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The Unexpected Sexpot, the exhibition and Mummy’s great idea

The Unexpected Sexpot’s mother was an unbearable tyrant whose presence in the VIP Bar at the Concert Hall was roundly dreaded by us all.  I needed a couple  of drinks before I got there, whenever Mummy was in town.

The Unexpected Sexpot’s status as such was the result of some illicit sleuthing for which I should be roundly ashamed.  It was relatively common practice in those days to snoop on each other’s emails, it being early in the era of such forms of communication and most certainly prior to any notions of online privacy.  I would therefore log on to her account from my desk on passwords that had been shared months prior and not updated.  She, in turn, would boldly sit at my workstation, rifling through files and correspondence that had been left on and open for all to see, without even the protection of an automatically triggered screensaver.

She was, by day, the very picture of upright prissiness.    Chairmen of the Board were greeted, on the telephone, with high-pitched and elongated ‘hellooooo’s and barricades of paperwork were arranged around her desk in a demonstration of both great endeavour and paths that should never be crossed.   All of her clipped and tight-smiled questions as to how your day was progressing were poorly veiled criticisms at your lack of, indeed, progress.

Although she was a few years younger than me, the handbag over her forearm and a propensity for green, floral, nylon-esque dresses strongly suggested that a life of closed-legged spinsterhood had already been long-undertaken with the fortitude of someone with more godly matters of their mind.

And that was firmly my view until a hung-over afternoon of blearily clicking through her emails resulted in my coming across an entirely plausible account of open-air sex on a train platform with a man twice her age.  It was believable given the simple fact of the matter that it consisted of a two-way email exchange where it was she who was celebrating the fact that it was he who had been amenable to her suggestion of an ‘al fresco arrangement’.  Who knew?  The vocabulary was laced with the fully written out precursors of winking emojis.  There was no question to the reader as to what had been going on.

My eye-rolling attitude at her very presence in the office was thus tempered from that point onwards. I would spend my days wondering if she would let her Miss Prism-like mask slip in real life as it had on the platform of Salisbury Railway Station a few weeks before.  My sneering was also self-curtailed because I had recently witnessed a panoply of dressings-down that she had been served by not only the Heiress Boss that we were being subjected to at the time but, even moreso, her mother.  On one notable occasion she had been left with her head, motionless, in her hands for a full thirty minutes after a whispered but still upper-octave telephone conversation with ‘Mummy’.

Mummy was an asshole. There was no question about this.  She seemed to have joined as a Patron of the Symphony Orchestra with the sole intent of criticising her daughter’s stewardship strategy.  And to mix in the sorts of circles that The Unexpected Sexpot had perhaps unguardedly boasted about at Sunday lunch.  Whilst her daughter’s obsequiousness to members of the Orchestra’s Trustee Board were her misguided attempts at professional ingratiating, the Mother’s pushiness at Development Do’s was reminiscent of the worst sorts of social climbing that we had ever been witness to.    

We have all had clients and donors who we would need to quaff an extra glass of warm white wine at the approach of.  Mummy needed two.  For each of us.

Mummy had decided that it was my job, as the Orchestra’s Corporate Development Manager at the time, to develop and deliver a partnership with a friend that she had made on a cruise a couple of months prior.  The friend was an artist who produced, it must be admitted, rather attractive Japanese woodblock prints.  How this compared with cash sponsorships that I was trying to forge with insurance companies for seasons based on the music that inspired the great choreographers of Russian history, was anyone’s guess.   Mummy had decided that I was going to be mounting an exhibition in the VIP bar for her friend and taking 10% commission for the Orchestra and that was that.  And she was ensuring that she got credit as ‘founding patron’ or some such title as a result.

Having seen the impact that disagreeing with Mummy had had on the Unexpected Sexpot, I agreed.  But it was my ‘always say yes’ period, too, after all.

The artist was as terrified of Mummy as the rest of us were.  She was already monumentally busy preparing for a show in Aldeburgh or another of the ‘Islington on Sea’ enclaves for artists that were emerging in the late nineties around the country.  So she arranged for five of her works to be delivered to the office with complicated hanging and labelling instructions accompanying them.

It was at this time that I reminded myself that I had no idea how to present a work of art for sale, never mind nail a picturehook to the wall of a listed building in Central London. But my youthful determination (long since lost) prevailed and I even managed to secure a much-resisted announcement at the beginning of the concert (which should have been focussed on more lofty issues such as ‘death’ and, indeed, ‘transfiguration’) encouraging attendees to visit the VIP Bar to see this exhibition of artworks that were utterly unrelated to any other aspect of the evening’s content.

Mummy arrived uncharacteristically early.  I’d had a couple of warm white wines on the way there.

“Well.  Here we are”, she beamed.  “We’ll be doing in the Biennale next”, she boomed.  The Unexpected Sexpot was nowhere to be found.  This must have been the equivalent to one’s mother turning up at school to take a lesson on sex education for a group of your thirteen year-old peers.

No-one came.  No-one bought.  The concert of misery-laden Strauss had not sold well, which was probably why I’d been allowed this degree of licence over proceedings.   Mummy and I were found standing alone in the VIP Bar at the end of the performance and the Unexpected Sexpot unexpectedly joined us looking (or was it my imagination?) slightly tousled.  Either way, we were all smashed.

Mummy’s going to fucking explode, I thought.   I started backing towards the door as she glanced around the room and into the empty adjoining corridor for what seemed to be the seventy-second expectant time. She paced to the left and stalked to the right, only to pause and look out of the window with teeth that I could hear grinding from twenty paces.  The Unexpected Sexpot was swaying slightly but not taking her eyes off of Mummy, in case an unforeseen pounce and dismemberment came her way.  

Mummy paused.  We all stopped breathing.  She looked at a picture and started what was, for all intents and purposes, a conversation with herself.

“I do like this one”, she said.  “What is it you like about it?”, she asked.  “The use of light that looks like a spotlight has fallen on the figure in the bottom left hand corner”, she mused.

The Unexpected Sexpot and I looked at each other.

“I’ll take it”, she said, looking straight at me.

I shrugged and nodded, not really knowing what I was supposed to be doing next, my art dealership days still being in their advent.

I looked around the room one more time.  The Unexpected Sexpot was gone.  Gone to get the train home and, who knew, the odd adventure on the way.

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