Friday was the Fat Boys lunch, an event husband had been invited to by M. and for which I had been enlisted as a chauffeur. Husband was titillated by his inclusion and spent the morning weighing his clothing options aloud like a teenage girl anguishing over her prom dress. Coral coloured cashmere sweater vest or tweed blazer? Was his sheepskin coat too “urban”?
The arrangement was to meet at the wine bar at noon. At 12:30PM husband was just wrapping up a call so I was dispatched to the wine bar on my own to stall for him. I used the time to enquire about the etymology of the lunch’s name since the attendees, while not in danger of anorexia, were neither overtly fat nor boys. A., a local writer who resembled Paul Bunyan in his leather waistcoat, attempted to explain as he poured me half a glass of champagne (I was the driver after all). The account was delivered in an authoritative and confident voice that tricked me into believing it was a coherent response, a common characteristic of the posh spoken. There was something about Oxford and self-employment and a loose association with the arts, but it took some prodding before I was finally able to work out that the most important qualification was that you didn’t have to go back to the office afterward. As A. commented in a moment of unusual lucidity, “I’ve always thought if you don’t have it done by Friday lunchtime, you’re unlikely to get it done by the end of the day anyway.”
Overall the explanation had a bit of machismo, chest beating pride on behalf of the assembled guests, who included a magazine editor, the publisher of a local newspaper, writers, and a former military man turned vintner. Husband in fact is in the employ of someone else who might reasonably expect to be able to reach him on Friday afternoon, but seemed to qualify on the basis of his employer’s association with the the-uh-tah and possibly because I drive a station wagon which M. suspected he could persuade me to chauffeur. But all these men shared at least the illusion of being in charge of their own destiny for this particular afternoon, and they were going to spend it drinking copious amounts.
Husband materialised (having chosen coral cashmere) and, after a case of wine was loaded into the trunk of the car, we were off. The brief journey to the pub was no cause for a respite in gossip. A story about how the ex-wife of one of the Fat Boys had a lover in common with Princess Di (presumably the reason she is now an ex) was my reward before depositing my charges at the door of the pub.
The call to retrieve them came five hours later. When I arrived they were on whiskey and cognac and there was no sign of the case of wine. One suede loafered man was wondering around with a half empty bottle of port, and the ex-army officer turned winemaker was telling me how he was shocked to learn over lunch that I stripped my way through college to pay the bills. After an aborted attempt to find someone from Suffolk presumed to still be in the pub, I managed to herd them into my car and back to the wine bar where the man from Suffolk had already made his way.
The scene that followed was much as you might expect after a dozen men have spent five hours drinking champagne, beer, red wine, port and whiskey. M. kept falling into a coat rack. His ex-wife did not look amused, and was not her same warm, friendly self towards me. I imagined she was rather horrified husband seemed to have fallen in with this crew and assumed our marriage was headed for the same eventual destiny as her own. Husband mistook a request for his last name from a fellow fat boy attendee as some kind of insult, then insisted his response was meant to be “a joke.” The man from Suffolk kept telling me his life was a mess — just back after ten years in Japan, freshly divorced and with two kids — all of which seemed incongruent since he reminded me of the gay, lecherous Uncle Monty from Withnail and I from the moment I first saw him.
It seemed best to dissociate myself from the fat boys, so I mingled. The most amusing of my new acquaintances was a portly man of about sixty who was a good six inches shorter than me with thick, black-rimmed glasses on a cord, horrible teeth, and a very posh accent. When I asked him what he did he said, “My dear, I own Farmington,” which is the village up the hill from us. Twice he told me I had a very red nose, which is true, and twice that he’d just as soon comment on my body as my nose but he couldn’t see it underneath my coat. Despite his behaviour which I suppose could be construed as piggish, I found him entertaining and was half tempted to drop the coat and strike a pose. All the better that I didn’t seeing that his wife was losing her patience at his refusal to leave the wine bar and go to dinner. His defense was that he wasn’t leaving with a bloody half bottle of wine left. She barked orders at him like he was a naughty dog, which I suspect was deserved, and finally he made his exit. Husband had apparently had his fill of being a man in charge of his own destiny and offered no resistance when I told him it was time to go, using the age old lure of sausage, chips and curry from the Chinese takeaway across the square.