‘So tell us,’ says Sally, offering us more cake and topping up our glasses. ‘What did your lawyer say?’
‘Basically, he’s very cleverly severed all ties with this country. He’s sold the flat, he’s living overseas, he works for a foreign bank, so they’ve got no way of enforcing the court order. Which means he gets off scot free.’
‘Surely he can’t just cut the funds like that,’ says Sally. ‘It seems unreasonable. Isn’t there some group, Fathers for.. ?’
‘A Father’s for Life, not just for Christmas,’ interjects Cass.
‘I was going to say Fathers for Justice, but that’s the other way round, isn’t it.’
‘I’m going to tell him, A father’s for life, not just for Christmas!’ I declare. ‘Bastard!’
‘As you know, I’m not big on vitriol,’ says Sal, ‘but I do think it’s terribly, um, mean. I never liked him anyway.’
‘But you must feel sorry for him,’ says Cass, ‘because he’s…’
‘…gay,’ I interrupt.
‘… confused,’ says Cass.
‘You shouldn’t feel sorry for someone because they’re gay,’ says Sal, who always says that when I’m having a go at Gitface.
‘But you should feel sorry that he started off pretending he wasn’t,’ I point out, as I always do in riposte.
‘But he has got a lovely daughter,’ says Sal.
‘Yes he has,’ I say, ‘but he never bloody sees her. He’s not interested in her at all. He’s not interested in her welfare. He insisted she move school, and just as she’s getting into it and making friends, he says take her out, she’ll be fine…’
‘Uncaring,’ agrees Sal. ‘Mmm, this is delicious.’ She licks each finger in turn. ‘Well, I think we’d better write him off.’
‘We have written him off,’ I say. ‘But we need some money.’
‘Well if you’re not going to get it from him,’ says Sal, ‘you’ll have to get it yourself.’
There’s a squeal from the sitting room as Arthur sits on Phoebe in order to get a look-in at the computer.
‘Get OFF!’ cries Phoebe.
‘Come on, lovely,’ calls Sal. ‘Come and sit with us.’ Arthur lopes back to the kitchen and helps himself to the last slice of cake. ‘Would you not explode if you breathed out before you went into space?’ he asks.
‘Oh-h, I don’t know,’ says Sal thoughtfully. ‘But I suppose you can’t do, or there wouldn’t be any astronauts left.’
Cass is frantically trying to get her jumper off. I help disentangle it from an earring. ‘I’m having a hot flush,’ she says. ‘I’ve got my thermal vest on, that’s why.’ She shows us an orange Uniqlo sleeve under her shirt.
‘So have I!’ I stretch out my black Uniqlo sleeve from under my wool dress.
‘So have I!’ Sal pulls up her jumper to reveal an off-white Damart granny vest.
‘Can I just tell you they’ve moved on?’ says Cass. ‘They do colours now.’
‘Without all those lacy holes,’ I add.
‘Is it one of those ones that’s shaped and comes over your bottom?’ asks Cass.
‘Yes, absolutely!’ says Sal proudly. You have to admire her for ploughing her own furrow.
‘So, back to the question of dosh…’ I say.
‘You’re going to have to join the real world!’ announces Sal with, I detect, a certain relish. Sal works as a writer for children’s television.
‘Cass doesn’t have a job either, talking of joining the real world,’ I point out.
‘I’ve worked all my life!’ says Cass indignantly. ‘I’ve brought up and fed five children, a husband and countless cats and I’m currently project managing an extremely demanding and drawn-out restoration job.’
‘How is it going?’ asks Sal, which unleashes a torrent of builder woe, culminating in yesterday’s disaster, involving four likely lads painting grey oil stain on Cass’s new reclaimed oak floorboards while she was out, and failing to read the vital instruction about immediately wiping off the stain to leave a hint of pigment in the grain rather than a solid layer of oil paint.
We duly commiserate before I bring the conversation back to the problem du jour. ‘So what am I going to do on the job front? The iChing says I shouldn’t do anything. It says if I try and be the Shaper rather than the Shaped, I’ll miss an amazing opportunity.’
Sally is giving me one of her looks. ‘You know how I feel about these things you do online – the tarot and the angel cards and the iChing. You can’t put your faith in them.’
‘But you put your faith in God and think He’ll look after you. It’s only the same thing. Maybe it’s God’s way of sending me a message, because He knows I won’t be going to His House to talk to Him direct about it.’
Sally looks doubtful. ‘Well, I still say you can’t sit back and wait for the opportunity to come your way. I think you at least have to put the word out that you’re looking.’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I have had a cursory glance at what jobs there are round here and everything’s £6 to £10 an hour max.’
‘That’s very good, £10 an hour,’ exclaims Sal.
‘You think that’s good? But that doesn’t send a child to school!’
‘Down here, for a per hour payment, it is quite good, isn’t it?’
‘What you want is a per annum job,’ says Cass.
‘I can’t get a per annum job,’ I say.
‘Well, what are your skills?’ asks Sal.
‘I have no skills.’
‘You must have some skills,’ says Cass.
‘I have none. I am unfit for purpose. My brain has … prolapsed, or whatever it is, like your vagina.’
Cass laughs. ‘You’re getting a bit ahead of yourself! It’s not prolapsed. It’s … what is it? Petrified or perished or something , like a bit of old rubber.’ There’s a pause while she tries to dredge the term out of the memory files. ‘No... it’s not coming back. Well I suppose it wouldn’t , not till I’ve shoved a load of oestrogen up it, which I’m not going to be doing.’
Looking mildly disturbed, Sally gets up to stack the tea plates on the draining board. ‘More sherry?’ she asks, sitting down again.
’You must have learnt something being a banker’s wife in the Far East,’ Cass restarts.
‘I should have learnt something – but what?’
‘There’s all sorts of interesting things girls do in the Far East.’
Sal and I laugh.
‘A couple of pingpong balls and you’ll be away!’
We sip on our schooners thoughtfully. I don’t think I’d be any good with a pingpong ball. Not with my prolapsed pelvic floor.
‘What about looking after people’s children?’ asks Sal.
‘What sort?’ I say, suspiciously.
‘The usual – two-legged, two-armed ones.’
I contort my mouth in mock-horror. ‘Do you mean babysitting? Or childminding?’
‘I know. You could be a matron at the Manor!’ interrupts Cass.
‘That’s true,’ I say. ‘What qualifications do they need? Would I need a nurse’s training or a children’s something certificate?’
‘For prep school you don’t need to have anything,’ says Sal. ‘Just your face needs to fit. Knowing how to do the laundry would be an advantage.’
‘I’m very good on laundry! I spend my life trying to match up Lily’s socks.’
‘There you go!’ says Sally. ‘Eliza, school matron!’
I pull another contorted face. Talk about how are the mighty fallen.
‘I think it’s really positive,’ says Sally. ‘It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself. You might love being a matron.’
‘I might not,’ I say.
‘You’re always saying you’d have loved a bigger family,’ says Cass.
‘Yes!’ agrees Sally. ‘Here’s your chance!’
She and Cass raise their glasses. ‘To Eliza, school matron!’