Shakespeare's Birthday

bySamScribble©

We were married at Windsor and, the following morning, we flew from Stansted to Barcelona. Hank van Edsel had kindly given us the use of his yacht, Bright Morning, complete with a skipper and an excellent cook. ('It'll give the boys something to do,' he said.) You may have read some pretty bad things about Hank -- that he was both a megalomaniac and a scrooge -- but I never found him to be anything but a gentleman. A seriously rich gentleman; but a gentleman nevertheless.

From Barcelona we sailed down the coast to Valencia, where we stayed for a couple of days, and then across to Alghero in Sardinia. The weather was far from perfect, but it was OK. At Alghero, Moira decided that she had had enough of boats and she wanted to spend some time ashore. And so we took an apartment in The Old Town for a few days. On the third morning, Moira awoke with a frown. Eventually she said: 'No. Don't think this is for me. Sorry.'

'You don't like Alghero? I'm surprised. I think it's perfectly charming.'

'I don't like hanging about on boats.'

'Fair enough. That's why we took this apartment.'

'And I don't like being married,' she said. 'I think it was a mistake. I thought that it would be different this time. But it feels the same. Sorry. It must be me I guess.'

We had lunch on the terrace of a café overlooking the harbour. Despite everything, it was very pleasant lunch. Moira was still Moira, but I could tell that she had made up her mind. We sailed back to Barcelona and Moira went back to London. I stayed on in Barcelona for a few days to do some work, and when I got back to London Moira had already moved out. An interesting girl.

Dan's original idea to target 'rich bastards with boats' turned out to be a good one. Many people said that 1979 was the worst possible time to launch a magazine, but we survived. And the late 80s and early 90s were also difficult times for a lot of magazines. Sales slumped and advertisers cut back their spending. But the rich bastards with boats kept spending. And so did the purveyors of luxury goods who wanted to put their wares in front of said rich bastards. While many media empires stuttered, Mainsail Publishing continued to go from strength to strength.

On the personal front, following my not-very-successful brush with marriage, I had another couple of semi-serious relationships. But neither lasted. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I had learned to enjoy my own company too much. Perhaps I had become too set in my ways.

And then -- I guess it must have been almost five years after Moira had walked off into the sunset -- I was walking down Oxford Street one afternoon when I suddenly spotted Zara walking towards me. 'Hello,' I said. She was looking a little older. Well, that was to be expected. And she appeared to have two almost identical teenage lads in tow. But her eyes were still as sparkling as ever.

'Oh, hello, Tom,' she said. 'Fancy seeing you! You're looking very well. Still messing about in boats?'

'Sort of,' I said. 'I've stepped back from the day-to-day stuff. But, yeah, I'm still involved with the magazine. And you? Are you visiting or have you returned to fair Albion?'

'Yes, I'm back,' she said. And then she added: 'Although David isn't. He's staying on in New York.'

For some reason, I knew exactly what she meant. She introduced me to the twins, Andrew and William. 'Perhaps we could catch up,' she said.

I gave her my business card. 'We've moved. We're now just over in Mayfair. Give me a call. We could have lunch or something. Or maybe just a drink. Whatever works for you really.'

'Lunch would be nice,' she said. 'Yes, I'd like that; I'd like that a lot.'

Zara called me the following week. 'Sorry about the short notice,' she said. 'But I was wondering if we could do lunch tomorrow. Are you by any chance available?'

I remember looking at my diary and noticing that the following day was February 14. 'Well, I'm free,' I said. 'But you do realise what day it is, don't you?'

'Shakespeare's birthday?'

I made a booking at Smith's. Even after so many years, oysters and champagne still seemed somehow appropriate -- especially on 'Shakespeare's birthday'.

The frequency with which Dan lunched and dined at Smith's had made it a sort of 'corporate caff' for Mainsail Publishing Group. My booking was for one o'clock and I arrived at about 12:45. I wanted to be sure that I was there before Zara.

'Let me guess: glass of The Widow?' Charlie Nicolas, the maître d', asked.

'Splendid idea, Charlie. Thank you. In fact, make it two. I'm sure my friend will also be a starter.'

Charlie smiled and glanced at the little tableau of hearts and cupids at one end of the bar. 'Someone special?'

'Yes. Someone special,' I replied. 'Although probably not it the way that you're thinking.'

Charlie smiled again and held up two fingers to Michael, the barman. Zara arrived a few minutes later. 'Didn't this used to be The Red Lantern?' she said.

'Possibly,' I said. 'But that would have been back in the days before I could afford smart Mayfair restaurants.'

'Actually, The Red Lantern that I was thinking of was a Chinese restaurant. Quite basic. Chicken fried rice. Egg foo young. That sort of thing.'

'Oh. One that I missed then. Did they bring you buttered sliced bread when you sat down?'

Zara smiled. 'Probably. I think they all did back in those days.'

Over lunch -- but only gradually -- Zara told me how her 'idyllic' marriage had been only briefly idyllic. 'The fact that we had never lived together in the same house may have been our first little mistake. Going home after breakfast is one thing, but having no home to go to after breakfast is something totally different. And then there were the hours. Neither PR nor investment banking are nine to five jobs. When you're courting, you somehow make it work. But once you are married ... I don't know.

'And then when we discovered that I was pregnant, that was a bit of a shock. Money wasn't a problem, of course. But it was still something that we probably hadn't thought through. And twins. The boys are great; don't get me wrong; I love them madly. But ... I'm not sure that I was ready for one child, let alone two.'

'But you now have the boys with you?'

'Yes. There was never any argument about that. And David is very good. He sees them whenever he can. This week he has them up in Scotland where he's visiting his parents.'

I nodded.

'But enough about me. What are you up to these days?'

'Well, I'm still involved in the magazine,' I said. 'But we've also started a film production company and that's my main focus at the moment.'

'Movies.'

'Of a sort. Docudrama is our area. We started out doing a six-part series on the history of yacht racing. With more than 400 years of rich boys and their toys, there was no shortage of material. But it's been a bit of a steep learning curve -- not just the technical stuff, but the whole business of pitching the project to the networks, getting the funding, and all that sort of stuff.'

We shared a plate of oysters and then we both had the chef's take on cacciucco, the famous Livorno seafood stew. It was the perfect dish for a cold February day.

'What are you up to now?' Zara asked, as we drained the last of the fumé blanc that we had ordered to go with the cacciucco. 'This afternoon, I mean.'

I had been scheduled to have a meeting with a digital animator who was possibly going to work on our America's Cup production, but his flight had been delayed and the earliest he was going to get to London was sometime the following afternoon. 'Umm ... nothing,' I said. 'Well, nothing of any consequence.'

'In that case, you could show me your new flat.'

'Yes, I could. It's only just the other side of Edgware Road.'

'That's what I thought. So we could walk.'

I looked outside. It wasn't raining. In fact, there was even a hint of thin sunshine. 'We could. Yes.'

We grabbed our coats and headed, nonchalantly arm in arm, off towards Park Lane and then around the edge of Hyde Park. Once we were clear of Marble Arch, we crossed Bayswater Road and cut through Connaught Village. And then, from The Duke of Kendal, it was just a hop, step, and a jump to the north side of Hyde Park Square.

'This is very nice,' Zara said.

'Well, it's handy. Easy walk to the office. Lancaster Gate tube is just over there; Marble Arch we sort of passed; and Paddington is sort of behind us. Ah, but then you don't do public transport, do you?'

Zara smiled. 'A few things have changed over the years,' she said. And then, changing the subject, she added: 'And you have a nice garden square to look out on.'

I took Zara's coat and then gave her the grand tour of the flat (which took all of two minutes). 'Some coffee?' I suggested.

'Thank you. That would be nice.'

Zara followed me back to the kitchen and my then newly-acquired espresso machine. 'Ooh. Fancy,' she said. 'Just like a proper coffee shop.'

'I thought that it was time that I indulged myself. Although I'm still learning how to use it, so it's a bit hit and miss. You might want to cross your fingers.'

Happily, I did manage to produce a couple of half-decent cups of espresso and we took them back through to the living room. 'So, where are you living?' I asked.

'For the moment, we're at the Maida Vale house. My parents are spending six months cruising down in New Zealand. Daddy did a boat swap with some chap who wanted to do the Med in winter. They're due back at the end of May. I'll need to make a decision or two before then.'

'Will you stay in London?'

'Not sure. I've been offered a job as the media relations director for Manchester Airport. I worked with a couple of airports when I was in New York. The boys are away at school during the term, and I'm not sure that I'm ready to be a lady who lunches and does good works.'

'Oh, I don't know. I've always found you to be an excellent luncheon companion.'

Zara smiled. 'I think that might be slightly different.'

We chatted on for another hour or so and then Zara said that she ought to be going.

'Do you need to be somewhere?' I asked.

'No. But you probably have things that you want to do.'

'Not really,' I said. 'Except perhaps take you to bed.' (To this day, I'm not sure how that slipped out. It just did.)

For perhaps five or six seconds, Zara just looked at me, her eyes slightly narrowed. And then she smiled a little smile and nodded a couple of times. 'Yes. Yes, why not? It is, after all, Shakespeare's birthday.'

'Well ... something like that,' I said.

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by Anonymous

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by potsherd06/10/14

Loved every word of it...

What a terrific story. Talk about ships that pass in the night - they made a lifestyle out of it. Funny, witty writing that does not wear its heart on its sleeve. I especially lived the laconic descriptionmore...

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by AlwaysHungry01/28/14

Very literate

You are certainly fluent in English, which is not typically the case here. But I didn't find the characters compelling. They seemed somewhat effete, lacking in passion. I suppose that goes along with themore...

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by elfin_odalisque01/23/14

Nicely done

I enjoyed your story and, as a regular visitor to 'London Town', enjoyed the geographic references. Wish you'd got Zara on one of those red double-deckers.

More development of the Charlie/Zara relationshipmore...

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by A_Little_Show01/22/14

Left me flat

It's very difficult to write a sweeping epic in 2 Lit pages. There was no clicking or chemistry for me. It wasn't an emotional roller coaster. It was a "this is your life" story with poorly chosen highlights.more...

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by VictoriaJones01/22/14

Loved it.

Off to bed to read it again. :-)

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