A call from my friend Ben in Brighton. There is going to be a party starting on Saturday afternoon and he wants me to go along with him and his wife. He says it will be in a big, lovely house and will be teeming with attractive women who work in PR. I am not entirely sure what he is implying by this – are attractive women who work in PR attracted to indigent men in their late fifties with thinning hair?
It seems like a good idea until Saturday dawns. I am neither looking nor feeling my best. I have clean clothes, but that’s where the good news ends. It occurs to me that the last thing I want to do is meet for the first time a lot of younger, wealthier and far less bald people than me.
I’d had a bit of a shock the night before, while watching The Wicker Man again: I seem to have unconsciously modelled my trademark look, a waistcoat and red neckerchief, on Alder MacGreagor, the landlord of the Green Man Inn, where Edward Woodward’s devout Christian policeman is tormented by the landlord’s daughter, played by Britt Ekland.
Is this, I wonder, who people are subliminally reminded of when they see me? (I’ve done a bit of checking, and it turns out, amazingly, that Lindsay Kemp, the actor who plays the landlord, was only four years Britt Ekland’s elder. He looks considerably older than that. What I am to do with this information I do not know.) Do people unconsciously entertain the fancy that I have a Scandinavian-looking daughter who drives Christian coppers potty by dancing around at night in the nip? This could go two ways, I suppose, but I do not. Have such a daughter, that is. Let’s get that straight.
Still, vanity, vanity, all is vanity. I have more hair than Lindsay Kemp in the film but I’m not getting any younger. And the pompholyx afflicting my hands has caused strange side effects on my fingernails and toenails: they have become claw-like, pitted, thicker; gunk accumulates beneath them and they now seem to be growing at twice the rate they once did. I used to be charmed that one’s fingernails grew at the same speed as the moon recedes from the Earth, or the European and American continents drift apart from each other. It told me something about distance, or longing… Now I don’t know what to think any more.
I was once told by a doctor – more than once, actually, and by more than one doctor – that one’s fingernails were a very good indicator of the state of one’s lungs. That was a long time ago, and even back then the news wasn’t good. I’m still kind of amazed I can breathe at all.
On Sunday afternoon I get a call from Ben. “You missed a great party, Nick,” he tells me. “You’d have been the only single man there. And the only other men there were me and —- [apparently a famous photographer who also happens to be incredibly good-looking], and he turned up with his wife and children, so that would have left the field clear for you.”
I let him go on for a bit, too miserable to say anything. Ben is not a cruel man but he does seem to be revelling in the details, and in my regret. He even goes into the age range of the women who were there. I’m not sure I am in the mood to have my heart broken again just yet, or even to dip my toe into the shallow end of the swimming pool of love. But, as Ben tells it, it seems as if the party was almost exclusively populated by gorgeous rich women with a thing for men over the crest of middle age, but with a column in a venerable left-wing weekly magazine.
I think: if I had to live my life all over again, I’d have done exactly the same, except I would have gone to that party. Eventually, I tell him to sod off. I am extremely fond of Ben, but there is only so much one can take of this kind of thing.
Meanwhile, I am contemplating another invitation for this evening: to a pub a couple of miles away, with someone I haven’t seen for years, and some of his friends. “Come and drink some craft ales,” he says, which for some reason makes my heart sink. I’ve never heard of the friends he mentions, and they are all male.
I look at my bank balance and I have £65 to last me for the next eight days, and I have a feeling that even two craft ales will take quite a bite out of that. So, this time, I will have to pay for my own drinks and there won’t even be any women there. It was all so much easier back in the day when I was in Summerisle, running the Green Man Inn in my trademark waistcoat and red neckerchief.