Friday, 11 December 2015

Up Close And Personal.

10.30 am: Lying flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling, thinking: I'm going to have to tell her to be gentle because I bruise easily. 

My pilates teacher is fantastic and has totally cured the back problem I was developing from sitting hunched at the computer for hours on end, but she's a hard task master and there's nowhere to hide in her class. She roams the chilly church hall on the look-out for victims who are not in exactly the right position, and when she finds one she pushes and prods her (there's only one him) until she's satisfied. Last week it was me.

"Um," I say, eyes scrunched shut, feeling the floor vibrating with her approaching footfall. "The thing is that last time you, um…" I open them again in time to see her elegant outstretched fingers moving purposefully toward my left haunch. I'll just have to go for it. "The thing is, I had this small round black bruise on my bum last week, which was quite tricky to explain to my husband."

There. Said it. There is some embarrassed tittering in the class, but so be it. Much as I love my pilates class and I'm willing to move heaven and earth not to miss it, it had to be said. There's such a thing as personal space and bruising my arse definitely constitutes invading it.

12 pm: "I think if I was heterosexual I would love this job even more," says Sergio, my hairdresser, his scissors dancing dangerously close to my eyes.

I have to ask. 


"Because look! I am so near to you right now, I am right in your face! I can feel your breath. If I fancied you this would be fantastic."

I'm not sure whether to take this as a compliment or not. I decide that at my age, with compliments thin on the ground, I may as well. Plus it reminds me of something to say to Sergio, and I can never think of anything to say to Sergio.

"I did have a hairdresser ask me if I wanted a massage once," I say to Sergio. "Kensington, behind Barkers department store. I used to go there after work in the evening and one night the place was empty, except for him and me, and he was telling me about his messy divorce and how much he hated his ex-wife and he suddenly stopped cutting my hair and said I seemed tense and did I want to come downstairs after the haircut for a massage?"

"No!" says Sergio. "What did you do?"

"I declined. Then I paid for my haircut and left and I never went back."

"I think he was heterosexual," says Sergio.

"I think so," I say, "or at least pansexual."

Sergio looks at me quizzically but I can't be bothered to try to explain to him, above the noise of three hairdryers, that it's all non-binary now and there are actually 71 different genders.

3pm: My fingers are poised over my laptop

"We'll have a cup of tea here and then I'll take you back to the home!" Shouts a man on the opposite side of the cafe.

I try to blot him out, wriggling further down into the lumpy leather sofa. I stare out of the window at the skeletal trees silhouetted against the leaden sky. Then I type this. Then I delete it because it's a stupid obvious cliche.

"I'm in touch with a few women on eHarmony, so that might work out!"

That's quite hard to ignore but I try because I'm in the middle of a tricky paragraph.

"It's going to be quite a lonely Christmas!"

For God's sake, will the stupid man stop shouting. I can't quite see his companion, I assume he's elderly, he's certainly hard of hearing, but I can see him, Mr Lonelyhearts: glasses, grey hair, forlorn fleece, matching expression.

I've deliberately chosen this cafe because it's slightly out of my usual stomping ground and doesn't have much in the way of loud music, retro lighting or, usually, customers. Instead it has a lovely view of trees and the sad air of a has-been 90's coffee chain, because that's what it is. 

I like the walk here and it gets me out of the empty silent house where I sometimes feel that if I fell in my office and no one was around to hear it, I might not make a sound. Also, I have a habit of slipping into inertia at home, or sleep, and there are piles of unopened post and clean washing crying out for attention. Rather than answering their call I like to get as far away as possible, even though I know it's still there, like a dog whistle.

"This year I'll be doing the kids' stockings by myself!"

This man is invading my ear space and pulling on my heart strings, and now there's another voice competing for attention: loud, female, braying. Standing at the growing queue is the woman to whom it belongs.

"We've just had our basement done," she says.

She's lately arrived with her dog and greeted another idetikit woman (Barbour jacket, wellies, highlights), also with a dog, who was already in the queue, in a way that makes it clear that they are acquaintances, but not friends.

"Not the usual sort of thing," she continues, "we decided not to go for the cinema room and all that, instead we have a gun and fishing tackle room for Hugo and somewhere he can keep his wine."

I accidentally type the word wine instead of when and look up and glower at the two women, but they don't notice me, possibly because I am hiding under my hat, as usual. The second woman merely nods appreciatively.

"And will you be at home to use your new basement for Christmas?"

"No! We can't bear London at Christmas. We'll be at our place in Wiltshire."

"How is Scarlett getting on?"

I stop typing and pretend to notice something interesting through the window. That was a shocking non sequitur, I think.

"Oh she's going to a marvellous place now, near Victoria."

"For her A-Levels? " 

"Not A-Levels exactly, it's more, you know, teaching life skills: how to do a good CV, job interview, organise a charity ball…"

That's it. I snap the laptop shut. I'm going back to the house to write. I don't care how quiet it is and how much I feel like a lonely tree in a forest, at least there won't be any people in it.

Love E x


P.S. L'enfer, c'est les autres, as Sartre put it. 

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