Six of us, travellers in France, thrown together at a guesthouse. It turned out Alice and Alec lived ten miles from Brenda and Bob. The ‘A’ and the ‘B’ team; we two were alphabetical and geographical misfits.
‘My God! We’re practically neighbours! You don’t sail, do you?’ Alex bellowed.
‘Actually, yes. Have a 38 footer.’
‘Mmm, our boat is smaller. But we do have a second one, a clinker-built job.’
Bob changed tack. ‘Damned good food at the boathouse.’
‘We prefer our local gastro-pub. The one with a Michelin star.’
Brenda jumped in. ‘I dislike sailing. I renovate our lovely old house with its half-acre of land.’
‘Land? Into gardening?’ Alice’s eyes sparkled. ‘I grow all our veg now I’ve retired from Harley Street. Must use our acre.’
The ‘B’ team preferred to buy local organic produce.
‘We’re joining our son in Provence.’ Brenda continued. ‘He needs a break – such a stressful job. He’s a partner in a large law firm.’
‘Really?’ Alice grew two inches. ‘Our son is a hedge fund manager in the City. Earns millions – but I shouldn’t mention that!’
‘Being a Harley Street doctor entitles you to boast.’
Alice had a fit of coughing. Her husband explained she had been secretary to a consultant oncologist.
In the fidgeting break in conversation, I mentioned our next stop was the ancestral home of Josephine de Beauharnais.
‘Before she married Napoleon.’ Nobody seemed interested. ‘So it’s an early night. Maybe we’ll bump into each other again.’
‘Who knows? Perhaps at that Beauharnais place, eh?’ Loud, dismissive guffaws.
‘Well, it’s possible. The place is for sale and we’re putting in a bid.’
Four pairs of eyes fixed on me; smiles vanished.
We left the room and waited. Silence. Then four clamouring voices.
Sometimes you have to lie.