The Croatian Hand Model was free one particular Saturday evening and she thought that that would be the perfect opportunity for us to meet to discuss the marketing for her forthcoming fundraising campaign on behalf of the Orchestra. I had a couple of drinks on the way there.
I was truly sympathetic to the fact that The Croatian Hand Model was lonely and as she was an enthusiastic champion for our organisation’s efforts, I was somewhat obliged to adopt my ‘always say yes’ position with respect to this particular invitation. At the age of 29 I should, of course, have been spending my evening snorting illicit substances off of various parts of another person’s anatomy (or watching Blind Date alone on a moth-eaten reclining chair) but here I was on my way to Mayfair to accompany a late middle-aged widow to Nobu.
I necked a couple of glasses of eye-wateringly expensive white wine (if you can call what appeared to be a thimble-full of plonk, poured into an oversized fishbowl a glass) at the hotel next door to her apartment block and headed upstairs. I made a note never to frequent this particular bar again in lieu of not only its pricing but also its poutingly sneerful bartenders who did their damnedest to make me feel uncomfortable on my too-high and slipperingly sloped-bottomed bar stool.
I was greeted at the front door by the Croatian Hand Model’s assistant who smirked at my arrival with a “Nice night for it”. In fairness, her smile was tinged with sympathy and we both wordlessly bewailed our lost weekend. “She’ll be right out”, I was told. “She says to open the champagne”.
I wasn’t as adept as I am today at the protocol for opening a bottle of vintage champagne that is parked in a solid silver cooler in a Drawing Room packed to the ceiling with 18th century furniture and works of art. I fumbled with the business end of the bottle and silently prayed for an explosion-less uncorking. Success. Not knowing where to stow detritus in a room where the slightest incongruity would stand out like a poo on the carpet, I shoved the cork, foil and wire into my pocket.
The Croatian Hand Model silently appeared through one of the room’s many doors and proceeded to tell me, with barely a pleasantry, that she felt that the designer of the brochure that we had been putting together for her ‘mini campaign’ wasn’t delivering the desired outputs of the poorly-articulated vision that she had laid out. “I think they’re doing it deliberately”, she said. “I don’t think they like me. That must be it”. Well, it’s a theory, I thought. Or it might have something to do with the fact that you’ve been deeply unclear about what you want and your feedback, so far, has been consistently along the lines of, “I don’t like it” and nothing else.
I moved the conversation away to gossip and bitching about her step-children – something that was, by far, her favourite topic of conversation. This would probably keep us going until home time, I thought.
The time to totter a couple of blocks to Nobu was shortly upon us and I asked to be excused to visit the facilities. The ‘visitors loo’ was a small but immaculately decorated room just off of the main entrance hall. I drew my breath, sitting on the toilet seat for a couple of minutes, and then set about trying to understand what to do with the handtowels that resembled table napkins of the highest quality, which were ironed to razor-edged precision and featuring, most bizarrely, a tiny metal bell sewn to the corner of each.
I wiped my hands on my trousers and headed back out to whatever the rest of the evening had in store for me.
I was barely a foot out of the door when my toe met a small amount of resistance coupled with a breathy and high-pitched whelp. I looked down to find one of the household’s hideous flat-faced pooches on its back in front of me on the floor. Its tongue was lolling out of its mouth (although that was nothing unusual) and its paws were paddling at the air at what appeared to be a slowing (dying?) rate.
“Shit shit shit”, I muttered as I dived onto the chinese carpet to set the prized creature on an upright keel. It stood stock still for a couple of seconds, not looking any way apart from straight ahead, and then moved a few steps to its right so that it could, it seemed to me, lean against the wall and re-catch the breath that I had firmly kicked out of it.
The Nobu element of the evening seemed to pass off quicker than usual. I was, by this point, relatively well versed in the ways of this pretentious restaurant, its sake and its chopstick protocol. I was also confident that the appropriate degree of smiling, nodding and “I know”ing would see me through to 10.30pm reasonably effortlessly. The other reason why the blackened cod was lost in a blur was because my thoughts were inevitably and solely occupied by the knowledge that the flat-faced doggo was probably dead and that my role in its passing was going to be a career-ending event.
I wasn’t required to accompany the Croatian Hand Model back up to the apartment itself and we said our goodbyes at the front door of the building, observed by her driver, doorman and the assistant, who had grudgingly reappeared for just this specific moment.
I decided to walk at least half the way home, to give myself the opportunity to expend some excess nervous energy and to smoke eight or nine Marlboro Menthols.
I was in Tesco the next morning at around 10am when my mobile phone rang. It was the assistant.
“It’s Sunday”, I whispered in the yoghurt aisle. “Why are you working today?”
“She’s really upset”, the assistant said, not replying to my question.
My heart stopped, imagining a tableau of dead dog, candles and half-finished champagne glasses. It turned out that in my enthusiasm for keeping the subject of conversation firmly entrenched in family politics we had not covered off the critical aspect of the evening’s agenda. We were supposed to have opened, together, the latest proofs of the brochure designs. The Croatian Hand Model was now more firmly convinced than ever that the designer had a personal vendetta against her and that we therefore had to terminate that particular contract and start again.
I squatted down next to my discarded basket and attempted to explain to the assistant not only why this approach wasn’t going to result in a different outcome but also the costs involved.
“Cost isn’t the issue and, besides, she makes that (my quoted amount) in around half an hour from her investments alone”.
I realised I was snookered and that the next morning was going to be consumed by adjusting my plans according to the Croatian Hand Model’s particular and peculiar notions of Yin and Yang.
I sighed and was about to say my goodbyes when I remembered a much more pressing topic of conversation that was required.
“Everything else OK?”, I asked.
“Like what?”, came the reply.
“Nothing else causing her upset or suchlike?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”.
“Is the dog ok?” I barely mouthed down the telephone.
“What’s that got to do with anything?’, the assistant spat.
And promptly hung up the telephone.