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Monday, 9 May 2011

The F Word

“You’re not wearing that!” the Piano Festival being 15 driving minutes, and 16 temporal minutes, away it was time to take issue with T14’s slouching hoody, low slung slacks and moody face. The park beckoned yet he had to go and play Schubert.
“I’ve told her. I hate bloody festivals.”
'Luddy festivals,” cried F12 gleefully, gathering close his audience attendance kit: 2 Nintendo DSs, a clutch of books, Catty, his gun. “Not BLOODY! Mum! He swore, T14 swore! Tell him off!”
“Enough! You: 30 seconds. Shower and get changed,” I hissed, gathering my own audience attendance kit. My kindle slims the need to grab at 3 books (current read & 2 spares for panicking). Then the credit card bill had arrived. A sea of download costs. Could they not be elided? E frowned. I lied and self-justified.

The dog, sensing action, and pitifully anticipating japes, circled the hall with annoying
avidity; all bum, and rubbing her nose in everything.
“Get in the fucking kitchen,” E hissed.
“She doesn’t understand,” I snapped importantly, “Bed… Darling … Bed …. C’mon! C’mon …. Good Girl!! …. Beh-edddd! …. Get in your fucking bed! T14! Shower! Now! … !”
“We’ll go to PizzaExpress afterwards! I promise.” The things you do. “Just. Get. On. With. It!”
The shower pump lurched dangerously into action. My heart skidded.

I fired up the computer; it pissed around with its whirring icons and password crap. PizzaExpress is so bloody expensive nowadays that it’s only affordable with half-price vouchers. Which means, to fund the freeloaders, that it has to keep upping its prices.

“We might as well fucking forget it! To think, I had to get out of a meeting early. Why do I bloody bother.”
“It’s cost a fiver to enter. We’re going. We’ll be fine. F12!! Get in the bloody car …”
“T14’s not …”
“GET …”

The printer sulked. I turned it off. And on. The only language these appliances understand is to turn them off. Revenge through annihilation. It sulked its way through a load of solipsistic self-checks. Mechanical eye-rolls. While it was thus obsessed, I rang PizzaExpress.
“Oh, soh-ree!” said the voice with a chucklesome regret. “Our booking system closed, oooh, 3 – min-utes – a-go!! It’s on-line. I’m afraid,” he purred happily, “we can’t over-ride it.”
“What? You not allowed to operate a diary any more? Like, write something in with a pen?”
“Nooo!” the very thought! “Everything ..” you middle-aged fule “…is on-line now.” His enthusiasm waned, “You’ll have to come as a walk-in.” He all but started filing his nails.
I sighed; most testily, “Well, if there’s any wait at all we’ll Go Somewhere Else.”
That’ll have scared him. Adrenaline threatened to short circuit me. I needed turning off.

The Festival, presumably, prides itself on being a celebration of the arts. Its website is light on enthusiastic hi-falutin and busy on, well, not much. A rare reality check pervades: it boils down to turn up and behave.

For some crazy reason, the Goddess of TV Parking smiled on us and we parked right outside the Town Hall. Right Outside. Like we were royalty and getting married.
A white van man beeped us irritably, and roared, “’S’for fucking taxis!!”
I threw him the Vs and shouted, “Not til 6. Tosser!”
I smoothed my nice East outfit and hissed at the children to get a bloody move on. Sometimes my degree, my way with words, comes in so handy.
T14 slithered out like T1000 in The Terminator making it through a gate. His lip curled to his nose.
“I’m NEVER playing this Scherzo again!”
“No, no, no!! Honest.” E and I were ushering, as if the pair of them were geese, “No Schubert even, ever… Stand Up Straight! … You! DS in the car …! Because I say so. Because it bleeps.”

Long, long ago, when I was about M14, I went to a funeral. My first. The family approved. “A perfect first funeral for Milla. No-one liked Isobel.”
My mother put her smart coat on and a fruit cake in the boot of the Jag.

We drove north, a long, long way. Up and up and bloody up. My brother and I possibly bickered in the back.
At Knutsford Service Station, I was forcibly ejected and ordered to remove my make up. Out-rageous. A glittery pink eyeshadow stretching to my temples was deemed – had the word existed in this incarnation then – inappropriate. Much eye rolling occurred. My brother smirked. The familiar hiss of “Do as you’re fucking told” was trotted out.
We arrived at the holding cell, the icicle house from which the funeral proper would kick off. Our hostess, Little J, shimmied forth, glassy-eyed and dripping “darlings!” but no warmth.
My pixie boots kicked surlily at Persian carpets. My mother kept her coat on.

Alcoholic desperation, that helpful blurring in times of family incarceration, was met by offers of water from Little J, a reluctant niece-in law pressed into action by unfortunate geographical proximity to the great dead one.
Distant arms of the family united in triumphant disappointment at the paucity of the hospitality. Little J, famous for her lapses, had again sunk to the occasion. She retired frequently to the pantry and tottered out, reinvigorated by a session with the bottle.
Kedgeree was grimly served. Possibly knocked up the day that Aunt Isobel kicked her clogs and given the odd stir since. The rice was cold, the haddock ripe. Knives and forks did what they could with the bleak offering, rallying chiefly in disguising the leavings. Conversation, bleak at best, stalled.

Back at home, Granny, sister to Isobel, but too poorly, apparently, to attend, snuggled on the sofa, clicked at her knitting needles and turned on the telly. She had a thing for Ivor the Engine. Her son-in-law, another Ivor, was an endless recipient of her jumpers. It made her chuckle. “Chuff Chuff!” She could never quite believe how small he was and knitted large. Her daughter, her other daughter, my mother’s sister, muttered something about there being only so many jumpers a son-in-law could be expected to wear. “Who is the mother-in-law?” my grandmother asked, pressing the button on the remote control to amplify Ivor the Engine and drown out her own daughter. Her glass of advocaat sat at hand half hidden behind a photo of her dead husband. His vicar smile cheerily alibi to the denial of her quick tot.

The funeral itself, however, was deeply entertaining.
My mother’s extended family rose from the pages of Debrett to sit tight-lipped in ancestral pews and pass poisonous judgement with pleasing frequency. “Has she managed to orf-load what Elspeth calls the White Elephant…?” one rello whispered about another’s misery with the housing market.
Elspeth, suddenly aurally alert, shot daggers at being crucially implicated in an insult which left the reporting rello untainted.
She narrowed her eyes. “My cancer sticks, Thomas.”
In those days smoking at funerals was all but expected and Elspeth was content, in this only, to oblige. Husband Thomas, Knight of the Realm and, more crucially, keeper of the cancer sticks, fumbled with the stiff switch of the rigid triangular bag owned by all elderly ladies in those days, and carried by their husbands. A cigarette was obediently located and transferred and the new owner’s fingers irritably clicked for a lighter. Never happier than in a state of suspended dissatisfaction. Sir Thomas panicked and forced his arthritic digits into the unyielding folds of the triangle. Elspeth waited icily, her hand out, her expression elsewhere. The things you remember.

Meanwhile, the vicar was talking, a grim hymn was endured and another reluctant sprig of the family was ushered in.
A nervous nephew hovered, hopelessly, too tall at the lectern, “Aunt Isobel,” he began, stooping into a non-existent microphone. “Aunt Isobel survived an illness which would have killed a better person.”
The silence grew new textures. The family exchanged a ripple of thrilled glances and pursed lips.
Little J clattered out of the pews.
“Gorn to put the heating on!” percolated Aunt Elspeth in a Revenge is a Dish voice, “Marjorie says. She waits – seems – til the headlights come rahnd the corner, at the bottom of the drive. Puts the heating on then. Not before. Freezing!” She happily mimed a brrrrr. Thomas dodged the vibrating fag end.
Marjorie mangled her triangular bag. Her time would come.
“I mean,” said the nephew, a little too late, flustered, “an illness which would have killed a lesser person.”

Back at the house, the hospitality failed to reach the Norfolk heights even of lunch. We were introduced to second cousins. A succession of Flavias and Hugos and Jaspers all of whom’d populated Eton’s Pop and trounced the bladdy locals at lacrosse in Argentina passed before us in a fleshy, entitled blur. We’d heard all about them. Their blank faces suggested derring-do tales of the black sheep end of the line hadn’t travelled north.
“Oh!” said my brother cheerfully extending his easy-going hand, “D’you hate us as much as we hate you?”

My mother proffered the fruit cake, cooked against the much-anticipated, never-experienced breakdown on the motorway. It was fallen upon and divvied up. We never saw a slice.
“Tay, darling?” it was Little J, tottering on heels, hair awry, skin flushed from an unshared gin, a teapot dangling worryingly from a tiny wrist, “Nevvies aw string?”
Our heads cocked like Lolly’s. Uncomprehending.
“She says Navvies or Strong,” boomed Marjorie in that stage whisper they all shared, “She means Navvies or Drawing Room. You’ll get Navvies.”
My mother likes tea where the water has been told that there’s a bag in the room, but one never so vulgar actually as to mingle with the old H2O.
My father has control issues with milk allocation. Less being so very much more. Tea at the hand of others is never going to go well. Both blanched. “Nevvies or String” became a family catchphrase.
In the distance, Little J was trilling at The Young, at the bloated Flavias and Jaspers and Hugos, “Chraist, Ai don’t know; just forage, dahlings, forage.” That’s become a catchphrase, too.
“Everything AOK?” barked Thomas, “Marvellous.”

When we got home, Granny phoned, “Darling,” she commanded. We could all hear, whether in the room or not, “Tell me about the wedding.”
“Funeral, Mother, funeral,” my mother corrected. “It was your sister’s funeral.” A dismissive paw cutting the air could also be heard. Details, shmdetails. “Little J,” Granny settled back for a laugh, advocaat loosening the throat, “What was Little J wearing?”

Back in 2011, we entered the Drawing Room of the Town Hall (£9 the poorer), hissing and tutting. We’d forgotten the cheque for the music teacher and had to rummage a lie. A sea of the local smart school gels filled the seats. The beastly competition. They bustled back and forwards, back and forwards, at one with the Steinway, laughing and tossing their glorious hair.
We caught eyes us 4 and flared nostrils.
They announced their pieces with glorious confidence, Hong Kong via America, yah. They played with confident aplomb. What the adjudicator later called “robustness”. They were well attended, not necessarily by parents, but by a buffering of teachers. A floppy haired man passed his hand through his rampant wiggy follicles and fiddled with his glasses and bopped up and down with studied self-regard to turn the pages.

T14 played very well. He didn’t win. He didn’t stand a chance. The adjudicator ran through the results, entrant by entrant. At the end, the floppy haired man stood up, “Er,” he said irritably, bladdy amateurs, “you seem to have forgotten Sophie!”
The adjudicator shot a horn-rimmed glance and the audience rustled to show that no, Sophie had not been forgotten. We’d all noted Sophie and her robustness. Sophie looked embarrassed. “Oh, OK,” Floppy conceded, flapping an off-hand hand. “My mistake.”
“Who’s else would it be?” said F12 with Family loudness.

We walked across to PizzaExpress. I fiddled with slight panic in my audience attendance kit for the PizzaExpress vouchers – last seen on the kitchen island.
“You seem to have forgotten Sophie,” bellowed F12.
“NO! My mistake!” shouted T14.
They muttered together. Even crossing the road seismic changes can happen. I tensed for the push, the shove, the “He started it!”
T14 was glued to his iPod. “I seriously can’t stand … ” he burst out laughing, “I seriously can’t stand it when a sentence doesn’t end the way you think it octopus.”
We laughed.


mountainear said...

Great read Milla - really cheered up a wet Monday. Ta!

Frances said...

Milla, your excellent writing and obervational skills have allowed us to tag along to these f-amily outings without actually having to attend either.

Thank you!

Naturally, as I was reading, my own mind began to wander down various memory lanes to places I had actually visited. Some of these journeys are beginning to seem more amusing as time goes by.


babs4760 said...

I really enjoyed reading this - some laugh out loud moments -I shall become a follower whatever that means!

Shiny said...

Ah, those family dos. We had a Great Aunt who gave the family grandfather clock to her daughter instead of my uncle creating a family ruction of momentous proportion and earning her the name Evil Aunt Nan forever more. She didn't have a hope really, being the daughter of my great grandmother, who ignored her brother in a fit of snobbery... because he was the lift man in the big department store in Johannesburg (elevator man? Whatever the right term is - he was the guy who pressed the buttons for you, back in the day when, well, people were incapable of pushing them themselves apparently.)

See? Family. Got to love them. Fabulous story telling, thank you x

Good grief, my word veri is 'presser'.

Milla said...

argh, stupid blogger didn't let me leave myself a comment. And I hadn't even sworn.
So I was thanking the 2 Fs, muchly.
And saying how wise and kind Babs is.
And ruing being an Aunt myself to Shiny, for clearly the only way is down, especially if someone else can press the buttons for you.
Thanks very much for comments!

legend in his own lunchtime said...

Just off to catch my flight back to the UK. I'm glad I got to read this before I went. I'd have hated to miss this.

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Very enjoyable - as always, I love the interaction with dog! Lesley

Chris Stovell said...

Milla, where is your novel? Please?

Expat mum said...

"My mother likes tea where the water has been told that there’s a bag in the room" - Ha! Best phrase ever. I am going to Tweet it and then figure out how to work it into my next conversation with someone!

Fred said...

Some things in life just can't be explained and top of the list is 'How in God's name does Milla not have a publishing contract?'

Quite, quite brilliant, as always.

However, slightly concerned that Milla-Mater uses teabags.....

elizabethm said...

I too like tea which has been told there is a bag in the room. Being forgetful and married to someone tight (but lovely) I achieve it by reusing the same bag until the sheen on it begins to look a little too like mould. Loved this Milla, thank you for enlivening my Monday.

Preseli Mags said...

Great read Milla and as ever I am in awe of your prose. I loved "My mother put her smart coat on and a fruit cake in the boot of the Jag." Perfect - and the tea one and "tight-lipped in ancestral pews and pass poisonous judgement". Lush (as my nine-year-old would say.)

Exmoorjane said...

It's a novel....FFS, it just needs another 80K words... simples.
Just LOVED the bit about it being the perfect starter funeral. Choice as always, m'dear.

rachel said...

A great post; every family should have ancestral remarks to utter, set to Embarrassment pitch. My mother was mistress of the stage whisper, and we learned at a very young age to look unmortified.

Posie said...

Milla, that had me in knots and could so relate to some of the household conversations and frustrations esp with the berludy computer.
You capture it all so well...yes please ...a book!!

Edward said...

Fabulous, as always. Bits of the funeral scene were more like poetry than anything, and Granny's mistaking the funeral for a wedding most amusing. The boys are still saying "You seem to have forgotten Sophie!" I sense another family catchphrase coming into being.

Milla said...

thank you, cyber chums. You are lovely people all.
Ledge, cor, God forbid you'd contemplate flying over fuss-arsing around on the internet. Just don't.
Sea blue sky - she's yours, all yours.
Chris, ahem, fidget. Er, let's talk about yours. Whaddyamean you've already written one? Whaddyamean TWO! Show-off.
Expat, steal away. I think I nicked it from Dickens. There was definitely an unplaced illness in a room once. Downgraded to a teabag. That's the C21for you.
Fred, blessikins. Teabags. Cringing now. Am a coffee lover, tea loather so the niceties are oft forgot. Is she a Leaves Lady. I must ask.

Milla said...

Thanks for the re-tweet young PM. But I'm getting excitable now and rather hoping that that's a Gurt Lush, not a mere lush. Little J would agree.
Ta Janey. The best funerals always have the brute trapped in the box at the centre of them, apparently she was the worst of the lot. I feel strangely cheated.
Hi Rachel, "learnt to look unmortified" you say. Too little too late. Could explain where I've been going wrong. Mistress of the nasty hiss, me.
Howdy Posie, yes, the computer. Fear am becoming an old bag. My incompetent crashing away at it seems to be seeping into every post.
Oi, Edward. You think I don't know. My mistake. Ob-viously.

Bluestocking Mum said...

You see - I'm not the only one Mrs... Harrumph! I've told her about writing the ruddy book 'til I'm blue in the face!

Fabulous, as always.

PS - Couldn't see what was wrong
with pink glittery eyeshadow btw ;)

Fennie said...

Gosh - two blogs for the price of one. A calming moment - to share your stress and distress all at the same time. sad though that T14 didn't win. I thought we were coming to that. Still it's nice to know that
'...when you go to a funeral,
sooner or l'
ater those you love will do the same for you'.

As the great Tom Lehrer sang and played, not Schubert, but songs of his own making, this being 'For we'll all go together when we go.'

I wonder if he meant Norfolk?

Exmoorjane said...

I love you. SOOOO much. That's all. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jake Barton said...

Milla, I suspect we may be related as I'm sure we attend the same funerals. Wonderfully descriptive and a sheer delight. Otherwise, not bad!