Saturday 2 August 2008

The girl who refused to be dumped

Weightless, though not like a trainee astronaut in the “Vomit Comet”; 4.2 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,282 days left; Glyndebourne.

For someone who has earned a reasonable living as a professional communicator for 25 years now, I am sometimes extraordinarily bad at making myself understood. I am also tragically lacking in tact. This was a day when both failings were brought squarely home to me.

I first met the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette on 29 April this year, and she announced shortly afterwards that she was placing me on three months’ probation as her boyfriend. It was subsequently agreed that this period would be extended to include this weekend, as she quite fancied seeing Carmen at Glyndebourne. But I had always assumed, in my determinedly Eeyoreish way, that this would be the end of the road, and that the simplest way to soften the pain of being dumped would be to get in first and pretend that I was making the decision myself. After all, given the age difference between us and a whole host of other factors including my gloomy nature and deteriorating finances, on any objective analysis I would be doing her the most enormous favour.

Accordingly, when she started chatting excitedly this morning about plans for next weekend, I observed rather coldly that this was surely all somewhat academic since we would be splitting up at the end of this one, though I hoped that we could have a civilized and friendly time up to that point. She did not seem at all fazed, and I congratulated myself on the fact that she had taken it so well.

Prospects for the afternoon looked decidedly less promising, as we were scheduled to be eating the picnic that our hosts had organized for the Glyndebourne long interval, and it started drizzling steadily at an early stage and kept it up throughout the morning. Our host repeatedly consulted the TV weather forecast and pointed out that it was scheduled to brighten up by three and be positively sunny by six. Nevertheless, in the light of past Met Office triumphs, I suggested that it would be best if they cancelled their picnic and I rang the caterers to get us into a restaurant. This proposal, I detected, was considered a thoroughly tactless one which had gone down the absolute reverse of a storm. So I came up with a Plan B of arriving at Glyndebourne on the stroke of three, when the gardens opened, and grabbing a picnic table on one of the upper terraces of the opera house. Which would have been a splendid idea if the management actually enforced their own published rules. But when we turned up at 2.45 the car park was already half full and all the desired picnic tables had long since been bagged with hampers and rugs, or with sheets of printed paper (through a procedure unknown to me, but which I really must explore before the summer of 2009).

So we used our initiative and made a two pronged attack, bagging a table in the marquee in case it was chucking it down at the interval, and a bench on the lawn in case it wasn’t. Then we sat on the latter drinking champagne in the sunshine, which had duly arrived on schedule. Our hosts then finally revealed the secret of the picnic; a promised “very sexy” treat from the evidently fashionable Bill’s Produce Store in Lewes, which we were to pick up from the stage door before the performance started. On his third visit to the pick-up point, as the ten minute bell was ringing and the audience was walking in with the same sense of purpose that Londoners famously displayed as they headed for the shelters during the Blitz, our host returned with four, small, unmarked cardboard boxes, absurdly tied shut with purple raffia and decorated with gladioli. They did not look like the picnic box for four he had been expecting, and did not bear any helpful identifying marks such as the name of the intended recipient, but on the other hand they were the only things that had been delivered. We made a cursory inspection, and determined that between them they contained six starters, six main courses and four puddings, bearing no resemblance to what had actually been ordered apart from the inclusion of a bottle of the unfortunately named Breaky Bottom kir royale. Still, at least we went into the theatre confident that we would not starve.

The opera was a disappointment so far as I was concerned, but then Carmen always is unless the title role is played by a woman who looks something like a Spanish gypsy and exerts the sort of overpowering sex appeal that makes the poor sap Don José’s obsession vaguely understandable. The rather fat lady from the Dutch West Indies we saw tonight did not really look the part and failed to arouse even the faintest bat squeak of desire. So another flop so far as I was concerned, to rank alongside Alice Coote’s performance at the Coliseum last October, which my female companion deftly summarized as offering all the sexual allure of a plank. It is only fair to add that both ladies sounded perfectly all right, and one could have had a perfectly satisfactory evening if one had closed one’s eyes and just listened. But then it becomes hard to see the advantage of spending quite a lot of money and travelling a long way to share an opera house with a load of potentially annoying people, when one could just have put on a CD in the comfort of one’s own home. In addition, tonight’s Don José was too much of a drip for my taste. Much the best things about the show were Kate Royal as Micaela and the playing of the orchestra, under a Frenchman with pleasingly mad hair in the style of Simon Rattle.

At the long interval, we returned to our bench and held a debate about whether or not it was too cold and windy to eat there. We would probably still be there if the LTCB had not taken an executive decision that we would be more comfortable eating at a table in the marquee, so we duly carted everything around there. In fairness, we had a most delicious meal, and such a lot of it, too. Speculating that somewhere in southern England there must be a party of six people trying to eke out our four portions of salmon en croute and lemon tart only added to our enjoyment.

I was more than a little surprised, at the end of the day, when the LTCB reverted to the future plans that I thought I had knocked firmly on the head this morning. I reiterated that I had said that this was to be our last weekend together, and again explained why. It rapidly emerged that she, like the bloke commissioned to give that speech of thanks on Thursday, thought I had been joking. She announced that it was too late to talk about it but that we could pick up the conversation in the morning, when she firmly announced that “You can’t dump me when I’ve done nothing wrong. I refuse to be dumped.”

So I agreed that our relationship should continue. Is there a bloke on the planet who would have done anything different, when presented with a fait accompli like that by a beautiful, sweet-natured and, above all, forgiving woman who is almost young enough to be his daughter?

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