The School Reunion: You Haven’t Changed a Bit

The smell of lino and neglected gym kit propels Harriet nearly 20 years back in time.  As soon as she opens the door of the hall, there’s a shriek: “Oh my God!  You haven’t changed a bit.”

Harriet returns the compliment then heads towards the drinks, remembering to push out her chest.  Amy aka the ‘Sweater Girl’ is bound to be here.

Harriet lives in the pages of my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Today she’s escaped to attend a school reunion.  

She scans the room for Matt.  Back then everyone fancied him.  Now he sounds like Mr Irresistible.  She hasn’t read his book but, according to the reviews, it penetrates the very core of human condition.  Matt has arrived.

Though not here.   There’s Marcie who makes jewellery out of spoons, and an insurance woman who’s working the room.   She asks Harriet “What are you doing these days?”

“I’m a journalist.”  No need to tell her commissions are down to a trickle.

“Ooh, lovely! Who do you write for?”

“I’m freelance now.  Much prefer it.”   In truth she’s barely had 16 months on the staff since her degree.  “I write for a lot of the glossies, or whoever’ll pay me.”  She hopes the self-deprecating touch will make her sound witty.

“I’ll look out for you.  What kind of thing do you write?”

Best not to mention her last feature entitled What your loo-roll says about you. “I’m doing a piece on breast cancer at the moment” she lies.

unloved school piano

Tonight there’s a drinks table in the corner by the distressed piano, and by the drinks table there’s Amy cradling an orange juice.

“Oh my God, Amy, you look amazing” says Harriet.   As usual Amy’s wearing a clingy sweater, but now there are milk stains on her shoulder and her boobs are somewhere by the floor.  Oscar is just 17 months and Mia is 7 weeks.  She needs little encouragement to display the entire contents of her iPhone.

Harriet offers Amy a glass of wine.

“Oh well, just a small one.”

“Anyone seen Matt?”

“Not for years” says Amy, readjusting her bra.

Harriet helps herself to more Château Tannin and talks to a guy she can’t quite place. He’s an architect now.  “I designed the bus shelter in front of the Bagg building.  Have you seen it?”  But he isn’t expecting an answer.   He’s looking over her shoulder to see if anyone more interesting is on the horizon.

There aren’t many men, apart from a tight cluster by the window, all necking Bud from bottles.

“They’re not having a great run.  Arsenal, now…”

“The GTi probably.”

“Went belly-up, didn’t they?”

“Reckon Palace are for the drop.”

The smelly girl from the front of the class has changed.  A lot.  She doesn’t smell anymore and she’s morphed into an eye surgeon.  “Spent last year in Mali operating on trachoma patients.”

Harriet doesn’t dare ask what trachoma is, so she says “Is Matt here?”

He isn’t.  Harriet chats to someone called Caroline.  They tell each other they look incredible and agree it’s been years, or ‘yonks’ as Caroline calls it.  She’s started her own business, which Harriet can’t understand despite the long description.  Her clothes are expensive but she still looks a frump.  Apparently the scarf is Celine and the jacket was made to measure.   Harriet makes a mental note to stick to Zara.

white wineBack at the drinks table Amy has another glass of wine.   She burps and clutches her stomach.  “Sorry.”

“Are you OK?” asks Harriet.

Amy shuts her eyes and lets out a sigh.  “I think I’m pregnant again.”

“But you’re a fantastic mum.  You love children.”

There’s a pause before Amy says “Matt doesn’t.”

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Spreading a Little Sunshine

There’s nothing January can do to redeem itself in my eyes, other than apologise and segue into February without delay.  Thirty-one days of it are just too much, especially in the UK where the weather is dismal and it doesn’t even have the decency to snow any more.  But I had to grin from ear to ear and reach for my shades when I got a Sunshine Award from Mr Don Charisma himself.sunshineaward

Thank you very much for this, Don.

Naturally no man gives a woman anything without there being strings attached.   Unfortunately I can’t display the badge on my blog in any permanent fashion as I am too damn stupid at WordPress.  This may be rectified later.  I won’t be any less stupid, but I will have asked someone.

Not all bloggers like accepting awards so let’s just call my list the blogs that light up my screen and my life. They fit the bill because, to use Don’s words, they positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.  Here are my 10 bloggers who deserve an award:

Don Charisma for his great charm and good humour.  I loved Whose Blog Is It Anyway? and I suspect everyone else did too.

Ellen Arnison of In a Bun Dance.  She’s almost invariably  cheery, with the happy knack of seeing the beauty in all manner of things.  OK, her post on murdered 3 year old Mikaeel Kular wasn’t quite in that mould, but it contained great good sense and a warning to those who don’t understand what sub judice means.  For some reason I’m unable to post comments on her blog so this award will have to do.

Debbie Young at her personal blog Young By Name. Debbie is an accomplished author and blogger writer whose posts are brimming with life and crammed with unexpected little treasures.  I can’t do her blog justice so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Catherine Ryan Howard for Catherine, Caffeinated which is famed for its humorous encouragement. Without her guidance many writers would have stalled.  Catherine is truly the AA and RAC of self-publishing.

Time Thief from One Cool Site.  It is the go-to place for WordPress tips and inspiration as well as being, well, one cool site.

Suz Jones of It Goes On.  Suz blogs about depression and much more, and turns out it’s really uplifting stuff.  A worthy recipient of Blog of the Year 2013.

Seif Salama Karem.  His posts are often dark and can be political, so they’re not always easy reading, but they have a lyrical quality reminiscent of Khalil Gibran, whose work we both love.

The team at Chick Lit Club who deal with all things chick-lit.  Respect to head honcho Steph who sanctioned a review of my novel  despite one of my characters being incredibly rude about her home town.  She clearly has a sunny and forgiving nature.

The bloggers at Varsity newspaper.  Their contributions shine with enthusiasm for student life in all its forms.  Guaranteed to make you feel 18 again, especially if like me the Fen Poly is your alma mater.

Yes, I know. There are only 9, because one of my favourite bloggers has stopped blogging. So I’m sulking.   But in life there are things even jollier than blogs, like my family, friends and cat. And look at this fella sitting in the middle of the road, probably because it’s as wet as the river.  Any nearer those yellow lines and he’d have got points on his license.

Swan in Ely

One day I may list 10 of those kinds of things, just for fun.

Now there’s something else I’m meant to do in accepting the Sunshine Award: tell you 10 interesting things about myself.  As you’re busy people and I’m not that interesting, you’re only getting 7.

1 My cat is a ginger female called Mishmish, which is ‘apricot’ in Arabic and in Hebrew.

2 My idol is Martin Luther King.

3 A long time ago I actually saw the Beatles. Not that I heard them, because everyone was screaming.

4 I don’t need sat nav as my sense of direction is excellent.  Besides, there’s a map in the back of the car.

5 At school I did Russian O-level.

6 Some of my oldest childhood friends are still my closest.

7 I love writing.  It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Though you can also do it with your clothes off if you want.typewriter

Germs and Geriatrics

She is asleep with her mouth open, so Geoff sits down quietly and watches for a bit. At 92 she still has some of her own teeth but the interior of her mouth has that glazed look that comes with age, and with candida.

Geoff is a GP from the pages of One Night at the Jacaranda. He can’t help making these observations.

Grandma stirs, and soon she’s sitting up yelling for the nurse.  “I’m in agony” she’s saying as she jabs the bell repeatedly.  “I’m in agony” she repeats to the rest of the ward.   The three other old ladies appear to have heard this before. 

Today Geoff had to put on a mask and gown before entering the ward.  Some nasty germs have been isolated on the unit, but high bed occupancy means it can’t be emptied and deep cleaned.  He’d asked a nurse which germs, and got a shrug by way of reply.

agar plates

The lunch tray arrives.  It looks vile, all that sloppy food designed to slip down elderly gullets.  “Feed me” demands Granny.

She watches Geoff with beady eyes as he spoons some of the beige slurry into her mouth.  That’s probably where the germs are, he thinks.   After a couple of mouthfuls Granny has had enough.  She’s staring at his head now.  “I like your hair” she says and reaches out to touch it.

She reminds him of Davey.  She might like to see her great-grandson again, but hospitals aren’t good places for 5-year olds, unless maybe they’ve got Henoch-Schonlein purpura.

There’s a miniature Christmas tree on the bedside locker. “It’s nearly February” Geoff points out.  “And you’re Jewish.” 

“I’m 95 now” Granny replies with impeccable logic. 

A nurse comes in, switches off the call button and offers Granny tablets for pain. Which Granny refuses, saying she’s fine.  

The nurse then rearranges things at one of the beds.  Geoff notices that she hasn’t bothered with a mask, gown or gloves.  She senses his stare and says “I’m not touching the patients.”  The nurse probably wouldn’t believe it if Geoff told her that viruses and bacteria can live on call buttons, beds and bedding. 

“The priest came to see me” Granny tells Geoff.

“Why, Grandma?”

“Because I’m getting married, of course. To Marvin.”

This is news to Geoff.  “Do I know Marvin?”

Granny swats at him with a bony hand.  “Of course you know him.  He sits next to me in class.”

She’s gone downhill faster than he thought.   Only last week Geoff was thinking of testing her with the SAGE questionnaire for cognitive problems.  He hasn’t used it on patients yet but it looks a useful test, with low false positives, and no copyright issues, unlike the MMSE.  But not much point trying it on Granny any more.   Although her mental state fluctuates from day to day, she seems proper demented now.  An MRI of her brain would probably look like cheese.

Swiss cheeseNow she says “Make me comfortable.” 

The nurse has gone, so Geoff tries adjusting the hospital bed.  It has lots of buttons.  Granny develops a liking for the buttons that controls the foot end.   

No harm in that, thinks Geoff.  After she raises and lowers the foot of the bed about a dozen times, he remarks that it’s just like a see-saw.

She gives him one of her stares.  “You’re really very stupid.”

Before Geoff leaves, he asks if Marvin’s going to visit.

“Who’s Marvin?” replies Granny.

elderly hands

You may also like to read:

How are you today, Granny?

Alzheimer’s online test crashes university site

Something Special for the Bedroom

Everyone knows you need a sexy bedroom.  So Laure is off to the sales.  There are acres of bedlinens on offer, she realises as soon as she hits John Lewis, but which is going to have the right effect?

Laure is one of the characters from my new novel One Night at the Jacaranda.  She doesn’t normally have trouble making up her mind, but this purchase, she senses, could be crucial.

Back in her student days, it never mattered what the bedroom looked like.  While she’d hankered after a nice set from BHS, her mother packed her off to uni with some hand-me-downs embellished with touches of Tesco Value.  So in her first term Laure’s bed had looked like this:

Did her mother think teh ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

Did her mother think the ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

One orange bedspread. God knows which part of the attic it had been in.

Navy print sheets that were fitted but didn’t quite fit (‘But they’re very nice,’ said her mother. ‘They’re Laura Ashley, darling.’)

A couple of flowery pink pillow-cases because the rest of the navy ones couldn’t be found anywhere.

One weird turquoise duvet cover that should have gone crying and screaming all the way back to the 1970s.

The effect was so loud Laure couldn’t sleep.   Good job that wasn’t what she’d gone to uni for.

So she’d had turned the lights low and painted the walls dark.  Even lighting reminiscent of Luton bus depot couldn’t dampen youthful enthusiasm.  In those days, a pretty undergrad needed romantic lighting and designer bedlinen as much as she needed expensive perfume, which was not at all.  Laure could have dabbed cat’s piss behind her ears and still pulled.

These days it was another story.  She could afford anything but couldn’t get it right.   The past few years had seen a succession of different sheets and covers.  There’s been more variety in her bedlinen than in her men.

Today there was a lovely pinky-purple set on display.  Too girly, maybe?

pink bed

The patriotic look probably appealed to lots of men.  She wasn’t sure it was for her.  Too masculine.  With possible political overtones.

Union Jack bedding

She moved on.  There was always the innocent girl-next-door look like this one, the snag being that she didn’t fancy her neighbour.

the girl next door look

Perhaps she should she go for all-white bedding?

white bedding in a grey room

She walked around the display, twice. Sat on the edge. Languidly removed a shoe, then put it back on again when a couple stopped to stare at her.

The coordinated threads did look rather splendid, with a calm sophisticated presence that would reflect her good taste. Yes, that was the one.  Delighted with her choice, she filled the shopping basket: sheets, duvet cover, pillow cases, a throw and handful of small cushions.

Only when she exited with her bags into the cold air of Oxford Street and the hordes of other shoppers did she wonder:  what if the tea got spilled?