Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dinky Dinner

Larry came to dinner last night, with his girlfriend Dink. Maude had invited Larry a couple of days earlier and he had made no mention of the probability that Dink would be around. I called to collect him from his lodgings just as he and Dink were returning from a game of tennis in the local park (the courts are free). I discreetly phoned Maude to check that it was ok to bring Dink along. Larry has a strange habit of forgetting that he is in a relationship and literally forgetting Dink. For many years he was inclined to absentmindedly leave Dink in cafes and on trains. I was often asked to collect Dink on Larry's behalf (a full afternoon of giving ukelele lessons often left him badly fatigued).

‘I’m sure there’ll be enough food to feed little Dink as well,' Maude reassured.

Unlike Larry, Dink now drives. This means that, these days, being forgotten is less of a practical problem - she remembers herself and takes herself home. She followed me back to The Villas in her reconditioned ambulance. Larry shows no desire to learn how to drive.

‘But Dink can drive, I don’t need to. We would only argue if I was able to drive and sat up front commenting on her driving. I’ve seen so many couples do that. It makes more sense for me to lie in the back.’

Dink must have taken a wrong turn at some point as she followed me and it took her and Larry an extra half an hour to reach the house.

‘So nice of you to join us.’ Maude kissed Dink and pushed Larry towards the dining table.

It emerged that Dink had taken a detour to buy a delicious chocolate cake for all of us and Larry had taken advantage of a 'two for one' deal on pale ale to buy two bottles for himself.

As Maude brought the dinnerware in, Larry blurted ‘No potatoes!’

Maude had made some of her excellent potato dauphinoise.

‘I think that you meant to say ‘No potatoes for me, thank you’. Why ever not?’

‘It came up at the top of the list when the food man tested me. I get so much mucous that I can hardly breathe, I nearly choke.’

‘Only nearly? Probably far too much energy in them for you.’ Maude smiled and created appetising piles of potatoes on all of our plates.

Larry was slightly piqued and consoled himself with the lion’s share of the boeuf bourguignon. He smiled sweetly at Dink as he scooped a mouthful of the casserole onto her plate, before scraping the remainder of the dish onto his own.

‘Better leave some room for that cake eh Dinky?’

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Smoking Car

Our business centre has a rich variety of people. People of all shapes and sizes mill around and go about their ‘business’. They carry items of post and piles of photocopying. It’s a hive of north eastern industry. Even members of my team join in from time to time – one of us will usually pop down for the morning post at about 2 in the afternoon. Lionel, the building manager, raises his eyebrows when he notices this – he doesn’t understand ‘the arts’. There is one member of the business centre staff, though, who trumps our lack of effort and seems to have opted out entirely from any exertion whatsoever. She is a large woman who works on the other side of the building. I’m guessing that she has a sedentary job. The building has 2 storeys and she takes the lift. It’s a very slow lift and by the time you have waited for it, you could easily be up the stairs and sat at your desk.

The building managers recently made provision for the smokers on the premises – a small space has been cleared beside the wheelie bins and a corrugated canopy stops the rain from extinguishing fags. The large lady smokes, but chooses not to join her fellow-smokers. Instead she always claims the parking space beside the smokers’ pen (she must get in early just to achieve this) and sits in her car to smoke. She reads her ‘Chat’ magazine as she does this. In my (limited) experience of ‘Chat’ magazine I have noticed a regularity of stories on obesity: 'Doctors gave me 2 days to live if I didn’t shed 5 stone’, ‘The Pain of Britain’s Fattest Toddler’ – that kind of thing. Such scaremongering is lost on the smoking lady and she carries on puffing away in there. She winds the window down a little and the smoke pours out. Passers-by, unfamiliar with her habits, often do a double-take to check that the car isn’t on fire. The car is a Ford Fiesta – a small, light vehicle. When the smoking lady is in place, the car groans and lists badly to one side. The smoking lady has the look of a large child abandoned on a see-saw.

I passed this morning as she was finishing her cigarette and placing a bookmark in this week’s ‘Chat’. I noticed that she cast her cigarette end onto a pile in the adjacent flowerbed. The pile was clearly all her own work – she can’t even make it into the smokers’ pen to dispose of her fag butts in the receptacle provided.

I imagine that, at some point in the future, enthusiastic archaeologists in shorts and armed with trowels will establish the boundaries of this small building created for the ancient habit/ritual of tobacco smoking. This will obviously be televised. They will produce a captivating CAD visualisation of the smokers’ pen as it would have looked some time in the early twenty first century. Delighted with their discovery and their contribution to the body of archaeological knowledge and social history they will return to the site to help to convert it into an interactive experience for visitors – so that future generations might stand and smoke (de-nicotined) cigarettes in an authentic recreation of 21st century office life. This would extend the experience of wandering the corridors of the restored ‘business centre’ in period business costume: using the restored office equipment and listening to authentic recordings of 21st century business voices. The archaeologists would then be truly thrown as one of their trowels unearths an inexplicable pile of well-preserved cigarette ends just beyond the boundary of the ancient communal smoking area…….

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I am Billy Casper

I have reached the age at which any outfit I put together for the gym makes me look like Billy Casper from ‘Kes’. I usually try and sneak out of the house, but Maude always appears before I manage to and remarks that I need a new top, or a new pair of shorts or a new pair of trainers. A complete new outfit for the gym, basically.

‘Why don’t you ask Byron where he gets his stuff?’

Byron is the man who runs the gym. Byron is superfit. He has a gruelling schedule of leading spinning classes and boxerfit sessions, alongside pacesetting for the gym’s running club. In between these commitments he wanders around the gym and lifts weights. He seems always to arrive at a weight machine straight after me and ostentatiously takes the weight peg out to lower it to somewhere around double the burden I was straining to lift. His routine would reduce the average marine to tears and he doesn’t ever appear to break a sweat.

Byron also looks ‘gym smart’. He wears vivid gym colours and his trainers are always freshly whitened. I pointed out to Maude that it was his business to look smart – as he owns the gym. His fancy gym wear is the equivalent of a businessman’s three-piece suit and facilitates his blokey welcomes to the male members and his outrageously flirtatious manner with the female gym-goers (making the point here that his flirting was indiscriminate and should not be mistaken for any form of genuine partiality).

Maude went quiet for a few minutes when I made this point. I had, however, made the mistake of following this line of argument while still in my own 'workwear’. As I bent to put a fresh cup of tea on Maude’s remote control table, I noticed that her eyes were scanning my outfit.

‘So, scuffed shoes, jeans and an open-necked shirt are de rigeuer in your office are they? Must make all those penniless artists feel a lot better about their lives. Why don’t I track down some fingerless gloves for you – to complete the look.’