Category Archives: Harriet

Lady Itchenor

My ears are bleeding. They ring with the alarming shrill of piercing agony. Banality of family history and distant relatives dying from lunacy in eighteen century London ticks boxes of things I desperately find dreadfully dull. 

If it were possible to stop Lady Itchenor, otherwise known as Maude; Sandra’s older sister from drowning out the sanity and sublime countryside serenity, I’d pay her five-pounds to draw breath. 

Lady Itchenor’s drawn-out, shattered children stare out from the speeding carriage window with wistful eyes of roaming the aligned empty fields as her husband, Frank steers their family vehicle towards their family home. Sandra promises a Jules’ French Horn recital in their back garden complete with a builders and a hobnob. I’m quietly questioning myself why her, of all people would invite a builder over for a cup of tea. Ashamedly, I distance myself from the thought of a hobnob. I would never consider such a topic of conversation to be raised in such close proximity to children.

If I were able to conjure up an out of body experience, I would find myself grazing with the cows in the distant fields. Meanwhile, Mariam their vibrant fourteen-year old child sits in the middle seat staring at me with a menacing grin. I keep expecting her head to spin in a circle and green bile to emit from her evil grinned mouth, spraying the surrounding plush interior.

The car took a hard left off the motorway turnpike and suddenly a glimpse of the village, Itchenor came into view upon the distant horizon. 

The Lady of the village squealed with delight how I would be thrilled with her invitation to a garden party hosted by Lord Giggleswick. I’m not sure if she were proud to know a man who had transitioned from straight to gay, (her words) or a Lord of the county had the support of the local women’s auxiliary having moved to her town (her words), to live in a converted fifteen century church. When she made the connection between transitioning as a person and converting a church, her snorting and giggling engulfed us all. 

I prayed she could incorporate Jules’ French Horn recital and any surprise for me when it comes to Mariam. As though my thoughts were broadcast through the car speakers, Lady Itchenor encouraged her menacing fourteen-year old to share a song she had written for her departing school teacher. It was at this point I hoped my time in purgatory would come to its blistering end with my heart to, ‘cesse de battre’. 

Alas, although somewhat irreverent my heart continued to beat and the menacing fourteen-year old took great delight in howling nonsensical tones and sounds akin to a cat mowed down by an electric lawn cutter. Like chipped fingernails dragged down a chalkboard. 

It is through gritted teeth and strained knuckles I encounter this attack on my delicate senses. To counter the pain I recall memories of my childhood, of strict Nanny Briquet, Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father and his wife’s six-month affair, my useless husband Andrew and even visiting Glyndebourne brings more pleasure than this howling banshie. Oh dear, I said the B-word.

I encourage children to follow their dreams and improve upon their basic artistic skill, yet this child’s lack of simple tempo and ear for tone, methinks her mother could spend more time on creating other inspirations for the wretched child.

Suddenly, without warning, the tight carriage in which we travelled from the long forgotten train station where I departed the public convenience back to London, to my home and some sense of sanity, came to an abrupt stop. 

Without any sense of subtlety, I placed my fingers in my ears and waited for Lady Itchenor to screech the announcement of having arrived at the family home. It was clear where we had landed as the display of garden adornments, figurines and gnomes drowned out the landscaped plants and shrubs. 

It was at this moment and only in this moment did Jules make a last-ditched effort to connect with me on an altruistic plane almost as if to make his final statement. We had an understanding of what it is to live his life.

An overbearing urge expelled me from the car as it did Sandra, Jules and Frank. Once in a while I share the same urges as men, yet it surprised me to see Frank move faster than sloth under water. 

I found myself taking in the air of Itchenor as Lady Itchenor shrilled at the mention of the Itchenor sailing club. Before I could stop my head from spinning, Lady Itchenor had her arm hooked into mine.

Sandra simply stood opposite with her mouth gaping as though she were half way through saying something slightly intelligent and suddenly forgot to close it.

At this point I knew Lady Itchenor and I were going to be the best of friends. I couldn’t stop her.

– Harriet

A Country Practice

Once again, whilst I were left to grapple with our bags Sandra muscled her way to the front of the queue and asked the lovely lady behind the bulletproof glass for our tickets. First class, I demanded. Nothing can unfasten the stain of indignant stares from the travelling masses when someone as loud, both in dress and demeanour, bellowing and flailing in motion and indigence pushes forth with an exaggerated view of one’s self importance and public convenience journey. The lady behind her bulletproof glass witnessed Sandra’s public display and reactions from the public. This is why I believe we find ourselves in third class steerage. 

I’m uncertain if my uncontrollable involuntary intake of breath is from the acidic stench exuding from the seats in common class of this public convenience or my instilled fear from last year’s accidental adventure into the countryside, but the audible sounds of a distressed large gregarious double-tusked marine mammal emits from my distended throat and into the general population of the great unwashed. 

There could only be one last resort to wash away the public stain of shame and drown out the stench, if not to calm my nerves as the outside view dramatically changed from terraced houses to cows and sheep. A little chilled tin, or two, of gin and tonic. I’m not sure if the lady with the travelling trolley would discover our position in third class steerage. Without a doubt our journey were not to be a pleasant one. Strangely, I found myself longing for the company of the old flat capped toothless urchin.

Sandra, with all her glamorous parties and shiny friends came up short in this adventure to visit her sister. Why I listened to her inane babble and why I didn’t stop myself from agreeing to this outlandish journey into the unknown, is something I shall ponder until the end of time. 

“You will love her children. They are talented beyond belief. The eldest boy is destined to attend the Royal College of Music. He plays the bassoon, french horn, trumpet and piano. He taught himself to play the guitar and only last week he took up the Ukulele.”

Love Sandra like a sister, but I thought of multiple places where I’d like to  place that Ukulele. I’m not sure what a Ukulele is, but I’m sure it is quite painful. 

As I wish-away my uses of a french horn, Sandra pushes my arm to bring me back to the present and announces with great shrill, “We’re here. Grab my bags, I’ll find my sister.” And before I could form a multitude of unlady-like words which shot across the front of my mind, she was gone.

Draping in the finest luggage, I found myself swaying in time to the movement of the public convenience as it departed the station platform. I’d be forgiven to think Sandra has an identical twin sister. Alas, she is a few years older, but similar in volume, appearance and stature. 

Standing beside this woman where two smaller, yet languishing persons of similar facial distinction looking either vacant, disinterested of under duress; I couldn’t determine which. And standing in the distance were another adult with as much lack of occupation were what I immediately assumed were the father of the children. When I gained my senes and smiled, a similar shrilled voice bellowed, “You must be, Hilary”.

Sandra corrected her sister with matching colour and vibrance, not only proudly stating my name to be Harriet, not Hilary, she also blurted out the names of her niece and nephew and then began to wave at the mouse in the distance. With a look of uncertainty he returned the wave. He gave a distinct impression he wasn’t allowed to interact, little-lone exist. 

Sandra’s sister turned her back and faced the little man in the distance. In an exact copy of Sandra’s performance at the train station in front of our fellow passengers, she bellowed out instructions to lift and carry our suitcases.  

When the man was in close proximity, liberating the suitcases from my hands, I wasn’t sure of the words he muttered in my ear to be, “run” or just an involuntary noise as he lifted Sandra’s suitcase. 

Upon approaching the children, I reintroduced myself, with my hand extended. The boy, Jules, seventeen years-old, showed little interest. Mariam, a vibrant fourteen-year old girl shone towards the slightest interest I showed. My first impressions of the children where to be that of typical teenagers of today, but there was something not quite right.

Sandra returned to my side as her sister continued to bellow instructors at her brow-beaten man. “He’s the local doctor.” I’m not sure what her admission was meant to instil in my opinion of her extended family, but to look upon him as a man to give comfort in a time of need left me pondering, maybe a doctor in the veterinary practices. I didn’t wish to come across as inappropriate.

We piled into the cramp family car and drove away from the only known place where I could make my escape, should I need to take the good doctor’s advice.

– Harriet

A Rickety Track

Being the sort of South East London woman I am, direct, unashamed and proud, all I will admit until the day I pass about my most recent experience on that public convenience in First Class is this; the fish-eyed, flat cap wearing urchin with breath to burn boils off skin, rescued me from a carriage ride from hell. I tell you, it was his street-smarts and fondness for footing it through tough terrain was which saved me from frostbite and an evening of slumber in an ice-coffin. 

Those poor souls who remained onboard the public convenience surrounded by all that snow spent the night shivering and from what I read in the daily papers the following morning, slept on luggage racks wrapped in the clothes in which they boarded and borrowed blankets. Could you imagine actually having to talk to the common class passengers? I’d rather have died.

Andrew, my useless husband  will never live this down, nor will his mother’s antique terrine serving dish see the light of day for as long as I care. In exchange for my rescue, I proudly presented the urchin with the toothless grin, mother’s terrine. Once I explained to the urchin how he could bathe in it, or put beer in it, he accepted the gift and I made him promise to never return to my street. I’m not convinced he understood what I were saying as his gaze never left his reflection.

Calling out for Andrew or Botley with no response, I stormed towards the garage expecting to find my useless husband sawing another piece of wood for his ridiculous tree beehive. Yet, nothing, not even a spec of sawdust.

Checking our wall calendar I spied an illegible entry in Andrew’s scrawl. Unsure and to be honest, not really caring I’m convinced it read, chicken coop. 

To have our home to myself, I could think of nothing more comforting than a long, hot bubble bath, a very large gin and tonic and some relaxing music for ambience.

There are many things about Sandra I adore and her timing is one of them. Sarah Vaughan had just finished playing on the CD, the bubbles were starting to lose their lustre and the water began to tepid when the landline called out. A bright and breezy invitation to meet Sandra for a few glasses of bubbles and gossip were not to be dismissed. Of course I said yes, even if it were to meet in an hour. Sandra was lovely, she gave me an extra thirty minutes since I had recently finished soaking. 

I didn’t care Botley was not present when I were dressed, perfumed and quaffed. Andrew’s lack of presence made no difference. I am a South East London woman with new experiences to draw upon and by joining the rank and file in First Class I’ve been liberated from the need of depending on such depravity. I can take a public convenience to the city and with a nod to the lady with the drinks trolley, I was prepared for anything. 

This time, at my local train station I approached a smiley man behind bulletproof glass. A first class ticket, I requested. The most expensive ticket to watch Andrew frown, you understand. Moments later, the orange cards were pushed through the metal grill and into my hands. 

Quite liberating this public convenience. It’s such a discovery for future moments, one I shall keep to myself. I am never letting Andrew off the hook, no matter how much those past experiences have benefited my new found freedom. 

As I bathed in the warmth of my dear friend Sandra in the comfort of our regular window table, Georgi with a tray of glasses tempting us with refreshing bubbles and salmon, cottage cheese and chive blini’s on white porcelain plates, I felt at home as Sandra invited me to her sister’s home. At this point the glow of the afternoon began to twilight. This would mean taking the public convenience into the countryside. 

Although, I have discovered my new unfound freedom with a sense of safety and comfort darting across Greater London, should something go astray, as I promised myself in my ambient bubblebath, I were convinced I could call Botley to retrieve me. Or call Andrew at last resort, but then I thought a final last resort would be to take a bus, God forbid. I quiver at the thought, as goodness knows where they go or finish up. At least when the public convenience is on a set of rails, it gives me some comfort to know it will end at some stage and hopefully proceed in the correct direction. A bus is too unpredictable and unruly. 

But, Sandra’s sister’s place in the country is a bridge too far. The comforting fact I have on my side, this time Sandra will be with me. Instead of jostling me towards an unknown First Class seat. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Besides, I’ve only heard about her sister. To meet her could be nice. Surely?

– Harriet

A White Old Mess

The stinging blare of my ringing phone woke me up, again, from a shattering dream.

I dreamt there was a homeless man snuggled in my arms as I rode this public convenience to a place, of only the Goddess knows where she was taking me.

Andrew, it says on my phone. My useless husband. Calling, to find out where I am? Why I haven’t come home? I doubt it. Probably calling to find out where his Mother’s antique terrine serving spoon has disappeared. I know where I’d like to deposit it, but I think his mother wouldn’t approve.

All this because I wanted to spend an afternoon with Sandra and have a few glasses of bubbles on a Wednesday afternoon. Where is the crime of a few cheeky glasses of bubbles delivered on a tray by my handsome waiter, Georgi? Oh Georgi, where are you now?

That acrid stench from earlier has returned to haunt my nostrils. There he is, the man of my dreams, or more poignantly, the man in my dreams. Nightmare. Sitting in First Class, giving me fisheye holding a brown paper bag, inside it, a glass bottle with its own special brew. Lifting it in the air to suggest we pick up from where we left off. Thankfully, I can’t remember where we left off, little lone where we first started.

To drive my message home I throw the chocolate biscuit and leftover Wotsits from my hair, in his general direction. I’m not a subtle woman. It’s part of my charm. My direct approach once captured the imagination of my Andrew, now he hides in his garage dressed for afternoon tea, sawing pieces of wood as he builds his tree beehive.

My new mate stands, blurts his black-yellow stained tongue at me, spital flys through the air, falling to the ground well before it finds its target. He turns and stumbles away, back to the rock he crawled out from under.

I’ve come to a realisation, having wished I’d taken up my useless husband’s suggestion of taking a taxi home and fending off their lascivious behaviour and hideous hairy hands. Still, I can get myself a drink and sit back and watch the world go by. Where is that woman?

The train continued on its mysterious journey, gently stampeding through the countryside, towards a sea of white.

Outside the light changed from a dull yellow to a greyish green/blue, almost pure white. The multiple coloured landscape is suddenly replaced by a stark landscape of white.

Snow. Where is my taxi, now? Why am I heading towards snow? Yes, it’s been cold, hence that rancid smell of a man taking refuge in this public convenience, but snow?!

I can feel a stern, considered worded complaint letter drafting in the back of my mind to the operator of this public convenience. I’ll gather as much evidence as I can, but look out.

A sudden bang from underneath my carriage, a jerk of the train and then silence from the engines, yet the train continues to move forward. I can smell a burning metal type of stench. I look about, but can’t see my vagrant mate. The train is slowing down, the snow making it difficult for the train to move forward.

Silence. Utter silence, except the wind’s gale force pressing against the windows. The lights go out.

Is this my punishment for gossiping with Sandra the moment when Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father finds out about his wife’s 6-month affair with her fitness instructor?

– Harriet

Two Gins Too Many?

Those pretty little painted cans of gin and tonic are the devil in disguise. The trolley lady was too well helpful with her personal service for my need to calm my nerves. My head is thumping. What is this public convenience hell?

The feeling of cold hardness against my head interspersed with the gentle movement to an under-toned rumble. Newspaper stuck to my face, a mirrored imprint of Boris Johnson smeared across my forehead, Wotsits in my teeth and a chocolate biscuit in my, once upon a time quaffed, hair. I dare not look up in case someone notices me.

My eyes drink up the passing view, my blurred vision turns to rolling hills and floating cows. A farmer’s tractor. Am I in Switzerland, the land of the cows?

The conductor told me I’d be back home in no time. I touch my seat, yes, I’m still in First Class. Yes, I’m still on the same train. I can tell by the leather touch on my fingers. I must be in England. But there’s a smell. Something not familiar to my South East London senses.

At first, I smell something akin to a burnt whiskey; smokey, full-flavoured and weighty, but then I’m completely thrown off course by a smell I’ve not smelt since Reception School, when Becky Forthright, at the age of 5 years old ran through the class with a full and wet flannelette nappy. She was from a supported family.

Turning to face the centre of the train carriage, I’m confronted by a man. A man covered in muck. He’s wearing a flat cap, unshaven and, oh, his stale breath, strong enough to peel paint. Snoring. A bent cigarette balancing on his lower lip. Pages from the offending newspaper in his hand.

These are those moments I wish the earth would open up and swallow me whole. I’m living an unbearable hell and it must be close to afternoon tea. Where is my husband? Probably in his garage sawing another piece of wood for that ridiculous tree beehive. I’ll saw his left testicle off if he comes into the lounge wearing his mauve cardigan, covered in saw dust.

He heard about saving bees on a programme on BBC1. We only watch BBC1, although I know when he’s been on ITV, there’s a ghost image of that gobby Susan woman on my television screen.

I can barely stand up, my heel is broken and I don’t want to disturb the street urchin. He’s saddled right up next to me. He must think I’m his next meal ticket. Not on my watch.

I’ve broken free of my homeless shackles. A gin and tonic can makes a deafening clanging noise as it rolls away, it imagines seeking freedom, too.

Thankfully, my shopping bags are on the overhead luggage rack. Even in my unsolicited state of inebriation, I managed to fulfil some sense of humanity and humility.

At the opposite end of First Class, I settled myself in for the long haul trip.

Then I start to think, have I died and this is the long train to hell? Does no one know how to reach me? Where is my mobile phone?

– Harriet

First Class Nightmare

After lunch with Sandra and a cheeky glass of bubbles on that fateful Wednesday, in the middle of my retelling the moment when Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father finds out about his wife’s 6-month affair with her fitness instructor, really, at her age of 68 and a fourth grandchild on the way. My useless excuse for a husband, Andrew calls me as the bill arrived at the table by that handsome waiter, Georgi, to say he insists on taking the car to Glyndebourne to retrieve his Mother’s antique terrine serving dish. Why he just couldn’t send Botley, our Driver, is madness?

The picnic at Glyndebourne was a magical day with a ramble around the pond and of course the Lyndsey’s were there. He’s a bit of a catch, she always looks like a maternity nurse and how his brother expects to turn heads when in those ghastly green trousers, who is he trying to fool. Green is never fashionable, even if he is a merchant banker and owns a yacht in the Canary Islands, or wherever it is. Bloody pretentious if you ask me.

Of course, my Andrew doesn’t consider my transportation needs and doesn’t ask how I’ll fare with getting home. ‘Take a taxi’, he says. A taxi? Outrageous. Only last year a taxi driver was arrested for drugging and doing unspeakable things to innocent women. Does he not consider my welfare or safety? That’s why we have our Driver. And how on earth do I carry my bags. It’s Wednesday, he should know better. Only because I wouldn’t trip down to Savile Row to collect his shoes, he has one of his tantrums.

Then he has the audacity to suggest, ‘If you don’t like a taxi, take the train, darling.’ The outrage, finishing a sentence with the word, darling, doesn’t excuse him to exclude me. Train! A train. A public convenience and on a Wednesday. I have to ask myself, has he lost all his faculties.

When I thought my nightmare hadn’t concluded, Sandra says, with a spinach leaf sticking out from between her teeth opens her mouth and declares her newly found affection for first class train travel. With that leafy-green smile she upstages me with her rendition of her first class public convenience exploits. Of all people I lunch with, never in my days would I suspect Sandra as a public convenience woman. Her husband owns horses in Buckinghamshire. I felt forced upon, by Andrew and Sandra. I could hear that tone of defiance in his voice when attempting to convince me, ‘I’ll be fine’. And then Sandra’s slapdash comment, ‘I’ll show you’.

Is there no justice.

Before I knew it, Sandra had paid for lunch and Andrew had won the battle. Little did he realise, the war was not over. And there I was walking onto the concourse of the train station to purchase a ticket and find my train.

I grappled with my bags whilst Sandra asked the lovely lady behind the bulletproof glass for a ticket. First class, I demanded. I wanted to make sure she purchased the most expensive ticket, I love to watch Andrew frown. After some to-do, the bright orange cards were pushed through the metal grill and into Sandra’s hands.

The crowds are outrageous. Worse than a mid-year sale at Harrods. I don’t do, that, anymore, not since that coffee cup incident. Joan, our dry cleaner, has never been able to get rid of that stain. Such a waste of teal moroccan wool.

Once you step over the homeless, their snarling dogs and cardboard, make your way through the crowds and their snippy children, it’s then a battle with the platform barrier.

Sandra used the tickets to make the barrier open, she huddled me through with my bags and as the barrier closed, Sandra was waving, throwing air kisses and vigorously pointed at my train as she made her escape. I’ll tell her, next time, what I think of her air kissing escape.

Eventually, I found my train carriage. The subtly named carriage with First Class labelled above the window wasn’t easy to locate. I can’t see why the windows can’t be washed. It supposed to be First Class.

There was no one at the door to greet me, this clearly was a sign of the nightmare to come. I should’ve known it was going to go wrong, but Andrew can’t be told. I found a tissue to press the buttons, and after a long delay, a dreadful cacophony pierced the air as the doors opened.

Once on board, a second closed door greeted me and again I used the tissue to press the button.

And finally, leather seats greeted me with a dull sigh of exhaustion. I discovered a discarded newspaper on my allotted seat. Of course there was. So I sat in an empty seat nearby to await a cleaning crew to sanitise my seat.

I had to endure the common class passengers using this public convenience to meander through First Class to access other carriages. Don’t they realise I’m in First Class. As the train travelled through my stop and rattled on its merry way, I could only mutter expletives until we came to a stop at a station I’ve never heard of and doesn’t look like the one at home.

Eventually I found the train guard on the platform, why he wasn’t attending to his First Class passengers is beyond comprehension. He told me I was on the wrong train. Surely they knew I was on that train, I had a printed ticket. They could’ve stopped.

He reassured me the next train would stop at my destination. Begrudgingly, I found First Class, sat down and thought of monstrous pain to inflict on Andrew and Sandra.

The silver lining in this nightmare, the lady with the drinks trolley stopped by. Even though I had to pay extra for a gin and tonic, I was too exhausted to press the point of being in First Class. She served them in pretty painted drink cans, so I purchased two and enjoyed a sneaky drink.

To calm my nerves.

– Harriet