She has a comprehensive collection - as you might expect from someone who worked with antique textiles for 15 years - but overwhelming, I feel, lying here with my head on a mule-saddle, my back on a Beluchi and my feet on god knows what from Balikesir.
“So what time is Chrissy’s girlfriend expecting us for dinner?” Vanessa says.
I look around the room for Vanessa; there could be a collection of Afghan tribesmen hiding here and it’d take an afternoon to find them.
“Well?” she says.
Perhaps a whole tribe, I think. “My sister told me eight,” I say to Vanessa, where she has finally come into focus over by the door.
7pm. I am trying to get into Vanessa’s car but first I have to find the seat.
There’s a comprehensive collection of medical supplies in her old car, as you might expect from a paediatric nurse who’s been working in the community for six years.
There could also be a couple of Afghani tribesman in here too but best of luck, I think, throwing boxes of syringes into the back, with finding them.
“It’s so great,” she says, sweeping files, tribal art and hospital equipment into the passenger footwell, “that your car is even worse than mine.”
I get in. I look around. No sign of the Afghanis, unless I’m sitting on one, but… no, it’s 16 rolls of bandages that are cushioning my seat, that’s all.
“I mean,” she says, shot-putting boxes into the boot, “only difference is, your car is actually dirtier.”
Vanessa comes into focus in the driver’s seat. She is looking fidgety. I know that look. She will want to roll a fag on the steering wheel before setting off. But first she will have to find her tobacco.
She scrabbles around in her voluminous bag. Its ethnic origin is a mystery to me but not half as much of a mystery as its contents: finding her tobacco takes a while.
She starts the engine, blowing smoke out of the window and checking her fringe in the rear-view mirror.
I grip the sides of my seat as she gets ready to swing out of her drive: it is always this way and preparation is everything. I look out of the passenger window and close my eyes.
It would not do for Vanessa to catch me doing this but on quick reflection, I decide to open them for we are running a bit late; in this particular instance maybe two pairs of eyes are better than one.
7.15pm. Vanessa’s attention is wholly concentrated on blowing smoke out of the window and shouting at her GPS, which leaves little to spare for the road.
7.20pm. There’s no “maybe” about it: two pairs of eyes are essential.
7.30pm. On the upside, we are still alive “though no thanks to him, the stupid idiot,” but on the downside, there are still 30 minutes to go.
7.40pm. “So what’s Chrissy’s girlfriend like, then?” Vanessa says, stubbing out her fag and winding up the window, while executing a sudden U-turn in front of oncoming traffic. This time, I think, she’s really putting the frighteners on me.
7.45pm. It might be a good idea to put the frighteners on Vanessa. To slow her in her tracks, you see.
“She’s very high-powered,” I say and describe Lisa’s career using the words my mother used when first describing it to me: “fast-tracked”, “head-hunted”, “ministry”, and “meteoric rise”.
“But you all said she’s lovely,” says Vanessa, “you said she’s so down to earth, I mean she must be, to be with your sister.”
There are 15 minutes to go. I need to go in hard with the frightening. I expand further, using the terms “clever,” “exceptionally capable,” and “the youngest woman in England ever to have...”
“That,” I think, “should do it.”
7.50pm. I have seen no evidence of restraint in Vanessa’s driving and there are still five minutes to go.
7.55pm. We are looking for the house. At high speed.
8pm. We have found the house. There is a Mercedes SL-Something Sport and an X5 Something Sport parked outside it. Both are very, very new and shiny.
In between there is a tight space where Vanessa must park. Behind the space stand my sister and Lisa.
8.02pm. Vanessa looks at me and says, “fuck”.
“They really love their cars,” I say.
8.03pm. Lisa and Chrissy guide her in to the space.
8.04pm. I get out of the car. It will be a joy to help them.
8.05pm. Lisa and Chrissy are smiling.
8.06pm. Lisa and Chrissy look a little bit frightened. But not half as frightened as Vanessa.