Friday, 31 July 2009


Basia has never smoked. She doesn't like the taste of alcohol. She tried drugs once; snorted cocaine at a cast party, but blew her nose immediately and was surprised by the fuss.

She is driven by other addictions; an obsession with handicrafts; knitting, patchwork, hooking rugs. She has never sent a shop-bought card. Her dining table is inlaid with a mosaic of large blue fish. She spent three months shaping the tesserae out of air-hardening clay. Now she eats her meals from a tray on her lap.

She spends all of her spare cash in art and craft shops; the haberdashery floor of department stores; the cheap market stalls where silk flowers are two for a pound.

There is not a lot of spare cash. Wardrobe assistants in provincial theatres are not well paid.

Three nights a week she is rota-ed as a Theatrical Dresser. She is careless with props; the gloves, hats, strings of pearls that make costume changes stressful. She ignores the play's progress, sitting in the wings knitting or sewing. Flustered actors irritate with their demands for buttons to be fastened. She is careless with pins and needles.

"You stupid cow!" Friar Tuck shouted when his heel was stabbed.

Basia is a thief, but a very honest thief. She would never steal from work, and when she does steal from a shop she always pays for something else at the same time. She regards this as Buy One Get One Free. She stands at a till, slipping a craft knife or a tube of bugle beads into her bag as she roots around for her purse to pay for a skein of embroidery silk.

Recently, however, she finds that she is stealing things she doesn’t need; sandalwood oil, a manicure set, drill bits. She makes a point of chatting to security guards in shops, asking for directions to the stencil paints or yoghurt-covered raisins. As they answer, she slides Kosher stock cubes or pork-flavoured dog chews up her coat sleeve. She thinks most men are stupid.

Last week she stitched a secret pocket into her coat.

Her friend, Rob, says she is going too far. “What if you get caught, Basia?”

“Pff!” she snorts, snipping off a trailing thread.

“You’ll get a criminal record. You won’t be able to join the Civil Service or travel to America.”

“I don't like Abroad,” she says, producing a duck-shaped egg cup from her sleeve. “Here, for you. I don’t eat eggs.”

Rob blames the Polish grandmother. All that talk of the War and communist deprivations. Basia behaves as if rationing is making a comeback. He has seen the restaurant sachets of sugar exploding from the cupboard under her sink.

Basia now refuses to go shopping with Rob. He has become nervous and makes her look suspicious by default. She misses their trips to town, but he is too much of a liability.

She met him at art school four years ago. They almost slept together but the moment passed. He is trying to make a name as an Installation Artist. His flat is strewn with banana skins in varying stages of decomposition, from green, to yellow, brown and shriveled black. He smells like a compost heap; a musty sweetness. He has asked Basia to save her apple cores and egg shells.

“I don’t eat eggs,” she reminds him.

To be honest, Basia doubts whether Rob will ever make it big in the art world. He has the soul of a policeman.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Skyrack

At lunchtimes, I worked with Elsie. Seventy-six, arthritic she said during the War she had to knock on the door of the Snug. Flushed ladies adjusted their stockings; she’d look the other way as she gathered empty glasses and catch a wink from a man in uniform.

The apprentices from Leeds United boarded with her. They got homesick and she made them miss their grannies.

Her son-in-law, a folk-singer, gave her that marry-joo-arna to try last month.

“What was it like?”

She sniffed. “I’d rather have a cup of tea.”

A croupier from the casino was in after his shift, heard my curiosity; offered to initiate me. I took him at face-value – I was a silly girl – and followed him home.

His mother was waiting. She put down her book, made space on the sofa. Sat too close.

He made instant coffee, black and bitter, picked a green apple from a bowl on the table, scooped out the pale, watery flesh; lined it with silver foil. He stabbed at the waxy skin with a hollowed Biro, sucked at the beads of juice. There was a block of something brown, crumbled between his long fingers. His Zippo lighter flared. Outside the sky was falling dark.

He sighed, passed the pipe to his mother.

She sucked hungrily swallowing the sweet, heady smoke said, “This makes him randy. I used to dress up his last one. I like to feel involved.”

The croupier smiled, rubbed his thumb in slow circles just above her knee. She passed the apple-pipe to me.

As I said, I was a silly girl.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Overheard Conversations #3

Location: Ward in Women's Hospital. Interior. Afternoon.
Maureen: 58, nicely cut auburn hair, neat figure, pink pyjamas.
Bill: shaved head, white goatee beard, creased linen shirt, large-bellied.
Bill sits in chair next to the bed that Maureen lies in. She is propped up by pillows and has various drips feeding into her arm.

Bill: So what've you had done then?
Maureen: Hysterectomy.
Bill: Is that like a vasectomy?
Maureen: Nothing like.
Bill: It comes down to the same thing, doesn't it?
Maureen: What?
Bill: No kids.
Maureen: That'd be having my tubes tied.
Bill: What tubes? You never told me you had tubes!
Maureen (SIGHS): Did you feed the dog?
Bill: Yes, I fed the dog.
Maureen: Is he missing me?
Bill: I'm missing you.
Maureen: You can take care of yourself. It's the dog I'm worried about.
Bill: Thanks.
Maureen: Did you take her round to Sue's? I don't like her sitting in by herself.
Bill: Sue's always sat in by herself. It's never bothered her before.
Maureen: The dog, Bill. The dog.
Bill: Will you stop going on about the dog. I've been worried.
Maureen: That's a new one. You've never been worried before.
Bill: How long you in for?
Maureen: They'll let me out Monday. (BEAT). I lost a lot of blood.
Bill (PULLS FACE): Keep the medical stuff vague, love. You know what I'm like.
Maureen: Yes.
Bill: So, Monday, you say?
Maureen: Yes. And then I'm to rest for three months.
Bill: Three months?
Maureen: I'm not even allowed to lift the kettle.
Bill: How you going to make my tea, then? (HURRIEDLY). JOKE, Maureen, that was a joke.
Maureen: There's stewing steak in the freezer.
Bill: Three months' worth?
Maureen: For the dog. He doesn't like tinned.
Bill: Neither do I. (BEAT). Do you need anything bringing in?
Maureen: Sue said she'll pop in tomorrow. I'll text her.
Bill: A book? A magazine? Grapes?
Maureen: Give me heartburn.
Bill: Yes. (BEAT). You look tired.
Maureen: I've had half my insides taken out.
Bill: You'll fit into your tight trousers.(BEAT). Just looking on the bright side, Mo.
Maureen: You'd better go. They're strict on visiting.
Bill (RISING FROM CHAIR): I'll see you tomorrow then?
Maureen: Yes.
Bill (MOVING TOWARDS DOOR): The dog does miss you.
Maureen: I know, love. I know.

Joyful List #4

Vast expanses of sky, bagpipes, Scottish tablet, cabbage, codeine, pine trees, pinenuts, puddles, vibrations, meringue, mimosas, pickle, sandcastles, rocks and rockpools, poached fish (in both senses of the word), floaty frocks, race horses, greyhounds, speed, digital cameras, vinyl records, violins and cellos...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Overheard Conversations #2

Location: Bus (Number 36, though any number will do. The Clapham Omnibus, even, should the Producer wish to make a point).

Interior. Day.

Man - early 20s. Smart, trendy clothes, reads The Guardian
Woman - mid 50s. Dressed in navy and beige (Wardrobe - try BHS. They do a good line in navy and beige). Sensible shoes. (Also navy and beige). Peach lipstick.
They share a seat; the man sitting by the window, the woman by the aisle.
Woman: You'll make yourself travel sick.
Man: What?
Woman: You'll make yourself travel sick. Reading.
Man: I'll be fine.
Woman: Your dad ordered The Telegraph for you. I said Our Graham will only read posh papers.
Man: The Guardian, Mum. I read The Guardian.
Woman (SHRUGS): They're all the same.
Man (FOLDING NEWSPAPER): Actually, there's no simil - oh, forget it.
Woman (RUMMAGES INSIDE HANDBAG): We had another funny phone call last night.
Man: What?
Woman: When you were out. Funny peculiar not ha ha. She rang three times.
Man: Who?
Woman: The woman.
Man: What woman?
Woman: The one making the funny phone calls. Your dad had to raise his voice.
Man: What did she say?
Woman: He said, "You've got the wrong number, love." (CLOSES HANDBAG). Loudly.
Man: No, not what did Dad say. What did the woman say?
Woman: I don't know. You'll have to ask him. (BEAT). She rang on Sunday, too. Silly woman keeps dialling wrong.
Man: What does she want?
Woman: She's very well-spoken.
Man: You've spoken to her?
Woman: Yes, the other Friday.
Man: Friday! (SIGHS). Well?
Woman: Well what?
Man: What did she say to you?
Woman: Nothing very exciting, so I don't know why you're taking that tone. She said, "Ask Luke to phone Alice, please."
Man (QUIETLY): Luca.
Woman: Has your dad told you already? I thought it was Luke, but your dad said it was foreign.
Man: It's Luca.
Woman: How do you know?
Man: Alice was ringing to speak to me.
Woman: Who's Alice?
Man: The silly woman.
Woman: Who's Luca?
Man: I'm Luca.
Woman: Give over!
Man: They called me Luca at University.
Woman: But your name's Graham.
Man: It's something they do in London.
Woman: Call people Luca?
Man (MUMBLES): I asked them to.
Woman: Why? Why would you do that?
Man: I -
Woman: You've got a perfectly good name. Graham Michael Platt. Why would you ask people to call you Luca? (BEAT). Are you leading a Double Life?
Man: I wanted a name that was unusual.
Woman: But we gave you an exotic name!
Man: What?
Woman: We gave you an exotic name. An exotic name and an ordinary name so that when you were older you could choose which you liked best.
Man: I've got an exotic name?
Woman: I was worried. I thought you'd feel different.
Man: An exotic name?
Woman: It was your dad's idea.
Man: Dad?
Woman: He said in the Births & Deaths that we couldn't tell looking at an 8lb baby whether you'd go into business or do something more artistic. He wanted you to have choice.
Man: Choice?
Woman: Your father didn't choose to be a book-keeper. (BEAT). He went to pottery classes at night school when I was expecting you. (BEAT). The Registrar said it was very far-sighted.
Man (EXCITED): So what's my exotic name?
Woman (THOUGHTFUL): Though she might have been referring to the pottery rather than your name because prices shot up that year.
Man: Mum!
Woman: What?
Man: What did you call me?
Woman: You know what we called you! Graham Michael. Michael was for your great-grandad. He was a sturdy chap, short-legged like you.
Man (SLOWLY): What's my name?
Woman: Michael's a solid name. Sensible. If you hadn't liked your exotic name, then you could've changed to Michael.
Woman: Graham, of course.
Man: Graham?
Woman (FIRMLY): Graham.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Overheard Conversations #1

Location: A station platform. Exterior. Day.

Woman - late 40s, bleached hair, plump, works in station tea shop
Man 1 - mid 50s, balding, fluorescent jumpsuit, carrying black binbag
Man 2 - 40s, not as balding, fluorescent jumpsuit, also carrying black binbag

Train screeches to a halt at platform. Man 1 & Man 2 leap onto train, move through the carriages, exit train at other end, black binbags slightly more full. Train rushes away.

Woman (PULLING DOWN SHUTTER ON TEA SHOP): Well, I'll be off then, lads.

Man 1 or 2 (it doesn't matter which): Okay, love.

Woman: I'm taking him for his sun ray treatment. Psoriasis.

Man 1 or 2 (as before): Oh.

Woman: Yes, covered in it, he is. Like a lizard. A dry, patchy, scaly lizard.

Man 1 or 2 (as before): Oh.

Woman: It's only the sun ray that keeps it at bay. My sheets are ruined.

Man 1 or 2 (as before): Oh.

Woman: He has to stand in front of those sun ray lamps naked. Completely naked. (BEAT). Except for his sunglasses. (BEAT). And a sock.

Man 1 or 2 (as before): Oh?

Woman: Yes, he has to take a sock with him. To cover his bits. You know.

Man 1 or 2 (as before): Ohhh...

Woman: No-one wants blisters on their bits. Or prickly heat. (SHE LAUGHS). He uses one of those sports socks. (BEAT). He's got big feet.

Man 1 or 2: OH!

Woman: So I'll be off. See you tomorrow!


Man 1: Did she say sports sock?

Man 2: Now you know why she comes to work with a smile on her face.


It'll All Come Out in the Stonewash

The Banshee has spent £12 on a "vintage" cardigan. It has batwing sleeves, is made of dusky rose towelling and has a large flower applique on the front. It is not worth 12 pee let alone twelve quid. What was Banshee thinking?

She says, "But it's eighties-tastic. It's post-modern. It's ironic. It's timeless."

It's bloody awful is what I want to say, but I bite my tongue until it'th tho thore I develop a lithp.

I cannot remember one single item of timeless clothing from the '80s. Even as I was wearing it, I knew it was crap and refused to have any photographs taken. There is no hard evidence that I ever wore a black smock dress artistically splattered with bleach until the fabric rotted, a felt Matador hat perched atop a black and silver head scarf, or back-combed my hair with sugar water. No evidence at all. (And this doesn't count).

Flouncy blouses, velvet knickerbockers (I had corduroy Plus Fours from a golf shop - natch), pixie boots, footless tights, shoulder pads so wide one entered rooms at an angle or got wedged stuck like a recalcitrant cork in a bottle, stone-washed denim, day-glo fabrics, legwarmers -legwarmers! as if naturally sturdy ankles weren't bad enough - those velour leisure suits so beloved of Rita in Coronation Street.

Yes, Banshee is clearly channelling the spirit of Rita Fairclough. Next week it'll be gold sandals and a bouffant red wig. How very post post-modern.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Joyful List #3

Unpredictable predictive text (I type coal and get anal which creates not a little confusion with the Coal Merchant), log fires, coal fires, most especially peat fires, things that melt (wax, cheese, chocolate), backscratches, French & Spanish potato crisps which leave your fingers irredeemably greasy, enormous bath towels, humbugs, the scent of jasmine on a summer's evening, Molesworth, William Brown, Jennings - ALL naughty school boys (fictional or otherwise) - fresh figs, row boats, kimonos, robins, the thrum of bumble bees in a lavender bush, cutting hair (so very joyful, though I've been banned from it due to over-eager snipping), Plymouth Gin, limes, bare feet.

The Joy of Smut

Sadly, this sweetcorn has been infected with Common Smut. O, how the gardeners giggle when discussing the afflictions of sweetcorn!

Actually they don't which is why I was blackballed from the Local Allotment Society.

Blackballed. There I go again.

Give me an entendre and I will double it. I'll see your Double Entendre and raise it. And so on. Smut which comes naturally should be considered an innate talent rather than an embarrassing affliction. I thought I'd just slip that one in.

Here is but one example. Once, a compere at an open mic event explained that the microphone stand had been stolen and that the microphone would have to be held by each performer. She said kindly, "If any of you poets are having problems performing and need to use two hands, I can kneel down and hold it for you."

Humphrey Littleton eat your heart out.

Smut is wonderful, enlivening, life-affirming (not like that bloody play The Sea - see posts passim), flirtatious, silly. It creates alliances and exposes puritans. Good smut is the mille-feuille (cream puff doesn't sound half so light and airy) of the English language; poor smut, the claggy bread and butter pudding. It relies on understanding subtle differences in word definitions, Music Hall timing, and not being American.

I could discourse at length on this subject, but I have a Man of the Cloth coming to tea. "More butter up your end, Vicar? Or may I press you to another tart?"

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Joyful List #2

Fat blowsy flowers (peonies, cabbage roses), sausage sandwiches, costume jewellery, very bad singer-songwriters who insist on attempting to sing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, clouds, rhubarb crumble, dark country lanes, the sea, (not The Sea* which is dreadful), perfectly smooth pebbles, custard, scruffy dogs, Italian waiters, garlic mayonnaise, David Shrigley cartoons, ink pens, vests (much under-rated), icecream, The Muppets, rainbows, gargoyles, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue...

* To clarify, due to complaints along the lines of "What the duck are you talking about? The Sea is an excellent novel" I refer here to Edward Bond's The Sea which is a play duller than a cold, damp day in Filey. I am prepared to concede that perhaps I saw a particularly dull production of an Exciting! Vibrant! and Challenging! play.

But I very much doubt it.

Lust of the Flesh #2

Knickers - high cut, bikini, full, side-tied, French, briefs, not-so-briefs, boyshorts, hipster, tanga - the list is almost bottomless. Beautiful or practical confections of silk, satin, lace or cotton jersey. Knickers that make one smile enigmatically - M. Lisa was clearly wearing pants by Spank (who display their logo prominently) - or smile joyfully as one plucks a pair from the drawer. Monsoon design fabulously inventive knickers, printed with birds of paradise, cherries, Babushkas, cupcakes and more; good for grey days and dull clothes. (Though I'm not sure that Monsoon is the best name for a designer of knickers). Damaris and Agent Provocateur make one drip with lust - figuratively speaking, of course - and the bank statement tremble with exhaustion.

However, the thong or G-string (cheese string in some quarters) is a vile and uncomfortable invention that has neither the fabric content to mysteriously beguile, nor - well - anything much to recommend it at all. Pure nakedness would be more honest. Where is the silk to caress? The lace to finger? The satin side ribbons to drift gently against a plump, pale thigh? The cheeky burlesque-style ruffles rowed across a rear?

My illustration proves that even my perfect peach of a bottom looks lardy in a thong. Most women, not blessed with a bottom like mine, resemble trussed up joints of meat. I suggest going cold turkey, abandoning the thong and embracing the Directoire Knicker known in some circles - crudely and unfairly - as the Granny Pant. After a week, the standard bikini brief will feel like the flimsiest scrap of fabric. Thongs are wrong - and remember there are few sensations more thrilling than having your ruffles ruffled...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The My Dog Skip Debacle

For reasons which are neither sinister nor interesting, I was once responsible for several (No, it doesn't mean seven. Is it more than a couple? Yes. Is it more than a few? Probably. So seven then? NO!) children.

There were in fact seven of them. All under seven years of age. All wanting to eat popcorn, drink lemonade and watch a film. All wanting to sit on my knee.

Once the knee-sitting rota had been established and the kitchen timer set, we decided on My Dog Skip. A Wholesome Family Film.

By the time the children were handed back to their owners, their (the children's, not the owners') faces were swollen with tears, most were incapable of speech but occasionally emitted a deep, shuddering sob, and I was covered in translucent skeins of snot. Admittedly there was also a certain dampness about my own demeanour.

I wouldn't like to spoil the film for you by giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that My Dog Skip was not blessed with the gift of eternal life although in such trying (and crying) circumstances, ninety minutes can feel like an eternity.

Lusts of the Flesh #1

Man cannot live by cake alone, but can have jolly good fun trying.

Coffee cake, lemon drizzle, chocolate & banana cake, date & walnut tea bread, Bara Brith, chocolate fudge cake (served warm or cold), sticky gingerbread, parkin, Dutch apple cake, orange & almond polenta cake, Victoria sponge, Battenburg, French Fancies - O, sorry, drifting off the subject there. Back to cake. Raspberry and white chocolate cake, cupcakes, fairy cakes, butterfly cakes, blueberry muffins, Angel Food, Madeira, fruit cake, cherry cake, carrot cake...

I've only met one cake I didn't get on with. And why would anyone think it a good idea to put beetroot in a cake?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

Wouldn't that sentiment just drive you wild? (Pun intended)

Well, mine enemies, here I am forgiving you.

The most horrid ex-husband of a chum (which implies she's several to choose from) - forgiven.

No, sorry, can't do Him. Maybe I need to practise on a few less horrid specimens first?

The twin sisters in Costcutter who never smiled.
I forgive you both.
Martin Bishop for saying in front of the whole class, "Moptop's reading The Hollow Hills? That's a description of her bra."
I forgive you.
The man who shouted at me when my father left me in a bunker at the 1st hole at Moortown Golf Club.
I forgive you.

You might notice I haven't many serious enemies. This is something I plan to address.

And I don't plan to forgive my friends' enemies. Vicarious enmity is ever so cheering. All the ire with none of the stress.

So Gollum, you're still in my Bad Books and Mister-Smug-Slug-Tory-Councillor-let's-encourage-reckless-driving-in-this-town-and-sabotage-the-placing-of-signs-in-order-to-score-a-political-point, I don't forgive you at all.

Joyful List #1

Mashed potato, penguins, deep baths of the hot persuasion, new socks, painted toenails, jam, thick creamy paper, fresh bed linen sundried on the line (more of this anon), sunlight through trees and dappled shadows, small yet secret revenges, puddles, elderly ladies who excel at rudeness, lingerie, butter, crumpets, butter on crumpets.