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.

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