Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Immaculate Collection.

Friday, evening, the lobby of the National Portrait Gallery, waiting to see a photographic exhibition, the Vogue one. It's the second Friday in a row I’ve been out with this same group of mates. This is because they're organised, and motivated, and they book stuff. If it wasn’t for them I’d probably just sit on the sofa forever. They write emails suggesting things. I write replies saying yes please, often when I haven’t read the emails all the way through. This lends life a certain Magical Mystery Tour quality which I quite like, but which also means I'm forever hearing, “You haven't read the email, have you, Elizabeth?" and I have to admit that I haven't.

I long ago decided that the best policy with this little group of accomplished, grown-up, metropolitan women, (not including myself: not accomplished, feel fifteen, from the north) is to follow the leader. “When all’s said and done we’re just a troupe of sophisticated monkeys,” I said one time, when a heated discussion was underway on the tube about whether Charing Cross would be better than Leicester Square for the Duke of York Theatre. “No way am I competing with...” (let’s call her A) “... with A, for top monkey position. It’s probably chemical. She’s probably brimming with top monkey hormones that we’re all tapping into subconsciously. I'll just get off the tube wherever she does.” Needless to say, it's this same A who got us these tickets...

“So, it could just be a mistake," says another friend. (She’s also A, so let’s call her B to avoid confusion.) "I’m not sure if he’s doing it on purpose." 

We're having a glass of bucks fizz at the bar, before being called through to the exhibition. B's telling us about one of her neighbours. His bedroom looks on to her kitchen. Lately he’s taken to stripping off in her direct line of vision.

“Call me a cynic, B," I say, "but of course he’s doing it on purpose. It's sweet of you to think he might not be." 

"He could just be uninhibited,” cuts in another friend. Let’s call her C. “You know, some men just take their clothes off and don’t care who sees.”

I think about this. My father is pretty uninhibited, but he’s a sociologist. Come to think of it my mother is pretty uninhibited too, but she was a head teacher, and they live by their own rules. There was this one time she went downstairs completely naked to retrieve the newspaper from the glass front door. The paper boy was just that moment putting it through the letter box. “That’s his Christmas tip sorted,” she said.

And my father... well, when we holidayed in the south of France he drove us for miles along the coast road to the nude beaches to strip off. There was this one he particularly liked, where incidentally they'd filmed the beach scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, except without the nude people on it then, obviously (I'm certain there's a joke in there somewhere, maybe do it yourself). I will always remember it, chiefly for the portly naked German men who played beach volley ball there. And I still can't stomach bratwurst. I was only about seventeen. I stubbornly kept my bikini bottoms on the whole time (but not the top obviously because this was the south of France in the 80s and they would probably have arrested me if I hadn't gone topless). Also my parents constantly walked around the house without clothes on, and they would burst in on me when I was undressing, or in the shower. Once my mother declared, when she walked in on me in the bath, “its a tadpole turning into a frog!” Which might go a long way to explain my lack of confidence as a teenager. That and the acne. But I’m digressing wildly.

“I don’t think he’s just being uninhibited,” says B, “because he takes his pants off quite slowly.”

“He what?!” says D, as I spill a not inconsiderable quantity of bucks, and fizz, down my front. (It really cracked me up.) "It's a strip tease!" 

"Argh!" I say. "The very thought of it's turning my stomach. When you're alone?"

"Always when I'm alone," she says. "In the kitchen. He doesn't do it if anyone else is there. He very slowly pulls his pants down."

“Underpants?” I say. “Actual underpants? Not even boxers?”

“Mmm,” she says. “Trousers, then pants, quite baggy, with his back to me.”

“Well, at least that’s a relief,” I say, “as it were. I guess he’s entitled to take his clothes off in his own bedroom from time to time.”

“Mmm,” says B. “The thing is, it's about five or six times, every day.”

“What!” we all say, A, C, D and E, at the exact moment they call us through to see the photographs.

Love E x


P.S. Going to the Chelsea Flower Show with my daddy this evening. I think it's the fourteenth time.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Three days.


"Good morning," I say to the elderly man on the end of the line, first thing on Monday morning.

"Good morning," he says.

"I remember you," I say, "you have dogs."

"That's right," he says. "Terrier puppies. My daughter came last week to walk them for me on the common."

"That's nice," I say. "Which common is that? I live near a common."

"Tooting," he says.

"No way," I say. "I live near Tooting Common. Which street?"

"Which street do you live on?" he replies, warily.

Right back at ya, I think.

So I tell him, and it turns out he lives on the same one - since 1977! - quite a coincidence.

I pop in to see him when I get home. His flat is a time-warp: immaculate, spartan, tiny, not one thing out of place. 

"It's so lovely of you to come round," he says, his little dogs yapping at my feet. 

"No worries," I say. "When did you last have a visitor?"

"My daughter," he says. "Sunday."

"Yesterday?" I say.

"Oh no," he says, "not yesterday."

"Is there anything I can get you?" I say, changing the subject.

He wants some sweetener for his tea, from Lidl, so I take a photograph of the brand on my phone and promise to get him some next time I'm in there. 


Dinner time: baked potatoes, leftover bolognese, salad of little gem lettuce, peppers, spring onion, parsley (flat leaf), red chilli and some chopped stir fried pak choi, to which I add a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Sitting at the table I realise I’m a bit pissed, as usual, because I just had a large glass of wine (red), as usual. Only the one, but I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol.

“I’m the only one of my mates who can get away with shouting at his parents,” says Middle One, tucking into the food. “You do realise you’re a very liberal parent, don’t you?”

“Mmm…” I say. "Maybe you shouldn't shout at me, though, ever thought of that? Maybe it should be more the other way around?"

“What’s this?” says Youngest, “in the salad?”

“Pak choi,” I say.

“I don’t like it," he says.

“Me neither,” says Middle One.

“Well, it's good for you," I say. "I got it in Lidl. Eat it. 'Eat food, not too much, mostly plants'.”

"Where did you get that?" says Youngest.

"I stole it," I say.

"A guy tried to sell me weed today," says Middle One,"on the common, and MDMA, and something called Charlie. He said I look like the kind of guy who smokes weed."

"I guess you do," I say. "I suppose he thinks that makes you fair game. You don't need to buy it on the common, though, you could just go outside and breathe in." (There's a guy a few doors down who smokes a lot of it in the garden.)

"I liked the friend you brought round here on Sunday," I say, changing the subject.

“Oh, yeah,” says Middle One, “She said you’re banter.”

“She said I’m what?” I say.

“Banter," he says. "It’s good. It’s a compliment.”

Brilliant, I think, I will have to use that in something.

“Did she say anything else?” I ask, realising I'm sounding like my mother.

“Oh, yeah,” says Middle One. “She likes the house, except she didn’t put it that way.

“How did she put it?” I ask. 

“She said I’m preeing your yard,” he says.

I am so using that as well, I think.

“I can’t eat this,” says Youngest, “it tastes of spicy flowers,”

“That’s the pak choi,” I say, “and the chilli.”

“It’s yolo swaggins,” says Youngest.

“It’s what?” I say.

“You must have heard of yolo swaggins,” says Middle One, “it’s a huge meme."


I'm getting ready to go to The Caretaker at the Old Vic with my theatre mates, (Timothy Spall is in it and I love Timothy Spall) when the doorbell rings. When I open the door I find a girl standing on the path with a basket of cleaning products, and a huge smile. 

"Hi," says the girl, not pausing for breathe, "sorry to disturb you but my name's Lindsay and I was living in a children's home in Halifax and I've come down here to go door to door…"

I sit down on the step to talk to Lindsay because it's a lovely warm evening and because Lindsay looks like she could use someone to talk to. It turns out her mother's an alcoholic, her father's in prison, she's selling cleaning products to save up to go to college in September, and she's 18.

"You're Tracy Beaker," I say, and she laughs.

"I love Tracy Beaker," she says.

"Me too," I say. 

"Except," she says, "this is my real life." 

She tells me people are horrible down south. One man gave her a black eye. It bled so much she had to go to hospital. Life may have dealt her a shit hand but it's important to keep smiling even though sometimes she doesn't feel like smiling. 

I buy a computer cleaning kit from Lindsay which costs £10 and which I don't need.

Halfway through The Caretaker I decide it's a  stupid play. It's depressing and monotonous. I know it's meant to be but I still think it's stupid. Not the performances, or the staging, or the direction, which are all excellent, just the play. The best thing Harold Pinter ever did isn't The Caretaker, it's Joan Bakewell.

Thankfully there are two intervals, neither quite long enough to a) get a drink (which is vital, obviously) and then b) go to the loo because you just had a drink. During the second interval the queue for the Ladies snakes all the way down the stairs into the lobby and almost out of the main doors. 

I go back to my seat for Part Three and sit in the dark and increasingly warm auditorium next to my friends, after a gin and tonic, and a long wait for the Ladies, and find that I have tears running down my face. 

It's a shit play, I think, but it’s really not that shit.

Love E x


P.S. Crazy by-election looming: now we've got Howling Laud Hope as well. Oh my Lord. Or maybe yolo swaggins.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Funny bones.

It's Wednesday morning and we're back at the fracture clinic, would you believe (you better believe), for that CAT scan. A registrar walks into the consulting room, a male one, young, quite handsome, not that this has anything to do with anything, and says, “Sorry, but the CAT scan hasn’t been booked in for today, I think the dates got mixed up.”

“Right,” I say.

We’ve just waited for more than an hour in a hot and crowded waiting room, but I guess it doesn't matter.

“So,” he continues, “I’ll book it immediately and then when you come back in a few weeks' time he'll have the scan…”

“Excuse me,” I say, interrupting, “sorry to interrupt but could I ask a question?”

“Of course,” he smiles. (He’s very nice, there's an apparently endless supply of very nice doctors at St George's hospital fracture clinic).

“What's the scan for?” I ask. “I mean, he’s not in pain, as we’ve previously established. And, well, I mean, yes, the lump looks a bit unsightly but he’s had it a while now and he’s not really bothered by it, so, er, I mean, if he has the scan how will that help?”

“Good question,” says the young and handsome doctor, looking down at the notes on the desk in front of him. “Well, if it’s a non-union fracture as we said when you came before, we could operate to re-break the bone and pin it back together.”

“Right,” I say. 

Silence, a brief one.

“Why?” I say.

“Er,” says the young and handsome doctor, now studying the notes in front of him more carefully. “Well, if he’s in pain.”

“He’s not in pain, though.” I say.

“No,” says the doctor. “And if it’s affecting his functioning.”

“It’s not affecting his functioning, though." I say. "He does P.E. He fences on Saturday mornings. He plays tennis on Tuesday after school.”

“Right,” says the doctor.

"And I know it's not perfect," I go on, "but hasn't the bone managed to sort of heal itself?"

"Er, um, yes," says the doctor.

“And,” I continue, “I don’t think I’d want him to go through an operation and have the bone re-broken if it’s not really necessary, not if it’s just for cosmetic reasons. I think I’d rather he just had the lump and learnt to live with it.” I turn to Youngest. “Wouldn’t you rather just have the lump and learn to live with it?" 

“What?” says Youngest, obviously not listening.

“I’m saying,” I say, “I don’t really want you to have an operation unless it’s really necessary.”

“Oh!’ says, Youngest, “Right. No.” And he shakes his head, vigorously.

I turn back to the doctor. “Because here’s what I’m thinking,” I say, "why have this scan at all?”

“Er,” says the doctor, fiddling with the notes on the desk in front of him.

“I can see you’re really busy, the whole hospital is full to bursting, and, I mean, you could slot us in to the system and we could come back in a few weeks and wait for an hour, again, and have the scan and establish it’s a non-union fracture or a partial union fracture, or whatever, but if he's not going to have an operation to correct it what's the point?”

“Good point,” says the doctor.

And then I add, “Not that I want to tell you how to do your job or anything.” And I laugh a bit because I realise that's exactly what I'm doing. "Or is there something else it could be? Something more sinister?"

"No," says the doctor.

"There's no possibility," I go on, "that it's something horrible, like a malignant growth or something?" 

"No," says the doctor. "Not growing on the exact spot he broke it. No."

"So." I say.

“Yes," says the doctor. "I think you’re right. I think I’ll discharge him and he can go home and if he’s in pain in the future then take him back to the GP and he could come in and have a scan then. He can always deal with the cosmetic issue later, if he wants to.”

Yes! I think, but I don’t say this.

“Great,” I do say, "because to be honest we'd quite like to get out of here." And then I laugh a bit, nervously, because I realise that sounds a bit rude but fortunately he doesn't take offence he just smiles, again, and then we go home.

Love E x


P.S. No P.S. Except for this: George Galloway… help!