It’s the opening of Ricardo’s new restaurant in Notting Hill, to which he’s invited a couple of hundred of his closest friends, all of whom he secretly despises. It’s tipped to become the place to end all places.
Picture the scene: the beautiful people, the fabulous décor, the tiny fried quails eggs on little hash brown cakes strewn with morsels of bacon, the three skewered baked beans on a slice of quality sausage, a fried cherry tomato on a square of black pudding, a wild mushroom astride a triangle of fried bread. The journalists are busily thinking up their articles for the Sunday supplements. ‘Absolutely brilliant’, ‘Po-mo party food to dine for.’
‘Ricardo, in his inimitable style has forgiven the fry-up, brought home the bacon, edified the egg, martyred the mushroom, beatified the bean’, etc, etc. And bingo! Fully booked for the next three months. The champagne flows, Ricardo surveys his new domain with a thinly disguised sneer of satisfaction on his ruggedly handsome face, before his eyes lock on to the bare back and perfect behind of Mercedes, wife of Jean-Pierre, his arch-rival in squash, cooking and life. Shiraz clocks this, grabs the wrist of her friend Angel (short for Angela) and they go off to powder their noses. Or rather, the inside of their nostrils.
‘That bitch Mercedes is after Ricardo …’ etc, etc.
I go into the kitchen to make some more coffee. I wish I hadn’t had that wine. I look over at Gus, Ferdie and David. Gus and Ferdie are enjoying themselves, getting stoned. Gus calls over, ‘God Rach, you look great in that dress! Shame we’re cousins!’ Like father like son. I look at David. Whereas Gus, and possibly Ferdie (although we’ve never really had that sort of conversation), think it’s crap, but a laugh with plenty of eye-candy to boot, David thinks it’s profoundly crap. I can see it offending him to the core. I have the strong urge to go over and kiss him.
The doorbell rings. That’ll be the pizza. Badric goes berserk when I open the door.
The man backs away.
‘Take your helmet off! Your helmet! I point to his head and mime taking a helmet off, ‘Take it off! SHUT UP BADRIC!’ I hold on to his collar and he makes choking noises.
Our man gets the message. ‘Sorry, I can’t hear a thing with it on.’
‘No, I’m sorry, it’s just that when someone comes to the door wearing a crash helmet, he thinks it’s some sort of raid.’
‘Oh, right.’ No smile, he just hands over the outsize box and the bill.
‘Hang on.’ I put the box down in front of David and Ferdie, get cash from David and see that the scene has changed. The VIPs are now dining, Ricardo’s sourced the best foie gras the world has ever produced and gently warmed it. It is sublime. He’s sitting next to Mercedes and we can only hazard a guess as to what he’s doing with the hand that isn’t conveying the foie gras to his precocious palette.
I pay the pizza man. It’s the usual, ‘I’ll make a real business of rummaging for the right change so that she’ll tip me the whole lot’ performance.
‘Keep it,’ I say. Could be a resting actor after all. I’m just about to go in when I see Teresa pulling up in her car. I want to thank her for the flowers. She’s wearing big sunglasses despite the darkness and looks pale. She’s half in the disabled bay, but it’s not the day to challenge her.
‘Hi, Teresa, thanks for the flowers!’
‘Oh hello, Rachel. I just wanted to thank you, that’s all.’ She looks away.
‘Forget it. Are you OK? ’
‘Yes,’ she says through trembling lips and hurries to her front door.
‘Hey, Teresa, let’s have a drink sometime.’ She nods and goes inside. Ah, the mystery that is Teresa.
Back on the home front the viewers, including Gus, despite the pub meal, are tucking into a pizza the size of a waggon wheel. And I don’t mean the eponymous disappointingly stale-ish biscuit of yesteryear.
‘Rach,’ says Gus, a string of mozzarella giving him some trouble, ‘Why don’t you go blonde again? It suits you.’
I ignore him, and he doesn’t pursue it, distracted by the row that Ricardo and Jean-Pierre are having. Jean-Pierre tells Mercedes that they’re leaving, grabbing her by the arm. Mercedes shakes off his arm with a toss of her dark hair, and suddenly clutching her stomach, rushes towards the loos, her tanned face distorted with pain.
‘You’ve poisoned my wife now, have you?’ Jean-Pierre smirks. ‘The papers will love this!’
Now look, look closely at Shiraz, look at that tiny smile, that knowing look, that total grasp of the situation. She knows, you see, knows all about Ricardo and his ways, but knows too that she is his rock, his safe haven from which he can stray like an alley cat, to mix metaphors. He doesn’t know how much she knows; she doesn’t know how much he knows she knows and so on. She’ll bide her time; she’s the Queen of the Chefs’ Wives, and it’s not a position to be taken lightly. But don’t worry, she’s not going to get too powerful, because she loves him too, and it hurts. And an eating disorder will keep her in her place. And Jean-Pierre can threaten Ricardo with the press all he likes, but they all know he’s got too much to hide ever to say a word. Honour among thieves.
I look at myself. That was good that bit. Blonde, I don’t think it suited me at all. I remember the camp hairdresser telling me that my ‘plain’ colouring was great, a real bonus, I was lucky, because it made me a ‘blank canvas’. Yep, that’s me. Rachel the Blank Canvas. Come! Project upon me what thou willst.
There I am again, this time in our bedroom. Ricardo is pacing about in his Calvin Klein’s. I have just accused him of what I know to be the truth: that he and Mercedes have been at it again. He laughs this off, telling Shiraz she’s being ridiculous. She’s not sure if she is or not. He tells her to get a life.
‘Get on and write that bloody book you’re always on about,’ he says.
‘I am getting on with it,’ Shiraz hisses and flounces into the en suite, where, fingers down throat, taps running so he can’t hear, she gets rid of the mini full English. She didn’t touch dinner; Zsa-Zsa, her miniature poodle, sits at her feet under the table like a live waste disposal unit. She’s waiting till later, till he’s asleep. And of course, she’s not getting on with the book. Her PA, Isabella, is to do it for her, but Ricardo must not know this. Shiraz wants more than to be a Chef’s Wife. She wants a piece of the pie (not to eat). She is ‘writing’ a lifestyle book, to include dietary tips, an exercise regime, some homespun philosophy and supper recipes, ‘How to tempt the taste buds of a top chef’ with gorgeous pictures of herself placing a humble yet perfect omelette, or somesuch before the great artiste. Posh ’n’ Beck’s style. At home with Ricardo & Shiraz. Something like that. Isabella is busy trawling through Nigella, Delia, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver et al, finding the recipes and mix ’n’ matching till they sound like something Shiraz could have learnt at her mammy’s knee (if her mother hadn’t spent most of her life in the insane asylum, but that’s another episode). The producers actually considered making this book in real life as a clever-clever marketing tool for the series but, in the end, nobody could be bothered, and the copyright issues were more complex than the recipe for Madhur Jaffrey’s Diwali feast.
Half a bottle of mouthwash later, Shiraz appears from the bathroom ready for bed, sexy soap-star style. Ricardo begins to ravish her. I look at David’s face. He’s trying so hard not to mind, to suspend disbelief, but he can’t. It’s quite funny. I shall never, ever, tell him that Haden is gay. Any minute now Shiraz is about to learn once more what it feels like to be a foie gras goose. The credits roll. Thank God that’s over. My audience claps and cheers. David may be a good liar but he’s not so good at acting. That was nearly as painful for him as it was for me.
© Amanda Nicol 2011