"Big beyond all sense. How are the ear-hair clippers?"
"Oh, marvelously--you know--clippy."
It was all right, I suppose. I would have felt a bit mean if I hadn't turned up, but Mark Darcy ... Yuk. Every time my mother's rung up for weeks it's been, "Of course you remember the Darcys, darling. They came over when we were living in Buckingham and you and Mark played in the paddling pool!" or, "Oh! Did I mention Malcolm and Elaine are bringing Mark with them to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet? He's just back from America, apparently. Divorced. He's looking for a house in Holland Park. Apparently he had the most terrible time with his wife. Japanese. Very cruel race."
Then next time, as if out of the blue, "Do you remember Mark Darcy, darling? Malcolm and Elaine's son? He's one of these super-dooper top-notch lawyers. Divorced. Elaine says he works all the time and he's terribly lonely. I think he might be coming to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet, actually."
I don't know why she didn't just come out with it and say, "Darling, do shag Mark Darcy over the turkey curry, won't you? He's very rich."
"Come along and meet Mark," Una Alconbury singsonged before I'd even had time to get a drink down me. Being set up with a man against your will is one level of humiliation, but being literally dragged into it by Una Alconbury while caring for an acidic hangover, watched by an entire roomful of friends of your parents, is on another plane altogether.
The rich, divorced-by-cruel-wife Mark--quite tall--was standing with his back to the room, scrutinizing the contents of the Alconburys' bookshelves: mainly leather-bound series of books about the Third Reich, which Geoffrey sends off for from Reader's Digest. It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting "Cathy" and banging your head against a tree.
"Mark!" said Una, as if she was one of Santa Claus's fairies. "I've got someone nice for you to meet."
He turned round, revealing that what had seemed from the back like a harmless navy sweater was actually a V-neck diamond-patterned in shades of yellow and blue--as favored by the more elderly of the nation's sports reporters. As my friend Tom often remarks, it's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a gray slip-on shoe, a swastika, are as often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner.
"Mark, this is Colin and Pam's daughter, Bridget," said Una, going all pink and fluttery. "Bridget works in publishing, don't you, Bridget?"
"I do indeed," I for some reason said, as if I were taking part in a Capital radio phone-in and was about to ask Una if I could "say hello" to my friends Jude, Sharon and Tom, my brother Jamie, everyone in the office, my mum and dad, and last of all all the people at the Turkey Curry Buffet.
"Well, I'll leave you two young people together," said Una. "Durr! I expect you're sick to death of us old fuddy-duddies."
"Not at all," said Mark Darcy awkwardly with a rather unsuccessful attempt at a smile, at which Una, after rolling her eyes, putting a hand to her bosom and giving a gay tinkling laugh, abandoned us with a toss of her head to a hideous silence.
"I. Um. Are you reading any, ah ... Have you read any good books lately?" he said.
Oh, for God's sake.
I racked my brain frantically to think when I last read a proper book. The trouble with working in publishing is that reading in your spare time is a bit like being a dustman and snuffling through the pig bin in the evening. I'm halfway through Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which Jude lent me, but I didn't think Mark Darcy, though clearly odd, was ready to accept himself as a Martian quite yet. Then I had a brainwave.
From Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. © 1997 by Helen Fielding. Used by permission of the Viking Press.
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No Man's Land
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