I have three brothers, and there was a point when the middle one was getting irritating beyond belief. He rang all of us at various times, pretending to be a dimwitted salesman (of different products, depending on how he felt). And, to give him credit, he was very good. He took my mother in, oh, for at least 20 minutes with his impersonation of a double glazing rep. This, naturally, we all found very funny. But when he started on the rest of us, we were less than impressed.
Eldest brother in Canada, who is a doctor, rang me up to chew my ear off. ‘How am I supposed to get up all bright eyed to slash at people’s varicose veins, when I get phone calls at midnight to see if I want my drains unblocking? I thought it was one of my patients who’d become unhinged. I tell you, if I have to get a plane to come home and sort him out, things are going to get messy.’
Needless to say, middle brother just laughed. His next call, to me at 5 am, backfired slightly because I had just come home from a late shift, but he kept me talking so long that when I eventually went to bed I couldn’t sleep, and was knackered for my next shift.
However, things came to a head when my youngest brother, who had got more calls than anybody else, told the mysterious caller with the funny accent to fuck off, and then discovered it was one of my mother’s oldest friends, calling from Mauritius.
Something had to be done. And at that moment, believe it or not, I won a Rolls Royce in a competition in the UK Press Gazette. Just for the weekend, mind, but it was enough. I could now exact revenge on middle brother.
This all happened at the time when I lived in a slummy flat in London (see putting on the Ritz) and one of my flatmates was Jochen, a German lad who I’d known since school and who was just starting out in the music business, composing TV theme tunes. Anybody who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour needs to meet him. He enthusiastically hired a 1930s chauffeur’s uniform straight from Lady Chatterley’s lover, complete with breeches and gaiters, while I got my fishtail cocktail dress and pearls out. My then boyfriend (now my husband) Steve came along for the ride. He flatly refused to dress up in formal evening wear, but Jochen pointed out that, since he had a leather jacket, he could easily pass for somebody successful in the music business.
I alerted my sister in law as to what was going on, and a couple of hours later we arrived at the Yorkshire pub where my brother liked to drink on a Friday night. I’m not talking here about a place where you can discuss the merits of a bottle of Chardonnay. I’m talking a spit and sawdust four-ale bar, mostly inhabited by silent men who had (and probably still have) fairly strong, unprintable, views about Margaret Thatcher and the champagne-guzzling Tory elite.
The low level of chat and the click of dominoes trailed to absolute silence when I walked in. My brother, who was standing at the bar, froze with his pint half way to his lips.
‘Darling,’ I trilled. ‘Do give me a kiss. Aren’t you going to buy me pint? I’ve just made a shed load of money in London.’
A rather stunned looking bloke banged into the bar behind me. ‘Somebody’s just parked a fucking great Rolls Royce in’t car park.’
‘Oh that’ll be mine,’ I said. ‘I do hope the chauffeur hasn’t put it in your way.’
The door opened again and Jochen came in, respectfully removing his hat.
‘Everything all right?’ I asked him.
‘Yes, madam,’ he said in his perfect, accentless English. ‘But one of the dogs has been sick on the lambswool rug in the car.’
‘Oh, that’s all right,’ I said generously. ‘You can clean it up in the morning.’
There were some deep mutterings at this. And my brother looked daggers at me. ‘He will not. You can fucking clean it up. Who said you could have servants? Bloody nonsense.’
He turned to Jochen and forced his face into a kindly smile. ‘Now then, lad, would you like a pint?’
Jochen looked at me. ‘Is it permitted, madam?’ (More rumblings of discontent.)
‘Maybe just a half,’ I said magnanimously. ‘And you can have a cigarette, too, if you like.’
Jochen took a tin of tobacco out of his breeches pocket, and at that moment about ten men flicked open their cigarette packets and held them out to him. ‘Here, have a fag, lad. Have a fag on me.’
And so the evening wore on, Jochen was treated with sympathy, Steve was accepted as a normal, but somewhat intriguing person, and the interplay between my brother and myself was the best entertainment ever for the other blokes in the bar.
‘I’m never going to live this down,’ said my brother, gloomily. ‘Never. Why did you have to come dressed like that?’
‘I thought you’d like to see how well I was doing,’ I trilled. ‘And Jochen’s such a treasure, isn’t he? Good staff are so hard to find.’
Jochen and Steve choked on their beer.
What are you laughing at?’ demanded my brother.
‘Tell him,’ pleaded Jochen. ‘I can’t stand it any longer. And besides, my jacket is getting itchy.’
‘What, tell me what?’
‘It’s a joke,’ I said. ‘It’s our revenge on you for your stupid bloody phone calls. Steve is not in the record business, I only have the Rolls Royce for the weekend and Jochen is not a chauffeur. He’s really a German composer.’
My brother looked at me for a long moment and then laughed. ‘A German composer? He’s as German as I am! Pull the other one. You can’t fool me!’