Running out of foundation (the kind you slap on your face, not the kind you wear under 16 layers of clothing now it’s the end of ‘summer’* ). Place almost-empty plastic bottle into clear plastic bag in case it discovers a hitherto hidden pocket of gloop once it’s in my handbag.
Go into pharmacy store I won’t name because you know how the internet hates any form of advertising, so let’s just call it ‘Shoes’.** In fact, only go into it myself because I have a gift voucher as compensation for standing in another branch of the chain last week for 1hr 20 minutes, after which time I *still* left without my medication, but that’s another post.
Approach counter of cosmetics brand. Talk to plastic woman, whose epidermis arrived in position 5 minutes before the rest of her did, as she’s wearing so many layers of slap, it’s visible from the International Space Station.
“I’d like one of these, please,” I say, as I hold up the diaphanous bag (it’s also see-through) which contains the beige tube of gunk. (I have to take it with me, as there are so many adjectives in the description of what it does, it’ll be the end of next summer* before I remember them all).
She takes the bag from me and looks at the front the of the bottle.
“I need to see the back of it for the shade,” she tells me. And she makes to remove the bottle from the clear holdall.
“You don’t need to take it out,” I proffer helpfully, in a loving and caring, derisory sniggering kind of a way. “The bag’s see-through on all sides.”
She snorts. She turns the bag around. All on her own, but then, I am in a hysterical heap on the floor at this point. She gleans the information and finds the product in her drawers. (Now don’t start). I say thank you, hand over my gift card and scarper to split my sides on the sidewalk. (What?)
What makes me think she’s a Brexit voter?
* Old English word you may not have come across if you’re under 108
** Other footwear names are available
A long time ago and far away (well, it was the 1970s, but with the country having voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum, I now realise it’s not as far away as I first thought) I was a waitress in a burger bar (won’t disclose which chain here, but suffice to say I wasn’t at all wimpy*). I’d present myself every Friday and Saturday night for a shift which began at 5pm and ended at 1am, at which point I had to mop the floors, before stashing my lavish wages of 50p an hour into my postage stamp holder and crawling home to bed; the job supplemented the student grant I received while at music college, learning how to play the violin badly. (You think it’s a natural talent?! I put hours of practice into it!)
It was at this mystery fast food establishment that I learned to engage in what is now known as ‘banter’. Groups of young people would come in for a good time** baiting me with things like: “Give me a crocodile sandwich, and make it snappy,” and I would respond with an apposite quip. On one occasion, a table of around ten had a whip round and left a tip of seven quid; that was a lot of money in those days.***
I didn’t get to keep this money for myself, mind. There were two waitresses on shift at a time, and I had the misfortune to work with a very lazy girl, who always let me get to new customers first, safe in the knowledge we shared the gratuities between us. Nevertheless, I was highly conscientious, and worked hard all night. A big plus of working there was the free meal they gave us each evening: as much savoury stuff as we wanted (not sure how I put away the double burger, double chips, double beans and two eggs in one go, especially as I was as thin as the meat patties, but since this was practically the only food I was eating all week, put it away twice a weekend I did).
NB: We weren’t allowed the (in)famous Rum Baba dessert, but this, I can assure you, was a blessing.
I relate this to you here because I’m not entirely sure what’s happened to the hospitality sector in the intervening decades; lazy waitress partner aside, standards appear to have fallen somewhat. (The violin playing hasn’t got much better either, to be honest, but for now we’ll just file that under How I Got Into Comedy). I’ve had three experiences recently which lead me to scratch my head in wonderment at how the UK became the progressive, forward-thinking land of opportunity it now is. [SNIGGERS]
Last month I was invited to a networking event in a hired space with a bar. The organiser was told he could staff the bar with his own er, staff, and so chose a very sweet young man who – and this might not have been the best idea, in retrospect – had never been to a bar in his life, let alone worked behind one. Espying a few puzzled faces walking around with the head of their beer taller than they were, I ask him for a glass of red wine.
“Have we got any wine?” he ponders out loud.
“Yes,” I reply, “you can track it down to that wine bottle behind you.”
He turns around and expresses surprise, before moving the bottle in front of me, as if this is the extent of the service he is offering.
“You’re going to have to open it,” I proffer, in what I imagine is a helpful way, though that turns out not to be the case.
After a bit of a Mexican standoff (Donald Trump has the same problem), my eyes gesture to a corkscrew, one of the type with arms.
“Aha!” he aha-s. And with a confident lunge, clasping the arms tight to the screw part with his left hand, he pierces the cork with the pointy end, before turning the corkscrew clockwise with his right hand. Naturally, not much happens. I watch him for a while, thinking he’ll catch on to what was not happening, but no, on and on he goes, manfully stopping the arms from rising upwards as is their job, pointlessly spinning the corkscrew around in what’s left of the cork.
“It’s got arms,” I tell him. “You have to take your hand away”.
And with that, he takes his right hand away, the hand that was doing the rotating.
“No!” I cry, almost with laughter, but now aware the prospect of a glass of wine is receding to a distance further off than the 70s. “The other hand!”
Eventually, dear reader, he cottons on, and lets the arms of the corkscrew spring free, bringing half the cork with it.
He looks at me. I look at him. Is there another bottle? I ask. No, there isn’t. Of course not.
It being impossible to remove the remainder of what’s left of the cork from the bottle – namely, thousands of tiny cork granules – with any kind of upwards extrication operation, it is then down to me to push it into the bottle with a knife he manages to locate when I ask him to find one. He pours the wine.
How is it? he enquires politely. Chewier than I normally go for, I say.
Lovely friend sends me a message one afternoon – he’s in my neck of the woods, would I like to meet for a drink at the place on the corner close to where I live? Love to, I reply. Just got to finish a couple of emails. I’ll get them in, he says. What would you like?
I give him my coffee order, and ten minutes later I arrive to find it waiting for me at the table, along with him. We talk, we laugh, we cry (we’re both Jewish, what do you want, FGS) we fancy a refill. So I go up to the bar.
“An orange juice with ice,” I say, “and I’ll have another single-shot, skinny latte, please”.
If you thought Manuel was dead, I’ve got news for you.
“Que?” the barman almost says, in some kind of Manuelish accent. “Espresso?”
“No,” I reply. “A latte, with one shot, and skinny milk”.
“Que?” he almost says again. “A cup of sausage? A platter of goat particles? A glass of strong aftershave with the pigment of a tanned Italian playboy?”
I call my friend’s name and he looks round from the table. “I may be some time,” I explain, “I think I’m taking part in a sketch”.
Finally, once the bar manager appears, he starts to understand and finally, I get my coffee.
“You wan’ sugar?” he asks.
“No thanks,” I say, “just another server”. He nods, as if he understands. Which, of course, he doesn’t. In any sense.
Tuesday August 8th. Fancy film industry lunch which takes place every summer at a fancy hotel in Brighton Marina. We convene in the bar before sitting down in a function room for a three-course lunch. Only wine isn’t included, and since my table neighbour bought me a drink earlier, I grab my purse and leave the room to buy wine in the bar.
“Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, please,” I say.
“Large?” she responds.
“Yes please,” I answer, uncertain as to what kind of a girl she thinks I am.
She fills two glasses almost to the level of the almost halfway mark painted onto the vessel.
“That’s eighteen pounds, please”.
She spots the aghast look on my face. “Oh, sorry,” she says quickly, grabbing the wine list, “that should be twenty-six pounds, please”. *****
“Thirteen pounds for a glass of wine?!” I splutter.
“Well,” she says, “much cheaper to buy it by the bottle”.
“How much is a bottle?” I ask.
“Thirty six pounds,” she says.
“How much is a bottle of the house dry white?” I manage to get out, at the same time daydreaming about strangling her.
“Twenty pounds,” she sniffs.
“Well, I’ll take one of those instead”, I tell her.
“So you don’t want the Sauvignon Blanc at all?” she asks, unnecessarily.
“Not even a tiny bit,” I say, necessarily.
She looks a tad disgusted, and – even though others are now waiting for her services around the bar – grabs the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc the two half glasses of plonk came from, and endeavours to pour the wine I have rejected back into it. This naturally takes some time. She then washes the now empty glasses in the bar sink, before trying to dry them with a completely ineffectual white tea-towel – the professional type that doesn’t dry anything.
“Haven’t you got some other glasses?” I ask, with what I hope isn’t my last breath.
“No,” she says flatly. “There’s your party, and a wake in the adjoining room.”
If you don’t hurry up, I think, there’ll be another wake before long.
Then, without a word, she walks out from behind the bar and leaves the room. I look at the others waiting to be served. Nobody has a bloody clue as to what’s going on.
We wait for a full five minutes before she reappears with a black, plastic ice bucket. She sticks the bottle of house white into it, tries to rest both glasses on top, before taking one away and handing it to me along with the ice bucket (it’s a good job I’ve got three hands, I can tell you).
“Thank you,” I might have said. But then again, I might not.
The people on my table look quite surprised when I re-enter the room and sit down; were they trying to remember who I was? Or was it that I nearly missed the Christmas pudding?
*Other burger chains were available. If indeed I’m talking about the burger chain I’m not talking about.
**Even so, some of them ate the food
***It’s a lot of money now: you could spend a penny 14 times for that at Victoria Station before they abolished the fee earlier this year
****That’s the end of the asterisk thing. It’s even getting on my nerves now.
*****OK, so I lied, what you gonna do? Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted, prices have not been inflated for comedic effect, she really did try to charge me £26 for two half glasses of wine. You really have to stop being quite so cynical, you know.
In a hurry, have train to catch, but need to purchase some books as a present on the way. And where better to do that than in a book store, I hear you ask. (Should have just thought it if you were concerned about data protection. Don’t say I didn’t warn you for next time).
I arrive at specially selected book store. Specially selected because it’s in right front of me, but let’s not quibble so early into this post, OK? Gaze up at floor plan of floors (don’t start), searching desperately for Comedy or Humour (yes, yes, just like in this blog) but no Comedy or Humour to be found anywhere (don’t even bother). Nobody around to ask, so queue at the counter. Counter person (eventually) helpful. “4th floor,” she says with a smile. “Of course it is,” I reply.
Make my way over to the elevator, where two women are already waiting. Nothing happens for five minutes until one woman snorts and says to the other: “Tsk. Forgot to press the button”. (She means of the lift. She’s already pressed mine). The small light informing would-be elevator users where the car is starts to flicker almost imperceptibly, showing the number 4. Of course it does. We wait. We look at our watch. We swear under our breath. Another five minutes pass, and the women walk away, quite possibly to find a snail to hitch their wagon to, as that would be faster. Finally, the World’s Slowest Elevator arrives at the ground floor. The doors open, I step inside. The doors begin to close, then open again to let someone else in, a situation that repeats itself a couple more times. Start to think it would have been quicker to source and hire a helicopter, and drop out over the roof tied to a long rope.
We start to ascend. Well, the World’s Slowest Elevator starts the World’s Slowest Ascent. We deposit a couple of customers on various floors and then, after three weeks, arrive at Floor 4. The woman in front of me steps out. I step out. The woman in front of me decides she doesn’t much care for the look of Floor 4, so turns abruptly and, in her effort to catch the World’s Slowest Elevator before the World’s Slowest Elevator Doors close, steps on me. Completely pissed off by this time, I exclaim: “Sorry!” That’ll teach her.
I make a fast appraisal of which section I need to aim for: Politics, Economics, Lift Engineering…but don’t espy anything even vaguely resembling comedy. (I’m discounting Lift Engineering for now). I look around the room again, still with the same result. Which means no result. Naturally, there’s no assistant on the fourth floor, so I trundle down the steps to the cafe on the floor below. Queue for the coffee man. Ask the coffee man if he knows where the books are in this store – I’m sure he fleetingly considers telling me they’re on the shelves, but his sixth sense is obviously working well because he foregoes the pleasure – to which he says he does. Where’s the comedy section, I ask. Oo, he replies, don’t think we’ve got one of those. I tell him the clueless hussy on the ground floor (I may be paraphrasing here) suggested to me it was on the 4th floor, but I’ve looked, and I can’t see it.
He comes out from behind the counter. We climb the stairs to the floor above. He looks around the room. He takes out his phone and speaks to someone. “Where’s the comedy section?” he asks. “You know, jokes”. (He’s speaking to someone who has to have comedy explained to them? Of course he is). “It is? Really?” he cries, incredulously. He traverses the room and bids me follow. We arrive at the section labelled REFERENCE. I say nothing. Partly because I have nothing to say that’s repeatable. Or that I can spell.
I make my selection. Where do I pay? On the ground floor. Where else? I descend using the staircase, of which there appear to be 27 flights. (You know that Going Up In A Multi-Storey Car Park Law? Where you drive round and round in circles for 79 stories before espying a sign which says FLOOR 1? The same law applies to bookshops in reverse. Don’t say reading this isn’t an education). *
Queue at the till. Pay for books and purchase canvas bag into which to put them. Into. Make to leave the store, only espy a far nicer canvas bag hanging on the wall by the door, so queue at the till to swap it over with the first canvas bag. It’s exactly the same price, but complicated procedure must take place with bar codes (I could do with the bar by this point) and tills and labels before I can take it away.
Rush to station in a rush. Collect train ticket from machine. Find 20p in pocket in order to spend a penny (don’t get me started), emerge from cubicle to find long queue of women standing in line to use the facilities. Can’t get over to the vanity mirror in order to freshen up my lipstick, so decide to apply it at the wash hand basin mirror. Balance large, open-top handbag containing canvas bag with books, along with other highly important accoutrements necessary for modern day life, on the edge of the basin and apply lipstick in the professional way I always do in order to achieve my normal visage of Sad Clown. Woman brushes past me, I lean forward, which means – of course – my bag tumbles backwards into the basin and activates the automatic movement sensor on the tap, ensuring a thick tsunami of water courses straight into my tote.
Long line of women look at me, so I neatly affect the demeanour of somebody who meant that to happen. (There is a reason I favour the sad clown look, you know).
Explore damage once on the train. Make-up safe, as is my purse, but canvas bag has that lovely, authentic damp feel, as if it’s really wet (it is, of course) and the books within have their pages stuck together. Of course they have. (And they’re not even those kind of books).
Middle-aged bloke climbs on board at Gatwick Airport and sits diametrically opposite me at my table. On the seat next to him he places a large hessian bag with KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON written on the front. He looks at me and asks if I know how long it will be until we reach London. About half an hour, I reply. Although, didn’t the train arrive early at Gatwick? He shakes his head. No, it was on time, he says, which is pretty amazing. I say I knew there was something wrong with it.
Train starts off with a jolt, causing his bag to fall head long onto the floor, all the contents tumbling out under the table. He goes red and, semi-prone, fishes around endeavouring to collect them. I tell him at least he kept calm and carried on. Which, of course, he did.
*I told you not to say it
If you didn’t know I was a comedian – and let’s face it, it’s hard to tell from my work – I can tell you most, if not all my major life events have somehow contained episodes leading to hilarious consequences: my first wedding featured Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, which the organist appeared to be playing with his organ (SPLAT, SPLAT, SPLAT-SPLAAAATTT), resulting in loud sniggering from the assembled throng (and me) as I walked down the ailse; there was my second wedding, when the car delivering me to the ceremony had to approach the venue in reverse: not many brides arrive at their nuptials to the romantic tones of BEEP BEEP – THIS CAR IS REVERSING, BEEP BEEP – THIS CAR IS REVERSING; and then there was getting stuck in the lift on a hospital trolley with my newly-born baby at my breast, it subsequently taking a humungous amount of time before we were rescued (very lucky we’re not still there since my son is now 6′ tall).
A life in comedy appears literally to mean just that. (I’ve always said it’s a good job I don’t write tragedy).
My mother died last week. It was very peaceful, in her sleep, my stepfather discovering her body when he awoke late in the morning. He called my brother, who left work and travelled to the house, and together they dealt with the immediate formalities: the doctor to confirm death, the coroner, and the synagogue to request collection of her body. Only it was Friday, and by the time they spoke to the Jewish funeral directors, they were about to knock off as it was getting dark – they don’t work on the Sabbath.
“Keep her in bed,” they told my step-father breezily, “We’ll collect her on Sunday morning for the funeral.”
“I’m not sleeping in bed next to her body!” my stepfather exclaimed.
“Is there anyone there with you?” came the repost.
My step-father informed them his stepson was present, along with his son.
“Oh, good,” the funeral director said. “Ask them to move her onto the floor. See you Sunday.”
They didn’t move her onto the floor, dear reader, but called a non-Jewish undertaker to collect her and keep her until the Jewish undertakers (who had undertaken not to take anyone on a Friday afternoon) could pick her up after the Sabbath.
Sunday. Funeral. My brother and I arrive at the grounds, greet family and friends, and after a short service gather by the grave for the burial. One of the grave-diggers starts chatting to me, and offers to hold my bag when I have to shovel earth onto the coffin. We return to the small chapel for final prayers. As we’re leaving the building the grave-digger is waiting for me.
“If you need anything else, just call the main number and ask for Mark,” he says, looking into my eyes, smiling.
Back at the house for the post-burial nosh-up, I help myself to a tot of whisky, which is standing on the drinks table, next to another positively groaning with food. One of a trio of old women, two of whom I’ve never seen before in my life, barks at me: “Glass of wine!” I look down at myself: yes, I’m dressed in black, though unaccountably there’s no frilly white apron. Instead of hitting her, I sigh, pour wine halfway up the glass and hand it to her.
“That’s a lot of wine!” she complains. I kick her in the shin.*
Having been awake since 2.30am, travelled up to and across London from Brighton, and had not very much to eat for two days, I help myself to a couple of pieces of salmon, which have signalled to me they’re just longing to leap into my mouth.
“You shouldn’t be eating!” one of crones admonishes, “You should wait for the mourners!”
“It’s a matter of respect!” cries another of the Ugly Sisters.
I sweetly reply I AM a mourner, it was my mother’s funeral, and it occurs to me I’m paying for half the food they’ve not only feasted their beady eyes on, but niftily nabbed the chairs closest in proximity to. I’m fairly sated now, but grab a few pieces of herring, just to make them kvetch some more, and then I tip a bowl of chopped liver over their heads.**
I make my way to the other end of the room to sit on the low chairs we occupy when we’re sitting shiva, and espy the first Ugly Sister piling a plate with the food I’m not meant to be eating. (I’m sure it was the half I’m paying for and not my brother’s half). Not noticing much respect going on there, unless it’s respect for how much food you can get on a plate before it reaches the ceiling.
There then follows a bizarre conversation with a woman who asks questions, before cutting in when you’ve half-answered them, only with the wrong assumption every time. Example:-
“Do you like living in Brighton?”
“Yes, I love it. It’s very…”
“Oh. What did you work on at the BBC?”
“A lot of different series. I worked on…”
“The Sooty Show”
And on it went.
Finally, finally, the day’s over. I’ve had no sleep, I’ve buried my mother, I’ve been told to fuck off by a family member for mentioning my mother’s demise on social media, I’ve been admonished by women I don’t know, in the house where I grew up, for eating food I’m paying for, I’ve been chatted up by a gravedigger. If that isn’t comedy, I don’t know what is.
I get home and sleep for eleven hours.
So long mother, and thanks for all the fish.***
*This may be fantasy
**This may be fantasy
***This may be fishery
If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, I’m currently awaiting my medal for suffering endless bloody coverage of the infernal Olympic games on every available medium [NB: 3.5 isn’t a medium, it’s a small]: newspapers, radio, TV, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Chatsnap, WhatsApp, WhatsThat, WhatsThis, Postman Pat…on it bloody goes for ever and ever…
(excellent preparation; thanks Mother Nature)
swarms of mozzies
(have they relocated Rio to the UK???)
Tom Daley’s performance pants
Tom Daley’s pants performance
(lost TV remote, couldn’t switch it off)
Repeat until 12th Never
Sigh. Gold, please.
(Sorry, I’m a Jew. We eat potato latkes, wander around deserts and play the violin).
P.S. If you want legacy, we got legacy: I lived in London during the 2012 Olympics, on the actual route that Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns swooshed past my abode a full five minutes before the rest of him did (is there an Olympic category for Dubious Facial Hair? Appears to be one for everything else). The local council committed £17.50 for bunting to be hung from the street lamps, and four years later, a string of prime-colour triangles still hangs forlornly from an upright. If that’s not Olympic legacy, I don’t know what is.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that life in the 21st Century is supremely stressful, with constant unspoken pressure to conform to myriad societal mores, amid an uneasy navigation through the conflict between the drives of the id and the demands of the cultural superego – and I’m not even taking into account the quest for growth by an exploration of self through respective masculine/feminine development of the psyche.
All of which means, of course, that when it comes to the important questions of our age, the older we are, the more easily we are able to arrive at answers through an intense empirical (whilst at the same time in-depth philosophical) understanding of our existential experience of what it means to be human.
On a personal level I’ve recently been grappling with two particularly pertinent questions, namely:-
- Am I beach body ready? (As a matter of fact, my bathroom cupboard is replete with the favourite perfume of mosquitoes, so I think I can say I’ve got that one licked)
- Am I fully prepared for the Olympics? (Indeed I am, having acquired two sets of spare batteries for the TV remote just in case it fails to work when I eagerly click the OFF button)
And so it’s come as a bit of a shock to be confronted with the fact that, despite my enthusiastic efforts over the decades to fully embrace who I am, if not what I’m for, I’ve totally failed to comprehend a vital component relating to the whole point of my time on this planet.
Let me explain.
A while ago a well-known university advertised for tutors to teach a scriptwriting module. The position was part-time, sessions to suit, and was to be taught remotely (thus I was remotely interested). I duly applied online. A few days ago I received an email:-
Thank you for your recent application to teach on the above module. I am sorry that, on this occasion, we will not be taking your application any further as your application does not sufficiently demonstrate how you meet the generic and module person specifications for the vacancy.
Hmm. It would appear from the text that I did partially demonstrate how I meet the generic and module person specifications for the vacancy, though, sad to say, not sufficiently. How could I persuade them to reconsider? Was there even a remote, perhaps part-time, chance?
I sent them a reply. (You knew I would, didn’t you?)
“I am sorry that, on this occasion, we will not be taking your application any further as your application does not sufficiently demonstrate how you meet the generic and module person specifications for the vacancy”.
June 2nd. Victoria Station. Midday.
Notice at bus stop a er, notice (how’s that for a coincidence) which tells me that buses will not be stopping at this stop (which obviously should now be renamed a not-stop) until after 3rd June. (Hope raised fleetingly when I realise that’s a date in the summer, while the weather we’re currently experiencing is deep winter, but recedes once I remember I live in the UK and that this is summer weather).
Make half mile trek along Wilton Road to the previous stop on the route (not mentioned previously, keep up, for God’s sake) since the following stop (I’m not about to mention that either, what’s wrong with you?) means negotiating the current building work bolognaise around Victoria Station (yes, I did mention that earlier, well-spotted, mark it off in your Ladybird Book of Victoria Stations), a description that most appositely describes the complete ragout that is also Spaghetti Junction. Naturally, the bus I would have got on at the stop where buses were now not stopping passes me – is it my imagination it tried to mount the pavement and run me over? – and I arrive at the previous stop (don’t start that again) and dig in to wait for the ‘every 6 – 10 minutes but on a completely different space/time continuum from anything on Planet Earth’ to take its course.
Bus appears. Stops at the stop. (Unusual). I clamber on (daintily) and hold my One-Day Travelcard up for the driver to look at. Driver not remotely interested in looking at it, so I stand there (daintily) until he does, as I’m not a criminal and have no desire to be perceived as one, and am generally very polite, unless I’m dealing with transport companies, utilities companies, Tories, and stupid people (which I do realise is tautology). Walk to back of bus while we’re setting off towards the not-stop, whereupon on arrival, the bus unaccountably stops (with no consideration for its new reclassification) and the driver says: “Can you all get off, this bus is terminating here”.
Someone, possibly me, but can’t be sure because of the steam emanating from my ears, starts shouting, pointing out in a pointy out way she’s just trekked half a mile to the stop where she boarded this vehicle only to be ferried back to the very spot she previously started trekking from to reach the previous stop so what was the bloody point of that when she’s now being ejected unceremoniously onto the pavement (though not sure exactly what ceremony would be appropriate for being ejected from a number 24 bus) and couldn’t he see the destination as advertised on the front was ‘Hampstead’ – which of course he couldn’t see because he was inside not driving the bus so was totally unaware of where he was not driving the bus to.
I would say back to square one, but square one isn’t in operation until 12th Never, so it’s now known as ‘square that’s unaccountably out of operation for no discernible reason whatsoever other than to seriously piss off anyone who’s in need of it’.
June 2nd. Victoria Station. Fifteen minutes past midday.
Somehow, the prospect of trekking back to the previous previous stop I recounted previously doesn’t quite have the appeal it didn’t quite have the first time around.
I step onto the tube train.
Reader, I moved. No, I hadn’t left the TV remote the other side of the room (that doesn’t become critical until the Olympics begins in the summer: OFF CLICK!), I mean I stashed my stuff into a trunk, stuck it in a removal van, and waved goodbye to the circus that is London. I’ve left the place before, and indeed, avowed never to return, but return I did, only to find the streets paved with gold rolling papers. But enough is enough, and it was again time to seek pastures new.
It was a bit of a year, to be honest. If the Queen had an annus horribilis in 1992, I packed at least a dozen of them into 2015, and couldn’t wait to raise a glass, or perhaps two (can’t reveal exactly how many, data protection you understand) come midnight December 31st.
My experimentation with breast cancer didn’t last that long, really: the surgery was a success, and I now possess the tits of a 19 year-old (no, can’t reveal her name, data protection etc.), tits which defy the laws of gravity as if Iain Duncan Smith had invented them, before coming back down to earth and realising he didn’t like them after all. (Mystery as to why I thought of him when I wrote about tits). And again, looking on the bright side, the hospital infection I contracted was completely free, as was the brain fog I endured for the ensuing five months on the sofa downing painkillers, antibiotics, prebiotics, probiotics, microbiotics, macrobiotics, symbiotics and chicken soup.
And the damp which concurrently appeared in my rented flat might be seen as another kind of adventure, especially when the landlords blamed me for it. I could actually see their point: they’d owned the place for 18 years prior to Not Nice Etoile moving in, then all of a sudden, four years after she does, damp appears in three separate external places. (I’m beginning to think that private sauna club I started for those Tory MPs not already in jail from Mondays – Sundays might have had something to do with it). And so, in the midst of recovering from major surgery and months of subsequent ill health, I had to put up, pack up and find somewhere else to lay my head.
There were other interesting mountains I had to climb too, but I won’t bore you with those here.
Anyway, this is how you find me penning a blog once again au bord de la mer (check out another of my blogs, Driving Over Expats, written when I lived in Nice). And I do mean au bord de la mer – I’m living on the seafront in Brighton, and as I write this, witnessing the nightly murmuration of the starlings. (Though I do wish they’d speak up – I can’t hear what they’re murmuring about).
I did live in Brighton for the best part of a decade in times gone by, and I must say, it’s fantastic to be back on my planet with my people, its cosmopolitan population, ethnic restaurants and bars galore, where you’re never more than 10 paces away from someone who looks like they’re wearing something for a bet. And after four years looking out onto the River Thames, my vista now is the ever-changing landscape of the English Channel, into which a few
complete morons wonderously brave souls leap every single day of the year. (Maybe it’s only their souls that get wet, and their bodies are at home under a duvet in front of the fire and Judge Judy). Brighton is bonkers, beautiful, arty and as joyful a place as you’ll ever visit, and I feel like I’ve come home. (Although if George Clooney’s reading this, I’d feel equally as content in Lake Como or California. Just saying).
Thus, normal service – or as normal as it gets around here – has resumed. Batten down those hatches, folks; Not Nice Etoile is back.
NB: If anyone would like to pre-order my new book on how their political policies reflect the calibre of this current Tory Government, do let me know and I might write it. I’ve got as far as the title so far: Tat for Tits.
Do you ever wonder what goes on inside other people’s heads? Or if anything actually IS going on? I’m beginning to think a large proportion of the population passes its day in a default zombie state, endlessly streaming Justin Bieber videos across their cerebrum (or worse, listening to him speak), which naturally dumbs down the parts other bone-headed, internationally-acclaimed morons can’t reach, and instead of possessing the traditional ‘grey matter’, theirs is fluorescent pink, with the requisite addition of sparkly bits that inevitably gravitate into the neurones and clog up the synapses to near brain dead levels.
Regular readers of this blog will recall the esteem in which I hold post office staff (think of the biggest number you can and then put a minus sign in front of it), but it’s starting to occur to me that these state-sponsored conduits for analytical thinking are interbreeding with the rest of the population.
Before I present my evidence, let me share with you the last noteworthy post office counter encounter I enjoyed (hahahahaha) a few months ago.
I stood in line for what is commonly known as ‘bloody ages’ (can’t be certain of the exact number of hours because the post office clock had been set to run two hours fast, and also displayed the wrong month – at least, I’m hoping it was the wrong month), before finally approaching the languid young woman who, in the midst of the feverish excitement of charging customers the wrong postage and stamping fragile packages with a ten ton FRAGILE hammer, was trying to remain awake.
“I’d like to send this parcel first class, recorded delivery, please,” I trilled.
“Put it on the scales,” she yawned.
“That’s £143. 76,” she intoned, sleepily. As she did for every parcel she was asked to mail.
She then asked me where it was going, so I held the front of the package up against the specially-thickened glass window, installed in all post offices lest some wayward customer brain cells float across the counter to lodge accidentally inside the hapless clerks’ heads.
“Is that where you’re sending it to?” she asked.
I turned the parcel around and looked at the giant, block capital letters of the address I’d written on a large, white label in black, indelible ink.
I looked at her. “No, that’s my favourite number, and it’s such a pretty street name, I couldn’t resist writing it down. I actually want it delivered somewhere else entirely,” I didn’t say. Instead, I said: “Yes.”
She looked puzzled. But perhaps Justin Bieber had just put his shirt back on.
Evidence for interbreeding? Well, there’s always the time I and some random ex-husband ventured into a large bistro chain for a spot of lunch, when a young waitress, sporting very long, blond plaits and an inane grin, came bounding up to us in Tigger-like fashion to ask, in a voice so high, dogs in a 12-mile radius were placing their paws over their ears:
“Would you like a table?”
“Yes please,” we affirmed.
“Well,” she grinned inanely, “We haven’t got any”.
And such was her glee, I felt somehow proud that I’d made her day.
(Her manager, having seen what was going on – i.e. this bouncing, cartoon advertisement for a new kind of toothpaste interacting with humanoids – immediately climbed onto the nearest table and hurled herself across the room at us, told us of course there were plenty of tables – which, thanks to the Ladybird Book of Restaurant Table Spotting, we had already identified ourselves. She subsequently led this maniacal Vikingette into the back to boil her head a little more than it already was).
But today I’m delighted to present what is set to become the Gold Standard Irrefutable Proof of The Post Office No Brainers Interbreeding Programme:
“Hello,” I say.
“Is that Destiny Shoes?” the voice asks.
“No,” I reply. “It’s a private home.”
“Oh, so sorry”. Woman hangs up.
3 minutes pass. Landline rings.
“Hello,” I say.
“Is that Destiny Shoes?” the voice asks.
“It still isn’t,” I say.
“I’m really sorry, but I rang them back and they told me it’s definitely this number.”
And she reads my number out to me.
“Look,” I proffered, in a kind and caring way, “However many times they give you this number, it’s not Destiny Shoes”.
“I know,” came the response, “But they keep giving it to me”.
AUTHOR LEADS HER HEAD TO THE NEAREST BRICK WALL
Forget the US Department of Homeland Security, we British have the Department of Home Furnishings Security, a branch of the Department of Department Stores Security. Go figure.
NB: PLEASE FORGIVE THE SQUASHED TEXT IN THE SECOND HALF OF THIS POST – IT’S SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE TO CHANGE IT, SO AM CURRENTLY APPLYING TO GCHQ ASKING THEM TO QUIT MESSING AROUND WITH MY FORMATTING.
Dear John Lewis,
As I was invited to write to you after making a complaint on Twitter yesterday, here’s my much-awaited missive. I’ll entitle it:-
An Email as Part of an Occasional Series on The Erosion of Civil Liberties in Modern Britain:-
No. 4,796: KNOWINGLY BEING IN POSSESSION OF A COLLAPSIBLE LINEN BASKET
Yesterday I paid a visit to my local John Lewis store to try to buy something I subsequently discovered they didn’t stock on the premises; on my travels around the store, however, (the first 10 miles are the worst, but fun being directed to 16 different locations by 16 different members of staff) I noticed the perfect collapsible laundry basket. I paid cash for it (£15), and was told it would be ready for collection in 30 minutes time.
OK, I didn’t mind waiting, it gave me a chance to buy a paper and have a coffee. What I did object to, however, was being asked for my postcode and house number by the person on the till, without which information the order would not go through.
I asked where customer services was so I could register a complaint. Only there is no customer services facility in the store. Would I like to fill out a form? Yes please. Another 10 minutes passed before I was told they didn’t have any. Would I like a compliment slip with an address on it so I could write a snail mail letter? No, I replied, I’ll complain online. But I can’t apparently do that either.
I made the same point at the Click and Collect desk, and was told somebody would contact me, and sure enough, Smurf* from Customer Services called me a couple of hours later.
Smurf was, to put it bluntly, in a somewhat opaque way (I’m a journalist, I like words, and much more than I appreciate Smurf), ‘a piece of work’. He defended to a metaphorical death the right John Lewis has to demand my home address before accepting 15 quid in cash from me for a linen basket, and told me this was to ensure a letter can be sent out in the post if goods for collection are forgotten by the purchaser. I asked him why I wasn’t asked for my email address, or phone number, but according to Smurf – who lost no time in informing me he’s a teacher – a high proportion of their customers don’t have an email address, or indeed, possess a phone. I resisted the temptation to ask what percentage of them don’t have homes either, which I thought was pretty nice of me in the circumstances.