This and that

You know those mornings, dreary and disinterested; even the rain is indolent, can’t be arsed, just kind of hangs there for you to walk through, and I do: all the way to work.  They know that umbrellas are against my personal principles, so when I arrive sodden, I get fond chidings rather than sympathy.  A quick rub down with a tissue and a nibble on a rich tea finger as I wipe my specs, then I’m ready for the working day.

This is a big day because I have an appointment in my diary.  Yes, someone wants to sit next to me and talk databases.  Generally speaking, my little corner of the office is left undisturbed by human presence: if my phone ever rings, people stop working and turn to watch as I tentatively pick up the receiver – hello….  no, it isn’t….   no, no, it’s fine...  – and they raise their brows innocently and ask – wrong number? – and I shrug, and they return to their work, sniggering; if I am alone in the office and a visitor pops her head round the door and asks – is nobody in? – I smile sweetly and mutter – nobody of consequence, obviously, fuckwit.

But this day; this day I am someone of consequence.  On this day, someone will come in and ask for me, and she will sit and listen whilst I explain to her the finer workings of a cantankerous lump of data.  She will nod and make notes and I will smile reassuringly and offer her a rich tea finger.

And this is what happens, but something else, too.  I vaguely know the woman who comes to sit with me; she is Danny, the grouchy lesbian.  I know she is a lesbian because she is tall and shapeless with short hair and I can easily imagine her wearing dungarees; she prefers to use the male form of her shortened name rather than Danni, and she is sour-faced, with the hostile air of the unfairly oppressed.  Except on this day, she isn’t.  Her face is rounder, her eyes have softened and she carries herself with the grace of contentment.

As I walk home through the mizzle, I think about Danny and wonder what has turned her from that to this: the mellowness of maturity; the self-possession that comes with a hard-won acceptance; or the love of a fine woman?  Is that something I should consider, maybe – expand my horizons a little, could be the making of me.  There was a manager used to work with us – always yelped – I’m about to eat my brain here – when she was annoyed – she was men all the way until she met the woman of her life, and she stroked my face once, when everybody knows not to touch me.  And there’s Cagney & Lacey from IT, they’re always looking at me coquettishly.  Although they have matching squints to match their matching bomber jackets, so it’s anyone’s guess really.

I frown as I wait for the green man to tell me I may walk.  It’s tricky.  I mean, I appreciate a comely woman as much as the next man, but I’m not at all sure what I’d do with one.  At the end of the night, where would be the point?

Paddling along the narrow path that is both pavement and soakaway to the road above, a black umbrella approaches, and I consider whether to dodge and tut, or just accept the poke in my eye, the cold drip down the back of my neck.  But from underneath the umbrella emerges a man in a dark three piece suit and a bright yellow turban.  He notices me, and his smile is as sunny as his turban as he steps into a gateway to let me pass, and holds his umbrella over me as I do.

I grin back at him, and ‘this,’ I whisper.

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Saturday night is pizza night

A knock at the door is an occasion in our house.  This time it is my nephew and niece, a dog apiece.  Their message is an invite to Saturday Night is Pizza Night – an exclusive gathering around the chimnea at the allotment – an invite I graciously accept.  They remain on the doorstep, smiling expectantly.  The dogs sniff my knees and strain at the leash to cross the threshold; I don’t think so.  I don’t do animals.  For humans I will make odd attempts at sociability, anything below primate has my gorge rising.  Misha is a rescue dog and whippet, eager and utterly beholden; Sofia is Anna Karenina in greyhound form.  Yes, for dogs they’re ok.  But still, they’re not coming in.

Nephew and niece are waiting.  Should I tip?  They’re nice kids, thoughts of financial gain wouldn’t have crossed them.  If anything, they are too nice; not quite other-worldly but possibly meant for a different time, Charlie Bucket’s siblings or born to the bosom of the Cratchit family.  Maybe that’s it; perhaps a word or two of Dickensian wisdom is their hope.  A deep breath and I search for a favourite aphorism.

Luckily, I am saved by my daughter who squeezes into the doorway beside me; she raises her voice an octave to sweet-talk the dogs as she crouches to ruffle their ears, greets her cousins without looking up to see the contentment settle on their faces.

Saturday evening we arrive at the allotment.  Word is, everything from scratch, so I’ve rustled up lavender and liquorice muffins to take along with bottles of lambrusco and frozen dough balls. I dump everything on the supplies wheelbarrow in the orchard and big sister takes me on a tour around our estate.  Flower beds are looking good – she grumbles at the wanton calendula, I silently cheer them on – so we gather lilacs and ivory rosebuds for the passata jar, then sit to drink their health.

Meanwhile, pizza dough is kneaded, shaped, topped, slid onto the stone with Dad’s old spade – spit-and-polished to a pizza-shovel – and slid off again when everyone agrees the cheese is bubbling.  I am on cutter duty.  Niece offers to take over pizza production from her father, and calls Sofia and Misha to lick her hands clean.

The pizzas are delicious, the wine too easy.  Sister and I sway and hum as we cut another handful of perfumed lilacs, which we clutch and sniff and exclaim over as we stumble home.

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