Tuesday, 31 July 2012

words and music

The book club?  What book club?  So passé, darling – nobody reads anymore.  God no...   (Well except, apparently for a bit of Mummy Porn.  On the tube.   I mean, who reads porn on the tube?  Who reads porn?  It’s all so sweetly tame and retro compared to the blatancy that pops up – as it were - on the most innocently seeming Google search. For instance, I still, trustingly, though Gonzo was a purple Muppet.  Well, purple… yes, but there the similarity ends.)

[Step back Parentheses police – I know it’s too long to be an aside…]  

So no book club.  Nowadays we Stitch and bitch, or have Theatre Groups.  I kinda hate the theatre; but I should pretend more.  It would probably take five friends and supper afterwards to force me to spend £50 to sit, uncomfortably, for three hours watching people pretending to do the same thing night after night.  It's too much like marriage.  Though maybe once a month and five minutes would be more accurate.

Anyway, I digress, I digress.  Last night, instead of the book club I tried recently to set up and failed, I had the choir round.  We love the choir.  We treasure the choir.  We pitch up once a week to a truly dismal school hall in Harlesden (you can call it College Park if you like) and sing in the room where they usually corral the after-school kids which only makes your heart break for Tifni and Lorelle and Sancho and Brittan [sic] and Oscar and Fatima, the inmates.  It’s a little outbuilding, painted yellow and more like a prison camp than a school, despite the gay paintings and primary colours and boxes of toys.  Everywhere there are rules; Laminated A4s saying: Do not, Do not, Do not.  Primary Care Workers and Health & Safety Workers and Key Workers and Big Capital Letters about when the dosh is due and firm edicts on being late to pick up Bramley, who will presumably rot, - in this garish Lego hell if you’re a tad tardy.  God, god, god.  Nobody sends their kid to after school care from choice.  This much is clear.  Borstal for babies…

And we sing there.  Five basses on a good night, though now we’re down to three, one of whom has the memory and concentration of a stickle brick due to prolonged drug use.  Seven tenors on a good night – three of them women, one of whom is lonely girl here.  Tenor ladies.  Nothing to do with incontinence and everything to do with having a low voice and singing like a bloke.   However, I don’t sound like a bloke – if only, if only.  There’s Gav and Wiskey with their polished mahogany baritones, notes rolling off their tongues like melted caramel, and there’s me – home made castanet of gravel in a paper cup; scratchy paper lining the bottom of a budgie’s cage; growl of bear with a bad cold.  We sing low, we ladies, but it's not sweet.  The other two can get up as far as Alto – but there are already four or five of them, smugly singing away, secure in their harmonies. But me – no I’m firmly one-octave Annie and I admit, just as in life, sometimes I merely mouth the words, but nothing, nothing, meaningful comes out.  There’s a bunch of sopranos, too.  Bitches.  With the best hair.  Trilling away up there, never missing a chance to soar and swoop and show off their range and scale.  One is a little shrill, admittedly.  But old groaner here who still reads music at the All Cows Eat Grass level and couldn’t pick middle C out of two Ds on a report card is not one to criticize – people in glass houses and all that….

Supper, then.  The reason?  Well we all love the choir, love the people, love the conductor, love singing, would love some new recruits, aren’t keen on the venue, and mostly love the songs.  Mostly.  We thought it would be nice to kick around a few ideas, eat, and have a bit of a singsong.

‘Who says that?”  Says one of the Youth  as I stirred the pot of Spanish meatballs with chorizo to serve with the horseradish mashed sweet potatoes – unfamiliar with the language of the fair land of Planet Lonely.

‘What?’  I say, similarly bemused by the world of Youth.

‘Have-a-singsong?  Is that even a verb?’

I don’t think Youth would thank me, at this point, for a lesson in grammar and the difference between doing words and naming words – this Youth got a 2:1, after all in Latin American Studies and speaks three languages imperfectly.  ‘It’s a perfectly normal thing to say,’ I protest, instead.

‘Who has singsongs?’  He’s incredulous.

‘I do.  We do.  Scottish people for instance.  The Irish. The Welsh.  If you were true to your real Scottish roots instead of waving around that flag of your father, you’d be singing too.’ 

Youth is delighted, nay overjoyed that Arabs don’t sing socially.

And so later, when seven of us – three tenors, one soprano, two altos, no basses – are crushed around the kitchen table talking about things we like singing, and burst into an impromptu round of Stevie Wonder, sounding, it has to be said, very Scottish, as in authentic Scottish-on-the-way-home from the pub, plastered, tuneless, I can actually hear the eyes of Youth rolling back in their appalled head, in the room next door.

Then we sing summertime, in a three-part harmony and begin to sound more like ourselves:  a barrister, a cranial osteopath. a ceramicist, a painter and a graphic designer, a hypnotherapist and lonely girl  – but for the duration of the song, just a choir – pretty darn, melodiously, vocal group sex, good together.

Youth came into the kitchen momentarily, took a glass of water and left. 

Pointedly closing the door.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Planet suddenly-not-so-lonely has been over-run with an invading tribe called Youth.

Youth are mostly benign, friendly and amiable, though given to odd bursts of sullenness and disagreeableness, and an unwillingness, for thirty minutes after rising, to meet your eyes.   Dependent on gender, Youth wear boxer shorts and clashing baggy t-shirts, or something suspiciously similar to your own lingerie, as day-wear.  Youth's day begins at 3.30 - just as you come home from work.  Youth calls you, usually from bed, at 2.30 before you leave the office to ask:
why the hot water isn't working
if you'll make quesadillas
where the key to the back door is
if you can buy a mouse/keyboard/printer cartridge on the way home
if you've seen there's a good deal on groupon for a spa membership
if you have a box big enough for another of the the items of clothing you purchased, at full price, from - insert the name of a middle range designer here - which they've sold for a fiver on ebay
if there's milk
where the double sheets are because their friend is coming to stay for a week
if you'll drive them home from the supermarket when they go to get beer
if you've filled in the student finance form
how to make a cheese sauce

This outpouring of communication, though welcome, is dizzying after months of silence.  The previously silent kitchen with the red armchair of sorrow where you sit, every night on your return from work, and look at the shining order around you in various states of despair, is full of half-folded laundry, handbags, and assorted possessions that wash up there, like flotsam on the beach, brought in by the tide from the wreck of SS back-from-college, that has run adrift in the hall, the sitting room, and the car.  So you can't sit down.  Youth, even in the midst of summer, need light in the form of every single bulb in the house being switched on.  Youth, eager perhaps to escape Planet suddenly-not-so-lonely must have the television on, the laptop and the desktop on, all connected to the internet even when they are asleep in another room in the house.  Youth like curry.  Other members of the tribe like sushi, and order it, delivered to Planet suddenly-not-so-lonely, while simultaneously worrying that their currency does not go very far on the Planet.

Youth like parties and are fond of celebrating.  They inform you that the Planet is the ideal place for a farewell/welcome/birthday/early birthday/cat's birthday soiree and ask if they may invite members of nearby tribes to sail in to join them.  This you agree to because you can no longer sit on your red chair of despair and fret.

So on Saturday, when you are usually, post-despair, lolling in bed with lover, and wondering what to do with the hours in between coffee and wine o'clock, Youth decorate the kitchen with clothing and banners, fill the fridge with strong liquor, sprinkle corn chips across the table and urge you, as the host, to kill a couple of bags of quorn and make your famous vegechili, without the chili, before the doorbell rings and other Youth arrive.  Equipment is set up in the garden.  More strong liquor appears.  The ritual of tasting the strong liquor begins.  Many Youth with long hair and skimpy clothes arrive.  Within hours they are clustered around the table, smoking the peace pipe of Shisha.  Ex arrives to participate in the celebration.  Awkward moments ensue when Ex and Lover and I are only people over 25 in a huge tribe of Youth in which elders are excluded and banished to the end of the garden.  This is the first time the two have met.   The cat, equally perturbed by sudden flood of visitors, balances on the sunshade.

Ex looks at tribe of Youth smoking, drinking, eating and laughing.

'This is why we must hold on to Planet suddenly-not-do Lonely as long as we can...'  He says, fondly.

You agree.  You know the red chair of despair is waiting at the other end of summer, but for the moment, it's just where the cat sleeps.  Then you take, temporary leave of Planet suddenly-not-so-Lonely and paddle to a neighbouring fairly Lonely island, vacated for the summer while a fellow Loneliest returns to her native island of Overwhelmed-by-Family in Brazil.  At wine o'clock you and lover settle into bed and watch X-Men on Sky.

She has a huge, big grey sofa of despair.

But you don't sit on it.
A quiet Monday - no emails, no lonely people.  It's like the cruise ship sailed in and everyone got off, had a coke, took a picture, and then got back on the boat and sailed off again, leaving me waving, marooned again.

Every email I read made me cry; not because they were pathetic or particularly sad, but because they were nice - nice people (who knew it Daily Mail readers?) and they took a moment and reached out to tell me that though I was on planet lonely I was not alone.  And they all made me think - sometimes about things I'd rather not consider.

The one negative comment came by letter, a very determined letter that found me at home which began:  'I enjoyed your article and then I felt critical.'  He (I think it was male) then went on to tell me on two pages of single spaced typed A4, his criticisms.  I assume.  I'm afraid I didn't read it, but tore it up and put it in the dustbin - not even the recycling but the one with left over vegetarian stew in it so it quickly became too disgusting for me to recant, and get it back out.

Anyway, here's my answer to Mr Critical:  Fuck you.

I mean, you don't need everyone to empathize, and share their similar experiences, though it's very life-affirming when they do, but who the heck starts a letter with the word 'critical' in the first line?

So do, you wonderful, high-powered and creative, mostly married, fully-offsprung women who have odd moments of loneliness despite being busy and loved; do feel free to disembark any time at Planet Lonely for an excursion, to look at the view with me, before you cruise away; but the cross critical ones, sod off - your visa isn't valid.  We might be lonely but we still have border control.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

I'm loving the zonked out side effects of my new, pharmaceutically approved Junkiedom -  but it also makes you somewhat uninhibited, so my eating has gone off the scale and it's 

RETURN OF THE THIGHS, damn it...  


Really sad that lack of inhibition does not result in me flying from chandelier in monkey sexapades, but merely eating bread.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Oh the sun, the wonderful, magnificent sun, shining away up there this morning in a cloudless blue sky.  It almost makes my hangover seem inconsequential.  Until I try to move.  Or think about rising.  When my head bangs against every wall in the bedroom simultaneously, an elephant in a shoebox with no sense of direction.  Contemplating the tube journey into work does not fill me with anything but horror and the hope I can get there without my stomach flipping over.

Last Night.  The garden looked lovely, all lush and green and ever so slightly blousy, not unlike myself this morning.

Youngest daughter set the table, and by the end of the evening, the candles - which I had to insist she place on the table against tough resistance (they don't match, she protested) - were flickering; the only pinprick of gliterring colour in an otherwise black night - and it was one of those biblical, sixth-day moments where you, sit back after creating the universe (rising at dawn to re-gel gelly, rushing home from work to debone fish, washing dishes that haven't been out of a drawer since the beginning of time, and dashing to the supermarket to buy another 30 quid's worth of last minute essentials in your coffee break) and think:  My world.  Exactly as I see it in my mind, for one day a decade.  Kids flittering around with their boyfriends and girlfriends.  The girls looking beautiful. The dishes enjoying their freedom from the rack, colourful and Good Housekeepingly styled, the garden blooming, the evening balmy.  People - friends I shall call them, just to make the evening perfect - chatting and happy, glasses chinking.  If the happy police were doing their rounds they would have walked on past, satisfied.  And I'm laughing in the middle of it - me and my article on Loneliness - as if it's all faintly ridiculous, or I made it up for the money, the vast sums of money to be earned from baring your soul in the Guardian.  Nobody believes it.  You're surrounded by people - all those lovely children...  And us, they say.

One of the guests, a very confident and strong woman saying how lovely it is to be in the house by herself...  That again.  The potent pleasure of time to yourself when you don't have enough of it, when it's a pleasant change from the otherwise continual demands of family and professional life.  Enjoying and empty house is the privilege and boast of those continually accompanied.  It is not so pleasurable when the house is always empty, always, day after day, and the only thing that greets you is a cat, who only loves you for your opposable thumbs, but which affection, nevertheless, you take gratefully, because it's miaou, miaou or nothing but tick - tick - tick of the clock that has been running slow since September like you, which nobody's bothered to fix, because nobody is just you and you've got used to being two hours and thirty odd minutes behind.  You're the clock fixer, the garbage taker outer, the lawn mower, the window washer, the bed maker, the everything - the supreme being in the lonely planet of Alone.  And you sort of congratulate god for bothering, really, with six days of slog to create the oceans and the mountains, because after a little while of being by yourself in the house, you give up  I haven't made my bed since 2009 - except on sheet changing days.  I don't really hang up my clothes so much - I just drape them on the doors, which I don't bother to shut, and then do a blitz once a week.  Some places - like the sitting room where nobody, least of all me, ever sits for nine months of the year are arranged and tidy - because I don't use them, don't go into them, and let the dust muffle the echo.  The domestic equivalent of - say - Yellowstone...  Pristine wilderness.   Without the bears.  No - other things stalk me in there - other things like pictures and books and furniture, bought by my ex husband, that I seem to be curating.

Anyway, I make jokes.  I'm good at that.  I laugh at myself.  I'm good at that too.  I could do stand up - I don't mind being a figure of fun, because if you don't laugh at some things you curl up in the corner and cry.  It can't always be a lovely summer evening, with your children around you, and random people that you don't know very well, drafted in to bolster you.  In a couple of months, the kids will be gone.  Already, this morning, one is shooting off to Oxford, back to her real life, in a few weeks one of the girlfriends is returning to Brazil, to her own mother.  I just borrowed her for a while.  And the dishes won't come out for another year or two.  But, nevertheless, it looked gorgeous, it was fun - and the family especially wonderful.

And God saw every thing that she had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

I've been silently scribbling elsewhere for a while.  Numbers two, three and four unfinished novels.

And watching a lot of boxed sets.

And Scandinavian dramas.

In bed.

Nothing like a subtitle for transforming something essentially rather shut-in sad and desperate into 'high-brow and educative'.  I always feel a great deal cleverer when I've watched a sub-titled film, though the bar is low, readers, the bar is low.

This weekend, as some of you navigating here from the furthest reaches of the universe, will already know, I've outed myself in the increasingly slim pages of the Guardian Weekend Section, as lonely.   I wrote it in February when I was wailing with it, full of dread and empty of people, coming back to this normal three bedroom semi that becomes a cavern of lost dreams and a monument to my own total lack of significance to anyone but the cat, who frankly, has more allegience to the box of Whiskas crunchies than me.  But breezing quickly past that, into the present - I'm not lonely this weekend.  Rather too companioned up if the truth be known.  The house full of hungover YA in boxer shorts and political t-shirts that urge one to Resist (what exactly, I'm not sure) while lolling around eating vegeburgers in front of a Modern Family marathon, as dishes hold a conference round the kitchen sink discussing the great unwashed crisis of 2012.

The lodger returned from an all nighter with a bag of shopping that the fridge will not accommodate; the university returnee is still wading through a term's worth of washing and the dryer beeps and beeps and beeps plaintively to be empied of its load, though I want to warn it that the next step to freedom is only a lengthy internment in the refugee camp on the kitchen table, in a manner of folded, surrounded by the food that I'm supposed to be transforming into dinner tomorrow night.

Before I published this article I decided I had to Make an Effort.  Well me and the aptly named Lyrica, which the doctor pushed on me for back pain and which transformed me overnight from depressed and agonised  Marion to two-drinks drunk, slightly manic, depressed, but miraculously almost pain-free Marion, which simultaneously robbed me of my ability to concentrate on anything, even angst, and filled me instead with energy and the desire to paint the glass jars that now house my alphabetised lentils, and revitalise my non-existent social life by again beginning the cycle of inviting people to eat in my house, most of whom will never, ever invite me back. 

I love dinner parties.  In your house.  I love being served, eating food I haven't cooked. Even overeating food I haven't cooked, with the vampirical hope that Mr Right will be another of the guests, single, and desirous of a slightly running to fat matron to light up his life.  Vampirical - not that I want to suck the life out of him, but more that despite the cold light of day having proven this wish to be a vain one, it nevertheless refuses to die and returns renewed with sundown, and a glass of red wine.    He's never there.  But since I'm never there either, it doesn't matter.  I don't get asked to your house.  Because I am horrible.  Or overbearing.  Or full of myself.  Or too talkative.  Or just too Marion - I'm not sure, and though I'm sure there are some trolls who would be happy to tell me in detail exactly why my personality warrants social excommunication, leave me, leave me - please to the Samaritains, just to fret quietly by myself.  You're in safe hands.  Really.  I can do self-criticism.  Mistress of it.  I could teach classes.

So I started with people from the pub. Nice people.  Interesting filmy west london people.  One of them is my builder - he who starts jobs and then forgets to finish them, so that the most expensive cupboard under my stairs in the History of Expensive Cupboards is still missing the ball catches and the handles fall off.  Three years after completion.  So they came; we talked about rich and famous people our children know ( along the lines of: well his best friend is the son of the son son of the drummer in Yes) - call me shallow - they certainly aren't, but who can resist a bit of voyeurism? So gossip, how much drugs our kids take (not me, I make it a policy not to ask); the lack of jobs; the economy; and still how much we all hate Thatcher.   They ate fattoush, and burgers, and spicy roast veggies with harissa and grilled halloumi, and home made tomato syrupy salsa, and caramalised red onions and chocolate trife with vodka jelly and strawberries.  The garden looked like a colour supplement film shot, I thought.  Son said it looked like a DFS advert - (absolutely nothing to pay until 2014 - and all prices slashed - slashed - does anyone every pay full price for a ruddy sofa?) complete with my naff - yes - reduced - Asda outside sofas that got their first unveiling.  The new plastic greenhouse is filled with foliage which, despite the neighbourhood is, actually, only 7 kinds of tomatoes and not weed, and the sun shone like someone had finally paid the electic bill.  We chatted and drank, and drank and chatted and afterwards, I washed up, for about two weeks, then fell asleep on the sofa while man was in mid NME crossword, managing still to answer a few clues between dozes. 

And today - it's cookathon two - the sequel.

Eight or so people coming tomorrow - most caught at work, unsuspectingly, backed into the kitchen so they couldn't come up with an excuse, further terrorised by the bread knife in my hand at the time - and instead of doing  *this*, I should be making basil and canteloupe jelly (I'm into the retro, cheap dessert these days) with a good dollop of vodka. 

I'm fast becoming convinced that to paraphrase myself, previously paraphrasing Julia Child in saying there is nothing not improved by butter (julia), bacon (me), vodka (new Lyrica me - though you're not supposed to mix it with alcohol.  You're not?  Where's the fun in that?' ) One of the yesterday guests - coincidentally - is on the same meds.  We're both happy, depresssed, manic junkies.  Finally.  At 54.  I'm a druggie.  I'm so damn hip.