Now that the Dragon Lady has retired from the Showring, her dogs are campaigned by a comely twenty-two-year old Dutch girl called Marianne; so naturally whenever we’re in her area we drop in for a quick cup of coffee and an endless bloody discussion of heads, movement, soundness, lineage and all that stuff so beloved of dog freaks. The worst kind of these is, of course, The Long Goodbye, when cups have been emptied, watches consulted and regrets expressed, and then everybody clusters in the doorway and has a supplementary meeting lasting another week or so, and you have to stand through it. One of those developed the last time we called, and after a couple of eternities just standing there, I decided to amuse myself by seeing how long my beloved could concentrate on the canine matters if I discreetly fondled her ass. Little, as they say, amuses the simple. I was alarmed when my efforts appeared to produce no effect whatever. Had my fondling technique diminished with advancing age? Or had the title “Old Iiron-Ass” a more than symbolic meaning in the case of my wife? I redoubled my efforts, and eventually she moved away. BUT THE ASS WAS STILL IN MY HAND ! At the same time I became aware that Marianne was wearing an expression that was, to say the least, troubled.
I suppose I’m fortunate that after forty-one years of marriage my wife’s bottom still feels like a twenty-two-year-old’s, or at least what I think I remember a twenty-two-year-old’s feels like, but this cut strangely little ice during our subsequent discussion.
(Oh, I’ve just received a phone call to say that the London Times has announced a new motivational slogan for the French Navy – “To the water, the hour has come!”, or, in French “A l’eau, c’est l’heure!”)
Forty-one years, though, but. The 40th anniversary last year was, of course, a biggie, a ruby anniversary, as was carefully explained to me on a number of occasions. A beautiful ring appropriate to this was duly acquired through the good offices of the estimable Michael Forte, and I waited to see what she would give me.
Came the big night and we exchanged presents. She got a ring and I got a week’s cruise for two. No, wait a minute, I got permission to get a week’s cruise for two.
In effect, she got a ruby ring and I got an invoice.
Actually, that’s not quite fair, it’s a January Blues Cruise featuring several of my favourite acts, wall to wall gigs and Michelin quality food. I’ve been dying to go for the last twelve years but I was always too scabby to pay the money. Was it worth it? Most fun I’ve ever had. We’ve already paid our deposits for next year.
The ship, one sixth of a mile long, sails from San Diego California, and meanders along the coast of Mexico. First thing you do is pour brandy into your airtravel-phobic spouse and fly, with a case full of light summer clothing, to Los Angeles, where they’ve had five inches of rain that day. Then you hire a car and, avoiding the parts of the highway which have been swept into the Pacific (honest to God), you drive down to San Diego using a good map to navigate to selected attractions on the way. Unless, like me, you loftily spurn the namby-pamby use of maps on the grounds, again, of expense, and consequently get to see parts of California too rarely visited by the average tourist and find, in the course of the long day’s journey, that your wife’s command of invective and sarcasm is far more impressive than you knew. Then you board the ship and set off on your cruise to the Mexican Riviera in a force eight gale, during which your wife falls down a stairway and injures her ankle, protesting loudly the while that she’s perfectly sober. So to cheer her up, the next day you spend $120 for a whale-watching excursion and return in triumph with the tickets to the cabin veranda, which is at that moment being passed majestically by a large whale. For nothing.
But it was, nevertheless, magic, and a week later we staggered ashore and hired another car for a quick business trip to Tucson, Arizona. It’s very other, this American place. They have no sense of scale, for one thing – the street number of our hotel was 72,551. Then they have these information signs outside all their towns. My favourite was at a flyspeck in the desert:- “GILA BEND – 1,700 LOVELY PEOPLE and five old crabs’’. And they do strange things there. One huge industrial building bore the proud sign “American Openings Inc.”. What on earth does that mean?
Of course, Arizona is largely desert. Miles and miles and miles of it, with a two-lane highway throught the middle. We were motoring happily through it one afternoon when the Dragon, who was driving, said, as she always bloody does, “There’s a petrol station, should we get some?” and I said, as I always do, “Nah, stop at the next one.”
“But it says it’s sixty-three miles to the next one.”
“Does it?”, I said, noticing that we had now passed the turn, “No problem, we’ve plenty in the tank still.’’
But we hadn’t.
And it was getting a little dark. They say a watched pot never boils, and maybe it doesn’t, but I can assure you a watched fuel gauge drops like a stone. And she was getting edgy. And I was getting quiet and trying not to think of all those FBI Files and Cold Case Files programmes on Discovery Channel. (“…Little did they realize the danger they were in…”) I began to take note of the mile markers for when I had to dial 911. (“…This is the actual call by the doomed tourist...”) Just as the sun went down the fuel warning light came on. I began furtively to scan the faces of other motorists for signs of sympathy and helpfulness. A more disheartening array of thieves, rapists and serial killers you couldn’t imagine. (“…Five days later, in a roadside ditch, a prospector made a gruesome discovery…”) And, of course, being Arizona, they were all probably armed to the teeth, especially that baldy truck driver with the tattoos and the three teeth and no neck.
The car was by now running on prayer, and then, suddenly, on top of a hill in the middle of nothing at all, an oasis, with fuel, coffee, toilets, everything. Joy was unrestrained and we whooped and cheered and filled the tank to the brim. There had been less than a pint of fuel remaining. Then we called nature and settled in to two huge celebratory coffees, and in an unguarded moment I reasonably and accurately pointed out that I had been right about the petrol. Bad idea.
House private, no flowers.