Cliff and Olga lived on the new estate: a winding cul de sac of sizeable detached red-brick houses, which had undoubtedly been described by the estate agent as prestigious, if not exclusive. To most of the kids in the village, it was known more colloquially as Snob Alley.
Although architecturally unremarkable in most respects, many of the properties distinguished themselves by their use of selected “heritage” elements. In Cliff and Olga’s case, this meant juxtaposing the quaint bull’s-eye panes in the bay windows with a pair of imposing neo-classical Grecian columns, which flanked the entrance porch. Reproduction carriage lamps on either side of the front door completed the look.
It was a Sunday afternoon in the late spring of 1986. K and I had been together as a couple for barely a year, and were still some distance away from disclosing the nature of our relationship to our respective families. As far as my father and stepmother were concerned, he was my new flatmate – albeit a flatmate who did seem to have the habit of accompanying me everywhere, even on weekend visits back up to the north of the county.
K found instant favour with them both. My father, being fond of coining nicknames for those whom he liked the best, dubbed him “Kevin the Gerbil”, after the popular breakfast television puppet of the day. My stepmother simply called him “Darling”, and flirted with him heavily, as was her wont.
Cliff and Olga had invited us all to join them for afternoon “drinkies”, in order to fill that awkward gap in the day between lunchtime last orders and evening early doors. Despite their house being not much more than five minutes’ walk from our own, it would have been unthinkable for us to arrive by foot. Hell, my father would often drive from our front gate to the nearest pub, less than a dozen doors away.
Seizing her opportunity, my stepmother asked to ride with K, in the passenger seat of his immaculately restored 1972 MG Midget. (Mallard green exterior; ochre interior; chrome bumpers; round wheel arches; sold eighteen months later, before the prices started going mad; still much missed.) Meanwhile, I travelled behind in my father’s chocolate brown Rover, with its odour of stale cigar smoke and dog hairs all over the seats.
As the two cars pulled up in front of Cliff and Olga’s des. res., Olga emerged from the front door to greet us. With a cut-glass champagne flute in one hand and a Players No. 6 in the other, she arranged herself betwixt the dual Ionics and flashed us her most winning smile, every inch the Lady of the Manor.
“K, darling – kiss me!”
Before K could raise an objection – assuming he would ever have dared – my stepmother leant over to his side of the open-top car, lunged her upper body forwards, planted her lips onto his, and held them there. As a free spirit trapped in a petty world, she had to take her pleasures where she could find them, and these sorts of épater la bourgeoisie stunts were a regular source of delight.
Whatever Olga might have thought of the spectacle, she didn’t so much as flinch.
“S! Lovely to see you! And who is this young man?”
“Oh, this is Michael’s… friend, K.” (She had a way of pausing before “friend”, just for a split second, but just long enough to let you know that she knew, and that she knew that you knew that she knew.) “How are you, Olga?”
“Flourishing, thank you! But we’ve had such problems this week, you couldn’t imagine: one of the back seat cigarette lighters in the Rolls Royce has broken. I don’t know what we’re going to do! Now, in you come. What can I get you? Campari and soda, or a nice glass of bubbly?”