I place two mugs of camomile tea on the kitchen table and sit, opposite Emma. “What will we be doing in twenty years’ time?” asks Emma. “Twenty years? All I know is that in twenty minutes I’d like to be in bed.”

Emma raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Saucy.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” I say. “I’m knackered.”

“You never fail to disappoint.”

“At least I’m consistent.” I’m never sure if this sort of tête-à-tête is affectionate, ironic banter, or an exchange of painful truths.

“I took Noel to a birthday party after school. Reggie Ransome’s.”

“Who? He sounds like a Great Train Robber,” I reply. Emma laughs unreservedly, for the moment banishing my anxieties about our previous interaction.

“Actually, it’s funny. There was another mum – Caroline something, I didn’t know her – and Reggie’s mum was asking what her husband did and Caroline had her hand up to her mouth, mumbling. So Reggie’s mum was saying ‘Pardon? Pardon?’ I didn’t hear what Caroline actually said but Reggie’s mum threw her head back and was laughing and rather theatrically trumpeted, ‘But some of my best friends are bankers.’”

“What are you saying? That bankers are like the Great Train Robbers?”

“I’m not saying anything.”


“The party was at the Widmerpool Hall and the kids had Atlee burgers for tea.”

“What? What’s in an Atlee burger? Lard and dripping?”

“No. It’s all very Post-New Labour. Hummus and lentils.”

“Blimey. Even I wouldn’t wish that on Atlee. So, what were you were saying…” I prompt, losing the thread.

“Enemy action, that’s all. Reggie’s mum having a go at bankers. The woman works in PR,” explains Emma. “Promoting celebrity perfumes.”

I stare into my empty mug, confused. I’m locked in a multi-dimensional chess match. With an International Grandmaster.