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Thursday, 29 January 2009

it's good to talk

Last night I went on a girls’ night. We talked about how much we talked. How men (generalising wildly) look to provide a basic solution to an issue. (Don’t like someone? Tell them. Or ignore them. Don’t agonise. No need to mention it again. Sit down and read the paper.) They don’t do the endless circling of waffle around a subject, niggling and needling and reassessing, which for us is the means of distillation and of arriving at a solution we probably knew was there all along.
Just as E will buy the first pair of shoes he sees, if they fit and he likes them whereas I feel an instinctive horror at not exhausting every possibility at least twice. Round and round the shops, in trudging indecisive horror, to arrive back where I started three hours later.
A waste of time, perhaps, but at least you know. He says he doesn’t need to ‘know’, or doesn’t need to prove that he already ‘knew’.
And then it gets complicated.

I don’t, though, have much trouble with service. My experience, as a kind and caring individual, tells me that it’s those who invite it who always get the surly waitress, the offhand Postie, the Bored Saturday Shop Girl.
Besides, I’ve worked in shops and bars and, God, does the time drag. So, if a reluctant menial is a bit arsey, I tend to be grateful that it’s mere disdain coming my way and not a session with an Uzi because, let’s face it, day after day folding jumpers or looking in the back for a “Capri” in “heather” in a size 5, and having it drilled into you that the poxy customer is always right must do your head in.

The florist, however, had perfected rude brevity; I was both shocked and impressed. The haiku would be a tedious epic poem to her. Her grudging articulations of sound, vowel-less txt spk, were wrapped in cushions of cross silence, pauses I felt obliged to pack with foolish guff.

“So you do make button-holes?” I was on the phone to her and had got nowhere.
“ …….ys …….”
“And, er, is it better to order them, or just turn up on the day and hope …”
“ ….rdr ….”
“OK, um, is there a book, or photos, I could look at, before I decide and …?”
“…. N ….. ‘s rss r c’nashns.”
Mr Ambassador, you spoil us.

I drove to the shop, giving her the benefit of the doubt, that she might be a phone-phobic princess, and also intrigued to see if she really was as bad in person as she was on the blower. She was.
I decided not to buy and felt quite rebellious. Normally I am so well-behaved that I feel obliged to stump up just because I’ve walked in.
I asked if she sold florists’ wire and tape.
“ ….n ….” And then, in an uncharacteristic splurge of speech but still hammering home the Can’t Sell Won’t Sell stance, “Tks p 2 mch rm.”

A sign saying “Keep the Village Alive, Support Your Local Traders” banged on the door on my way out.
So I took me to the Garden Centre and, between such horticultural necessities as puffy hot water bottles and ceramic hedgehogs in amusing poses, I encountered a little display (tkng p v ltl rm actually) boasting all that the amateur florist could need.
And then I did my Little Red Hen act and came up with these.

Being impecunious, and flushed with success having made some bizarre curtains for the sitting room in strips of silk (the lighting's a bit odd here),

I have decided to have a go at another set.
This time for the garage.
(“You must stop calling it the garage,” said my dog-walking friend, “you must call it the library.” This is a woman whose idea of fun is 3 fitness classes on the bounce, so ‘garage’ it is).
They need to be 12’ across, and since I can’t begin to compute what a professional would charge for such monstrous curtains, I took myself off to the fabric shops to spend a fortune in saving money and doing it myself.

Cheltenham soon proved itself to be pretty dire. The big place has a new boss which has resulted in all the old staff being near to tears and snippy with each other, indulging in a “me, sir, me sir” jostling of one upmanship.
“Carol!” said one guy loudly and reprovingly, “Rolls!” he indicated with a bony finger the endless rolls of fabric left behind by Carol in pursuit of furnishing me with various quarter metres (I have “ideas” for these garage curtains which is calling for much crossing of fingers and purchase of quarter metres).
“’m with a customer, Jonathan!” Carol pointed out tartly, ‘customer’ clearly scoring over abandoned rolls.
Jonathan pursed his lips and ostentatiously set about reducing the discard mountain in a ‘we’ll say no more about it’ sort of way.
Carol rolled her eyes and stabbed at the till buttons.

But this was only scraps. I needed more, the base material.
So I found a shop with my favourite word in the window, “Sale.”
Inside I was ignored, not even a flicker of boredom inched my way. This suited me fine. But what was passing amusing was, on drawing near the desk, to realise that I had been so roundly ignored because the two assistants were bitching about ‘the warehouse.’ Whatever THAT is.
“Costs nothing to say hello,” Big and Brunette was saying, wide-eyed, scarcely able to countenance the bad manners of others.
Old and Knackered Colleague shook her head in a would you believe it sort of way, “Manners don’t cost,” she agreed. “That Fiona! Honestly!”
“Just oils the wheels,” said B&B smugly, hoicking up her impressive busty substances. “Dun’t take much.”
I tried to fix them with a bit of a Look, but it wasn’t going to happen, not to a mere customer. Not when there was someone to slag off.

It was clear that I needed to go down the M5, batter the purse and kill a couple of hours in John Lewis.
I popped the dog in the boot and set off.
Upstairs I found more bits and pieces, and a woman in the queue, baffled by my random selection, asked what I was up to, so I explained, and she seemed interested, and then we discussed the pink and yellow bags she was making for her granddaughters. Twins of 4, very hard work. And then the till woman laughed that she couldn’t sew for tuppence, and stabbed herself on a pin-cushion as if in illustration and laughed again, only more manically and looking around anxiously for a plaster.

Downstairs, in what they call Fab F, I finally found my base material, not perfect (obviously) but it will do.
As the short and stout maiden, with the tape measure slung busily round her neck, made the shearing scissored cut – somewhere around 15 metres in – I said, “Not that I’m going to, but what would happen if I said I’d changed my mind?”
S&S frowned.
“I mean, would you call Security, or what?”
“We trust our customers,” S&S said bleakly. Then, despite herself, “Why d’you ask that?”
“I just wondered,” I said, “well, just making conversation.”
“We have all sorts of customers,” she said, “I’d put you in the patient category, I saw you standing there, waiting. You should see some of them. Men usually. Won’t wait when you’re measuring. Get cross, threaten to complain. I take no notice, but I tell them, I say, ‘I’m busy,’ I say, ‘you’ll have to wait.”
I felt unduly flattered at having secured her approval. You don’t get comment, let alone something one could fashion as praise, however dull, as an adult and it’s always strange to realise that you have been noticed and categorised.

A young lad staggered out to the car with my rolls of material. We chatted about his spider collection (27 glass cases; first one bought when 7; spiders cost £20 when small, £150 when big; they live for 9 years. He let one out. Once. )
“Have you got a girlfriend?” I asked.
“We’re about to move in together,” he said, “I’ve got to get rid of the spiders, re-home them.”
“Don’t look at me, I said, “In fact, I wouldn’t have let you even touch the material if I’d known where those hands have been.”
He gave me an empty ‘my girlfriend’s like that’ look. His long spider-lite life lay ahead of him.

I got home and smuggled the material in. E was there so I launched into a distraction chat, planning how I could pretend that the material had Always Been There. He cleared his throat, cranking his vocal chords into action.
“I haven’t talked to anyone all day,” he said.
“How come?” I said puzzled, wondering if he had a bit of florist in him, “It’s impossible not to.”
He shrugged. “No one came down my end of the office.”

Friday, 23 January 2009

not for me

Catty languished on the pillow. Flu, apparently. F10 was most solicitous. He and Catty’s New Best Friend, a lambswool ceiling duster from IKEA, bore down heavily on the patient. Crowding him, some might say. The san was growing claustrophobic. F10 announced that he had to stay off school to look after Catty. Catty, a stuffed toy of indeterminate colour looked quite desperate; if his whiskers hadn’t have been chewed off in an earlier session of tough love, they would have twitched.
I intervened. I said that ill cats had to swim to Japan to get their medicine (where DO these lies you tell come from?) and that if F wanted to go with him, then he wouldn’t be back in time for karate. F10, while sensing a con, trudged off with the ceiling duster to get ready for school and Catty gave me a big fat thumbs up and prepared for a day’s dossing. We cancelled the swim to Japan.

I dumped the lad, his clarinet and karate suit, all 3 at school and took me into Cheltenham. Mrs Northern Posh had made a killing in the week at Per Una, snaffling a three piece outfit for £7 and a fine jacket and scarf for a fiver. I had high hopes which, in the way of all high hopes, were doomed to be dashed. The sale rail was in a far and inauspicious corner and fear became fact when it was found that the rewards for the tardy bargain hunter were few.
A bikini bottom, jade, size 22. Even the £2 price tag couldn’t tempt me down that particular road of madness.
Nor could the lone bikini top, in a cheerful Hawaiian print and shaped in an optimistic bandeau style. Size unknown but, to the untutored eye, about 56 MM. It was not to be mine. Everything else was oddly slippery and seriously undesirable, so I queued instead for 20 minutes to return a jumper I’d bought for T12 which had lasted all of 2 days. I then spent an hour in search of a groovy but cheap backpack for him and sort of triumphed in Animal but it was a dull morning made duller still by the chill memory of Mrs NP’s crowing.
The only thing which comes even half way near to being called a "win" was snaffling a load of pooperscooper bags free from the library. Libraries multi-task these days.

If shopping is an utter waste of time, then so is catering. First it was peanuts on the naughty stair, then kiwi fruits were public enemy number 2 and suddenly, Heimlich manoeuvre was being worked into every sentence. A note came back from school urging us to cut grapes in half. Indeed it was worded in a “for the very few who don’t already…” sort of way. It seems that grapes choke, chaps, and the tyranny of the lunchbox is made more tortuous still, slaloming round the banned list and now the cutting up of grapes. Careful with that knife, Eugene.*

It’s only a matter of time before they demand of us parents, carers and guardians that the food is all pre-masticated and from there but a step before it’s liquidized or mashed into tablet-form.
But it’s not just at junior level that the fun’s been sucked out of food.

I had had the meeting of my second book group last night. It was a massive waste of being a host when I could have been the driver since E and I don’t drink in January, but I got in a load of wine for the others and was stunned that between them they got through but one bottle. Yes, one bottle. Surely my temporary sobriety cannot alone account for the quartering of consumption? The apple & mango and cranberry & pomegranate were hit hard though which all seems a bit dismal and I rose bright and beady (safe from Catty’s flu) rather than semi-destroyed and wondering, with a Magda** gloom, if my wild days were behind me. Battling with a tetrapak not being the same at all as cheerful grappling with a corkscrew. Still, the thing is, it’s so easy not drinking. Something, up there with “Let’s get another puppy,” that I thought I’d never say.

Last night was the first time that I fully realised just how annoying they all are. That’s the absence of rose-tinting wine for you.
Remembering that at least one was a vegetarian, I had cleverly ensured that all the small bits and pieces on plates, canap├ęs if you must, were meat free. The room we sat in is stygian by night, meaning a minefield of stray sausage rolls, however amusing the reaction, was always going to be a no-no. So, there were olives and smart crisps and then I assembled little smoked salmon and cream cheese on blinis and some half price cranberry and brie pastry things. Lolly showed a fine interest, bustling near, an ill-chosen bridesmaid, eager but incompetent, breathing hell-hound fumes on all and sundry. Bearing my laden plates, I anticipated an eager clamour and the unseemly reach of greedy human paws. Instead of which, little hands of horror were being shown, small traffic warden stop signs placed up to ward off the evils of my offerings.
One, it transpired hated cheese (what!), another hated fish, a third wouldn’t eat on Thursdays***, and only Mrs NP and I were what I would call normal, a pairing which shows that things have come to a pretty pass. So she, me and the vegetarians and Lolly ate the lot and I tried not to roll my eyes excessively.
It concerns me sometimes how intolerant and fierce I can get. I think it boils down to laziness. I want the chat bit without the pfaff.

In a few days time, we have a dinner party with another lot of foible-heavy friends. Dearest people all, but another vegetarian, naturally, casting a meat-free blight on proceedings, and across the table from her will sit another fish-hater. I thought it was a woman thing all of this, but no, one of the men has murmured that he hates pasta. How can you hate pasta? Not that I’m an unsympathetic soul, I think you know that by now, but it only remains to get on the blower to the coeliac and the one who’s dairy-intolerant (whatever the fuck THAT is) to have a full house of dietary unstables boasting a shared interest in quinoa. I'm not beyond the odd reasonable fad myself: never will I be in the queue for lights, brains or knuckles, for instance, and I flinch at the thought of the foul filth clatter which is quaintly dubbed seafood, but I force it down if it's put on a plate in front of me. I even say thank you. I've slurped soup and chomped on lamb, liking neither but one, erstwhile, friend actually puts in orders: don't like this, don't like that. Fuck Off, I think, while creepily complying and then having to self-loathe for being so wet.

Catty’s got the right idea, loll on a pillow and fake illness, even if an occupational hazard of being a stuffed animal in this house might involve swimming to Japan.
* I know it should be “Careful with that AXE, Eugene.” But, don’t be silly, you don’t halve grapes with axes
** Magda is a sullen cleaner in “Lead Balloon,” next to whom Eyeore exhibits a certain joie de vivre
*** Joke