‘So, what will you be doing tomorrow with all that time in your hands?’, asks Sylvia, sawing off another forkful of steak. She is a naturally charismatic woman, impossible to ignore even when silent. Her Yorkshire accent is smooth around the edges, which would make her a great voice-artist for radio and TV ads. A handsome woman, she is probably in her mid- to late-forties and still managing to retain a certain endearing girlishness.
‘Oh, I will probably be employing Yuri Geller’s technique for willing away ugly wallpaper – and watching the movies channel, I suppose’, I say wistfully.
‘You really should try to see Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory. It’s right here in Portsmouth’, she says.
‘Isn’t that the ship he died in?’, I ask, raising an eyebrow.
‘Yep, that’s the one’, chirps Sylvia’s husband, David, with a mouth full of Caesar salad. David and I have been friends for many years. Almost twenty years my senior, he is a sort of father figure to me, my own family being so far away, although we get on far better than I ever did with my Brazilian father. ‘Take the tour, it’s really worth it’, he says, pointing his knife at me.
We’re on our second bottle of wine and the general feeling of bonhomie is increased with each sip. As is so often the case in modern social gatherings, the conversation inevitably turns to Big Brother.
‘It’s terribly depressing that this once great nation of Horatio Nelson has been reduced to applauding the antics of morons whose IQs struggle to get into double figures. Jade Goody is our overdue comeuppance’, I say, rather hypocritically, I thought, since I too am guilty of watching it, even if only to know what the fuss is about, you will understand.
‘I think it’s a fascinating social experiment’, says Sylvia, slightly defensively.
‘What would make it a fascinating social experiment for me’, I retort, ‘would be to throw in a few Molotov cocktails and see who lasts the longest’.
Sylvia looks a little taken aback. ‘Millions of people watch it every day. Surely it can’t be that bad?’
‘Well, millions of flies eat shit every day; it doesn’t mean it’s any good’, I say and check myself. Steady, old boy, let’s not get overexcited now. These are friends, remember?
David, who has been watching this like a tennis spectator, turns to me smiling and fires his cannonball so decisively, it would have made the good Admiral himself proud, ‘our daughter has auditioned for the next series. She’s been shortlisted and they want to see her again next week’.
You stupid, stupid boy. Not for the first time, you walked right into it. Who are you to pass judgement when you yourself have an exceptional talent for putting your foot in your mouth anyway?
‘In that case’, I say, raising my glass in appeasement, ‘they are clearly raising the standards and I will of course vote for her, should she get in’, and swallow a big gulp of wine, but it’s too late: a bullet has already been fired into my chest and my deck is ablaze.