Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Day four in the slaughter house.

I killed five times this morning. 

The old are easy. They don't move get around much, or move very fast -or at all sometimes.  Instead they snooze contentedly away, not stirring even when disturbed, their worst already done. You can despatch them easily and whack them while they're asleep.  They don't even know what's coming. The babies are the hardest as they're lively and all over the place, but they're the ones you want to kill first.  Get them young.   I have no mercy. As I kill I feel victorious, not even appalled any longer by the carnage I wreak. I kill with my bare hands and wipe the blood off my fingers without feeling so much as a qualm, then I leave their bodies where they fall and walk over them. The killing is the easy part. It's what to do about the silent ones, the ones who hide in the dark, the left behind...

I didn't see the threat at first. Live and let live, I thought when it was just a scarf here, or a jumper there. But then it was the Turkish carpet. The Betty Jackson mohair coat. The cashmere sweater. The cashmere sweater (s). The camel hair scarf. The red LK Bennett dress. So many sweaters and dresses that I've started to wear them holes and all, like it's a fashion detail.  But still they came -on and on and on and on through my vast collection of clothes I don't wear and which don't even fit me and yet I hold on to them, now just a haven for destroyers laying waste to everything they touch. Moths. The quiet invasion.

But I too can be quiet, carrying out covert operations on walls where I simply crush them with my thumb. I gently shake the row of coats hanging outside my bedroom and if anything flies out I snatch it in my hand, but most of them don't fly, they just cling on, dopey with a belly full of silk, and I pinch them into oblivion. Others require more force, a rolled up Chelsea flag, and a mop. The mop sweeps them off the ceiling and crushes them at the same time, while the tip of the Chelsea flag, gets right into the cracks where they hide and obliterates them like Tottenham fans. I learned the hard way that clapping the between your palms only sends them up and off in the draft of air the force creates where they flitter off into the camoflage of soft furnishings.

I killed ten yesterday. Twelve the day before and twenty one the day before that. But still they come. My house is a moth factory. Now the internet tells me I have to wash all my clothes at high temperatures or dry clean them, or even put them in the freezer – though I've barely room for a box of Cornettos in there, let alone fifty black dresses. I also need to take all my clothes outside into the sunshine (what's that?) and brush them, then wash all the walls and vacuum the entire house, including drawers and closets - clean like it's 1957 - then throw away the bag because they'll eat the dust and fly back out again. Finally I'm told to put all my clothes in moth-proof bags (make a mistake and what you are effectively doing is making a moth house and giving them a nice big enclosed feast to enjoy until you release them later). Dear God, can't you just smite them, or drown them in the Red Sea or something? Furthermore I'm going to have to redecorate since the walls are like a bedroom in a Greek hotel – covered in splodges and smears, black, red and sometimes, perfectly moth-shaped where their dusty shadow is impregnated in the paint.  Frankly it's getting hard to tell the real ones from the corpses. Still, this morning's killing spree is over. Until tonight when I'm back in assassin mode, ready to strike again.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Love in the field

Today I let out a whoop in the middle of the office.  The last time I made this noise at work was when got an American publisher for my novel.  It was a very long time ago.  So what was the cause of this sudden and unusual outpouring of joy,  you may – like my astounded boss – be asking?  An offer for the latest (unwritten) novel; a lottery win; a promotion?  No, none of these.   What gets me excited these days is Frank, followed by Lampard over a large number 8 and the news that Chelsea are offering him another contract.  Frank who?  I hear you ask, as well you might.  As little as three years ago, I’d be yawning with you, but since then,  I came down with a chronic illness.  I caught football.

What happened to me? I was a food writer, more concerned with fancy restaurants than fancy footwork, happier in the kitchen than on the touchline. I thought silverwear was cutlery and the only time I went anywhere near Chelsea was to buy something frivolous from Heals.. Throughout my sons’ adolescence when they were avid supporters and went to matches whenever they could, I was a sex columnist whose interest in balls had absolutely nothing to do with kicking them.  So how did I turn from an edgy and discerning forty-something, with more shoes than Imelda and a wardrobe consisting solely of black natural fibres, to a woman who actually owns, and worse, wears a shiny blue and gold, polyester Chelsea Shirt.  And matching lucky pants?

You can blame it on love, or lust, at least initially.  When I met my current partner he was already romantically involved with Madame Chelsea and her merry squad of dwarves, - I mean athletic yes – but some of those guys are seriously short; and just as we women spend those first months in a relationship frantically trying to hide our crazy, you also pretend that there’s nothing you’d rather do that freeze your Arsenal off in a stadium on a cold Saturday afternoon. On our third date he took me to a match, put his hand on my backside as he was ‘steering’ me through the crowds into my seat, and the rest is history, an FA Cup, the ‘double’, a Champions League Trophy, three – soon to be four managers, and Drogba’s final goal.

David and his real mum....
Yes, I admit.  Drogba played a bit part in my sudden conversion.  The ground had been laid by my sons and their Russian Doll kits going from age 5 up to around 15, the flags, the programs, the match stats, and the seriously cute Ruud Gulitt.  However, I was banned from matches when they were young for my tendency to try and sing along with the songs.  They also accused  me of being a jinx, because the team lost every time I attended a game.  Thankfully my years as a supporter’s WAG changed all that, or I may well have been sent off at that very first match, but we beat Cardiff – 4-1.  That’s four opportunities to kiss and hug someone you don’t know very well in front of 41,000 witnesses watching ‘fit’ men running up and down yards from your face. Win win win.

However, just as in the beginning I was pretending that I loooooved football, my partner too hid the depths of his obsession. Though he struggles to say he loves me, he had no trouble expressing passion for the – even to a converted me – deeply unloveable John Terry and goody two boots, Saint Frank of the Lampard.  He could wax lyrically about goal averages and vintage players but just about manage to tell me I looked nice if I turned up in a tight attacking dress with a deep cleavage defence.  However, back then I didn’t know he also followed the youth team and even the ladies team, and not because of their legs.   Now he makes no attempt to hide the fact that when he’s ‘answering emails’ he’s really on the Chelsea Website, but I have had to tell him there’s a limit when he starts quoting statistics.

Nevertheless, I do now turn straight to the back page of the paper for the sports section, and every other week -sometimes even on a school night, -there I am in my seat, just behind the placard-bearing, Mrs Lampard-is-a-Legend in the stadium.  I not only gained a lover, but also season ticket.  As well as the Premier League football shirt and scarf, three flags and a Chelsea chef’s hat, I have the football thermals, the all in one rain poncho and a pair of leather trousers especially to keep me warm on the terraces.    I know all the words to  ‘Down at the Shed’ and I clap and give the open arm salute to the Liquidator. Where I once refused to be interviewed by Chelsea TV before an important Premier League match because I had no idea who we were playing or the name of anybody on our team, I now recognize them by number . It took me six months to work out that when the linesman waved his flag it indicated the direction of play, but I can now explain the offside rule.  I am probably the only woman in the country to have a soft spot for Ashley Cole despite his penchant for sexting his block and tackle.  I confess even dreamt I asked David Luiz out on a date though, I’m old enough to be his grandmother.  And he accepted.  That’s what makes it a dream.  I was so happy I woke my partner up at 5am to tell him about it.  He wasn’t shocked.  Gosh, even I might have a sex dream about David Luiz, he said.

And now they’re keeping Frank for another season.  My Europa League Cup runneth over.  Nothing beats the sheer excitement of being in the stadium, cheering and jeering with tens of thousands of my closest friends.  Of course the language can be vicious, but where else can you go from fully expressed, absolute despair to unbridled exhilarated shrieking joy in the space of three seconds?  And all for something – true blue supporters look away now – that in the great scheme of things doesn’t really matter?  Okay, yes it matters,  but it’s not eviction, redundancy or terminal illness.  It’s just two hours of sheer escapism.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Life on the Outside

If things had been different today would have been my thirtieth wedding anniversary.  It seems inconceivable that I’m old enough to have been in a relationship with anyone for that length of time – more than half my life.  Or it would have, if it had lasted this long.  Five years ago I was sitting on my sofa when on a whim I pressed call on my husband’s phone and got a woman rather than the man whose name had flashed up in the message and confirmed my suspicions that the relationship he claimed was over, wasn’t.  It’s sad.  A heaving, mostly dormant, volcano of sadness that now and then erupts, though it’s been quiet for a while.  But anniversaries will stir things up.  And there’s the temptation, sometimes irresistable, to torture myself with thoughts like – we would have been married thirty years, but they probably have their own anniversary that goes back a lot further than the end of our marriage.  I could track that too, since I know it was his birthday and he’d gone to Switzerland, and his conscience pocket dialled me from the airport as he was walking with her and talking.  But those thoughts, those memories don’t do anyone any good and it’s best to leave the past in the past.  I know that some of my sorrow is for the loss of a dream, the loss of the fantasy of the ‘us’ my husband and I saw ourselves as for many of those years.  We were a unit.  An unequal unit, to be sure, and one that in the end broke down and couldn’t or wouldn’t be fixed, like an obsolete appliance which you could still get parts for if you bothered, but  decide to chuck out because it’s cheaper to buy a new one, a better one.    I do still find myself wondering how it all happened, how it all went wrong, and how it can possibly be the case that we are not together any more when he was my life for much of it.  But then days go past, weeks go past, months go past and I hardly think of him, and now when he’s in the house seeing the kids, I find him awkward and in the way – an inconvenience in this home we built together and which he left me with, discarding it at the same time as me.  I don’t see his ghost anywhere, or if I do it’s a benign one that just flits in and out and doesn’t rip my heart out with it.  I don’t cry anymore when I remember something poignant because I don’t remember anything poignant that often.  The new reality has swept the old fantasy away and my life at home is mine, shared with someone else lately, and together we have rituals and habits that we’re building which have superceded the old ones, and are in some way better, more satisfying than before in my married life.  I miss things, of course, but they are becoming harder and harder to recall, and when I do I remember all the things I don’t miss.

But nevertheless I had a tear in my eye this morning as I visited the past for a few seconds and remembered the man who I worshiped and adored and who also, for a time, worshiped and adored me.  He didn’t listen to me, or engage much with me, but being a revered object still has its pleasures.  I wanted so much from him but it was like squeezing fruit after its already been through the press – there just wasn’t enough juice left for me, it all went on his work, his quiet contemplation, and latterly his girlfriend.  I’m still sorry we couldn’t make it work.

However,if I hadn’t pressed dial on his mobile phone, would we have weathered the infidelity and gone on, and the affair petered out, or would it have been years more of agony that had already, by then, brought me to my knees?  I’ll never know.  What I do know is that I wouldn’t have gone to Brazil, twice.  I wouldn’t have gone to Syria and seen it in all its beauty before the war broke out.  I wouldn’t have swum naked in Croatia, or paddled in hot springs in Turkey.  I wouldn’t have heard a pair of cuckoos calling to each other from a shoulder high field of rape on a May day in the countryside, or watched oyster catchers paddle on a river estuary, or seen flocks of red emperors and painted ladies in a walled garden in Sussex.  I wouldn’t have seen a magnificent sunset in Dorset, or heard Patti Smith live in a field, or tramped for four hours through Britain’s only temperate rain forest in Lyme Regis.  I wouldn’t have spent a fabulous weekend in Paris, or had a birthday party thrown for me in New York.  I wouldn’t have danced with gay abandon with seven handsome gay men at two weddings, had my hair put up and my make up done by a professional, flown on a private plane several times, and be soon looking forward to a helicopter ride.  I wouldn’t have had the special time alone with my eldest daughter after her father left, or my younger son when he came back from travelling and brought his girlfriend home to live with me.  I wouldn’t have the good relationship I now have with my youngest daughter which has been transformed from mutual snarling to friendship.  I wouldn’t have three little cats, or a new bed, or the job I’m doing now.  I wouldn’t have Julian, younger, handsome, slim and kind, living with me and peeling an orange for me every night.  I wouldn’t be a Chelsea season ticket holder, and be exhilarated at the last match of the season.  I wouldn’t have driven round Puglia and practiced my Italian.  I wouldn’t be the me I am now, and I like that me a whole lot better than the old me.  And I like the life that comes with it.

I should be celebrating instead five years of emancipation.  I used to sit on the bus with my hands clasped, holding my own hand, thinking - it doesn't matter if he's gone, because I'm here.  I didn't believe it at the time, but I do now.  I'm here and I'm okay.  Better than okay.  I'm pretty damn fine.

And so here’s to it.  If I drank, I'd raise a glass to it.  

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dry conversation

Here’s what I’ve discovered since I’ve stopped drinking.

I don’t like parties.
I don’t even really like people, or at least new people all that much.
And I don’t like going out.

What I liked was drinking .

I liked parties because you could drink at them.  And drinking at parties made people bearable, and new people tolerable.  And going out?  Well that was fun, because when you were out you could drink and a glass of wine, before during and after even the dreariest of plays, became watchable; a bog-standard pizza, enjoyable; a bowl of nuts, dinner. 

But here’s the thing.  Without drinking, a bowl of peanuts is just a dish of other people’s pee-tinged fingers, with extra salt.  And people?  People are boring.  Me too.  I’m supremely boring.  I actually have nothing to say.  Niente, Nada, Ma Fi Shi – nothing in several languages, none of which I’m fluent in.

Ab.  So.  Lute.  Lee. 
I’m duller that a gluten free scone, but less elastic.

Just like that flat, rubbery, gluten and taste-free scone, you need a lot of cream and jam to make it palatable, though in my case it’s alcohol.  Only fuelled by vodka, do I turn into anything remotely interesting and equally springy, and as for you – well you don’t stand a chance.

People ask you 'for a drink' and you really need that drink to get through the evening.  It's not the same with a herbal tea.  'Would you like another?'  Nah, not really.  Tea gets your bladder going, not the conversation.  Sober, I really, really don’t want to listen to you talk about your job for twenty minutes, and then spend another ten telling you what a valuable service you’re providing because you’re a psychotherapist, or a teacher.  I don’t care a damn about your kids and you really don’t care about mine, nor should you.  I pushed them into the world and love them dearly, but they’re not that scintillating a specialist subject.  I could tell you about my cats, who are cuter, but I really don’t think you’d be interested.  Me, on the other hand, I’d rather see pictures of yours, or watch videos of them doing silly things on YouTube than listen to you drone on about Caspian’s fricking exams, or Cunninglinga’s first from Oxford.

No wonder I drank.  But it's only now that I realised that the reason I was so keen on drinking at anything involving people was to avoid the crippling anxieties and numbing dreariness of actually having to socialise.  Now I walk into a party sober and I’m a crackling ball of static anxiety.  I used to see glamour but now I just see trial by people everywhere, all of them talk, talk, talking.  I can chit chat for Britain but I still don’t say anything worth listening to, and so of course nobody really wants to talk to me.  They’re sucking the oxygen from someone more influential, with more of a schpeil than I can muster, huddled in clumps of the dull and duller and prettier and thinner.  Alcohol didn’t slim me down or soft-focus my edges, but it did at least make me forget I was fifty, fat and tongue-tied.  Now I’m as dry as Sharjah, and all I want to do is run home to a choc ice and an episode of The Good Wife.  In the past, I reached my hand out for something from the tray, knocked it back and chased it down with another.  Then filled with the rosy glow of cheap Merlot, I’d saunter forward, insincerely admire somebody’s frock, or their hair, or tell them that they’d lost weight, ask about the effyousee king kids, and laugh till my face went as red as my teeth.  Now I just flounder like a beached whale, and there are just not enough bubbles in a glass of sparkling water to lift me into effervescent conversation with someone I’ll never see again and who has forgotten my name before they move off to speak to someone they ‘just must talk to’. 

So I go home.  And have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, and catch up with a BBC4 Scandinavian Drama.  Me the cats, and my partner who, apart from the opposable thumbs could give them a run for their money in conviviality.  Boring, temperate, anti-social dry, domestic bliss.