Saturday, 31 May 2008

Delicately Done

It is my last lesson with my favourite tutee – until the autumn at least. As I make my goodbyes for the final time, wishing her luck in her exams, her mother asks me if I will do her a favour. Surprised, I say yes, of course I will do my best, and she hands me the stunning pink orchid I admired a week or two ago. Its lush leaves and brilliantly-veined blooms seduce me while she requests I look after the plant over the summer, as they are returning to Hong Kong, and she would hate to have to throw it away. I assure her I will do my best to return a healthy plant in the autumn but she cuts me off, saying no, no need to return it. Ah, I understand; I am being given a gift in the most gentle fashion. I admire her delicate manners as much as I admire the beautiful pot plant, and feel blessed to know such a family of such fine sensibilities.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


I loathe confrontation. People are always surprised by that, believing that because I'm outspoken and confident, I can handle an argument. Sure, I can handle it, but I hate it. The thing is, I hate injustice more.

Yesterday, I hit the supermarket, something I do as infrequently as possible. When I reached the checkout, I unpacked my shopping and watched the couple in front of me joylessly pack their groceries away. She was heavily pregant and looked tired, while he was one of those City types with floppy hair and troubling taste in knitwear. The cashier, a young lad of no more than sixteen or seventeen looked nervous, and it was clear an altercation had taken place. The boy handed the man his receipt, 'Thanks very much, mate.' he said.

'I'm not your mate.' the man replied aggressively and stalked off after his unsmiling wife. The boy blushed, clearly upset by the man's words, and I felt for him.

'Blimey, what was his problem?' I asked, 'Are you okay?' the boy told me everything, with added macho bluster thrown in at the end, then blanched as the man returned to the till, leaned over and told us he wasn't deaf and had heard every word. As he walked off for a second time, I told Lawrence not to worry, the man was clearly an arse, and Lawrence assured me that had never happened to him before.

Shopping done, I left the shop, only to see the tosser haraguing the manager, trying to look reasonable as he accused young Lawrence of discourtesy that was all his own. I saw red, approached, apologised for interrupting and let the man have it with both barrels, telling him he was the one who was rude and that he should get over himself instead of accusing the boy of being rude when all he'd done, at most, was use an inapproriate vernacular with a humourless twat.

The surprise on the man's face was matched by that on the face of the store manager and a few shoppers stopped to stare. But I didn't care, and when the idiot started back at me, I shut him up in the way only an ex-teacher can and stormed out of the shop. As I loaded my shopping into the car, I realised I was shaking, and  was more than a little afraid the man would come out to the car park and lamp me one, but I couldn't help myself - the thought of that boy being told off for something he was not guilty of riled me, for we are all too quick to criticise the young, and all too slow to praise them. And the poor boy was an easy target. Besides, if he wanted to be served by well-spoken, middle-class grammar school kids, the twat should shop in fucking Waitrose.

For the rest of the day, it bothered me. So this morning, I rang the supermarket and was assured the incident had been dealth with, they knew Lawrence was 'a good lad', and all was well. I was thanked for my call - the crazy woman who tells grown men off for behaving like spoilt children in public - but at least I am reassured.

Thursday, 15 May 2008


Sitting in a fashionable Belgravia gastro-pub, I tune out of the polite conversation we are having over lunch with a client, and find myself noticing a young man at an adjacent table. He sits hunched, a motorbike helmet between his feet, acting like a sulky teenager despite being in his mid-twenties at least. He is handsome, but immature, and so not attractive – to me at least – and I find myself fascinated by his behaviour, which suggests his lunch partner is a parent. Sitting back in my chair, I look at the man opposite him. Yes, definitely his father – I can see the family resemblance, and I watch the two interact, playing out their familial roles for anyone who would care to notice. With our meal finished, I stand to leave, and realise that the father is a very well-known stage and television actor. I am surprised at myself, how my interest in his son, and their relationship, clouded recognition until that moment when my perspective changed. I’d make a very poor starfucker.


Two teenage girls sit opposite me on the bus, talking loudly. One carries a Chloe handbag, wears a Tiffany necklace, has perfectly manicured acrylic nails, is young, slim, with good skin – despite wearing far too much make-up – and decent features. She wears a baggy vest top and very short shorts, and sits, knees splayed open, slack jawed, chewing gum, with round shoulders and slumped spine. She stares openly at me, without an ounce of elegance or style about her, and I find myself wondering, does her poor posture and demeanour cancel out the young, lithe limbs, or do men find her attractive despite all that? I find myself hoping not – surely, there are some standards left?


An old couple make their way across Victoria bus station. They are both slow and stopped and he holds her arm protectively. She’s wearing a yellow coat with big, black, shiny buttons, an emerald green skirt, a furry, leopard-print hat, black tights and blue and white Nike trainers. She carries a plastic bag that matches the bright blue sky. In complete contrast, he wears a grey hat, a grey anorak, grey trousers and grey shoes, and I think to myself that she must have got the colour allowance for the both of them.

Overheard IX

The three teenage girls, with whom I share a seat on the bus are talking overly loudly, full of the arrogance of youth. Their diction is worthy of a comedy sketch, being such a parody of London street speak and drawn-out, multicultural vowels.

‘I nearly lost my virginity twice. Twice. I nearly lost it. My virginity.’ Says one.

‘Who to? Who to?’ asks her friend.

‘Once was to Jamael, right?’

‘Yeah, Jamael.’ Says the other friend, speaking over her.

‘And the other time was to Chris.’

‘Who’s he?’ asks the first friend.

‘Oh, some boy from St. George’s.’ she replies dismissively and the conversation moves on to something else.


The plane trees rain seeds, filling the air with hazy irritation. Two young men in stripey t-shirts and shades stop at the foot of Lambeth Bridge for a quick yet tender snog, before proceeding down the steps to the riverbank. A middle-aged lady tourist cranes a scrawny, camera-laden neck to stare disapprovingly. But she remains unnoticed, the lovers, serene. Truly, love is blind.

Sunday, 11 May 2008


It is a glorious afternoon and I whiz through the country lanes with the windows open and the wind in my hair. The smell of FCA* is dispelled by the strong odour of wild garlic, and the delicate yet powerful fragrance of bluebells in the woods. This, and the new buffoon of a London mayor, makes me think I won’t move back to London just yet.

*FCA: Fresh Country Air, a childhood euphemism for the stench of rotting manure that hangs in the air after farmers have been muckspreading.

Friday, 9 May 2008


One of the things I most like about the street where I live is that it is normal – neighbours chat, cats wander, and kids play out. One of the kids, a little boy who lives at the bottom of the street, is the cutest little munchkin I ever saw. The other evening, he and another boy were attempting a game of cricket in the middle of the road, itself a steep hill. Munchkin was bowling, but the ball escaped him and tumbled down the hill towards me. I put a foot out, stopped the ball, picked it up and handed it to him. ‘Thank you.’ he said with a smile, and then, with surprise, after a pause, ‘You have lovely shoes on today!’ I laughed and thanked him, tickled by the surprise in his voice as much as the compliment.

This evening, I come home to find a group of kids playing water fights with huge, brightly-coloured, plastic water pistols. Munchkin is among them, and as I approach he yells, ‘Watch out! There’s a lady coming!’ The lady smiles broadly as she passes them.

Friday, 2 May 2008


In the shadow of Piccadilly Circus and bleeding heavily a mere three weeks after my last period, I walk soggily to Charing Cross, past a Japanese couple arguing in the pink, neon light of a closed sushi bar. She looks upset, telling him she doesn't care about his job, that it only benefits her through the money it brings in, and her frustration at not seeing enough of the man she loves is painful to observe. With his back to me, I see only the placatory gesture of his arms, but imagine his face, tired, embarrassed, just wanting to get where they're going without further drama. As I side-step groups of pavement-blocking tourists, I think about the snapshot of two lives I've just witnessed - an unintentional voyeur. I can't be bothered to argue with people these days - it seems pointless. By the time you're shouting, you're not listening anyway. But I remember feeling that strongly about something, and about someone, and I wonder if I ever will again. Loneliness descends. Self-pity follows.