I went to London and back on January 10, the day Irritable Parker Bowles Syndrome broke out, and the evening papers were suddenly full of Camilla Divorce stories. ( A Londoner might object that there is only one evening paper these days, but if you are travelling home from Paddington, you get a choice of evening papers at Reading, Bath and Bristol, and believe me they were all full of Camilla Divorce stories. )
When a story like the Camilla Divorce story breaks, you don't just get one report. You get it from all angles, especially in the Standard. You get Anthony Holden on the constitutional implications. You get Brian Sewell on the artistic overtones. You get photo-essays on that relationship. You get a statement from the solicitor and/or the husband, including what I still think is the amazing statement that " We have secretly been leading quite separate lives for several years " - a hard thing to do secretly, I would think. And I was reading the fourth or fifth piece on the Camilla Divorce scandal when suddenly my eyes opened wide. There, in front of me, was a picture of none other than Lady Amabel Lindsay, who apparently had once been one of Andrew Parker Bowles's old flames.
Well, that's what I would have said, had I not once lived in Notting Hill and shared a telephone number with Lady Amabel Lindsay, or very nearly. My phone number was 6606. Hers was 6006 on the same exchange. I know that, because I very often got phone calls for her.
" Hello, is Amabel there ? " these aristocratic voices would bray.
I had never heard the name Amabel till I started getting these anonymous calls. It sounded like a misprint for Annabel. Well, I sympathised. Most people think that Kington is a mistake for Kingston. To begin with, I would say, No. Then I got curious. So many wrong numbers for the same name.
" Amabel who? " I said one day.
" Lady Amabel Lindsay, " they said. " Is she there? "
She never was.
After that I started asking what number they were trying to ring, and finally one of them, brighter than the rest, said it was 6006.
" Ah, but what you've dialled is 6606...."
" Is it? Oh. How do you know? "
" Because that's my number and you've just dialled me. "
" Really? I say, that's awfully clever," this upper class caller said.
Armed with the right number, I could now put her friends right.
" I say, is Amabel there? "
" No, this is 6606. The number you want is her number, which is 6006. I'd try that if I were you … "
" I say, thanks most awfully. "
They never asked me how I knew her number. Perhaps they thought I was some sort of servant, or answering service. But then, all of Amabel Lindsay's friends who rang me seemed fairly stupid. Does that seem unfair? But surely you would have to be a bit thick, to get such a simple number wrong so often. Nor did any of them display the slightest curiosity as to who I was. Don't forget that whenever I answered the phone, even when giving my correct number, they always asked if Amabel was there. That meant that a) they never listened to what they were told b) they saw nothing odd in having Amabel's phone answered by a complete stranger.
Did that mean that Lady Amabel quite often had strange men in the house with unfamiliar voices, manning her phone? Or did it mean that her friends never suspected anything wrong until it was pointed out to them?
As time wore on and the frequency of the calls did not decrease, I started to embroider my replies.
" I say, is Amabel there? "
" No, I'm afraid the operation wasn't a success. "
" I beg your... Good Lord, what operation? What's gone wrong? "
Then I would put the phone down. Other answers I used included:
" She's helping the police with their inquiries at the moment..."
" Well, she's never very coherent this time of day, "
" I'm afraid she went off with a young man last night and she isn't back just yet."
Then I left London and forgot all about her and then suddenly there she was in the paper the other day. It said she had been a flame of Andrew Parker Bowles, but that they had never really got it together, for some reason. I suspect I know the reason. She got cross because he never phoned. He did phone actually. Quite often. But he always got me instead.
The Oldie 1995