Monday, 29 June 2009


Sitting room floor has ten piles of assorted clothing, two suitcases and a rucksack. Son is reciting what he is taking with him on his two month trip to the Holy Land which he makes sound like a tour of duty with the Foreign Legion. ‘Trackies, jeans, one pair of football shorts…’

‘Why, are you planning on playing soccer?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ While he’s out there saving the Palestinians from tyranny and single handedly solving the internal disputes between Hamas and Fatah there might just be time for a quick game of five aside. Perhaps they could just form opposing soccer teams and toss for Gaza instead of goals?

He’s still going through his packing list: ‘Swimming shorts and some casual shorts…’

‘Surely not just the casual shorts, what about some formal shorts? What happens if there’s a gala dinner and you need to wear black tie?’

‘Ha ha, but maybe I do need smart shorts in case I have to be clean.’

‘It was a joke…’ But he’s now rolling socks.

‘Take anklets,’ Suggests the youngest.

‘I don’t have any that match.’

‘I can just see the Palestinian kids in Ramallah being really judgmental if you turn up with mismatched anklets…’ Says his other sister.

‘Yep, what’s that organisation called where you go and act as an international witness – I’m sure one of the qualifications is having formal shorts and matching anklets’

‘The International Solidarity Movement.’ She and he both offer at the same time.

‘Oh-my-name-is-Anbara-and-I-know-everthing-about-everything…’ He mimics very fast like the voice over on an American drug add where they have to tell you all the side-effects in the last two seconds.

He moves all the clothes from one pile to another but nothing goes into the rucksack or the two suitcases he’s leaving behind.

‘Shall I take a football shirt?’ He hesitates over the political correctness of the Chelsea strip. ‘Everyone likes Brazil, that’ll do’

He folds and unfolds several shirts, makes a new pile and still nothing goes into the suitcases.

‘Please, pack the suitcases that you’re leaving behind and get them up into the attic.’

‘Why are you nagging?’

‘Because they’ve been here for two days now and you leave in two and a half hours and I don’t want them still sitting here when you’re gone. Every time you've left this house in the past two years I've had to clean up after you, I don't want to have to do it again. I'm going away myself tomorrow.’

‘Well you shouldn't leave everything to the last minute, should you? You’re stressing and you’re stressing me. Don’t you think I’m stressed enough?’

‘It’s a ruddy holiday, not a Stalinist Labour Camp in Siberia, you do remember that don’t you?’ But he’s taken his martyred expression upstairs by now asking his sister to lend him her copy of Vernon God Little which she doesn’t want to give as her boyfriend before last gave it to her and it has sentimental value.

‘You’re too attached to material goods,’ he says.

Strangely, she doesn’t kill him.

The Brazil shirt has been joined by another from Italy. The rucksack is now half full but he’s still waiting for a few more things to be dried. In the kitchen there are three overflowing bags of washing and the tumble drier is doing cartwheels despite it being 37 degrees outside on the hottest day of the year. The two other suitcases are still empty the sitting room remains full of folded clothes.

No change.

Son surveys the piles of clothes and announces that he has too many and should probably throw some away or give them to charity. He fetches a recycling bag. I suggest he should hold on to them for a while so he doesn’t need to buy new stuff since he’s so worried about materialism.

‘Are you serious? You want me to hold on to clothes I don’t want till they are out of fashion?’

‘I thought you were above fashion?’

‘Yeah, but I don’t want to look like a fool, wearing ten year old clothes, do I?

‘They’re just t-shirts, they are hardly likely to be so deeply unfashionable next year when this lot are lost, faded or irremediably filthy.’

He shakes his head at my warped logic and starts sifting through the piles for possibly the twentieth time.

He has one pair of white trousers in his hand. 'These are so dirty, I'll never wear them again.' He puts them into the recycling bag. Nothing else moves. Oxfam will be delighted.

‘Please, for the love of God, would you put these clothes into the suitcase and then take them up to the attic’

‘Yeah, yeah. In a minute. You are so fussy. You don't love me. All weekend you've been ignoring me so you could ply Worcester man with melons and cured meat.'

'I would happily ply you with cured meat, but you're a vegetarian.'

'That's beside the point, you don't nag him like this...’


One by one he begins carrying t-shirts and jumpers from one side of the room to the empty suitcases on the other. The drier beeps. He saunters off into the kitchen and returns with one towel.

I close my eyes.

Suitcases packed he finally lugs them upstairs. There is the sound of running water in the shower. I hear him yell for shampoo.

He appears wearing a towel, talking on the phone to the friend who is taking him to the airport who is parked outside the house:

‘Yeah man, I’m nearly ready, but you said you’d be here at 6.30. You’re early.’

He returns dressed in the usual uniform of bad boxers exposed like the rising sun from belted jeans and a t-shirt which he asks us to assure him is politically inoffensive to both Arabs and Israelis. It says 'I like Sheep'. I'm sure there's a deeper meaning that is passing me by. And then I remember that it belongs to his brother. All property is theft don't you know? He starts tying up the straps on his rucksack. One breaks.

‘I need to swap over to another bag. This one is broken.’

His sister and I look at each other in horror then she patiently rethreads the strap back on to the catch and it snips into place.

He decides he needs luggage labels, and a charger for his phone.

‘What about these jumpers draped all over the radiators which, I hastily check, thank goodness, are not switched on.

‘They’re still damp.’

‘But what shall I do with them? Leave them there till September when you come back.’

‘Put them away. They’re just a few jumpers.’ There are at least five of them hanging by their arms like drowning men.

‘And what’s all this stuff in the kitchen?’

‘They’re not mine, they’re yours.’

‘What do you mean, they’re mine.’

‘It’s my sheets from college, they don’t belong to me though, they’re yours.’

‘So you’re leaving me with all your laundry.’

‘It’s not my laundry, it’s the house’s laundry. I told you it’s sheets.’

I spot a tank top, a belt and towels in the mix of one of the hampers.

He’s standing at the door with his sisters while his entourage carry his rucksack to their car. There are two of them and they’re picking up a third on the way to the airport. I’m surprised there isn’t a marching band outside and a farewell banner in the back window of the car.

He kisses his sister. ‘Don’t get murdered,’ says the eldest.

‘Don’t get put into jail,’ says the youngest, punching him in the stomach. He thumps her back on the arm.

‘Don’t get deported,’ I say, while secretly hoping that he doesn’t even make it past the airport in Tel Aviv and is back safely, if messily, home again by the end of the week.

'And don't drink the water in the Old City. Your uncle Rashid got dysentry. And stay out of your cousin's way. Remember she's an alcoholic. She likes young boys. And don't swim in the sea in Tel Aviv - the currents are dangerous. And don't...'

We have the requisite farewell photograph and I come inside. There’s another jumper slung over the radiator in the hallway. Eldest daughter sits down beside me on the sofa. Youngest joins us. We sit there companionably enjoying the brother-free peace as I contemplate washing 'my' sheets.

Then at 6.31, the phone rings: ‘Can somebody pick up?’ he says…

Flower Power

I've always felt I had something the Edwardian country lady about me despite having no great flair for anything even remotely ladylike beyond a deep affinity for summoning servants. History, however, did not quite agree with me since my female ancestors were more usually to be engaged in making the beds, not reclining on them. Nevertheless, I’ve always seen myself in a picture hat rather than a mob cap, gathering roses from a walled flower garden after a spot of light water-colouring.

The location for the photo shoot I'm doing on Friday afternoon does nothing to disabuse me of the notion. It's a huge house in Acton with a wet dream of a kitchen which each of us regards covetously, redecorating it to our own taste in our heads. Outside an acre of green baize lawn is surrounded by high walls full of roses and lavender sprouts flom the flower beds. There's even a Victorian summer house. I have such bad house envy my teeth hurt.

It belongs to one of the Linleys, I hear from a production assistant, and I glance around for pictures of the Queen until the owner comes back and someone hisses in my ear that he's Inspector Linley.

A copper? Owns this house? I can't believe it.

'No, you divot, it's a telly program. He's an actor.'

Meanwhile the photographer can't be expected to learn all our names and while we are each being turned into transvestites by the make-up girl she refers to me as 'Journalist lady', my daughter as 'Brown Lady' and others as Blue, Pink and Spotted Lady depending on what we're wearing. Blue Lady, my friend Sarah, is looking at herself in the mirror transformed from trendy fashion designer in a denim smock to Lady from John Lewis with horror. I'm sweating in a deep fuschia dress as it's supposed to be September, not the middle of a June heatwave. I'm even wearing tights.

We eat Marks and Spencer snacks and drink Ginger Beer from the luxury M&S sandwich selection as armfuls of decadently opulent flowers fill the big square limed kitchen table into which I could fit my entire bedroom.

White roses, Orange Roses, Pink Roses, Stock, are arranged everywhere in troughs.

‘Have any of you done any flower arranging classes before?’ asks Sally, who for the purposes of this feature I'm pretending I've invited along to teach exactly this to three of my closest friends (it was supposed to be four but Nel scoffed and said she would rather put pins in her eyes so the daughter was roped in instead) in my luxury kitchen in my bohemian house in sunny Acton.

My friends look nervous at the question. We’re all fairly artistic - Eva has her Gallery and Sarah and Fi are both designers, however none of us really think Flower Arranging counts as creative. We might all be women with ribbon drawers but none of us faff around with flowers.

Still flower arranging? How hard can it be? However, nobody speaks.

‘Erm, I put them in a vase,’ offers Sarah eventually into the void.


‘…and I take them out of the cellophane.


I even, occasionally, even cut off the elastic band,’ I add.

Everyone else looks a little uncomfortable. Five and a half grown women and we are all quietly terrorized by the idea of sticking a bunch of flowers into a jug.

‘Good, good,’ soothes Sally. it’s so much easier when everyone comes to it fresh. She begins describing each bloom in the green vase that she sets in the middle of the table. Eva who likes gardening shows off and starts reeling off Latin sounding names for something that to me looks like a weed.

‘Is this what we’re going to do?’ Asks Fi looking at Sally's vase.

‘Yes,’ Sally agrees. ‘I’m going to show you all how to do a hand tied bunch.’

‘It’s such a pretty arrangement,’ Yvonna volunteers.

We all murmur in agreement.

‘No, no - this is just the bucket ladies. It's not arranged – it’s just the selection of flowers you’re going to use to learn.’

Ah well, this would give some indication of our level of competence. It looked fine to me.

Sally takes one rose and starts adding flowers in a circular movement that is harder than it looks. Plus the rose still has some thorns on it and I feel I am about to sleep for a hundred years. I have performance anxiety as all my fingers turn to thumbs, none of them green.

‘How thick should the bunch be? I mean, what’s the ideal erm...' I want to say girth but instead I make a shape with my fingers and thumb that I can’t imagine any Victorian Lady would have done in public.

'I know what you mean Journalist lady,' says the photographer, making me do it again for the camera.

'Just keep going till you’ve used everything up,' says Sally.

Personally I think mine looked prettier before I touched it, but that could have had something to do with the fact that I manage to tie my thumb up with the stems when I get to the tricky part with the string.

‘Sharp scissors,’ warns Sally as I try to cut myself out. It’s like primary school all over again.

I’m watching Sarah out of my eye who is sticking her tongue out with concentration as knitwear designer Fi, whose knitting skills with long, tricky needles, surely stand her in good stead, is blazing on and already posing with hers off for the camera. Every two seconds the photographer shouts instructions.

'Lady in Pink can you look as if you're enjoying yourself?'

'Lady in Brown, can you smile?'

'Lady in Blue, can you point at that jug again.'

'That's a lovely pose Journalist Lady.'

I've been watching America's Next Top Model. I can do fierce and smile with my eyes. I preen. Sadly my flowers have not been so well schooled. They droop.

I carefully haven't told them the level of modelling involved in being part of a photo shoot. The flowers aren't exactly on message either.

'When we make a gift wrapped bouquet you’ll see how the small scraps you strip off the leaves can be used for another arrangement,’ says Sally.

‘We’re doing another one?’ (Phew, say it isn't so, I’m silently thinking!)

‘Oh yes, we’re going to re-tie the one you just did and gift wrap it.’

I want to slap her as we all survey our much struggled with bouquets with dismay 'You mean we have to undo them?'

'Pink lady could you stop scowling?' snaps the photographer.

I look at my lovely arrangement and want to rebel. I don't want a gift tied bouquet in tissue paper. I want to take this one home and put it on my own scruffy kitchen table. Nevertheless, I cut the string and start again.

Eventually, one thousand pictures later we all leave with aching cheeks and several bunches of flowers. Doubling up with my daughter means my house is suddenly transformed into Colour Supplement Heaven. When Worcester man arrives an hour later he hits Stepford Central. both of us made up and perfectly coiffed, I have supper on the stove and daughter is in a Cath Kidson apron making a chocolate cake. There are flowers in the hall, flowers on the table, candle arrangements outside in the garden which is set for our meal, posies in the bath room and bouquets in the bed room (with clean sheets, of course).

He hands over a cellophane wrapped bunch with the price still on it in five inch high letters.

‘Oh flowers, how sweet of you,' I say as though all the others came from my stable of secret lovers.

'Yeah, we just did this lame flower arranging course,' said the daughter,

Darn that ruddy girl.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

From Rush Hour with Love

I know how to swan to the top of the queue thanks to many Buzzcocks visits to the BBC and so here to see Shooting Stars, freshly disgorged from the crowded tube at White City, Nico and I stride purposefully up to the door, give our false identities (we are standing in for two other Pedants who can't make the show) and soon find ourselves being ushered to our seats.

'I don't understand - eez 'is name Veek or Jeem? And what do I call Him? Is it Jeem?' He tells me he has written it down so he remembers it. 'I don't know anything about the show - what's it like?' he asks. Nico is French, lest you missed the clues, and with a mother a couple of years older than me, which makes him young enough to be my son with years to spare. (like a bad car advert - Nico? Mama?) Poor soul, can you imagine anything much worse than matron-sitting your work colleague through Shooting Stars?

'Erm it's a bit surreal, a bit silly, hard to describe really, I mean Jim/Vic does this thigh rubbing thing, and then they call the dove down and there's a bit where he says Uganda or something like that - and I think it's got Ulrika Jonsson in it (who I know so little about I can't even spell her name).'

'Ulrika who?'

Okay, so we're both on the same blank page with Ulrika. I'm not making a lot of sense, I realise. He looks worried. I assure him it's funny. Very funny.

'I think Noel Fielding is on tonight - he's from the Mighty Boosh - have you seen that?'

'I don't fink so, I 'aven't seen much TV to be 'onest, but I fought it would be fun to come along and see...' This is me trying to do a Franch accent, which, actually is only for comic effect because his English accent is pretty and faultless and not at all like something out of 'ello 'ello, but I can't resist it and in any case, he reminds me, at least 'e doesn't 'ave a speech impediment' - which is how he describes my Scottish accent. 'Last night we went to see a play in...' He goes on, and there follows a description that doesn't draw many parallels with the humour of Vic and Bob, so I just nod approvingly, and we talk for a while about Plague over London which he's seen twice. Definitely nothing to do with Shooting Stars then.

He gazes around the huge sound stage, surprised that it's so big as we wait for the warm up act - a chap called Muff (yes indeed and there were no attendant jokes which was the first surprise) who made us cheer for longer than I've cheered for anything (which, actually, isn't that much, come to think of it - except maybe Leonard Cohen) and then titter. Have you tried tittering to order? No? Well it's harder than you think, believe me. So we fake laugh and fake whoop and fake cheer (well I say we, but I've been in England so long that now I can't do spontaneous glee and hilarity without feeling deeply uncomfortable, so I just clap as politely and enthusiastically as I can - like I'm at a funeral and really pleased the person is dead) but the titter - not so much.

Then another girl with a head microphone comes on called Boo. I mean, is it a prerequisite to get a job at the BBC to have a monosyllabic name that makes you think of toddler's pets or rude body parts? She starts to give us instructions about more fake cheering and fire exits but is bizarrely drowned out by Bob having a desultory conversation in the wings with someone about posting on Facebook (really) without having first turned off his microphone. And then the cameras start rolling. We real cheer for Ulrika (who has new boobs, apparently) and Tony Blackburn (I know - why? Why?) and Jack Dee and Noel Fielding and some bird with a Northern Irish Accent and heels only marginally higher than Noel's, until Jim/Vic dances on in a saucy Letch's blazer.

Nico laughs with delight. And that's when I noticed he is clutching a large envelope with a heart drawn on it.

'What 'ave you got there?' I ask, momentarily forgetting that he's the one who's Franch (though just today another perv stopped me in the street and asked me again if I was French before calling to me - after I looped around him - that I should talk to him because I was a big beautiful woman. Not so much of the big, you prat.)

'Oh Sarah said I should give it to Jeem. It's some art work. I have only to give it to Him though, not to anyone else.' He pats it carefully. Fake names infiltrating the BBC and suddenly I'm with James Bond on an undercover mission in which he had been told to trust no one. 'I 'ave to 'and it to Him personally. She made me promise.'

'What if we don't see Him. Are you to eat it?'

He gives me a look which leaves me in no doubt that I am not as funny as Vic and Bob and then places it tenderly between our seats. 'Keep your feet away from it,' he warns as though it might detonate at any second.

'Okay, okay. I'll be careful.' I say, chastened and sit a safe distance away from the pristine white envelope which he continues to stare at all like it's a royal baby o f uncertain parentage and through all the hundreds of retakes and extra, more convincing laughter, and people answering non existent questions, and potatoes being given make up (oh no, I kid you not - baked potatoes in wigs being powdered... singing baked potatoes at that) before gathering it back up to his breast at the end of the show when we troop after a few dozen other people into the Green Room. Which as a Pedant I feel I should point out is blue. Or turquoise. But at any rate, not ruddy Green.

Nico perches on the end of a sofa, still cradling the envelope. 'He's not 'ere.'

'No but we can still get a drink.'

'I'm too afraid to drink. What if I get this wet? Sarah weel keel me...'

'Oh you won't it'll be fine. Let's have a glass of wine,' I say, knocking a few dozen amateurs out of the way to get to the bar. 'James Bond always has his martini we can have some plonk and still complete the mission.'

Bob is talking to Noel Fielding (who looks like Worcester man but with more hair, slap and in silver heels) and glum Jack Dee in a little starry bubble while the rest of the production guests look at them in awe from the corner of their eyes while pretending to be having a great time eating BBC sandwiches and drinking warm wine. I wonder if this is what it would be like if God really did come down to earth to redeem us all and turned up at a cocktail party. Everyone would ignore him, being too shy to speak up. Jim/Vic comes in eventually wearing a lot of make up and a big shirt with flapping sleeves and joins the cool kids. We hang back like the retards and train spotters.

'So are you going to give it to 'im, I mean Him, oh He we must learn to call Jim?'

'He's talking to the other guest stars. I can't interrupt Him. Even if He was not famous. In Fronce, we don't go up to people and just butt in - it's rude.'

'Yes, but it's England. We butt in. We call 'oy, are you French?' in the street. And He's the star of the show. It's not like he's not ever going to be standing about like a wallflower not talking to anyone, is He? We'll have to barge up and take him out at some stage. Come on, let's be brave, knock back your wine, let's do this.'

He tipped his glass. I tipped mine. We looked at each other and like two soldiers going over the top as brothers in arms, we nodded in agreement. Nico held his envelope like a bayonette and, dead men walking, we breached the hill.

Lets rooooooooooooooooooooooooooll.

'Erm excuse me for interrupting but we're from Atlantic?' I stammer,

'And Nico has been asked to deliver this.' I whisper, feeling like a total sycophantic divot. I much prefer doing the green, blue, turquoise room thing with Phil who always introduces me round, gets me crisps and lets me have the Molton Brown soap from his dressing room. I've actually met Noel Fielding before. In this very room. Along with, on other occasions, Sean Hughes, Mel B, Jonathan Ross, Fern Brittan, Julian Clary, Mark Lamar, Simon Amstell and and half a dozen boy band members. I don't think Noel is going to remember me though. I mean, it's not like we bonded or had matching tattoos done. It's very nerve-wracking being a nobody.

Nico trembles and holds out the envelope.

'Aye,' said Jim/Vic, looking just a tad embalmed, and takes the package while we huddle serflike, tugging our forelocks and grovelling.

'I was told I had to give it only to you,' says Nico, reverentially as He we get to call Jim, rips open the seal, chucks the paperclips away, tosses aside the cardboard and yanks out the drawing inside.

'When I do these at home I just chuck them about but they always make it out like they're that precious,' He says, holding the paper up to show Bob who seems to think we are the drawing fairies and just sort of appear, bearing artwork, and that this sort of thing happens all the time.

Nico and I slink off, our mission accomplished.

It isn't exactly what you would call a Daniel Craig moment, though frankly, I never thought he packed that much of a firearm when he walked out of the sea in those wee trunks. But our performance this evening as been not so much On Her Majesty's Secret Service as Cheaper than DHL. It doesn't quite have that Bond ring to it, does it?

But at least I managed to walk home without anyone asking me if I was French.

Park and Writhe

Worcester is a great cure for insomnia. Not that it's catatonically boring, I should add. Or at least I don't think so. Despite several very invigorating visits (who can forget the hike up the Malverns in flip-flops in 90 degree heat - I mean who does that on a first date?), I haven't seen much of it beyond a brief visit to the cathedral and the spire raising its spiked head above the rooftops, and the bell ringing practice on a Monday night is lovely to listen to, especially in the midst of a thunder storm (though come to think of it - metal bells, lightening, towers - bit of an extreme sport in those circumstances...) No, it's the gently chuffing train journey that sends me into dreamland - a trip that meanders through the Cotswolds, including a place called Honeybourne (which sounds like the sort of town where there's a portal to Hell and inhabitated by Stepford Wives, or the undead) that I've also managed to miss on all except the timetable, because I'm asleep by then, and on through Oxford to sunny Reading to which, even if not comatose, I try to shut my eyes.

'Did you meet your friend on the train?' I was asked on several occasions by Worcester Man though not, alas, with a tinge of jealousy (he rightly figures that in order to run away with me, my friend would need a fork lift truck and a stepladder). No, not either of them. Not Mr Tomliss or the woman who wrote to me after listening in on my one waking conversation. This time a large man in a dark suit (the platform at Worcester is littered with them, all identically clad - like it's some sort of cult) with sausage fingers and a fat briefcase sat beside me and looked at flow charts in microscopic handwriting, choo choo choo, eyes closed, and I was off, catching up on four valuable hours sleep on a round trip.

And so I arrive at work blissed out and bleary-eyed, ready for the onslaught of the preparations for our office move which I've carefully not mentioned here so as to avoid facing up to the fact that it's really, really happening. Inside it's hive of inactivity and further denial. Big Jock in Production looks at his completely untouched office and muses that he perhaps should get rid of some books. I murmur that this was on the timetable for yesterday and that there is a bookseller downstairs now, packing up every one else's surplus. We have a dispute about who owns five large bookshelves, double packed, that I had assumed he was taking with him to his new office. He isn't. The colour coded plan that I've made and measured is now shot and I now need to draw up another. The new furniture will not arrive until Monday - the day after we've moved. There are suddenly two sets of booksellers making a bid for the same books and the second lot have started loading up a van without my realising that we had agreed a price, because I've already offered them to the first bloke. Who is a friend. Or was. I have a meeting in Notting Hill Gate. It's hot. It's bloody hot. The tube sits at Marble Arch just long enough for me to start thinking that I'm not sharing my water with anyone until I reach into one of my three heavy bags (the plans are coming home with me to be reworked and there's the overnight bag for Worcester essentials - we're not at the toothbrush/own flannel stage yet there and I went to Sainsbury's before I set off, so yet another is full of shopping) and discover there is no water. It's still sitting on the bedside table a hundred miles away. I wonder plaintively if anyone will share their water with me. I look around at my fellow passengers, one of whom nearly knocked me over to get the last seat. Not likely.

And then.

I eventually arrive in Notting Hill Gate and struggle to Ladbroke Road where I parked my car the day befor to find

That, dear readers, would be a large empty space. It's gone.

There's an ominous yellow note on a lamp post about 150 yards away saying that the bay has been suspended and I realise with a sinking heart, elongated arms, and the thump of three bags on the pavement that my car has been towed. I flag down a member of the local Ton Ton Macoute Parking Militia who is loitering nearby sticking a ticket on another car who grudgingly gives me the number to call (because of course there is no clue as to who to contact on the suspension notice). I dial. Apparently I need a driving license or passport and one other proof of identity to get the car back. I don't have either. Worcester is a bit far away but they don't yet have border control. Furthermore I have left my house keys in the car so as not to lose them so I can't go home (a thirty five minute uphill walk) and get my documents, and I still have my meeting to go to.

Several phone calls later a supervisor tells me I can get my insurance company to fax them details of my policy. Despite having had my car towed previously and having a resident's parking permit, there is no record anywhere that I own the car. This is the only way. The phone is beeping furiously as the battery is about to run out while I arrange this, sitting on the steps of Kensington Temple where I figure nobody is going to think there is anything strange about a distraught, disheveled woman surrounded by carrier bags, in an emotional state. Indeed, I'm rather surprised when nobody offers me tea and God.

Dammit - can't they see when a woman needs saving? They're always stopping me outside Boots telling me Jesus loves me. Yeah, much like every other man in my life though - he fails to show it. Well I don't ruddy care if has no sway with the Parking Authorities.

I eventually get to my meeting where I only weep briefly once (pretending it's hay fever), and an hour later am on my way across town in rush hour traffic in a mini cab which I've been promised will cost £15 - the exact sum I have in my purse. (Okay, not purse, it's floating around in change at the bottom of one of my bags). I call the supervisor to make sure the fax arrived. It didn't. I lose it and my voice breaks. What am I supposed to do? I sniffle down the phone - or actually, more accurately...

'Sob, sob, BEEP what am sob sob BEEP supposed to do as my BEEP battery is about to go BEEP BEEP BEEP flat....?'

That for once was the phone not me swearing.

He takes pity and tells me to come anyway, and that he'll sort something out. The mini cab driver passes me a tissue and tells me not to upset myself. He'll wait for me and bring me back if they don't give me my car - free of charge. Never be kind to a sobbing woman in the back of your car, men - I know it seems like the decent thing to do, but it only makes the sobbing worse...

I eventually arrive at the fag end of the world and refusing his lovely offer, let the cab driver go. The fax still hasn't arrived. The supervisor does not want to unnecessarily detain an overly emotional vagrant and eventually comes up with the plan of telling me to write down ten things that are in my car to prove I own it.

It's like that game you play at childrens' parties with a tray and a cloth. I was always rubbish at that.

I can't remember a sodding thing.

I write down: house keys.

and then I look at him. He looks back. 'Anything..' he urges.

Toilet roll in the back seat. (tres chic, n'est pas?)

Oil can.

Red umbrella (maybe)

Shopping bag (maybe)

White shoes I've never worn (I think)


'No, that won't do - everyone has an A-Z.'

I cross that out and venture:

Change in chill box in the middle of the seats - only 5p and less... I know this as youngest daughter raids it of any currency that's not too embarrassing to go into the shop and buy fags with.

He looks dubious...

And then, it comes to me:

A kitchen knife. Just the other week one of my sons told me to take it out on the grounds that it was an offensive weapon and the police would arrest me if they found it there. I can't even remember why I have it - certainly not for a threat - I think it was to cut open a tetra pack on a picnic many years ago.

This is how I come to be waving a long curved kitchen knife in the face of a Parking Supervisor ten minutes later shouting triumphantly: 'See see, I told you - a knife!'

He graciously gives me my car back. The Good Nazi. I love him. I almost kiss him, but that might not make him as well disposed as he currently is. I don't quite understand how they can lift a car off the street with impunity without caring a damn who it belongs to but can't give it back to anyone but you for - and I quote, reasons of 'data protection'.

A week's wages lighter, I drive home. (Long distance relationships don't come cheap.) It is quarter to six. There is one message on my answer phone - it is Kensington and Chelsea telling me my car has been towed. They know my fricking telephone number but I still have to prove it's my car. I open the fridge, take out the Mother's Day bottle of vodka, pour three fingers into a glass, and knock it back in one coughing whack.

The world instantly blurs agreeably.

I am supposed to go dancing later but I already know I'm not going anywhere having reminded myself of that other aid to oblivion - Alcohol. Though, I would much rather be lulled to sleep sitting on a train to Worcester.

After first checking the parking restrictions. Obviously.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


are the answer.  Now, I get it.

If music be the food of love, shut the * up

I'm a late ipod uptaker. Despite being almost the first person I know to have email (which, as you might guess, made it a little redundant until everyone else caught up - at least outside the computer company where I worked), I've been slow to catch on to the benefits of other technology, like having music blasted into my ear from a small device which also stores all my photographs, diary and address book. I love address books. I love diaries, though I never actually use them, partly because I have nothing much to write down in them and prefer instead to carry my few appointments in my head and then forget them. I loveto sit and read on the bus without the distraction of music, and when I walk, I prefer to day-dream or obsess unhealthily about everything that's worrying me. How else could I fuel my insomnia if I didn't have a lengthy list of anxieties, already flight-programmed into my head, ready to land, one after the other, on Runway 2am? And as for the day-dreaming, when there's something deliciously wonderful to think about, I do like to replay it several times to squeeze all the juice out of it. Who needs a soundtrack?

Well, damn it, I do.

I'm a convert.

Now that my anxieties have been giving a twice nightly performance for so long they can run on for ever like the Mousetrap without rehearsal, and my pleasant thoughts have turned into words that land like a lash on my back making me physically recoil with the memory (much to the dismay of my fellow bus-riders) - I definitely need something to drown out the mental tinnitus. And so l find myself the owner of a shiny pink iPod which contains all the things on my laptop that I don't really use, in miniature. Now, instead, of an A4 slide show of my Salvador photographs which I never look at, I can display them on a screen the size of a postage stamp - another almost obsolete object in the days when everyone has email but consequently, nothing much to say. Or anything I want to hear. At least in my world.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of handing my gadget to the youngest child who promised she would download all my music, though the mistake wasn't immediately evident as I stood at the bus-stop this morning at 6.45, preparing myself for the long tube-stricken journey that has turned Paddington into a scene from Metropolis.

Blue sky. Deserted street. Indeterminate birds chirping in indeterminate trees. The red line on the display at the bus-stop miraculously turning into:
and I'm alone with Glen Gould breathing his way through Prelude no 16.

Now this is extremely pleasant. Mellow. Private. Like aural sex, albeit of the gentle, long-married, sort that you can hum quietly along with (now you know why my husband left me!) And then just as he's stroking the last notes and I expect the Fugue, I get


like needles in my ears.

What the f*, I think, fairly accurately as the rest of the words pound away at me like - well, moving swiftly on... I do, wondering how on earth that got anywhere near my iTunes. That's the last time I let anyone under 45 use my laptop. Next track... Manu Chao Desaparecido.

Better, much better. Not exactly pre-7am bus-stop appropriate, (but neither was the last one, let's face it) and I love the song. Despite myself I start singing along in a close approximation of the Spanish - volanda vengo, volanda voy (well I say close but that might be wishful thinking, especially if it's Portuguese). I can't stop swinging my hips, the other night's salsa steps making my feet move, despite the beat being entirely different, and then I catch sight of myself in the ad for Neurofen stuck behind the glass screen and see this blonde woman in a blue coat with St Vitus' Dance jiggling too and fro while muttering gibber.

Care in the Community, come on down.

I look hastily around to see if anyone is watching. The street is mercifully empty. I stand and compose myself sedately and look back up at the monitor.
Time seems to be standing still. Unlike me, because once again my foot is tapping. I just can't help myself. The world is full of dancing, happy people, and I'm just one of them, having all this exuberance piped straight into my heart. I love it. I tap my hand against my thigh, and then a man appears round the corner.

I smile like a lunatic. He looks away.

Okay, then - next track:

Something from the OC Soundtrack. I'm ashamed that I know this, but I've watched enough episodes with my daughters to know many of the songs. Yet another foreign import to the eclectic Marion mix, but never mind. However, it's nice and winsome. 'I picture you in a dress... na na na na... may God's love be with you, na na....'

The bus arrives. I settle down by the window and listen to the lyrics and phut, happiness gone, tears pricking embarrassingly at the corner of my eyes. Bloody hell, it's not that sad. I'm just being maudlin. I press forward again: Norah Jones. Even ruddy worse. Why have I got all these torch songs on this machine? I'm just one Leonard Cohen track away from sobbing. Next: Suzanne takes you down....

I bite my lips and flick stoutly onwards until I'm back to Glen Gould. I flick through and select the album and start half way through. Relief floods over me with the plinky plonky chords. The volume's a little bit low. I fiddle with the dial and push the sound all the way up so I can hear Glen humming under his breath which always reassures me, and close my eyes. I'm in a field, walking though high grass, no mud, no nettles, man in distance - damn it, rub him out, back into the field, sun overhead, twelve years old, loud splash of people swimming in a river, man in distance... this patently isn't working. I go on. Carly Simon. I'm at the back of my French Class, overlooking the dual carriageway of the A something that joins Edinburgh eventually to Glasgow, and Lausanne McKay - the babe of the 4th form, is preening at her desk, singing this, and we all join in with the chorus (though even then I couldn't see what was attractive about a man in an apricot scarf). Then just as I'm tucking the iPod back into my bra strap (no pockets) I accidentally, hit the forward button.


what? What? what?

it's blaring out so loudly that I'm sure the entire bus can hear the lyrics which, though unlikely, are indeed saying exactly what I think they are and have nothing whatsoever to do with cats. I fumble for the iPod, drop it, and the earpiece falls out and floods the seat with loud guteral grunting. Oh my God. Not only will everyone on the bus think I'm a total moron to be a white fifty year old matron listening to rap music but this is filthy rap music.

I scrabble for the volume and only seem to turn it up louder, which can't be possible, and then in despair try to switch it off altogether. I fail. It just goes on and on and on and on, longer than most sex acts. And then, finally, it's off. The face goes black as mine goes red and all falls silent.
(It only occurs to me later that I should just have pulled the earphone jack out.)

I can't bring myself to lift my eyes from my lap for the rest of the journey though when I do risk a quick look round most of the other passengers are plugged into their own music. Stupid ruddy iPods. And I don't think much of my teenage daughter's musical taste either. What happened to PG? What happened to Three Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed? Now they're rolling around on top of it.

The person next to me gets off at Oxford Circus and I move in next to the window and resume my customary position of head against the glass. I close my eyes and try for oblivion and then SLAP, those words I've been trying to drown out since I woke up this morning knock my eyes open and I'm lashed to the post again as they slam back into me.

No rest for the wickedly stupid.

I got the iPod back out again, and so if anybody is wondering why I'm singing the Pussycat Doll's 'you're looking at my beep' then now you know.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Holiday Reading

We get a lot of requests from readers to replace faulty or misprinted books which, in some cases, we try to do, though in most, we refer readers back to their original vendor. Especially if they live in South Africa, or Melbourne.

Although we publish books here, we are not a bookseller. We sell books to those exalted and endangered glorious palaces of retail, when they are gracious enough to agree to select them for their shelves, and they in turn, resell them to the public. That's why they are called Booksellers and we are called Publishers. It's like buying a blouse in Harvey Nicks that was designed and produced by Paul Smith - if a seam splits you take it back to Harvey Nicks. They are the people who have your money.

Of course, for the sake of good customer care, especially where there's been a serious printing problem, we often do help, especially in the many cases where the book was purchased by a sister/brother/uncle and they've lost the receipt, but it's a long process as strangely enough we don't have that many books lying around the office and it can take a couple of weeks for them to arrive from the warehouse. However, there are exceptions:

Ring Ring: 'Hello, can I speak to the Sales Department?'

New, polite sales assistant: 'Yes, can I help you?'

'I'm calling about the White Tiger...'


'My copy has just fallen apart and I would like you to replace it.'

'Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that. You should really return it to the bookshop. Where did you buy it from?'

'Actually I didn't buy it.'

'Oh, was it a gift? In that case you should ask them where they purchased it and take it back.'

'No it wasn't a gift.'

(Thinks: What did you do? Find it lying on the street...?)

'Actually it's a library book.'

'I see.' (He doesn't.)

'Well, I took it on holiday with me and I was sitting by the pool and it just fell apart.'


'So I need you to send me a new copy.'

'But it's not your book, it's a library book.'

'Yes, but, I told you - it fell apart, and now the library want me to replace it.'

'I don't understand why you think we should send you the replacement copy - the book belongs to the library not you. They need to contact their retailer who can replace it if they think it's appropriate.'

'But it fell apart when I took it on holiday with me to Dubai.'

'Ah, to Dubai...'

'And I don't see why I should replace it, as it was obviously faulty.'

'But we're talking about a library book - it's not a new book. Many people may already have borrowed it and read it - this could be the reason it disintegrated (not to mention heat, sand, seawater, chlorine, sun-tan oil, fake Designer handbags, Burberry gallabiyas, being crammed into a suitcase and carried across two continents because you are too mean to go to WH Smiths Travel and buy a book like the rest of the holidaying public on your way to Dubai - a ticket to which exotic place - may I point out, will cost you quite a bit more than an airport paperback) and so we cannot replace it. In any case, it isn't your book.'

'But then this means they are going to charge me for a replacement.'

'I'm sorry, but I'm afraid we can't help. If the library want to get in touch their supplier we can credit them, but we can't credit you.'


To summarise. If your library book falls apart when you are sunning yourself on a beach in Dubai, it is not our fault. We are sitting in rain drenched London after walking to work in the middle of a tube strike. We are not sympathetic.

Trains have ears...

Just to prove I don't make this all up - I received an email today thanks to the power of Google:

Dear Marion,

Sorry for eavesdropping but was sitting adjacent to you and the man who lives in Charlbury having left his wife and kids for a new lover (sorry again!). Found your conversation fascinating and to top it all you are a novelist! Even more fascinating. Had to remember your name and low and behold here you are. I got off at Reading and missed the end of your really interesting conversation (it was just getting to the juicy part as well). What a nice man - I thought it amazing that you and he should hit it off so well - will you be seeing him again? Pity that he's already left his wife for someone else or you never know. Good luck with the kids and the book.

Fellow Cotswold Line traveller.


I also always eavesdrop. And shamelessly record. It's like being in the publishing branch of the Stasi. Will hopefully be on the same train this Tuesday - look out for me! Say nothing.


Come Prancing

'Do you think any of these men actually have sex?'

'What with women?'

'With anyone?' I ask.

My daughter looks at the motley collection of middle aged, white men pirouetting with tiny little Skipper-sized women on the dance floor and shakes her head.


There's a tall guy with dyed black hair swept back in an Elvis quiff who always wears a white sweat band on his wrist and little powder white dance shoes. He looks like a child pornographer, but that might just be because of the Gary Glitter resemblance. He also tucks his tank top into his jeans.

Who dances salsa in a tank top?

Yup, that'd be Gary.

Then there's the blonde muscled chap with pirate ear-rings in both ears and a whisper of hair on his chin that looks might be a goatee if it ever grew up, so a sort of kid beard, or a bad Brazilian. He always wears a tight black t-shirt stretched over his gut, also tucked into his jeans. I glance around. I'm sensing a theme here.

The Arriva bus driver, who dances with an overbite and a supercilious smirk on his face, somewhat like Leonard Rossiter in those old Campari Ads, and sometimes comes dancing in his bus uniform, is also wearing a t-shirt, tucked into his jeans. A grey one.

English chappie with the brylcreem parting, yep another t-shirt. Tucked. Brown. It's all a bit Nazi Party, come to think of it. Other BNP chap with the skin head and the stickie out ears. Definitely militaristic.

So why on earth are they all salsa dancing? And then there's the women. Some of them are just as strange. Particularly the one in the ball gown with the corsage pinned to the front trying to do double spins in sling backs, and the other wearing a jump suit with flat breasts like Spaniel's ears on view as far as her diaphram. Wonderbra, girl - Wonderbra.

These and other questions I will attempt to answer after I've danced with Smelly French Man whose BO is so bad it actually makes you gag, and who exudes a pungent mix of garlic, beer and sweat every time he lifts his arm. Which is every step.

When my daughter and I get into the car to come home the first thing we do each week is get out the hand sanitiser.

'Remind me, why are we doing this, again?' I ask as I pull out into the traffic.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Stations of the cross

On the train.

It comes in on the wrong platform, which is the first problem.

The last time it chugged in on Platform 1 but this time I had to leg it across the bridge to Platform 2, therefore losing what few cool points I had remainding, considering I was laden with bags and wearing three different clashing patterns (I didn't think the wardrobe change through for today when I was packing), all of them in the rough range of pink and all of them unseasonable since it was raining. I also had mud covering my shoes from the supposedly romantic long country forced march through a field of head-high giant nettles past which, if you stood on your tiptoes (not that easy in mud) you could just about see the river Severn; though since it was the colour of Caramac but much less appetising, frankly, it was better just to sink into the puddled mire and keep on trudging. In single file. While dodging the stinging nettles. And the huge rabid dog belonging to local axe murderer. (Okay, spaniel. Miniature spaniel. But the man did have a sinister West Midlands accent which the fact that we were in the West Midlands did not render any less menacing.)Yep, very, very romantic.

But I digress. I am now on the train, bags stowed around my person, laptop out but ignored, dozing pleasantly through the Cotswolds when I feel one of the clashing patterns being rearranged (the one belonging to the coat) and a small man in an expensive chocolate brown suit snuggles next to me. I apologise for my expansionist tendencies. He pats my arm reassuringly, lingering a little longer than I might expect from a man who has just sat next to me in a train. Let's put it this way. I've had relationships with less affection.

I adjust all bags a little closer to my person and resume my gentle doze.

'Terrible day,' he says, turning to smile at me endearingly like Mr Tomliss, anxious to warm me up in front of a fire and ply me with tea.

'Yes, it was summer when I set off yesterday.' I reply, not failing to notice the Narian element in that statement.

'I like your coat,' he smiles, patting me again, his hands fanning out expressively and then covering his mouth self-consciously, as though he was afraid of what he might say next.

Gay, I thought. I checked out his fingers. Silver ring on the left hand. Definitely Gay, and partnered up.

I know, I know, excuse the stereotyping and just be glad I'm not a criminal profiler or all my half-Muslim (there's no such thing as half-Muslim, but let it slide for now) kids would be living in a detention centre in Brackley, which come to think of it....) So the warm and friendly type then, not a pervy touchy feely man who was going to look down the front of my dress.

(I got him next to me on the bus.)

I thanked him for the compliment and continued to look out the window at where I had been, overcast and covered in drizzle.

'Up to the smoke again - it's such an ordeal...' He said, giving me another view of his teeth that looked like a Dulux colour swatch of the beige and fawns.

'Actually, I live in London. I've just been down in the country for the night.'

'Oh that's nice. It's good to get out of the city, I expect. Where have you been. Somewhere pretty?'

I think of the puddled river bank, but only for a nanosecond, and I smile. 'Yes, Worcester.'

'Worcester?' He turns the word over in his mind a couple of times like it's a shiny box and he can't find a way to open it.

'So what's in Worcester?'

A man who asks a lot fewer questions than you do, I didn't say. Instead I dropped my voice to a murmur and stopped at Man.

'Oh lovely, that's lovely.' He seems absolutely delighted, which makes two of us, and nods at me confidingly with a camp little giggle and another blinding grin, before telling me how nice it must be for us to be able to spend time ('time' said with a little wriggle of the eyebrows) in the middle of the week together.

I agree. Very, very nice. Worcester man's favourite words of praise.

We swap job descriptions, and I throw in the novel as glitter.

He likes the glitter. He writes down the title which will put my sales up to 1 if he follows through.

'I've often wondered if I had a novel in me...' he begins.

I cut him off before we get into that conversation and ask him were he lives.

'Charlbury,' he says, which in turn invites my confidence that I once had a goldfish called Charlbury which I won at a village fete there when I was eight, and it died two days later.

I am trying not to hold him responsible.

He says he used to live in Tackley. I can talk Oxfordshire geography for hours since I lived there for almost a decade and spent many of my childhood holidays there with my sister, but just as I am about to launch into another memory of dead pets gone past, he shrugs ruefully and admits that it has been a very hard year for him, and that he has only recently moved from Tackley.

'Why?' I ask. (Look, sorry, but I can be as nosy as the next person, or indeed, a darn sight nosier.)

'I split up with my wife and left my children...'

'Oh dear,' Not so much dead pets as dead marriages. Is the whole world splitting up in middle age? I am surprised. He looks so happy. And so not the marrying kind. I remember the silver ring which is flashing every time he gestures. Maybe he's doing a David (who recently split with my friend Eva because they weren't getting on after 25 years, and PS he was gay, but it had absolutely nothing to do with him leaving...)

'My partner and I fell hopelessly and totally in love and I just had to take the step to leave. It's very hard without the children.' He looks despondent and tells me their ages - all in their very early teens. 'And it's been very difficult. My partner has also left a young family, so it's not been easy for either of us.'

I am reeling at the idea of his partner being a) a woman and b) leaving her two kids. I'm trying not to be horrified but my judgometer is working about as well as my fashion sense.

'Tell me about it. I'm in a similar situation myself, but I was the one left with the kids - all grown up though - and my husband was the leavee with the new girlfriend.'

He nods sympathetically and shakes his head in despair, but then again, he smiles with rueful delight. I can't imagine the enormity of walking away from two families, even though I've lived it myself. He flaps his hands like a magician's assistant but nothing comes out of his sleeve. Then he squeezes my arm again, confidingly.

'Yes, my wife says she has lost her best friend. She hates me now.'

'I felt the same way. All of it. Best friend lost. Hating.'

'How does Worcester man get on with your children?'

'He hasn't met them.'

'And what about him. Does he have kids?'

'Boys, grown up boys.'

'And do they like you?'

'I haven't met them either. His wife left him and so he isn't living with his children, and I wouldn't want to intrude on the time he spends with them. We're not that kind of couple.' We're not any kind of couple, actually, but I don't think he or indeed the rest of the passengers in our carriage need to know that.

He asks me how we met. I tell him through work, but I'm definitely not going to announce that back story to the carriage.

'Mmm. We're going to have my children to stay this weekend, but they don't want my partner to be there. They say they just want me all to themselves.'

'So where is she going to go?'

'Back to her old house.' He grimaces. I'm surprised her husband will let her in. What a tortured story - the things we do for love.

'But you're happy. It was worth it?'

A smile of unremitting bliss floats over his face and his teeth shine like Victorian paintwork.'Oh yes, yes.' He tells me that it's harder for his partner but as was the bread-winner and she was never at home anyway (presumably because she was schtupping him) it wasn't as bad as it could be, as though this means that the kids won't miss her. I want to get her husband's telephone number and call him up and weep down the phone with him and tell him she's not bloody worth it. I'm wondering how much he would pay me to push Mr Tomliss here off the train. He seems like a nice, inoffensive man, but I just can't stay objective.

He goes on to say that he's off to meet a friend who is 'in the same position as us' and had recently split up with his wife, and remarried.

'Not like 'us', like 'you',' I say. 'I haven't remarried the person of my dreams. (Or indeed met him) You left. I didn't leave. I was the left behind with the house and the kids and the peeling paint and the hole in the ceiling and the lack of privacy, and the piecemeal love-life picked out of the ashes of someone else's broken marriage and fitted around their custody arrangements, matey. Well I actually, I just stopped (with difficulty) at 'leave' and thought the rest in capital letters.

As I said. Failure of objectivity.

'I don't mean there's a moral difference, just that you made the decision so that you could be happy. I was the fall-out of someone else's happiness.'

He said he didn't mean to draw parallels, and gave me another smile, this one a little apologetic.

'Well I hope my wife will eventually think that I'm a nice man, because I am. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I didn't plan it. She's a wonderful mum, a wonderful woman. She didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't anything to do with her.'

'I think that's the problem. You would prefer it to be something to do with you, rather than that you're insignificant and the other person is so much more compelling.'

I've heard all this before, all about my own wonderful mum-ness and wonderful woman-ness. Next time a man leaves me it's going to be because I've remortgaged the house and spent the money on Ghanian toy boys and have run an escort service from the back room and slept with every one of his friends. It's definitely ruddy well going to be 'about me'.

I tell him I'm now very friendly with my husband, but as the words leave my mouth I'm wondering why? Why are there are not wax effigies of him scattered around the house with nails through his heart.

I left Worcester feeling joyful and happy and smiley and hopeful - and now I'm now pulling out of Reading feeling like the hole after you've sucked all the flavour out of a Polomint. From coital bliss to crap in ten stations. And, I mean, Reading, it's bad, but it's not that bad.

Just then, his phone rings and he fishes into his dilapitated briefcase and whips it out. HIs voice drops about ten decibels.

'Yes, loooooooovely, soooo looking forward to it. Did you have a nice run? Mmmmm.... I'll call you when I get to Pad? Me too...' He whispers, and then tucks it neatly away again.

'I don't like talking on the train.' He says, normally, and smiles again.

The man in the seat in front turns round and looks at us. I raise my eyebrows. He raises his back.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Cheers and Cheering - the Nibbies

It's a big day for Atlantic.  Last night at the Nibbies we walked off with two awards, the Uber Editor got Editor and Imprint of the year and Pedantic got Independent Publisher of the Year.  Yet, surprisingly both Uber and Mr T were already bouncing around the office like a pair of hungover, but remarkably cheery Tiggers when I arrived; and then as the morning progressed, the slow trickle of other casualties arrived with big heads and even bigger sunglasses.

We also seem to have won the award for best supporting act.  To quote from The Bookseller: In the year of The White Tiger it is difficult to quibble with Atlantic winning the indie of the year and Ravi Mirchandani taking home the imprint and editor gong. Atlantic certainly brought the shoutiest support. When Toby Mundy and Mirchandani were at the podium, the cheering was not unlike the Kop saluting Steven Gerrard.

'So was everyone cheering?'  I asked one of my colleagues.

'Erm, sort of.  But it was mostly just us.  I think we were the only ones standing up for most of the time.'

'And stomping and whistling,' added another.

Of course we're all delighted and thrilled but I admit, I struggled with my Cinderella Complex at having had to settle for admiring everyone else's ball gowns, after sorting out their ball arrangements.  Not that I should have been included since ordering padded envelopes, measuring desks and phone answering are not, as yet, a category in the British Book Awards.  But still, this must be what the other pumpkins felt like when the biggest one in the patch was turned into a carriage.  Though who the heck wants to be a big pumpkin, anyway?

One of the Chiefs decided that she would make sure we all shared in the celebrations and nipped out for half a dozen bottles of Tattinger.  So just before lunch we all gathered round the Franking Machine (oh yes, it's glamorous in publishing) and raised a glass to ourselves.

Our esteemed Scottish Chief (who had, apparently, a bottle of whisky in his sporran last night (that's a big sporran you have there if you can fit in a bottle of grog, son, but you do know size doesn't matter) looked a little worse for wear, as you would expect from reports that they only got to the Scotch after the tequila.  Once furnished with some fizzy hair of the dog, he came over, winked at me and chinked my glass.  He offered me the Scottish Solidarity smile, then leaned forward confidentially, looked at me smoulderingly and in the way of one about to admit a secret that was for my ears only, said:  'By the way...'

I simpered expectantly.

' fan's broken.  I'll need to get you to order another one.'

My Scottish Solidarity smile slipped.

'No.' I said. (Actually, this is what I'm willing to admit to having said - I may, indeed, have been a little more succinct - not a good idea when addressing a senior employee).

He looked shocked.

'I'm on strike.  You all swan off to your fancy awards ceremony, spend the night in Cambridge wining and dining; and then you come back full of tales of canapes and tequila, while we're here answering the phone and taking your messages (in fact, because I was being ritually bled by a nurse who didn't seem to know which end of the syringe was sharp, I didn't get in myself until 10.15, and I didn't take any messages for anyone, but we'll leave that aside for the moment, it spoils my stance...) and now, NOW just when I'm standing here having a glass of champagne myself - you want me to order you a fan?.'  No wonder he had a smouldering look in his bleary eye - he was just hot. 

'Maybe you'd like me to go and get a palm frond and come up and ruddy fan you myself...'

He threw his head back and chuckled, slapped me on the shoulder, and topped up my glass.

We drank in silence for a few seconds.

'But seriously though Marion, I will need a new fan.  And we're also going to need some new shelves for the office.'

It's always been my ambition that when standing with a champagne glass in my hand, the one thing a man would associate me with would be office equipment.

'Aye, okay then,' I said, weakly,  'I'll do it tomorrow.'


Now fan off.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Tick, tick, tick

I'm on the bus.

I'm sitting on the front seat with my feet on the window, dreaming about my perfect weekend when a Muslim woman squeezes in next to me. I do tend to be a little expansionist with my occupation of the front seat and so I shift obligingly to one side. The fact that there is still more bum on the seat than there should be is unfortunate. Feeling full of the joys of spring and weekends past, I smile at her blindingly, and see she's one of those beatific women with a round, perfectly happy face who almost convinces you of the merits of religion, who smiles shyly back at me as her round, equally generous bottom squashes mine. A second later she rises again and shifts across to sit next to her equally happy son who looks like being on the front seat of a double decker bus in London has been the summit of all his ambitions. The father sits behind them and they chat in heavy Arabic that I can't understand, and which may even be Malaysian for all I know as I can only pick out the 'hamdalilah's and inshallahs' which are ubiquitously Islamic and may have nothing to do with their native language.

I fade them out, and drift back to the lush countryside, then press Replay in my head, and watch the edited highlights of my lovely weekend flicker through my memory.

The bus shudders up to Marble Arch and the family are gone. I only realise this when an Asian woman with very pronounced freckles gets on and attempts to sit in the front seat next to me, then hesitates.

Her eyes see a carrier bag at the same time mine do.

I press pause in my personal slide show just as I was getting to the good bit.

The woman slips tentatively into the seat behind, her gaze still fixated on the carrier bag. She looks at me and then back at the bag. I look at the bag and then back to her. This continues for several seconds until I break bus protocol and actually speak. Eventually I tell her that I'm sure it's nothing. It's a mistake. There was a family sitting there. They simply forgot their shopping. I keep the Muslim part to myself.

'Do you think?' she says.

''s going to be fine' I answer, only just resisting the impulse to run off the bus in panic.

'But...' she says.

'No, really, I'm positive it's just a forgotten bag. If we start to hear ticking, we should worry,' I joke.

Never joke with women on the bus when your sitting beside an unaccompanied parcel. She looks alarmed and jittery.

'So you think we should tell the bus driver.' She's dancing on the edge of her seat like she's just had five pints and there's no public loo for five miles (probably fairly accurate).

'I'm only kidding,' I say and picture the bus driver - a boy who looks like he was at university a year ago, and who has convinced himself that this is just a temporary job while he's waiting for the Foreign Office to relax their intake requirements. I then picture myself, standing outside Primark for an hour while the bus-driver radios the station and the police come to cordon off the area with yellow tape, and then the bomb squad arrive, and the traffic is backed up along Oxford Street and no other buses can pass. I glance at my watch. It's 2.15. I really want to go to the gym. I've told my daughter I will be home by 3pm. Noprmally a bomb scare would be sort of welcome as a way of avoiding the dreaded gym, but it's 80o outside. The gym has airconditioning.

'Nah, let me have a little look,' I say. I get up, clutching my own handbag (why, when faced with a terrorist threat is it important to have your handbag in your arms?) and peer into the plastic bag. There is a box. A cardboard box. It is terribly tatty. Not very pristine if it has just been purchased. It looks like the facade of the technical college in Worcester... (not good, definitely not good). I think about investigating further and then my fingers pull back.

'Um, it's a box.' I say eventually, half-sitting back in my seat.

The woman and I look at each other. She has a gap in her front teeth, a cheap lavender t-shirt and frizzy ringlets. I've spent so much time looking at her closely that I could probably paint her from memory.

'What shall we do?' she asks again. We are alone on the top deck of the bus. We are now at Paddington. I hook my handbag over my left arm and stand up again filled with intent (and terror). We Scotswomen go into battle with our bags hooked firmly on our arms. I approach the plastic bag and look into it and then stretch my hand out.

'Well if we're going to be blown up, we might as well go out with a bang and not waste time hanging about,' I say and look at the other woman for agreement. It was a real Thelma and Louise moment. She remained fixed to her seat, but she didn't disagree. She was ready to die for the great British Cause of not making a fuss.

I lift the bag.


I put my right hand tentatively inside it and then ...

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

F*** it starts to vibrate right up my arm. I jump and drop the bag with a loud screech. (a sensible thing to do if you think you are holding a bomb, you'll agree).

The woman screams really loudily.

I scream again. (Well she frightened me)

Meanwhile, the parcel lay on its side gaping like a dead fish.

The woman jumps up and runs to the back off the bus but by this time I have gathered my senses and composed myself: 'Eerm, no don't worry.' I wave at her. 'It's only me over-reacting. I had my mobile phone in my hand and it started to vibrate. Sorry. I got a text.' I confess apologetically.

I look at the message: it's The Man. To hell with the bomb threat. I click READ: Apparently his sandwich wasn't as nice as it would have been had he eaten it yesterday when he made it. Ah... The language of love.

Meanwhile, the woman is laughing with relief.

I laugh too.

We laugh together, hysterically. I laugh especially hysterically at the idea that I would rather be blown up than moderately inconvenienced by having to stand outside Primark for an hour waiting for the police to allow buses to pass. I mean, what would you rather be - dead, or delayed? Londoners: Dead, thanks. It's over quicker.

I text The Man back: Bomb scare. Hoping for at least a modest outpouring of concern.

Five hours later he responds saying he hoped that I had survived.

(For this, dear readers, I am holding home movie screenings in my head!)

Nevertheless. After I have ascertained that the parcel is not, indeed, buzzing, but just a harmless shoebox, with a pair of not-very-nice shoes inside it. I sit back in my seat, close my eyes, and press PLAY again.

And then, just as I'm mentally lying back in the grass at the top of the Malvern Hills looking at the clouds the bus shudders and jerks and then I remember...

- The Shoebomber.

...and the bag is now nestling against my hips like a very besotted lover.