Sunday, 27 April 2008


‘You have beautiful hands, Miss.’ He tells me. I laugh self-consciously – I’ve been waving them around again. Someone once told me I’d be struck dumb if forced to sit on my hands, but yes, they are fine hands; long, shapely fingers, long, slim nails, and whenever I look at them, I remember where they came from; I have my mother’s hands. As a small child, I well remember those hands, how I marveled at their beauty, at the delicate cords that ran along their backs, at the long, rounded nails, and at the wide, flat wedding band that graced her ring finger. For a long time, this similitude saddened me - a painful reminder of her absence. Now we are reconciled, it fills me with gratitude and with pride; I have my mother’s hands. And they are beautiful.


We meet in a bar across the river. He buys me a drink, looking tired but as handsome as ever. We sit and talk about him, talk about me, talk about him and me, and then we talk about her. I tell him that it was no loss to me, that it always seemed that she was doing the things that nice people do, rather than just being nice. There was something calculated about her behaviour, a lack of immediacy, as if all actions were measured and weighed for maximum return on investment. I hesitate, thinking maybe I’ve been unkind, but he reassures me, agrees, ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ he says, ‘She was the worst combination; completely lacking in self-awareness and extremely manipulative.’

The relief of talking to someone who understands warms me, makes me feel a little better about the bitter barb of betrayal that still sits close to my heart. We order another round.


It’s after the evening rush hour but the train is still full of tired commuters making their humourless way home. As the Kent countryside whizzes darkly past the windows, the refreshments trolley passes through the carriage, pushed by a blonde man used to being ignored. He navigates his way along the feet-and-knees-and-briefcase-strewn aisle, almost entirely without notice. ‘Teas, coffees?’ he enquires, then cheekily, realising no one is listening, ‘Champagne, caviar?’ I laugh and he winks at me as he passes.

Heaven, I'm In Heaven...

As I pass the Park Plaza County Hall Hotel, my eyes meet those of the hotel doorman. He stands outside, a picture of dapper athleticism, in his neatly tailored black coat, a bright, turquoise scarf and a bowler hat. Exuding easy grace, he shifts his weight from foot to foot and I imagine he might launch into a tap dance at any moment, accompanied by a crooning Irving Berlin.


A man with one leg sits on the bench beside the bus stop, crutches neatly folded beside him. He sports a rather natty moustache, a crimson blazer, a pale blue, floral-print shirt, round tortoiseshell glasses and a collection of tattoos. The vacant leg of his pale grey trousers is neatly folded across the other thigh as he watches the morning world go by, looking, for all the world, like a Vietnam veteran from an Oliver Stone movie. I admire his serenity.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Batty Boys

Meandering through the metropolis in misanthropic mode, I tut and snarl at the ill-mannered wretches who cut me up without a second thought. Stuck behind a small group of strutting schoolboys spitting homophobic insults at each other, my disdain shifts to mirth when their exaggerated machismo comes to rest outside a notable gay pub. They sit at the tables and benches outside the pub to wolf down McDonalds ‘food’, entirely unaware of the incongruity.

Monday, 21 April 2008


The waiting room at the CAB smells of poor people. I’m sorry, but it does. It’s after 10am when a short lady with long grey pigtails calls me for my 9.30am appointment, and I’m feeling rather grumpy.

As we make our way through the process, she compliments my efforts, my approach and my person. She tells me I am obviously very capable and bright, that I am taking the right path and that I am doing the best I can in difficult circumstances. I warm to her, her precise clipped tones, (a German accent?), her kind eyes, her methodical approach and her attention to grammar. At the end of the appointment, I coyly ask about the accent, not wishing to cause offence but curious all the same. She tells me she’s German, and when I ask where she’s from, she smiles broadly and says ‘Berlin!’

‘Ooooh! I love Berlin.’ I reply and tell her about my trip there in February. We spend five minutes discussing the city and find we agree. As I stand to leave, I thank her for her time and tell her, sincerely, that it has been a pleasure to meet her. She smiles back at me; she likes me, too.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Another day at the office. The ‘phone rings and the man on the other end of line proceeds to ask me about a client we no longer work for. I am polite and as helpful as I can be and he gets chattier, throwing in a little French for comic effect. We get to the ‘thanks very much’ part of the conversation where he stops and adds, ‘by the way, you have a lovely voice.’ I tell him it’s sweet of him to say so and thank him, remembering he works in ad sales. But I can’t deny I am flattered; in my days as a receptionist, my voice was always remarked upon, and those long-forgotten days are recalled as I replace the receiver, smiling.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Birthday Girl

Teachers are not supposed to have favourites, but the rules are less clear where personal tutors are concerned. Usually, I keep a friendly yet professional distance, but there’s one girl I teach who is just such a sweetie, I made an exception. She’s from a far eastern country and attends one of the smartest public schools in the area. She’s bright and keen, sensitive and humble, and it’s clear she enjoys our lessons. Last week, she turned sixteen – in the middle of the school holidays, thousands of miles away from home, and knowing this, I decide to take her a present.

At the end of our Saturday afternoon lesson, I present her with a small shiny parcel. She unwraps the turquoise paper and the pink tissue to reveal the little bracelet made from pale blue Chalcedony beads. Her jaw drops, and she quickly slips the bracelet on her wrist with a surprised yet delighted ‘Thank you!’. Then she proceeds to tell me it is her first present as she hasn’t yet told her parents what she would like. She has to wait until she returns home in the summer for her party, and on such a grey, sleety afternoon, I feel the weight of her words keenly. The gulf between Eastern and Western culture, between a sense of entitlement and a sense of duty strikes me - especially when I think of the other sixteen-year-old girl I teach, sweet but spoilt, expecting me to supply all the answers, all the grades.

As I leave, she thanks me again twice, and I do hope she genuinely likes the present and isn’t just being polite. On the way home, I worry that I may have over-stepped the line, and will incur her parents’ displeasure, but the desire to treat her, the girl whose smile betrays a sadness, the girl whose writing has moved me to tears, the girl whose candour and lack of self-belief remind me so much of my own young self, was strong and true. And I do not regret it.


Sitting in bed with a hot, strong mug of tea and a small box of Laduree macarons, I watch the snow tumble from bright, dove-soft skies, and remark how its gentle rest renders even my unkempt garden beautiful.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

When In Rome

We have great seats; three rows from the front and dead centre. To get to them however, we need to pass a small group of twenty-something Frenchmen who are conversing animatedly. ‘Excusez moi.’ I say to the fellow on the end of the row, and they all stand to let us pass. ‘Merci.’ I add as we pass them.

‘Ne rien.’ replies the first fellow. And I chuckle all the way to my seat; his response was immediate, it didn’t even strike him as novel that the rosbif spoke to him in French, in the English capital. Oblivious, he just took the exchange at face value, which pleases me, for that is true hospitality, no?


The ladies behind the counter in Starbucks are supremely happy this morning. They greet each customer with a big smile and enough friendly, good humour to melt even the most resolute London froideur. Their banter is infectious; the customers respond warmly and although the queue grows, there is no tutting to be heard. There’s a lot to be said for courtesy.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Bedside Manner

At least once a year, I take myself off to the Sexual Health clinic for an M.O.T. An elderly lady, for whom everything is a palaver, sits at the reception desk, letting me know her martyrdom within thirty seconds. Then I am taken to see another woman, who ignores me while filling in my record form, and from there, I am told to sit in a huge but empty waiting room.

A few minutes later, my name is called and I follow another woman into another large room where I am told to sit. The doctor tells me her name. I ask her to repeat it as I didn’t catch it, and then tell her it is a pleasure to meet her. Her manner is perfunctory and she asks me what she can do for me. I tell her, so she asks me some questions.

When we get to ‘what do you do for a living?’ she stops writing, looks up at me and tells me she was discussing pole dancing with a friend of hers and that they were interested in taking a class. She asks me more questions, what, where, when and why I do what I do. I answer them all honestly, and I go into my patter about the benefits of this particular form of exercise.

The doctor’s demeanour changes. She opens up. She tells me about her life, how she’s been unable to lose the baby weight, and how she feels so self-conscious at the gym, she’s stopped going. She asks for my card, and I hand it over before we proceed with the form-filling and the examination.

We now chat with an easy and friendly familiarity. I like her, and it is clear she has warmed to me. As she examines me, she tells me anecdotes and we laugh, and it is with some reluctance that I dress and leave; she was so lovely, I could’ve stayed and chatted for hours.