort it out!'

I left them alone again, hoping this ploy would work better than the 'shared interest in books' had. Constance was waving frantically from the kitchen. She feared supplies were running low. She was in charge out there and the waiters were ensuring a supply of replacement plates of food whenever one began to run out, and a constant topping-up of the mead bowl. I checked and thought we had enough to last. I came out with Robin, who had been hiding away with Constance, and we circulated again, taking some dishes round with us. 

The final guest to arrive was an enormous man wearing a Cruella de Vil style hat - white fur with black spots, the same fur trimming the hem of his white dress. A white dress which ended at his crotch. The dress flared out from armpit level (it fitted tightly over his upper chest) and had enormous puffed sleeves which stopped at his elbows. His tights were white too, and he was wearing scuffed brown suede desert boots. He strode towards Genevieve, who had lost Boyd and was reading in the corner. She looked up at the vision towering over her, appeared confused, staggered a few steps (because her dress had wrapped itself round her legs), pulled herself free of it and went outside to the veranda, where she dropped onto the low edging wall. It was Bill ‘Dynamite’ Kirkwood. He did not look so good with these clothes on, in fact I wouldn't have recognised him as the gorgeous vision at the Club pool. His son Bergan, the pretty oriental boy I'd noticed at the school, followed Genevieve out to the veranda, and Dynamite followed Bergan. As Dynamite walked towards her where she sat on the little wall, Genevieve’s eyes travelled up from his white tights to the fur round his neck, to the fur on his head. She had forgotten to move her head separately, and her body leaned back as her eyes moved up. She toppled backwards off the wall, flinging her feet into the air as she went. Dyanamite stared at the empty space. For someone in the rescue business he seemed a little slow to move.

Instead, it was Boyd who strode up the veranda steps from the garden, Genevieve draped elegantly in his arms, hair streaming as the final hairpins released their hold, pink shawl twisted round so it looked like a cowboy’s neckerchief, the knot at the back and the triangular bit at the front. I had unfortunately given way to a fit of giggles, most uncharacteristic but irresistible. It was something about the way she’d fallen I think. Between unattractive splutters I managed:

'Is she OK?'

The big man abruptly came to life, and tried to relieve Boyd of her.

'I’m Bill ... Dynamite'

For a moment both men were holding her, each seemingly sure of his rights of possession. As Genevieve awoke from what seemed like a swoon (most medieval) she struggled to break free, and fell to the ground between them. Intervening on Boyd’s behalf, I shooed Dynamite off to the kitchen for water. Boyd and I crouched on either side of Genevieve, who had landed heavily on her endearingly padded bottom and was whimpering. The little circle of onlookers on the veranda murmured. Boyd seemed to assume their concern was caused by the lack of an introduction.

‘Good evening’ he remarked to the crowd. ‘I’m Boyd Gentry, manager of the Artemisia Club.’ He fished some glasses from a pocket and peered at Genevieve. ‘No bones broken that I can see.’ He put the glasses away again. ‘Not very medieval’ he explained.

‘Oh.’ answered Genevieve. And followed it up with ‘Ow’.

Goodness, it was going well, I never even dreamed that Boyd would end up rescuing Genevieve from a fall and then virtually fighting over her. Marvellous.

Go to Chapter 8

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