19 May 2009

What fate doles out

Thursday 18th January 2007

Today we all seem to be over our lurgies, or rather the antibiotics are kicking in. In my case, I’m sure my unfeasibly early bed last night helped a treat: sleep is at so much of a premium in our household, that it automatically cures all ills! I’d gone out like a light, never heard Martin on his return, and never saw him this morning before he left early. I did see that the sandwich toaster was full of crumbs and felt smears of butter on the kitchen counter, so I figured that he’d worked out how to fix himself something to eat. He’d even put his plate away in the dishwasher, which is a good sign. I’d been on the verge of feeling guilty about not fulfilling my wifely duties and leaving my husband to his own devices, but last night the feeling grotty had been greater than the feeling guilty, so I thought what the hell! Martin could do with learning to be a bit less pandered to.

I drive to Natalia’s, hedge fund wife extraordinaire, having dropped the kids at school and nursery. Arriving at her super-residence ‘Junipers’, my mobile beeps and I fish it out of my handbag (new, authentic Miu Miu, white leather with studs, eBay: my latest gift to myself, a girl’s gotta have treats and if they’re not forthcoming from elsewhere, you buy them for yourself!) It’s Natalia, texting: “Going 2 B late. On way bk frm check- up. Make yourself @ home. 15 mins away. Nat”

I ring the bell, pass through the gate, and Paloma the housekeeper opens the front door to tell me that Natalia’s just called to say that she’ll be delayed by about ten minutes. Natalia’s world is so full of appointments and staff that she has to be super efficient. At home she has Paloma (who’s live-in and deals with ensuring the household runs smoothly, cakes and tea are made for guests, and the laundry is done), a Nanny who works on-demand shifts and is a qualified teacher, a cook (for the non-cakey side of things), a window cleaner for the huge expanses of glass, a regular cleaner, a team of gardeners, a tree surgeon (the orchard and the woods to the back of the house) and a pool person (whatever they’re called) to make sure the indoor and outdoor pools, plunge pool, sauna and solarium are clean, filtered and in working order. I’m certain there must also be a person looking after security of some description. Gregory, Natalia's hedge fund star hubby, surely employs an accountant and a tax advisor and a lawyer at the very minimum himself, making me wonder if being wealthy might not be a great deal more complicated and exhausting than most people’s fantasy: my household is infinitely simpler!

But motherhood has the power to transcend all boundaries, in the same way that young children have no notion of other children’s differences. As my mother loves to say, if you’ve got children or pets you’ll always make friends! Natalia and I: two mothers meeting for a nice chat - in this context we could be part of any century, any continent, any race.

But it just happens that we’re in the here and now, and all very attractive too: I’m sitting in one of Natalia’s living rooms, this one two flights upstairs and extending out through the Surbiten’s signature glass onto a generous wrap-around balcony. Sliding panel doors, of the type that disappear into the walls, are shut on one side of the room, behind which a corridor leads off to bedrooms. Opposite, they’re open, blending the room seamlessly with another ample living area: large rectangular thin-framed mirror taking up most of the far wall, lots of plush couches with big textured cushions, a couple of industrial-sized beanbags on the floor. The glass doors onto the balcony are specially treated to cut out reflections - I know that the mirror at a touch transforms into a giant plasma TV screen because Kallum, with great excitement, told me about the “magic mirror”! Set back into the very corner of the room is a small glass elevator which goes down into the kitchen on the first floor, to bring up drinks and snacks without having to use the flights of stairs.

I’m perched on an amazing steel blue ergonomic sofa with matching curved footstool, leafing distractedly through a copy of “Vogue” and a coffee table book about Heston Blumenthal, the chef whose ‘molecular cuisine’ is probably to your average bacon butty what this sofa is to DFS the discount store. On the wall in front of me - above the decorative fireplace crammed with split logs with cut ends perfectly arranged in section - is what looks like a Banksy original, spray-painted on canvas: the graffiti artist turned art-world darling. It shows a masked protestor throwing, instead of a petrol bomb, a beautiful bunch of multi-coloured flowers: I can see exactly why Natalia would choose it.

I’m just trying out the black and white flecked pony-skin Le Corbusier lounge chair for comfort (very), when Natalia appears at the door in wide white flared wool trousers, a black ruched cashmere top with ribbon detailing and a sexy wide grey patent belt clinching her slim waist and elongating her long legs. Those legs are capped with matching grey patent pumps with a charming little black and white bow detail. Natalia is always the first to sense a fashion trend, whether because she gets new season designer previews and front seats at London Fashion Week, I’ve never asked! But I do bet that type of belt will surface in the Spring/Summer ’08 collections - very 70’s Glam!

‘Helen, sorry I’m late, darling’. As always, Natalia’s as charming as she looks.
‘No, it’s only been a few minutes, Natalia, don’t worry! Paloma asked me if I wanted a cup of tea but I’ve been fine so I said I’d wait. I’ve been drooling over Vogue! You said you’d been to a check-up..?’

Natalia flops into the welcoming padding of an iconic ‘Egg’ chair in a bright red, and sighs. ‘Helen, I can’t talk to Greg about it!’

‘About what, Natalia?’

‘About...’ she tails off and looks up at the ceiling, running her hand through her hair. She thinks for a short minute and stretches her shoulders to relieve the tension. ‘Helen, you know we’ve been trying for a while for a second child. But we can’t seem to get pregnant!’ (funny how people say ‘we’, as if it were a joint experience, but then I guess it is, just never struck me as such especially in the face of my husband's nonchalance.)

... ‘Well, it’s been more than 8 months now, and I’ve started to get worried! Greg thinks of course that it’s OK - for him, if you try hard enough, you’ll achieve anything! But I’m almost 40, and you never know! So, I’ve been going to a specialist and done some tests but they keep on saying that everything’s fine.’
‘Well, that’s great, Natalia, isn’t it? Isn’t that good news – you don’t have to worry?’

‘But I am, Helen. I can’t help it! I’m beginning to think it’ll never happen…’
I try to reassure her, despite my lack of experience, having had the opposite: two unexpected pregnancies.

‘Helen.’ My friend looks me in the eye, a slightly mischievous grin on her face. ‘When I say we’ve been trying for a child, well, we’ve been trying every night! If that hasn’t worked by now, I don’t know what will!’

I raise my eyebrows. ‘Natalia, do you really mean, I mean, are you really saying that…’

‘Yes?’ says Natalia, quizzical, ‘There aren’t many other ways to get pregnant, you know!’ Wow! I think, wondering about my situation with Martin. I am hugely resisting the urge to go into detail and find out how such a thing is possible when you’re married with a child and busy all day! It simply sounds like climbing Everest to me, a lot of hard work and best left to someone else! Perhaps that’s what money does for you? Maybe because other people are doing all the chores, you get a great sex life? In that case, bring on the money, baby!

‘Well’, I say, ‘then I guess you’re right to get things checked out, the earlier the better! Why not tell Greg, don’t you think he’ll understand?’

Natalia looks down again, hesitating, and I suddenly get the feeling I’m missing some crucial undercurrent. ‘Sorry, Natalia', I say, 'I shouldn’t really advise you, but I wish I could help!’

‘It’s all right, Helen. I need some friendly advice! I know I’m not making much sense, so I’ll explain’. She sighs, this time biting her lip. ‘Greg and I met at Oxford, fell in love and were just finishing our last term when I got pregnant, we were going to get engaged anyway so it wasn’t a problem. Greg got his first trading job in the City and was already working crazy hours. Anyway, to cut a long story short, our baby died only a few days after birth, of undiagnosed sleep apnoea, a cot-death-related condition. Greg threw himself into his work and I threw myself into arranging our wedding. It was 10 years before I got pregnant with Mark, at which point Greg’s career was forging ahead.’
‘You’ve got to understand, Helen, that Greg’s had a charmed life. Everything he’s touched has turned to gold! He’s got where he is, from the new recruit on the trading desk, in 15 years. He doesn’t believe in failure! He’s an expert skier, used to sky dive before the kids, thinks he’s invincible! Only the loss of our daughter…’ She gulps, and I gulp too, finding it hard to stay dry-eyed.

‘I understand, Natalia, I really do, god, I mean I can’t even imagine’.... I tail off.
‘And remember for men that it’s often a big macho thing, Helen. I’ve been checked out but I can’t just ask him to go and get his little guys counted! I mean, there’s one child, he’ll think, so just relax and stop panicking! But I can’t, Helen! Now they want me to go for a laparoscopy, where they check your tubes - it’s a bit invasive but I need to get it done to put my mind at rest. I don’t want to tell Greg though and make it into an issue! Problem is, you’re supposed to feel quite fluey the next day. What do you think?’

At this point Paloma the housekeeper appears with a tray and delicate bone china cups of Earl Grey, each with a small crescent of lemon: she remembers what I like! What an asset, that woman, I think, as she glides away unobtrusively.

‘I don’t know. I really don’t. I think you ought to tell him, Natalia. Don’t you need his support? I mean, he’ll find out one way or another sooner or later, won’t he?’
‘No, Helen, you know, I don’t want to rock the boat for nothing, and hopefully they’ll say that everything’s OK. After all, we had Mark, didn’t we?’ her pretty face is almost beseeching me to reassure her: there’s something intensely vulnerable about this person who has almost everything. Everything, that is, except the one thing she wants most! I feel like hugging her. I remind myself never to take my children for granted.

‘OK, Natalia, then don’t tell him. How about you try to get it done on a Friday perhaps, and you can always say it’s a regular smear-test? And a group of us at school have been talking about doing a Champneys Spa day some weekend and we could book it for the Saturday, and if you join us, it’ll give you a chance to relax and keep your feet up, that way you won’t be around Greg feeling woozy, and he’ll never know! And we’ll have some quality girly time to cheer you up! It’s about time my Mum came and did some babysitting!’
Natalia’s quiet, thinking, gently twisting a starched linen napkin. ‘OK,’ she says: ‘I’ll book it! Thanks, Helen, you’ve been a real help!’
‘No problem, Natalia. Anytime!’

She smiles, gratefully. And I wonder, quietly, about how fate doles things out – me, greedily wanting what Natalia has, and her, genuinely, wanting what I have.

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