Archive for May, 2007

Things that are pleasant

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2007 by ladyredjess

I am very fond of lists, particularly when they’re as poetic as Sei Shonagon’s, from The Pillow Book. I am less tired, and therefore happier, and have compiled a list of things that have pleased me lately.

1. I received my first fan letter today, from a 91 year old widower living in Albany, WA. His late wife was looked after by a lady who lived with another woman, and now they both look after him. The letter was written in January but because Penguin still don’t seem to have updated my address, it’s taken 5 months to reach me and I had to write back immediately, in case his years had overtaken him.

2. On my way to get a coffee yesterday, I walked through the Science section at Waterstone’s and there was a sign above a pile of books which read: ‘Sick of the beach? 3 for 2 on summer reads.’

3. On the bus on the way home the other day, I saw a Muslim man at King’s Cross with two huge armfuls of peacock feathers, obviously selling them. Then a bit further on I saw, on the front step of an office building, a collection of nine red fire extinguishers.

4. While running in the mornings, I pass various water fowl that make me smile. On the weekend it was the goose that hissed at me as I passed her half-grown goslings, and every other day it’s the collection of ducklings that sleep in the grass or on the cement by the edge of the water, all bundled together in a lump of snugly feathers. Although today a dog that looked like a kelpie came bounding along the path in a great exciting hurry and the ducks splashed into the water in fright. And then there are the aggressive black duck-like birds that are usually attacking another bird from their territory and pushing it underwater, or dragging bits of twig into their nests. One of them today was carrying a stick that was twice its body length, swimming very correctly.

5. And while running on Monday I saw a man untangling a net by the canal. Then on the way back the man was in the water, apparently naked, at least from the waist up. I dared not look; it was obviously some strange Bank Holiday ritual that involved nets and nudity.

Rarely, there haven’t been that many unpleasant things, except the fiction I’ve been reading, but that’s more because it’s been stressful. After Notes on a Scandal I picked up Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault which was dark and broody with tension. I don’t think I’ve ever been so depressed by the trajectory of a novel since reading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and I raced through it in the hope that things would get better, but they didn’t. Lionel is an excellent writer, and I like her for debunking the myth of the American Dream, which she does with slightly more finesse than F. Scott Fitzgerald, but her characters disappoint me somewhat. It’s as though she’s grown them in a hothouse and, once she’s decided what character she’ll portray, she does all the research she possibly can on them, to the point where they become artificial. Thus Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin was too evil to be believable, and Eric too seemingly perfect to be real, and Willy too tortured over being a woman. At times it feels like someone has pulled her up on this, so she puts in paragraphs that make them seem human; in Kevin it was when he was sick, and Willy there was a paragraph about wanting to be like a boy, but these are isolated sections and she ought to have woven them through more seamlessly. I realise that one of the points she’s getting across is that the characters do seem inhuman to the other characters through their evilness or perfection, but it still rings slightly false, as though she’s trying too hard. The other thing she seems to do is put her characters together in the space of her fiction and see what they’ll do to each other; again it seems contrived, and I always maintain that if the nuts and bolts of a book show too plainly, you’ll lose your reader. Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam is a prime example of this; the ending was clever, but you could see McEwan being clever, and that spoiled the magic.

Anyway I’m sick of all these stressful books. It’s time for some Austen or a Bronte now; I want to read something pleasant.


London Launch

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2007 by ladyredjess

On the morning of the launch I woke up from a bad dream about H going to the doctor for a checkup and being diagnosed with leukaemia. This did not bode well. I don’t dream about H (or other family members) dying as often as I used to, but it’s still disturbing, and I went to work accompanied by the most dreadful, morbid feeling. I was also abysmally tired and so struggled through the morning, misinformed various students about various things, then went home and slept.

Fortunately in the evening it wasn’t too cold, otherwise my legs (which my frock only half covered) would have done their unappealing mottling thing. However my gold, sparkly shoes, which I’d only worn once before, turned out to be another of those beautiful pairs that come from hell. By the time I reached the venue they had cut away a lot of skin, leaving coin-sized weals, and I had to ring C- to ask her to bring bandaids. Will this stop me from buying gorgeous-but-crippling shoes? What a stupid question.

The room was lovely, with big windows and comfy furniture, and it was wonderful to see so many London people there. To go from knowing no-one but my brother when I arrived 2 and a half years ago, to being friends with this roomful of people, was a really nice feeling.

I- (looking more splendid than usual in all black) gave an excellent introduction, apart from his joke about my doing good work only when I applied myself to it. I gave him a rather sour look at that, as it’s a sore point and my sense of humour fails me when it come to sore things, especially as pleasing I- is sometimes my sole reason for working as hard as I do. I was impressed by him referring to the novel as having sheer ‘hard, feminine muscle’ at its core; I liked that a lot. Then I got up and said my speech, which I’d finished writing on the bus, and I made people laugh, which always makes me happy. I’ve put the speech after this for those people who weren’t able to make it, and for those who are in Oz.

There was lots of chatting to do afterwards, and like the last launch it felt like a wedding with not enough time to talk to the people you want. For my mother’s sake, I forced myself converse with the B’s, who we’d known back home. Mr B is nondescript, Mrs B is a disgustingly outdated snob, whose hair was the colour and texture of straw. As we stood outside, discussing dinner, she brayed out options like ‘Hakamana’, which I can only assume was her version of Wagamama. M, leaning against a signpost, gave me a wink and I had to fight to keep my laughter from spilling out. We ended up going to my favourite Thai restaurant, and H, due to his foot-and-mouth disease, insulted the waiter within earshot again, so he isn’t allowed to go there anymore. Then we found a nice pub, which I’d been to once before. M entertained me with his witty banter and I borrowed some more bandaids off H_ in order to totter home.

So here’s my speech.

I need to start by thanking I- for his introduction, and for being the best supervisor I could ever have hoped for. His unwavering support and consistently positive attitude helped me to get through my darkest days in London, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t still be here without him. He’s also been very patient, because I was editing this novel for the good part of a year, and in that time I was supposed to be writing my thesis, so am just a little bit behind now …

Anyway, I’m very glad to be having a second launch. The first was in Sydney and I was so nervous I was hyperventilating – the manager of the bookstore made a recording and on it I sounded very breathy. Also, I wrote my speech in the taxi on the way to the bookstore on a tiny scrap of paper, but this time around I’ve been organised enough to actually type it up and print it out, although I wrote half of it on the bus on the way here.

The novel is selling very well back home. It’s going onto its second print run, less than six months after it was published. This edition has 2 mistakes in it – one was found out by a friend back home, who pointed out that a property couldn’t be west of Busselton, because if you went west from Busselton you’d end up in the sea! So if you buy a copy tonight you might be buying a collector’s edition which will be worth millions when I follow in my relative Patrick White’s footsteps and win the Nobel Prize. Not that I’m a megalomaniac or anything like that.

So on my interminable bus journeys to and from work, I thought about what to say to an audience of Londoners. I do a lot of thinking on buses: I think about my life, about the lives of people who get on the bus, about my constant state of sleep deprivation, about things that make me laugh and, most frequently, I think about home. And so it was that yesterday I remembered my bus trips from our farm near Boggabri, to primary school, which took about half an hour over gravel roads through the scrub. Every morning and afternoon, five days a week, I would switch off my hearing aid to cut out the sound of screaming kids and concentrate on my book. Every now and then I’d look up and see my cousin punching my brother, or another cousin (at one point there were nine of us Whites at that school – that was almost one-tenth of the school’s population) sawing away at the plastic seat with a nail file, but I would ignore them and stare out at the landscape. And so it was that for all of my childhood there were journeys, the bush, and words.

These three things are now the foundations of my life. From becoming an avid reader of books, I became an avid writer, and now I can’t seem to be able to write about anything without referring to the Australian landscape. As the poet Dorothea Mackeller, who grew up not far from me (in Australian terms), wrote, ‘Core of my heart, my country’ and her words could have been my own.

In this novel, the landscape is one of the most prominent features of the book. It defines Ingrid, who is a botanist looking for specimens, it moves the plot along and it represents the central themes of growth and acceptance. At first, Ellyn, an Englishwoman, finds the Australian flora disturbing, because it’s nothing like the flora of England, whereas Ingrid, an Australian born and bred, thinks its strangeness is delightful. In this she was mirroring the views of English settlers in Australia, who were horrified by the bizarre flowers and animals that they encountered. However, as they settled in the country, they came to love it. This then became a metaphor for acceptance of what seems different, whether it is a flower, an individual, or a minority group such as lesbians.

And this brings me to the theme of growth. The characters of Ingrid and Ellyn were based on myself – Ellyn is as I used to be – shy and not very confident, and Ingrid is who I am now – headstrong, demanding, passionate and opinionated. You’re probably wondering what happened in between … and you can blame my mother. I’ve been deaf since I was 3 and a half, when I got meningitis. I have no hearing in my left ear and half in my right. Since it was so difficult to communicate with people, I was happier being left alone with my book, but mum forced me to go out and socialise. I absolutely hated it – and sometimes I still do – but because I loved my mother and because it was a challenge I wanted to beat, I did it. Which is why, now, people don’t realise that I’m deaf until I tell them. And during this process of gaining confidence – which took something like two decades, I learned to accept myself, just as Ellyn – and other English settlers – grew to love the Australian flowers. This doesn’t mean that it’s been easy. When Ingrid says to Ellyn, ‘Predictable people have predictable lives, but for the rest of us, it’s terrifying,’ I was drawing directly on my own experiences.

But why lesbians? people have often asked. Aside from the fairly obvious motivation that no-one had really written about two women in the bush before, I wanted to show how two women could exist on their own without the need for a man. People who know me – or more accurately, people who have heard me rant – have been tempted to accuse me of disliking men. On the contrary, I find some of them very appealing – and the relationship between Ingrid and Ellyn was also based on a relationship with a man back in Australia. However, I am a very strong feminist and I believe that, as a writer, I have a duty to write about – and for – those who don’t have a voice – not just women, but other minorities like Aborigines, people with disabilities, and immigrants. I’m aware that to be so outspoken is to run the risk of being disliked – particularly as feminism is becoming a dirty word, and particularly where a woman raising her voice is seen as something ugly – but frankly, I don’t care.

And what has all this to do with bus journeys and with London? It’s to do with travelling. It was through travelling, and exposing myself to new people and places, that I learnt to become self-reliant, and grew from that small, deaf girl into the woman you see before you now. Likewise, it was no coincidence that Ingrid travelled across the country on her own.

Writing the novel has been a journey too – one that I’m very glad to have finished because I was utterly sick of it by the end. When I describe the writing process to people, I tend to use botanical metaphors. The idea began with a seed – the question of what a woman does when a man leaves her. I planted into the soil of my mind and began to write. It grew for a while, and then it grew out of control – at one point it spanned 130 000 words, so I had to prune it severely, hacking out the first third of it. Then the voice wasn’t right, so I took it out of the soil of third person and put it in the form of journal entries – one written by Ellyn and one by Ingrid. However this still didn’t feel right so I transplanted it again, into the soil of first person, written in Ingrid’s voice, and that time it worked. For at least another year I trimmed and rewrote and trimmed some more, until I got to the point where I just wanted the whole lot to burn in a bushfire. Fortunately though, that didn’t happen, and now I have a beautiful novel to show for my pains.

Tiredness, Oysters and the Start of Summer

Posted in Uncategorized on May 25, 2007 by ladyredjess

Finally, the fog of exhaustion of the past few weeks is beginning to burn away. I’ve been working like a dog, and still have another 3000 words to write for this month. Actually it’s probably more than that because half of what I write is rubbish. I can’t remember the last time I felt this tired, except when I had anorexia when I was 13 and 14, and when I first turned up in England and I was so stressed my body went haywire. It’s a struggle to fight the impulse to just lie on my bed and read fiction, when I must remain upright and decipher the politics surrounding the Linnean system for naming plants in the 18th Century.

So, things that have been happening in the last few weeks: I lost my Oyster card. I was plunged into despair when this happened because I simply could not afford to lose my card, as I’d bought an annual pass at the beginning of the academic year and therefore didn’t have to budget for transport expenses each month. Ordinarily, one would expect Transport for London to simply issue a new card, since they would have had my record and photo from the other times I’ve applied for a photocard. But no, that would be far too difficult for such an enterprising and forward-thinking company. So, as quickly as possible I posted off an application for a new card. A week later I got a letter from TFL saying that my application was rejected because the payment couldn’t be authorised. So I rang them up to find out what had gone wrong. The woman couldn’t tell me. I asked if I could pay over the phone and she replied forcefully that they weren’t authorized to take payments over the phone. Clearly, such a simple procedure defies all common sense and no, we aren’t in the 21st century either, so how could I possibly expect TFL to use a process that has existed in Australia for at least the last 10 years? How is it that Sydney Uni can offer payment for library fines over the internet, yet one of the major transport corporations in the UK cannot implement applications via the most ubiquitous telecommunication systems ever invented? Whatever the answer, I haven’t the slightest shadow of a doubt that TFL has an utterly sound, wholesome and sensible rationale behind their actions.

Back to my telephone conversation, in which the woman told me twice that they were going to introduce payments over the phone ‘in the near future.’ On the second telling I said sarcastically, ‘Thank you very much for your help,’ hung up on her and burst into tears with sheer frustration. So then I had to submit another application by MAIL (since TFL clearly believe themselves to be inhabiting the glorious days of Empire where nothing can be swifter than a franked letter), and await my refund with much scepticism, since M had a similar problem last year and her refund never arrived.

Oyster cards and the moronic clams that issue them aside, A has left for Russia and China, so he had a barbeque at his digs on Sunday, where I met some nice Aussies, and we had a collective whinge about the banking system, and wondered at the process whereby you could take money out of your account when there was nothing in it, whereas in Oz if there is no money, you can’t take anything out. A_ related the story of how she bailed up a banker at a party (to complain about this same thing), and came out of it with the understanding that the banks still work on the cheque system, so they won’t know if there’s no money in your account until three days later. K then related the amusing anecdote of how, after ringing up to complain for the third time about being fined for having his account overdrawn, the man on the phone had said, ‘Now, Mr H, before you begin, please don’t preface it by saying, “But in Australia …”‘

After four hours of small talk, however pleasant, I was desperate to get home, but H looked disappointed when I suggested this, and said that perhaps I should go home on my own. I was fine with that since there is sometimes nothing better than reading a brilliant book (Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal) on a long bus journey, but there were some other people at the bus stop from the party so I had to concoct yet more frothy conversation until they got off at Elephant and Castle. They were lovely people (they were friends of A’s after all), but I was a tired, deaf girl who finds listening hard and who wanted to be left alone with her book.

On a happier note (since H has instructed me that for every bad thing about England, I must think of a good thing), summer is coming, which means that the fruit is tasting better (as it hasn’t been hauled from Ecuador during the wrong season and polluted the atmosphere in the process) and soon there will be my favourite yellow-fleshed peaches and nectarines in the shops. And today I got into a filmy skirt and sandals for the first time since February (in Oz) and saw my physiotherapist. Alas, I was felt up by his delightfully sensitive hands for the last time, since my knee is probably as good as it’s going to get and I refuse to go to the gym as he recommended to strengthen the surrounding muscles with weights. I told him I would rather put up with the pain than go to the gym.

And of course there was my London launch on Wednesday, which was splendid and which deserves its own entry, after this.

My Life at Work

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2007 by ladyredjess

It’s the end of my working week. Tomorrow I start my second job (thesis) so on Wednesday nights I revel in the luxury of doing nothing. Since I lead a tremendously wild and extravagant life, to pass the time I usually read (Huxley’s Brave New World at the moment; I don’t like it much), flaff around on the internet or tidy up my room which looks like a bomb after three days of – on account of my sheer tiredness – dropping clothes on the floor instead of hanging them up.

Ordinarily I have Wednesday afternoons off too but this afternoon was spent on a course entitled ‘Coping at the Counter’, which I attended in the hope of learning how to keep myself together in conversations with patronising male academics at the library. During such exchanges (which usually arise because I can’t hear said academics properly, on account of their mumbling), my first impulse is to grab the stapler and knock them over the head with it and staple their bovine faces to the desk. However, Mother’s continual exhortations over the course of my childhood to always remain polite hold sway, and if I swear and make a scene it is in the sanctuary of my boss’ office.

It isn’t always academics to fluster me, although it is usually a man. I can only recall one woman being revolting to me, and that was mostly my fault because I wasn’t assertive enough to tell her that I was deaf and that was why I hadn’t spelt her name properly. However, to give an idea of the kind of person I sometimes deal with, I offer the following exchange:

Man in his late twenties comes to the desk. Doesn’t smile. ‘I’d like to know how many books I can take out,’ he says.
‘Sure, I just need to check your status.’ I take his card.
Computer shows that he’s doing a PhD.
‘Which university are you at?’
He mumbles something and I hear two words, ‘royal’ and ‘art.’
‘Royal College of the Arts?’ I ask, to check.
‘Art,’ he emphasises as though I were stupid. ‘Royal College of Art, not Arts.’
I blink and don’t look at him, but my lips are thinning. I check the membership manual and tell him how many books he can take out. I am very pissed off.
He gives me his books and after I’ve stamped them I slap them back on the desk, slightly louder than usual, and he looks at my face to check my expression. He must realise that he’s offended me because he attempts a thankyou as I give the books back, but I scarcely acknowledge it. I like people with manners; people without manners don’t deserve my attention.

Now, I know a big part of my problem is my ego. I’m a smart girl and I loathe people treating me as though I were dumb. Also I often forget that I’m deaf, so the problems which are caused by my deafness I tend to take personally instead of dismissing them. To counter some of these problems, I wear a very unattractive badge which says ‘I’m hard of hearing, please speak clearly.’ On account of this, I sometimes have (again, mostly old men) speaking to me as if I were not only deaf, but also slightly retarded. In other words, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Usually when this happens I have to suppress an insane urge to giggle, again until I reach my supervisor’s office. The last time this occurred, the deputy supervisor suggested that I wear another badge on the other side of my chest saying, ‘I’m deaf, not stupid.’ Then (because it was winter and I was in the habit of wearing tight skivvies) he added, ‘And then you can have another badge down here,’ (he patted his pecs), ‘which says, “Stop staring at my tits!”’ I burst out laughing.

But mostly my job is very nice, not least because of the people I work with (and indeed, yesterday at lunch I was in a state of beatitude because B was in the staff room; he has such a charming sensibility and delicious smile that it was like being cast in the glow of an angel), and I only remember the ugly incidents because they’re the ones that upset me.

I have three weeks to write 10,000 words (my self-imposed goal for the month). It is awful to think that I have another 9 months of this, and that the pain has only just begun, and that it can’t be relieved because I have no money with which to go shopping. However over the long weekend I did nothing, so now I must work.

Bank Holiday Meanderings

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2007 by ladyredjess

We had a very quiet long weekend, which I needed as after my presentation I was feeling like a donkey (the Marrakeshian variety) flogged to within an inch of its life and left for dead by a road, circled lovingly by blowflies.

On Saturday H and I had been intending to visit Kew Gardens, but the weather was vile so instead we went to the National Portrait Gallery. On the ground floor was an interesting exhibition on the lead-up to the Iraq war, and I noticed the following: a) it was Tony Blair who was gung-ho about war and he seemed to be convincing many other people, both in his party and abroad, that it was worthwhile to attack = so much for democracy b) there were very few women in the pictures, and if there were women they were usually on the edge of the clusters of people c) all the decisions were made in opulent offices, which couldn’t be any further removed from the debris and squalor of Baghdad.

Then H and I went upstairs and came across a picture of George V and his family, which I had though was the Tsar and Princess Alexandra. ‘Ah well, they were all interrelated anyway,’ we said to one another. Then we tried to figure out the lineage of the royals, failed hopelessly, and moved onto the Modernism section. This I was very impressed with, not least because I saw lots of famous works (incl. the bust of V Woolf and paintings by Vanessa Bell), and a group of photos of women writers. After that I was hungry and wanted another coffee, so we crossed the road to St-Martin’s, as H had been told about a café run by homeless people that was there, and he wanted to have a look at it. I had initially wrinkled up my nose at this, but after being told off by H (‘Don’t be such a snob; we’re going and that’s that’) I resigned myself to it. However the café appeared to be closed during the renovations of the church, so we went on, though not before examining a disturbing statue of baby Jesus immersed in a square slab of stone, the umbilical cord still attached to his stomach.

We walked on to find the Temple Church, stopping by the courtyard of the Courtauld, which H hadn’t seen before. He played around with his new camera while I sat on one of the chairs in the sun and, being exhausted, envied the sprightly little sprogs running in and out of the fountains, then dozed off.

Eventually we came to the doors of the church on Fleet Street and were told by a sign that it was only open for two hours on that day, and to go around the back to get to it. The surrounding buildings reeked of money and law, but I wasn’t that impressed by the church, and I was knackered, so I went home and H went off to walk along the river.

On Sunday I woke late after a night of insomnia, then accompanied H to Columbia Road because I badly needed exercise. Never again will I go to that place at 2 in the afternoon. It was swarming with humanity, unbearably crowded with people trying to get a bargain, there was too much shouting and a rude woman knocked over the rhododendron I’d placed on the ground while waiting for H and didn’t apologise, and I hated London all over again. I’m not allowed to complain anymore though. H says I’m allowed to say 5 bad things a day and after that I have to censor myself. In the afternoon I worked on a short story about grass.

The following morning I went for a run (my wonderful physiotherapist has largely fixed my knee, bless him) and continued my short story about grass. Then H and I caught the bus to the Barbican to meet G and have a look at the conservatory. It wasn’t as ornate or exotic as the conservatory at Kew, although it was larger and housed a selection of wildlife, namely some turtles, some very weighty carp and some birds huddled in a cage, puffed up against the cold, ‘tropical’ air.

We had lunch outside, where the wind blew over one of the umbrellas shading the tables, knocked it inside out and sent a smaller umbrella flying into one of the ponds. The Asian boy to whom it belonged decided it couldn’t be retrieved, though H later fished it out with his own umbrella, dried it out and took it home (Father’s sense of thrift is evidently present in him, to some degree). We ambled on to the Museum of London and my eyes watered from pollen drifting from the surrounding trees. The Museum was pretty boring. It was mostly filled with bits of flint and brick, although it had a good 3D simulation of what London was like before it was filled with people, and also an interesting exhibition on the Great Fire of 1666. There was a video showing in a small room and, to my amazement, it had a loop system installed, and it actually worked. After that were exhibitions with more brick so we gave up and went home.

Oh, I forgot to mention the cacti garden in the conservatory, which had me in raptures. It was full of hanging baskets of cacti that spilled over the edges and burst out with red and pink flowers. I love cacti – I like their weird shapes and their unfriendliness – but H refuses to buy them because they don’t grow fast enough or provide enough variety.

In a similar vein, by the end of the weekend H was sick of me and wanted people around for dinner to liven up his life. We got our cousin A over and H made a meatloaf which, while it looked spectacular, didn’t taste so brilliant. My cinnamon teacake, on the other hand, tasted fantastic but didn’t look so hot, as it fell apart when I tried to get it out of the cake tin because I hadn’t put in enough flour. Oh for a decent set of measuring cups and something better than a wooden spoon for stirring, the £10 beater purchased on Boxing Day from the Muslim man down the road having failed utterly in its primary task, by blowing up whilst beating butter and sugar.

Weeks of Wonder

Posted in Uncategorized on May 4, 2007 by ladyredjess

The unthinkable has occurred. In response to H’s complaint, the TV tax people sent us a letter – actually signed by a real person, with a real pen – apologising for sending us threatening letters. They did still say they would come around and verify that we didn’t have our TV tuned to the telly, but in a much nicer way than previously. I told H we should frame it and put it on our wall.

Then British Gas came to look at the boiler. The man who came around had a name – David – embroidered in dark blue on his shirt. He was polite, and he even rang H to let us know when he was coming around, rather than leaving us waiting (on tenterhooks, of course) from 6 till 12, or 12 till 6. Furthermore, British Gas sent us a questionnaire for the previous visit to see how the service had been, and it was with much satisfaction that I was able to report that the man had made the problem worse rather than fixing it. However, I was very impressed that they were bothering to ask at all.

A few weekends back, H, H-, A, P, F and I went out on the town to a gay club. Prior to this, H and H- saw The History Boys (stage version), and I met them outside the theatre. Prior to this again, H had suggested that, in case we couldn’t get past the bouncers into the club, I should wear something that showed a lot of cleavage. Since there was no immediate response on my part to this proposal, H amended it to, ‘Just in case you were, you know, trying to decide on one outfit over another.’
‘But they’ll be gay, it won’t make any difference.’
‘Well, all men in general like cleavage.’
So I pulled out my dark pink Sarah-jane top (which, naturally, is one of my favourites) but I couldn’t locate the excellent cleavage-enhancing bra which I’d worn at my launch. I fear it is lost among the debris of L’s room, from whence, no doubt, it shall never return. I found one that did the job almost as well and then, looking like a prostitute, went into town to wait for the H’s.
As it happened, the club didn’t open until 10.30, so we met APF and had a drink in a gay bar, where we were exposed to the somewhat awkward sight of a compact gay man dancing on a stainless steel cube in front of us. Now, while I didn’t mind the sight of his arse (which was attractive), I’m not normally exposed to small, dancing gay men, so it was difficult to ascertain the appropriate response. Should one stare openly? Should one avert one’s eyes? Should one laugh? As it was, we engaged in a smattering of the latter, then downed our drinks and made an exit.
The person at the door was swathed in some kind of Egyptian headdress, with a black wig, 3-inch false eyelashes and a moue. H engaged him (for it was a he) in conversation, and managed to get a friendlier look out of him than the moue. As we walked away to the cloakroom H whispered to me, ‘I don’t think your tits would have worked on him somehow, Jess,’ and I got the giggles.
What followed was very interesting. We saw a three metre tall transvestite, with hair like a yellow bird’s nest, a man as large and as round as a beach ball with a tiny hat perched on his head, a female pole dancer with enviably pert breasts, an albino male pole dancer, and then some bizarre cabaret act involving a plump young woman in a skimpy outfit with an enormous, oval, green papier mache mask (for want of a better word) who did a striptease. However, none of that bothered me as much as the slimy man who tried to take my hand. I immediately shook him off and he left in a hurry.

Speaking of sliminess, a few weeks ago I got a packet of flour from the cupboard, only to find it had a very large hole in the bottom of it. Summoning all my knowledge of entomology and vermin (acquired from life on a farm in the back of beyond), I decided that it couldn’t have been weevils, as there were no little black bodies in the flour, and there was a strange sheen like dried saliva around the hole. So, expecting a mouse or some other wet-mouthed mammal, I gingerly pushed aside the packets and there, at the back of the cupboard, was the second-biggest slug I had ever seen – it was enormous and hideous. The biggest was a leopard slug from mum’s garden (see here for an image of one of these enchanting creatures). Now, when it comes to things that might potentially kill you (redbacks, brown snakes, funnel webs), I can keep my head and remain calm, but with things that are slimy (yes, male forms included), I feel like a pack of teenage punks are jumping on my grave. However, as H wasn’t around to be all manly and remove the offending item, I had to take a breath, shove a magazine into the cupboard, squish the slug and wrap it up and put it in the bin, all the while keeping it at arm’s length – just in case it suddenly developed primeval strength and leapt out from the pages of The Week and attacked me, à la Dune or Dr Who.

So, aside from prostituting myself and encountering megafauna, there was one other thing of note I needed to mention, which I forgot to put in my previous post. Setting out for Hampstead Heath last weekend, H and I discovered that the Northern Line wasn’t running, so we had to bus it. All well and good, and while waiting for buses we stared at the street and dreamed of owning a car. But then we got as far as Angel and lo and behold, the road was congested (by Clancy Docwra doing the drains – they will no doubt go down in history for drilling their name into the mind of every frustrated Londoner who was made late for work by their cordoning off of the roads) and the traffic way too slow for our liking. ‘Fuck I hate this city,’ I muttered for the nth time, and H suggested catching a cab. So we bundled out and H flagged down a cab on Upper Street.
‘We need to go to Hampstead Heath,’ H said to the driver.
‘Hampstead Heath? Where’s that?
H paused. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
‘Dunno where it is.’
‘Umm … it’s a really big park … in the north of London.’
‘You’ll have to tell me how to get there.’
‘O….kaay,’ H said dubiously, and we got in. I was oblivious of this transaction until we finally got out at Parliament Hill, and when he told me I was staggered. Here was a man who ought to have failed The Knowledge! The only conclusions I could come to were that his cousin was ill and he stepped in for the day, or he had bumped off the driver and taken his car. As mum likes to say, wonders will never cease.