107. Design Bulletin 32

 

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Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

“All Life is forwards, you will see.” 

The Beigeness by Kate Tempest

All Sofie wanted was to get out of this lay-by of a town as soon as she could. It was stifling, a predictable, cookie-cutter, Edward Scissorhands estate where everyone was a clone or a drone. They all bragged about how much their house was worth but how little they spent on food from the local European mega-hypermarket. Their disposable, mass-produced, bland uniforms bought from the giant dazzling, car park shrine to Arcadia.

The only thing her mother said after child body parts were found in oversized plant pots in the dentist’s house round the corner, was “you never know what goes on behind closed doors”. Neighbours tutted about how it “affected the resale value” and that they could hardly believe it was true because “he was such a lovely man,” but they never once said anything about the girl. Yeah, middle-class people were such proper aspirational role-models. They didn’t drink or abuse their own kids did they? Some dinner parties were code for swingers. More pills and coke than a rock band’s dressing room. They’d still elbow their own mothers out of the way for a place at the local Catholic high school.

When her sister Jade, came back from a gap year of backpacking round Asia, she was in a black trouser suit almost before her nose-ring had been taken out. A few net curtains twitched as she walked up the drive in her billowing patchwork pantaloon trousers. Never fear, they went straight into in the dustbin. Dreadlocks off to reveal a cute pixie crop. It was as if everyone was allowed a year away from ‘normality’ and was then neutralised back to generic acceptability. Don’t even think about putting your bins out whilst still in your pyjamas.

Their parents tried the same trick again with Sofie but she wasn’t having any of it. “After you’ve done your Masters, we’ll pay for you to go travelling or buy you a car. Your choice.” The only caveat was that she had to live at home and go to one of the local Universities. Sofie thought the point of higher education was to the chance to live independently and experience life with people from all different backgrounds, not as the primary way to get a higher income as fast as possible.

One family said nothing about their offspring’s University aspirations then nonchalantly dropped the bombshell of “Oh, our son is at Yale.” You could sense the seething resentment bubbling at that dinner party like a thumb over a hosepipe.

Why couldn’t here be like it was in Denmark? People didn’t actually all need their own tiny square of green. If the gardens were all joined together, kids could actually play outside again. People would sit and chat. Be neighbourly. Look out for each other. Grow veg. Have barbeques. Form a cross-generational community. Obesity and loneliness obliterated. Sort of like the intent of London gated gardens in Kensington. They might share the same cleaners but they were well-paid enough to be loyal, crucially remaining tight-lipped about the contents of other people’s knicker drawers. If someone gossips to you, the chances are that they are also talking about your life to someone else behind your back.

No matter how big the driveways were, some people would always park on the road, usually at the exact spot where children wanted to naturally cross it. Pedestrians and cyclists seemed to be an afterthought in this plan. There was no point even trying to discuss it. People’s entitlement extended to the public road immediately in front their front gates. It was an unforgiveable sin to park your car outside someone else’s house. Don’t even get me started on the pitfalls of driving a works van.

A neighbour, Stan, with a blue-eyed, Siberian Husky named Rula, was pressured into muzzling his dog whenever he took it for a walk, just to placate the neighbours. When he discovered sympathetic Polish graffiti on the side of his garage. Nie wywołuj wilka z lasu  (translates as ‘do not call the wolf out of the woods’ or ‘let sleeping dogs lie’)  he left it, and it would still be there today if some unknown person had not painted over it when he was on holiday.

Heaven help anyone who wanted to tinker with a motorbike outside their OWN property on a sunny afternoon, with the radio on low, or who didn’t water or cut their front lawn often enough. Failing to deadhead flowers or having the wrong kind of patio chair was punishable by being ostracised from the PTA. You might find an influx of dead snails on your path, all with smashed shells, that had been tossed over the fence during the night in frustration, because your lack of local pride was showing up their impeccable, efforts. Having an argument within earshot of the neighbours rendered you invisible and people always claimed they “never heard anything”. They wanted to know why an ambulance with flashing blue lights was outside your house at 2am, but they would never actually be the one to call the police about a ‘domestic’. They’re not getting involved.

Some of the best one-upmanship efforts ever displayed were at Christmas. Most people wouldn’t be stupid enough to display the packaging from their gifts of electronic gadgets and children’s toys for fear of opportunist burglars, but here, it seemed to be mandatory. How on earth could everyone possibly keep up with the competition but still stay in their own lane?

The final straw was when some neighbours won the lottery. They didn’t want to move. They would build an extension. If that wasn’t enough, one of their teenagers bought a drum kit and VW camper van. Clearly obvious deliberate provocation designed only to put ideas into the heads of the other kids on the estate.

Sofie decided that the invitation to spend the summer in Cornwall with her childhood friend was a brilliant way to get out of Dodge. She could practice her guitar and get a job as a waitress, whilst he surfed, and maybe, their band would get good enough to even play some gigs.

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Photo by Eugen Popescu on Unsplash

80. Pick n Mix

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I’m helping my friend pack up her house. I said I didn’t want to help her on the day of the actual move, because it’s too stressful, and everyone ends up arguing because they’re bone tired. It’s the same reason I gave when I didn’t want to go to Ikea with her. Everyone knows someone whose had an argument in Ikea. Someone I know had a theory that they sell you the dream and slowly draw you in. That’s why it’s so cheap. Before you realise it, you’re in a giant warehouse queue wondering if all of these boxes will fit in the car, and there’s the dread of knowing you still have to build your own furniture.

However, I am expert packer, even if I do say so myself. I’ve done it dozens of times. I know what I’m doing, so she’s left me to it, whilst she packs up her books. I’m on kitchen duty. Bubblewrap. Check. Sellotape. Check. Boxes. Check. Parcel tape. Check. Marker pen. Check. Spray kitchen cleaner. Check. Kitchen roll. Check. May as well clean as I go.

Headphones on. 80s pop. Sleeves rolled up. A bag of chocolate eclairs. A bottle on the go, well, some gin in a small bottle of Pepsi max. It’s what Scroobius Pip drinks, so we call it a ‘Pepe Pip’.

After an hour or so of mildly repetitive and strangely satisfying packing of glassware, plates and saucepans, my friend finds me. She’s carrying a few hardback notebooks. “Check these out.” she says excitedly. “These,” she says, holding up the books, “are my teenage diaries.” She hands me one.

“Oh wow!” I exclaim. “Can I open it?” Everyone knows you don’t read someone else’s diary, no matter how tempting it is or entitled or jealous you feel.

“Sure. It’s probably all bullshit anyway. Angst about why doesn’t he like me or how my life would be totally perfect if I was thin or had a nosejob or better tits. Comparing myself to other girls. That it’s so unfair that I have to have a part-time job. That kind of self-obsessed crap.”

Over the next hour, we forget we are supposed to be packing up her new life, whilst we unpick her old one. We laugh at forgotten fashions, sympathise with emotional problems that meant everything, and remember how easy and carefree everything seemed back then.

“Oh my god.” She says “This is too real. This is what I wrote when I was nineteen.

My ideal man.

  • Cannot be bald, short or fat.
  • Has to have good teeth and be very clean.
  • Must have a sister, so I’m not the first girl he’s ever met.
  • Cannot have gone to an all-boys school, because they’re all weirdos.
  • Cannot be allergic to cats or snore.
  • Has to live near to me and have his own car. (Not share his mum’s)
  • Cannot be on the dole.Must have a full-time job or be studying for a degree in something worthy, like Medicine or something with prospects like Law or Engineering. (Not a Micky Mouse degree like Media Studies)
  • Cannot smoke.
  • Cannot have a criminal record.
  • Must love children, but cannot already have any children.
  • Must have already had a girlfriend but she can’t be a psycho stalker.
  • Cannot have been married or have lived with anyone.
  • Cannot have a female flatmate that he has already had sex with.
  • Must play an instrument or be able to cook.
  • Must love his family but not be a mummy’s boy.
  • Not be racist, sexist, homophobic or posh.
  • Must play sport or be in a band but cannot be a rugby lad, football meathead or have groupies.
  • Must be generous. People who are tight with money are also stingy in bed.

I must have passed up on so many men over the years, because they didn’t match everything on that list. Why am I so picky?” she sighs, and closes the diary.

I put my arm around her shoulder and squeeze it.

“God. If my mum had read this at the time, then I would have probably left home and never spoken to her again, god rest her soul. It would have been such a betrayal. I would have been totally mortified. And now it’s just a pile of crap. Wishful thinking about how life was going to be. I had no fucking clue did I? When did we get this old?”

“We’re not that old.” I say. We’re no spring chickens, but who wants all that aggro? Anyway, we’ve had our time. You only think you’re old because you could be the new bloke at work’s mum. Remember, he didn’t even know who Noel Gallagher was!”

“True”

“Do you think kids these days keep paper diaries any more?” I ask. “You know. I reckon they do it all online now, with private blogs. Selfies and pictures of them semi-pornstar posing naked under the pretence of being hashtag body positive, you know, that clean eating bollocks. I read that there is no market for paid porn for female pornstars aged between 22 and 30, because the market is flooded with so much amateur stuff. You’re a schoolgirl then milf”

“That’s really sad.” She says. “They’re obsessed but it’s all so fucking fake.”

“Except hipsters, obvs.” I say. “I bet they go to open mike nights where people read out their own teenage diary entries, to feel deliberately awkward. They probably type their journals on old typewriters or do that bullet journalling. Ha. I’m saying it like I even know what it is.”

“I’ve no idea.” She says. “Did I tell you about that time we were clearing out my nan’s house after she died, and we found some photographs of her posing in her big pants when she was young? I reckon that’s the equivalent of sexting these days.”

“I wouldn’t be young again now, you know. Too much choice. It’s all swiping right and hooking up. Yolo. Fomo. Whatever. I reckon most of them have never even risked asking someone out face to face without being pissed, and are too scared to put in the effort into getting to know someone in case they miss out on their perfect person who is just around the corner. I bet there’s loads of men out there who have never even seen public hair or unshaved legs on a woman. God, I sound bitter. Do I sound bitter?”

“Nah. You’ve not been deprived. You make sense. Someone should tell the young uns that the perfect person doesn’t exist and to enjoy what they’ve got while it lasts. It ain’t gonna be me though. No-one wants an al woman telling them not to have fun.”

Just then the doorbell rings.

“That’ll be the pizza.”