Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When my kids were still quite young, probably around kindergarten age, I got tickets to see Brian Ferry. The concert was in the grounds of Petworth House, a 17th-century country house described as “A stately mansion nestled in the South Downs housing the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust.” The beautiful landscaped grounds were designed in the 18th century by one of England’s most famous gardeners, Capability Brown.

It really is a fabulous location for a concert. Everyone takes elaborate picnics, setting up chairs and tables with tablecloths, proper plates and cutlery, champagne glasses and ice buckets. I was given a ride by some friends and was crammed into their child-friendly but completely uncool, 7-seater minibus. Our picnic baskets overflowed with delicious food and ice buckets with champagne.  Everyone was in excellent spirits and even the appalling traffic didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. 

About 3 miles out of Petworth, the car almost came to a complete stop as we inched along like a snail on valium. We decided to start the party early by opening a bottle of bubbly – well, it wasn’t often we got to let our hair down and forget about squabbling children, wiping dirty bottoms or the overflowing laundry hamper of vomit-stained clothes. As the bubbles flowed, but the cars didn’t, we opened a second bottle, along with the smoked salmon appetisers. Our voices got louder and the jokes got ruder.

The conversation turned to another couple we knew who were from extremely posh, well-to-do families. Someone mentioned that they were surprised at this couple’s swearing and in particular how much the word “fuck” was liberally sprinkled throughout their conversation, like confetti at a funeral. Someone else admitted they privately called them ‘Lord and Lady Fuck’, prompting a rash of copycat behaviour.

Would you mind awfully passing me the fucking smoked salmon?”

“Darling, please pour me another fucking glass of champagne.”

Another 30 minutes passed and still we crawled along, bumper to bumper. The swearing became a little less refined.

“Come on fuckwit, get a fucking move on, we don’t want to mish the fucking concthert.”

“The futhing parking will be full.”

Just then, as if manifested by the power of our cursing, who should we see but Lord and Lady Fuck themselves, walking along carrying picnic baskets with another couple I didn’t recognize. They lived a short distance away in the middle of Petworth, in a beautiful house dating back to the Doomsday era, and so had no need to sit in a stuffy, hot snake of traffic, like some sort of toxic metal centipede.
I jumped up, spilling my glass of champagne that had been precariously balanced in one of the 17 handy cup holders more suited to a sippy cup than long-stemmed crystal.

“Oooh, maybe they would let uth park in their drive?” I slurred, stumbling over to the other side of the car.

“Oh, thuper fucking idea,” someone agreed.

“HowdoIopenthewindow?” I shook the latch, not able to make head nor tail of how it worked.

The person next to me picked up a cushion and whacked it against the window, hitting the lock more by luck than judgement. With a whoosh it slid open. Startled, I nearly fell out.

“Helllooooo,” I called, hanging perilously too far outside. “Are you going to the conthert?”

“Oh, hello Claire,” Lord Fuck replied, when he realized who the crazy person was screeching at him. “Yes, we are.”

Enunciating carefully, trying not to slur, I asked: “Can. We. Park. In. Your. Drive?” I smiled winningly.

The four of them stopped walking and turned to me, their eyes wide with shock, as if I had suddenly pointed a sawn-off shotgun at them.

At that point, the long line of cars started moving, as if someone had unblocked a drain. We moved off, our car kangarooing violently so I hit my head on the window frame.

Rubbing my head, I turned to face my friends and was greeted with utter silence and the same look of shocked surprise.

“Whath? Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked, puzzled by the response.

The silence was broken by loud, hysterical laughter, all of them holding their sides as they cackled and howled with mirth, tears rolling down their red faces.

“W-what’s the joke? What’s tho funny?” I said, completely flummoxed, but giggling along with them.

“Claire, do you know what you just said?” My friend finally gasped, when he could stop laughing for a moment to speak.

“Yeth, of courth. I asked if we could park on their drive.”

“No! You didn’t!” He paused and grinned, his eyes gleaming. “What you actually said was: Can we fuck in your drive?!”

Hands over my mouth, cheeks flaming, I looked out the rear window and saw Lord and Lady Fuck standing where we had left them, staring at our disappearing car like it was an alien spaceship.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Driving Dick Dastardly

My dad and his wife, Margaret, and her granddaughter, Lucy, came to San Francisco on holiday recently. Margaret’s daughter, Jo, had started a few months’ work placement in the East Bay so it was a happy coincidence that I happened to live nearby and, not to take it personally or anything, was available for chauffeuring and sherping duties.

While Jo was, unfortunately, having to work (damn these companies with their stupid rules!), I rashly offered to take Dad, Margaret and Lucy sightseeing. The only slight drawback was that I own a tiny convertible mini and my hubby has a 2 seater Mercedes, neither of which could be considered ideal for driving 5 people around! Luckily, my daughter owns a more sensible 5 seater, 4 door car and, with the organizational and peace-keeping negotiations of a highly-skilled NATO ambassador, I was able to persuade her to lend it to me. She struck a hard bargain though and I was down a complete inside/out cleaning valet and a full tank of gas each time!

My 80-year-old father has a very bad knee so I organized a mobile scooter for him at the last minute which, although it did break down into four parts, needed Iron Man to manhandle them up the 2 flights of stairs each night into his 2nd floor Airbnb apartment! Every time we went out, we would have to heave them down the stairs and into the boot (trunk) of the car and then reassemble the damn thing wherever we went. It obviously helped if Dad remembered to bring the sodding key though.

Like Dick Dastardly from Whacky Races, he careered around at top speed, whizzing along like he needed to get everywhere yesterday and complaining loudly at other people on the sidewalk (“Get out of the way, you blithering idiot!”). One person he bumped into very kindly suggested, as the back of his legs were being mown down, that it might be good if my father could remove his finger from the accelerator lever! And if it hadn’t been for Lucy risking life and limb throwing herself in front of him and grabbing the brakes, he would have driven straight into one of the ornamental ponds at the Japanese Tea Gardens. 

Despite the devilish scooter, we had a lot of very lovely days out, and I somehow managed to keep my patience and sense of humour despite the many, many miles (note to self: check with google maps next time of the exact distance of your planned scenic drive instead of simply guessing) of the beautiful Californian coastline, majestic redwoods, rolling Marin hills and Dad complaining about my driving and demanding to know what the population was of every bloody town we passed through. 

(As a side note, I am not entirely sure how population figures are calculated, but Stinson Beach, for example, apparently has a population of 356, according to the sign we passed as we entered the tiny picturesque seaside town. What happens when someone dies or a baby is born or a gaggle of students move in? Does the local sign-maker have to rush along and modify the number? Does someone go around knocking on doors to find out how many people live there? Perhaps someone just makes it up, based on how many surfboards or dog turds they see around the town on any given day?)

My kids were also happy to see some family and we had a number of very enjoyable meals together, something that we all miss now that we live so far away from our relatives in the UK. I just wish my 19-year-old son could have chosen a different occasion to show off his burgeoning love life, as he proudly displayed his first shocking red love bite for all to see!

And I won’t go into the Fawlty Towers’ farce of Dad’s Airbnb apartment (let by an over-sharing, non-stop-talking madwoman with hoarding issues, who hadn’t cleaned or tidied, went under a false name and kept popping back to pick up something she’d forgotten, nearly causing my Dad to have an aneurysm) as we would be here all day, but we all agreed it was, at least, in a fabulous setting in the Marina district of San Francisco. And you know what they say … location, location, location!

I absolutely LOVED having this time with my dad as I hardly get to spend any time with him now that I moved 5,000 miles from my homeland. I have some wonderful memories and my fabulous and extremely patient hubby and I really enjoyed being able to entertain family in our home, but I must admit to the teeniest, tiniest bit of relief that I am not having to drive down to San Francisco every 5 minutes and can claim back my Fridays for writing.

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Critique Partner – Calling a Spade a Spade

I recently acquired a critique partner. Is that the right term: acquired? Sounds a bit like a highly sought-after object, like “I recently acquired that gorgeous red Ferrari” or “I recently acquired an excellent pair of flab-flattening big girl panties”.

The highly sought-after is right, but I think she might object to the object.

It has been a revelation. We started off our new relationship with us both stating that we had the skin of a rhinoceros and we wanted brutal, your-butt-looks-big-in-that, honesty. I perhaps should have thought a little more before making such a grand, sweeping gesture. “I really want to improve my writing” I said bravely. (Some might say, stupidly.) “Just say it like it is, give me what you’ve got.”  

Well, what I’ve got, is a giant dose of the clichés. Apparently, I write in overused, hackneyed phrases. Not just occasionally, but all the sodding time. I am the proverbial cliché-queen.

I had no idea. When I got back the first chapter of my memoir, it was like being back at school in my dreaded German class. Instead of red pen slashing my poorly written essay, now there were little ‘Comment’ bubbles exploding on the page, blasting my sins. Same with the second and third chapters. By the fourth, the penny had finally dropped and I thought, there’s no time like the present, and even though you can’t please everyone, I really wanted to please my new critique partner. It was time to buckle down and get back to the drawing board. I had been barking up the wrong literary tree thinking that a cliché would work when, as it was gently explained to me and obvious now in hindsight, hyperbole is the answer.

A few chapters on and I was at my wits end, pulling out my hair trying to think up new and funny ways to say the same old thing. I was between a rock and a hard place, bending over backwards not to beat a dead horse with an old chestnut. But it looked like the cat had got my tongue as writer’s block set in.

It was clear as a bell to me that I had opened a can of worms by asking for such a no-holds-barred critique. Not to be one to lie down like a dead dog with word fatigue, I decided it was time to get this dog and pony show on the road. I was being shown that the devil was in the details and, even though each fresh Comment bubble drove me up the wall, I finally took the bull by the horns and it was full steam ahead.

And wouldn’t you know it, my critique partner was right on the money. She had hit the nail firmly on my stubborn head. I decided it was no use crying over spilled clichés, so I weeded them out like the proverbial bird pecking that pesky worm.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, so they say, and now that I used some of the tricks up my sleeve, I was like a force of nature. And, wonders will never cease, I actually preferred not using all the clichés. I had just been lazy. So much easier to use one tired old phrase than to think up something witty and original. I am pleased as punch because, not to be fishing for compliments or anything, I feel my writing is so much better.

Now that we finally see eye to eye, I would like to say that she is one in a million and has jump-started my enthusiasm for finishing my book. Thanks Partner :)