Marigold was way over the other side of the room, but we managed a mutual eye roll. She was trying to reassure a woman we’ve only met twice before that the seventeen successive bad experiences, really, really bad experiences, the woman suffered on ‘dates’ arranged on a dating site were just bad luck.
Maybe she should try somewhere else as desperate.com* doesn’t seem to be finding her the man of her dreams.
*Not necessarily the real site name.
Marigold is awash with prescience and was seemingly making a good fist of predicting future happiness for the concerned woman.
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ the woman said as they parted, ‘I’m not asking for the Earth. I just want someone with a nice house, a decent car, no kids, who is good at DIY and likes lots of holidays.’
As Marigold made her escape the woman added – I heard this from across the room – ‘oh, and I want lots of sex, but no dressing up or filthy stuff.’
Even John Bercow couldn’t compete with that.
I managed to get to Marigold and we made our way to the kitchen where the promised ‘nibbles’ were laid out. I’ve seen less impressive buffets in five star hotel. If this is what our hosts class as nibbles I want an invite to Sunday lunch!
‘All home made,’ a bright young woman told us, standing next to an overflowing Brabantia bin stuffed with the outer wrappings of Marks and Spencer pies and cakes.
‘Help yourself to stuff.’
We crammed some ‘stuff’ onto plates, real plates, not plastic or cardboard, and tried to find a safe haven to munch in peace. We’re not great mixers, not antisocial as such, but ‘parties for grown ups’ can be purgatory. Getting a cross section of people under one roof for whatever reason is a risky enterprise, but there appear to be certain unwritten rules governing the clientele.
There are the quiet ones, badgered into attending, the party animals who want to get hammered on drink they didn’t have to shell out on, the opinionated ones relishing the chance to drone on all night to strangers too polite to walk away and the select band of guests who fall into the ‘weird’ category.
So far tonight, we’ve only met the weirdos.
They gravitate to us.
Marigold is naturally gregarious, yet abhors evenings like this. I am even less tolerant, yet cursed with a modicum of manners so tend to suffer in silence the attention of people I would otherwise avoid at all costs.
‘You must be Marigold,’ a faintly scary woman wearing a lilac trouser suit says. Her make up makes her look like a manikin in Debenhams window. The lips are black, the soaring eyebrows were presumably drawn on with a child’s crayons and her eyelashes were miniature wind turbines. If chaos theory has any validity, every time they flutter a hotel roof blows off in Taiwan.
Marigold confessed to being Marigold, looking a tad disconcerted at the woman’s intense scrutiny. Only four words, but containing hints of disbelief, adoration, scorn, active dislike and others yet to be determined.
‘I imagined you would have been more, oh what’s the word?’ The manikin woman says, screwing up her bizarre features into even greater contortions.
I think of appropriate descriptive words to fill the gap, but decide against voicing any of them.
‘Exotic, is that the one I mean.’ She asks, eventually.
Marigold looks at her, then at me. How would we know?
‘Yes, exotic. Not that you look ordinary, just not how I imagined from reading your blog.’
‘Ah!’ The blog is packed with photos of Marigold, so quite how this strange creature imagined her to look escapes us both.
‘All that travelling, so much gadding about, why do you do it all and how do you find the time?’
‘Well,’ says Marigold, ‘of course we don’t do anything else. We don’t work apart from a bit of modelling for Chanel.’
‘And we manage to fit our travelling around our ambassadorial duties for Poundland,’ I add.
In adversity we move swiftly to flippancy.
‘Goodness, I never knew. Well, good for you, I say’ says the manikin.
Worse than we thought, dim and gullible, a difficult combination.
We’re about to make our excuses, an imminent Skype call from our good friend Kim Jong-un perhaps, when the manikin asks a sensible question.
‘Where had the biggest instant effect on you, which country?’
We’ve been to over 100 countries now and seen many places that had an instant impact. Some of our favourite places are not too dissimilar from England, some of their citizens even speak English, but others are an instant shock to the senses.
Morocco, for instance, a country we have visited many times, even lived there for a while. We both adore the bustle of the Imperial cities, the sheer relentlessness of the sights, sounds and smells of Fez or Marrakesh, but Cairo, for example, teeming with be-robed figures and exotic aromas as it is, never had the same appeal.
Istanbul, that ancient juxtaposition of Europe and Asia was fascinating. We drove through great swathes of Turkey, but crossing the Bosporus, by car over the spectacular bridge or by boat, we did both, was incredible.
The ultimate divided city; the Western side all bustling traffic, minarets and domes affording scant preparation for the much more simple and yet equally awe inspiring portal to the vastness of Asia.
We will never forget the Blue Mosque and so many other magnificent landmarks, but it was that sharply delineated contrast between East and West that stuck in our memory.
Oh, and the traffic!
I have driven through Rome, London, Paris, Fez, Marrakesh, deep into the Sahara, up precipitous mountain tracks and many less well known but even more daunting expeditions into the unknown, risking imminent collision at every turn of the wheel, but Istanbul was at a whole new level.
Driving tests? Rules of the road? Don’t be ridiculous!
Marigold was ready with an answer before me.
‘Ukraine,’ she said.
We drove through the entire country a few years ago. We’d already traversed Romania, not a great deal to see in most of rural Romania, ie most of Romania, the road system is best described as ‘challenging’ but the people were incredibly welcoming. Moldova was a further step back in time still and then we were in Ukraine.
First impressions, this is a very big country. I’d intended to drive to Sebastopol, but there’s a great deal of not very much between Moldova and Sebastopol. Don’t imagine we found the absence of landmarks boring; far from it. It was like going back in time to when life was simpler, self sufficient farms, animals grazing peacefully, scarcely no evidence of modern life. I’m not against progress, far from it, but the absence of pylons, factories and tower block housing was very soothing.
We got to Sebastopol in the end, but I knew Marigold was thinking about Yalta when she singled out Ukraine from the myriad places we have visited.
Yalta was wonderful. Statues of long dead Communist leaders everywhere, a bustling street scene where the young women were mostly six footers, slim and haughty and the older women, at least a foot shorter and weighed three times as much as their younger versions. The weight gain with advancing years I could readily understand, but not the reduction in height.
Yalta is President Putin’s holiday venue of choice. He swims in the Black Sea so his fabled toughness is obviously not an act. I waded in to mid thigh level and decided I didn’t actually ‘need’ to go for a swim that day.
A bit nippy!
After much wandering around, looking at the wares on offer in the many kiosks, there are very few supermarkets in Ukraine, admiring the longevity of elderly and much battered Lada taxis, and trying to spot the head honcho of Russia, we were exhausted.
Marigold spied a bench with two middle aged and obviously prosperous ladies already in residence and decided we needed to sit down and try to listen to their conversation.
A very short lived plan.
Marigold produced a flask containing lukewarm coffee, a drink made about seven hours previously. The flask had been a free gift from a German supermarket and was intended to resemble a bottle of German beer. As a beer bottle the resemblance was reasonably accurate, as a vacuum flask it was rather less successful. But, hey, it didn’t leak and the coffee was still, just about drinkable so not bad for a free promotion gift.