It wasn’t Figgis’s sort of event: But it was his cousin Fiona’s wedding and he was stuck with it: church service, photographs, now the reception, with an hour to wait before the meal. His sisters were bridesmaids – top-table people – swanning about somewhere. He didn’t want to know.
He kept cool. His Coke was neither shaken, nor stirred. This was Dorset: big Blofeld country. He watched for trouble.
He watched the waiters and he watched the families, especially the aunts. There were a lot of aunts. Some of them, for all he knew, aunts of aunts … Big women, with feathery hats. He could pick out his family by the Fazackerly nose. Like a flock of parrots – Flutter-peck-squawk.
The men had largely disappeared in search of a stiff drink and sport on television. But his Mother had other ideas. ‘Come and meet people,’ she said. ‘God knows you’re no ornament, but they haven’t seen you since you were five.’
‘Do you want me on a plinth,’ he said. ‘Or in a cage. Wild boy from Surrey.’ He did his gibbon.
‘Watch it,’ she said. ‘Or you get the kilt.’
His mother had been keen for him to wear the Fazackerley kilt. ‘The green and blue will suit you,’ she said. ‘… wheedle-wheedle .. ‘Ticket to Star Wars? … Kentucky Fried afterwards?’ It was obviously a big deal for her, but Figgis had refused. It was a rare victory, but the threat remained. Her finger-muscles were awesome. She used to throw discus at college.
So they went to meet ‘people’. A circle of dark dresses opened to greet them: Aunts Anonymous. ‘Hello, everyone,’ said his mother. ‘This is Boswell.’ She took a grip of his shoulder. ‘Say “Hello”‘ Boswell.’
‘Hello.’ Hunched by the grip; he went for the Quasimodo croak.
The Aunts gave the full family scrute: lorgnettes, the lot.
‘Takes after our Arthur, do you think?’
‘When he was alive.’
‘Those ears – a touch of the Bufton, I’d say.’
‘Can’t see any Fazackerley in him, though. Pity.’
Figgis couldn’t help it. A ‘Hoo-ray!’ escaped him.
Motherly fingers caressed his carotid and urged him behind a rhododendron. Purple rant-hiss blitzed his touch-of-the-Buftons. ‘… Cut the comedy …’
They went back to the terrace and into a crowd of younger frocks. There was cousinly kiss-kiss and his Mother said: ‘This is Boswell. I expect you remember him …’
And they remembered. Or they said they did.
‘Oh, it’s Bozzie. Hasn’t he grown …’
‘How old is he now?’
‘Isn’t he a big lad …’
‘Quite the little man …’
‘My goodness, he’s grown …’
‘How old is he now?’
OK, vowed Figgis. The next one gets a sausage stick – straight in the bum, or the bustle, or whatever they call it in smart circles. He did his gibbon. His Mother did her grip. They did the rhodo … ‘Just wait till I tell your father …’
Which reminded her. ‘Where is your father?’ She set off to flush likely watering holes.
Figgis was left with orders. Fifty minutes to meal-time. Sit quietly until fetched. Quietly. No speaking unless spoken to …
She must be joking. Who would he want to speak to? The two families seemed to be nothing but weirdos and geriatrics. There was a tribe of tiddlers playing hide-and-seek, but no-one remotely of his age. Except for a yah-yah of sixteen or so, trying to impress a couple of flop-haired girls. He christened them Deadhead, Barbie and Scrawn. It would be a pleasure not speaking to them.
All around was blether and boom; babble and bore … Flutter-peck, flutter-peck, yak-yak, yah …
Figgis sat alone in a world of bosoms and beaks. He practised his Bond-smile – cold, quizzical, plenty of left eyebrow. After a while, his face hurt and he slid the shrubbery and down to the wood. Maybe he could make it round the lake. Maybe he would fall in. Maybe he would jump in. Maybe.
It was better in the wood. No grown-ups. There might be an Oddjob, but he could cope with that. He back-tracked; checked shadows. There was a gazebo in the distance. Sure enough, someone lurked. It was Scrawn.
Her hair flopped; she was really thin. ‘Hello,’ she said.
Figgis had seen the films. He knew how to play it cool. His left eyebrow lifted. ‘What gives?’
She held up a gizmo – slim and sliver-grey.
My God, thought Figgis. The Pockatronix … 64-bits, 4096 colours, 2X screen-mag. The bizzzz.
He gave it the once-over. ‘Not bad,’ he grudged.
‘What have you got?’ said Scrawn.
He couldn’t tell her about his stone-age Nu-boy. ‘I’m into the X-Pak,’ he lied.
Time to change the subject. ‘Where are the other two?’
‘Rupert and Bonnie?’ I’ve no idea. Off playing at grown-ups. In the long grass, I expect.’
Time to change the subject again. He fingered the gizmo. ‘What have you got loaded?’
‘Killer Bees. Give it a go.’
He hit Start. His man appeared. Then a swarm of bees. He zigged and zagged …
‘Come on – come on,’ she shouted. ‘You’ve lost it!’
His man was covered in multi-coloured bees – 4096, at a guess. ‘It’s quick,’ he said.
‘You should have used the net.’
‘You didn’t mention the net.’
She smiled. ‘You didn’t ask.’
That’s girls for you, thought Figgis. Skinny and smiley and full of secrets. But he was learning about them. He and Bond both.