So I arranged to meet my ex (I suppose he’s now my ex ex) at Middleton Lodge, a
country house hotel near Scotch Corner. I considered going in disguise, not because I’m worried about paparazzi, but because I’ve been barred for being ‘too intimidating’. He texted to say he couldn’t be sure of the exact time, that it would depend on traffic. I told him not to worry, I would take a book Sally Rooney’s Normal People (he came back with, ‘That’s not about you, then’) and the three collies.
I tried not to get worked up. I considered emailing David, saying, oh, BTW, but as he hasn’t acknowledged his Christmas present, I stopped myself from even visiting his texts, as I know he will be staring at his phone, and will spy an incriminating three vibrating dots at the end of his queue. But I did the following:
- Went to the spa at Rudding Park, the only place north of Watford that does an extreme bikini wax. I also had a pedicure and a very nice salad. They refused to dye my hair without also blow-drying it, saying they couldn’t let me leave with wet hair, so…
- Dyed my roots at home. Oh, the ignominy. I might as well start watching Loose Women and shopping in Lidl.
- Cleaned my car.
- Bought a green Moncler safari jacket off Ebay.
I booked a table in the bar, using Nicola’s name in case the staff got wind it was me. God forbid Madonna ever books a table here.
I was actually quite nervous. I felt a bit disloyal, too, choosing the same venue where I had rendezvoused with David, but to be honest it’s the only decent place in the Dales where you can get vegan food and hasn’t also barred Gracie.
I decided to wait at a table in the courtyard, as it was a warm evening, and much darker than in the bar, so I figured I looked better. Every time a car pulled through the trees, I sat up straight, fluffed my hair and applied more Cowshed lip balm. I’d ordered myself champagne, then noticed I’d emptied the glass by five past eight; as there was no waiter in sight to take the glass away, I hid it in a plant pot in case he thought I was a dipsomaniac. I thought of interesting anecdotes. I began to wish I hadn’t written a big spread in this paper about turning 60 and only hoped to God he hadn’t read it. (He’s younger than me. Who isn’t? Well, apart from David.)
Finally, at half past eight, I thought I recognised his car. It parked. The lights were turned off. Mini and Gracie, who have a sixth sense about this sort of thing, started wagging and whining. But then, oh, a couple emerged from the trees and crunched along the gravel, chatting, carrying bags. False alarm.
‘Liz!’ the man shouted, and the dogs went mad. He put down the bags and, with his arm shepherding a blonde woman who looked about 12, came towards us. I looked behind me. Does he mean me?
It turned out it was him. Two stone lighter. And with a woman in tow. The sort who carries a Goyard tote and wears knee-high boots outside her ink-blue jeans. I was in wellies. Hunter wellies, but still wellies.
I considered dialling ruddy Rudding Park right then, asking for my money back. I fiddled with the dogs’ leads.
‘We’ll just go and check in,’ he said, gathering the bags and the blonde.
Why? Why put me through this? Was he punishing me, or is she his social worker? PA? Carer? Daughter I’ve never met?
After ten minutes, by which time I’d ordered a bottle and was downing it, he emerged, rubbing his hands. She was still in the room, probably rearranging her thong.
I got up, with as much dignity as I could muster, playing cat’s cradle with the dogs’ leads, and said I had to go, sorry: horse emergency. I got to my car. The f***er wouldn’t start, and my phone had died. I walked back to the table, where the blonde was now in situ, having changed into a blue blazer with brass buttons.
So we three sat until the AA man appeared, orange lights blazing. My humiliation could not have been more complete. Oh, until it later emerged, via an angry text the next day, that while we were waiting, Gracie had surreptitiously chewed* one of the brass buttons off her jacket, leaving a small hole.
‘Sorry,’ I typed.
‘Good girl, Gracie,’ I told her, feeding her a Bonio.
*Gracie’s record is now 11 seatbelts, five sofas, several walls, 21 dog beds, various wellies, riding hats and boots, two pairs of Havaianas flip-flops, all the seats in my car and my Dries Van Noten pinstripe jacket.