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Wednesday 29 February 2012


“Grab your coat, love, we’re going to Cineworld,” Sartre said. “All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned in books. Wanna see a film.”
Simone de B grudgingly rammed her toes in too-small, too high shoes, mumbling “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Then, “Wait up, I’ve lost me keys!”
She set her mobile dutifully to ‘silent’ and trotted out to tread the sticky pavements with her paramour, mindful of the damp in the air, the frizz it would make of her hair, “To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job,” she told herself for the look on his face, determined beneath the erroneously jaunty angle of the beret, was enough to prompt her to a wiser silence.
Had she not been such a beaten down little soul, she might have said, “Hey, Jean Paul, you know what Bargain Tuesday at Cineworld actually means, yeah? Cheap for us, maybe, but cheap for everyone else, too. It’ll bring ‘em all flooding in.”

When Sartre realised he’d left his wallet at home, Simone was happy to pay. “Buying is a profound pleasure,” she said, keeping hold of JP’s ticket. A whizz with thoughts, he was not to be trusted with a square of paper.

So it was that I, too, bought a ticket yesterday for “Tyrannosaur.” The timings meant that my choices were down to that, the Marigold Hotel film (uplifting comedy) or the Muppets. Tyrannosaur had been up for a BAFTA, a cheery clip of the wholesome Olivia Coleman, fresh from Rev, and offering prayers to God, had been shown on the telly so it had to be good, right?
The rating of 18 failed to register at the time. I’ve thought before: nothing higher than a 12A, but forgot come the vinegar stroke.

I snagged my favourite seat. Bang in the middle of the back row. What luck! The aisle feeds up to it meaning plenty of legroom. No one behind, no one in front. Perfect.
A grim French couple trudged up behind me, her tugging at her coat, him fiddling with cigarettes he could not smoke. They gave me a look and settled resentfully for nearby seats.
“C’est un outrage,” he purred.
“Sssh, JP,” she soothed, “In the face of an obstacle which is impossible to overcome, stubbornness is stupid.”

The film opened with a bang, a volley of expletives and a man kicking a dog to death. The audience, sparsely spread, Britishly aware of personal space, settled happily into their popcorn (£7.20 a bucket and a vat of nasty Coke. £7.20!).

A few people felt the need to text someone. I thought of Marigold Hotel with longing.
The first of the latecomers shuffled in, rustling their bags, Tesco, Wilkinson’s, Boots; pausing in the aisle, blocking my view, sniffing and barging into a happenstance row, trampling on toes. And then another, twin to the first, sniffs and blunders. The bags crackling as they sighed to a sit.
A couple, young, vigorous, the sort who’d snog, two-stepped the stairs, nearer and nearer …
I stiffened.
They wouldn’t!
They did.
They sat to my right. Right to my right, hard up against me. No gap inbetween. I bristled and lurched to my left.
A further couple sauntered in, reeking of smoke and chatting. They sat themselves hard to my left. I wanted to cry. Sandwiched by weirdoes.
Sartre chortled, “All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.”
I consoled myself with leg room which was all that remained of my earlier seat triumph, and the man to my left emitted the first in a 90-minute long sequence of meaty little burps.

Fully 20 people trailed in late. The poor, the dispossessed shuffling in to watch versions of themselves on screen. I clutched my bag the tighter and pursed my lips and breathed through my mouth. Difficult but doable when needs must.

The film continued in merry vein. Olivia Coleman’s husband peed on her and she developed the first of many black eyes. She scowled at Jesus, hanging on her wall, and swigged on vodka. Joseph, the dog killer, smashed in his corrugated shed and sat on his sofa, which lay in what passed for his garden. This displeased a tattooed lardy chap in a wifebeater who lived with sundry similars, a defeated rag of a female and her sweet little boy. The tattooed lardy chap strained, like Ben Hur at his chariot reins, behind a pumped-up brute of a dog swaddled in chains. The dog snarled. The sweet little boy played with his teddy. A night out constituted lying poleaxed in the garden following a good kicking in.

“One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion, non?” Simone whispered urgently to Sartre.
“Wrong film for that, love,” he said, “Man is fully responsible for his nature and his choices.”
“But that poor little boy,” said Simone.
“Sshhh,” I said. The poor little boy was breaking my heart.

You know what’s coming. With a bleak inevitability, the teddy was sundered and the little boy sobbed over its remnants. But this was no mere metaphor for what was later meted out to Olivia Coleman and to the sweet little boy himself. Battered, eaten faces were presented good side first.

“Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have.” Sartre said to console Simone. She nodded, snuffling into her hanky. I longed for Kermit, Miss Piggy. Bloody BAFTA nominations.

Someone a row or 2 down sent a text.

Straws rattled over dying ice chasing the expensive swills of Coke. Echoes of chomps at the smelly noise of popcorn formed a susurrus backdrop to the quiet bits of the film. The quiet bits being almost worse than the noisy bits.
Joseph took a baseball bat to the dog and sat with its head on his knee. Just its head. I think it must have been the baseball bat which was up for the BAFTA, best supporting actor.

The man next to me burbled a worrying string of burps.

We learned that the tyrannosaur of the title was one who escaped the life on offer, but not without a spell as a blind, double amputee. Still, she was someone to envy, the one who got away. The other one who got away was found slumped in blood against a wardrobe circled by flies. A wake following the funeral of a third lucky, lucky dead bastard was the high point, the cheery bit, the laughs to offset the pain.
The film ended. It wasn’t the sort where you waited to see who did the music. It was one to run from into the night, whatever the night might bring you.

I legged it, pledging never again. I brushed past someone French. He was leaning against his girlfriend. He was complaining. “Jamais non plus,” he said, “Hell is other people.”
"Shurrup," muttered Simone, "Someone'll stab you."

Monday 30 January 2012


Some of F13’s class were on the front page of the local paper last week, beaming quite convincingly over some Haggis they had made in class. One can only assume they'd not yet put fork of same to mouth. What remained of F13’s sat untouched in the fridge awaiting loin girding. I've had haggis once. Never again. It had been badly closed up, the box it came in because F13 himself had closed it, and had splurted and spattered sheep stomach stuff inside his new backpack. Gagging, I’d cleaned it, scrubbing at the gummy zips.

“Why weren’t you in the picture?” I asked, raw of hand.
He shrugged.
“It would have been lovely to have had a picture of you.”
“Why?” he said, “you can see me any time.” A literal child can be a tedious thing.
“I could have sent it to people,” I said, wading further into pathetic land.
“People who want a picture of me already have one,” he said. “Besides, the paper came during lunch time.”
“Ah, so you chose to stuff your face rather than get in the photo?”
“I have to eat –“
“Everyone has to eat. You can eat anytime.”
“I’m a busy man; my lunch takes ages.”

His lunch is barely liftable. I get his point. I do do good lunch, I like to feed my little men up, and sometimes feel a bit Witch to their Hansel and Gretel, but still my children are skinny. They would remain in the cage and I would stay hungry were I in the business of fattening them up for the pot.
But in a week when a smartie sandwich was in the papers, I can be relied upon to be smack-worthily smug about the worthy little pots of olives and chicken rolls, homemade brownies, yoghurts and fruit that are stuffed, holiday-suitcase-ful, into my boys’ lunchboxes.

When I did a stint as a dinner lady at their primary schools (strictly on an opening packets of crisps basis, and saying, “Eat nicely, Benjamin”: no hairnets, no ladles, no twizzlers), there was one family. I rather liked them, a travelling family permanently outgrowing their static caravan, as child after child was born to join the wild straggle of siblings and cousins.
The children were sweeties and so were their lunches. A typical offering comprised a mini packet of sugary cereal, a box of tic-tacs. Maybe a bald piece of steamed dough. “Our” children were not allowed sweets, or chocolate and glared droolingly at the Haribos constituting these children’s meals, the lone slice of toxic pink penis masquerading as meat, the chemical crisps.

I hesitated, but spoke to the Head about it. It was heartbreaking seeing them eat such crap, their building blocks being E numbers and fat.
She made a brusque cutting swipe with her hand. “Racial,” she said, “Can’t do a thing about it. Oh, and that reminds me.” She’d bustle off, and on days such as that would a letter come home from school regarding suitable lunches.
“It has come to my attention,” the Head would megaphone, “that some parents are still sending in grapes unhalved. Choking constitutes a real problem with grapes unless halved. And may I remind parents that as well as operating a strict no nut policy, we have also banned kiwi fruit on health and safety grounds. Your cooperation is appreciated.” I would scan the letter, trawling for spoken, and then unspoken, strictures on supplying boxes of cereal, tubs of tic-tacs and found them missing.

No one wanted the haggis. The fridge door opened, and closed. Evasive action was taken to jiggle it to the back, out of sight, out of mind, to let it rot in quiet until a quiet funeral could be arranged in the bin. I had thought that E might choke it down. He is, when it suits, half Scottish. I was wrong. He evinced minus interest in it and was quite rude.
It served one useful purpose, however, for which much thanks. Food which traditionally might go down badly (fish pie, say) when offered up with a dangling, “Or there’s the haggis…” was temporarily greeted with relieved gusto.
The haggis grew a crust.

The inevitable happened. The dog perked up. She skittered and danced on clattery nails when out it came, eagerly dancing it to her bowl. It had shrunk and sat resentful on its plate but was pounced on with grateful relish by the easily pleased in our midst. She downed it in big, gulping glugs, taking out much of the silver foil too.
She smacked her lips, thrilled, and looked around for more, hoping perhaps even for a box of tic-tacs, a packet of cereal of dubious date, a Haribo. Unconsidered trifles which the fusspots eschew. Giddy days, dog, but not that giddy.

Thursday 26 January 2012


I bumped into Mrs Lovely.
“Apparently, I’m Uber Bitch from Hell today,” she said. “I’d even rather be out here, with Muffin in the rain,” (she indicated erstwhile perfect hair and both of us avoided taking in Muffin who was busy dry humping this footstool of a dog he favours for stress relief). “They all hate me.”
“More than usual?” I asked.
“I’ve lost the router.”

Modern parenting requires that we let our children go on the internet, “for homework,” and onto games consoles, “because I’ve done my homework,” and then – often while crouched over our own phones scrolling and clicking and somewhat glassy-eyed – deplore the beast that electronics make of our offspring and crossly stride round the house confiscating remotes and controls and, in Mrs Lovely’s case of final defiance, the router.

“I put it somewhere safe,” she wailed. “I only wanted Lulu to do her homework but she wouldn’t get off Facebook.”
“Fatal,” I said. A Safe Place has cost us all dear, and I’ve seen scraps break out between random teens in the library over Facebook so resonance was there.
“And I’m just worried I’ve left it in TK Maxx. But that’d be Melanie’s fault.”

Melanie, good twin, it seemed had expressed a desire for heels.
“So I found some, £89 –”
“£89!!” I squealed, “Are you MAD!”
“Reduced … to … £7!” finished Mrs Lovely triumphantly. “They had a six inch heel and I, well I felt like Prince Charming with Cinderella’s slippers.”
“Jeez, six inches! Is she mad?” Some slutty old Cinderella, no wonder she took a tumble come pumpkin time.
“Not. High. Enough,” said Mrs Lovely.
We were both silenced.
“But I feel too tall for heels at 5’7”,” I said.
“Same here,” she said. “But, no, Melanie wanted 7. Or. 8. So I had to take them back and I’m just wondering about the bag, and the router, and would I have thought that that was a safe place?”

We pondered the tippytoey nonsense of heels of 8” and the folly of safe places which often have to be drummed up at speed and regretted later.
“How tall is she?” I asked.
“5’8”. And the boys are all … so high.” Her illustrative hand hovered around our waists. We had munchkin men and monster girls.
“And what about Lulu?” I asked, needing a quick fix of Lulu. It had been a while.
“Shaved hair,” she said, closing her eyes. “All round here, round the back, up the sides. Floppy bit. You can tell she hates it. But she won’t say a word.”

I thought of all the words we don’t say. And the ones we do. Usually the nonsense ones. Lives lived on a level of exchanging trivia and needing something to laugh at to take the edge off. And that sometimes we take an extra turn around the field, despite the rain and the mud and the dogs being vile just because it provides a beautiful void and is in itself a safe place.

Tuesday 22 November 2011


The glamour in my life has reached new heights. Or plumbed new depths.
“Yeah, I was wondering why you were wearing that dressing gown,” said the builder.
“It’s just so bloody cold,” I muttered.
“Turn the heating on,” he said with an extravagant gesture. “Sod global warming, sod the heating bill.”
“What! You leave the doors open every minute of the day!” I squeaked. “I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he conceded. “Fair point. Got any more tea? Got any of that Earl Grey?”

The house is slowly collapsing; lintels and steels, switches, a socket, a tank. There’s one main builder, and a succession of dusty chaps barging in with wet boots on pale carpet. The dust-sheets are pushed aside. When they’re not pushed aside, but are collected up, they are shaken out in situ, carefully folded, given another Pumph! And then dropped on the floor. I’m sneezing as much as the dog. The dog’s giving me a “want to borrow my collar?” look.

Time was when the builders were the thick ones, they built because they had to, because there was nothing else. Now they stroll in at half 9, are off again by 3 (to take in a Pilates class, perhaps linger in Waitrose), pausing long enough to create havoc, demand tea and present unspeakable bills. Nice work. Well, I say work, a lot of eating upmarket sandwiches goes on, too, and Making Calls, striding about laughing at the paucity of the signal here. What was I thinking of wasting my time on Greek ‘O’ Level?
One of them, the most part-time of a group of thoroughly part-timers, is frightfully well-spoken. E has no idea where to put his McDonald’s accent. This is the voice he uses to order a McD for the children, or to chat with builders. Apart from when the builder clearly went to Eton. I caught him doing a half-way house version of it. Not good. He calls it camouflage. I call it bloody awful.

The house is shrouded in dust. Worse than normal, I mean. And where it’s not dusty, it’s damp. A double whammy of having a new steel inserted where it was previously thought to have been all along, and indeed had been signed off as such by the council inspector, and an overflowing water tank. Damp and dust, mildew and cracks. Marvellous. And the kettle threatening to strike.

The big beam and a load of purlins up in the attic took care of any foolish dreams we might have entertained of a summer holiday. Looks like the steel is going to do for Christmas. My how we laugh. And huddle in our dressing gowns.

The doors are permanently open and being slammed with a house-shaking certainty. I don’t know how the builder does it. Truth is, his mind's not on the job. It's Putin that's getting to him at the moment. "Why do they keep voting these buggers back in?" he says.

Shock, or something like it, made the dog throw up. Twice. Both times half onto her bed, half on the rug and half on the wooden floor Yes, three halves. I’m not going to say thirds, you’ll think I’ve measured it. Instead I dealt with it, juddering with horror particularly where the underfloor heating, now that the pump has been fixed, gently baked it. And when I say “fixed” I mean hit with a spanner by someone to whom I then had to write a large cheque.
There was an element of splatter involved in the resentful scrubbing which I have yet to process fully out of my memory. Needless to say the dog has not apologised. Indeed, she yawned irritably when I gave her a look.

I edged her, with some bad temper, a look, and the side of my foot, out of the dog door, out of the house, into Dog Shit Alley in order that she might contemplate her crimes. Reflect. Not a kick as such but perhaps a physical equivalence of what my father used to call “raising his voice” and what the rest of the world would call “shouting.”
There was a joyous leap and the brute was gone. The joyous yelp was mine. The builder had left the gate leading onto the front open. Of course he had, he’s the builder. So it was a snuffle and a leap and a trot down Dog Shit Alley, out out and away, and off.
That glorious moment, my burden lifted. I toyed with a beautiful future, and the likelihood of a truck tearing down the road round …. about …. now! and ….
Dreams of “Bye Bye, dog!” went up in a puff of smoke by the grim reappearance of the builder and his retrieval of the dog and her barging her way back in, bored and sulky, through the front of the house, filthy pawmarks joining the builders’ bootprints. Did she shake her collar? It’s safe to assume she did.

Then the inspector came and said dull things about pre-stressed lintels and patch points. I, the little woman of the piece, trudged down to make tea.
“Nice car,” I heard the builder say. The inspector perked up. I guessed they weren’t discussing my ancient Toyota. Or stressed lintels once the bill-payer had buggered off. The builder’s phone rang, and he was soon deep in conversation. I really hope I didn’t hear “colour therapy” mentioned.

The inspector left and the builder and I watched him go. “What’s the car then?” I asked as the inspector three point turned in a swirl of dust.
“Lotus,” said the builder. “Nice. He’ll have a good pension sorted, too. And BUPA.” He bit on his gold-plated apple and narrowed his eyes. His van’s full of DVDs from the hospital about some health regime he’s on. “DVDs and leaflets,” he’d said when I’d asked what the films were; we’d been talking about breastfeeding and “The Slap” and I’d glanced in his van. “Can’t get out of the hospital without a shedload more DVDs. I say to them, I say, ‘I hope this isn’t coming out of my taxes,’ ‘Nah,’ they say, ‘that’s the pharmaceutical companies, that is.’”
“Bloody hell,” I said. “Yesterday, I wanted to be a builder – you know, have the heating on without thinking, go on holiday.” The builder nodded. “Today I reckon working for the council’s got to be worth a look.”
“Or the pharmaceutical companies,” said the builder, “There’s a lot of work involved being a builder.”
“Indeed?” I said, “I guess.” In a parallel universe, perhaps. I offered: “Lifting and stuff? That’s what put me off.”
“Yeah,” he said, “And really messy. Oh, and I’ll be in late in the morning. I’ve got acupuncture first thing.”
Of course.
“I’ll be here,” I said. Well. I can’t afford to go anywhere else. And I’ve got a nice dressing gown needs wearing. As I said … the glamour.