Rules of Engagement (Reprise)

P……. text me as I was pressing the ‘publish’ button on my recently posted blog, Rules of Engagement.

“Would be throwing this book across the room if I didn’t have it on Kindle. Does it get any better? If you have stopped reading it so will I.xx P…….”

She refers to Traveller of the Century (Andreas Neuman) and, no word of a lie, I had just filed the photo of its cover under WordPress in my iPhoto library.

It’s all your fault Signor Neuman

Me: ” I couldn’t start it.”

P:……. “Have you told N…….?”

Me: “No.”


Me: “it’s worse ‘cos she’s feeding us.”


Me: “I think you should continue reading and debrief me.”

P……. “I know. I will struggle on for a bit as a gesture of goodwill. It engaged me for a moment and then went scatological. If I keep reading I will share.”

Me: “What page are you on, have you met the organ grinder yet and is it he who has the toilet humour?

P……. “22, no and not sure.”

Page twenty two didn’t sound promising. In my copy there are 584 tightly print packed pages. But I have taken this interchange as a sign that, as someone who wants to write properly, I must use the material I have at my fingertips and not sugar coat my stories, blogs and articles. So, in a bow to honesty I am now going to tell you why J……. really left our reading group.

She did not move away. J……. left because of a two pronged flanking manoeuvre that caught all by surprise and eventually depleted our number by one.

The time: Christmas dinner/drinks. The venue: a nice London hotel. The drink: Cristal ( first bottle anyway). Attendance: full. Dress Code: elegant.

And the drinks went well. We’d booked a circular table for our supper, seating unallocated. As P……. pulls out her chair, she says, “I can’t sit here. I can’t sit next to you, J…….. I hate the smell of your perfume. It’ll make me ill.”

Where did that come from? Real housewives of Orange County we are not. Hands are shooting over mouths, shocked giggles.

J……., embarrassed, apologises and tries to move but she’s sort of jammed against the wall. Many hands drag on the table to make space for her. Arn’t we lucky it wasn’t OUR scent causing P……. to dry heave?

Cue P……. to say how stupid she’d been, didn’t mean it, meant perhaps, the centrepiece of daphne, japonica and holly but no.

“Really, I don’t know why but it’s making me queasy. I can’t sit here.”


We all scrabble and shuffle to accomodate. Stabs at humour, desperate eye catching and flapping of hands at the errant waiter who hasn’t brought our drinks yet. To the cries of, “I’ll find him”, “No, let me go”, “I’m closer”, P……. closes in with a third barrage as if trying, by repetition, to convince the sane and unstinky at the table that we should agree with her and banish J……. to the boot room.

Season of good cheer. Awkward.

J……. did not leave the reading group that night. Hasty affirmations in the ladies’ lavatory improved her mood and we went on to read I Think This Much is True (Wally Lamb), The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen) and The English Passengers (Matthew Kneale) before it was J…….’s turn to be hostess and her regular absences truly noted.

For five of us, her reluctance to provide book, date, time or venue was confusing. She had gone deep cover and the mixed messages we were getting seemed something Bletchley Park needed to crack. We hoped for a deus ex machina to move the plot along. But the devil, it seemed, was on the high road and one of our circle held the code busting key. Pincer tactics had already been deployed and J……. was no longer one of us.

Rewind three months, in fact to the week before Christmas.

Realising she had done something wrong, P……. bought a big bunch of yuletide blooms (this  strategy had worked previously for her – see Rules of Engagement) and set off to to her victim’s home, well before dinner, to make things right.

We all love to receive Christmas blooms, don’t we?

It didn’t go well. J……. greeted our bearer of gifts on her doorstep squiffy, barely able to stand straight or string five coherent words together. Apparently, she even took a moment to recognise P……. so in her cups was she.

Awkward times two.

P……. tells me she beat a hasty retreat, berating herself like a madwoman all the way home. Unable to share this further disaster she kept her secret, expressing as much surprise as the rest at J…….’s disappearance.

Finally she has ‘fessed up to the second prong and still includes J……. on emails in case she ever wants to return. I choose not to, thinking that bad memories do not need regular reinforcement although I would always welcome her back and enjoy a spirited conversation on, perhaps, Allure versus Shalimar, Chardonnay v Sauvignon Blanc and, last but not least, our book of the month.

P……., while reading my previous blog, you told me I wouldn’t dare write the truth about J…….’s departure.

I’ll take your dare.

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