The Lady in Red

The Lady in Red

Marple was another stubbornly middle-class, whiter-than-white town, full of self-satisfaction, tennis clubs and masonic halls. Follow the yellow brick road, high up in the Cheshire hills. Out of the blue, an invitation had arrived on our doorsteps and the Spiffs were off to mingle with the great and the good of the Marple Rotary Club. Upon arrival, our forty-something hostess, looked us up and down quizically. Dressed to kill in a scarlet evening dress she announced ‘Hello and what are you?’ I was tempted to reply ‘human beings’ but muttered ‘Graphic designers’. ‘Oh no, not more graphic designers!’ We were shooed in. At our Moss Side rented residence, a young man from China had come to stay. He was a student by the name of Mr Shuang-hua Xia. ‘Call me Ken’ he said. We became good mates and enjoyed a fierce game of badminton. Ken had never seen Marple or anything quite like this. There were canapes, glasses of Cristal, cucumber sandwiches, shiny people in shiny power clothing. Soft eighties muzak purred in the background. The conservatory lead onto a veranda and beyond were the freshly cut lawns of Cheshire. The smell of freshly-trousered Thatcherite privatisation money mingled with the sweet odour of newly-cut grass. We were in the English version of the Great Gastby. Any moment now, Jay Gatsby and his entourage would pull up in a silver phantom and he would say ‘Good evening, Old Sport’. Commie Ken was thoroughly enjoying himself in these new bourgeois capitalist environs, holding forth on his ground-breaking research into Nuclear Fusion at Manchester University. He was exotic, new and the Marple-ites lapped him up. As the sun went down and the Cristal kicked in, suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder. It was our hostess in red. ‘Paul’ she said fixing me with a stare that must have brought many a Rotarian to his knees, ‘Would you like to dance?’ Soft melodies filled the house, the lights dimmed on a summery night and the place had an air of escapism. Moss Side was so, so far away. All night The Kid and I had maxed out on the glorious food, quaffing thirstily from the chalices of wine. Yet I sensed he was not with me that evening. Though he smiled munificently throughout, I discerned a flirtatious indifference. Imperceptably Chris de Burgh began to sing and I found the hostess was clutching my shoulder.’The Lady in Red, is dancing with me, cheek to cheek, I hardly know this feeling inside. I will never forget the way you look tonight’. Very hazily, I recall seeing the silhouette of Mr Shuang-hua Xia swaying gently to the music behind the folly, a flickering smile in the shadows. Years later, long after Ken had left Manchester with The Imperialist who owned a Renault Four and drove him around town with his chinese lackies, I was teaching Mr Wong, the chairman of a multi-national in Bournemouth. The vexed subject of a win-win negotiation came up. Momentarily there was a glint in his eye that transported me back to that magical Marple night. Was it all connected?

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