Thursday, 31 July 2008

Confidence Tricks

It is a very hot day and the woman who is leading the session for us long term, dole scum is fixated with the air conditioner. She is a large red-faced, golden haired, small -eyed woman in her mid 20’s who keeps informing us, for no particular reason ,that she was in the Girl Guides. She is breath takingly patronising and embodies the word ‘bustle’.
When later we learn she rows and mentors a group of army cadets a slow sad nod goes around the aged end of the table. By this time we are too beaten down to attempt eye contact.

We are doing penance for being on welfare. We are in a ‘Building Confidence for Job Interviews’ seminar.
Opposite me is gentle, white haired bespectacled man who mentions he is totally immersed in his community through his church. He has such a terrible palsy he cannot hold a pen which is how, I presume, he has found himself jobless for over 6 months.
‘Don’t you worry B, says golden ,Red-Face. ‘We’ll get you back in the game’. She actually pats him.
B looks anxious. I think he may be praying under his breath.

Ivor is on his second heart and again in his late 50’s early 60’s. When he arrives he takes 60 minutes to stop wheezing and get enough air in his lungs. In the break he heads out for a fag. He was a master printer. Now everything is digital and he’s not working.
‘We’ll find a way of transferring your skills.’ Red Face winks at him.
Ivor folds his arms over his new heart and scows.

There is a tiny exquisite anorexic who looks like Bambi made out of glass and china, a 21 year old woman with a brain injury, another with an anxiety disorder.

And me.

We start by ticking boxes on a personal skills sheet. I glance up at Red Face and realise I am ticking too many. I slow down. I don’t tick ‘happy’.

Group discussion begins. What did we want to be when we were young? (Zoologist.)
What would we do if we could do anything? (Bond villain)
We are asked about interview experiences.

I used to have these conversations when I was a teenager. It is all pleasant and fun and I learn a great deal about all the other people but I learn absolutely nothing about attending interviews apart from the fact preparation is important.

Some things you can’t prepare for. I attended a huge interview recently. At the interview two of the panel had cerebral palsy. The interview was being held in a huge room and with my vision the panel so far away were a little blurry. During my presentation the palsy people would occasionally jerk and twitch and I would stop politely thinking they had signalled me to ask a question.
They hadn’t. Confused I would start again.
Until the next twitch or jerk.
This carried on for some time.
It was a long interview.
I didn’t get the job but it was very funny.

At the end of the seminar Red Face whips out the evaluation forms and ‘helps’ the group fill them in.
What have you learn from this? I write ‘patience’ but Red Face comes over so I cross it out and write ‘always be prepared’. Her smile is dazzling.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Saturday night and i aint got no body.

Summer on a Saturday night. I stand in my garden where all to me is a beautiful indeterminate, soft, green fuzz. In the neighbours' gardens children sing and play and adults bang hammers and light fires; the smell of burnt sausages and tizz- crack of cans all around.

I should be watching the film on the DVD. It is on and playing but I can’t be still. Much as I love being alone NO ONE is that happy about being alone on a beautiful Saturday evening with the pollen count way up high.

'You are not lonely', says my body. 'You have tummy ache. '

'Ahh', I say

'No really,' says my body. 'Think about it.'

My face winks at me in the mirror; but more like a convict trying to convince a parole board.

Me: So I’m happy then…?

Body: Yep. Look, twirl. No…do it naked. See no one gives a shit…there you go. Wasn’t that fun. (You can put ‘em away now.)

Me: And that makes me happy?

Body: Ok ok…good grief difficult to please you are. Ok..well…feed..i mean food. Eat something delicious. Anything. Cook a whole chicken and eat both kinds of meat! Drink wine from the bottle. Don’t do the washing up.

Me: Why?

Body: For cripes sake! Because you can…on your own! No one cares…

Me: Well actually…that’s the point..the ‘no one caring’..

Body: Ok hell..err.. just twirl again while I’m thinking…

Face does a face shrug and winks again. It is slurring its winks. That is wine from the bottle for you.

Me: (infuriated) Why can’t I just admit to being lonely?

Body: God woman. You are in your late thirties..disabled, childless..broke. You will sound weak and desperate.

Me: …..and ..your point..

Body: Just thank .. just ..blessings…err… think of everything you lucky you are…

Me: I am lucky. I know. I love my messed up crazy life. That is exactly why I want to sh…

Body: Well there you go.

Me: As I was saying, very lucky but I would like to shar..

Body: Don’t say that word.

Me: What word?

Body Don’t say ‘share’..

Me: Why not??

Body: Hell, I warned you. Right. Sit her down butt. I hate to do this but you leave me little choice…Oy brain…cue her in.

Cue: memory b roll film excerpts of almost every couple I’ve ever known leaving, cheating, fighting, weeping.

sfx: Silence

sfx: More silence

Sfx: Face gulping from wine bottle

Me: (slowly) yeah ..but at least they got some action…

Body: (hissing) It’s bloody stomach ache…. (aside) they don’t pay me enough)

Friday, 25 July 2008

Lady of Shalott (or she who has waaaay to much time on her hands.)


My face feels soft
In my hands
Like an old person’s .
The suede skin
Slightly sticky

I am scared
Out of my skin

My skin.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Luck of the Irish

I have a sore throat. Its sunny and I have a sore throat. Not only that but I also ache and want to sleep. All the time. And my nose is thinking of running.
Sunshine and snot do not, I tell thee, make for a good summer.

And- she whimpers - things are not going too well in the old wallet. Today I had to wash my hair with soap and the dregs of a conditioner I found from a left over hair dye kit. (not that I dye my hair goddammit…!! I am a natural brassy blonde.) When I went outside I was smothered in aphids, which promptly swooned and stuck on the soapy residue. Even now I am finding the poor little blighters in my fringe.

Today I was walking to CAB and in that dark energy spot near where Dad’s tyre got slashed I saw a man on the ground and a large, red-faced man bending over him. I trotted forward trying not to swallow the aphids clustering around my barnet. The man on the ground was sitting up but disorientated. His forehead and nose were running blood. The red faced fat man looked to me as I drew close. I had my phone out and he nodded at it with relief. He was sweating and anxious.

'I saw it happen. I was just over there and he literally stumbled and dived at the ground. Four people just walked past before I could get here. '
He was stuck on the fact he had seen four people walk past the accident. He wasn’t from around here.

We both got down on our knees to try and see where the man was hurt. He was called Paddy. He was irish. He was off his tits on Speical Brew. (I made that diagnosis from the fact he kept trying to drink the cans he had just bought even though it looked like he had fractured his wrist. I Know I know... can't rule out diabetes, Parkinsons, concussion... but there was something those Special Brew cans.)

Paddy couldn’t construct a sentence but just laughed and lurched and bled and made nosies that sounded like ‘horses’ and 'girlie.

I called 999 for the first time in my life. It was easier then when Drew Darrymore did it in ‘Scream’. In fact the man in the emergency car arrived within five minutes. He was hot and tired and handsome..until he started speaking over Paddy's head to us.

‘He’s Irish’, he said raising his eyebrows at me and the nice fat man. ‘He is probably just drunk and going to cost you and I taxpayer a ton for just cleaning him up…these people..’ Behind him on the stained tarmac Paddy sat and watched us. His wierd blue eyes slewed this way and that. He was saying something like ‘I’m fine’ and trying to get up ..but he couldn’t.

I didn’t want to leave Paddy with the nasty emergency man but it was hospital or the police.
‘Goodbye Paddy’ I hissed over the emergency man’s shoulder. ‘Good luck’
Paddy laughed and gibbered and bled a little more and the nice fat man gave me a low finger wave and a slightly traumatised smile. He was still thinking of the four people who had just walked past when Paddy had fallen. He was a good man.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Holey Mother

I am alone..finally after three weeks of constant high alert and squeezing between spaces and egos I am alone. The fridge in the empty flat buzzes and ticks. The turtle doves call softly. The wind knocks sunshine around in the garden… I feel my body bubble expand and burst open. Still in blue kimono dressing gown I sit in the middle of a Sunday morning and I let out a long breath…

Who can I call? I think nervously, looking at the phone.
I am like that.

Dad dropped me at Staines on Friday and headed back to Zambia. I leapt trains all the way back to Cambridge and was picked up by Silent J, Mum’s partner.
I love being picked up from stations, airports, bus stops. There is something to be said for that last little trek home being taken over or done alongside someone else. I am glad to see Silent J and Mum looking so well. It has been several months since they took off on their epic European adventure and they are back in town for a break. Whilst I have been in Devon they have settled into my little flat and seen dentists, opticians, done laundry and caught up with friends and family.

Mum barefoot and slender greets me in the doorway. She gives the best hard, long hugs. I am still shoulder tense from the last couple of days and feeling fragile emotional. I tell them this as I step over their bags and squeeze onto a chair in the corner of my once again litter strewn flat.

I know they are still here for a night.
‘Errr two nights..’, corrects Mum
‘Oh. Two nights,’ I nod sinking slightly into my chair.

Kindly they insist on the concrete futon which means they can stay up later in the living room and get up earlier.

‘The futon.’ I remind them. ‘Its virtually plywood.’

'Are we are adventurers now…you should see what we have slept on in the past few months.' Mum launches into tales of dodgy Polish camp site toilets. these go on for some time.

My mum looks annoyingly fit and lovely, hair in a shiny bob and slim-fit jeans from Gap sale. She twirls and cooks and chats and with her usual energy she has rescued my garden! The whole space is up-lifted and cheerful. Weeds are under control, beds are dug, my little fountain is working for the first time this year (and completely confusing Marmite the neighbour’s cat) Silent J has propped up my waterbutt which was slowly toppling into the mud. The garden calls to be looked at, lived in. My Mum is a green genius!
I see Dennis the squirrel on the newly fixed bird table. He has combed his fringe in an effort to appear respectable. He looks like a deranged rodent version of Tintin.

The next day I feel refreshed and even get to the gym but something has slightly soured. Silent J is quieter then ever. I wonder if I am talking too much about Dad and the whole Devon do.
I ask him
‘No,’ he says. I wait for something more but that’s my lot..for the rest of the night apparently.

My Mum is gesturing wildly trying to describe another remarkable thing they saw on their travels. They drove thousands of miles and hit the top of Finland for the solstice. I have been bought Sami treasures…on a soft leather strap I have a bone pendant with a strange pattern inscribed. I also now owna small smooth birch cup and some resin soap that smells like deep forest with hint of bear. The packet says ‘don’t eat this!’ Spoilsports.

My mother gets every country mixed up and each foreign word malapropises on her tongue but she loves saying them and when Silent J corrects her (which he does tediously and ominously over and over again) she trys fitting the right word in her mouth and repeats it with delight but it still always comes out wrong. It has always been thus and used to drive me nuts as a kid. Now after not seeing her for so long I just find it soothing.
She says something in what she thinks is in Czech. Silent J scowls and growls. She corrects herself and it comes out in Urdu.

I strategically stay in bed next morning until I hear Silent J heading out and spend a too quick hour with Mum.

‘If you end up in Hungary and have a huge row, is Silent J liable to dump you on the road side?’ I ask. I get jittery just thinking about it.

‘He isn’t like that, ‘ she says. ‘He would never hurt me like that.’’

I know they love each other. They are wonderful to watch as a couple when working on any task. They are elegent with their space, intuitive to each other, supportive ….but they are going to be on the road a hell of a long time and she is never going to learn how to say ‘Kohtla-Jarve ‘

Friday, 18 July 2008

Clotted cream and crab sandwiches

Cambridge last week and Dad and I head over to the car and then he stops short. I look closer too and yes..someone has slashed our tyre. Not just slashed.. Eviscerated. Apparently they didn’t like us parking in front of their house. I can see their net curtains twitching as we struggle with the spanner and the flat, spare tyre and Dad’s knuckles get bloody trying to wind the ridiculous jack. I wonder if I should phone the cops but know they will not be able to prove anything. The man in the garage says it is likely the nasty neighbour will only come over and break my windows if we cause a scene…we decide to keep schtum.
The window of the tyre slasher’s house has a Union Jack flag in it. Ahh Britain.

A few days later and in quite another Britain we are in the car with the sun blasting and the magnificent K in the back reading bits from the book ‘Land of Liberty?’ (Note the question mark. We both agree that historians really don’t know how to pitch a good title. The other course book he is delving into is called..get this little thriller…’The Whig Oligargy’ for crying out loud. Bet that shifts off the shelves…hmm)

Next to him on the back seat behind my dad, my brother snoozes on and off. He is mostly being mean and moody this holiday with only occasional flashes of his usual sweetness. He has a lot a lot a lot on his mind and there is not much I or anyone else in the car can do to ease his anxiety. To stop getting shouted at by him all the time I have reverted to popping the words ‘Dad says..’ into any sentence that involves an ask or a task. He doesn’t get angry if Dad is involved. Of course I overuse this and am caught out. Dad obviously didn’t ‘say’ don’t use Tanvir’s toothpaste…neither did he say ‘ its your round.’

We eat crab sandwiches, ice cream and drink ale or cider everywhere: Honiton, Lyme Regis, Seaton, Beer, Sidmouth, and many small villages I can’t remember. (Bro and Dad in Branscombe)

The gorgeous fishing village of Beer is defiantly a favourite but there is that one moment when, desperate to stretch legs, the Magnificent K, my moody Bro and I look longingly at the half mile walk over the cliffs and I realise Dad can’t really do it. His is already stiff, his knees and feet ache.
'Come on Dad' says bro. 'It'll be fun'
'He can't do it, ' I say without thinking and kick myself. Hard.
‘I could do it..’ he says ..’ I just think I’d rather drive over and meet you.’
My heart does a small twist. Age is brutal. Rage rage…

The Beer Quarry was a hoot. Acres of man made tunnels, dark, dank and sppoooooky! Down we go..the Magnifecent K who is claustrophobic, me who sees nowt in the dark and Dad and Bro. There is a couple of little families.

'Hey T' says dad. 'You just keep your eye on that little girl. You'll be fine.'

. As the little girl heads off into the dark the lights in the heels of her trainers flash red. I grin at Dad. Nice one.

We cook each night in the ancient but sumptuous holiday cottage in Burwell (‘Love Cottage’ no less.). The floors slope from side to side like a ship and the heavy huge old timber beams knock the magnificent K nearly unconscious every time he stands up (he is 6’4’’ and by far the tallest of our family so it is entirely his own fault. I, being the shortest, end up having to sleep in the bunk bed. Bollocks.)

We play cards and drink wine and eventually I even get up early enough to run a couple of times. It’s too late though … I have a distinct ale belly and some further roundness to my chops.

(Magnificent K plays close to his chest)

Then K and Bro head back to London and Dad and I are left , on the last day, whittling time and staring at cows passing the windows of the pub, trying and failing to outdo each other with dreadful puns about udders as we don’t really want to talk about that horrid unavoidable fact that Dad is getting on a bit and we won't mention that he stumbled, slipped and nearly fell through a glass window earlier as we wandered around Sidmouth.
We could talk about me being a shiftless jobless state scrounger...and we do but only briefly as more cows low past and we are distracted by empty glasses.
I get the rounds in and he buys the fish supper.

Chips and ale? You bet yer life.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Bit of a squeeze

I’m on the 21:15 train from London to Cambridge and I find a whole four seat to stretch out in. I am in merry heaven but just as the doors close and I sigh with relief to be finally heading home, three rotund, rosy English middle managers squeeze in, pushing bags and coats and me into the far corner. They are tired and slightly pissed. They have been on a work jaunt to Paris. They want to chat. I try to feign sleep but there is no escape.

They prod me to get my views on speed dating and then try out questions on me in between abusing the French.
‘God those Frenchies…a bunch of wastrels but they know how to entertain…’

(I start to turn pink- the carriage is full of sober French people who have all become rather still and attentive)

‘Gawd Colin..did you see those speedos those blokes were wearing on the barge? You wouldn’t catch me exposing my lady? (nudge wink…this man has elbows like sides of ham) eh eh?
Rightyho, we’ll ask you 5 questions each. I’ll start. Why don’t you have a nice young man to take you to Paris?’

‘Oh we can see where this is going Nick..get her phone number! (hysterical laughter) Bet she’d give it to you if you were a sodding stuck up Frenchie …’

You get the picture

At this point we have only just pulled out of the station. I look around for help and the beautiful, young and now grinning French couple sitting opposite me wink and slowly and deliberately give me a very Gallic shrug. Merde…je suis doomed.

(By the way folks I am off to devon for a week and may or may not manage to post but will do my very best from the land of scumpy and surfers against sewage.)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Pistons at dawn.

I am not enamoured of steam engines. I don’t get a thrill out of the guts of old motor vehicles and nor do I give a fig for ancient aircraft. So when yesterday I was forced into a ‘family do’ at an air show in Shuttleworth I knew I was going to be in for a tad of a dull afternoon.

In fact as we arrived in the pouring rain to see hundreds of soggy anorak clad oldies watching nothing happen from open aircraft hangers whilst munching on their carefully engineered packed lunches, I was hit by a wave of ennui so brutal I nearly fainted. The problem is I am a coward when it comes to certain kinds of boredom – basically stuff that involves engines. I would crack like a nut under interrogation if the torture consisted of watching motor racing or researching aerodynamics. I have tried to fake interest previously but I am past caring now. I am never going to be really interested in what makes a Tigermoth fly, no matter how handsome it looks.

‘Boring!’ I howled, like a five year old, tugging at my brother’s hand as we morosely lurched around the darkened hanger interiors looking at dusty German and British fighter planes.

‘Boring!’ I wailed as my father, having the time of his life skipped over shouting, ‘hey have you seen the steam powered tractor?? Quick quick..its about to drive up and down the road for twenty minutes. It’s real coal you know….’

‘I’m dying here.’ I whinged at my mother on the phone as finally the skies cleared and some lunatic flew in spirals in something tiny and noisy above the crowd.
‘I can’t here you darling…is that a plane overhead?’

On the way home my brother poked me in the back and asked what on earth I would have rather been doing on a Sunday afternoon.
I thought about all the various things I would have rather been doing..most of them involving various methods of being asleep in a beautifully empty, quiet flat but I held my tongue.

And then there had been that one 1968 Wasp helicopter that the chap had actually ‘danced’ like some huge insect over the airfield. I hadn’t moaned once during his whole set. He even flew it backwards….I’m not sure if he meant to but it was very clever….

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Holey father.

My flat is too small for my father.

He is a guest so gets the only bedroom. I get the futon that seems to be made of rough chipboard with added concrete and I set up camp in the living room.

Each morning at 7:30 he is already awake and bored and ready to continue his holiday. My father has worse ADHD then a small child with a coke problem AND he is my father and wants constant companionship from whichever of his children is closest…….right now that would be me.

My dad is a big chap, over 6 foot and broad but his knees are a bit dodgy and he has a bit of a stagger so, what with me being visually impaired and this flat being rather tiny, we are both continuously crashing into each other and tripping over all the piles of clothes and books and plastic bags full of recently acquired stuff to take back to Zambia that now cover the living room floor (when I am not sleeping on it.)

Within two days I am haggard and looking and living like a bag lady, rummaging under chairs for spare socks and desperately, continually searching for lost earrings, keys, mobile phones, my notes for work and my sense of humour. My dad says he is worried that I am ‘letting myself go’ and suggests I let my brother’s beautiful Brazilian girlfriend, 18 years my junior, give me some fashion advice, then, without noticing I have gone puce and am trying not to howl, he sits himself down in the middle of the living room blocking all exits and starts watching reruns of Top Gear with the sound up so loud the ceiling vibrates.
When he gets bored we will go somewhere to feed on dodgy prawn masala then hit every pub on the way home for medicinal brandy.

I will lie, holding my stomach and groaning on the chip board futon until dawn and then at 7:30 we will begin all over again.

My Dad is one of the greatest intuitive doctors of his generation with an OBE and various other awards cluttering his sideboard to underline that very fact. He saves lives..all the blinking time. He is hopelessly over generous and although he has been working tirelessly for 40 years he is still easily taken in and his hospitality and gifts have been so constantly abused that he is nearly broke himself and certainly will have to carry on working well into his 70’s. He is a very good man but he is also irresponsible, sometimes cowardly, childish and needy. He confuses nobility with sanctimony and is scared of emotion and naked truth. I worry about him all the time.
He makes up puns so bad they can make your nose bleed. His humour is forever warped to the tune of the Goon Show circa 1958.
I think I am like him and I hate that. I think I am like him and I am deeply, deeply proud.
In other words…my dad is over for a visit..the flat is too small and I am losing my mind.

He is in London for a couple of days and I will try and find where I stashed my toothbrush and my only clean T-shirt. I think they may be under recycling bin in the corner……