108. A-113

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The truth is that ordinary folk in the States don’t live in the perpetual autumnal town of ‘Stars Hollow’, nor is the opening shot of a fabulous Brownstone apartment in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ a realistic home for many. The closest us Brits get to wood panelled rooms and the servants quarters of ‘Downton Abbey’ is on a family day trip, visiting a National Trust property.

None of the characters on British soap operas could afford to buy the houses on the wages of the fictitious jobs they do. Even the ‘Friends’ characters wouldn’t have been able to rent their apartments back then, let alone now. Bridget Jones could only dream of her grubby, tiny Zone 1 flat as a single woman on an average salary. What would be the point? She’d never be able to socialise. No money.

When time was measured by pencil lines on the door frame, and the term ‘staycation’ hadn’t even been invented, DIY happened twice a year in our house. Spring cleaning meant that every Easter, the four days that the adults in the house had off work, were spent washing net curtains and sofa covers, dragging duvets to the launderette, pulling furniture out and hoovering with the nozzle on the brighter patch of compressed carpet behind the wardrobes or damp dusting of skirting boards with old vests cut up into cleaning rags. Every year my mother would comment on how many spiders must have lived behind her bedside table and if she’d known, she’d never have been able to sleep.

There was a wall-mounted telephone in the hall, which sadly lacked the extra-long cable you see in TV programmes. An old dining chair lived permanently underneath, which was more useful these days as a prop to rest alternate feet whilst tying shoelaces, than as a seat for long conversations. On it was a mint green floral cushion featuring a slightly cross-eyed appliquéd owl that I made in primary school. Another one of my creative endeavours survives in that hall to this day. I sprayed an ornate picture frame gold, then hot glue-gunned some circular slivers of wine corks from my brother’s wedding over the painting. I thought my notice boards were a winner and planned to sell them at a craft fair, but never got around to it. There’s probably a etsy shop now selling similar somewhere in rural America. For over twenty years, that corkboard has remained the hub of both equally vital and useless information for the house. A Snoopy pen with a neck ribbon hanging from a hook. Postcards from pre-Obama holidays in Miami and Florida, the Dr’s phone number and opening times, a yellowing newspaper clipping of one of the grandchildren in a local play, a dry-cleaning stub, a tiny pink scrap of paper congratulating you on winning £25 on the lottery, a torn-off piece of cardboard from a lightbulb box as a reminder to buy some more, a half-used book of first-class stamps, taxi business cards and a list of household jobs that need doing. Defrost the freezer. Clean the oven. Wash glass light fittings. Move bed. Sort bathroom cabinet. Sharpen knives. Declutter.

Declutter. It had to be done. Basically, for us kids, it involved spending a whole day pulling everything we owned out of our wardrobes and putting most of it back in again, but tidily. That or helping with some proper elbow-grease scrubbing downstairs. Windows open, music blasting, dusting. Dragging furniture round to change the feng shui of my bedroom. I never had Molly Ringwald’s room or any brat pack teen movie bedroom for that matter, and I always had this nagging feeling that there was someone out there who would judge my record collection and deem me unworthy.  I got to use the fancy, scented drawer liners that mum got me for Christmas, and spent the evening looking through her catalogues, writing up a list of clothes I thought I needed for the summer. By Saturday afternoon, there were libary books to be returned, magazines to donate, black sacks for the tip, or the charity shop, and clothes to be mended. Everything back in its right place.

Easter Sunday obviously meant chocolate for breakfast. Hopefully, we would all get an egg in a mug which would become our new favourite. Other times, it was a smaller egg in a pretty eggcup, plus the promise of a day out at the zoo or theme park. My brother always hoped for a real ostrich egg but they cost £10 each, which seemed a bit steep. We were reminded that “an egg was a whole day’s work for a bird” and anyway, there weren’t enough of us to eat an ostrich egg, so it would go to waste.

Before lunch, I’d set the table with the fancy cutlery, that was usually kept in a shiny, heavily laquered wooden box, lined with red velvet, and, if we were having visitors, make name place settings using pinking shears, thick cardboard and felt tips. I liked to be quiet and still so I could see the motes hanging in the air in that cool dining room. Once we were all as small as those insignificant specks of human skin dust. I’d change the antimacassars from the armchairs to the Irish linen embroidered ones, polish the cut crystal glasses, and try to find the youngest mint leaves that had taken over the vegetable patch to mix with some malt vinegar. Roast leg of lamb for lunch. Being a teenage vegetarian meant I had the same meal as the rest of the family minus the meat, but I made myself some extra thick Bisto gravy, and possibly some bread sauce.

I hadn’t been a veggie very long, not even a year, so I was still experimenting with food. My mother said that if I got anaemic then I’d have to eat liver or beef once a week whether I wanted to or not, because I was still growing. When I became an adult, I could eat what I liked, so I decided very quickly that cavalo nero was going to be my favourite vegetable. I made my own humous, with chick peas from cans and tahini from the local health food shop. My worst purchase there was fennel toothpaste, but their falafal mix was quite good for my amateur palate. I invented something with red lentils, marmite and cheese, and begged my mother to fill the freezer with spinach and ricotta lasagnes.

It was a strange experience that made me turn vegetarian. The previous August bank holiday weekend,  I was given the job of repainting my bedroom window frames. A butterfly got stuck on the paint and there was nothing I could do to help it. I watched it hopelessly struggle for ages after it tore a wing, before it finally gave up. I felt guilty for not helping, but relieved that it was a cabbage white with a tiny wing dot in the shape of a black heart, and not the rarer, more dazzling, common blue. Did insects have feelings? Was my overreaction empathy? A few days later, the butterfly had gone. It had been wiped away. Where its leg and wing had been trapped, there were two tiny marks. I’d sometimes gaze out of the window, thinking about what my future would be like, and run my finger over them. The smallest reminder of a brief life lived.

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Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

 

 

 

58. Not on a School Night.

People, jobs, houses and food in real life are hardly ever like they are on the telly. So why do so many believe that the sex they have will be exactly like it is on screen? The most popular misconception (ha! no pun intended) is that people go out for a massive dinner and loads to drink on a date, and then find they are completely, intimately, perfectly compatible their first time with each other.

All we ever wanted as teenagers was privacy. We had so much free time but no-where to go for an hour of uninterrupted, guaranteed privacy, without annoying little siblings or parents poking their noses round the door without knocking. Couldn’t parents remember how they felt when they were young? This was biology and wasn’t illegal. We were over the age of consent and were a loving, committed couple who genuinely cared for each other. No drama, but respect and adoration. Wasn’t this exactly the kind of first love you hoped for?

Teenagers are going to have sex. You can try to think you can stop them or you can give them a little space now and then.

When we were happy, flirty, relaxed, and the kissing went on for ages, we were sometimes tainted with anxieties or alcohol. Too much pot made me feel lazy, hungry and sick. Safe experimentation. A real Shakespearean tragedy.

The opportunities at college were endless and fun, but does anyone ever really make the most of those few years? After college, not so much. I have no interest in any form of identifying potential partners where choosing someone based on their looks is initially the most important factor (niteclubs, internet dating) I think I’d miss out on too many people I’d find fascinating.

Goalposts move again. We now have as much privacy as we like, but no time.

I haven’t had a shower today.

I’m ovulating in a couple of days, so it will be amazing then. We should wait.

I was supposed to have an early night tonight because I’m really busy tomorrow.

We should have done it before I ate so much food.

It’s timing, luck and being open to trusting someone with your heart. I know people who say they want to meet someone, but appear (to me) to be afraid of making any moves or looking as if they are even interested, because they’ve been hurt and disappointed, so now want to remain in control. The one who is least invested in the relationship holds the power. They make potential partners prove their worthiness, or play passive aggressive emotional games. Isn’t risk a part of love?

Holding out in case someone better comes along is a waste of a chance at building a life with someone you already love. If ‘the one’ did exist, then it is a miraculous coincidence that so many people find their one and only soul mate, who is exactly the same age as them, living in their very own home town, maybe even at the same place of work or school. What are the odds on that?

Sorry, but meet cutes are for teen drama Sunday afternoon rom coms. I’ve never heard of anyone ever meeting their dream partner like this.

“She felt a jolt of electricity as their hands lightly touched when they both reached for the same avocado from the display in Wholefoods. Shy blushing smiles over soya lattes an hour later, they made plans to meet up for brunch and walk their dogs together at the weekend.”

*clicks fingers in the air twice* Hello? Your life is not a Molly Ringwald film.

No-one could ever possibly know us like we do. No two years are ever the same. We make our own rules for ourselves that are no-one else’s business but our own. Why would we ever compare our lives to other people? If we do make comments then it’s usually “thank god we’re nothing like them”.

“No it’s not like any other love.

This one’s different because it’s us.”

‘Hand in Glove’ by The Smiths 

And if we all do end up in ‘San Junipero’, then we can all live out our parallel lives for eternity, with those travelling on other paths that we’ve met in this life.