Well, I know my opinion won’t count for much, but even I could see that she was extremely pretty. Average height, I suppose; my own age or thereabouts; an extremely good figure; well shaped hands, bare of rings and bracelets; hair the same colour as mine, but smooth and straight and, if I knew anything about it, expensively cut to hang just past shoulder length, and the clip which held it off her face looked like gold, not cheap gilt. Big blue eyes and high cheekbones drew attention, even without the classy clothes – and believe me, those were expensive. Enough of my own clothes are designer labels that I can recognise them on other people, even when I’m not sure precisely which designer it is. She looked fabulous, and I wasn’t by any means the only one who thought so.
Fortunately, I worked out that she was being shown to the seat next to mine before she actually got there, so I stood up to make room for her to come past without wearing the faint startled look which I’d seen on the face of the woman on my other side. The seats aren’t fixed, they’re loosely arranged around the tables, so I did a Piet, pulled hers out for her, and saw her settled as the minion with the clipboard scurried away to find the next ‘celebrity guest’. She thanked me politely, but without warmth, so I didn’t push for the acquaintance, just smiled at her and sat down myself. From the corner of my eye, I saw the cameraman back away: he’d got Flora Danescroft’s arrival and an example of Phil Cartwright’s company manners; a moment later I saw – well, no names, but somebody I knew fairly well, completely failing to manage basic courtesy with a minor pop star, and the cameraman got that too, complete with the disgruntled expression on the face of the pop star. Piet has drummed that well in: in a public place, always be more polite than less, always go for the old-fashioned courtesies. They’ll make you look good.
Anyway, I couldn’t do what I really wanted to, which was to lean over to Flora Danescroft and squeal like one of Hansie’s teenagers ‘I’ve got all your books and I think you’re sooooo clever!’
What I did do, five minutes later, was retrieve her bag for her. It was a smooth oval thing – is that what they call a clutch? – and her trousers were made of some satiny material, obviously slippery. She turned to look at another arrival, and the bag shot off her lap and under the table.
Well, I leaned over, caught it before it actually went out of reach, and returned it to her, and got another chilly smile, and a word of thanks.
We were at the recording of the ‘Starmaker’ New Year Special; it’s a sort of celeb talent show type thing. What happens is, they take a dozen or so people in the autumn, each of them nominates a favourite charity and then they run a sort of Variety Show where they all perform: sing, or dance or whatever, something other than what they normally do. The public rings in to vote, which is where the money comes from; they drop a couple each week, and then they have a big final just before Christmas. Then between Christmas and the New Year, they have a Special, with an invited audience, with the finalists from this year and as many as they can get from previous years. Half their audience is representatives of the charities who get the money; the other half is people like me. Given that the tickets are free, I’m not sure why they do it – I suppose this one is plain viewing figures, not fundraising.
Anyway, I’d been offered a ticket, and although I wouldn’t have bothered with one of the ordinary programmes, I thought the Special might be fun. It would have been even more fun if I could have taken Piet but, well, we know the words to that one. I could have had two tickets if I’d wanted but I’d have had to find a female friend. I’ve done that before, I’ve got friends who’ll come out with me, but round Christmas people tend to be wrapped up in their own concerns, so I took a single ticket and here I was sitting next to Flora Danescroft and thinking ‘Tim will be so jealous, and I’ve just got to find a way to talk to her.’
Actually, it wasn’t hard: the handbag went flying again when she applauded somebody she obviously knew, and this time I retrieved it from underneath my seat. The smile was less chilly, and she apologised to me: “I’d forgotten that these blasted trousers do that. I knew there was a reason I don’t wear them often,” but the next performer was just coming to the microphone and I didn’t get a chance to answer her.
At the interval, of course, everybody as usual shot off to the loo or the bar or milled about trying to talk to people they knew or wanted to know. I saw a couple of folk I recognised from one of the charities I support, so I went to say hello and when I made it back to the table, it was Flora’s turn to get up to let me come past – and the bag went flying again. Literally: it slid off her lap, and bounced against the edge of the table, and this time, I caught it a foot off the floor, and Flora laughed.
“I knew I had seen you before! You’re the rugby player!”
Thank you God, she knew who I was. I put the bag down carefully on the table and held out my hand. “Phil Cartwright. What gave me away, was it when I drop-kicked your lipstick?”
“Oh, I saw you on TV.”
Phil was Smug.
“On that thing last week where you made peppermint creams with the children.”
And that was the smugness knocked right out of me. Of all the reasons she might have had to know who I was, that would have been the one that I’d have wanted her not to.
This Christmas Special was a daytime TV standard, one of the Saturday morning magazine shows. Not a main channel, but one of the Freeview digital ones, reasonably popular, and with a team of presenters which included a TV chef, a political pundit, somebody to do book reviews, somebody to talk about the celeb gossip – oh, you know the sort of thing. And a couple of guests to taste whatever the chef made, to pretend that they had read the books or seen the shows and so on. I’d done it a couple of times, and they asked me back for this one, which was to go out live on the Saturday before Christmas, only this time, they weren’t filming it in the studio: this was to be filmed outdoors, with a children’s choir from a local primary school to sing carols, and the Salvation Army brass band, and I can’t remember what all else.
I can’t remember either whose idea it was to get me to cook with the children. Not mine, I’m sure of that. I can do rugby stuff with the small kids, that’s no problem, but other than that I don’t deal with them particularly well. But I’d cooked with the chef the last time I’d been on the show, and one of the things I had been asked was ‘what was the first thing you ever cooked, Phil?’ I’d said, and somebody had remembered, that my mum had taught me to make peppermint creams when I was very small, to give to people as Christmas presents.
So would I please teach six 8-year-olds to make peppermint creams on live TV?
Note to self: another time, say No.
O.K. How hard could it be? No actual cooking involved. Icing sugar, condensed milk from a tube, peppermint essence, green food colouring. No chocolate coating: the thought of trying to teach them to temper chocolate made me flinch – I only get it right myself one time in about six, and I’ve got a chocolate tempering thermometer – so mix the stuff up, roll it out, cut it into shapes (the behind-the-scenes bod said she could get me Christmas star cutters), sprinkle with more icing sugar, and Laura, can you get me some pretty boxes and white tissue paper so we can make them up into presents the kids can give their mums? It’s not hard. It’s really not hard.
It was a complete bloody shambles.
Look, of course I’ve had things I’ve cooked go wrong before. There was that thing I was making when Hansie and Tim came over, the one I forgot about? Never mind the food, I had to throw away the dish afterwards. I’ve had as many failures as anybody else in my kitchen. But that’s the point: they were in my kitchen. They weren’t on a main street in London, with a large audience and a fucking cameraman dogging my every step and ramming his camera in my face.
I couldn’t work out what was wrong. First of all, I made the mixture way too wet and it wouldn’t roll out. The kids were all doing far better than I was: I had to scrape mine up, drop it back into the bowl and add another double handful of sugar. Then – well, I suppose I was rattled. I rolled the stuff out too thinly and although it cut O.K., I couldn’t lift the shapes. I had to throw it back again and have another try. And of course, all this was live; I could see the presenter watching the clock, and the sweat was breaking on me when I finally got it right.
All in all, that has to count as one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. Phil Cartwright fancies himself as a good cook and he can’t make kids’ sweets which he’s made every year since he was knee-high himself. And the most famous TV chef of the current crop had watched me do it.
“I could wish,” I said ruefully, “that you said you’d seen me play in the World Cup. That show last week wasn’t my finest hour.”
She raised her eyebrows – not like Piet, just enquiringly.
“I’m not quite as handless in the kitchen as I looked there.”
She shook her head. “Actually, I’d like to get that bit of film for the college. . . I teach, you see. I’m sorry, I’m Flora Danescroft. I cook?”
“I have your books,” I assured her. “Your pasta book is one of my favourites.” I carefully didn’t mention the fact that I had seen her name in the papers – the divorce proceedings between her and the restaurant critic Andrew Jenner had been front page headlines from April to June and seemed to have involved half the TV chefs and celebrity food people in taking sides.
She flushed a little and looked pleased. “Well, I do occasional teaching days at one of the catering colleges” – does she ever. Look, her history had been in the paper in quite a lot of detail during the divorce hearings. There’s the same sort of gap between her and her husband as between me and Piet, I think, something between 15 and 20 years, and she was only 19 when they got married. She’d just won Golden Chef, or whatever it's called, that TV cookery award. Then she went to some tremendously posh catering college in Guildford or somewhere down that way, and won the year prize in her second year and the Prix de Something-or-Other in her third, and was snapped up by di Fresco to work for him at Malachi’s. She stopped there for a couple of years and then Corneille tried to headhunt her for Couleur – and apparently offered her a senior place in one of the Paris restaurants. She publishes a book a year – apart from the pasta one, the vegetarian one gets used in our house a hell of a lot more than you would think, and I’d bought the fish one for Tim for Christmas. Then she did a six month consultancy for one of those companies which makes the posh and horrendously expensive sandwiches, and she’s resident on another of the weekend TV shows, one of the ones on cable. She’s obviously got a work ethic which would slay a horse, so it was hardly a surprise to learn that she occasionally taught as well.
“I don’t hold with the popular notion that a commercial kitchen should be all shouting and panic and bad language. I actually find that you get a lot more done if everybody keeps calm, and I’d just love to be able to show that clip to my students.”
“What, watch the rugby player make an idiot of himself? I still don’t even know what went wrong. I’ve made those sweets dozens and dozens of times, I can’t imagine why suddenly I couldn’t do it.”
She frowned, and at that point the lights went down for the second half, so I shut up and started wondering how I could persuade her to come and have a drink with me after the show. Every time I glanced sideways, though, she was still frowning, so I decided rather dismally that she had put me down as an idiot – until, under cover of the applause at one point, she leaned into my shoulder and asked “Was that really filmed outside or did they bluescreen it?”
“Outside,” I muttered back.
“Bloody freezing. At least, freezing in front of me. They had a couple of those. . . like giant patio heaters, behind us. My back was burning but my hands and feet were frozen.”
“And big lights?”
I nodded, and Flora clapped politely as yet another footballer who thought he could sing came onto the stage. She barely let him get his last note out before she leaned to me again. “Probably that, then. I won’t do live demos unless I’ve had a chance to run a full rehearsal under the same conditions for light and heat and so on. Even different studios in the same building won’t necessarily be the same, and you were working with sugar which is dreadful for changing with humidity. If you weren’t in your normal environment, and it wasn’t even consistent, if it was hotter on one side than the other, and outdoors which was maybe damper than you would be used to, that could do it.”
I absorbed that, while an actor from a soap I’d never heard of did a selection of conjuring tricks (he was quite good, actually). While the stage crew cleared away his props, I leaned back to Flora. “I wish I’d never done it, though. I looked a complete twit.”
“You got away with it,” she disagreed. “That’s what I was saying, I’d like to get hold of the clip for my students. ‘Look, this is somebody who doesn’t do this for a living, but when it goes wrong, he doesn’t eff and blind and throw the spoon on the floor, he keeps calm and assesses what he has to do to correct it, and gets on with it. If he can do it, so can you.’ I don’t think you looked bad at all.” She leaned closer and muttered in my ear, as the TV weatherman picked up his trumpet, “At least, not in relative terms. I was in the audience when” and she named a huge name among chefs “thickened his gravy with custard powder on live TV.”
I choked quite badly. It’s a good thing jazz trumpet is loud.
“Does custard powder improve gravy?” I asked her afterwards.
“Apparently not. I’m not big on fusion foods, but I think that one wasn’t a success. And he was damn lucky, because somebody on the sound desk had the wit to pull his microphone. They had complaints enough from the audience, but I don’t think they had any from the viewers. His language was. . .” she hesitated delicately.
“I can imagine,” I assured her. “It seems to be as common in your profession as it is in mine.”
We exchanged a few more words before the show ended, and I frantically tried to come up with of a means of saying ‘Look, I’d really like to know you better, can we go for a drink or something?’ without it sounding like a cheap pick-up line. Anything I could think of sounded in my own head either creepy or arrogant, and in the end I just held my tongue, cursing myself, when she smiled at me and moved away down the aisle at the end of the show. I lost sight of her in the scrum to get to the doors, but I caught up with her again in the lobby – which looked like a cross between a disaster movie and the first day of the sales.
“Miss Danescroft? Flora? Did you drive yourself here?”
She nodded, looking a little grimly at the queues for the lifts to the attached car park, and at the doors to the stairwells which were heaving with people.
“Um, look, I came here a month or so back for an awards evening, and it ended about this sort of time, just as the shopping city next door was closing and the multiplex was kicking out. It wasn’t as busy as this but it still took me half an hour just to get out of the car park and the same again to get through the traffic lights down there. Um, I’m not even going to try to get out for a bit, but there’s a café on the next floor up which says it’s open until midnight. Can I. . . would you like a cup of coffee?”
She looked at me rather doubtfully, so I added, “I’m just grateful, you know? I’d been wracking my brains to work out what went wrong on that show the other day; I’m really glad to have somebody say it wasn’t anything I did. Just a cup of coffee? No strings.”
She looked back at the queue for the lifts again, and I could see her consider, and then she said, “Oh, why not? We’re not going to get out of here, are we? Where’s this café, then?”
Actually, we stayed until they threw us out, talking about. . . well, about all sorts. About cooking; about driving up and down the country; about Malta, of all places, to which I’ve never been; about music; about theatre, on which she is very keen. A bit about rugby, which was, she admitted, a closed book to her.
“All I know is that quote about football being a game for gentlemen played by hooligans and rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
“Well. . . I’m not sure I quite agree with it, although” and I had a sudden flashback to a certain afternoon in front of my own piano, “I do think that rugby players have a much better attitude towards our referees than footballers do. We fight on the pitch – do we ever! – but you don’t tend to get the same sorts of brawls among the fans as football has. And I think we have a much better notion of behaving properly in public, and minding what we say and do in front of. . . well, in front of the women and children. The sport’s a bit old fashioned that way. I mean, yes, a group of rugby players in a bar will be shouting and singing and generally pouring beer on each other – we’re maybe not tremendously grown up – but if you came in, although half of us would try to pick you up, we’d be offering you drinks, not making biological comments.” I turned my coffee cup round and added wryly, “And when you said no, we’d barrack whoever had failed to pull for being unattractive, not you for automatically and obviously being a man-hating lesbian.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said dryly, and I grinned and shrugged.
“What can I say?”
“Actually,” she said thoughtfully, “the thought of what a professional footballer would have made of his peppermint creams going wrong on TV. . .”
“Wouldn’t have happened,” I said definitely. “No pro footballer is going to admit in public to knowing how to make sweets.”
She snorted into her coffee. “No, I suppose not. Specially not with children. You know when they take a small child in the team strip out with them at the start of the match? I always wonder if it’s a mascot or the half time snack.”
My turn to snort coffee.
“Will you come on my show some time, Phil? Cook something with me?”
Oh, thank you God, and Tim’s jealousy would know no bounds. “I’d like that, provided it’s not peppermint creams and there are no children involved. Unless we’re cooking one as a half time snack.”
“I like the idea, but I don’t think we could do it in the time. Is there some company we have to book you through?”
“My agent,” I said, fishing in my wallet for the card with Piet’s number on, and then optimistically scribbling my own mobile number on the bottom of it.
“Will they be O.K. with you doing another cooking thing? I’d like it to be fairly soon but I don’t know who we’ve already got lined up, and presumably your availability at weekends is patchy.”
I nodded. “It will be, I’m afraid, because I’ve got team commitments and England squad commitments too, so it might have to wait until out of season, but I’d like to do it. Piet won’t mind.”
“My agent. Pieter de Vries, he’s my coach as well, my personal coach, I mean. And he’s Director of Rugby at the club I play for.”
“But he’s your agent? And your coach? Isn’t that a bit. . . doesn’t he have conflicts of interest?”
I nodded. “We both do.” I didn’t mention the big one. “But we did the deal when it was assumed that he was only staying one season, and then when the club wanted him to stay permanently, they got a team of lawyers who tied it up tight, what each of us could and couldn’t do. It’s a bit complicated but we’ve made it work because – well, I suppose because everybody wanted it to. There are checks that he doesn’t favour me over the rest of the team when it comes to when I play and when I don’t, and otherwise, he marked me out early as having potential and he drives me pretty hard, but not necessarily harder on team time than any of the others. It’s just, I get more, out of office hours, so to speak.” This conversation was beginning to go places I didn’t want to accompany it; I yanked it back to a previous – safer – topic.
“But he’s sound on what we were saying before, on keeping your head in a crisis. If I’d lost my temper in front of the children, I’d have heard all about it afterwards from him. He’s very big on me Setting a Good Example. Being a Responsible Rôle Model. Well, all of his team, I suppose. The good example thing, he’ll bust any of us for swearing where the kids can hear us, or anything like that. He says it was never allowed when he was playing and he’s not allowing it now.”
“He played himself, then?”
I stared. “I – yes. Sorry, you said you didn’t follow the game. He was a big, big name in international rugby for years. That’s really why I agreed to go with him when he offered to coach me first. He’s a huge rugby hero; I’d have been stupid not to take the chance. I’ve learned stuff from him I’d never have got from anybody else; I was damn lucky to get the opportunity. I know I’m a lot further on already than I’d ever have been without him, and he reckons I’m not at my peak yet.”
Flora wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you find, though, that the people who want to push you on in your career tend to be working their own agendas? Reliving their own glory years through you? And then they don’t like it if you want to do it differently?” It was a little bitter and I wondered what somebody had said or done to make her feel that way. Mind you, having read bits about her divorce in even the broadsheets, my money was on it being Andrew Jenner she meant. I shook my head.
“I’m sure there are some who do that, but Pieter de Vries doesn’t. He just wants me to do well for my own sake. Well, and because he’s my agent so he gets paid if I do.”
When the café people began to put chairs on tables, we went back to the car park. It was mostly deserted by then, only half a dozen cars left on each floor, and she didn’t argue when I said I would walk her to her car, despite mine being three floors lower. Once she was in, she wound down the window and started the engine.
“I’ll get somebody to call your agent, then and see what we can arrange.” She smiled at me impishly. “I’m going to be so popular with my producer.”
“And will you come to a match some time?” I managed to get the invitation out at last. “I’ll get you tickets for the directors’ box, you and a friend if you like?”
“It’s a deal,” she agreed; “my PA’s son might like it, he’s mad on all sports. He’s only about 12 though, so I hope you’re telling me the truth about good behaviour and no bad language?”
“Not a ’king word,” I assured her. “I told you: Coach doesn’t allow it.”
And his methods are fairly. . . hands-on.
I’d held onto my temper in front of the children, I’d held onto it in front of the camera, I’d held onto it when the main presenter teased me at the post show lunch about the kids making better sweets than I did. I’d held onto it – barely – in the car, because I’d gone home up a busy and icy motorway in the fog, on which I’d seen three accidents in the space of 20 miles, and it was obvious even to me that loss of temper would be likely to result in a heavy foot on the accelerator and a fourth accident involving me.
I didn’t let go until I got home, when I put the car away and slammed the door hard enough that Piet heard it from inside the house. He came to meet me in the hall.
“Koekie? Phil? Is everything all right?”
“No it fucking isn’t,” I snapped and stamped into the kitchen to fill the kettle.
“So what has happened?”
“I made a complete arse of myself, that’s all. Fucked up what I was doing. . . I must have looked an absolute idiot.” At the back of my mind was what the guys at the club were likely to say at the next training session – and the one after that. And the one after that. They aren’t exactly known for their subtlety.
Piet came after me. “Phil, tell me what happened. I did not see it, for Damien Grandison called me this morning, and asked me to go over to the club to meet with a potential new sponsor. It was all very unexpected, but of course I had to go, so I did not see your programme. What has happened?”
Well, of course he got it all out of me, although he had to raise his voice at one point to make me keep to the point, and all the time I was still stamping up and down the kitchen and snapping at him.
“Well, it does not sound so dreadful to me. No!” This with a raised hand. “Koekie, I know, you are displeased because your cooking went wrong, and I do not make any judgment on that. You know that I cannot say whether what went wrong was a complete disaster or merely an annoyance, but it sounds to me as if you handled it very well. You kept your head, you did not make any display that you should not.”
“I just. . . it was. . . oh fuck, it doesn’t matter! There’s nothing I can do about it now, is there? I made a fool of myself and there’s nothing I can do about it!”
“If that is true, Phil, although it does not sound to me as if you made a fool of yourself at all, then no, there is nothing more that you can do. You may simply accept that what is done, is done. Come, hart, come and we will be comfortable together.”
But I couldn’t. I did try but I found myself picking at everything he said, getting up and wandering off, lifting my book and putting it down again, until Piet said, “Phil, I think you should perhaps go and take your exercise now. You have not a full day’s training until Tuesday, but you know you must make sure to do at least your stretches. Why do you not go for a run?”
I looked out of the window, trapped between knowing he was right and that I would feel better for a run, and the desire to be plain contrary and refuse. Contrary won and I turned back saying “It’s too foggy, I don’t fancy going out in that,” only to see Piet, unsmiling and raising an eyebrow at me, and some slightly more sensible part of me added hastily, “but you’re probably right; I’ll go and swim for a bit.”
We’d improvised around the pool; we’d spent a lot of money on the installation itself and then worked out where we could cut corners on other stuff. Originally we’d not intended to bother with much by way of a changing room, but then we’d thought about visitors, and friends with wives and girlfriends and children and so on, but the budget certainly wouldn’t stretch to two changing rooms. In the end, the plumber put in a loo, and a big shower area, big enough for four (although we didn’t mention to him why we thought we needed something that size), and we bought a load of that interlinking curtain rail which you get in hospitals, and a batch of floor length curtains, and anybody can screen off a bit of the room and preserve their modesty. Usually, of course, it’s just me and Piet, so there’s a minute porch which stops anybody seeing in when the door opens, and if Jazzer needs to get through to the boiler or whatever, she bangs on the door and shouts before she charges in. She had left a tidy pile in one corner, the tile cleaner and pool chemicals and on top of them her shoes: surf shoes, I think they’re called. Like ballet pumps, but some sort of rubbery stuff, so that she won’t slip when she’s working on the pool.
Anyway, it wasn’t her day with us, so I flicked on the lights and then yanked a towel and my trunks out of the cupboard. Yes, on occasion I have swum without them but it’s actually not that comfortable if I’m working rather than just faffing about.
Work it out for yourself.
The pool isn’t that large, but there’s a big button at one end, which starts off the Powercurrent thing. I don’t know what else to call it: it’s one of those jet things which scooshes a blast of water down through the pool so that you can swim against it. It makes a small pool into a decent exercise facility because otherwise, six strokes and I’m up against the tiles at the other end. Anyway, I did some stretches and a warm up, and then I hit the button and started to work properly. And yes, it did help. It always does. I’m a very physical animal; hard exercise settles my mind. I was bloody angry and I converted that anger into physical motion. I was ready to fight with anybody, so I fought the Powercurrent pump. I fought it for what must have been the best part of an hour, five minutes at a time, swimming hard against it, cruising back when it cut out, banging the button again and powering against the water.
And eventually I floated back down the pool and there were bare feet beside the steps. I braced my arms on the side and looked up, and Piet said amiably, “You have been working hard, I see, but that is enough now, I think.”
But the spark of my temper flared again, and I said “No, I’ll do one more,” and reached for the button.
God but he’s fast. Even now, he’s fast. His hand closed round my wrist before I could touch the button, and he pulled; I came up against the tiles and looked up into his face, and Sensible Phil who knows what’s good for him smothered my bad temper and actually engaged my brain.
“Sorry. Yes. Enough.” And I reached for the handrail, and put my foot on the step, and Piet let go, and said, still amiably, “One more, then,” and hit the button himself.
I threw myself back into the flume, and because of that, because – because he had drawn the rein to remind me it was there, because he had slackened it again, because he knew I was unhappy and he was trying to make things right for me, I really put everything into it. I beat the current three times, touching the wall, surfing back to the other end, kicking off into the flume again, and when it died, I eased back down to Piet’s end and shook my hair out of my eyes and turned onto my back.
“Come now, koekie, half a dozen slow laps to stretch you out.” And he walked up and down with me, gave me his hand to counterbalance me when I stretched and flexed and then walked back to the changing room with me. I sat down heavily and started to towel my hair; Piet was putting his socks and shoes back on. “I knew I had to keep my temper in front of the children,” I said abruptly. “It’s funny, I didn’t actually think about it at the time, but I know that if I’d thrown a paddy in front of the children. . .”
“I would have caned you, yes.”
I made a face. That wouldn’t have been any sort of form punishment, either; he’d have had me howling and we both knew it. “I suddenly thought that when I was halfway home – that if I’d gone off on one in front of the kids, you would have had the cane in your hand before I was even out of the car.”
“Then I think that today, koekie, you must have done very well.”
I was startled, and it showed, for he laughed at me a little.
“Koekie, consider. Things went against you today. You kept your temper, you made them come right again, from what you told me earlier. And you have just told me that you mastered yourself, not through fear of what I would say or do, but because you knew it was the right thing to do. You acted rightly because it was rightly and only later did you think that had you not done so, I would have punished you.”
I ran the towel over my arms again and again, without really noticing what I was doing.
“And then I came in and threw the tantrum at home instead. I’m sorry, Piet.”
“And. . . in the pool. . . I know, I know that when it comes down to my exercise, you get the final say.”
“And when I reminded you of it, you obeyed me.”
“I shouldn’t still need to be reminded.”
“Koekie, you were unsettled. I knew as much. I did remind you, and you did obey me.”
Unsettled was exactly what I was, unsettled through my mind and my body both.
“You are allowed to have a bad day, hart. You are allowed to come home angry and it is to be expected that you will sometimes vent some of your anger on me. As I do to you when I have a frustrating time myself. Couples do this. And I do not ask of you, I have never asked for unquestioning, instant obedience. You are not a child. If you think that I am wrong in what I say over the matter of your training, you may ask me.”
“Ask,” I said, a little less bitterly. “Ask, politely. Not just contradict you. Rudeness earns me six, I know that.”
He didn’t answer me, but. . . I got up, suddenly sure, padded across the room and picked up one of Jazzer’s rubber surf shoes, which I held out to him. His eyebrows went up and he seemed – amused?
“I have never spanked you wet, Phil, have I?”
I dropped the towel, kicked off my trunks and bent over the back of the chair, hands braced on the seat.
“Ah well, new experiences are good for you,” he said cryptically, and tapped the rubber sole lightly against my left cheek.
Then he whipped it down.
And I squealed, and reared up, hands going behind me to rub out that savage and biting sting.
Obviously Piet couldn’t help it, he just laughed and laughed. He said later that he had rarely seen such an expression of offended disbelief.
“Jesus fuck, that thing’s lethal!” There were tears standing in my eyes, more of shock than anything else. I was so startled, I couldn’t even be hurt that he had laughed at me.
“Well, it is very flexible, but actually, koekie, the effect is because you are wet.”
I twisted to look: there was a neat pattern of wiggly lines imprinted on my arse. “Fuck,” I said again, more weakly, and got myself slowly back into position.
“Phil. . .”
I sniffed, flexed my shoulders and was still. Piet rested a hand on my back, gently – I suddenly realised that I was cold, everywhere except under his palm and the burning patch on my left cheek – and tapped once more.
It hurt just as much on the other side, and I squealed just as loudly, but although I jumped, my hands stayed on the seat.
“Well done,” he said softly, and his hand moved to my shoulder, pushing me sideways and then pulling, as he sat down on the damp seat and I collapsed over his lap.
“I’ll make you all wet!”
His hand came down hard on the waffle pattern. “Indeed. Then it will be your duty to get me dry again.”
“Six, was it, Phil? I have lost count. I think I must begin again. How is your temper?”
“Much improved! Ow!”
“You know, you must fight this temptation to tell me when I ought to punish you. I do not always wish to punish you when you think I should.”
“Ow! Then don’t!”
Of course he didn’t. He did no more than even out the burn of that damned surf shoe, and then I dragged on enough clothes to make me decent crossing the yard, and we sprinted for the house, and did various other pleasant and warming things. The waffle marks lasted for several hours – Piet inspected them at regular intervals.
I rather think he liked them.
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© , 2009