The Old Solider and The Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country were reaching their climax. The Beehive and her role in that particular triumvirate was long-since departed and forgotten. But this was The Big One and The Soldier and The Caterer were not going to let anything or anyone get in the way of their pivotal moment.
I had a couple of drinks on the way there.
The Castle had been chosen to host a military pageant like no other. We’re talking late-night gun salutes, marching bands, war poetry from eminent actors and around 3,000 guests. The Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country’s cashflow problems were most certainly going to be no more.
The planning meetings for the ninety-minute drinks reception aspect of the occasion had reached double figures and I was wondering what else could possibly be said on the subject. The Caterer was slurring (the meetings were always after lunch) about the ‘magnificent moments’ that would greet guests as they came up the steps. ‘Magnificent moments’ that I could just about establish consisted of trestle tables of wine glasses with a big cooler in the middle.
Even though The Castle had to accommodate a cast of hundreds, The Caterer’s needs were paramount. Precedence was being given over and above even The Old Solider’s regimental band who were being relegated to the ladies loos on the edge of the site and the Trustee Board were being asked to forgo their usual exclusive hospitality privileges and join the hoi polloii. Mustering that many glasses of warm white wine was going to need significant handfuls of real estate. The Ruddy-Faced Caterer was marking her territory.
The Frizzily-Permed Events Manager who had been deployed to co-ordinate proceedings was baffled. As was her default position, in fairness. She would swing by my office on regular occasions, blank clipboard wedged between a belly and bosom of equal proportions, and ask me whether I thought it would be OK if she snuck some outmess catering for the lighting and sound technicians into some of The Caterer’s previously-allotted space. I was careful to neither confirm nor deny my opinion on the matter and to most certainly not approve the request as I had neither say, opinion nor authority.
As the day approached it was clear that the weather was not going to be on our side. Although rain wasn’t forecast, high winds were. The entire event was outside but within the shelter of The Castle’s walls. We decided that Plan B (an indoors option that frankly barely existed as plans go) did not need to be activated.
Another logistics meeting was called. The Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country was close to tears. Veins seemed to be detonating in each cheek by the minute, every minute. The Old Soldier seemed to be focussing entirely on the contents and the timing of his own speech. The Frizzily-Permed Events Manager was running through the order of the day with a monotony that was proving soporific to even those amongst our number who hadn’t spent the prior hour mainlining red wine.
The wind was picking up ominously on the day’s arrival. The clouds gathered in a positively Wagnerian fashion and I arrived at The Castle at my usual time to find The Caterer assembling her Magnificent Moments which were, indeed, trestle tables with black cloths upon them. Black cloths which were already acting as a quite effective means for providing the tables with levitationary qualities.
I avoided her gaze as I rushed towards my building’s door.
The Old Solider was waiting for me. In full uniform. Hat on and scrambled egg-like braid spilling off of every available parapet.
“What the fuck is going on?” he singularly bellowed.
I was stumped. Was it The Caterer’s inability to arrange wine glasses on a table that was in the process of taking off? Was it the fact that an eminent actor had cancelled the day before in favour of a Cadburys Creme Egg commercial? I thought it best to stay silent and to raise my eyebrows expectantly.
The Frizzily-Permed Event Manager (who had foolishly appeared just as The Old Solider had started to visibly reach detonation point) and I were marched, literally, across to the upper floor of the cafe building to find The Caterer peering, tearfully, at a space capable of seating 280 for dinner, in the corner of which were stationed four lighting and sound technicians, sitting on flight cases, eating bacon sarnies.
“I just don’t understand it”, she whispered, “I just can’t operate under these conditions”.
I held my tongue, assuming that she could, in fact, be talking about her inability to operate at this time of the morning without at least two bloody marys coursing through her veins. The Old Solider spoke for all of the disgruntled in the room.
“I gave specific instructions. An order, in fact. That this space was to be given over solely for the use of the catering team. This….this….infringement is not only an act of insubordination but also, I believe, sabotage”.
I rolled my eyes (sensibly, in my imagination) and walked over to the technicians and said, quietly, “Sorry chaps, we’re going to have to station you outside. Soldiers Orders”.
I walked back to the purple-faced Solider and The Caterer who seemed to have diminished in size, doubled-over in what seemed to be a keening, juddering gait, and said, “Done. Anything else?”, and scuttled off before either party could gaspingly draw breath.
The Frizzily-Permed Event Manger crept into my office later.
“I know what the problem actually was”, she said, with a smirk that belied earlier events. “Mrs Old Solider has gone back to the country. Someone’s tipped her off that hubby and caterer are up to all sorts of no good”.
My jaw hit the pile of Post-Its that I was currently doodling upon. This rumour, amongst many others (many involving the now-departed Beehive), had been circulating for some time and it seemed extraordinary that it would break ground publicly, today of all days.
‘How did that happen?”, I gaped. “How did that come out?”.
The Frizzily-Permed Event Manger just raised a single eyebrow and said, “Goodness knows. Someone. Someone must have told her”. She glanced down at her still-empty clipboard and reversed out of the room.
Sadly, later that evening, 3,000 warm wine glasses failed to find sufficient thermals to lift them into The Castle’s moat. The advantage was, however, that I managed to make personal use of at least 57 of them. I’d managed to avoid The Caterer for the duration of the evening until the final five minutes between The Old Soldier’s speech and the 52 gun salute that was going to generate a multitude of complaints from the local residential community.
She appeared, like a medusa, from out of the crowd just as I was preparing to make a staggering break for it. She grasped my face between two cold, leathery hands with nails that seemed destined for the backs of my eyeballs and said,
“We did it darling. We did it.”
And that baffling moment of affection was punctuated with the first of the cannons firing. I looked up at the night sky with its hang-dog clouds, the wind continuing to pick up against my now-released cheek.
“Christ”, I said, as the second cannon sounded, “It’s like the fucking Hunger Games. I wonder who’s been eliminated?”
“Not you”, whispered The Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country.