The Struggle Continues - Part 1 - The Reunion - 3 - The Ex-Wife


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I'd expected Alice to ring before three. That corresponded to a reasonably early time for the UK and I knew she was a relatively early riser, as she liked to take a walk early with her dogs. It was just past the hour and I was on the point of returning to the ferry and the hotel, when my mobile phone rang again.

'Ewart!' It was my ex-wife this time. 'What were you up to last night?' She had a sarcastic tone. 'You were never the great lover with me! Or even an ordinary one!' She laughed to emphasis what she had said.

'True!' I may have argued about the ordinary, but I admitted to most of my faults.

'I suppose to make it worse, she was young, beautiful and expensive! Perhaps, very expensive! You always could waste money!' The tone was still sarcastic. I knew the treatment she gave to errant husbands, frivolous wives and dim and totally inept social workers in Court.

'She was a work colleague called Jacinta!' She couldn't see that I was smiling at what had happened!

'Jacinta! Flower! Huh!' I knew that she was shrugging her shoulders. 'A likely tale! If she was that makes it even worse!'

'It's true!' I doubted I'd win this argument, just as I'd lost most of this type in the past. 'She was showing me the other side of Hong Kong before I came home. Things just went a little bit further than we both expected!'

'That's even more unlikely. I always know when you're lying!' She usually did!

***

'Anyway!' I tried for closure. 'We're not married anymore, so I can do as I like. Well within reason and the law!'

'I suppose so!'

I sensed I might have achieved my aim of putting the sparring to bed, so I changed tack. 'So the wedding's on Thursday at twelve?'

'Yes! Be at Josh's house in Bow about eleven. You do know the address? And you'll never find the Registry Office.' She had ordered me and then paused for me to reply! But I didn't as I did know the address, so she continued. 'No-one will bite! I think all our arguments are now over and fully buried. I trust you're fit and well!'

'Yes! But, tired after last night!' I couldn't resist the dig. Otherwise I was truthful. 'I'm looking forward to seeing everybody again on Thursday! I'll take the tube to Mile End and walk!' If it was raining, I could take a taxi from one of the few black taxi-ranks in London at the station.

'Why don't we have dinner on Wednesday night?' I was surprised at the invitation. 'Eight o'clock at Mon Plaisir! I'll book it and if I can't get a table, I'll phone and leave a message.' I knew the very affable French bistro in Monmouth Street well and we'd eaten there and enjoyed excellent dinners many times. Once in the same room as a much younger Andrew Lloyd Webber having an after first-night party. He would be much grander these days. And with a different wife too!

I didn't have any time to reply, before Alice put the phone down.

***

I changed my mind about returning and decided to check the documentation for hopefully the last time. I wondered whether Jacinta would find any errors or request any additions. I hoped she wouldn't, as I really wanted to get home!

But I did find a few typographical errors, but then I always did.

You couldn't have an old-fashioned letterpress printer from Wood Green in North London for a father and not do so. I'd spent so many hours from about seven until I left school at seventeen, setting up and checking type and then making it into complete pages in chaises, with reglets to space it and quoins to lock it. I'd printed posters on a venerable cast-iron proofing press dating from before the Napoleanic Wars and minded Heidelbergs, with their hypnotic windmill movement and very distinctive noise. I like to think that I understand the true crafted beauty of the printed page. Layout has to be perfect, spaces have to be pedantic, apostrophies have to be correct and you must use the diphthong as appropriate.

I gave it another thorough read through and found possibly a last spacing mistake. It probably wasn't the last, but after correction I created new sets of documentation, which replaced the copies on Jacinta's desk. The old ones were shredded to hide the evidence.

***

It was about five, when I left the office and walked back to the Star Ferry after first collecting the newly-developed photographs. Despite what had gone on, they were very innocent! Just a businessman and a beautiful local girl showing him around Hong Kong on a beautiful evening. Perhaps not so innocent after all!

I could have taken the underground railway under the bay from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central just behind the hotel, but I never did.

Perhaps we inherit the phobias of our parents.

My father would never travel on a deep line in London. I can remember how in the late nineteen-fifties, we'd gone to Earls Court from Wood Green for a printing exhibition. Not for him the direct route from Wood Green to Earls Court on the Piccadilly Line. But no! We walked a kilometre up the hill to Wood Green main line station and took one of the steam-hauled trains into Kings Cross. I can still smell the steam and smoke of the N2 tank-engines or six-nine-fivers as I knew them later as a train-spotter!

Now, Kings Cross is also on the Piccadilly Line, but not for us the direct route. So we took the just below the surface Metropolitan Line through Baker Street and then up on the embankment to Hammersmith. From there, it was just a short walk across to the Piccadilly Line and back to Barons Court from where we walked to the Exhibition to avoid the deep station at Earls Court. It was very complicated but an adventure with his father for someone of about nine!

Years later, I would never take anything but the direct route, but I still don't like deep Underground lines. I always stand back and make sure if I'm alone I hold on to something. Just like as a child, sometimes I put my hands to my ears because of the noise.

So I took the Star Ferry! And felt invigorated by the sea air!

***

I ate alone that night in the Cantonese restaurant high in the Mandarin. Strangely it was possibly only the fourth or fifth time, that I'd done that in my three months at the hotel. I'd much prefered to observe the clientel in an authentic restaurant in Wan Chai. But then I'm a sort of inverted snob, hating pretentious restaurants, where they escort you to the toilet and much prefering those with good food and happy, funny and personable staff. One that I liked immensely, had taught me enough Mandarin to frighten a waiter! It was also probably enough to get me arrested! I had never been a great linguist and it was too late to start!

I didn't eat much that night. Just an excellent duck, some rice and a couple of glasses of wine.

I just spent most of the time thinking, worrying and asking questions.

Would I be welcome at the wedding? Alice had said yes, but then the divorce had not been without acrimony. The boys had always been closer to her, as I'd spent all my time working. Perhaps men, certainly me for example, can never get that dreaded balance between work and life correct.

What should I buy Josh and Lucinda? I'd always been bad and very uninspiring on presents, as that had been Alice's department. Perhaps, I should ask Jacinta, what would be something suitable to that I could bring back from Hong Kong! But then that would have to be small, so I could carry it! I realised that if I didn't shop here tomorrow, I would only have Wednesday in London to buy anything!

What should I wear for the wedding? This is usually a female problem, but I have been accused several times of always choosing the correct clothes. But should I wear the full morning suit? And come to think of it, where was it? I suspected it was probably with the rest of my clothes in the basement store of my flat in the Barbican. Or had I left it by mistake with Alice? She'd know!

The one question I had solved was where to live until my tenant left at the end of April. I'd decided to stay for the four weeks or so at the Post House in Regents Park. They gave me a good deal! After the noise and bustle of Hong Kong it would be very quiet.

***

I returned to my room after a couple of drinks in the basement bar and checked my phone for any messages.

There were two.

A short message from Josh and Lucinda gave me a formal invitation to the wedding. I was touched to think that I was wanted after all.

A much longer and matter-of-fact message from Alice answered most of my questions. She'd organised my wedding present of a new kitchen for Josh and Lucinda and she'd also found my morning suit. She would bring it with her to Bow on Thursday.

I slept well that night!

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