Category Archives: 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?

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 Glynebourne to retrieve his Mother’s antique terrine serving dish. Why he just couldn’t send Botley, our Driver, is madness?

The picnic at Glynebourne 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