The Meltdown of a Banker's Wife (16 page)

BOOK: The Meltdown of a Banker's Wife
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‘Why can't we all just be nice to each other?' Mel said to herself. ‘I'm sure that life is too short and too rare for all this rubbish.'

‘I know what you mean, Mummy!' said Amy earnestly. Mel gave her children a kiss and she felt her father's hand on her shoulder.

‘Sorry, love. I was hoping it might be different this time.' He shook his head sadly.

Mel sighed. ‘Never mind. Tell me about Algeria. Let's all go and sit on the swings and have a nice uncomplicated chinwag.'

The swings had been built at the bottom of her parents' back garden, near the little copse of trees, by her dad when she and Briony were toddlers. She couldn't help the tears dripping onto her cheeks as she sat on one of them and let herself swing to and fro. How had everything turned out like this?

When Mel was little, she wanted to be a ballerina and Briony wanted to be an air stewardess. Just as well no one knows what is in their future.

‘I don't mean to have arguments with Briony all the time, Dad. Really I don't.'

‘I know, love. I'm sorry I wasn't around more while you were both growing up. Maybe I could have balanced things a bit. But you know … work and all that.'

Her father had been like the Scarlet Pimpernel all their lives. Even now Mel didn't know what he did for a living.
But she was sure as eggs that he hadn't been playing golf or birdwatching in Algeria.

‘Can you tell me anything about your trip, Dad?' she asked.

‘If I told you, I'd have to shoot you,' he smiled. Mel wondered whether that oft-used quip was only a joke.

Well, thought Mel, we can't really stay here in this awful atmosphere!

She so wanted everything to be nice, but circumstances and personalities had intervened.

‘Mum, Briony,' tried Mel, ‘you know I didn't want an argument this week. I totally respect Briony's beliefs in reincarnation. It was only that Gabriel had frightened Amy with it that I tried to make light of it. Please can we just sort it out and get on with each other?'

Obviously not. Most of the rest of the day, the sisters kept away from each other and Briony, rather melodramatically, placed her hands over Jupiter's ears every time Mel, Amy or Michael were nearby in case they corrupted his spiritual purity.

Relations started to thaw a little by teatime, but Briony couldn't help but ask Mel how she had met Sophie and friends in Brighton that day.

‘Sophie tells me that you've got a girlfriend called Kelly who was a bit of a “goer”!' sneered Briony. She was obviously relishing the idea that she had found Mel's Achilles heel. Great, so now her sister was hoping and praying that she was a secret lesbian.

‘Well, no. That's not exactly true. Kelly and I went to Brighton for a day with the kids, but then Kelly went to get ice cream. She came back totally pissed with Sophie and friends. Her friend Tracey had to carry Kelly back to the car,' explained Mel.

But it didn't really suit Briony's wishes or purposes to believe this, so she just gave Mel a knowing smirk. As long
as it deflected attention away from the stupid row of earlier, what did it matter?

‘The girls were telling us that your lovely hubby's bank is the one to watch. Apparently, your mate was telling them that one of Alan's mates was sacked and had his computer seized. We reckon something is going on which could put Carbuncle Bank's involvement in apartheid South Africa in the shade. Have you any idea what they're investing in?' continued Briony.

‘I've no idea. I know nothing about money except how to spend it. But Alan's become very interested in it all recently and he seems to be raking in the bonuses. What's the harm?' asked Mel.

‘We've just had some new people joining our meetings who have just left the City. They've been telling us that they think the whole lot will fall apart soon. They say that they're investing in some pretty scummy things. And a lot of it isn't worth the paper it's written on. They also say that if it wasn't for banks like Alan's, we wouldn't have wars in the Middle East!'

‘No,' corrected Mel, ‘that can't be the case. You know Alan and his colleagues went to university for years. They know everything there is to know about economics. It's just that your “friends” can't believe that there are people so clever that they can make money out of nothing. Alan says it's like a money tree. He said that he hadn't believed in the money tree since he was a child of about nine, but when Big Swinging Dick arrived from the States, it had reignited his faith that money really did grow on trees. He said that the education system and adult scepticism had ruined his belief in the money tree and that it was so refreshing and liberating to be like an infant again!'

Briony's eyes rolled up to the ceiling and she shook her head in disbelief. ‘I rest my case,' she said.

Mel had no idea what she was on about. What a stick-inthe-mud. Oh well, there are stupid people around who can't think outside the box, I suppose, thought Mel.

‘Melanie, I know you don't want your bubble to burst, but I have good reason to believe something is going on in Alan's bank. Ponsonby and Tosser isn't the only one, of course, but something is going on,' her father added.

She didn't like the sound of this. Briony was one thing, but her father? He had been over the moon when Mel had married so well. In his wedding speech, he had said how happy he was to leave Mel safely in the hands of a man who could earn enough to keep one of his daughters in the manner in which he himself thought she should be accustomed. Both Mel's mum and dad had never shown the slightest aversion to capitalism and being filthy rich! She felt a shiver run up her spine. Maybe there was more truth to this than met the eye. Luckily, Amy burst in just then with a large spider she had caught, followed by Michael, Gabriel and Jupiter.

‘Mummy! Look … do you think we could take this one back to be Willy's girlfriend? Her name is Polly and she's ever so pretty! They could have lots of lovely baby spiderlings and I could change their nappies and feed them!' shouted Amy.

Mel wondered when and where Amy had picked up the basic facts of life but thought it best not to query things further. At least Polly the Spider had brought some harmony into the house.


Later, the neighbours started to turn up with bottles of wine and beer and lots of puddings. Dad had spent at least an hour that evening trying to get the barbecue to light and Mum had cooked the meat in the oven beforehand, as it said to do in all the health and safety manuals. The trouble was that once they had been roasted within an inch of their lives in the oven and then put on the nuclear reactor Dad was trying to pass off as a barbecue, the chicken pieces, burgers and sausages were about one-tenth of their original size and looked like they'd been right next to Chernobyl when it went up in smoke. Mrs Timpkins broke one of her teeth on a venison sausage. Most people weren't brave enough to partake of the hard, unidentifiable bits of organic matter that came off Dad's barbecue.

Luckily, Dad was quite merry and so was everyone else, so no one was really bothered about culinary prowess. Mrs Timpkins was the only one that seemed to have suffered an injury, but that was only because she was so blotto that she didn't know what she was eating. Everyone else just tucked into the salad.

‘Oh Mel, it's so lovely to see you again! Edgar is going to get married to a lovely girl called Elouise next month. Oh, he wasn't long without a girlfriend after you went. I always knew he would do well for himself! How's Alan? Did you ever get married?'

Mrs Timpkins was Mel's ex-boyfriend's mother. She and Edgar had spent all of two months together when they were in school. It had never been exactly love's young dream. The
one thing that stuck in Mel's mind about Edgar and his skills as a lover was that he had nearly made her throw up once. They had been staying at a boarding school in a picturesque part of Wales on a class vacation. It had beautiful grounds and by moonlight one evening, Mel and Edgar had happened upon a secret walled garden. By the soft light of the moon, they could see the marble statues, fountains and sundial. It was like a scene straight out of
A Midsummer Night's Dream
. And there, Edgar had moved in to kiss Mel. He pulled her to him in his strong arms and their lips had parted. The next thing she knew, she was heaving and only just managed to escape his grasp in time to vomit under one of the beautiful statues. Edgar had attempted a French kiss. He had shoved the entire length of his tongue down her throat until it reached past her tonsils … and the rest was history, including their two-month relationship. Edgar's mum had been trying to make the best of it ever since although Mel suspected that Edgar hadn't given her the whole story of what had happened. Edgar's mum had seemed convinced that he had finished with her and not the other way around. Still, it didn't matter any more, as long as Edgar was not here … at the barbecue.

‘Edgar's here with his fiancée actually. Lovely girl. So pretty, polite and intelligent,' gloated Mrs Timpkins. ‘There they are actually! Edgar! Elouise! Look who's here!' She frantically waved to get their attention. Reluctantly, Edgar came over, followed by the wonderful Elouise. He had gone completely bald and had about three double chins. His dress sense hadn't improved either. He seemed to be still wearing the same things he had twenty years ago.

‘Hello,' said Mel. ‘Lovely to see you again! I hear you are getting married! Congratulations!'

Edgar limply shook Mel's hand, while Elouise glared at her as if she was the spawn of Satan. She could only imagine how she had been depicted by her fiancé and his mum.

‘So, what are you up to these days, Ed?' asked Mel. The very informality of calling him Ed made Elouise more hostile.

‘He prefers to be called Edgar actually,' she corrected.

‘Oh, sorry,' replied Mel, feeling her cheeks glow red.

‘I'm a solicitor now,' Edgar answered, almost visibly growing with pride. ‘I finished my Articles two years ago and am really enjoying working in family law.'

That didn't mean much to Mel but she assumed it had something to do with divorces. ‘Oh well, that's nice!' She was at a loss as to what to say.

‘Your mother told me you were married years ago,' commented Edgar. ‘Some chap called Alan … works in banking?'

‘Oh yes. That's right!' she confirmed.

Edgar's face brightened up, as though he expected to hear interesting news, so Mel thought she'd better try and oblige.

‘We've been married for seven years. Two children. No need for your law services I'm afraid! We're very happily married … no plans for divorce or anything. Oh and the children are fine too … no problems with social services or the police!'

Edgar looked rather confused. Mel couldn't understand why. Didn't family law mean things to do with marriage and children and doing lawyer-type stuff if things went wrong with either of them? Mel felt like a total imbecile and now Edgar and Elouise were looking at her as if she had escaped from Broadmoor wearing a head protector and limb restraints.

‘Ha! Ha!' laughed Mel, trying to save the day. ‘I'm only joking!' This tack really wasn't helping the situation and she thanked God when Amy and Michael started hitting Briony's children with sticks.

‘Sorry! You know how it is when you have children! I'm going to have to break up the fight, I'm afraid. Lovely talking to you though! Oh … are you planning on having any children?' Well, she had suddenly realised that they might
have thought her tactless or bitchy or something by implying that Edgar and Elouise knew how it was to have children, so she thought she'd better clear that up by asking if they were planning to have any. She just hadn't realised until afterwards that that might hit a raw nerve as well. Edgar's mother turned the colour of a beetroot and stomped off, shooting Elouise a withering look.

‘Right, you two! Please would you put down those sticks before you have someone's eye out?'

‘But Mummy, we're only playing! We're pretending to be knights on a quest. Look we've even got some boiling oil!' Amy was beside herself with excitement as she swung the bucket full of very muddy mud around her body.

‘We're going to vanish the foes with it!' chimed Michael.

‘Vanish them?'

‘He means vanquish … don't you, Michael? Vanquish the foe!!' corrected Amy.

Michael grabbed a handful of the sloppy goo and hurled it at Jupiter. Jupiter decided to move and the mud landed on top of the barbecue with a sizzle. The next blob was flying out of Amy's hand before Mel realised what was going on. It was aimed loosely at Gabriel but ended up on Elouise's head like a brown Mr Whippy ice cream. At this Elouise began to cry and a dark atmosphere fell over the proceedings.

‘Oh please,' begged Mel's mother, ‘come on inside … we'll have that out in a jiffy!' She marched towards Elouise with a tissue. She tried dabbing at the swirl of mud with the tissue but it was completely useless. The mud started to ooze down Elouise's forehead. Edgar put an arm around Elouise to comfort her, but she pulled away and stomped off out of the garden. Edgar ran after her, calling her name plaintively. Then a hush descended on the party. No one really knew what to say and Mel wished the ground would open up and swallow her.

‘Well!' said Mel's mum. ‘I think I've lost yet another friend. That's just marvellous. How am I supposed to go to bridge
club now? My name will be mud as soon as Cynthia tells everyone about this!'

There were a few people trying to stifle giggles. One chap was almost choking on his burger. His eyes were watering as he tried his best to cover up his mirth.

Then Marianne, who had been going puce trying to hold the giggle in, was crossing her legs so much was she laughing. In the end everyone was chuckling, including her children who took it as permission to carry on. Mel was absolutely mortified as she watched her children pour their ‘boiling oil' all over Briony's children's heads. But surprisingly, Gabriel and Jupiter fell about laughing. They looked as though they hadn't had so much fun in years … and on reflection, this was probably not too far from the truth. What was more amazing, Briony and Zeus decided to join in! This was all getting very weird but it was one heck of a relief for Mel. For the first time in ages she felt lighter, as if a great weight had dropped from her shoulders. Yes, it appeared that a few people dressed in their designer clothes weren't terribly impressed and they seemed to leave pretty quickly, but everyone else (well, the fifteen people left which included Mel, Briony, their parents, Zeus, Jupiter, Amy, Gabriel and Michael) were really starting to enjoy themselves!

It was almost as if someone was doing a chemistry experiment and had added a catalyst. At last, the family was getting on. The rest of the barbecue food was ruined, but there was plenty of Pimm's to get through and as night fell, the survivors of the party sat down on the grass and chatted. Dr Merryman, her parents' GP friend from up the road, went off to get his guitar and returned to strum and serenade into the early hours. No one could remember the last time they had let their hair down like this. It was like a mini music festival. The children went to sleep with their heads in their parents' laps and a lovely soft moon shone over the whole gathering.

Mel wasn't sure how they were going to get the kids clean
enough to go to bed without waking them and making them irritable. In the end, Briony came up with the brilliant idea of getting a bowl of soapy water and some flannels to wipe off the worst of it. Then she suggested, ‘Why don't we all sleep in the teepee tonight? It's a lovely warm night and we can't get ourselves clean enough to go into the house, let alone the beds! Mum'll have kittens if we traipse through the house like this!'

And so it was that they snoozed and giggled the night away in the teepee. They agreed that it was the best fun they'd had in ages.

It wasn't so much fun in the morning, however. The sun seemed terribly bright as Mel staggered towards the house to get clean and find something to settle her hangover. The children were already stirring and telling each other jokes. Hangover or not, this was lovely. There were several other sleeping bodies strewn across the lawn, including that of Dr Merryman, who was sleeping with his head on his guitar. Even Ozzie and Iggy had chilled out. Both of them were curled up in the teepee and Ozzie hadn't tangled himself up in knots in his temporary tethering system, trying to go off on his usual killing spree.

‘Remember what we've said to you now, darling!' said Mel's dad. ‘Briony, Zeus and I are of the same mind. Don't ask me how I know, but things in P and T Bank aren't as safe or as squeaky clean as they might seem. It may be an idea for you and the children to get away somewhere isolated … take Alan if you can persuade him, before Armageddon breaks loose!'

Briony and Zeus nodded sagely in agreement. ‘I know we normally don't get on, Mel, but we do love you, you know? We've seen a lot of footage about our finance industry and its dealings recently.'

‘And some rather disturbing news about some friends of
yours. New friends. I won't say any more than that,' continued her father, looking rather like a main character in a James Bond film.

And then it happened … out there in the drive, before Mel and the children got in the car. They had a proper big family hug! Even her mother had forgiven her for the loss of her bridge partner.

‘To tell the truth,' she said, ‘she was getting on my nerves anyway, darling. It was always “Edgar this” and “Edgar that” droning on and on about his law degree and his career and then Elouise. I don't know why she boasts so about Elouise. Whenever they're staying at Cynthia's house, Cynthia is shouting profanities at Elouise from dawn till dusk. Honestly, some of the things she shouts are not fit for a common fishwife. She shouldn't be playing bingo, let alone bridge if you ask me!' she sniffed, looking towards Cynthia's house as the curtain twitched. ‘Darling, I know we haven't got along recently, but I really do love you. You make sure you listen to Daddy and Briony. Ring us when you get home.'

As they drove away, there wasn't a dry eye. Even the dog and cat were whining and meowing.

Now, as they drew closer to home, she remembered all the reasons that had made her decide to take the children to her parents' for the week. When they'd first arrived, relations between her and her sister had been so bad that she had yearned to go home and could only see Alan through rosy-coloured spectacles, but these had fallen away and she could see things as they really were. Alan had been insufferable over the last month or so. Ever since Big Swinging Dick had arrived and becoming ‘friends' with Poppy, Alan had been rude, angry and arrogant and had spent most of his time either snorting Columbian marching powder or out cold with his nose red and running and drool coming out of his mouth. She was really going to put her brain in gear and deal with this situation head-on. She had been making excuses for a quiet life.

The extra money and what seemed like Alan's career success had made her acquiescent and it looked like this was a dangerous stance for everyone. She had to reset her moral compass and trust her instincts. No, it wasn't right that Alan was snorting cocaine and she knew in her guts that dealings with Poppy and her family were unwholesome. Why did Poppy and Tarquin need one hundred per cent loans from P&B Bank to buy property when they had so much invested in tax havens? What was all this talk about the horticultural industry of Afghanistan? Wasn't Afghanistan a desert? What did they grow there? And what did her dad do? She had never known, but he seemed to know an awful lot about the banking system and had just been to some deserty country. She wasn't sure it had been Algeria, but there were still crusty bits of camel poo on her father's shorts. She knew camel poo from her trips to Egypt. There was nothing quite like it. No, she really needed to take note of what her family were telling her.

BOOK: The Meltdown of a Banker's Wife
2.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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