Easter Sunday 21 April

I did think Eunice might have had a hangover after last night but she seems impervious to large quantities of alcohol and was as chirpy as ever and keen to tell me that her posterior had suffered no damage – just what I did not want to hear first thing on Easter Sunday morning.   The dress she fears may not be of any use having a bite mark in it.  A good excuse to buy another one knowing you I thought.

Church was a joyful occasion as we sang Up from The Grave He Rose and Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.  The children had baskets of small Easter eggs and were offering them to us as we came in.  As it was also Eleanor’s birthday I took her card and present with me.  I always come off worse in the birthday present stakes.  Last year, having given me a set of knickers that had been an unwanted Christmas present to her, complete with note and till receipt from her friend so she could swap them, I vowed I would give something equally shabby back in return but such an attitude only generates bad blood and I decided I would rise above it and bought her a box of Dairy Milk from Miss Chatwall’s which had a perfectly good date on it.  “Happy Birthday Eleanor dear,” I said giving her a peck on the cheek.  As she took the present off me it gave a tell-tale rattle and she said, “Oh, chocolates I see,” in a disappointed voice.  “Better than knickers,” I replied and went and sat down by Eunice who leant forward and waved perkily to her.

There were hot cross buns and cups of tea at the end of the service.  I could see Eunice torpedoing her way to Eleanor making a point of wishing her a happy birthday before going for the jugular only for Eleanor to say, “The Bowdlers? Yes I’m lunching there too.  I think it’s partly in my honour.”

“Do you think so?” Eunice asked me when she came over.

“No, definitely not,” I replied.  “I just hope the Bowdler tribe won’t be there as well.”

But they were and, of course, as a guest, I was in no position to complain.  A lunch party that contains Eleanor Snailbeach and little Daisy Bowdler with her siblings is not my idea of a celebratory Easter one.  Faith and Hope had prepared a wonderful meal, a huge leg of roast lamb with all the trimmings and, for pud, the most glorious sherry trifle.  After last night’s dinner I did wonder if I would do it justice but I did and Eunice tucked in heartily.  Surprisingly, Daisy was quite subdued, something I put down to Eunice’s presence.  After she put the wind up her last year the occasional swiping owl like glance from Eunice was enough to make Daisy look wary.

It was slightly embarrassing as Eleanor clearly felt that it was her lunch and, as the meal progressed it was clear it wasn’t.  There was a present for her from Graham and Faith and we did drink her health with our pre-prandial sherries but that was it.  She was being coy and gracious at the table, very much the guest of honour in her own mind but came slightly unstuck when Eunice tackled her over the zip wire ride.

“Sounds huge fun,” Eunice said gleefully.  “I bet you can’t wait.  I do wish I’d visited later as I would love to have come along and see you fly.”

“You could have participated along with the rest of us,” Eleanor said peevishly.  “It’s easy to sit on the side lines and spectate.”

“But much more fun,” Eunice replied.  “Who else is doing it besides you and Cleo?”

There was a chorus of voices and the Bowdler tribe shouted, “Me!” “Me!” “Me!” 

“You’re too young,” Verity said.  Then Daisy, summoning her courage, pointed at Eunice vindictively and said, “I want to see her do it. I want to see her fly.”

“Don’t be rude,” Gareth told her.

Eunice gave her a knowing look and said, “If you want to see me fly you’ll have to wait until tonight when I’ll come past your bedroom window on a large bat with a bag of horrible spells.”

“The window will be shut so they can’t get at me,” Daisy said defiantly but Mistress Eunice said, “The first spell opens any child’s bedroom window in the world.”

That a got a roar of laughter while Daisy looked suitably uncertain and was stilled.

After the coffee there was a general move to leave, after helping with the clearing up.  Eleanor sat looking crushed, expectations of birthday cakes and singing dashed.  I felt slightly sorry, but only slightly, and said, “Would you like to come back with Eunice and me for an hour?”

“Thank you no,” she said sniffily. “I have rather a lot to do.”

“As you will dear,” I said, my conscience salved and feeling frankly grateful.

Eunice has suggested we go to the Dorothy Clive Garden tomorrow and have lunch out. 


Saturday 20 April

After breakfast, another hearty one for Eunice, we went into the village.  First we went to Dress Sense so that Eunice could find a suitable motley to put on for tonight’s show.  As Lena tends to stock the smaller sizes finding something for Eunice’s outsize frame was limiting in choice but after what seemed an eternity to me, she narrowed the narrow choice between a garish floral dress whose sole advantage to me was that it was on a black background and therefore slightly slimming and a satin plum coloured outfit – and it was that which she chose.  Suitably fruity I felt. Then we went into Deli Shush, which was busy, for coffee.  Eunice was all for ordering slices of stilton and walnut gateau but I told her, firmly, that it was too soon after our late breakfast and she capitulated unwillingly, throwing longing glances at it on the counter.

We had a pleasant afternoon sitting in the garden and chatting.  Then, around five o’clock, Eunice went for a bath and I didn’t see her again until half past six.  I enjoyed the peace and quiet and the cats sat contentedly nearby.  I went in to wash and change and put my dress from Mae and Stanton’s wedding on.  Eunice had just finished her toilet and had that familiar salmon pink tinge to her skin from the makeup she uses with her large eyes looking like saucers under the eyeshadow and mascara she had applied.  In the plum satin dress she looked like she’d been embalmed and had risen from the dead – suitable for Easter I felt.

As we drove up the drive to Hayton’s Bent she tooted the horn.   Acton came trotting to the front door, glass of champagne in hand, and expressed joy over ‘Marilyn’.  “Eunie darling – she’s delightful,” he exclaimed in full theatrical mode as he air kissed her.  “Do come on in and meet Charlie.”  He threw me a swift glance as I followed – one of gleeful anticipation.   Jazz music was playing and Charlie was draped decorously in a chair brandishing her glass of champagne.  It was, I felt, a studied pose for our benefit, Eunice’s in particular.

“Cleo! Hi!” she drawled in that husky voice and turning to Eunice, her eyes flashing over her and summing her up in seconds, she said, “Ciao Eunice!”

“Ciao darling,” Eunice replied in similar tone.

“Now, champers for you ladies,” Acton said.  “Glennie’s slaving over the hot stove but he’ll be up shortly.  The high camp of the evening was established even before I had a chance to take a seat and it was, I could see, going to be a long evening.

“How long are you staying?” Eunice asked Charlie.

“Only until Wednesday,” she drawled.  “I could stay here forever, the boys spoil me so, but I have to be back on stage on Friday.”

“You act then?” Eunice said in way which conveyed that she knew she was acting right there and then.  “What are your playing?”

“Oh, fringe stuff,” Charlie said vaguely.

“Our Charlie is the star of lesbian theatre aren’t you?” Acton said proprietorially reminding me uncomfortably of how I had mistaken her last production of Les Miss for Les Misérables.  “She’s currently performing a one woman show, My Bare Lady.”

Eunice screeched with laughter at this but Charlie threw her a lowering look and said, “It’s not that sort of show darling. It’s stripping away the mythology of female sexuality to reveal the inner realities.”

“And Glennie and I are coming down to see you next Saturday aren’t we?” Acton added at which point the door opened and Woods walked in.

There was more air kissing and campery while I sat feeling out of it.  I held steadfastly on to my glass of champagne while Acton refilled the others.  I noticed that neither Eunice nor Charlie refused refills which were plentiful while he and Woods kept a careful limit on theirs. 

By the time we sat down to dinner their tongues, never restrained when sober, were now loosened as they parried comments.  Charlie, used to being queen bee wherever she is did not like Eunice’s rivalry while Eunice, who is simply larger than life, played on the insecurity much to the pleasure of Acton and Woods.  I concentrated on my dinner, a delicious beef consommé followed by Chicken Parmigiana with asparagus and Woods’ speciality of Lyonnaise potatoes followed by chocolate mousse.  At one point Wykey came trotting in looking for tidbits but Acton, who was clearly enjoying the dinner cabaret shooed him out.

Of course, the zip wire came up with Charlie expressing surprise at the idea and admiration for me, for I am of no threat to her so she is inclined to be more charitable.  Eunice, who had already had enough to drink, despite her vat like capacity, was in full flow and went on about Eleanor.  “My Scared Lady!” she squealed with laughter.  “That would be a good revue for you Charlie.”  Charlie merely threw her a look of contempt. When I saw Acton rise to fill up the wine glasses I caught his eye and gave him a warning glare. He gave an impish shrug but continued to top them up.  Then Woods suggested we have coffee and liqueurs back in the drawing room.  As we walked through I whispered to Acton, “Please – don’t give Eunice brandy.  She’s had enough and she’s driving.  If we’re stopped she’ll be disqualified.  Besides, I don’t want things going nasty between the pair of them.” 

“Understood dear,” he whispered back.

While Woods attended to the coffee tray, Charlie declared, “Oh Acton let’s have some Piaf,” waving her arms theatrically.  As she did she nearly clipped Eunice who started and fell backwards on to a chair where Wykey was sitting.  Acton let out a scream, Woods cried out, “Wykey!” while Eunice let out a startled cry.  I stood silent and Charlie stood bemused, unaware of her catalyst.  The next second there was a muffled bark followed by a scream from Eunice.  “I’ve been bitten,” she cried.  I helped Acton pull Eunice to her feet and, as we did, Wykey shot off the chair and ran out of the room.

“Oh thank God he’s all right,” Woods said.

“Let’s see,” I said, looking at Eunice’s back. The dress had a slight tear where Wykey had chomped in his terror but, despite the colour of the dress it was clear no blood had been drawn – Eunice’s posterior is made of stern stuff.  “No harm done,” I declared in a soothing voice.  “Just injured pride.”

Of course, Eunice needed a ‘soothing’ brandy after that – we all had one, but Acton thankfully abandoned Edith Piaf in favour of some Schubert and the evening calmed down.  We left half an hour later with much solicitude from the boys while Charlie contented herself with a, “So glad nothing awful happened darling”.  I felt that was ambiguous.   The nip had sobered Eunice up and we drove home safely and to bed.


Good Friday 19 April

It wasn’t quite such a good Friday.  The phone rang as we were having a later breakfast as Eunice never hurries about rising and takes her time over her food – four and a half rounds of toast, the half being mine that I couldn’t finish.   It was Acton to tell us that we were invited seven for eight.

“And guess what Cleo!  You’re not our only company.”

I had hoped they had invited Raymond who I liked when I met him at Christmas but as Acton twittered I remembered that ill-concealed glint in his eye at the salon last week when he knew Eunice was coming.   I’d sensed trouble then and my senses proved me right.

“Charlie is coming tomorrow for Easter,” he said triumphantly.

With Eunice sitting there I didn’t feel I could speak freely and said in a deliberately flat tone, “Oh, I see.”

“Oh Cleo darling!  Don’t be a gloomy pussycat.  It’s going to be hysterical.  A right royal flush – four queens and you the Ace of Hearts.”

“Indeed,” was my sole response.

“Now, don’t worry darling.  Glennie and I know how you feel but I promise you we’ll be on our best behaviour like you and we shall see what we shall see as Eunice and Charlie go head to head.  Do see it our way darling. Just fun, fun, fun!”

 I tried to sound bright but I was wondering what to say to Eunice.

When I put the phone down, I told her.  “She’s dreadful Eunice.  A complete one woman show – loud, brash and totally full of herself.”

“Sounds interesting,” Eunice said.  “I bet the boys invited her deliberately with me coming.”

I stared at her open mouthed but she giggled at me.  “I’m not stupid Cleo. I know how their minds work.  You know the saying – no such thing a free lunch.  Well I daresay, no such thing as a free dinner party either.  They want a reaction.  They’ll get one!”

I’m sure they will and roll on Easter Sunday I say.

We set off for church for the Good Friday service and, as always, sang There Is A Green Hill Far Away.  I found myself wishing I could be as far away as it tomorrow evening.  When it was over I introduced Eunice to Mickey and Sasha.  “Why didn’t you tell me your cousin was coming?” Mickey said.  “You could have come for dinner tomorrow.  Would you like to?”

My response wanted to be, “I would absolutely adore to – yes please. Thank you” but I had to make our apologies without making the horror of an evening with Charlie evident.

“Well next time then,” Mickey said kindly.  I’ll hold you to that I thought.

After lunch I dragged Eunice back out for the Cross Walk.  “It’s a nice day for it,” I said.  And it was.  We joined most of the congregation and walked through to the Marten’s field for three o’clock.   As we were dispersing I hurried over to Mickey and whispered.  “I’d love to have come tomorrow.  I rather think our meal with Acton and Woods is a set up.  The person they’ve invited is rather over the top and they want to see how she and my cousin get on.  Not too nice but there it is.”

“Oh how dreadful,” she said.  “It’s rather unkind of them.  I’d have thought better of them both.  Well, you must bring Eunice to the vicarage at some point.” 

Eunice had poured the first of the evening’s drinks by half past five including a large sherry for me and tried to foist another on me later but I resisted.  She managed two more Camparis before dinner.  She can hold it – I’ll give her that.


Thursday 18 April

It was a good job I was prepared and ready for Eunice as she came at half past twelve.  Last year, I recall, she didn’t turn up until teatime.

“The roads were quieter than I thought,” she said waving gaily as she got out of her car – a new one I noticed.   “I wanted to leave early as I’m breaking Marilyn in.”

“Marilyn?” I asked as I came out and kissed her.  She pointed to the car.

This is Marilyn.  Say how d’you do to Cleo,” and she gave the horn a toot and giggled.

“It’s a real nun’s car,” she said, “except no self-respecting nun would drive a shocking pink one.  I’ve named her after Marilyn Monroe – sort of curvy and attention seeking, small yet just the right size for a large backside like mine.”

“Well Acton and Woods will love it,” I told her.  “We’re dining with them on Saturday.”

“Oh goody!” Eunice said.  “I was rather hoping I would get an invite.  I think they’re hilarious.”

And they you, I thought.   I imagine it will be another high octane evening which I’m dreading.  I felt slightly exhausted after the first minutes of our meeting.

For a five day visit she’d certainly brought enough luggage and managed to fit it into the small Fiat car.  She left it downstairs while I made tea and a ham sandwich, chattering away.  Poor Sausage, who she’d not met, came to sniff the luggage and found herself snatched up and cuddled into the matronly expanse of Eunice’s chest, something she disliked as she wriggled vehemently and landed on the floor and shot out through the open kitchen door.

“Cats usually like me,” Eunice said perplexed.

“They don’t like being manhandled and she doesn’t know you,” I told her.

“Oh she will, the little cutie,” Eunice said.  “By the way, as we’ll be banqueting with the boys on Saturday, I’ll have a look at the dress shop on Saturday for an outfit if you don’t mind.  Something to suit the occasion.”

“Indeed,” I said in a non-comital voice.   “We’ve also got lunch at the Bowdlers on Sunday after church.”

We sat and chatted, catching up on our news and of course the fundraising day came up which delighted Eunice, especially the prospect of nervous Eleanor.  She laughed herself silly, her enormous blue eyes behind her large framed spectacles wet with tears of merciless laughter.

“I shall have to come along for the day.  I must see her glide,” she said wiping her eyes.

“You’re not the only one,” I said.  “If we could sell tickets for her ride alone we would raise enough money to hold several exhibitions.”

Before I cooked the chicken dinner I went upstairs and, coming down, discovered Eunice had purloined the drinks tray.  My token bottle of oloroso sherry had been placed to the back and a bottle of Campari, with soda water plus a litre bottle of amontillado sherry had been decorously arrayed on it with a fresh lemon, a large box of Belgian chocolates and some boxes of nibbles.

“Pre-prandials on me and choccies for after dinner,” Eunice said gaily.  “May I get a knife for the lemon from the kitchen dear?”

I thanked her of course and suspect that the supplies will be depleted and my recycling bin full of the empty bottle by Tuesday morning.