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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Missing In Action

I’ve never really been quite sure when to tell a man who starts talking to me that I have a boyfriend. Because it’s rather presumptuous, isn’t it, to assume that he is talking to you because he wants to undress you. And I am not presumptuous. But I also know that if a man is chatting a woman up, he deserves to know the truth.

So when Dad went missing while we were snorkeling off the coast of a Thai island, a situation arose. Allow me to explain.

He has a little boat, his pride and joy. He’d swum out to where it was anchored, leaving Tammi and I ashore. His parting words were: ‘I’m not a strong swimmer.’ Words we soon rued.

Tammi and I didn’t think any more of it – despite the fact he’s nearly 70 and had we thought about it, we didn’t even know how to go about calling an emergency service, let alone know if this remote island, Ko Lipe, provided rescue for missing westerners.

Time passed and Tam and I began to get hungry. So we looked out to sea, expecting to spot Dad on his way back. The sun was slowly setting, we were losing light. We very much could not see him.

Hmm. No need to panic, I’m sure he’s in that expanse of ocean somewhere. Let’s keep staring at the sea, we agreed. No sign of him.

‘I’m not sure how long we are supposed to wait before panicking,’ Tammi said. One step ahead of her, I already was. I’m not ready to lose my Dad, I still haven’t learned how to change the fuse in a plug and other necessary life lessons he hasn’t got round to teaching me.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to two men who I quickly ascertained might have been watching the water more than we had, seeing as we hadn’t at all. ‘Have you seen an old man around here?’

And so arrived our problem. The two men, early thirties, nice tan, broken English (they were Italian, called Romeo and Casanova, probably) seemed more concerned with where Tammi and I were from than the fact that our Dad might be lost at sea.

‘He went out to his boat ages ago, have you seen him?’ I asked.

‘What a beautiful accent,’ they replied. ‘Can we take pictures?’

Hardly the time, is it, for pictures, what with our father having just been eaten by a shark. I half expected his hat to wash up at our feet as we posed.

‘Better not let my boyfriend see,’ Tammi joked as the men circled her like charming, pizza-making vultures.

And so, politely and without alarm, the information they had been looking for had been provided. They turned their attention to helping us find Dad, who soon after, rose from the sea.

‘I suppose these two girls have told you they are my daughters,’ Dad said, unaware of our mild state of panic. Hard to take a man seriously who is wearing the same speedos he was wearing in 1983. Not just the same brand, the very same pair.

As we said thank you and goodbye to the courteous inamoratos and walked, father in tact, to dinner, I told Tammi of my troubles. ‘I’m never sure how to work it into conversation that I have a boyfriend,’ I told her.

Whenever I’m confronted with a situation like that, I think of my friend Laurence. He’s a real jack-the-lad, chatting up women left, right and centre. He must have slept with half of London already. And once, he told me, he spent a good few hours chatting up a pretty young filly. He bought her drinks, they laughed, a veritable flirt ensued.

And then, at the end of the night, she let slip she had a boyfriend.

Rather than make a quiet exit, fuelled by liquor, Laurence gave her what for.

‘I just spent two hours chatting you up! If you’ve got a boyfriend, do a man a favour and let him know!’ Laurence fumed.

I‘d always been on Laurence’s side. How dare that girl allow drinks to be bought and time to be spent, knowing full well she wasn’t going to smooch our Laurence. Tut tut, young lady, you’re letting the side down.

‘Unless,’ Tammi said.


‘Unless she didn’t have a boyfriend, she just sobered up.’

It was a good point and not entirely unlikely, picturing the night draw to a close and Laurence, who has a very hairy back, moving in for the kill. Suddenly I had hopped over the fence, onto the girl’s side.

Having a boyfriend, or pretending to, is a bloody good way to get lurid, persistent men to back off. It’s just a trump card you really ought to play a little earlier in the game.

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Some thinkle peep.

What I like about airports is the internationally accepted protocol to start drinking at 7am while waiting to board your plane, followed by a few more drinks at 50,000ft. Because it’s not really 7am, even if you’re in your own time zone. It’s airport time. International time. It’s time to drink. The bars are open, welcoming you to raise a glass to your holiday. Who cares that usually at this time, you’d be brushing your teeth, bleary eyed and scruffy haired? Not I.

And so, Tammi and I partook. That's us there, partaking. It would have been against the rules of the airport not to have a glass of champagne with our early morning croissant.

We then wandered the airport buying things we wouldn’t have bought were it not for the bubbles of lubrication flowing through our bloodstream. I spent £30 on biscuits. Pretty sure the champagne told me £30 worth of biscuits were a much better thing to have about my person than money.

I’ve become somewhat accustomed to lonesome traveling. Over the years, I’ve usually been en-route to meet my dad somewhere, wherever his travels have taken him, wherever he can wangle a plus-one out of whoever is paying him to be important that month. I haven’t asked questions. I’ve just said yes father, of course I will accompany you to New Zealand, Australia, Spain, wherever.

Thanks to whatever it is Dad does for a living, I’ve dined with royalty, had a 12 course dinner hosted by Louis Vuitton, driven a BMW and stolen a Prada pashmina. But the getting there, I have done alone and without fuss. Woe is me.

When I travel alone, I don’t partake in all this drinking tomfoolery. I just find a quiet corner, read my book and hope no children sit anywhere near me in the airport, at the gate, while boarding or on the plane.

But with my sister by my side, headed for Malaysia for two weeks, the champagne breakfast was just the start. Up in the air, we washed down a bloody mary with a glass of red wine. Light of head and thin of blood , we settled down to watch five films back to back while shifting uncomfortably in the tiny chairs. So, rather like I do alone then, but just sort of more fun, on account of the drinking.
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