It was towards the end of the 1970s that I first met the Webers: George, senior lecturer in liberal studies at the local polytechnic, bespectacled, moustached and normally clad in a hairy pullover; his wife Wendy, mother of six, ex-nurse turned children’s author, dressed (as many of us were in those days) in ethnic beads and slightly tiredlooking Laura Ashley; and the Weber children, baby Benji, the twins Tamsin and Amanda, Sophie, Beverley and the oldest, Belinda, a sulky beauty then preparing to take her A-Levels. Oh, and I mustn’t forget Pussy, the Webers’ podgy and suspicious cat.
We tended to see them once a week, often in the Webers’ homely but by now somewhat shabby stripped-pine kitchen, over a glass of George’s homemade plonk and one of Wendy’s Elizabeth David cassoulets. I really got to know them quite well.
I got to know their friends too, especially Wendy’s two old chums Trish and Jo. Trish, one-time art gallery assistant, mother of baby Willy and stepmother of Jocasta (art student, living at home) was married to handsome Stanhope Wright, creative director of Beazeley & Buffin Advertising. We all disliked Stanhope, a real smoothie, who we knew was two-timing Trish with any piece of skirt that came along. Jo, a no-nonsense tracksuit-wearing sports coach, had also made an unfortunate marriage, to Edmund Heap, a whisky salesman for International Brewhouse Inc. (‘Pleased to meet you squire!’), and was now the mother of two unattractive teenagers, Jolyon and Julian (founder of The Snotty Throttlers pop group).
I liked and identified with Wendy – harassed, conscientious, a bit sharp, and weighed down by a terrible sense of guilt and social obligation. I understood her aggravations and her angsts – an outbreak of nits at school, unreasonable demands from the twins’ form teacher for instant robin costumes for the Christmas play, anxieties over the death of Kenneth the guinea pig or a visit from Great Aunt Winnie, envy of Pippa and Hamish down the road, who had a weekend cottage and children destined for private schools instead of Fletcher Montacute, the local comp (though of course neither of us would have admitted it). I shared Wendy’s disapproval of the way her daughter Belinda allowed her stubbly boyfriend Jasper to treat her (after all, what had we women’s libbers been fighting for?), and I was as appalled as she was when her publishers Walmer & Wilcox watered down her bravely realistic children’s book set on a housing estate and turned it into another soppy middle-class Janet-and-John scenario.
George was a dear too, though he did tend to go on rather in a liberal-studies post-modern kind of way about his so-far unpublished collection of critical essays, Weimar, Chicago and the Cultural Squashball. Like us, the Webers couldn’t afford what Wendy, with a sniff, called ‘expensive foreign holidays’ but sent postcards from Tresoddit, the little place they always went to
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