Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Back seat reading

I was on a bus the other day at ten to seven in the morning with the other public transport people who I now know like old friends - you know, the sort of friends you don't much like and don't talk to any more but somehow you keep on seeing them anyway.

There's Muslim guy who obviously works at SOAS since he gets off there and who reads the Quran out loud as we traverse the streets of West and Central London, sounding like a particularly annoying bee buzzing in my ear.  He always sits at the front which I consider my seat and sometimes I perch next to him which makes him visibly shift away from me with my blatantly uncovered hair and wanton Western cleavage.  I do it just to unnerve him (it seems to be the only emotion I stir in men these days), though with all that chanting I'm usually the one who suffers. 

Then there's make-up girl - a brittle, bottle blonde who almost knocks me out of the way to get on first, then from Ladbroke Grove to Paddington applies foundation, concealer, mascara and lipstick, and eventually swings her lurid mauve handbag (which has matching slingbag shoes) over her arm and leaves looking, if anything, plainer than when she boarded. 

There's the chap who has long inky black hair with extensions which he wears in a Cure sweep across one heavily made-up eye (I assume the other is also made up but I've never seen it) and has beautiful lips covered in pink lipstick.  He also has more painfully brutal piercings than I've seen up close in a while and wonderful S&M shoes with pointed toes and high stacked heels. 

Then there's posh man who reads the Financial Times and who sometimes travels with his daughter who he drops off at Pembridge Hall in her pink candy-striped uniform on his way to work, but not before having those really irritating earnest conversations at a pitch just a tone higher than you would use to upbraid a servant that go:

'Daddy, is asparagus a vegetable?'

'Yes darling,'

'Does it grow on trees?'

'No darling it grows in the earth.  (There follows a long botanical explanation that wouldn't be out of place on an A Level syllabus).  You know granny has some in the country (implied small manor house), don't you remember seeing it last time we visited her?'

(Child yawning and wriggling)  'I don't like asparagus it's yucky.'

'Don't you?  Have you ever tried it?'

'No, but it's green.'

This morning I was sitting behind posh Ginger Woman who wears Emma Hope velvet baseball boots and brings her breakfast (always brown toast) in a plastic bag and catches up with her reading on the journey.  In my fantasies she is married to posh FT reader - believe me, there just can't be that many Middle Class people who live in Acton and use the bus.  Anyway, after she had eaten her toast (no butter - posh and skinny), she got a pile of Sunday supplements out of her Mulberry bag and began reading, and over her shoulder I caught a headline that went something like 'Don't get therapy, volunteer instead'.

The thrust of the article was that we fortysomething (well, I was once  fortysomething) women are suffering from higher rates of depression than before (not much higher though) and the solution put forward by the journalist for "those middle-aged women troubled by empty-nest syndrome, southbound tits or whatever" (speak for yourself dear) was to "ask themselves not what society can do for them, but what they can do for society. That is, voluntary work".

Dear God - I nearly knocked the toast out of Posh Ginger Woman's mouth straining to read the rest of the article. Who says we're sitting around on our bums just because we're depressed? Have we women not done enough for bloody society?  We raise the children, tend our ageing parents, look after and manage our families, support our spouses, toil ourselves in all the undervalued, underpaid service industries as teaching assistants and care assistants and personal assistants (the clue here is in the word assistants) and make up almost a quarter of the part-time work force so that we can pack all our baggage into our lives and still carry it on and stow it away in the overhead locker.  We nurse, we teach, we doctor (apparently applications to medical school from women now outnumber that of men) and then, then, if it all gets a bit much to deal with at times and we shuffle off to the GP, depressed and anxious, what should we "gutless ungrateful bitches" (she's a charmer this hack - I don't know why she assumes this to be the patients' socio-demographic, but I merely quote) do to remedy the situation?  Why, don't plead for Prozac - do more, girls.

Volunteering does indeed make you feel worthwhile and offers a valuable perspective on what really constitutes a bad day as our wonderful witty author Seb Hunter describes engagingly and persuasively in his totally unsmug book How to be a Better Person. If you needed urging to go and offer your services for the greater good this book is going to shake a tin  under your nose and speed you happily on your way.  More importantly it's laugh out loud funny and a great read. 

I don't, however, know anyone who does need urging as almost every one of my friends has been providing some kind of unpaid public service for as long as I can remember and of course, since most of them are breeders, they've already spent most of our adult lives being forceably volunteered in one way or another. Mystifyingly, even while they're liberally sloshing about the milk of human kindness, some of them are still depressed.

while others are just mightily pissed off.