The voice from behind me was one I only half-recognised. I was leaning over the balcony of the hotel’s function room, glass in hand, drinking in the view, captivated by the trail of lights across the bay, and wondering how long this place would be able to retain its unique and unspoiled charm.
“Mrs King,” I smiled, with all the sincerity of a game show host.
"Call me Mavis," she said, smiling back, patting her blue-rinse perm into place, evidently pleased that I had remembered her from our one and only previous meeting. “This is my husband, Ken” she announced, waving a vague hand at the surly-looking, disinterested man standing next to her. “This is the young lady I was telling you about, dear,” she informed him. “The wedding planner. And she’s almost as pretty as that Jennifer what’s-her-name.”
"How do," mumbled her husband perfunctorily, and for a moment I was thrown by his broad Northern accent, especially after the clipped (Home Counties?) tones of Mrs King.
"Charlotte tells me your husband has come out with you," trilled Mrs King, who, as the bride had pre-warned me before meeting her aunt, acted as the island's chief - and fastest - news service. I quickly filled in any gaps there might be in Mrs King’s knowledge, politely explaining that my husband Colin - actually one of the UK’s leading event caterers - was downstairs overseeing the imminent arrival of the food. We carried on with the small talk. Most of it very small.
It turned out that the Kings, prior to retiring over here, had lived in Harrogate, which seemed to explain both their accents: hers very up-market, educated Yorkshire, his still with the rough edges on it. Mrs King's father had owned a large engineering business in Bradford, and - although neither of them would have put it quite like that - Ken, an ambitious sales manager, appeared to have 'done a Joe Lampton' and married the boss' daughter. "Of course, we never actually lived in Bradford," Mrs King explained, anxious that I didn't get the wrong impression - whatever that was.
"Even so, I’m afraid the place isn’t what it used to be," I picked up on at one stage in the monologue, having already switched off several times, and not entirely sure whether she was talking about the city in particular or the UK in general. “Especially these days if you know what I mean. I'm not a racist, but..."
I did know what she meant. And I knew exactly what was coming. Any statement like that is invariably followed by a sadly familiar litany: “nothing against them personally but I think they all ought to go back to their own country;” complaints about them taking jobs, bringing down property prices, pushing up the crime figures, ruining the schools; and saving the best for last, as the worst sort of insular, narrow-minded expatriates with no sense of irony, not being willing to adapt to “our ways.”
Check, check and check.
I decided I only had three options. Kill them. Kill myself. Or create a diversion. As I happened to be standing next to the mains fuse box, it was a no-brainer. As the two of them turned to replenish their glasses from a passing waiter, I grabbed my chance, and the room was mysteriously plunged into a Stygian darkness.
"Bloody hell. Another chuffin’ power cut!" moaned Mr King, evidently not as taken aback as the rest of the guests, who were now tutting and muttering in unison in the background. “Has the hamster on the wheel gone on strike again?”
In the gloom, I obviously couldn’t see a thing, but a few seconds later, I was aware that Colin was suddenly standing next to me. Maybe his sixth sense had told him I needed rescuing.
“Do you need some help, darling?” I enquired hopefully. “I’ll come down and see what we can do.” Mrs King however was holding on like a limpet and got in before he could reply with a delighted “Oh, is this your husband?” and a gushing "How wonderful. Your wife's been telling us all about you."
What I had told her however still wasn’t enough for Mrs King’s dossier. After eliciting more vital information from Colin, such as how long had we been married (five years), where had we met (university), and where did we live in England (Surrey), she picked up on his accent and asked him where he was from.
“South Wales,” Colin answered proudly. “Just outside Swansea. The Mumbles.”
“What was that?” sniggered her husband, no doubt cupping his hand behind his ear as he said it. It was a joke we had both heard a hundred times before. Nobody apart from Mr King himself was laughing this time, and even his wife felt she had to apologise for him and change the subject.
"Rather unusual meeting like this," she chipped in, with a girlish giggle in the general direction of Colin’s silhouette. "If we pass each other in the street tomorrow, we'll never recognise each other!"
Colin laughed politely, and I thought: darling, you don't know how lucky you are.
Mrs King’s husband, after his brief flirtation with humour, appeared to have returned to his usual curmudgeonly self, and seemed more interested in expounding his theories on the electricity issue once more. "The dagoes here are almost as lazy as the wogs back home,” he announced, pausing only for a second or two to drain his glass “Where they get that expression 'working like a – ‘ “
His voice trailed away as I flicked the lights back on, accompanied by cheering and applause from the wedding guests. Neither of the Kings were quite so ecstatic. In fact, from the looks on their faces, I would have said they were decidedly uncomfortable. Colin had fixed them with one of those ever-so-slightly smug smiles he specialised in when he knew he had the upper hand. He had worn one that day when he wiped the floor with me during a university debate, and it was probably the first thing I noticed about him. That, and the fact that he was undoubtedly the most gorgeous black man I had ever laid eyes on.