Thursday, 30 April 2009

Philip, from Portobello Books, writes to tell me that I'm big in South Africa enclosing this - Waddling Duck's suggestions for Mother's Day down under(ish).  I can only say, dear prospective readers, that one of these excellent, if rival, books - is indeed a good choice for mothers - especially if they really really don't like their children.  Disgruntled and disillusioned mothers should probably buy it for each other.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Party Line

London is a village sometimes.  Tonight at Eva's gallery Flow there was an opening for a bookbinding exhibition and single friend had pitched up with an entourage of not one, but three men (though not, if you're a regular reader - the sort you would expect to find wandering round a field of Henry Moore sculptures).  There was a chap in a paint stained shirt whose name I didn't catch but who had startlingly bright blue eyes in a tanned face and who, I imagine, didn't get the dabs of white on his plaid shirt from painting the ceiling, darling, but rather had the air of one wrenched from a canvas in his studio somewhere in Trustafaria.  Another, I think, was a Guardian Soulmate who she thought she might palm off on one of us, and the third was the, not nearly ubiquitous enough, Silver Fox type who wore his glasses on the edge of his nose the way I do myself and was, I realised as we were introduced, someone I had met before.  I even remembered his name.


I was introduced to him at Justin Marozzi's book launch last year (but don't bother reading the blog entry - he wasn't the poet I mentioned) after I recognised his girlfriend as a mother from the school gates.  As single friend said later, she realised that one of the few, legitimate (I'm wondering what the illegitimate ways are - swinging soirees, tupperware parties? - oh, yes, Giles and I met over the salad crisper...) ways to make friends in London is to have kids.  The girlfriend, a tall striking ash blonde who once educated me in the effects of illegal substances on her love life, had, at that time, an equally tall striking husband who I used to admire as we ushered our respective offspring in their Eastern European forced-march raincoats down St Quintin Avenue to school.  And then he left her and along came his coked-up - subject of many an anecdote - replacement.  I wondered if Archie was the one.  Not really what you want to be thinking when you are shaking hands at a Gallery opening.

In any case, I reminded him that we'd met before.  He congratulated me on my memory which is what men do after a certain age when they meet you at parties, no matter how low cut your frock is.  It's the writer in me, I insisted, so that he wouldn't just think I was a sad old dame who remembered men with white, mad hair that I met at parties because I was a rabid stalker.

I also noted that I didn't know anyone at Justin Marozzi's book launch, and so, naturally, the few people I did recognise stuck in my mind.  Total rubbish.  I'm a walking encyclopedia of faces.  You could use me as a police artist.  I remembered him because he was good looking.

We chatted and he told me that he was going to write.  This was one of the few instances where I might have stopped my eyes crossing and offered up that I worked in publishing while erroneously alluding that I had the power to put him into print - because he was cute - but he didn't ask what I did for a living. Readers, I am that interesting. Instead he said he had bought a new dictaphone machine that one simply plugged into the computer and, using voice recognition, it did all the typing by itself.  It had previously been owned by a Brummie so was attuned to a specific accent, so he would have to reacquaint it with a little RP before it would recognise his voice, however, the first hurdle was that he couldn't turn the damn thing on.  Before I could say anything even vaguely and unwisely salacious I found myself clutching his small machine and offering to turn it on myself.  I've very, very good with electronics.

Five minutes later I returned having found the on off switch, a task helped by reinserting the battery the right way round.  Men.  How did they ever conquer the world?

When I repatriated his dictaphone ('You are an angel,' he said - 'an angel' you hear!)  he was telling my friend Nel how he had driven Mary Killen in a Bentley to Aix en Provence where his girlfriend had a 'wonderful' house.  No man over 40 should have a girlfriend but, that aside, it was obvious he moved in rather different circles from those that I did myself, despite the fact that we had both ended up at the same party.  League and well out of it came crushingly to mind.

'We had sat nav.  I literally typed in Aix-en-Provence in Sloane Square and it almost drove itself to France.  It's the first thing I'm going to write about with my brand new dictaphone.'

I quashed the thought that this was a man with a somewhat overeager fondness for the DIY in both dictaphones and driving which did not bode well in other areas of life, and wondered what the voice in the sat nav of a Bentley sounded like.  Did it harrumph like a public school headmaster:   'One should drive for a hundred yards and not expect any deviations until one finds oneself perpendicular to a public house when one should turn left, not stopping for traffic because of course, in a Bentley, one always has right of way.'  Or would it purr fruitily like Joanna Lumley:  'Come on now Darling, pay attention, you need to turn left up ahead, after the little jewellers on the corner with the frightfully nice rings.'

He claimed not.  He said it was very common and said 'Pardon' instead of 'What'.

Sat navs talk back to you these days?  I should get one.  It would be one up on the ex who never said a word in the car.

'Pard...' I began before wisely picking up another glass of wine from the circulating tray.  He went on to tell me that he had found an estate in Scotland for a French family who wanted their children to go to summer camp in the Highlands, and since no such thing existed, had hired two teachers from Gordonstoun to teach them about fly fishing and deer stalking.  I tried to interest him in hiring my beautiful, bluestocking, arty, Oxbridge educated eldest as a tutor who has just come back from Montpellier, fluent in French and impoverished in Euros.

He was very keen to meet her.  But not, I fear, in her conversational French.

The term 'girlfriend' began to make sense.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Table talk

Saturday night.  A lovely dinner party where, amazingly, there were seven men and only five women.  I kept blinking my eyes just to clear my vision as I went round the room counting them.  Unwittingly, I was presented with a glass of Prosecco with a shot of vodka in it when I arrived and had not been able to feel my lips since I finished it, so there was every chance I was just seeing double and counting the same ones twice. On my second, astonished, round up I recognised one of the singletons as a man who used to date a friend of mine who is now, he told me, expecting twins.  Despite the happy news, I struggled not to look horrified - having survived two decades of child-rearing I can't contemplate the idea of multiple births without wanting to lie down in a darkened room with a cool flannel on my head for about a hundred years and yell: 'You must be out of your mind.'

It was a very glitsy crowd.  The hostess - my dauntingly superwoman friend - author, business woman, networker - is more plugged in the Dyno-Rod and seems to know absolutely everyone who is anyone.     There was a famous columnist and a BBC person, a journalist and a blonde, glamorous woman who I was later told is a 'publishing legend'.  The men sat all together down one side of the table, while the women flanking a few more, sat opposite.  Half way through the evening, some of us skipped over to the other side. It was like country dancing in Norway or one of the those places where women are an endangered species and the men all have to dance with each other.

Without realising the blonde, glamorous woman's legendary status in publishing I was seated next to her on the skip-change.

'You work in publishing?' she asked, politely, barely sifling a yawn.

'Well, that might overstating things a little,' I said.  'I work, and it is a publishing company, but I don't really have anything to do with the publishing process.'  I explained that I examined the prostate of large electronic printers,  made lunch appointments in restaurants I don't visit and booked hotels for conferences that I don't attend.  One of the interns once picked up someone else's dinner jacket from Moss Bros for an award ceremony, but so far I haven't been pressed into service as a butler for other people's clothes, though I did go out and buy 24 glasses which other people drank from, for a Board Meeting last week.

In an attempt to make myself sound marginally less dull and druge-like I then mentioned I had written a novel and droned on about it for a few minutes while glamorous blonde woman attempted to look as interested as I was in my friend's twin pregnancy.

'What do you do?'  I asked, anxious to steer the subject back onto safer waters where there was no danger of anyone asking me how many copies of the book I'd sold.

'I work at...' and she mentioned the name of an imprint that has lined my shelves since the eighties.  I played a few hands of Old Maid - you know the game.  Someone says they work at, for instance, The Beeb and you ask if they know your friend Talullah on the switchboard, or sometimes, you drag out Alan Yentob, airily, and pretend to know him quite well because he's your close friend's son's godfather and you met him once at a Christmas Party, or stood outside the school gates with him and often found yourself waiting while the limo idled by the kerb, and sometimes he would leave his son with you and speed off to a meeting and never bother to ask your name...  (sorry I'm ranting just a little).

In this instance I dragged out Ursula whose husband I used to know 25 years ago in Oxford (there's a whole category for this in Linkein, followed by men you have slept with) and who wouldn't be able to pick me out of a line up but who did, nevertheless, used to work for the same imprint.  She knew her.  She was, she told me, very casually, the publisher.


I sipped some wine that wasn't even mine, but had been left there by the person whose place I took (the Prosecco and vodka put me instantly over the limit for driving) just to affect a nonchalance that I didn't feel.  Poor woman.  Putting a publisher next to a debut novelist at a dinner party must be like being a gynecologist slapped next to a woman with fibroids.  You just, really really really don't want to go out for the evening and be stuck with yet another author, or womb, as the case may be.  It transpired that the famous journalist had also recently published a book though hers had been serialised on Radio 4.  A Royal Flush and me with only a pair of twos.  They both said a few encouraging words of the sort you offer toddlers when learn to tie their own shoelaces and I struggled to find something more interesting to say.  I couldn't.  Especially when my hostess decided that we really should have a 'dinner party conversation' and introduced the topic of Primary Academies.  I felt like I was in an episode of Gossip Girl (yes, dear, I am that intellectual) and couldn't give a flying fig about Primary Academies.  Neither could anyone else, but in a blink of an eye we were on to my specialist subject.  Gaza and the Palestinians.  I could have danced all night.

The host's husband gave me a conciliatory smile.  'Coals to Newcastle this, for you, isn't it?' he said sympathetically.

'Yep, you can lose the husband, but not the ruddy cause.'

I refrained from running away screaming just as we got on to Myerson where it was 10:1 against with the famous journalist the only supporting voice.  Luckily the Publishing Legend had even more burning questions to attend to.  She had discovered a plate of amaretti biscotti and was busy rolling the wrappers into tubes and setting them alight where they burned and shrivelled like dwindling erections (okay, not known for bursting into flames, but otherwise, I assure you, the analogy is spot on) and then floated into the air.  We all gasped appreciatively and the husband of the famous journalist had to have a go himself.  Men just can't let the opportunity or pyromania go past them.  The dinner table was a 999 call waiting to happen.

Our hostess did not look in the least perturbed at the prospect of flaming paper flying towards her newly painted ceiling.

North Londoners, they are so laid back.

Vodka and Prosecco are going to do that to you, I suppose.

Gordian knots

Tweeter is good for something.

According to one of the recent posts which the Guardian bombards me with on a seemingly hourly basis, I discovered in the Politics Blog that: 'The prime minister, 58, has hurled pens and even a stapler at aides, according to one; he also says he once saw the leader of Britain's 61 million people shove a laser printer off a desk in a rage.'

Though I struggle to see what that fact that he's 58 has to do with it (except perhaps to insinuate that he's a tad too old for such childish outporing of rage) if he would like to come to visit the Pedantic offices I would be very happy to give him a Canon printer that he could kick to his heart's content.

Indeed, the new printer, as the wise men and soothsayers of Corvus upstairs anticipated, is not the new Messiah but a false idol who nevertheless requires some fairly slavish worship.  Like a spoiled toddler it expects constant attention and is liable to throw tantrums when you are busily trying to get on with your work.  When printing out a large document don't even think about pressing PRINT and walking away and forgetting about your document.  On the contrary, you must get up from your desk and go and stand beside the machine in a suitably servile manner, head bent in supplication as you wait for pages to be delivered from the mouth of the giant because, approximately every 150 pages or so, the paper jams.  This means getting on your knees and giving the machine an extensive proctological examination.

This is the stuff career dreams are made off.  I'm sure the Prime Minister, 'leader of Britain's 61 million people,' feels my pain when he can't get a sodding document to print.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Friday night.  My younger daughter has gone to a 'Pimps and 'Ho's' Party wearing a corset, a pair of shorts and four inch heels - just marginally more than she wears to school if you count the false eyelashes.  My long dead mother speaks from my mouth to ask if she's really going out like that and urge her to take a coat.  She smiles - an unusual event, for the sun of her pleasure rarely shines on me - and leaves with my last ten pounds without saying goodbye, slamming the door with a demolition bang, the perfume in her wake so strong it makes my eyes itch.  It's only after she goes that I realise the scent is mine.  Some heavy Hermes stuff the ex brought me back from an Airport on one of his conference trips.  I never liked it.  I'm glad one of us is using it - albeit as a means of deforestation.  I'm also glad to see my daughter go out for a change.  Even dressed as a hooker.

My elder son has come back from a holiday in the States where he and his girlfriend stayed with my ex's family, sleeping, like Goldilocks, in my bed - or rather the one I slept in with my husband for every one of the 20 odd Christmases we went there.  It's uncomfortably Freudian, seeing yourself replaced and duplicated.  'Did anyone ask anything about the break up?'  I wondered, not really expecting the answer to be yes as I haven't heard from any of my husband's family since he left a year ago. 'Not really,' he said.  'Nobody mentioned you.  They mostly talked about getting a new dog since the old one died last year.' 

It's wonderful to be missed.  If only I had been born a Labrador.

Elder daughter, back after three months in France, doesn't like her father coming round to help out with household maintenance.  'He's getting his cake and eating it too,' she says.  'I don't want him here, and none of the others want him here - he left, let him stay gone.'

I protest that I do need a hand around the place as I can't do everything myself.  I'm not the maintenance manager, I remind her.  And also I don't actually mind his presence.  I can set aside my hurt feelings for five minutes of conversation now and again - company, even sometimes the company of miserable ex husband is better than the sound of a slamming door.

She wasn't convinced but I was, and so I agreed that she was quite right.  I would be more hard line.  The next day I rushed home from work to see her and found her on her way out.

'Where are you off to?' I asked.

'I'm going round to dad's,' she said.


She has now gone back to France for a few days to get the rest of her stuff before moving back in as Joint House Mother.  She has already put me on a diet, told me to join the gym and counted the bottles of wine which she is ostentatiously not drinking.

It's like a hotel.  One in, one out.

Younger son has returned to University leaving a large dent on the sofa where he settled for most of the month he was here after the G20 summit left him with nothing further to demonstrate about.

'What about Sri Lanka? I thought you might have joined in with them being that you don't want to be a one cause anarchist.

'Nah, I don't know anything about it,' he replied, not taking his eyes off Chelsea vs Arsenal.

'I need some help in the garden (as we laughably call the Sleeping Beauty castle of briars in the back of the house).  Do you think you might come out and rake up the grass cuttings for me as I can't move my shoulder very well?'

'I don't believe in gardens,' he said.

'Since when?'

'All gardens should be turned over to food production.  Flowers are bourgeois.'  Indeed.  Unlike public school boys.

'Well get a spade then and I'll give you some seed potatoes.'  That was an idle threat.  I don't have any seed potatoes though there are some in the cupboard with more eyes than the Stasi which would probably take root if I planted them, but I don't think my son would know a seed potato from the couch potato that he has rapidly turned into.

'I have to work,' he protested.  'I have a Portuguese Oral Presentation on Monday.'

'But you're not working.  You're watching ruddy football.'

'I'm having a little break.'

I really should stick the pitchfork up his Arsenal but I don't have the lifting capability to swing it over my head and in any case I was so angry I mowed through the electric cable and had to down tools myself.

The lawn now looked like it had had a really bad haircut with a pair of nail scissors.

'You do know the meaning of a workers' collective, don't you - it means we all work for the greater good, not that some of us slave so you can sit around playing Football Manager on your laptop with a parallel text of Don Quixote open on the table.'

'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' his eyes said as they rolled back in his head.

Back in the kitchen the Palestinian National Team comprising a nicely ethnic line up of players were into extra time.  It looked like they might go to penalties.

I tied up four bags of brambles and grass clippings ready to fly tip at the end of the road under the cover of darkness outside the posh restored chapel on the corner which is the areas official dumping ground.  We leave garden rubbish and old Ikea desk chairs missing a swivel  and, as regular readers know,  Lady Bountiful from the ugly house puts out half a dozen loaves from Mr Christian's Deli in an artisan basket.    I planted my coriander seeds in a pot by the back door - food production don't you know - cleared out the shed, wound up the ragged ends of the power cable I'd cut through and came in to find the young radical had left the building.

A few seconds later he appeared holding a sandwich that, despite having a fridge full to bursting with politically correct produce from an evil conglomerate supermarket who occasionally pay me to write for them, as well as every conceivable tofu and quorn product, he had gone to the cafe to buy.

Never let it be said that he won't make the effort.

So tonight it's just me and the first born son.  I asked him if he wanted to have a drink, watch a DVD, something to eat.  Yes, he said to everything.  That was two hours ago and I haven't seen him since he turned on his computer.

The tumble drier is moaning under the weight of his laundry in the kitchen and so to get away from its nagging I wandered round the corner to Nel's house where she and Tom were sitting in the back garden hunched over a barbecue, drinking vodka.  My kind of evening.  I sat down on and moved my chair a little closer to the fire and one of the legs sanks into their vegetable plot into which Nel has just planted several rows of rocket and Swiss chard.  The leg of the chair cut through the soil like a hot knife through soft butter and I tipped over and landed in the earth.  One way to end up in bed, I suppose.

I didn't spill the vodka though.

I wish I could say that I only did it the once...

Monday, 20 April 2009

Kind Herts and Coronets

Three of us on our way to visit Henry Moore's house which has recently been opened to the public. It's the ex-wife club plus one - a single friend who has been working the personals in her search for true love, or at least truish liking.

'What are the chances of us meeting single men at this place?' she says from behind the Guardian in the back seat where she has been banished like a teenager because, since she cleverly can't drive, neither can she navigate.

I think, unlike us, they're pretty slim, but add that frankly I'm not sure that I would want to go out with a man I met wandering round a sculpture park on a Saturday afternoon in Hertfordshire with his two single friends.

'Yes, they'd probably be gay. would they?' she muses. 'But it's interesting. What you're really saying that you don't want to meet someone like yourself.'

It's true. But it's not the Groucho Marx thing of not wanting to be in a club that would have me as a member, rather it's more that, I'm not really looking for a male equivalent of myself. I live with me and I'm already bored with myself - why would I want multiply knowing the answers to all my own questions by two?

The other ex-wife used to bemoan the fact that her former husband never wanted to do the same sort of things that she did - like visit museums or galleries, while mine was as interested as I was in such places and would have loved the Henry Moore sculptures. We often did such things together but the idea of running into his replacement with two of his mates out on earnest cultural pursuits isn't up there with a 'great sense of humour' on my list of must haves.

Secretly, or okay, since I'm writing it here, not that secretly, my heart sinks like a bar of soap in a very deep bath at the thought of spending the rest of my life trailing round exhibitions, stately homes and gardens with my girlfriends like I'm on a WRVS day out. Much worse to be sitting at home knitting twin sets for my cats, or indeed, even to have cats, of course, and yes, yes, yes, how lucky to have friends who will bear my company long enough to actually get in a car with me for a long journey in which there may be singing, but still...

I can't quash the feeling I should be wearing a pair of white gloves and a hat.

This isn't helped by the fact that my single friend around town is wearing a very pretty silk tea dress with a net underskirt and a cream duster coat, and I'm in a geometric print 'wiggle dress' and have my mother's pearl brooch pinned on to my lapel.

'You do realise that we are only three corgis and a pug short of being in a PG Wodehouse novel?' I mutter as we trailed round Henry Moore's house listening to the guide tell us that 'he got given a lot of fings by people who visited him.'

'The ex's parents have a Henry Moore drawing,' I whisper. They bought it in the 1950s - apparently they came here and met him.' I had a momentary vision of a younger version of my diminutive mother-in-law perched on a sofa in the sitting room surrounded by 'fings' having just spent a month's salary on a small brown drawing. It's probably one of the ugliest things I've ever seen in my life and now hangs behind the door of their dining room so that it is hidden from sight, both from thieves, and guests, as she also shuddered with dislike every time she looked at it. It's a shame we've split up. I was so looking forward to inheriting it and selling it for a Howard Hodgkin or and Albert Irwin.

We shuffle on through the cramped, over-furnished rooms like animals on the way to the abbatoir - from the office to the dining room and into the tiny kitchenette which is so authentic that the authentic period hand towel looks like it hasn't been washed since the eighties. 'Mrs Moore didn't ever cook in this kitchen. She had a cook,' the guide informs us as we squeeze through. 'But it still has the original fridge,' she adds. Fancy - an hour and a half up the A10 to look at an original 1980s fridge that its owner probably never opened. If it had a latin name we'd be writing it in our notebooks.

'I love this one,' says Eva as we are finally released to roam around the large sculptures set in the grounds. Single friends looses the duster coat, slips on her shades and turns her face up to the sun. Eva points to a reclining (what else- with all that leisure time, no wonder his women were always lying down) figure on a small hillock in the middle of a field surrounded by sheep and suggests we try and get a little closer.

Five minutes later and we are picking our way gingerly over grass which seems to be primarily composed of sheep droppings encrusted with orange flies. Eva strides ahead while single friend and I - she in her snakeskin Emma Hope sneakers (ah - so this is the sort of women who buys the velvet baseball boots) - try to step between piles of dung.

Once beside it we gaze at it wordlessly. Or rather single friend does say something about the lack of identifiable male characteristics but it can't be repeated here on the grounds of taste.

I look on the map. There's a number 5 and a small picture with 'reclining figure' written underneath it. Well that's clear then. I can't think of anything further to add.

'Aren't the lambs cute,' says single friend and gets out her iPhone and begins to take pictures of them.  We pose beside a group of reclining sheep.  'You look like Welsh farmer's wives,' says single friend.  'Ex-wives.'  I reply.

My heels gets stuck in the cattle grid on the way back out of the field and I steal a glance at my watch to see how long it is until lunch. Eva has thoughtfully booked us a table at a local hostelry. I begin to dream of chips.

'You know you're right, Marion. I just can't see our three male equivalents getting excited about Henry Moore tapestries,' sighs single friend as we sit on benches and watch a film from the 50s where some women with very glossy monochrome hair try on scarves designed by Cecil Beaton with exaggerated expressions of delight, while wearing frocks that don't look too dissimilar to the ones we are wearing ourselves.

She is fiddling with her iPhone looking up film listings. 'And I bet you anything that, even if they did get excited about fabrics they wouldn't then rather sadly go and see a movie together afterwards.'

'No, but they might go down the pub,' I suggested as we pile back into the BMW with our selection of postcards and Henry Moore prints and do the manly thing ourselves, and drive off for the much anticipated lunch.

'Oh, look,' crows Eva, excitedly, as we wind past one thatched cottage after another and pull over beside The Bull Inn. 'A garden centre,' she whoops. We can have a look round later. They also have a lovely garden you can visit!' Single friend and I look at each other with trepidation, gather up armfulls of Saturday supplements and find a table outside in the beer garden - more of a beer patio really, where the waitress insists on bringing us a menu which turns out to be a three foot tall blackboard, dragged in and ostentatiously set down in a flower bed.

Eva is fingering a small brochure for a nearby stately home and murmuring something about Virginia Woolf's birthplace. 'I'd so like to see the garden. Do you think we have time?'

'What would you like to drink?' the waitress asks.

'I'll have a glass of white wine,' says single friend, rather loudly.

'Me too,' I concur.

'Large or small?' she wonders.

'LARGE!' we reply in unison, without consultation.

On the way back Eva puts on a Leonard Cohen CD.

'I listened to four hours of this on my way back from Wales yesterday,' she says.

You see, that's my point. I love the Cohen, but I definitely don't want to go out with a man who listens to four hours worth of his depressive singing in the car and who knows all the words to Suzanne. Not even after a large Sauvignon Blanc.


There's a chapel at the end of my road that, in the spiritlessness of the times has, predictably, been converted into a luxury home of the sort not usually found in our 'hood complete with, it is rumoured, an infinity pool in the basement fashioned from what was once a full immersion font.  Nobody knows much more about it except that the architect's wife refused to move here to 'the middle of nowhere' and so it was sold, for a ludicrous sum, to someone who immediately frosted all the windows, put up blinds and built a tall fence ringed with pampas grass.  God forbid the local suburbanites and hoodies should be able to see them sunbathing on their decking, or sitting on the balcony at the back of the church that, mystifyingly, they managed to get through planning in our conservation area though it doesn't quite seem to fit in with the vernacular. 

David Cameron, round the corner, had problems with his wind turbine and we can't get a skylight window in the front of our dreary terrace, but a red brick, Victorian Baptist chapel with a steel balcony stuck above the altar - terrific, stick it up there.

So, last night we went for our customary late evening walk round the neighbourhood and there, outside the Architectural Monstrosity, was a pretty wicker basket, full of fat round soft foccacia. Oh dear, I thought, they've probably come back from their country cottage somewhere suitably picturesque and forgotten to take the last bag in when they've been emptying the BMW or Mercedes estate.

My inner meddler kicked in and I immediately rang the bell on the servants' entrance on the side entrance where the basket sat on the pavement and a few seconds later an expensive English accent answered.

'Hello, I think you must have forgotten a basket out here on the street,' I said.

'Yes, I know.  I put it there,' said Mme Haughty.

'Oh,' I replied, eruditely.

'Do you want it?'

'Me?' (Me  Why would I want your leftover loaves?)  'No,' I gasped, outraged, transforming from friendly neighbour to homeless skip groveller in the space of one second.

I scurried off hurriedly lest Mme Haughty spot me from her overhead security camera and mark me down as Needy of North Kensington.  'What was she thinking?' I asked significant other, 'Did she actually think that someone would take her stale bread, or was she just too lazy to put it in a garbage bag?'  I mean, I know we're in the midst of a credit crunch but eating stuff left out out on the street?'  

We walked on down the street to the Camerons' where, as far as I know, nobody plays Marie Antoinette with the locals by leaving out baskets of bread for those hungry enough to fight off the foxes, stray packs of Staffordshire Terriers and rats to eat from the pavement (though if you have any spare Smythson's diaries going begging Samantha, I'll happily go through your bins).

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Getting the Frozen Shoulder

I imagine this is a taste of the future.

Sitting in a hospital gown with no ties on it, clutching it to your chest like you're being painted by a pre-Raphaelite in peril on the sea and the lifeboat is going down, in the corridor of the local National Health Centre Trust - in my case - St Mary's.

Inside there's a posh girl on the phone to her boyfriend:

'Hello darling, I just wanted to call you and say that it would be nice...' (Voice tails off as she listens to interjection from other party.)

'I do love you, you know.'  (Said as though there was some doubt about it.  I'm thinking the boyfriend got an earful at some point earlier in the morning.)

'I would like to take the children to see my old college, though...'  (Ah, Oxbridge.  Naturally.)

'Yes, I finished with the last man really quickly and I just wanted to...'

A tall floppy haired chap in blue scrubs walks past me without noticing I'm there - this is, my dears, what happens, even nay especially when, you are half naked, and fifty, and sitting in full view in public.


Even in your nicest, yet demure, bra (I learned my too showy lesson with the consultant last month).

Conversation continues:  'Well I better go now, goodbye, beautiful, gorgeous boy...'  she says, wistfully, and then segues straight into discussion with tall floppy hair.  '....encapsulitis...  we're going to...  ultrasound... inject.'  I hear, with none of the clarity and stage presence of the tones she used to address lover boy.  I strain my ears to hear her say 'elderly matron, possibly hypochondriac, cut her arm off, if this doesn't work we'll put her down,' but just then I am summoned into her holy presence.

She's lovely.  No girl.  About 40, tops, with (I later discover) two children 7 and 5 and (more later discoveries) lives in Crouch End, and has dark, serious spectacles and a very smart, pretty face with perfectly made up eyes which the glasses only spotlight.  She is also slim and wearing a wrap around dress that goes round about twice.

She explains what she is going to do to Marius - the floppy haired chap who may be a Martian for all the introduction we've had.   I eavesdrop.  She's going to stick a needle into my joint and flood it with saline and then steroids.  I nearly faint.

'Erm, what's bursitis?' I ask weakly when she pauses for breath.  She tells me.  I instantly forget. All I can see is a world of pain where Marius, who is having trouble finding my tendon with the ultrasound (and killing me by asking me to twist my arm into a shape it hasn't been into in a year), treats me like I'm a dummy that he can practice on.

I am now extremely jealous.  How come bloody saves-lives and makes-a-difference, Doctor Lovely  gets a 'beautiful, gorgeous - I do love you - boy' while all I get is a freaking floppy haired Greek laddie about to stick a 10 gauge needle into my shoulder joint.  I realise I may have answered my own question.  It doesn't help to know the answer.

In the end Marius does not get to use me for a dart board.  Doctor Lovely gives me enough local anesthetic to numb me to my knees (particularly useful for my personal life) and then proceeds to punch me  with Maxwell's silver hammer from the inside of my shoulder where, mystifyingly, the numbness doesn't reach.  It's like a broken heart all over again - frozen on the outside and dying inside.  Not pleasant when you can actually feel someone tampering with the inner sanctum of your joints.

'It should be a little bit heavy now,' Dr Lovely said.

'It just feels *ing sore' I replied showing off my aforementioned talent for the choice curse word. Five minutes of toe-curdling pain, and her location and breeding details, later she said: 'You're doing very well.  It's going to be over in a nanosecond.'

A nanosecond is a long time when you're squashed on your front with a needle in your shoulder.

'Are you comfortable?' she asks.

No, I'm losing inches off my bust which is folding up underneath itself, I didn't say, plumping (if only) for the more sedate:  'I'm fine but at times like these I wish I didn't have boobs.'

'Yes, they're a nuisance, - and dangerous too,' she added cheerily (another ruddy thing to worry about... I silently panicked).  'Just as well they're fun,' she said, no doubt thinking of gorgeous, beautiful boy.

Aye, speak for yourself dear, I thought, unfolding myself and smoothing the creases out of my chest.   Speak for yourself.

More drinks

Tonight it was Jo's leaving party.

We all love Jo.

We all hate that she is leaving.

To go to live in Slough.

I mean.

I ask you?

After the loss of Alice 'Tequila' Channer last month, it's just too much to bear.

I can't even joke about it.

Seb and Friends

Last night to The Blue Post Seb Hunter's book launch.

Seb, author of the fabulously funny How to be a Better Person, something that obviously I have already mastered, was in a previous publishing existence the author of Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict .

This, then, would explain why, when I approached the gorgeous Fran who was deep in conversation with two girls with very long black tresses and dark sexy eyes she turned to me and said:  'Thank Goodness - (you see, evidence of my, erm, inate goodness) You can help me out here, we're discussing the relative merits of Iron Maiden over AC/DC.'

'Alas my dear, I'm too blonde to help you out.' I replied taking a very, very large gulp of wine.

There was a mention of Bon Jovi in this sentence but when I asked around the office if anyone knew anything about heavy metal, Mathilda replied:  'What do you mean?  Lead, polonium....?'

And before I could interject, added: 'Only that you get white lines across your fingernails if you accidentally ingest any of them, which does not, unfortunately, apply to the music...'

'Erm, no I meant, specifically the Waa, Waa, Waa, Waa sort with head banging,' I said as I hurriedly checked my hands for signs of inadvertent heavy metal poisoning of the sort not detectable after your son has copied over the one surviving copy of your lost 'breakout' novel with Queens of the Stone Age (oh yes he did), who I'm told are, like Bon Jovi, merely hard rock and not heavy metal.

'Bon Jovi heavy metal? I think not,' said Mathilda, scornfully.

'According to's hard rock.'

'Very, very light hard rock, mibbe...' she agreed grudgingly in the dulcet, yet dismissive, tones in which we Scots excel.  'Not that I would want to argue with the wiki..'

So, Bon Jovi, wiped from the conversation, but it still leaves me looking at two lovely, but earnest and extremely devoted heavy metal fans.  'I'm too old, I'm afraid.  I was more of a David Essex fan, back in the day.'

I expected that this would be pitifully awful, like when your mother tries to interest you in Cliff Richard as a sex object.

But, not so much...   At least not with Daniel, 'the king', MD who swooned, momentarily, before launching into a romantic reverie of David's greatest hits.  I was surprised.  Nay, shocked.  Though I still know the entire songtrack of 'That'll be the day' (ooh-ho) I wouldn't have picked 'the king' as a fan.  I had expected to be boo-ed off stage and instead, I merely elicited an encore.

The girls wandered off, but not before telling me that I was very much mistaken about 'Metal'.  They insisted they had the combined age of 147 and that Heavy Metal kept them young.  So, forget botox and Restylin and just try a bit of Metallica.  It's a lot cheaper.

I then met yet another fellow Scot - a man I took to very much because I later ran into his wife while she dallied in the Ladies' Room and I examined my wrinkles under the 300w lighting waiting for her to flush, after which she told me that I didn't look a day over 35 (because, obviously, I had been humming Speed King to myself since the previous conversation.  I kid you not - the first three albums I bought:  Tapestry, Deep Purple in Rock and Cat Steven's Mona Bona Jacon - what is that?  - the bad, the banal and the get-me-drunk-and I can sing you Will You Still Love me Tomorrow with chord sequences...

Of course, I liked him for himself too, and not just by association to his flattering wife.  We started of the night with him being quasi English and me being moderated Scots, introduced by Daniel 'the king' MD, but within seconds Daniel had gone off to reign supreme in another conversation and the two of us were snarling ochs and achs like a pair of gruff terriers, bonding in Proddy solidarity over a sectarianism neither of us believed in.

'I'm a Rangers supporter, and I hivnae the heart to tell ma wee boy the deeper implications...' he said.

'My cousins got married in Rangers' tartan.'  I shared, woefully.

We both shook our heeds in sympathy, before launching into a pyrotechnic display of language over the curse of religion in small town Scotland.

'Aye, ye've got tae admit, we Scots we've a talent for swearing,' he said.

I thought back to my mother (now, admit it, you didn't see that coming) and realised he was right.  That woman could make an exhortation to finish your supper sound like being thrown out of a Rangers vs Celtic match.  Not that she said a word that would make the vicar blush - though our vicar drowned himself in the number 6 pond at the mine (true, I'm not making this up), so I'm guessing his tolerance for profanity may have been higher than normal... I doubt it was the bad words that pushed him intae the watter.  No, rather it was, the colour of her speech.  She had a gift for metaphor that made her threats infinitely believable.

My new friend was a little more succinct in his examples, but no less convincing that his thesis did, in fact, hold water.

And then he was wrenched away from me as Seb gave a lovely, touching speech thanking everyone at Pedantic for the pleasant publishing experience.

We are a nice bunch of people.  See you'se I luv yeez aw...  I thought, as I came home and got into bed and....

Tonight when I repeated the exercise I was very surprised to find myself half way through a film that I seemed to have watched ten minutes of last night before sleep claimed me.  And I couldn't even remember putting the DVD into the laptop.

In Scotland we would say that that was a result.

Good night.




A non-believer speaks:

I know.  It's coming to something when your idea of spiritual enlightenment is getting a new photocopier for the office, but as one of my colleagues pointed out, this is actually a very serious business.  'Companies against Crap Photocopiers Unite' she yelled across the open plains:  'You should start a blog about it - we are not alone.  Out in the world there are hundreds of companies just like us, stuck in Photocopier Hell!'

Yes, indeed, dear, I thought, peeling her off the ceiling, while wondering if, perhaps, this would be a good time for her to rethink her meds, but it's true.  Photocopiers which occupy premium office space like very expensive and totally useless, non-functional ornaments that cause you to lug manuscripts round the corner to Pronta Print - in the rain - do not one's mental health improve.

We have attempted to solve the problem of our crumbling and useless photocopier by replacing it with two whiz bang machines, on the basis that surely one of the b*ds with work, and trusting, yes we still have some illusions left - that we're not merely doubling the mental anquish when (surely, invariably) they both seize up and eat reams of paper at the same time.

But Mathilda, showing unusual optimism over good sense, claims that Canon engineers come, like the Messiah, with toolbelts (Well okay, it's not a picture that I ever licked and stuck into my Scripture Book at Sunday School) on which (said in hushed and reverential tones): 'They carry spare parts.'

Well, we can but hope.

And possibly pray...

An Easter Message of Hope and Resurrection...

And it came to pass that King Daniel banished the Kyocera from these lands...

And King Daniel spake:  Go thee Kyocera – limb of Satan - back to China from whence thy parts do come at the pace of a snail - despite the fact that thy art Japanese and  - Lo!  Bring in their place two fair Canon machines, one for each kingdom, that will sort, staple and scan and, hopefully, not break down at the same time and bring on us ruinous calamity.

And, behold, it was very good.
The Lord will deliver us from evil Kyocera on Wednesday and the GMA-ites shall come to pass by us on Wednesday before sunset.
Lord willing.

And Mathilda, who has borne the burden of the demon Kyocera, spake of the glad tidings: Halleluyah.  Praise the Lord!

The Gospel according to Uberonomy  c3 v21

And the people rose as one and gave praise unto the Lord at the passing of a great plague…

And the people beheld the twin-god Canon and they saw that it/they was/were good…

And Ilona, Uberonomy's handmaiden doth spake:  Testify! Testify to the power of the Lord!

And King Daniel praised the people for their Lenten forebearance

The Gospel according to Corvus c1 v1

And the Time Lord spake: Beware of false photocopiers who come to you in Canon’s clothing but inwardly are savage Kyoceras.

Time Lords huh?  Get thee to thyTardis oh ye of little faith.


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Odd numbers

Wandering aimlessly back from work on Thursday afternoon past the shops in Trustafaria that I can't afford to go into when, just before I press my nose against the window of Ottolenghi like Holly Golightly (I eat my Marks and Spencer sausage roll from a bag while marvelling at their £3.50 cup cakes) I hear a voice behind me.

This is unusual as I am not often hailed in the street unless it is to be slapped with a copy of London Lite or asked for money. Since I wasn't standing outside a tube station I guessed the free paper wasn't an option.  Damn it - how can you tell a beggar that you don't have any dosh when you're standing outside an emporium of vastly inflated conspicuous consumption, eating?  Wave the M& S wrapper under their nose and say you're only sightseeing?  Fearing the worst I turned with heavy heart.

And then, relaxed:  It was just a girl holding a gift-wrapped parcel and pushing an infant in a stroller with a pair of expensive party-focked toddlers welded to each side of the handle, from which floated a large balloon with a number 5 on it. 

'Excuse me Lady, I need help.' she said in a heavily accented voice, obviously not from around these parts, and definitely not the children's mother who was more likely to be sitting inside Ottolenghi pushing a quinoa salad round the plate.

'I am looking for number one hund-er-ed and nine-tee sith, and it no here.'  There was a hint of panic in her voice as she looked around her, as though she had wandered unwittingly into some sort of incomprehensible parallel universe, which was probably about right.

'A hundred and ninety-six?'  I asked, just to be clear.

'Si, Lady, but it no here.'  The children stood like contented cows, staring into open mouthed space, but the girl was obviously distressed, desperate to get her charges to some little Camilla's birthday party.

I looked up at the picture framers where I was standing and, this being Trusafaria, of course there was no ruddy number.  Across the street there was a church that sold fancy blouses of the sort worn by Italian hookers, and a drop-in centre for the homeless.  Again, no number.  I could see her problem.  I glanced further up the road where there was the candle shop - yes, I kid you not - a whole store devoted to scented candles where, for £35.00 you can perfume your rooms with 'woodsmoke' - something we achieve at home simply by having a charred pine log that won't burn sitting in the grate.

Anyway, I digress, there was at least a number:  195.  This made everything clearer.  For all of two seconds. Then I realised I would have to find another number to see which way they were running.  I squinted over at Emma Hope where you can buy velvet baseball boots at £205 a pair.  207.  Eureka.

'It's going to be on the other side of the road somewhere - the numbers are going that way.' I pointed up towards the Emerald Isle, architect designed public toilets.

'But, how?  Look this is one hund-er-ed and nine-tee five but one hund-er-ed and nine-tee seth, it no here.'  The girl looked as though she was going to cry.  'I no understand...'  she said but, finally, I did...

'In England we have odd numbers on one side of the road - on this side 195, so this will be 197, then 199 and so on, while on the other side there will be the even numbers, so you just have to cross over the street and look there.'

The girl's face cleared in relief tinged with embarrasment as the parallel universe made just a little more sense to her, and set off at top speed across the zebra crossing.  Problem solved.  Now if someone can just tell me what the point of velvet baseball boots is, we'll all be a lot wiser.

Monday, 13 April 2009

What's in a name

A recent Myeresque article of mine in one of the weekend broadsheets, which was accompanied by an unusually nice and highly photoshopped picture, elicited one 'cross' reply from an elderly lady in the shires who obviously has even less to do in her spare time than I do since she had taken the time to seek out my private email address, and a number of sweet, if misguided, propositions from members of the single fraternity.  One of my prospective suitors wrote to tell me what he would like to have for his last meal before the lethal injection...  Ah, the old lethal injection line - it never gets old.   In any case, since I referred to the men I had been dating as hapless trolls, it was never going to win me friends or influence people in my favour.  Not least those people who've wafted in and quickly blown out of my life over recent months.  My email was further swelled by a number of messages signed 'Hapless Troll' from worried friends.  I had to do an awful lot of self-flaggelating apologising.

And, for the record, there was only one Hapless Trolls, who since he doesn't live in this country any more, didn't recognise himself.  And at 6 foot 2 is actually more of a hapless giant.

However, a few months ago in a women's magazine I had another lovely (and again highly photoshopped) picture that looks absolutely nothing like me but rather a more idealised version of the person I might have been if I was born facing a wind machine and a row of lights backed with silver deflectors, and so - naturally - I wanted a copy of it.  I wrote and asked the picture desk if they would send me a jpeg and a very charming girl called Stacey kindly sent me several different shots.

I assumed she'd be the work experience girl - you know, highly educated with a degree in Fine Art from The Slade and a MA from The Royal College, scrabbling about on her first job on the lowest rungs of publishing, making the tea, doing the photocopying, and dealing with vain old matrons and their annoying requests.  As well as people like me.

We exchanged a few emails in which we quickly built up a brisk repartee.

We were on Day Three, and maybe four emails in apiece in, amid discussion of her handsome uncle who lived on a houseboat and was single whom she described as 'tall, leonine and someone she hoped to resemble before too long' when it slowly, oh so sloooooooooowly, began to occur to me that something about that last statement was a bit odd.  Why would a girl want to look leonine?

And then I remembered Stacey Keach.

'I just realised - you're not a girl are you?' I typed.

'Noooooo,' s/he replied.  'It's a common misunderstanding with a name like mine, so I thought it was about time that I dropped a hint.'

I reread all my messages and wished s/he had dropped a hint a little earlier.  Maybe before we arranged to meet for a drink.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Mr T's in the House

To a pub on the Strand for something called the Galley Club where Mr T is giving a talk. Jo and I decide to turn up in support like a couple of office groupies which seemed like a good idea at the moment of conception, but less wise when we realised we had to hand over a fiver each to listen to our boss talk which we can do - nay are obliged to do, in the office - for free. I mentioned this to Derek, my fellow countryman who runs the club and, with his hand half out of his pocket for our contribution, he generously agreed that we could be Mr T's guests. Fabulous. I went up to the bar to get our free glasses of wine, only to discover they had run out.

'That'll be £7,' said the barmaid.

I was awfully glad the attendance fee was waived.

'Mr T was brilliant,' I gushed in the office next morning.  Well, what else am I going to say?  Be serious...

'And did the audience lap it up?' asked on of the Pedants.

'They were rapt...'

'He rapped?' asked Fran in tones of horror.

'No, the audience were rapt.'

'Thank goodness, I thought you meant that he actually rapped during the talk.'

Well we don't call him Mr T for nothing....  I'm thinking the Christmas Party might take a whole new turn this year.
I am on day two of a diet called the 'dump your unwanted confectionary at work diet' in which low-cal employees bring in all their left-over chocolate from Christmas, and boxed Easter Eggs that they are afraid to tackle alone, into the office and leave it for the rest of us (ie me) to eat.  So I sit and nurse my stupid crispbread with low fat stupid cottage cheese on it and drink my coffee with Sweet 'n Low and then swallow half a tin of  Celebrations.

What a daft name for a box of mini Mars  and Snickers Bars - what's so ruddy celebratory about being fat?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

I fell in the door at two glasses of wine later.

Youngest daughter was sitting on the sofa, talking on her phone, watching Gossip Girl on her laptop and MTV on the television.

'I thought you were at the library?' she said, without removing the mobile from her ear.

'How did you know that?' I asked. We have a strict policy of non-disclosure. I tell her nothing and don't ask. She tells me nothing and doesn't talk.

'I saw a poster at the library today. I went there to do my revision [this is a new definition of revision, believe me] and I turned around and there you were, flapping on the notice board. It's so embarrasing. I was with my friends... It's like you're stalking me.'

Lend me your ears

Last night I had a little reading for the Kensington Ladies at The Brompton Library at which I arrived with trepidation. After my last reception in Pylon-land, I was fearful that this group too would be less than complimentary about my dear book, but with received pronounciation and very well coiffed hair.

I needn't have worried. They don't shoot authors, yet, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library system and everyone was unfailingly polite.

I sat down on my lone chair with everyone facing me, feeling like I was at an interview for a job I had absolutely no hope of getting, and began to read, my voice trembling like a octogenarian on day release from the old folk's home. I fixed my eyes on the page, stumbling and stammering, thinking where are you now SUPER bloody MARION, get the hell out here and perform. Where's your inner Mariella? Where's your Marjorie? I can't imagine them sitting upstairs in a branch library reading in a monotone, all put following their finger across the page.

At the end I raised my head and looked around the room. A man in the back row was already asleep. Another man, a rather handsome, silver haired banker type (with a house no doubt 'cradled in the smug arms of The Boltons' (Picasso said when you start liking your own work you should give up, I can only imagine what he thought of quoting yourself) glared at me, studiously unimpressed.

My water glass was empty. I drank from it anyway.

'Would you like us to tell you what we thought?' asked one of the ladies in the second row.

'Not especially, actually, if you want the truth. The last time I did this it was a bit of a trial by fire. But if you want to ask questions?'

...and they were off.

One didn't like the 'Mills and Boon bit' but liked the thriller part. She didn't however think the heroine needed to be quite so hard on the daughter. 'That's what teenagers are like...' she said, imploringly. 'Is that how you feel about children?'

'Well I've four of my own so, no...' (I've four of my own so, yes...) I said and thought simultaneously.

She smiled sadly, her pretty Felicity-Kendal face troubled by my missopedia [I asked around the office for the word for someone who hates children. 'A mother?' Mathilda helpfully supplied - so I had to resort to that highly scientific reference engine - Yahoo Answers... no doubt you'll tell the correct term...]

Her son is a non-fiction editor at Fourth Estate, she whispered to me at the end, so I think it's safe to say I wont be submitting my ground breaking study "Quantum Processes in Semiconductors" (the real title of a book that someone offered today) any time soon.

'I did enjoy it,' she said hurriedly. 'But it's really a thriller and the cover makes it look like chic lit.'

Another lady thought the lack of maternal feeling in the novel 'refreshing' and yet another lady in the front row nodded off.

It was very hot. My cheeks were flushed, my palms were sweating, my water glass was still empty, it was still only five past seven. I was running out of things to say. They had run out of questions. The sleeper in the back row woke up and left with a lout slam of the door and another person crept in late.

'Jana!' I wailed, seeing that the, obviously highly intelligent and deeply prescient latecomer, was a woman I have known for 25 years.

'Thank god you were late, if you had come any earlier, I would have choked - how did you find out about it?'

'I saw a poster of you with very red cheeks in my local library. Let's go and have a drink,' she hissed when the ladies had clapped charmingly and I could finally, finally, finally shut-up (though silver fox was still looking extremely stern).

'Nuts?' she asked, half an hour later from the bar of the Portobello Gold.

'I'm beginning to think so,' I answered.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Stepping out

When all the politicians had gone home to scrutinise their expense accounts, Mr T suggested we might go to dinner.

'Would you like to come?' he asked me and then turned to debonaire banker and said: 'You don't mind if I bring my crew, do you?'

Ah, I've always wanted to be in an entourage, and so off we went. Myself, an Editor, Junior Editor, Fashionista, Junior Fashionista, Mr T and the lovely Banker. As we tripped off through the police barricades set up in readiness for today's G20 summit, Mr T, in a fit of unaccustomed intimacy, took my arm.

My, I was flattered. Look at me, linking arms with the boss... It soon became clear that this was not the honour I had thought it. For a start Mr T is a very fast walker. His banker friend also has exceedingly long legs that stride out like John Cleese going for Gold. I'm a dreamer. I'm a dawdler. I'm also in three inch heels and we're negotiating cobbles. To be frank, I couldn't keep up.

There they were striding out forcefully and there was I tripping along, my little podgy legs a blur, as I tried in vain to maintain the pace, held firmly in the crook of Mr T's arm. What's more, the two of them were chatting animatedly to each other and I had nothing much to say. Actually there was nothing much I could say except perhaps 'oxygen'... I was out of breath. Every time the road narrowed, because Mr T and I were linked, we huddled closer together, the two men, coming at me from both sides (that sounded different in my head) and making me feel like the meat in the sandwich - a very, very nice sandwich, but one in which the bread is definitely the most interesting part. They were artisan hand milled Poillaine and I was supermarket, water injected ham... As we turned a corner at 40 miles an hour I glanced to the young editor behind me imploring and stared, wide eyed and panicked, like a skittish horse on the starting line for the Grand National behind the other fifty fillies...

My feet were killing me. And then, whack, Mr T dropped something on the ground (it may have been deliberate - a sort of mercy food drop) and when he stooped to collect it, he let go of my arm. But now I was the riderless horse after I'd refused the first jump. They sprinted on ahead, the gap between them closing, and I got squeezed out of the middle until I merely trotted along behind them while they galloped down the field, or the Mall at any rate. I felt like Prince Philip in one of those pathetic little buggies trying to control two large stallions with a handbag instead of a whip. I gave up in defeat and evenutally they left me behind. I slowed to a canter and fell in with the young editor and publicity manager.

'I could see you were struggling,' said the editor.

By the time we reached the restaurant - which incidentally Boris Johnson was just leaving - I couldn't feel my feet at all.

But that could have been alcohol related, I admit.

We had a fabulous meal, most of which passed in a pleasant Sauvignon induced haze though I do remember one sticky moment when Mr T announced that everyone assumed he was the romantic interest publisher in my book.

I was mortified.

'I'm so sorry,' I said (I'm sho shorry, may have been a closer approximation)... The book was written long before I worked at Pedantic and the hero was retrospectively based on a man I met at a dinner party who is, indeed, a publisher and does, indeed, have a wonderful smile, but of whom I have no biblical knowledge and is neither handsome nor Mr T.

'I don't mind,' he said, the way I say that I don't mind being fifty. It hadn't really occured to me that this would ever strike anyone as even faintly plausible. I'm a bit slow. In all things.

Mr T was last seen holding the fashionista's arm, striding very briskly across Westminster Bridge, with Big Ben striking in the foreground, disappearing into the horizon like the fade out scene in a romantic novel.

Who needs Richard Curtis, I ask you?

The Storm

And then it was the turn of Vince Cable's The Storm - this time held at the Liberal Club in Whitehall, which has an enormous sweeping oval marble staircase that loops upwards for several floors like a swirling lasoo at a wild west show.  It's impossible to come down the steps without feeling like you're doing a Tara and you're going to 'worry about it tomorrow'.  This, however, is not the case on the way up because the ladies restroom is at the very, very top of the staircase, and then again up yet another flight of smaller, garrett-like stairs which makes you aware of what an afterthought women were in the design of the building.  In other words you run up them like Cinderella at five past midnight and you swan down them like May West, relieved that you made it.

The launch itself was held in a vast reception room with three arches skipping along the back wall, tiled in beige, biscuit and green glazed tiles, somewhat like a very plush station on the Northern Line, with carpetting.  Vince made a cleverly self-deprecating speech and we sold all our copies of the book.  All went well until I unwisely helped myself to one of the snacks in a little glass bowl while I was talking to Vince Cable's charming younger brother.

You know that feeling when you've eaten a crisp and you can't quite swallow it properly and you need to cough, but you know, absolutely and without doubt, that if you start coughing you will never, ever stop, and also if you attempt to speak, then only more coughing, possibly with tears, inept attempts at the Heimlich manoeuvre and embarrassing spluttering, will ensue?  Well that's what happened.

I mimed that I had to go off in the direction of the bar and walked away without speaking.  I don't think I'm very good at miming, and Mr Cable Junior may just have thought I was a rude person who, tiring of the conversation, walked off with a theatrical flourish to get another alcoholic beverage.

I approached MD who was debonairely talking to a man in an equally debonaire dark banker's suit.

'Ah Marion, can I just introduce you to...'

'I'm choking,' I whispered, trying to breath through my nose and not disturb my throat that was about to spasm...'

'So you are he said calmly and stepped aside (now that's what I call a gentleman!) to let me approach the bar...  which was deserted.  There were no glasses.  No wine.  No servers.

I turned and saw a waitress disappear into a side room so I scuttled after her and followed her to the firmly closed door.  I banged on it.  Hard.

One of our editors was standing nearby.  'Marion, can I just introduce you to Vince's son...'  she said of the most handsome man I have ever seen in my life, while I stood there, red faced, still trying to stifle the explosive coughing fit.

'I'm choking.  I need a drink.' I stammered, sounding like an alcoholic after the bar had shut, but was saved when a waitress opened the door of the antechamber a crack and peered round it as though I was trying to sell her religion.

'Water.  I need water.  I'm choking.'  I gasped.

''Okay,' she nodded and then vanished again.  I slumped against the door frame.  Take it easy.  Breathe.  Don't talk.  Don't cough.  Don't think of it.  Relax your throat.  I said to myself.

Ten years passed.  I grew my hair out and became a silver vixen.  I had three grandchildren.  I remarried and moved to Antibes... and still the ruddy waitress didn't come back.  Had I actually been choking as opposed to merely having some annoying snack crumbs wedged in my windpipe, I would have died.

Just as my grandchildren went to university, the door opened again and the waitress handed me a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it on a silver tray with a doily on it.

I slugged it back.

I lived.  Yeah.  It was a Lib Dem miracle. Though I then had to go to the Ladies' Room and compose myself.

I may be some time...

Keep your friends close

Yes it does... I've also been in book launch heaven over the last week. First it was Tom Avery's for To the End of the Earth, held in the swanky Dunhill's off Berkeley Square, just around the corner from Morton's where lone men roam at lunch time. The room was full of square jawed, handsome young chaps of the sort who drive huskies across the frozen wastes in their spare time and escort aristocratic blondes in the evenings. Tom, modest and lovely as well as intrepid, certainly knows how to throw a party.

This was followed a few nights later by a Notting Hill Gate soiree for another author who shares my agent, given in one of those incredibly grand houses which open their gardens to the public once a year just to show us plebs how the other 0.01 percent grow roses artfully over the conservatory. It was achingly lovely - the party, the house, the hostess, and possibly the author but I admit I've gone off him since he was sniffy about the fact that my own book launch was held in a pub. Snob.

Mr T was already installed with a glass in one hand and suitably interested guest in the other.

'I didn't know you were coming,' he said, managing not to sound disappointed.

'Ah but I knew you were coming because I RSVP'd for you, and of course, as you know, old Chuckie is a friend of mine and this is my manor.'

Okay, well it's not my manor. It's Lady Somebody Rather Impressive's manor, but although I live somewhat to the north of the area, it is still, with a small, geographical stretch of the post code, my neighbourhood. In fact I saw many people I knew. My husband's cousin was there with his wife. David Macmillan and Arabella Pollen whose son went to school with mine and who was good-natured enough to greet me enthusiastically were also there. It was very, very starry. I saw friends, neighbours, countrymen and a lovely redhead (I have a weakness for redheaded women) whose daughter used to go to nursery school with my anarchist back in theri finger-painting days. I felt like I was in an episode of This is Your Life and that everyone had gathered especially for me. I think I knew more people there than at my own book launch - so thanks for that Chuckie - I got the classy party after all by virtue of association.

As I was just about to leave I found myself speaking to two diminutive men, and yes, I know, I think everyone is short and that I'm an Amazonian Queen just because I'm wearing heels, but I am convinced I could look at the top of their heads from on high. One was sporting brightly coloured Christopher Biggins specs of the sort architects used to wear in the 80s to underline that they are creative people, or which Children's entertainers use to denote that they are fun. He was funny and nice and told me he had noticed me earlier which I took as a compliment and not to mean that I looked like a lighthouse on a particularly rugged coastline in my red dress. We chatted the sort of drivel you chat about at parties - and it seemed to me, though I admit I'm out of practice in these things - that there was a little bit of mutual appreciation going on. I was thoroughly enjoying myself until the glamorous redhead came up to me and put her arm around me and asked me to remind her of the name of my book.

'It's called The Lost Wife's Tale,' I said, preening a little (look two glasses of wine on an empty stomach followed by two crackers with pate do not provide fertile ground for modesty) as Mr Red Specs' face fell a little.

'Do you all know each other,' I asked, getting ready to launch into the story of how we met all those years ago...

'Yes darling,' said beautiful red head, 'Do you know, that Marion's son was at nursery with Doone... (presumably the elder sister of Eyre and Mansfield) and she's just written a novel...' she continued as I realised that far from being strangers, I had in fact been chatting up her husband for the previous ten minutes. That was the end of that beautiful romance. I do think that couples should be made to wear badges at parties, just to save embarrassment. Turned out the other man had a daughter who was in my girl's class at school. I once had to ring him when she disappeared to see if she was holing up there. It's a small ruddy world. Too darn small.

A weathered aristo in a fortified blonde perm joined us and reached into her handbag to reveal a packet of Camels (particularly apt given her complexion - they should put that on the side instead of a health warning), from which she drew one, and lit it up. Just then my literary friend, approached and said she had run out of fags. I resisted the obvious pun and told her to ask the Dowager for a smoke.

Dowager looked us in the eye and without missing a beat said: 'I'm afraid I don't have any cigarettes,' and kept on puffing.

You see that's how the rich stay rich (and married). They hold on to what belongs to them. And they don't share.
Vic Reeves rang up and asked to speak to Sarah, his editor.

I said 'No, she's not in today.'

Does it get any better than this?
For the past two months I've been attempting to set up a meeting between one of our authors who I last saw in a fashionable restaurant with his retinue after my book launch - and Mr T. Since then we've since become firm pen pals as we exchange weekly emails in which I try to match up his schedule with our esteemed leader to find them a mutually convenient date to meet.

Our author cancelled the last one.  He was in Los Angeles working on his film.

We had to make another date, but that was going to be difficult.  He would be in Ireland.

I went back to the diary but he said he would be in Cannes on the day I suggested.

Only joking he added.

I'm not sure he was, however, eventually we found a space.

Lovely, he said, we can go to the Ivy Club, if that's okay.

Wonderful, I said, as if I would actually be going myself.

I pencilled it in.

This is what Cinderella would feel like if she worked as a PA

Thrown to the lions...

To the land where electricity pylons go to mate for another reading in a library.  The little town I chug into on the commuter train on the misery line looks just like the one where I grew up, but English, with docks instead of coal mines, and the library similarly shuttered and stained with graffiti.  They are charging people to come and listen to me so I'm not expecting a big turn out.  The organiser reassures me however: tickets have been sold and people as far away as the next station along have struggled through the torrential rain that is jumping off the tarmac in the car park like it's a power shower on high.  I begged Louisa to come and support me but she's photographing a one armed man who can't get a disabled parking place in Billericay for a local paper, so I'm huddled in the staff room with a plate of Jaffa Cakes and four members of staff.

'So have any of you read the book?' I ask bravely.

There's a long silence while the librarians look at each other.  I'm reminded of Louisa in the Clap clinic.

'Yes, I have,' said one, eventually when none of the others would own up.

I waited.

'...and?' I said when nothing more was forthcoming.  Somehow, I knew it wasn't going to be a front page of the LRB sort of accolade, however her...

'It was alright.' still managed to humble me almost as much as my supposed friend Frances who drove up from the country to see me and announced, hand on my knee, that I was 'sort of' attractive.  (He later followed up with a text message  saying that what he had meant to say was 'really, really' but too late, that ship has sailed and docked in a far distant port where it has sprung a leak and sunk to the bottom of the harbour, and so you can get your ruddy hand off my leg, mate.)

'Oh well,' I said - thinking that this wasn't going to be much of a pull quote on the jacket, nodding like one of those dogs you used to put in the back window of Ford Escorts, trying to look as if this was something I could take in my stride, while I mentally scooped my guts off the floor and shoved them back into the gaping ego shaped hole in my stomach.  I mean, you would hope that if someone asks you to trek out to the provinces to talk to their book club that they might have actually checked that they, themselves, enjoyed the book first.

I turned to another librarian who was dressed as a bus driver:

'What about you?' I asked with the same sort of hope that kids from Brent display when asking Santa for a pony.

'Well, the humour got me through it,' she said, valiantly, as though it was a struggle she had to overcome.  Try Cold Mountain if you want a ruddy reading ordeal, I thought.  She told me she was a fantasy fan, or speculative fiction as I have learned to call it and would probably have been much more impressed by my colleague Tom Stormcaller Lloyd, but no, they were stuck with me.  And we still hadn't left the staff room.

'Though one woman did ring up and ask if we would be selling copies because she had enjoyed it so much she wanted to get another to give to her daughter,' said a third librarian (who either hated the book or simply hadn't read it - neither was confirmed or denied) tapping my arm consolingly.  I jammed a Jaffa cake into my mouth and sucked all the orange jelly out of it to stop myself sobbing. just as the plate was whipped away and transported into the main library where people who had paid money to eat them had begun to gather.

'What about the book group, how did they take it?'  Say what you like about me, but I've got guts when it comes to criticism...  Glutton for punishment comes to mind, as well as for chocolate biscuits.

'Mixed,' said Ms 'Alright'.  Another quotation for Amazon.

I daren't ask more and dragged myself into the main library where people had assembled around the biscuits like wildebeest round a watering hole.

'Now Marion's going to talk to us about herself and her book,' said Ms 'Alright'.

Bloody, bloody - this was news to me.  I thought I was going to read.  But then again, what was the point of reading if few of them had liked the book?  I hadn't prepared a speech.  I'm not that interesting.  A person who promotes her book by talking about her recent marriage break up in the Guardian under the heading Sad, Single and something shudderingly worse that I cannot repeat, is obviously hard pressed for something to say.

My mind went blank.



New novel not written, blank.

'Erm, would anyone like to ask a question?' I murmured eventually, coughing the words up like nails from a rusty coffin.

A big girl with the air of an off duty policewoman in the front row said:  'I liked the first fifty pages but then I couldn't get on with it,' she said.

I'm still waiting for the question.  It isn't coming.

'Yer, and then it got going and I liked it, but then it went off and I didn't like it again.'

The image of the man in the wheelchair in Little Britain popped into my head.

I nodded, as if this had been exactly what I planned when I poured a couple of years of my life into writing it.

'I didn't like it,' will go great with the 'Alright' when trying to impress my American publisher.  I started to hyperventilate just as a nice woman on the left asked me how difficult it had been to get it published.

A monologue ensued.  Those men I've been going out with - they stepped up and inspired me.  Drone, drone, drone, publishing, drone, drone, agent, drone, drone, drone, drone, dropped computer, drone, drone, and then husband left me... (yep it got that bad - another five minutes and we would have been on to tales from childbirth).

I paused for breath and glanced around the room looking for another hand.  A woman in an ugly jumper spoke up:  'I didn't like the language.'

Me nodding again.  Of course.  Terrible syntax, awful sentence construction, too many metaphors...  I looked at her and raised my eyebrows waiting for her to elaborate.

'I don't buy books with bad language.  I don't like it.'  she elaborated.  Profusely. Itemising the specific chapters..  They're nothing if not consistent these gals.

'Oh, you mean the swearing?' I said, relieved that at least it wasn't literary criticism she was offering but merely the Mary Whitehouse viewpoint.  ' Well, you're quite right.  If you don't like swearing in a book, you shouldn't buy it.  I don't like your ****ing ****y jumper, and I certainly wouldn't buy that.'   I didn't say.

No, I was cowed.  Smiling ingratiatingly like a geisha in a tea house.

'I don't like books that have abuse in them.  I don't know why there just can't be nice stories, that don't have any attacks in them,' said another who left, I noticed, clutching a Maeve Binchy book of short stories.  Tough audience, setting me up against Saint Maeve. 

I apologised for my 'attack' storyline.  Next time I'll have Agnes go on a holiday to a Greek Island instead of being kidnapped.

Luckily there were a couple of retired teachers and a magistrate who may or may not have been a plant as she came from Leigh on Sea and knew my friend Louisa (hopefully not from a court appearance - or the Clap clinic, now I think of it) who were enthusiastic in their support, rolling their eyes and shrugging their cashmere twin sets in disgust at the hostile audience.

'I thought they were very rude,' said the magistrate as we travelled back up to London together.

'They just didn't like my book,' I said with stoic resignation.

'Well it's a cultural wasteland, dear,' she said, 'They don't know what they're talking about.  Pay no attention.  I'm surprised that your publisher let you go there.'

I don't think I'll be back somehow.  However, I did get a letter from the bus driver who is training to be a Methodist Priest (yep good luck with that) telling me that the feedback had been good and that most of the women had never met a real live author before and had really enjoyed the event.

Good for them.

I'm surprised they didn't eat me instead of the biscuits.

Mother's Day

I'm telling Eva the whole story in the same cafe after Louisa leaves to drive back to Essex.  This is my life.  I sit around in coffee shops pretending I write in the afternoon, dispensing advice that I don't take myself.  Eva also has a Scandinavian boyfriend with whom she has recently been reunited and is annoyingly smug and happy.  No sharing lemon tarts for her.  She's lost her appetite.

Damn her.

I can't eat if she isn't - it's the tyranny of the sisterhood.  We're talking about our kids who have all recently returned from university.  Mine is planning to spent the week protesting the G20 Summit, while hers is about to have a house party that she, as yet, doesn't know about.  Mine spent the weekend playing me Palestinian freedom songs.  I'm getting old.  I actually said: 'That sounds just like shouting,' when he played me Protest Rap.

'Listen to the words,' he said.

'I don't want to.  I like melodies - give me a protest song that sounds like Michael Buble and I'll sing along.  Mums like Michael Buble...'

He turned his attention to his laptop, clicked a few buttons and sure enough, a ballad ensued from his tinny speakers at maybe a decibel short of Wembley Station volume.

'and the tanks came... and my mother cried... la la la la la...'  sang (ahem) the (ahem ahem) singer.  I nodded appreciatively.  'lovely darling - I do like a nice tune...'  and hastily excused myself before he asked me to give him a lift to the tube station so he can go and picket the Bank of England...

You can see why I would rather sit in a bourgeois cafe and sip overpriced, but delicious, coffee with a succession of women.

We're just finishing our decaf skinny double shot frappalatte soya frothy nonsenses when an impossibly tall, slim, glamorous redhead comes into the cafe pushing a baby stroller and pulling a toddler who appears to be on springs.

'So sweet,' says Eva.  'Do you remember when our kids were small.'  Her eyes grow all misty.  The toddler bounces across the floor like an unsteady ball.

'I know.  Everything seemed so much simpler then.' I agree as the mother unzips and decants the chubby, edible baby into a high chair and squeezes the springy toddler out of an anorak and slots him into a corner banquette where he slides and ricochets across the slippery pleather.

'I often worry that I worked too much and wish I had spent a bit more time at home,' she sighs. 'Now they're all grown up and just want me to go out so they can have their friends round.  They used to love coming to Wales, now I have to go alone...'

'I often worry that I didn't work enough and that maybe I should have spent less time at home, I sigh.  'Now they've all left (well that's the fiction, anyway) and I'm a bit lost.'

We look at each other sadly.

The mother has coils and coils of French Lieutenant's Woman hair pinned up in that artless, dishevelled way that I have spent hours of my life trying to perfect and never managing more than a bird's nest.  She unpacks the child kit-bag with the efficiency of a soldier on a forced march.  The baby's bottle is placed on the table.  A muslin cloth is set down next to it.  A selection of small, chewable toys is unearthed from the bottom of the bag.  It occurs to me that this is exactly what I need - something to gnaw on that contains no calories. Quilted coats balloon on a nearby chair and eventually the mother sits down and looks at the menu.

Eva and I are watching her enviously.

I was never that calm.

Another group of young mothers are seated around a communal table, barricaded in by strollers the size of small jeeps, each nursing a baby with a bottle stuck in its mouth.  Definitely no breast feeding in Notting Hill Gate ladies. God forbid you display your chest in public unless it's in a low cut slip dress from Joseph.  The contented sound of money  throbs from the glossy mothers as one chats about her upcoming Easter ski-ing holiday when nanny, currently offstage, will be staying home taking care of the infant, thus the need for a bottle fed babe.

I was never that rich.

Eva and I are watching them like puppies in a pet shop window, when ...


...three wine glasses hit the floor, falling off the edge of the table like lemmings and splintering dramatically into a thousand jagged pieces, while behind them the springy toddler looks alarmed despite having pushed them.

Pretty mother jumps.  'That's why I tell you not to play with things!' she screeches, her voice threatening to shatter the one remaining glass on the table.

A waitress bends to survey the damage giving us a lovely view of her thong.  A waiter rushes off to get a dustpan and brush as the toddler goes for a full house and starts fingering the last wine glass, seconds before the mother sweeps it out of reach along with all the cutlery on to another, table.  He does, however, continue to bounce.  This time along the banquette where he reaches to the floor for a particularly tempting spike of broken glass that nestles invitingly inches from his bobbing foot.

'NO!' three voices yell in unison - mine, Eva's and his mother's.  We all lock eyes as Eva and I smile apologetically.  Old habits die hard.

Springy toddler is dispatched to yet another table that has hastily been cleared of all glassware where he sits with a deer-in-the-headlights, blank expression on his face and proceeds to knock over the salt dispenser, spreading an avalanche of crystals all over the surface. He's just about to begin opening sugar packets when the mother snaps.

'I don't know why I thought this was a good idea,' she wails operatically, yanking the toddler out of the chair and into his anorak in one movement as he begins to whine. 

'I'm hungry,' he moans.

'Stand there, don't move,' she says, jamming toys and bottles back into her bag.

The baby, meantime, smiles beatifically and gurgles then tips her head to one side and waves at us.

We wave back as pretty mother jams her into her pushchair and carries the toddler out the door, dangling by one arm like he's been hung carelessly on a hook, his feet in their cute little red boots, barely skimming the floor.

'Poor woman,' says Eva. 'My boys were a lot worse than that.'

'My kids were always fighting.  I wouldn't dared to have brought them in here, they would have been on the floor, rolling around like dogs, gibbering.'

'Mine were awful.  I couldn't take them anywhere.  It was so stressful.'

'I know just how she feels.  I was overwrought the whole time.'

'I was glad to get to work to get a rest, to be honest.'

'I couldn't get out of the house because nobody would look after mine.'

Nostalgia banished momentarily, we paid our bill and left the cafe.  The pretty redhead was standing at the bus stop staring into space, her face a picture of gaunt tragedy - exactly like Meryl Streep at the end of Lyme Regis harbour, but in a green wool coat instead of a hooded cape.

On an impulse I walked up to her and smiled.  'I hope you don't feel that you shouldn't sit down and have a cup of coffee - nobody minds about a bit of broken glass. That sort of thing happens all the time. We've all been there and it passes and it does get easier,' I said.

Her face crumpled, tears instantly running down her cheeks.  'I just never get any sleep,' she sobbed.  'If only I could just get one night's sleep.  I'm so tired.'

'I know, I know,,' I murmured soothingly, 'It's hell but it's over in the blink of an eye.  My friend and I were sitting in there almost crying because our kids are all grown up and we feel redundant, and I had four kids - so I know just how hard it is.'

'I don't know how you coped.' she said, drying her tears on a Carluccio's napkin that I found in the bottom of my handbag.

'It gets easier.  I promise,'  and after another ten minutes of my best attempt at kindly chat during which I valiantly did not cry myself, I patted her arm and walked off.

It does get easier.  They don't break glasses in restaurants and throw tantrums on the floor.  No, they go backpacking across Asia, or take a dodgy minicab home from a party at 2am on a Saturday night, or drive back from university in their friend's car who just passed his test the week before.  They have parties when you go away for the weekend and let people sleep, or worse, in your bed.  They sit down outside the Bank of England with the other anarchists (from Notting Hill Gate) and call you on the phone and ask you to check on the Guardian website and see why everyone's throwing broken bottles.  And on mother's day, instead of a school craft assignment card with cardboard daffodils stuck wonkily on the front, though you've hinted that what you would really like is a cup of tea and a chat at the end of your bed, you wait until 11.30 before you realise it isn't coming and go downstairs, trip over the trainers, and do the washing up in an empty house.

It does get easier.  And so very much harder.