Read by Robert Welling (Full podcast here)
In the days leading up to the announcement, I found myself watching a lot of cartoons. The dilemma of the Roadrunner; what would Wile E Coyote do, if he ever caught the bird? What would give his life meaning, without the chase? I guess this is something a lot of chaps think about. No more death traps or explosions.
Thoughts of an idle man, though. By this point in our relationship, it was no secret to the UK public that Delilah and I were to be married in June. That this would be the next royal wedding, England flags all over the shop, and there was nothing I could do. That even if I'd run off to Bolivia, or somewhere with no extradition treaty, it would be no escape from my obligations to Delilah, and her son, little Elton.
A sense of fatalism overtook me. And it was in this spirit that I, now a depleted force, burdened by my responsibilities, weighed down by the pressures of a royal engagement, agreed to Christmas. I would meet her folks, and she would meet mine. I lost the coin-toss, so it was her lot first.
Christmas Eve then. Delilah's family, with whom I hadn't had much to do thus far, were old school East End, cockney types who'd moved out to Basildon late last century, after an upturn in the family fortunes. It was like walking on to the set of The Only Way Is Essex. We went to the pub for pie and mash, and then back to Grandpa Frank's palatial mock-Tudor mansion. All of this being photographed constantly, though if I'd been Grandpa Frank, I'm not sure I'd have been keen on so much press attention, or in fact any at all, seeing as 'the gaff' looked like it may not have been acquired by entirely legal means.
Anyway, back at the gaff, the party was in full swing. Five or six tankards of ale to the good, I was summoned by Grandpa Frank, who was a sprightly sixty, in lots of gold, holding court in what may as well have been the royal gazebo, at the far end of the swimming pool. Next to him was Nanny Nell, who if anything seemed even more threatening, like the Kray Twins’ mother might have been, had the lads kept a lid on their antics. On the other side was Uncle Ted. Uncle Ted's, one sensed, was the more prosperous wing of the clan. There'd been a falling out with Delilah's mother, after she'd dated a chap from Brixton, if you see what I mean. Anyway, I cringed up a chair.
'So you've got security, mate?' was Uncle Ted's opening gambit, making light conversation 'Who watch out for you, no matter what?'
'Ex-SAS, right? So they could sort it if some mouthy little toe rag needed a slap?'
'Well, it would depend.'
'Depend on what? Seems a bit unmanly though, dunnit, hiding behind your soldier boys' skirts?'
Uncle Ted was a large man with a shaved head and a Union Jack tie, so you'd have thought he'd be a fan of us Windsors. But apparently not. England wasn't England no more; what was I going to do about it?
'That's enough, Ted,' said Grandpa Frank.
'I was only pulling his plonker, Dad. Having a bit of a giggle.'
'Yeah, but the boy's family now. Or soon will be.'
'So guys,' I said, after a lull in the conversation 'You're in nightclub security, right?'
'That was one of our business interests, yes. We're semi-retired these days, of course. You can tell your mates at Special Branch that.'
'Oh. Have they been a bit intrusive?'
'You could say that, yes.'
'Well, there's a vetting procedure. Which you've passed with flying colours, obviously …'
'But tell me guys,' I slurred, rigid with beer and terror, 'Just between us, what's it like, being a crime family?'
Grandpa Frank looked at me with cold, dead, assessing eyes.
'Don't you know? How many did you kill in Afghanistan, boy?'
'Ah,' I said, wishing I hadn't started this now 'Well, that's a state secret. We don't talk about that.'
'There you go then,' said Grandpa Frank. 'Now, our Delilah says you've been having second thoughts. Dragging your heels about the nuptials.'
'I wouldn't say that, exactly.'
'Understandable in a young man, a few pre-wedding jitters. As long as that's all they are. Because if they were to turn into something else, we … would not be amused. Would we Nell?'
'No,' the terrifying old bat snarled, her fingernails rattling on the table in a way you'd have to hope no one ever does on your coffin 'We would not. You will pose for the photographs, you will have your face on the fucking ceremonial mugs, and if you do anything, and I mean anything, to upset my granddaughter before she's walked down the aisle at Westminster cathedral, I will rip your fucking bollocks off, with my teeth!'
'And those nonces from the SAS won't be able to help you neither.'
'Ted,' sighed Frank, 'You're ruining the moment ...'
'Not as much as I'll ruin this ponce though,' barked Nell.
'I see. You do realise I could have you seen to, right now?'
'Look around, you ginger twat. You ain’t among friends here. Why, I could have you filleted, kippered, and on the slabs at Billingsgate market before sun-up tomorrow.'
'No, I don't think you could.' I said, putting my drink down. And then picking it up again. Why was I arguing? I'd seen enough early Pinter plays to know this wasn't just idle pub banter
I rang security, and once I was safe in the car, I rang Nanny Nell and told her I was calling in an air strike. She didn't like the sound of that - there was an explosion of expletives, I'd be skinned alive and so forth. It was only then that I realised I'd forgotten Delilah and Little Elton. Gah.
So that was Christmas eve. Dark.
On Christmas Day, (hopefully lighter but what were the chances?) Delilah and I flew north, to Balmoral. By this stage, I was hoping the private jet we'd got from Stansted would crash, with no survivors.
The QE2 is a quandary: how do you stay on the UK throne for that long without a stiff upper lip approach to suspect moral behaviour? As Grandpa Frank had observed, we are all criminals. Still, I was nervous, observing Delilah and, in particular, Little Elton, through a haze of scotch and valium. Little Elton was dancing around in the aisles in a West Ham top and Delilah was pointedly not talking to me, The ice in the plane air was as thick and heavy as the chunks floating in my glass.
'Del,' I said, hoping to ease the atmosphere a bit, 'Do you want a line of ketamine?'
She brightened. 'Yeah, go on.'
We repaired to the facilities. This was as close to the Mile High club as we were ever going to get, I laughed. Though I probably shouldn't have said that. Actually, I'm not sure if I did. For a while back there, I knew the secret of the universe.
By the time we hit Balmoral, after what seemed like ten minutes or a century, I was moving like an astronaut, lost in alien territory. But nothing could have delighted La Middleton more than the sight of us, the second royal family, as we staggered out of the Range Rover.
‘Have a nice flight, did we?' La Middleton frosted.
'Yes!' shouted Little Elton, who'd finally been persuaded to put on some trousers, 'We did!'
'Enjoy it while it lasts.'
‘What you mean by that, babe?' Delilah wondered, lighting a joint.
'When I am queen, there are going to be some cutbacks.'
‘“When”. Don't you mean “If”?'
'I don't believe so.'
'Well, you best believe it, bitch.'
We hadn't always had the easiest relationship, but as La Middleton's face visibly paled, I remembered why I liked Delilah. Maybe the wedding could go ahead, after all?
In my journals so far, I've put off describing Delilah. You don't put your friends under scrutiny, even if they hate you. What I can say, though, is that Delilah is a strong, powerful and independent lady, with a gym-toned body and a lot of tattoos. As she sauntered into the castle, I could hear the Duke of Edinburgh observe 'Bloody hell, cabbage, is that a bloke in a dress?'
'You wanna check out the merchandise, Granddad?' said Delilah, unbuttoning her top.
'No ' shouted La Middleton. 'Not in front of the Duke of Edinburgh!'
'Because … because of tradition!'
'Del,' I said 'He is rather frail ...'
'Oh why not, Delilah?' said the QE2 'It's nothing the old fool hasn't seen before. Now you, my dear, must sit next to me at dinner.'
So, contrary to all expectations, Delilah was a hit. This was absolutely the last thing La Middleton had bargained for.
In various states of disrepair then, we adjourned to the dining room, Grandpa Phil uncharacteristically silent on the subject of immigrants, or anything else, visibly mesmerised by Delilah's decolletage. La Middleton was looking at me like I was Dr Faustus, with an evil demon she didn't know what to make of hovering next to my shoulder, when there was an alarm from one of the upstairs bedrooms. Little Elton! We'd forgotten about him.
Apparently, he was on the loose upstairs with little George, in full Richard the Third mode, teaching the heir to the throne to sing West Ham terrace anthems. He'd got some booze from somewhere and he was wearing one of La Middleton's bras on his head, as the two boys chorused 'I'm forever blowing bubbles …'
I was proud of the lad, as La Middleton eventually restrained him. Particular points for style when he said, after the Duchess of Cambridge smacked his bottom, that he was 'into it, babe.' He now enjoys the rare distinction of being banned forever from UK palace territory by a monarch who's yet to make queen. It's going to cause problems at the wedding, but, I wonder, because I try to keep my motives obscure, even to myself, if this isn't maybe the ideal outcome? Is a chap a good chap? Or is a chap a bad chap? I still like to think the H-Meister is on the side of the angels, but putting ketamine in Little Elton's Sunny-D may not feature in the credit column. Do I want Grandpa Frank and Nanny Nell, on top of the tabloids, the GBP and La Middleton, as mortal foes? I'll have to think about it, I suppose.
As irritating as it is when stories end on a cliffhanger, it is, in the small hours of Boxing Day, quite hard to predict what the New Year will bring. As I once read on a gents wall in Nairobi, 'There are no strangers. Just enemies you haven't met yet.'
(c) Quintin Forrest, 2016
Quintin Forrest lives in London. His short story collection, Tales of Modern Stupidity, perhaps the ideal stocking filler for depressed teens and misanthropic in-laws, is available to buy on Amazon. He is currently working on Bluff Prince Hal: A Novel.
Robert Welling is a Drama Centre graduate who has played the title role in Orestes at The Scoop, Romeo & Juliet at The Dell, and Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Middle Temple. Short film credits include Cygnus, which has been accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner.