That was a surprise.
Norman asked me over to his house at five o’clock today and took me into his kitchen. If it’s a friend or casual visitor he usually offers them a drink at his big kitchen table.
“I’m going bankrupt,” he said. Almost as soon as we had sat down, the phone rang. “Excuse me”, he said and took it with him into his study down the corridor.
I looked round his big kitchen. There was a fruit bowl with bananas and oranges. A black Aga cooker. The kitchen was clean, ready for use but not much used. I wondered how it would have been when Sylvia was alive.
I do not think I have said anything about Norman’s living arrangements. I said he lived alone but Norman’s house has an annex with a granny flat. Maureen’s daughter, Amanda lives there. Amanda is a single parent. Her child, called Lavinia, is just a year old.
I think there was some suspicion around the village that Norman had sex with Amanda from time to time. I don’t think so. He said that he was away a lot and it was good to have someone there. I believe that. I don’t think she pays any rent.
“Sorry”, he said when he came back. “That was Melanie. She is advising me”.
I waited for him to tell me more.
“Last week one large client went into liquidation and two others cancelled unexpectedly. Business is usually a series of running skirmishes. This was a cannonade. My rigging was down. We had drifted astern”.
He smiled, looked at me, raising his eyebrows and thinking for a moment: “Cannonade: Kentucky Derby winner.1974”.
Where does he keep this knowledge? Is his study full of racing books and journals? I think Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell must be his bedside reading. That would make sense.
“Are you personally at risk”. I said.
“ I think I will end up owing the bank a six figure sum — low six figures — and I will have to think about the house. Haven’t finally figured that out. I am sorry about the staff”.
His mobile phone beeped. He reached over, read a text message, keyed a short reply.
Norman was a professional. He had run his business in the traditional way.
“No point in any bullshit”, he said. “The world moved on.”
I said I would watch out for the story as it came across the sub’s desk at the paper and see that it was OK. He was pleased. I think that was what he wanted from me.
It was sad. His two sons are shaping up to be more successful than he had ever been, both in corporate finance, one in London, one in America. It didn’t help that they would think his problems were small beer. They could pay off the bank tomorrow.
For him, it is a failure, though, and he thinks he has lost their respect.
It would have been nice if he’d had a daughter to sympathise with him.
“Spring comes again”, he said, as I got up to leave. Snowdrops were coming out.
And there was a bowl of hyacinths, just coming into flower, on a table in the hallway. I wonder where that came from.