Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Ring Ring:

'Can I speak to your Lean Coordinator or your Human Resources Development Officer?'

I can't help it.  I begin to giggle.

'Our what?'

She laughs too.

'If you don't have one of those it would be the person who deals with Health and Safety.'

Erm, well we don't formally have anyone who does that either.  It's a small company.

'What about Health and Safety signage - who looks after that?'

I have no idea what she means by signage.  Is it the green thing with a man running above the only door in or out that says FIRE EXIT?  In any case nobody looks after it.

She hangs up.

Another one down.

Just call me Marion the Telesales Slayer.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I'm still rolling along

So the train shuffles in and Camilla, who is driving Mike's Jag, is waiting for me imperiously in the bus lane at Reading station. Before I left the house I had carefully washed my hair and with no time to dry it properly, twisted it into a style that - if left alone like a sleeping dog and not disturbed - will result in long gentle, glossy curls. After twenty minutes in an open topped Jag, however, the sleeping dog was howling at the moon. People watched us drive past but I know it was the car they were admiring not us. Camilla is, well, teapot shaped, while I was really working the Kim Bassinger look in 8 Mile by the time I unfolded myself from the very low seat - which, for those of you who think the comparison a tad conceited - is not something to emulate. As my daughter reminded me - far from crawling around on her knees in a blindfold a la 91/2 weeks, in 8 Mile she lived in a trailer and was an alcoholic. Over the hill, Kimmie, here I come...

Mike and Camilla, however, do not live in a trailer but in a converted manor house deep in the country in one of those places hyphenated with on-Thames, which is full of dogs and sepia portraits of dead relatives; one of which (the dogs, not the rellies), having been left in the house a bit too long by himself, had spectacularly decorated the otherwise spotless, gleaming tiles of their entrance hall. From this echoing, glittering and hurriedly air-freshened, hall there is a vast sitting room full of white sofas attentively placed to worship the wide screen television rather than the (non-working) Adam fireplace, and another equally huge dining room which holds only a grand piano. The master bedroom in an adjoining room boasts a Camilla and Mike sized Tudor replica four poster on the basis that if it was big enough for Henry VIII then it would easily accommodate their expansive frames with plenty of wriggle room, which faces double doors leading out to the rolling parkland that surrounds the manor house. Each room, including the kitchen, is big enough to fit the entire floorplan of my house. However, at least my kids don't shit on the floor.


The couple have just moved there needing, as Camilla put it 'a smaller place now that the kids are gone' and it fairly makes my teeth ache with envy when I hear the words 'kids' and 'gone'in the same sentence and then compare how we are all crammed into our tiny, overcrowded, stuff-filled bedrooms and have so much space that their dogs can use the marble entry hall as a toilet. What must the last house have looked like? However their place is also poignantly empty with not a trace of human habitation. The kitchen, with an Aga and the obligatory scrubbed pine table holds only dog food in sacks and a pair of slouching hounds, one of which, for reasons that become apparent when I stroke the other, lives in a cage. I pet the loose doggy and the other beast snarls, bares its sharp teeth and flattens itself to the bars of the cage, rabidly angry. I decide the kitchen is not my favourite room, and am glad of the gin that is pressed into my hand, though it's only lunch time.

At six, we all pile into the Jag, me in the back this time like one of the pets (who thankfully are left behind and not on either side of me with their his and hers tongues hanging out the side window, or worse, their teeth in my face) and on our way to Henley and the drill hall where a makeshift theatre has been assembled with folding chairs laid out in uneven rows. Mike sits on one side of me, Camilla on the other, both of their bottoms spilling off their allotted space, close enough to make me feel, well, very, very cosy. The play is called LOL which, for those of you familiar with modern shorthand will know means either 'lots of love' or 'laugh out loud' - in this instance, since it was a comedy, possibly both. It is a one woman show which, on reading the flyer, I discover, is about internet dating.


No, deliberate.

'We thought you'd like it,' smiles Camilla confidently, whispering ginly into my ear.

'What with you doing all the internet dating now you're single,' trumpets Mike. 'We thought it might strike a chord!' He and Camilla nodded at each other with me sandwiched in the middle, suddenly feeling like a very big gooseberry, as well as publically outed in Henley as a serial internet dater.

'I am not actually on the internet.' I protest.

'But you wrote that very funny article in Woman and Home, dear, all about it.' says Camilla.

'I write about a lot of things I don't really do. You know, exaggeration, hyperbole. I did have a few dates last year..'

'A lot of dates, Camilla said.' Mike protested.

'No, not a lot, one or two, Camilla.' I say reproachfully. 'And I'm not doing it any more. I am afraid to look around me at my fellow members of the audience being as I now had 'sad' and 'desperate' flashing on and off over my head.

'I am seeing someone.' I say loudly, just so the people in the front row can hear.

'And didn't you meet your new young man on one of those dating things.'

'My new young man is 49. And no, I didn't. I met him through work.'

'My mistake, dear, my mistake. I thought you met him on the internet.' Camilla pats my hand, and Mike my thigh being so supportive they were leaving bruises. I want, frankly, to die. But luckily, just then the house lights go down and the actress appearrs fake ironing, while a litany of all-too familiar profiles are read out parroting the cliches of men selling themselves on dating sites where they're all looking for love, but unfortunately have to make do with you.

Camilla chortles. Mike hoots. My hand and thigh are gripped in a way that I'm not by the story which, like their handholds, are a bit near the bone for me just at this moment. All in all, it is not the most comfortable hour I've spent at the theatre and, believe me, I've cringed through my fair share of drama. It's not usually quite so pertinent, though.

Afterwards we have dinner where I discover that the curse of the single woman seems to have extended to Henley. I don't quite understand why it is that when I was married I was often invited to dinner with my husband even though he rarely managed to go since he was often travelling. This meant I usually turned up alone. This didn't seem to be a problem with most people because in any case my husband hated socialising, made Bisto look exciting and his idea of small talk was to say 'yes' or 'no' to any question he was asked. It's not like he was exactly scintillating company. However, now that he's gone, I don't merit an invitation to those same dinner parties. Perhaps divorce is catching - like Swine Flu - and nobody want to risk being infected? Or perhaps the wives think I'm going to run off with their husbands who have been flirting with me and groping me for the past twenty years but whose advances, somehow, I've managed to resist - though interestingly, that's all stopped too now that the men are afraid I might take them up on it. Relax, chaps, I won't. In any case, apparently the divorced no longer eat, or at least can only eat at tables where there are no other couples they might contaminate. So of course it's just Camilla, Mike and me. I'm the third wheel. The only one in the restaurant.

'So tell me all about your young man.' Asks Camilla waving a large glass of red ominously in the direction of my pink frock which matches Mike's complexion.

'He's not that young, just a couple of years younger than me. I mean, I didn't get him at the Toy Boy Warehouse.'

'The what?'

'Toy Boy Warehouse - it's an internet site for men who like older women, or older women who like younger men, depending on how you look at it.'

'Oh dear.' Camilla looks a little shocked.

'So I'm told,' I add hurriedly. 'But why not? All men my age are looking for younger women. Why shouldn't we do the same?'

'Personally, I don't understand why a man would want a younger woman.' says Mike. 'I mean one would have nothing in common with them, would one?' He sips his own large glass of red, looks at me and muses. 'I mean, one might be able to get a gorgeous young thing instead of you, but one would be far better off with a nice ripe, mature woman like yourself.'

Gee, thanks, I think, Mike. I smile weakly, suddenly feeling like a hunk of Stilton.

'Darling, not all men want young things!' Camilla scolds. 'But it is a shame, isn't it? I mean you're not getting any younger, and in a couple of years you'll be...'

Stabbing myself with the fork, right into my neck...

'Well there's always Logan's Run...' says Mike, and laughs heartily.


Camilla and Mike, incidentally. Not my friends on Facebook.

Monday, 27 July 2009

How to stalk

Ah the life of an international playgirl - London, Worcester and this weekend... Reading.

I went to stay with my friend Camilla and her husband who I met a few years ago at The Italian Institute when Camilla took a course there after retiring from her job in the City. Her husband, a delightful, well-heeled and florid man called Mike had already taken the leap into golf and Sky Sports some years earlier and the two of them have subsequently grown rather fond of a gin and tonic. It was kind of them to ask me and even kinder that they had lined up tickets for a play at the Henley Fringe, at which I was confident, I would be the only unmarried woman, possibly even the only unmarried woman under 65. But never mind. There would be gin.

Alice calls me while I'm on my way there to tell him she has made her toy boy her friend on Facebook.

'You realise that now he'll know about every aspect of your life - and all about your kids too if they're your friends.'

'Ah yes, I never thought about that. But he seems very nice.  I can see what people have written on his wall  and he sounds very normal. I think he might have swine flu.'  She announces, breezily as I hope that's all he has.  'We had a really long chat yesterday...'

'I thought he had swine flu?'

'Yes but we chatted on Instant Messenger.  Turns out he likes art...'

' well as older women.'

She laughs. She really doesn't care. I love that about her.

'You're so old-fashioned mum, says my daughter later when I express my misgivings about people on Facebook which, frankly, I can't see the point of, except as an exercise in misery or envy.  'It's by far the safest way of checking people out,' she insists.

'How so?'

'Well you can see what kind of things they do - and who they're seeing. You really don't know how to stalk, do you?'

'Why on earth would I want to?' I mean, I've seen how upset she was after her ex boyfriend changed his status from 'in a relationship' to 'single' and I know that she gets bummed out when her current boyfriend writes on her wall and that of ten other people all on the same day. I don't want to know that sort of thing.  Ignorance is bliss.  The Internet leaves you nowhere to hide. Even from your own horrible insecurities. What with Twitter and Facebook and mobiles, MSM, Skype, Gmail, email and text messages, as Drew Barrymore says in He's Just Not That Into You (and yes, I know this all too well) it merely gives you a whole range of methods to miscommunicate as well as several different media in which nobody gets in touch with you.  The last time I had a barrage of texts - 14 empty messages - was when Mark the builder put his phone in his pocket and forgot to switch it off.

Alice gets lots of messages on Facebook from friends, she says.  I only have about 8 friends and most of them I see on a daily basis anyway.  I never even check my page or anyone else's.  Though I do get emails (so far, all lovely) from women who have read and liked my book who have Googled me, and this blog creates some traffic, of which only the dog-mad person was hostile - but also incredibly funny.   I'm not complaining, but I do like my compartments to remain separate.

The phone rings again as I'm approaching Reading. Alice tells me that she has arranged to meet her chap at her office in the afternoon.

'Alice! Do you learn nothing? Meet him at a pub for god's sake. Have you not seen Waiting for Mr Goodbar?'

'Waiting for who?'

I explain. 'Oh it'll be fine,' she insists breezily. 'But if I do end up murdered, his name is Dave and he works for Virgin.'

Yeah, and he likes art... I'm sure that's going to be very helpful for the CID.

'Just one other thing though..'


'I need to ask a technical question.'

'Okay....' Be aware I'm on a crowded train on a Saturday morning. I had meant to drive but some upsetting news at home had rendered me unable to operate heavy machinery. I suddenly wished I was behind the wheel without access to the phone.

'He says (noise of her fumbling with her phone and tapping) "Do you like to be (LOUD STATIC)?" but I'm not sure what he means.'

'I didn't hear you, can you say it again?' I ask with some trepidation.

'Reading, Reading, all change for Reading,' says a disembodied voice inside a tin can.


'Nope, still didn't get it. Spell it for me.' I say and brace myself.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Daunting women

My friend Alice has tickets for Hilary Mantel at Daunt's.  I'm a huge fan of both the venue and the author; and though we're reading Wolf Hall, the subject of the talk, at the next book group, I find my ancient copy of Experiment in Love, in which the mother character is scarily close to my own, and whack it into my handbag.  However, Worcester man calls when I should be getting ready and instead of looking professional and prettifying myself for the evening out which is going to include supper at Peter Gordon's Tapa Bar nearby, I loll on the bed like a teenager with the phone glued to my ear.  As a result I'm still in some disarray (and I hesitate to tell you, his coffee cup continues to sit on the floor like a holy relic) when I turn up to collect Alice from the tube station; my hair wild, three pounds in change, a tube of Germoline and a bandage (Mark the builder cut his hand when he was moving the fridge), and some redundant make-up falling out across the passenger seat, which I hastily clear to let her sit down.

She's pleased to see me and bristling with barely suppressed glee.

'Spill,' I tell her, not actually meaning the further contents of my handbag which she kicks with her feet as she settles herself, her holdall, her book bag, her bicycle bag, and a large red umbrella.

'I'm being a bit ridiculous,' she confesses.

Oh heck.  Sinking Feeling.  Prickling Neck.  I know what's coming...

'Not the website for young men?' I ask with dread, remembering a recent conversation we had after Liz, another friend of mine, wrote an article in the Evening Standard about, I kid you not, the Toy Boy Warehouse.

'Yes.'  She says and she throws her head back and laughs delightedly.  The car lurches at the traffic lights.  Alice is many things, but she's not small and sudden movements tend to have considerable impact, something that her prospective suitors may well have to factor in.

'I've had fifteen replies.'

I keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes firmly on the traffic on Praed Street as I cross over Edgeware Road.

'And I'm going to meet one of the men tomorrow.'

'Men.  Are you sure you're using the right noun?'

'Oh I haven't answered any of the really young ones. None of the twentysomethings.  This one is a writer.  Mind you,'  she muses, 'He has about three spelling mistakes on his profile, so he can't be much of a writer.'

'And so you've told him you're in publishing...'  I'm shaking my head like Claire Rayner at a Family Planning Convention in Tower Hamlets.  'Do you have any idea what you're doing?'

'I'm going to have fun, that's what I'm doing.  Look, I've done marriage, I've done kids, I've done business.  Now I just want to enjoy myself.  All the other women on the site are very successful, high achieving women, just like me.  He sounds nice.'


'Well you'll see him for yourself tomorrow at the book launch.'

'You haven't told him where you work have you?  You can't be serious.  You've asked him along to a work thing?  Isn't that a bit...  I mean, what if he's a nutter?'

'I know,' she says cheerfully.   'He might murder me in my bed.'  She chuckles.  'Guess how old he is?'

I am afraid to.  'Please say he's thirty fiv...'

'Yes, he's thirty.'  She interrupts, deliberately not looking at me as I turn the ignition off in a parking space on Marylebone High Street.  'A bit chubby, but nice looking.  He's sent me about a hundred texts.'  She snaps open her phone and proceeds to read some of them to me.  Modesty permits me from repeating them.  Sadly, it did not have a similar effect on Alice.

'Alice, you know he's only interested in one thing.'

'So am I.'

' dinner and possibly cash gifts.  It's a sugar momma, he's after.'

'Don't worry, I'm not planning on paying for anything.'  She protests.

'Remember that guy we met a couple of months ago at the South Bank who told you about his son who lives at home in his spare room and spends all his time on the internet before taking off for weekends all over the country to rendezvous with older women? You might meet someone like that.'

'No, mine has "roommates in Chiswick"'  She says.

So you are going to have a date with a boy who lives in a shared flat?  Haven't you "done" that too?  I'm still bloody living it at home with my kids.. If I started sleeping with someone like that it would be like being 21 again, but not in a good. way.'

'Oh that's the other funny thing.  You'll never guess!  His name is Dave.'

Dave is her son's name.  The two are seven years apart.  They may have gone to school together.

"Freudian much?  You haven't even met him and you're already letting him walk into the middle of your life.  And what possessed you to ask him along to a ruddy book launch?  What if he introduces himself to people and tells them how he knows you?'

'That would be embarrassing,' she allows. 'You will come along tomorrow, won't you, and check him out?'

'I can't.  I've got pub quiz.  And first I'm going to IPC to have a drink with some people.'

'Which people?'

I remind her about Stacey on the picture desk of a magazine I sometimes do the odd article for, who I thought was a girl, but turned out to be a boy.

'Isn't he very young too?'

'He's thirty eight, darling, but I didn't find him on Toy Boys' Warehouse, he is a work colleague.'

'But he liked your picture.'

'No he didn't. He's just being polite.  You know, that's what young people used to show when they spoke to their elders.  Politeness. Not a list of their sexual fantasies.  And we've had this drink planned off and on since Easter.  It's not a date. It's a meeting.  He has a wife, for goodness sake.  And a kid.'  I'm shocked at the suggestion.  Poor Stacey, suddenly demoted from picture editor to chancer trawling the internet for cougars, which - let's face it - working for a woman's magazine with the demographic of ABC women between 45-55, he has a large sample group of better looking well-preserved women than me to choose from.  I have a look in the rear view mirror, and see my hair a waving sea of frizz.    Disheveled old cougars would not make the final cut, I'm sure.

'Bring him along to the book launch with you.'

'What, so they can play together while you and I go off and do important grown upthings?  Don't be daft.'

'They can talk about bands,' she says and then bursts out laughing.

By this time we are settled in our seats near the front of the hall as 'ilary sails down the aisle and sits on the dias next to Will Buckley.  It's very, very warm and I begin fanning myself with a copy of Dante's Inferno (which I failed to return to the shelves afterwards, sorry Daunt's).  Will's face goes flame red.  I feel like I'm going to spontaneously combust.  The woman next to me nods off.  Alice squints around the room.  'Everyone here is so old.  Is this all we've got to look forward to?  Is this what you do when you've had the menopause, go to bleeding readings?'

I remind her that she was the one who got the tickets, and that since we are both, ostensibly, in the publishing business, we luuuuuuuuuuuuurve the book buying public in all their many forms.  She sniffs.

I tell Alice that Mathilda in the office thinks that in order to meet quality, well-heeled men you should hang out at bookshops or in University Libraries.  I met my husband in a University Library so I don't necessarily agree with this, and certainly Daunts, even with the draw of Hilary Mantel, does not seem to be much of a haven for the quality and well heeled single man. But given that I'm sitting next to a woman who shops at Toy Boy Warehouse I can hardly claim the moral high ground for women of a certain age.

Hilary stops talking when the geriatric audience are sufficiently tired of the sound of their own voices to cease airing their own opinions in lieu of asking questions, and some of us knock over the people in Zimmers to get to the top of the signing queue.  The man after me (sweet, under fifty-five, perfectly presentable and disarmingly modest) says 'I feel a bit wet doing that, but I just couldn't resist it.'

'Don't worry, I actually work in publishing and I came with the express purpose of getting my book signed.'

'Me too,' said Alice, with her enormously fat copy of Wolf Hall on page 22 where it has been for the last month.  ('I can't get on with it,' she had confessed earlier.)

He smiles in relief and we and other autograph hobbyists stand in a huddle and compare dedications.  I take my own book from its exile on the shelves and put it out on the top of a pile of The Secret History of Bees which, I confess, did nothing for me, before we get on to the more serious business of the evening of deep fried egg (a dish of utter and complete deliciousness, trust me) and ham hock and squid salad at The Tapa Bar.  Fabulous, zingy, interesting and different food - almost my favourite place in London.  Why don't I come here more often, I wonder?  Alice takes the bread from the basket (£2.20 a portion) that we didn't eat, and wraps it in her napkin to take home with her.

I guess we know that what the chap from Toy Boy Warehouse is going to get for breakfast.  I wonder if she cuts off his crusts for him.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Snakes on pains

Reality has dropped on me like a python from an overhead tree and is currently draped heavily around my shoulders, coiling itself around my neck.

Manhattan seems like a distant dream. Even the memory of my long anticipated and finally redeemed weekend at the Connaught has faded away like the colour on a much washed shirt - the highlight of which was a suite with a bed big enough to actually sleep in. Considering my theory that hotels only exist for two things - sex and room service - it's strange that what this one finally delivered was a full night's slumber, each of us marooned on our own side of no-man's land in the great cool divide of smoothed sheets, turned down at the corner like bookmarked pages; his and hers placemarks. However, we know each other well enough by now that there's no discussion about who sleeps where. It's one of the few things I'm sure of in this unfamiliar dance that is getting to know someone. He on the right, me on the left, curled in opposite directions like single apostrophes in separate clauses that in the morning revolve to slip back into the same sentence.

Then the bathtub drains away the last bubbles. The steam evaporates from the inside of the shower and runs tearily down the condensation on the bathroom mirror. The empty bottle of Laurent Perrier is upturned in a lukewarm puddle of melted ice, slumped like an unwell Jeffrey Bernard to the side of the bucket.  Stems torn from plump strawberries decorate the delicate white china with green stars and cherry stones fill a bowl: He loves me, he loves me not. Our champagne glasses sit abandoned on the bedside table; mine, undrunk from the night before, as flat as my spirits as we rewind the weekend back into our individual bags. His thumbs dance across his electronic screen until a space floats up to accommodate me on the other side of August which suddenly seems like a long, slow, age away. Then we leave, just the sound of my heels, slapping against the soles of my flip flops on the solemn Sunday street, him walking slightly ahead, his arm tucked tidily into his pocket. My ex would, and still does, say: 'Shanglini' which means, link with me, in Arabic. But no invitation is issued and I'm back on unfamiliar territory. The irony that you can spend the weekend with someone but be afraid to take their arm is not lost on me.

Lovely romantic idyll over - this, then, would be the anti-climax.

At home, thankfully, the couple staying with my daughter have also left. We had watched them in the kitchen, one entwined around the other, he kissing her neck, talking about each other in the third person, in baby voices.

'Two fricking years they've been living together, and they still carry on like this.' She hissed in my ear as we excused ourselves, de trop in our own home.

'I've even had to give up my bed for them and sleep on the sofa.'

I wanted to throw a bucket of water over them and remind them they were guest and might like to comport themselves less like they were about to have sex on my kitchen table, which I feel should be my privilege. Though, I wisely don't voice either of these desires.

'At least you don't have to sleep underneath them.' She said, wincing.

I shuddered, wondering if it would be better to hear your friends overhead or your mother and her lover?

'And even when we're out together, they're petting each other. They were smooching all the time in the restaurant last night, kissing each other's noses.'

They had slept (we hoped) until eleven the previous morning and then the man appeared in the kitchen, plonking himself down at breakfast beside me and Worcester man, treading where even my children fear to intrude. So coming home alone, I am very glad not to find them still in the house, joined at the hip when my own feels suddenly empty.

When I arrive, however, elder daughter's bedding, is still straddling the sofa and scattered across the floor though she herself has gone to stay with her own boyfriend. Younger daughter is holed up in the fetid pit she calls a bedroom but comes downstairs to complain that there is no food. There is a taut cling-filmed bowl of paella, untouched, from the night before and three chicken breasts in a tray that only need to be heated, but these don't, apparently, count as food since they require some preparation, and a fork, to eat. There are families of cereal bowls in the sink, and water sloshes from the other, broken, fridge every time the door is opened to reveal a week old chocolate cake and crumb-strewn, but otherwise empty interior. Cigarette ends are spilling out of a flower pot in the garden where the umberella has blown over in the wind and fallen on the steps.

Elder son is hunched cross-legged on the sitting room floor wearing earphones, using his computer which he has brought downstairs and plugged into the internet so he can 'work' which seems to be a euphemism for MSN Instant Messenger. There is not one single clean drinking glass to be found anywhere. Younger daughter is drinking diet coke from a silver teacup. All other vessels seem to huddled underneath elder son's bed. He is, by the way, twenty two. Not fifteen. And he works in a bar. But washing glasses at home seems to be outside his job description.

My sister has rung in my absence. The second I hear her voice I know the news is bad. Her husband has lung cancer. She cries down the phone and I cry with her as Younger Daughter comes into my bedroom and perches on the edge of the bed, unmade from Friday night, with Worcester man's coffee cup still on the tray on the floor and the imprint of his body on the pillow beside it. Hastily, I wipe away my tears while scanning the room for other incriminating evidence of sex that neither of us want her to stumble across. She idly paints her nails while sifting through my make up. She discovers my new Benefit concealer. I quietly kiss it goodbye and wish that Myla had a cosmetics range which would protect it from thieving kids who might, on seeing the box, avoid it, thinking it was something tawdry that they shouldn't investigate.

I shake my head at her questioningly and shower water over my cheeks and she mimes that she needs some money to go to the shop. But seeing I'm upset she waits until I put down the phone.

'What's up?'

I relay the bad news, still not believing the awfulness of it, even as I hear the words come out of my mouth.

Her face crumples briefly before the safety curtain falls. 'Well, I suppose I'm not surprised. He does smoke.'

I remember the sodden flower pot full of fag ends in the garden that are mostly hers, but with the inability of youth to imagine their own mortality, this doesn't frighten her. She doesn't know, yet, what it feels like to watch someone you love suffer. I reach into my purse and give her twenty pounds from which, later, I get three pounds change.

'Oh I owe you two pounds twenty,' she says as she hands it to me. 'I had to buy a deodorant.' I see a twenty package of Marlborough Lite lying beside her pillow, which I'm guessing is not going to protect her from body odour but is probably what I paid for.

A French film at the Gate on Monday afternoon after a tiring day at work catching up on several hundred emails - most of which are junk - does nothing to cheer me up. Nor does the fact that my phone doesn't ring for the remainder of that day, or this, except for Mark the builder who calls to see about taking out my weeping fridge which he mops up gently with a rag before carrying it though the door.

'What are you going to do now?' he asks, seeing me hollow eyed and glum.

'Nothing,. You?'

'I'm going to Chelsea to see about a job in Cadogan Square.'

I nod.

'Fancy coming for the ride?'

I'm already opening the door of his little red Mercedes and climbing in.

We negotiate the traffic, he parks and leaves me listening to Marvin Gaye singing Lets Get it On while he meets with his client, and then he slips back in beside me, tucking his pencil into his dreads.

I massage the python who contracts his muscles at the nape of my neck and crushes my holiday relaxed shoulders into a deep V of anxiety. 'Where do you want to go now, gorgeous?' He asks, grinning his gap toothed smile.'

'Anywhere. Just drive and keep on going.' I say.

And so he does.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Street Smarts

This afternoon I'm going to the Atelier while Audrey gets fitted for a gown, while yesterday we went to mid-town so that she and her daughter could look at photographs from the Paris collections. We sat in the Style Guru's office and flicked through the Dior book (a lot of Suzy Wong embroidery) then went on to Lacroix's swan song ('it was more like a funeral than a runway show, darling', Chanel ('horrible') and Gautier 'what about these green alligator dungarees?'

'So what do you think, Marion?' asked the Style Guru, kindly trying to include me in something about which I patently had no useful opinion. I shrugged. What could I say? Me, the person he told had 'made his eyes bleed' at the party on Saturday night... My taste credentials are well and truly blown.

He told Audrey he had put aside a couple of suits and a dress from Gautier, a ball dress, a suit and a coat from Dior, and several pieces from Lacroix though there was some doubt as to whether they were going to sell the samples. This is what it feels like to be sitting in Couture Land when you hail from LK Bennett Sale Country. Let's put it this way, you're ruddy glad you didn't wear your Marks and Spencer elasticated fat pants.

It was also hot. New York, back to normal, July humid hot, and a twenty five block walk from the gentle air-conditioned air of Audrey's upper East town house. My dress du jour was bubble gum pink, and so was I by the time I sat down in the Starck chair which was, dontcha know it, plastic. Do you know what happens when you sit on plastic when you're hot and erm glowing and you try to move? It's like having the backs of your thighs waxed without benefit of the Russian woman in an overall.

'What do I think?' I think I'm as out of place as a nun in a brothel (though actually, come to think of it, there's probably quite a speciality market for someone like that). I like looking at the pretty clothes and I'm delighted that Audrey can pick through them like she was buying mail-order t-shirts from the Boden Catalogue but it's so far outside my experience that I can't even find the bus that would take me to Envy. I'm happily stuck in Bewildered. Audrey has been on the front of the New York Times Style Section twice. She is co-hosting three operas at the Metropolitan Opera this season. She is so chic and slim that she could wear a sack (of which I have a whole range in a variety of colours) and still look fantastic while I just have this generous, access all areas, free pass into her life for a few weeks. It's all a far cry from the days when we first met back in the library at St Antony's College in Oxford and we were both married to other men. I knew Audrey when she rode a bicycle with her son strapped on to a little seat at the back - the same son who is eating lunch with us at the table in the tiny garden of her house baiting her, the way sons do their mothers. I'm pleased to see that wearing designer clothes doesn't insulate you from having a fresh kid (of 33) who needles you and can still manage to get under your skin.

I can't believe my luck that we came through the years from my first visit to her house in Cambridge Mass. when I was dating George - the straight man who turned gay in the three weeks of my vacation (I'm that good - in my youth I apparently had the sort of powers that brought men to their knees - in front of other men)- to staying in this amazing townhouse with a Georgia O'Keefe hanging on the dining room wall. ('Did you know dat all dese paintings of hers have a vagina?' asked the Dutch Husband the other night as we ate supper together. I didn't. I had to ask where it was and so of course he showed me. Now that's what you call an intimate friendship.)

So here I am, upstairs on the fifth floor, opposite the room with the Mondrians, lying on the bed, waiting for my lunch to arrive from Dean and Deluca, fetched by Paula after Antonio buzzed me on the intercom and asked me what I wanted and Zena, who has set the table out in the garden, has told me 'zat lunch vill be soived at twelve toity'. My case is packed. I'm but one last supper away from getting on the plane back home to putting American treats in the usual place at Pedantic Books.

How is a box of Hershey's kisses going to cut it as a consolation prize?

BEEP BEEP: 'Marion', comes Zena's voice over the intercom: 'Lunch is soived.'

I'm going to worry about it tomorrow.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Next day, I wasn't the only thing that looked dead. The laptop crashed and when I tried to open it, it said:

You are unable to log in as user Marion at this time.

10,000 words that I've written since I arrived, plus an outline - Lost.
Sunday - Lost trying to restore the files. With absolutely no success.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Kiss and make up

Saturday, after an hour the salon with Luis, the most beautiful man in the world who I am glad is gay because I couldn't bear another woman to have him. I've marched up and down Fifth Avenue like the grand old duchess of yuck, avoiding all the stores that I can neither afford nor fit into, languishing instead in Crate and Barrel where everything fits (not so much of the barrel though, please) where, after a morning at the other station of the cross - Williams Sonoma - I indulge my habit for kitchen porn.

A brownie dish shaped like stars, on sale after the 4th of July holiday (though I draw the line at star spangled napkins and red, white and blue cookie sprinkles); silicone cup cake holders (the only silicone thing in my house is bakeware, everything else is a hundred percent natural); tiny little knives and tiny little spoons for tiny little condiments that we don't have and wouldn't eat if we had (but you just never know when they'll come in handy); a sugar thermometer (for all those times we boil sugar - in the ex's culture the only time women did this was to make toffee to remove the hair from their limbs - sweet mother of God); and seafood scissors. I know. When you've cracked open the crab claws and you're cutting them up, who know you were supposed to use special scissors? But now I own them. As well as a honey spoon. I was in food heaven. Replete with cook's tools. Who could ask for anything more?

And then as I walked back to the salon to pick up Audrey who was still under the lash of the blow dryer, drunk with dinner napkins on sale for $1.95 each, I stumbled into Bendells. Youngest had instructed me to buy a brand of cosmetics that she thinks is cheaper in the USA than it is in Britain (it's all cheaper if your mother is paying for it), and so in I trotted.

And then I looked in the mirror.

This is not a good idea.


Especially in a store devoted to cosmetics.

Especially when you have just been coiffed and curled and your hair, damn it, looks fanglossytastic, and you've started tossing it, and tucking it behind your ears, and smiling at yourself, and trying out a little red lippy from the stand while you're waiting for the sales 'associate' to ring up your purchase and...

'Why don't you hop up on a stool ma'am and let me show you some of our products,' said Larette, sneaking up behind me, and effectively blocking off my exit.

'Oh no, I don't really wear make up...'

This would be evident from the shine on your cheeks, the red blotches on your chin, the freckles and the circles under the eyes, Marion.

'Mmm, hmm,' said Larette, 'You will... When I've finished with you ma'am you'll see how wonderful you look. Set yourself down, and let me work my magic.'

'It'll take a bit more than magic, I'm afraid,' I stammered, trying to edge closer to the cash register so I could get the youngest's 'Smoky Eyes Kit' and get the hell out of there but Larette already had the chair pulled out for me. And so it came to pass I did the thing I swore never to do.

I let a store beautician make me up.

'I'm going to give you a bit of a Marylin Monroe look, light on the eyes, heavy on the lips, starting here with this eye cream that fades dark circles and freckles,' she said, heaving her considerable bosum into place and pinning my arms to my ribs... Concealer, foundation, primer (primer for gawd's sake, what am I - skirting board?) eyebrow highlighter, eyebrow pencil, a mini brush to sweep the eyebrows (ma'am they frame the face you need to keep them tidy -oops sorry I'm an eyebrow slut, apparently. I never sweep) so much mascara that I couldn't open my eyes, eyeliner, lipliner, lip highlighter and then last of all the dreaded bronzer. The girl on the YSL desk kept grinning at me and nodding.

'Why is she laughing at me, does it look that bad?'

'Ma'am, she's not laughing, she's smiling. You look terrific. Look up. Look down. Look over there. Look back over there. Look at me.' I looked everywhere except in a mirror. Another woman from the Laura Mercier counter came over to watch.

'Mmm hmm,' she said, and nodded.

'What about the lips?' asked yet another girl who wandered over from Nars.

'Red. Very red.' said Larette.

'Mmm hmm,' the three of them agreed at once.

This is what happens in Manhattan on a July weekend when everybody slopes off to their summer homes in the Hamptons and you, the hick from out of town, become the entertainment. I was praying for customers. My prayers went unanswered. It was just like being on stage at the (excellent) play we had seen the night before (Ruined, about Congolese prostitutes) where the audience, being mostly African American, commented on the storyline as though they were in church: 'Aint that the truth sister!' and 'You got that right.' Except that I had half of Queens as my audience.

Eventually Larette announced she had finished and finally turned me to face the mirror. Well, folks - Narcissus died for his vanity. I got off lucky. I was merely embalmed.

'What do you think?' she asked, smiling with delight at her handywork.

'Lovely,' I said, recoiling inwardly but being too British to say 'Holy Crap I look like a transvestite.' However, after I tactfully got her to blend in the odd sort of milk moustache of make up on my top lip that was supposed to make my pout look full and luscious, and I had arrived home and washed off all the brown stuff from the place that my non existent cheek bones were supposed to be with a flannel, it did look more or less okay. If I avoided natural and overhead light. And didn't smile. And got my hair unglued from my lipstick.

'Your eyes look amazing!' Said Audrey later. 'What have you done to them?'

'Went to Bendells and had a girl paint the inside of my eyelid with black stuff that smelled like nail varnish on a very pointy brush.'

'Well it looks great.'


'Really. They look beautiful.'

'I was thinking of wiping it...'

'No, don't you dare. And take off the damn sunglasses.'

So that's how I came to be standing self-consciously on the garden terrace of the Rockerfeller Centre like a store window dummy with lips so red they could be seen from space, having taken the plea on the invite to 'wear something red' a little too literally in my scarlet polka dot dress; sore thumb and standing out being an understatement. Audrey is beside me, half my body weight, and wearing an elegant navy blue floor length gown with a Grecian theme going on, and whose only nod to the dress code is red fingernails and a ruby the size of a chicklet. It took a lot of courage for me even to leave the house.

The Style Guru enters and though I try to hide which, frankly - unless I jump off the ruddy building - is impossible, he eventually comes up for a mwa mwa.

'I'm a bit red,' I say, once again with my gift for understatement.

'Darling, you make my eyes bleed,' he said, and gave a sniff that was supposed to be mock irony but still made me deflate like the Hindenberg.

'Oh frock off.' I snapped, and flounced off back to the comfort of canapes.

I was only partly mollified when he asked me to dance later and proved to be much better at leading than he is at tact. He twirled me and my polka dots round and round the dancefloor where I pirouetted and waltzed, swung and swayed, finally proving that those salsa lessons have made some impact, if only that I tried to dance three beats out of every four when it was a two-step.

'You made me feel just like Ginger Rogers,' I said in the small hours of the morning when we finally left the party.

'You looked like Ginger Rogers, honey, you were working it...' He replied, trying to make up for the 'eyes bleed crack earlier'. But there's no coming back from that.

We both know that the only chance I had of looking like Ginger Rogers would have been if she had been exhumed.

Really, I was dead glamorous.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Cherry News from the Big Apple

After a long 4th of July firework filled weekend spent by the pool watching small sailboats drift past the house on Fisher's Island, I'm back in Manhattan amid the restful hum of construction, traffic and air conditioning.

Holidays are exhausting - even when the car drops you off outside the Avedon exhibition then picks you up and drives you to the Whitney, then takes you back to mid-Town for dinner, then hovers outside the theatre when the play is over.

I've been primped, pummelled, manicured, pedicured, facialed, and massaged, and it has now been approximately five minutes since my last meal. I'm almost afraid to pop my head out of the guest room in case one of the three members of staff offers me something to eat. Antonio makes my coffee, Zena washes the cup and Paola makes the bed.

Cocktail hour seems to start at five pm, and lunch is at noon (today at the Metropolitain Museum which is two blocks away but I'm guessing we're not walking). The weather has been unseasonably cool, but even so, I'm glad not to spend too much time outside. On the Upper East Side there is not another woman on the streets my size who isn't in the service industry. They walk past me, the wizened and the gaunt; the withered and the well-preserved, the cosmetically enhanced and the too-young-yet to need it, but the one thing they all have in common, apart from perfectly coiffed hair, is bones. Visible bones. These women are competitively thin. It's like they're a different race, all cut from the same slim, petite, fat-free pastry. In comparison I am frankly obese. Of course, America is also the land of the large, and they're out there too. However, like Prince Philip and the Queen, they're usually walking two steps behind, either carrying the shopping, holding the baby, or - most likely of all - supporting the walker or pushing the wheelchair. So when I'm out with Audrey, slim and chic and with a diamond on one finger the size of a Brazil nut, I'm only a few skin shades away from being mistaken for her maid. If I was Hispanic, believe me, shop assistants would be giving me her packages to hold.

I'm suddenly very glad I didn't tan too much over the weekend.

It's not helped by the fact that we unwittingly seem to pick matching outfits every day. For instance, this morning she's in tangerine silk and I'm in Marks and Spencer's orange. You see what I'm getting at? It's like the before and after picture in one of those make-over shows. I really should just wear white overalls and pretend I'm her physical therapist.

We've also been doing a lot of culture:

Last night I saw Mary Stuart transferred here from the Donmar.

Heard in the audience:

First doddery old lady: Yeah it's about Mary Queen of Scots, you know her sister was a lesbian.

Second doddery old lady: A lesbian? My gosh. Really? Her sister or her cousin?

First doddery old lady: 'Not a lesbian. A-lizabeth!'

Second doddery old lady: 'A-lizabeth was a lesbian? Queen A-lizabeth...?

Tonight it's Ruined - a play about Congolese atrocities. Tuesday we caught The Hurt Locker - about an American bomb detonation squad in Iraq at the movies the other night (Audrey and I do like a chic flick), and at Twelfth Night in Central Park on Wednesday, Martha Stewart was in the same row, and Meryl Streep seated a few rows ahead. On Saturday it's a friend's birthday and a big party at the Rockerfeller Center for which another friend, Tim, the Style Guru, offered to lend me some of his jewelry.

(There's something off about that sentence, but I kid you not, he offered me some of his jewelry and we're not talking cuff links!)

Erm. Jewelry? I hadn't realised it was that formal. 'Oh don't worry about it. What are you wearing?' asks Audrey.

'My red dress. The one I wore to your daughter's wedding rehearsal two years ago, on the boat, remember?'

'Mmm. Noooo. I don't think so.'

Obviously I made a great impression.

'The invitation said that the theme was cherries and that we had all wear red and that the dress code was informal.'

Audrey makes a tiny moue of distaste. 'Yes, it did.'

'Why cherries, anyway?'

'He likes them.'

'So, what are you wearing?'

'Oh I have a long blue evening gown but I'm going to dress it down with silver jewelry.'

(I shuffle my hands with all my dressed down silver jewelry that until now I thought was pretty fancy.)

'What about your "something red"?'

'Coral earrings with diamond drops.'

Gulp. I have a sudden picture of everyone tastefully accessorised and me being the one big red blob of colour.

'...but don't worry I can lend you some bling. It'll be fine.'

Later that day we go to her daughter's studio in the flower district (while the driver idles outside and waits for us) who is doing the party planning for the event. She's carrying a red evening purse. Her husband has a red pochette.

'Don''t you two look cute in your matching outfits? You're like something from the Golden Girls...' says the daughter as we walk (in my case, pant - it's a fourth floor walk up) into her studio.

I'd be Bea - the one who looks like a man.

She and her assistant have made ten bonsai cherry trees from which they are hanging real cherries and tissue paper cherry blossom. She has cut out eighty-eight cherry decals which will decorate the napkins on all the tables. She shows us the red chargers that our friend has chosen to dress the tablecloths, swatches of which are laid out on her work table. She flicks through them trying out various place settings.

'This works with some of the tablecloths, but not all of them,' she says, setting them all out in a line.

The first is red and shimmery, almost sequined. The second has tiny stars sprinkled across it. And, the third, I notice with a horrible jolt, is red with white polka dots.

'Oh Frick!' I gasp (Btw - yet another of the museums we've visited, in which Audrey held her 25th Wedding Anniversary, so as we walked round instead of saying -'look at the Gainsborough', it was 'we had the drinks here... and the Gold Room was the disco, and we sat in front of that Degas...')

'What's wrong?' asked her daughter, glancing up from the faux table setting on which she was balancing piles of cherries.

'Do you remember the dress I wore to your wedding rehearsal dinner on the yacht?'

'No,' she said, 'but I'm sure it was lovely.'

'Well, I don't know about lovely, but what it was, was red with white polka dots.'

She winced.

So on Saturday night at the Rockerfeller Centre, that'll be me folks - the fat woman with the frizzy hair and borrowed bling in a sea of bright pillar box red, wearing the same frock as the fricking table cloths...

Thank gawd all the men will be gay -as well as wearing better jewelry.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Mile High Club

Though not overly fond of long-haul airline conversation – seven hours is a lot of small talk with a stranger - I do like to exchange a few words with the person I’m sitting next to on the basis that if the plane drops out of the sky this is who I’m going to plunge to eternity with; and if there’s an after life, we might be stuck together in the waiting room for quite some time.

Then there’s the question of sleeping. Though I can’t actually ‘sleep’ with the man I am sleeping with, I can happily nod off beside two hundred total strangers in the other mile high club. Indeed in the last year I’ve slept with a great deal of men, and even a few women, which considering how darn uncomfortable it is to sleep on a plane, even in business class, is surprising. Especially when the guy in front of you is often comatose with his head practically in your lap, and your own head is equally close to those parts of the bloke behind that you don’t usually get introduced to on such short acquaintance. In steerage you're touching thighs and arms with the people on either side of you and your face is inches away from theirs. If the engine dropped below a roar you would hear them breathe. Intimate it most certainly is.

For someone who, when nervous, doesn’t even like eating on a first date, put me on a plane with a little fold out table next to someone whose name I don’t even know, and despite being marginally afraid of flying (and blindly, freaking terrified of turbulence) I’m as comfortable as if sitting on the sofa with my supper on a tray. I’ll even ask for extra bread while, when on a date, I don’t dare eat, and when I travel with my kids I eat all theirs too.

I don’t quite understand how my intimacy issues work when I am filled with an overwhelming desire to get in my car and drive home in the middle of the night when curled up horizontally beside a person I really like (odder still when you remember that the car is parked a hundred miles away outside my house); and yet stick me in the sky in a metal cigar with a cross section of sweating, cross, often very strange, humanity, and after one mini bottle of wine, I’m flat on my back (or the 95 degrees that pass for reclining in economy) supine, somnolent and – yes, let’s face it, probably snoring.

So, I turned left this time and I’m sitting semi-prone with my feet up, next to Dorie who has tiny crinkly blue eyes inserted like push pins into his face, a sparse fluff of greying hair stuck on to his head the way kids stick cotton wool on to table tennis balls for a craft program, and a very red nose. He’s Ukranian, he tells me and has lived all over the world. In fact elsewhere he describes himself as an Israeli, I discover when I Google him (oh yes Lady from The Cotswold-London line, you are not the only person who can look up people on the internet) who left the Ukraine when he was two and who has been a cowboy, running a cattle farm in Wyoming for the last fifteen years.

He’s also an anthropologist, he says. He used to teach many years ago but he got fed up with students who weren’t interested in the subject. ‘To tell the truth there isn’t much difference between driving cattle and teaching, both times you are looking at the same thing,’ and he stares blankly at me and chews open mouthed.

I laugh.

He tells me he doesn’t think much of the Ukranians, or the ‘Bella Russians or any of those folks over there. How can you live for all that time and do nothing to free yourself?’

I venture ‘fear, tyranny, oppression, salt mines, etc’ as some contributing factors, but he isn’t buying it. He is, I discover, over several sparse conversations in the succeeding hours, a hard task master. He’s dogmatic with his students, dogmatic with the people who come on vacation to his ranch, dogmatic with his kids. He’s the man with all the answers.

I’m wondering how an anthropology professor gets the dosh to buy a huge cattle rang in Wyoming and who runs his own plane, travels business class, and takes his vacations in places as diverse as Borneo and Madagascar. His son is currently doing his junior year ‘on board’ instead of abroad, by which he and his fellow students live on a cruise ship and travel round the Mediterranean having classes and visiting ports along the way.

I tell him my daughter spent some time teaching in the South Pacific thinking that this might interest the anthropologist in him, as he went up the Amazon last year ‘for the tribes’ and had just visited the head hunters in Borneo (where no doubt he had opinions on the best way to decapitate that he was eager to share), but he blanks me and continues to tell me about his son being smart, and really liking Scottish and Irish girls, and always having one or the other on his arm while he’s been in London.

I don’t know if he’s realised I’m Scottish, but I don’t want to point it out in case he thinks I’m auditioning for the cute Scottish arm candy part in the post 50 matron category.

‘You should get yourself an American man and go out west,’ he tells me. ‘Just rent a car and drive.’ I point out that even men who don’t come from America can drive. ‘Yeah, yeah, but better an American as they will have a feel for the place. Or an Italian. Get yourself an Italian and just don’t let him drive too fast.’

I refrain for mentioning my Italian misery man because he’s not really responding to anything I say, just talking at me, as though I’m one of the bovine cud-chewing students he used to teach, laying it down, the world as it is according to Dorie.

‘I always tell my students…. I always tell the guys who come to my ranch… I always tell my kids… I always tell people…’ Always telling.

There’s a horrible patch of turbulence that makes me clutch the arm of my chair thinking that if the plane goes down and I’m sitting in the holding lounge for hell with this chap then I’m going to be well and truly told by the time I fry. One of the pilots is lounging against the bathroom door chatting, so I'm guessing we're not for the chip pan quite yet.

The flight attendant takes away the remains of my shrimp risotto then comes round with another bottle of wine and fills our glasses. We have cheese and crackers, followed by ice cream sundaes from the trolley. I’ve eaten more today that I have in a week.

We sleep. He snores. I snuggle up with my legs to my chest and my backside, inadequately covered by the blanket, almost in his face, and drift off half way through the second Rom Com. If he put his arm around my waist I don’t think I would even flinch.

It’s round two. I think we’re over Canada somewhere but I can’t see through the cloud landscape of flat Dutch fields which have the layered texture of coconut fudge when you’ve boiled it just a minute or so too long and poured it out into a tray.

The flight attendant offers me a cookie and I accept it without question like a foie gras goose.

Dorie continues with his Seinfeld marathon, and I resume Confessions of a Shopaholic (I really have no standards when I get on a plane. One man I know says he looks around and evaluates the women he would like to sleep with in the non sleepy way but if my taste in films and enjoyment of economy food in foil trays had anything to do with it, it’s as well I don’t think along those lines. Dorie, however, it has to be said, would not be a contender. His belly sways like a fattened steer and he smells pungently of BO. Even five or so hours into the flight, I can still detect the not so fresh smell of sweat every time he moves his arm, which he does often, to drive home those points he keeps on making. Perhaps cowboys don’t wear deodorant? Perhaps it’s not manly to sit and talk the ears off head hunters when you’ve first applied Right Guard?

He starts telling me about his daughter’s back surgery. And then about his wife's trip to Miami. And then he expounds his theory on multi-culturalism in Britain which is an explosion waiting to happen, he insists. ‘Not even in America are there so many different races, and we’re an immigrant society. You’re going to have big, big problems.’ He mutters darkly. His next topic is Middle East Politics. He tells me all about Camp David and what Arafat was offered and did and didn’t settle for. My ex was there and the two accounts don’t match. I mention this, expecting maybe some interest. None. Dorie knows better. He knows there are no such things as Palestinians and that the original Philistines came from central Europe and had red hair, and that all those people in that area came from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and that none of those people ‘over there’ belong there. The Iraqis aren’t Babylonians and the Palestinians aren’t Palestinians and the Syrians aren’t Assyrian and the Iranians aren’t Persians.

‘So what, they’re all immigrants, then, like America, what does it matter if they belong there? They live there now.’

‘Yes, I tell my students not to look behind them, but to look forward, to move on.’

I’m rather longingly hoping to move on to the last half an hour of Shopaholic. I may have drunk more than I thought as I find myself slightly misty eyed at the end.

We have tea and a sandwich. More turbulence follows which makes it impossible to concentrate on anything. Dorie resumes his treatise on the Middle East, moving on now to the veil and the hirsuteness of Middle Eastern women. 'Those women are hairy. So are the Spaniards and Italians. It's like their eyebrows have fallen on to their top lip'.

And a gentleman too...

He once travelled on a plane with a lot of women who arrived wearing the full black chador, then went into the bathroom and came out wearing normal clothes and all ordered a drink.

‘We had quite a good discussion about it. I got talking to her and all her friends. I can’t help it. I always talk to people. I like to find out about them. It’s the anthropologist in me,’ he says.

I tell him that I write and that I too like hearing people’s stories but he merely nods.

Only when we land in Newark does he turn to me and tell me he’s called Dorie (though I’d already seen his non abbreviated name on his customs declaration).

‘And you are?’ He asks.

‘Marion,’ I say.

And I realise that this has been the one single personal question he has asked me in seven hours fifteen minutes together and the sum total of his anthropological interest in me – the man I slept with on the way to America - my one night stand.

Parting shots

A monkey-faced Spaniard with skin the colour of Dolce de Leche rings on the doorbell and carries my bag out to his Mercedes. 

‘Ees your husband che no coming?’ he asks as I settle myself into the back and slam the door.  My ex took cabs the way John Wayne rode horses and the local Portuguese, Spanish and Moroccan taxi drivers, constituted most of his social life.

‘No,’  I tell him, imagining that the assumption is historical and not merely because of the weight of my big enough for a small family vacation suitcase.

‘How ees che?  I no see cheem for a while, a long while…’

‘Actually, he doesn’t live with me any more, he left about a year ago.’

‘Oh, what a shame, what a shame, dahleeng, I sorry, but sometimes eets better to end these things if they not working.  Better now that when you are seexty or seexty five…  You still young henough to find new man.’

I mumble something that’s supposed to be agreement, and say that he still lives locally and that we’re on cordial speaking terms, then to change the subject quickly as he seems intent on feeling sorry for me in my role as abandoned wife, I asked him which part of Spain he comes from.

‘Galicia,’ He answers, going on to tell me about the wonderful beaches and the shortcoming of the climate.  ‘You get very good feesh, dahleeng’ he says.  ‘In these country you don’t find very good feesh. Between us, I prefher the frozen feesh to the feesh you get een shops. At least you know what you getting. Een shop smell so bad.  You need to find the eyes bright like these.’  He looks back at me through the rear view mirror and opens his eyes wide like he's demented.  ‘If they small and dull it means the feesh is already hold a day or two, not fresh.  You unnershtand?’

I nod ‘Mmm’.

‘For twenty years high worked at Scotts, cooking the feesh. I was the oyster man.  You unnershtand?  High hopened the oysters at the oyster bar.’

I nod and ‘mmm’.

‘Hand when I left I was the youngest person there, no one want to leave as the work was good.  High work only three hand a chalf days, long hours, but then was feeneshed…  So no one want to leave.  You unnershtand? It was too good for us to be working there.’

I nod again.

‘We used to get everything fresh, heverything…  live crabs, lobster, wonderful, wonderful feesh.  But then the company was taken over by someone else and everything arrived already done.  No more live crabs.  Ees bad, you unnershtand, but they trying to save money, eets the way things are now.  You see?’

By now I’m nodding like one of those dogs you used to put on the back window ledge of cars in the sixties.  We had a beagle. I remember picking off the felt skin until ours was covered in white plastic patches like vitiligo.

‘One day we got crabs in for service at heleven o’clock and the customers sent every one back, they were all bad. Eets, no good. You unnershtand? They arrive at heleven and all throw away!’

His voice is going on and on and on without a breath, talking, I think, about fish but his accent is so pronounced that most of what I hear is a gargling shh shh shh sound appended with consonants, but every time I try to tune him out he looks in the rear view mirror and catches my eye, waiting for me to agree with him.

Eventually I can bear it no more and get out my mobile phone and pretend to make a call, then while he is quiet, I close my eyes tightly and turn my head to the window.
Finally there is silence which lasts all the way to Terminal 4.

He parks and jumps out to get me a trolley then, without even flinching, yanks the dead body of my suitcase out of the trunk and loads it up on the wheels.  I pay him and as he gives me my change, he suddenly pulls me towards him by the shoulders, kisses me soundly on both cheeks and gives me a hug as though I were his daughter going off on a long trip and he my father driving me to the airport. 
And then another hug and smacker on the cheek that is a tad less paternal.

‘Take care of yourself choney.  You call me when you come back – High bring you chome.  You have ha good holiday, no worry about your husband, there ees plenty more feesh in the see.’ He says, waving until I’m inside the terminal building.

I'm hoping he doesn't think he's one of them.