Green Brook Country Club is the kind of place that if you’re English, you suspect only exists in the mind of Hollywood executives, in the same way that every shot of our own country must apparently include a country lane, a Mini, and a distant shot of Big Ben.
It sits in the green heartlands of New Jersey, set among perfectly manicured rolling lawns and under a rippling stars and stripes flag; one of those sprawling white colonial club houses where there really are faithful old retainers, a top-hole golf course, and a small army of young men in livery waiting to take away your car. While calling you Ma’am.
There were 450 for lunch. I walked around a ballroom where every single table decoration held a large picture of my face (NOT WEIRD AT ALL) and registered some serious glamour in that room (enough glamour for an English novelist to wish for bigger hair and that she had put heels on). There was perfect hair and Gucci handbags and diamonds on fingers that could have financed a small African country.
And the food. Oh my Lord the food. The salmon platter alone had to be carried by two men. That’s without the home-made scones, the endless variations of salad designed for Ladies Who Lunch, the petit fours. As Louise, Penguin’s publicist, put it: “Can you imagine living like this? Even for one day?” My arteries could. I had eaten my own bodyweight in bacon and French toast not two hours previously at the hotel breakfast buffet, but even I could not say no.
It was all delightful. They asked questions, and they bought books: basically every novelist’s dream audience. Even those who told me I was ‘shorter than expected’. I came home thanking the Lord for my decision not to wear a dress with a waistband and clutching the sealed foil bucket of leftovers that the ladies had insisted we take home “for supper” (For what it’s worth it was supper and it was breakfast and there was still enough for a family of seven)
I did one more interview, took a last walk around a Midtown so hot that simply breathing outside felt like inhaling hot soup, watched the queues grow again at The Halal Guys food truck outside Moma, and then got down to the business of packing up for Chicago. What glamour! I thought. What a life! And then I went to brush my teeth and something caught my eye. Two long, chestnut coloured antennae waving at me coyly above my shampoo.
Reader, there is a particular noise an English novelist makes when confronted with a giant cockroach on her washbag, and it is one only dogs can hear. I ran around in circles in my nightie shrieking for a bit, considered how quickly it might be possible for my husband to fly across the Atlantic, then called Housekeeping.
“Excuse me? I’m in room 1219. I need someone to come and get a cockroach.”
“You want me to bring you a what?”
“No. I need you to get rid of a cockroach. In my bathroom. Quickly!” I needed him to come while I could see where it went. Those suckers move FAST.
The man who came peered at it for a bit, admitted it was big, dispatched it into a dustpan, and then poked it meditatively until, apparently those chestnut tendrils waved no longer. I gave him $20 – all I had in my wallet – and it felt cheap at half the price. He was so happy at this insane overtipping bug-phobic he actually walked into a wall.
I went to bed dreaming of gently undulating club lawns and equally gently undulating cockroach antennae. As my husband said, when I told him: “Yup. Welcome to New York.”