Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Thursday, 8 November 2012
I agreed, and threw myself into the arrangements with alacrity, spurred on by Lily, who was quite demented with excitement at the prospect.
Jasper was delegated the task of creating the bonfire, a job which was initially met with considerable resistance, due to a very busy work load.
“I haven’t got time, you’ll have to ask someone else.” He said firmly.
Lily’s powers of persuasion are legendary. One look at her cherubic, crestfallen little face, and he was off to the farm with a tractor and trailer, returning a couple of hours later with a towering load of wood, scrap and rubbish, which he deposited in the Orchard.
Jenny had provided some excellent fire works, Angie had made a batch of sausage rolls, and Mother in Law had delivered a huge vat of her delicious, secret recipe Mulled Wine.
“Look Mummy! Guy Fawkes!” she announced, jabbing at a stick man atop a pile of red and orange splodges.
I cursed under my breath. I had forgotten all about the Guy!
I phoned some farming friends in the hope that they might be able to donate a scare crow, but my efforts were in vain.
“I can’t put one of those on a Bonfire!” I blurted.
I emerged five minutes later staggering slightly beneath the cumbersome weight of a 6”4 female mannequin.
Friday, 29 June 2012
Friday, 11 May 2012
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Three days of blue skies and sunshine has precipitated an unprecedently early emergence of the BBQ and garden furniture. They are stored in a stable during winter. We carried them round to the house on Sunday, and set them up in the back garden before mixing a jug of Pimms and waiting for friends to arrive.
The garden table, once so smart has long since lost its lustre, thanks to my erroneous belief that a coat of brown exterior wood paint would preserve its good looks. In fact, it had the opposite effect, and resulted in a shabby, permanently peeling surface which was now covered with archipelagos of sparrow poo after 6 months under the rafters in a stable.
“What we need is one of those plastic table cloths that they cut to size in the hard ware shop.” Said Jasper.
“Ooh yes! I’ve seen some really nice ones in there, very similar to the Cath Kidston prints.” I agreed enthusiastically.
“I’ll measure the table and go in to town first thing in the morning to buy one. And I’ll get some nice burgers and steaks from the Butchers, and some salad things. We can have a BBQ tomorrow night.”
The next day dawned as beautiful as the one before. A ground frost shimmered on the lawn under a cloudless blue sky. In the distance, Bulbarrow Hill lay wreathed in mist. It was going to be a hot day, I thought excitedly, as I dug out my summery top and a floaty linen skirt.
I was humming merrily when Jasper came in for breakfast. Lily was eating her egg and soldiers and clapped her hands excitedly.
“Daddy! Me and Mummy going shopping in town!”
“Are you quite mad? It’s Market Day. It will be hell in there.”
“It’ll be fine. I’ll park in the centre and then we can walk to all the shops.”
“All the shops?”
“Yes, Butchers, Post Office, Co-op, Fabric Warehouse, Harts Hardware Store, and Agnes and Vera to buy a present for Freddie.” I replied, grappling about in the pantry in search of the eponymous housekeeping jar.
“There was £40 in here two days ago. ” I said crossly.
“I used it to pay off the tab at The Antelope.”
“That money was supposed to pay for the two Gloucester Old Spots I ordered. They’re being delivered this afternoon.”
“You’ll have to go the bank and take some money out.”
“YAY!! Bank! I love the bank!” squealed Lily, jumping up and down.
“Do you darling?” I asked in surprise. She had never mentioned a fondness for banks before.
“Have you never taken Lily into the bank?” Jasper asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, no reason. She’s so well behaved in there. Sits at the kiddies table and plays with the toys. They love her in there.”
“Everyone loves Lily.” I said, ruffling her golden curls fondly.
“Right, come on, let’s go shopping Lily!”
“OOHH! Shopping!” she trilled, racing out of the back door and scrambling into her car seat.
Lily won the customary brief but vociferous disagreement about whether the dogs should accompany us on our excursion –
“I want dogs to come!”
“No darling, they make such a mess of the car.”
“WANT DOGS TO COME!!”
“Now don’t bully me darling, because I won’t tolerate it. I will NOT give in I tell you!”
“Geddin the car dogs!” (Lily)
“GET OUT of the car dogs!” (Me)
Therein follows a few moments of chaos during which the three thoroughly confused animals scramble simultaneously into the back seat before being hoisted out the door on the other side.
Lily’s rage at their eviction manifests in a carefully honed, piercingly high shriek which makes my ears throb, at which point, I yank open the car door and scream at the cowering dogs to get into the bloody car.
A few minutes later we were bowling merrily along the lanes towards town, enjoying the warm air through the open windows. Bandit and Frog stuck their heads out of the window, and Lily whooped delightedly as the wind whipped their ears back and filled their jowls.
I parked in the little car park behind the hairdressers, and unstrapped Lily from her seat. The market square was teeming with people, and it took a while to make our way through the throngs of people and reach the bank. We took our place in the long queue. The old dears with their pension books gazed at Lily with fond expressions.
“She’s as pretty as a picture! ” said one old lady with a wicker basket.
“Beautiful eyes hasn’t she?” exclaimed another.
Lily twirled around, holding out her gingham frock and smiled coyly up at them from beneath her long eyelashes, prompting a chorus of Oohing and Aahing. I beamed proudly, basking in the reflected glory of being Mother to such a pretty child. We had reached the front of the queue, and I was exchanging pleasantries with Vera, the hirstute, obese cashier who has worked in there for as long as I can remember, when Lily asked to be picked up. I put her on the counter where she pressed her nose against the glass and gazed at Vera with an open mouth. Vera recoiled noticeably, and grimaced.
I assumed she didn’t like children and thought nothing more of it.
“What is it darling?” I muttered absent -mindedly.
“Look at that lady!” she insisted, tapping on the glass.
“That lady is called Vera.” I said, pushing the slip across the counter.
“Vera.” She repeated dreamily.
“Vera’s fat isn’t she Mummy?” she asked matter of factly. Her voice rang out, echoing around the high ceiling, bouncing gleefully off the plate glass window behind which Vera crouched in her chair like a gremlin, nostrils flared, scowling.
There was a collective intake of breath. You could have heard a pin drop.
The thrill of horror at the base of my spine spread upwards to my neck and face, blooming into a hot flush of shame. I felt light headed. If I ignored her, she wouldn’t say it again.
Lily’s breath was misting the bullet proof glass as she stared in at Vera with a fascinated expression.
“Don’t stare Lily, please, it’s rude.” I whispered.
Lily carried on staring.
There was a pause.
“Vera’s fat and she’s got a little beard, hasn’t she Mummy?”
My throat constricted. The sense of mortification was all consuming. Had someone handed me a gun, I would have shot myself on the spot.
“It’s not a beard, darling. Please Lily. Would you like an ice cream now? Or some cake?”
“It IS a beard. Look Mummy. LOOK!” she insisted shrilly.
I peered at Vera from beneath lowered brows. She was staring straight in front of her, lips pursed, flabby cheeks clenched. She looked incandescent with rage, pudgy fists clenched, no doubt envisaging throttling her tiny persecutor.
“Hi Vera. Hi there!! “ called Lily, waving at her through the glass.
Vera sat unblinking, like a giant bullfrog.
“Hallo Vera!” she yelled, banging on the glass.
Aloe Vera, I thought to myself, and was suddenly gripped by a terrible hysteria.
“Thankyou Vera.” I managed to mumble, before throwing Lily over my soldier and hurrying past the queue of people, all of whom kept their eyes to the floor, and out onto the street.
So immense was my shame that I had to scuttle into the newsagents to buy cigarettes, one of which I was puffing furiously upon outside the camera shop, when Jasper’s Mother came round the corner laden down with vegetables from the market.
“Hello Lily, hello Jess. Oh, Mummy’s smoking again, naughty Mummy told Granny she had given up. Mummy has been telling fibs! Oh what a shame Jess, and on the street too!” she bellowed in a disappointed voice. People were looking at us. She looked stern. I half thought she was going to tell me to go to my room and think about what I had done.
“I Had a bit of a stressful time in the bank. That’s why I am smoking.” I explained.
Jill gaped in dismay.
“What sort of stress? I hope they’re not sending the BAILIFFS in again?” she screamed.
Every single stall holder and customer in the densely packed vicinity wheeled around to stare.
Oh God, I thought, she’s going potty.
“What??! What do you mean are they sending the bailiffs in again? We’ve never had the bailiffs in.”
“What’s a bailiff?” asked Lily.
Over Jill’s shoulder I caught the eye of our neighbour Maud Farquhar, the Brigadier’s wife, and arguably the most ferocious gossip in Dorset. She looked away immediately and scrutinised a pineapple with the intensely concentrated expression of one who is trying not to look as though they are eavesdropping.
“Are you sure dear? They can come in and take EVERYTHING you know. Just march in and take the lot. They’ll even take the chair you’re sitting in!” she boomed.
“There are no Bailiff’s. This has nothing to do with Bailiff’s or finances. Please, it doesn’t matter.”
Maud Farquhar had scurried off down the street. I watched her narrowly avoid a lamp post as she fumbled with her mobile phone, no doubt calling to share the news with our fellow parishoners. By the time I got home, everyone in Dorset will think the Millers have gone bankrupt, I thought balefully as we walked back to the car.
Ten minutes later we were in Harts, the best shop in Sturminster where you can find everything you could possibly want under one roof. I had made a vow to be good, and only to purchase the Wellingtons which Jasper had sent me in for. I picked up a pair and was on my way to the checkout when a shiny display featuring duck egg blue Le Creuset caught my eye. Lily was quite happy playing with a box of tumble dryer balls, so I wandered over. Just a look wouldn’t hurt, I thought to myself. I stood there leering over the Casserole dishes, admiring the sleek cast iron contours, the way the light bounced off the lid. I was just thinking how beautiful it would look atop the AGA, filled with Venison and wine and herbs, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I jumped guiltily and turned round. It was a male member of staff, looking very serious. I glanced around for Lily, and with a wild jolt of panic realised she had disappeared.
“Oh My God, Lily, is she alright? Have you seen her?” I gasped, heart pounding.
“Yes Madam, she is fine. “
“Well, where is she?”
“She is currently in the Oven and Baking Tray Aisle.” He said gravely before turning on his heel.
I followed his ramrod straight back past the rails of clothes, through the DIY and lighting department, through home ceramics, past walls of Kilner Jars, whereupon he stopped suddenly and gestured.
I followed the direction of his finger.
There, crouching down on the floor, flanked on one side by Cake tins, and on the other by Emma Bridgewater Fine China, was Lily.
“Darling, what are you doing?” I asked, making my way through the group of people who were standing watching her.
She stood up and clapped her hands, before turning around and pointing at the floor.
“Look Mummy! I done a poo!” she shouted.
Oh please God, no.
An unfeasibly large crap lay steaming gently on the polished marble floor
Everyone turned around to look at Mummy.
For the second time that day I blushed to my roots.
“I am so so sorry, have you any thing I can clean it up with?” I said to the poe faced sales assistant.
“My colleague is bringing some cleaning utensils now.”
“Lily wipe her botty!” she trilled cheerily.
I turned around in time to see her totter over to the car section and grab a Chamois Leather, with which she proceeded to wipe her poo smeared buttocks.
The Sales Assistant looked as though he was about to spontaneously combust.
“I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it. Just put it on our bill” I croaked.
“Lily, come here darling, please.” I pleaded.
“No!” she cackled, before grabbing a rolling pin and setting off at high speed toward the paint section. I gave chase, but she was too quick for me. The aisles were full of shoppers, most of whom had stopped shopping and were watching the situation unfold with expressions ranging between hilarity, sympathy and disgust. She gave me the slip again in the cleaning product aisle, but I doubled back on myself and managed to trap her in the Baking Section.
A school age boy, presumably on work experience was gingerly approaching the crime scene, carrying a garden trowel and a plastic bag, presumably with which to dispose of the rogue turd. He gaped in dismay at the sight of it, but made his way down the aisle with admirable stoicism.
“Please, let me do it. You shouldn’t have to deal with it.” I said.
He looked at me and said bravely “Bosses orders.” before taking a deep breath and bending down.
“Don’t you touch that!” Lily piped up in a warning voice.
He stopped, bent over, and looked at her.
“It’s my poo! Leave it alone!” she said mutinously.
“That’s enough Lily, you can’t poo on the floor and leave it there. The nice man has to pick it up.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“Because it’s smelly and people might tread in it.”
The boy stepped forward.
“DON’T TOUCH MY POO!” she bellowed, puce with rage.
I reached out, grabbed her under my arm and ran out of the shop with her, kicking and screaming blue murder.
I slunk over to the Garden Centre and hosed her bottom and legs, until she was clean enough to go back in the car seat.
Feeling thoroughly shaken now, I lit a cigarette with a trembling hand and leant against the car to smoke it.
I’d had three puffs when Jasper’s Mother drove in to the space alongside me and wound down the window.
“Smoking AGAIN Jess! Really dear. I wish you would stop!” she tutted as she got out of the car and wandered into the shop.
Wearily, I started the car and drove across to the fabric shop. I parked in the shade, made sure the dogs water bowl was topped up, before unstrapping Lily and, holding her firmly by the hand, started to look at the choice of table cloths. Lily’s eyes were on stalks, as she gazed in awe at the hundreds of tubes of brightly coloured buttons, thousands of balls of wool, fabrics as bright as birds of paradise teetered to the ceiling and dozens of reels of pretty ribbons lined the walls.
“You mustn’t touch anything.” I whispered to her.
“No Mummy, I won’t.”
I chose a table cloth and we waited at the counter to be served. We moved to one side to make way for a fabric delivery, three very long rolls which were propped up against the counter a few feet from us.
“Would you mind helping me fold it?” the sales assistant asked me.
“No, not at all. Stay right there Lily.”
We had almost finished folding it when there was the most almighty crash. The fabric rolls had knocked over the huge circular button stand, sending it flying across the warehouse, disgorging its contents, and almost cannoning into an old man in a wheelchair. Hundreds of tubes of buttons skittered off across the floor, into the gloomy recesses beneath the fabric stands, never to be seen again. Many of the lids came off at the point of impact. The floor was awash with an ocean of buttons and beads. People stood with their hands over their mouths. A young baby was sobbing inconsolably with fright.
Lily stood with her finger in her mouth, the picture of guilt.
“Did you push those rolls?” I asked her.
The doors to the upstairs offices were opening and people were looking out of their interior windows onto the scene of devastation.
The Factory Owner appeared at the top of the stairs. I took one look at his enraged face, grabbed Lily, and bolted.
I was hastily strapping her into her car seat when she pointed out of the window.
“Look Mummy! It’s Bandit!” she shouted.
“No it’s not, Bandit is in the car.”
I quickly checked. Bandit was not in the car.
Bandit was sitting grinning, at the feet of three disapproving looking sixty something women.
They had secured him with a silk head scarf. He lounged against their legs, squinting up into the sun light, his lipstick pink willy protruded and lolling against his stomach.
“Hello, that’s my dog. He must have jumped out of the car window!” I said apologetically.
The despotic trio glared at me.
“Your dog is it? What’s he doing wandering around a car park then?” demanded one, her face twitching with disapproval, like milk coming to the boil.
“He’s never done it before, he must have tried to follow me.”
“You shouldn’t keep dogs in cars all day in this weather. It’s not fair. They can die!”snapped another.
“It wasn’t all day. And they have a big bowl of cold water. Look.” I said, pointing into the boot.
“The vet and Police are on their way. We phoned them.” Said the third, crossing her arms smugly.
“What on earth for?” I asked in bewilderment.
“He hasn’t done any harm to anyone? I was only in the shop for 5 minutes.”
Just then, Mr Saunders from Saunders Carpets came out of his shop looking very grim indeed.
“That your dog?” he demanded.
I nodded weakly.
“Well he’s just been in my show room and cocked his leg all over my best Axminster carpet! £70 a square metre it is, and he walks in bold as brass and sprayed it.”
I looked at Bandit. He hung his head.
His three captors looked at me with gloating expressions.
“Thankyou for looking after him, it was really kind, but we have to go home now.”
“You can’t go home, don’t you want to stay and talk to PC Routledge?” demanded one.
“Erm, no, I don’t.”
Their outraged chuntering was so loud that it almost drowned out the noise of Lily’s hysterical giggles as Bandit jumped into the front seat still wearing the Head Scarf. He looked like Hilda Ogden.
I fought the urge to giggle as I handed it back and said my polite goodbyes.
Jasper was waiting for me when I got back.
He took one look at my face and started laughing.
“You could have warned me. I should imagine I am persona non grata in Sturminster now. And Bandit is definitely Canis Non Grata.” I said sulkily.
“Did you get my wellies?”
“No, I had to do a runner. There wasn’t time to stop and grab them. Sorry.”
“Let’s start the BBQ and then you can tell me all about it.”
I cheered slightly at the thought of the delicious sirloin steaks I had bought from the butchers.
I felt around in my shopping bag. No steaks.
The three Amigos wouldn’t look me in the eye. Further inspection yielded the damning evidence that I needed. The torn open Butchers Bag lay crumpled beneath Trevor’s paw.
There was an irritable banging against the back window. Lily was telling us she wanted to get out.
Jasper reached in to unbuckle her.
“Why the hell is she carrying this?” he asked, holding aloft a beechwood rolling pin.
Monday, 16 January 2012
Until I reached the age of 18, my Mother and Father would not allow me to stay at home on my own when they went away, even for a night.
“The child can stay with Granny.” I would hear them say, as I skulked in the hall, almost crying with rage at the prospect of missing out on two weeks of mediterranean sunshine and a fabulous tan.
“You can’t take two weeks off school with you’re A-levels coming up.” They would tell me, as I scowled mutinously at their bulging suitcases.
My vociferous protests were in vain. I was despatched to Granny’s house, with orders to behave myself or face the dire consequences on their return.
Yet despite my indignance at what I perceived to be an unjust and unfounded lack of trust, my outraged chuntering and subsequent stony silence was just a foil.
I absolutely adored my Granny.
She lived five minutes away from my School, in a quiet street in The West End of Colwyn Bay. She scorned public transport , eschewing buses in favour of walking (God gave us legs, not wheels!) A green fingered Conjurer , she produced an endless supply of delicious things from the garden and green house, including the most fabulously juicy and flavoursome tomatoes I have tasted before or since.
Although it was considered the height of uncool to to choose to hang out with one’s Granny, I sloped off to 12 Kings Road at every opportunity.
After Hockey Practise, when everyone else congregated at the back of the cricket pavilion for a few illicit cigarettes, I would scamper off in the direction of Granny’s house, kicking up the mounds of reddy brown leaves, my breath hanging on the wintry air. As I turned into the drive of 12 Kings Road, my heart would lift at the sight of the smoke curling from the chimney, and Granny, having invariably spotted me from her armchair by the window, would greet me at the front door and pull me into her warm, Je Reviens scented embrace. Having kicked off my muddy boots, she would usher me into the living room, where I would sit down by the roaring fire and warm my mottled legs, while made a pot of tea and assembled a tray of food which I would devour with the crazed enthusiasm of the permanently hungry teenager.
She would sit in her chair, as I stuffed myself with Scotch Eggs, Buttered Crumpets, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Iced Rings, all washed down with gallons of sweet tea in a warm, dimly lit room, heavy with the smell of leather bound books, and coal, and furniture polish.
When I couldn’t eat any more, and had slackened the waistband of my hockey skirt, Granny would put down The Times Crossword, and we would talk. We whiled away whole afternoons chatting in front of the fire, lulled into a soporific haze by the warmth and the hypnotic tick of the Grand Father clock.
Time would slow down, the world would narrow and deepen as the sky darkened outside, and the street lights flickered on, until the clock chimed and I would reluctantly tear myself away and run back to school along the empty streets in time for last lesson.
Staying the night at Granny’s was an adventure in itself. Granny’s beds didn’t have duvets. They had sheets and blankets and big heavy eiderdowns. The mattress on my bed was a pre-War, feather stuffed relic. I counted down the hours until I could clamber up (it was quite high), slide underneath the layers of soft wool and crisp linen, and sink with a blissful sigh into its warm and cosy depths. It was almost impossible to get out of in the morning.
If it was a weekend, I’d lie awake, and listen to the sounds of the house coming to life. The bangs and thumps of the hot water pipes, coal being shovelled into the bucket outside the back door, the rattle of china as Granny assembled her morning tea in the kitchen.
If I lay in bed after 9.30 am, Granny would instruct Old Bob, the Gardener to mow the lawn beneath my window until I opened the curtains. If it was raining, she would hoover outside my bedroom door until I emerged yawning and wandered off to brush my teeth.
My Aunt Margaret (or Mim, as we called her), would often come to stay. She was one of the most profoundly kind and gentle people I have ever met , and I adored her. Endlessly patient, she read me stories for hours on end when I was younger, encouraged my love of reading by buying me a book every week, and never tired of my relentless quest to make cakes, biscuits and buns.
Mim smoked B&H, in the Study where Granny couldn’t see. When Mim retreated to The Study and shut the door behind her, Granny wouldn’t go in and neither would I. It was an Unspoken Rule.
This all changed when I was sixteen. Inevitably perhaps, I succumbed to peer pressure and started smoking Marlboro Reds. Tentative little puffs at first, that made my throat constrict and my eyes water. I grimly persevered until I could smoke a whole cigarette without retching. I didn’t inhale for the first six months. By the time I went back after the Summer Holidays as a fully fledged Lower Sixth Former, I’d cracked it.
Staying at Granny’s one night, I was walking down the hall to the kitchen, when the Study door opened slightly and Aunt Mim peered out.
She put her finger to her lips and beckoned me in to the smoke filled den.
I didn’t need asking twice. She perched against the desk, and watched with an expression of fond amusement as I nonchalantly extracted my battered packet of 10 from my Blazer pocket and attempted to light one with a match from a damp box. Then another. On the fifth failed attempt she took pity and offered me her lighter. We stood in silence, puffing away like a pair of witches, united in delicious naughtiness.
The following night I was once again permitted entry to The Study, only this time, there was a bottle of Gordon’s Gin on the desk. My eyes lit up. Drinking at home was confined to special occasions; a Bucks Fizz on Christmas morning and the odd glass of wine with Sunday dinner. Auntie Mim poured me the pub equivalent of a triple and topped it up with ice and tonic. Lounging in a leather wing back chair by the fire, with a cigarette in one hand and a Gin in the other, was utter hedonism. Suddenly, the sheer drudgery of the school day became more bearable. The excruciating agony of double Maths was alleviated by the spirit bolstering prospect of an impending tryst. I became inured to the humiliating horror of litter picking in the Quad, in front of a jeering group of Upper Sixth Form boys, smug in the knowledge that I would soon be ensconced in the study, listening to the ticking of the grand father clock and the clink of ice against glass….
One stormy day, we were puffing away in companionable silence, when we heard a noise outside the door.
“It’s Mother!” hissed Auntie Mim, leaping up and shoving me into the corner behind the door. I flattened myself against the wall. The door opened.
“Have you seen Jessica?” asked Granny.
“She’s gone for a walk.” Auntie Mim replied airily.
A rumble of thunder overhead was followed by a deafening crack of lightening. The rain was drumming against the windows.
“ A walk? In this weather?” asked Granny in an incredulous voice.
“Extraordinary girl. She gets it from her Father.” She muttered, as she closed the door.
During the Summer of 1995, I had attracted the attention of two Upper Sixth formers from the Boys School a few miles away. It was all very exciting and I lived for Saturday nights in the Pub in town. If I saved my tuck money all week, I could afford to buy 10 Marlboro and three bottles of Budweiser.
One Weekend, three friends came to stay during their exeat. We spent the day shopping for clothes, and having spent a good two hours in front of the mirror perfecting our outfits, hair and make-up, we linked arms and tottered off into town in a haze of Strawberry Concorde.
Arriving at the pub, my friends gleefully pointed out that both of my admirers were already there, sitting at different tables. I didn’t have to buy a single drink that night. I’d simply drift by each of them alternately, clutching an empty bottle, and they would leap gallantly to their feet and replenish it.
I thought it was marvellous. They were both very good looking and great company. The problem was, I just couldn’t decide between them.
During the course of the evening, they asked if they could take me out for drinks next week. Immensely flattered, and slightly tipsy, I accepted both invitations with gay abandon, and arranged to meet them at the Pub near Granny’s house at 7pm the following Saturday. The idiocy of arranging to meet both boys at the same time in the same pub on the the same day, didn’t occur to me until I woke up the next morning. With the optimism of youth, I assured myself that everything would be alright on the night. I would cancel one of them during the week. It was just a matter of deciding which one.
By Thursday, I still hadn’t made up my mind. The relentless merry-go-round of gatings, lessons, prep, essays, hockey matches, house drama competitions left little time for deliberation. A hectic schedule combined with my pathological inability to make a choice, precluded any decision making.
Saturday arrived. As night fell, and I lay soaking in a deep steaming tub of Granny’s Rose Scented bath salts, I suddenly realised the brevity of my predicament. I considered staying at home, but quickly dismissed the idea. No one stayed at home on a Saturday night, I thought gloomily, as I shaved my legs. Yet the potential ramifications of turning up and meeting both boys were too terrible to thinking about.
I dried myself off and hurried down the passageway to my bedroom. My nerves were jangling, so I hung out of the bedroom window and lit a cigarette. I smoked it too quickly and swayed slightly from the head rush. Feeling slightly nauseous, I lay down on the bed for a few minutes trying to compose myself, and find a solution to my predicament.
In a moment of vain hope, I leapt up, seized my School blazer, and emptied out the pockets, willing the miraculous discovery of a forgotten five pound note, with which to pay a taxi fare to the next town, thus avoiding both suitors altogether. A sticky five pence piece, a cigarette end and a Chewit fell onto the eiderdown.
Swearing under my breath, I sat down at the dressing table and begun the deliciously elaborate ritual of hair and make up that preceeded a night on the town.
An hour later, I was all dressed up, with a potentially very dangerous place to go.
After prolonged agonising over a choice of outfits, I had decided upon a fitted black cashmere jumper, paired with a scarlet suede mini , thick black tights, and knee high black leather boots. I had blow dried my hair until it fell around my shoulders in a silky golden mane. I had kept the make up to a minimum; a touch of rosy blusher on the cheekbones, one coat of mascara, and a slick of clear lip gloss. I admired the effect in the full length mirror. The demureness of the top half contrasted gloriously with the salaciously short skirt and raunchy boots.
I descended the stairs in a cloud of Coco Chanel, feeling like a femme fatale.
Auntie Mim peered out from the Study. I slipped inside and leant against the desk as I took the proferred G&T and lit a cigarette, feeling the epitome of decadence and glamour.
Mim examined me beadily through a cloud of smoke. “You’re sprouting.” she said fondly.
I spluttered on my gin and felt myself turn crimson.
“Little bosoms developing. How sweet. Do you wear a bra?”
“Uh, yes.” I replied, curling my toes. Utterly aghast, I drained my glass and hurried to the door,
“ Now I’ve embarrassed you. I’m sorry my little chickabiddy. Have a lovely time, and be home by ten o clock.”
The hall light bulb had blown. As I groped my way blindly down the hall way to the front door in the dark, I grimly reflected that she wasn’t sorry at all.
I could still hear her tittering as I stepped out into the frosty night…..
Friday, 25 November 2011
Last week, I set aside an afternoon in which to impose some order in the attic. When we moved in last December, it became a dumping ground for various miscellaneous objects that we couldn’t decide what to do with, resulting in a jumbled mess of precariously piled boxes, assorted junk, dolls houses, antediluvian horse blankets and bulging bin liners of old clothes that hadn’t yet been despatched to Oxfam.
I looked around at the chaos and sighed wearily. Friday was Lily’s nursery day, and the only time in the week I had to myself. I had been looking forward to lighting the woodburner and snuggling up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and Midsomer Murders, not grubbing about on my hands and knees in a freezing cold, mouse infested attic.
Only last night I had heard something scrabbling along the floorboards above my head as I sat watching Corrie. Jasper had gone out for a pint. I was alone. I froze, terrified as the scratching stopped momentarily, and then resumed with renewed vigour, followed by two dull thuds. The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling. I am notoriously nervous when alone in the house. A ludicrously over-active imagination coupled with an anxious disposition is not a good combination.
I shivered, trying not to look at the shadowy recesses beyond the jumble. The door to the upper level creaked slightly in the breeze that whistled through a crack in the window pane. The wind moaned in the chimney and the ivy creeper rattled against the brittle glass. What if whatever had made the noise last night was in here, watching me? It could be hiding in the pitch black of the windowless room beyond, waiting to pounce. I rushed forward and slammed the dividing door closed, wedging it shut with an old hockey stick.
I gave myself a mental shake, took a fortifying swig of hot coffee and set to work.
I had rolled my sleeves up, and was just about to open a box labelled Granny’s China, when the Autumn sun appeared through the pewter clouds, bathing the fields outside in a red glow. Autumn is my favourite time of the year, and I watched enchanted for a few moments as the low light turned the apples on the trees to burnished gold, and warmed the tips of the maize crop across the lane. Tearing myself reluctantly away, I was about to tackle Granny’s china, when I suddenly caught sight of my old school trunk in the corner.
A shaft of sunlight was slanting through a hole in the window frame, illuminating the cracked and faded letters painted on the lid.
I picked my way through the assault course of boxes and bent down to open it and started to began rummage. It was crammed full of the forgotten relics of my youth; A tattered Valentine card from an ex boyfriend, a sheaf of Pony Club Dressage Test Score sheets, a Tennis Trophy, a moth eaten 1st VI Hockey Jumper, a pile of School Magazines and a bundle of faded rosettes (the back of each one carefully inscribed for posterity )– “ Pony Club Show - Working Hunter Class – good performance overall but broke canter once on left rein. Judge said the gallop was excellent.”
A faded photo of me clutching a shiny trophy after winning a Tennis tournament .
A bundle of letters from my best friend, who had been taken out of school by her exasperated parents on account of our persistent mischief making. In the 6th from, she was despatched, amidst floods of tears, tantrums and threats of retribution, to Malvern Girls School, a whole three hours away. Grief stricken and enraged, we wrote to each other religiously every day, and the mischief continued unabated. Every missive contained a forfeit of varying degrees of daring. United by a withering contempt of authority and outraged by her banishment, the trajectory of our rebellion was stratospheric. We mutinously exhorted each other to buck the system at every opportunity, by guzzling Vodka before Chapel, smoking marujana at lunchtime, spending study periods in a pub in town, and brazenly lighting cigarettes in the middle of the dance floor at the school disco. The defiant relish with which we broke the rules was equalled only by the bitter disappointment that we weren’t expelled.
Smiling at the memory, I was about to close the trunk, when I caught sight of something red wedged between an English Dictionary and some old French text books. I pulled it out and rubbed the grime off the front with my sleeve.
My Diary – keep out! Warned the felt tip capitals along the spine.
Several names had been etched, and furiously erased, beneath a saccharine pink love heart, liberally stuck with Cupids Arrows.
Kurt Cobain’s drug ravaged face took pride of place in the centre of the front cover, surrounded by magazine cut outs of Alanis Morrisette, whose haunting voice and soul baring lyrics provided the perfect back drop for a generation of angst ridden teenage girls teetering on the brink of adulthood.
Whimsical declarations of love jostled for space amongst general musings of lifes profoundities, which I had deemed worthy of immortalising in biro, including an excorciating assertion about my reviled Maths Teacher, which I won’t repeat.
Intrigued, I opened the Diary on the first page. January 1st 1996. I was seventeen.
I perched on an old table and started to read. Just five minutes and then I’ll get back to the job in hand, I decided.
An hour and a half later and I was still sitting there. My coffee was stone cold and the lunch sausages had burnt to blackened chunks in the AGA.
I had lost track of time as I turned the pages, devouring the shamelessly lachrymose outpourings of my adolescent self. It was as though I had opened a tomb. My teenage ghost filled the space. The pages were crammed with tales of unrequited love, friendships made (and lost), triumph and disaster, heartache and happiness, a dizzying roller coaster ride charting the euphoria and wretchedness of youth.
Pages of tortured introspection were followed by elated accounts of a tennis victory, or a last dance kiss at the school disco. I wallowed shamelessly in a quagmire of hormones and egotism, seduced by passionate dreams of a romantic utopia. My idealism was bolstered by the great poets, particularly Yeats, whose prose were written in every margin:
“I have spread my dreams under your feet, tread softly for you tread on my dreams.”
“If Michael bloody Jackson can dye himself white, then WHY can’t a Doctor bleach my freckles?
I HATE them. They’re RUINING MY LIFE!”
I will never forget that Summer. It was one of the hottest on record. I fell in love for the first time with James, a foppishly handsome Maths Genius in the year above me at school. We spent an idyllic three months swimming in the sea and lying on the beach all day, talking until the sun had dropped and dusk brimmed the shadows. He would trace my freckles with his fingers and kiss the salt from my lips. At night we would play pool, drink cider and lie in the grass reciting poems to each other under the stars.
All good things come to an end. In September, he went to Cambridge, leaving me in school to complete my last year of A Levels. I was pole-axed with misery. Despite his frequent letters and phone calls, my anguish was unrelenting. The minutiae of heart-break was so deeply entrenched that it failed to subside with the passing of time.
I was tormented by visions of him succumbing to the charms of hordes of stunning, clever girls, who would seduce him with their blithe knowledge of mind bogglingly difficult Mathematical equations.
I was a consummate masochist. I would lie in bed at night, and picture the scene in glorious technicolour. My darling James, the love of my life, surrounded by a bevy of glossy haired, long legged Maths prodigies, all flicking their silky manes and discussing the theory of relativity through bee stung lips while plying him with wine and rubbing their bare feet up his thigh under the table.
How could he possibly resist a girl who was passionately knowledgable on his subject of choice?
I had failed G.C.S.E Maths twice, in fine style before “Piggy”, my teacher (thus named for his penchant for scoffing mars bars in the next door store room), had callously informed my Mother and Father that I was “astonishingly stupid”. In retrospect, I can understand his frustration. He was a highly skilled mathematician. I was a chronically disnumerate teenager who couldn’t even grasp long divison. As unions go, it wasn’t ideal. His attempts to keep his temper in check were nothing short of Herculean. One fateful day, after two years of metaphorically banging his head against the brick wall of my incompetence, he regarded me with the faintly crazed, pleading expression that I had come to know so well, and asked me to answer a simple question about what he had just spent the past two hours teaching. All eyes turned to me. Someone in the back row sniggered.
Piggy tapped the ruler on his desk and made a strange keening noise as he stared at me unblinking.
Blushing to my roots, I hung my head, and whispered “I don’t know.”
There was a brief pause. The silence seemed to echo. Then he lost the plot. Grunting with fury, he seized his copy of “Maths for Remedials” and hurled it at me with astonishing force. I ducked just in time. His face had turned from pink to purple in under two seconds.
“GET OUT!!” he screamed, drumming on the sides of his head with clenched fists.
“GET OUT NOW YOU STUPID GIRL!!”
I didn’t need telling twice. I scrambled to my feet and started shoving things into my school satchel.
“NOOOOO!” he squealed . “GO NOW RIGHT NOW!”
He thumped the black board with a pudgy fist, and visciously kicked the metal bin across the class room. It smashed into the radiator with a deafening crash.
My class mates were gaping in disbelief. The door to the maths room opposite opened and Mr Watson’s head appeared. A dozen faces peered over his shoulder, alight with curiosity.
“Is everything alright Norman?” ventured Mr Watson.
Piggy looked at him and snorted, mean little eyes blazing.
Mr Watson’s head retreated hastily and he shut the door again.
Piggy turned back to me, breathless with rage.
“GET OUT!” he spluttered, spittle flying from his rubbery lips. He was dancing up and down on the spot, an involuntary jig of fury.
I gave a sob of terror followed by a loud, hysterical giggle as I bolted for the door.
“You think it’s FUNNY!? You think it’s FUNNY being a RETARD?” he squealed at my departing back.
I felt the draught of the blackboard rubber hurtled past my ear and crashed into the wall, dislodging the plaster.
“DON’T COME BACK!” were his parting words as I fled down the corridor.
I ran to the pub with indecent haste, sobbing and cackling all the way.
Following my ignominious exclusion, James made a laudable attempt to teach me the basics. He maintained his belief that with gentle, patient teaching, I could pass my Maths G.C.S.E . After a week of tuition, during which he had observed me break out in a horrified sweat at the very mention of Pythagoras Theorem, and dismally fail to perform a series of excercises for ten year olds, he conceded that he may have been hasty in his opinion, and it was agreed between my parents, house master and head teacher, that further lessons were futile. There was no point flogging a dead donkey. “Besides, Mr Trotter has threatened to resign if he has to teach her anymore.” My House Master told my Mother on the phone that evening.
In view of my staggering mathematical ineptitude, perhaps it is understandable that I harboured a paranoia about James embarking on a Maths course with some of the Country’s cleverest girls.
It transpired that my fears were well founded. Maybe it was a self fulfilling prophecy. I convinced myself and him, that he was going to fall in love with a beautiful undergraduate of phenomenal mathematical intelligence, which is exactly what he did.
Gradually, his letters dried up. On the rare occasions he called, he sounded far away. I was powerless. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I had envisaged the scenario so frequently that living it was like an interminable déjà vu; a dream from which I couldn’t wake.
I took a gap year job on reception at the Oxford & Cambridge Club in Pall Mall a couple of weeks after he went to Cambridge. We’d arranged that I would get the train to see him the following weekend, but he called on Monday to say he was coming to London the following day and asked if he could meet.
“We need to talk.” He said. He sounded weary.
Dry mouthed, I agreed.
I hardly slept that night. I caught the Tube far too early and skulked around in the cloisters of The Ritz for over an hour, before walking down St James. I waited for him outside the Palace. He was exactly 18 minutes late. I thought he wasn’t coming, then caught sight of him crossing the road further up the street.
As soon as I saw his face I knew it was over. He gave me a stilted hug and couldn’t meet my eye.
He didn’t say a word as he led me underneath the little stone archway. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and my heart pounding in my chest as he turned and said
“I’m so sorry, but I’m not in love with you any more.”
I leant against the stone parapet, willing myself not to cry. Everything disappeared – the towering buildings, the people rushing past, the black cabs snaking up St.James beneath the low Autumn sun- it all fell away until it was just him and I.
He pushed his hair out of his eyes and looked me in the eye for the first time. I had never seen him cry before.
“It’s just, we’re both so young. DO you understand? It’s not that I don’t love you. I do, and I always will. We’ve had an amazing Summer, and I’ll never forget it, but….” He trailed off and lit a cigarette.
I brushed a tear away with the back of my hand.
“Have you met someone else?”
“No really, I’d like to know.” I said bravely.
He paused and looked at me speculatively through the smoke, then dropped his eyes.
“There is someone, yes.”
I bit my bottom lip hard, to stop it trembling.
“What’s her name?”
“He Loves me. He Loves me not.” I mumbled sadly.
I looked at him pleadingly through a haze of tears.
“Please, just tell me one thing.”
He nodded grimly, bracing himself for a sexual interrogation.
“Is she good at Maths?” I gulped.
He stared at me, perplexed.
“Maths?” he repeated.
I nodded. “It’s okay. You can tell me.”
He shrugged “She’s reading applied Maths, specialising in Newtonian Dynamics and Special Relativity.”
I sagged against the wall. My humiliation was complete. The tears spilled over as I recalled my pitiful attempt to count out the correct change for my tube ticket that morning.
“Why are you crying about the fact that she’s good at Maths? You hate Maths.”
“Couldn’t you have chosen a philosopher or a rocket scientist?” I sobbed.
“Is this because she’s good at Maths and you’re not?”
I glowered at him and rubbed my eyes.
“You’re being ridiculous! Her talent is Maths. Yours is literature. She can’t quote Joyce, Larkin and Betjeman. She can’t write brilliant, insightful essays about Hamlet’s antic disposition.”
I blew my nose, feeling slightly mollified.
“Are you going to be okay?” he said, glancing at his watch.
“I’ll be fine.” I replied with all the dignity I could muster.
He stepped forward and held me tight, before dropping a kiss on the top of my head and walking off towards Haymarket. He didn’t look back. I watched him until he crossed the road and disappeared from view.
Then the floodgates opened.
I had been weeping for about five minutes, when Griselda, the matriarchal Head Of Housekeeping hove into view on the opposite side of the street.
A devout lesbian, with a booming voice, an enormous heart and a rampantly demonstrative abhorrence of men, she could always be relied upon in times of crisis. Many a time had I walked into the locker room and encountered a home sick gap year chamber maid, sobbing copiously into the comforting softness of Grisel’s enormous bosom as she stroked their hair and crooned endearments to them.
“It vill be okay leetle von. You vill see. There there, Auntie Grisel is here now. Shhhh.”
Now she was stomping down St James like a matronly Sherman Tank , bursting out of her starched white house keeping dress, clutching a besom birch and an enormous sack of lentils.
She took one look at my blubbering, tear-stained face and dropped the bag of lentils before thundering across the road and sweeping me into her arms.
“Darleenk! Vot on earth iz ze matter!” she boomed, clutching my face in her spade like hands and gazing at my puffy reddened eyes.
Between great gulping sobs, I eventually managed to tell her that I had been dumped.
“He’s found someone else!” I blurted, assailed by a vivid image of James and Daisy sprawled rapturously on his narrow bed in Blue Boar Court, in a haze of post orgasmic bliss, caressing each other and murmuring seductively about Square roots and Pie Charts….
Her expression of motherly concern prompted a fresh bout of sobbing. I collapsed into her meaty arms and howled lustily, eliciting fascinated looks from a group of American men.
“Vot are you looking at you VANKERS?!” she bellowed, shaking her fists.
She took a step towards them, growling fiercely.
“Verloren Gehen! Schwachsinnige!”
The men took fright and hurried off up St James clutching their bum bags.
“Vankers wiz zer stupid fanny packs!” she snorted derisively, before picking up my bag, grabbing me by the elbow and propelling me up the street towards Green Park.
“Where are we going?” I sniffled
“’Enry’s Bar. You need a drink and a chat viz Auntie Grisel!” she barked, launching us straight into the path of an oncoming bus.
The driver slammed on his brakes and blared his horn. Griselda stuck two fingers up at him and whacked his windscreen with her besom birch.
“Humph! Zat vos close shave huh!” she panted , dragging me into the warmth of the bar.
“Sit!” she ordered, pushing me into a chair and striding off to the bar.
A couple of minutes later she was back. She shoved a large Brandy into my trembling hands and poked a smouldering Woodbine into my mouth.
“Drink and smoke!”
I did as I was told, downing the amber liquid in one. It scorched the back of my throat and made my eyes water. I took a deep drag on the cigarette. A violent coughing fit ensued, but Griselda was unperturbed.
“Good girl.” She said approvingly as I writhed and gasped.
“Now darleenk, I vill tell you something.” She told me cosily, wedging her ample buttocks into her chair. She smoothed her moustache and puffed regally on a cigarette.
“Vud you like me to tell you ze secret of men?”
I nodded eagerly. The brandy had put fire in my belly.
Idly, she exhaled plumes of smoke through hairy nostrils before she leant forward and hissed
“Zey are all Vankers! Every single von of zem!”
I stared at her in dismay.
“ALL of them? Surely there must be some nice ones?”
She slammed her glass on the table, making me jump.
“NO! No nice vons darleenk! Zey are all vankers of von sort or anuzzer! Zat ist vy I am wiz my Helga.” She said smugly, smoothing her splendid moustache with a nicotine stained forefinger.
She retrieved an enormous locket from around her trunk like neck, opened the clasp and gazed lovingly at it.
“Look.” She said, leaning forward so I could see.
I almost recoiled. An stolid face scowled back at me, porcine eyes narrowed beneath a bushy monobrow. Hair sprouted rampantly from a mole on her chin, like the bristle on crackling. Her wet lips glistened like oily inner tubes, her complexion resembled boiled bacon.
“Vell, vot do you zink of my Helga?” she asked slyly, dropping the locket back into her furry cleavage.
“You liar!” she boomed grinning broadly.
“She’s probably better in the flesh.”
“Not really.” She said, shrugging her enormous shoulders.
“Zat is a flattering photo. No surprises. She is my Helga and I loff her!” she said simply, holding up her empty glass to the waitress.
I smiled weakly.
“Cheer up! I alvays tell you. You are very pretty girl, You vil haf no problem finding anuzzer wanker. London is full ov zem.” She said blithely.
I gazed out gloomily at the rain lashing the pavements. A group of girls were hurrying past, heads bent beneath umbrellas, rushing home to their boy friends. I swallowed a lump in my throat.
A ravishing waitress appeared with a bottle of Martell and put it on the table.
Grisel eyed her lasciviously as she leaned over to pick up the glasses. As she turned to leave, she reached out and patted her on the bottom. The waitress smiled politely. Grisel giggled naughtily.
“Vot! Vy you look so shocked?!” she asked , refilling our glasses.
“Vy don’t you try a leetle bit of lady lof?” she said earnestly, reaching over and putting a meaty hand on my knee.
I froze, utterly aghast.
Suddenly, she started roaring with laughter.
“HA HA HA HA HA HA! Zat ist very good joke! Look at your face! HA HA! I vish I had camera!”
I started giggling and found I couldn’t stop.
A group of smartly dressed young men were standing at the bar. In my peripheral vision, I noticed that one of them, a sublime looking, clean shaven blonde boy wearing a beautifully tailored pin stripe, kept looking over at us, presumably fascinated by Grisel’s bushy armpits, which were displayed in all their hairy glory as she reclined in her chair with her hands clasped behind her head.
A waiter appeared and put two exotic looking cocktails down on the table in front of us.
“There must be a mistake. We didn’t order these.” I said.
“Compliments of the gentleman at the bar.” He replied.
I looked up. Mr PinStripe raised his glass and smiled. I felt myself turning scarlet as I gurned back at him.
Grisel refused to acknowledge him. Nostrils flared, she picked the prettily presented pineapple and cherries out of the glass and tossed them into the billowing ashtray with a sneer, before throwing her head back and draining the glass in one.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and emitted a long, low, rumbling belch. The young men turned around to stare. I slumped down in my seat, buttocks clenched in mortification.
Mr Pinstripe’s were talking to him in lowered voices. They appeared to be exhorting him to do something. He glanced over to our table, before downing a shot in one and squaring his shoulders. A second later, he was making his way towards us. His friends watched with rapt, expectant expressions. His chiselled jaw was rigid with nerves as he approached. His navy blue eyes were clouded with trepidation as he wound his way through the tables. He was at last 6”4. Broad shoulders tapered to a trim torso and hard, muscular thighs. I had always scoffed at pinstripes, but watching him approach I was mesmerized by his effortless elegance. The suit seemed to dance on him.
He stopped and smiled apprehensively. I grinned back like the Cheshire cat and my tummy flipped over.
He was about to speak, when Grisel rammed a pudgy hand underneath my skirt.
“Keep Valking Vanker. She is vit me.”
Pinstripe gaped in dismay, revealing beautiful white teeth, before he turned on his heel and fled back to the bar.
“Griselda! That was bloody rude. Poor man!”
Helga shrugged. Mr Pinstripe’s friends were doubled up with helpless laughter . Mr Pinstripe was leaning on the bar with his head in his hands.
“He looked nice. Why did you have to make him think I’m a dyke? “ I said crossly.
“He vas a vanker. I was doing you a favour.” she replied in a soothing tone.
“How do you know he was a wanker? You didn’t even give him the chance to speak.”
“He is a City Boy. City Boys are all Vankers. They have no soul.”
“That’s a ridiculous generalisation.” I said sulkily.
“It is ze truth. Ze Finance industry is the vorst of all for Vankers. I know someone who dated a bush fund manager vonce, and he was an unbelievable Vanker.”
“Votever, You know vot I mean. Come on now my child. Zer is no point in throwing ze dollys out of ze pram. You have so much passion inside you. You need to find a real man, a man who can light your fire and turn your insides to jelly. Auntie Grisel can find you such a man.” She smirked.
I looked at her dubiously.
“Trust me, zat boy in ze suit, he vould not excite you enoff! You vill not find ze man of your dreams in a place like zis.” She said scornfully.
“Where exactly do you find him them?” I asked, huffily.
Grisel kicked off her shoe and began to massage a crusty bunion on her big toe.
“Ze Intrepid Fox, on Dean Street. Run along home and get changed. I meet you zere at 7pm.”