Jane hopes that she doesn’t meet Richard Curtis anytime soon. If she did, she’d tell him exactly what she thinks of his movies.
Especially if it were raining when they met.
Because Jane notices when it rains in London. Jeez, does anyone not? Yes. Looking at you, Andie MacDowell! Jane doesn’t think that having Hugh Grant’s character, or any other man for that matter, being a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to… whatever he wanted to freaking well ask her, and could ask her just fine in a dry coffee shop or bar somewhere, would stop her from noticing, actually. London rain either whips around and through you, cutting into your skin or it seeps into your very soul until you feel cold, damp and frizzy and NOT REMOTELY lovely and serene.
Originally, Jane wanted to tell Richard Curtis what she liked best about his films: the self-deprecating and quirky humour; the male heroes who fight like girls and have floppier hair; the way that a disparate range of beautiful people and eccentrics come together to form a cosy circle of friends; the way he made daunting, big city London feel more like it was made up of villages or communities, each with their own distinct personality. But damn it, the man has pushed her to her very limits and she will not be telling him that ANY LONGER. No, she won’t. At least, not until he’s apologised for getting her over here under false pretences. And then – and ONLY then – might she reconsider. Read more
“Nah, they won’t let me in. Confiscated my membership card, then said I don’t belong. Gits.”
“I tell you that Society place used to be alright, you know, but it’s gone downhill. It’s got so they’ll only let a certain sort in, yeah? I remember going there all the time when I was younger. ‘Course it’s changed hands a few times since then, and the new owners always want to shake things up a bit, don’t they? Never heard the saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, have they? Oh, no! They take a perfectly okay club and want to change stuff just to leave their mark on it. Never change the name though, do they? Oh, I know the last lot tried to sex it up by putting BIG in front of the name but it didn’t fool anyone, that. No one used it except if they were having a laugh about it and how up their own arses the new owners had got. I don’t think the likes of you and me’ll ever get in again. I shouldn’t wonder if more of our sort’ll be joining us here soon, and where will we go, eh? There’s precious few places left, not ones where we’re still welcome, rather than simply tolerated, at any rate.”
“You ain’t wrong there.”
“Have you tried round the back? You could sneak in. You look in fairly good shape for your age, I’m sure you could manage that fire escape. It don’t look too legal but I reckon it’d hold, if you took it gradual, like.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be right, sneaking around like that. I just… no. No. How could you even suggest that?!” Read more
She liked the place, remembered it from her childhood, she said, or maybe when she was older, a teenager. I can’t remember. I glazed over every time she started to talk about the time before me. It can’t have been that interesting. She wasn’t. She weren’t much to look at neither.
I can see how she’d like the place. It’s boring, so empty. Nothing but trees and the lake. She knew the names of all the trees but basically there was tall ones crowded round the lake and clumpier ones going up the hill. I liked those ones the best, you could tell they didn’t want to be here. It looked like they were scrambling up the hillside to get away.
And it’s so bleeding dark when we get to her favourite spot on the shore because the trees is all so tightly-packed, way worse than the new tower blocks she used to moan about back home. You always feel there’s someone or something watching you here. Eyes everywhere. I hate it. Place gives me the creeps. I’m a city boy, I don’t mind telling you. It’s where I belong. No one gives a shit what you do there, no one watches you, not really, they’re all dead behind the eyes: tired, stressed, not really there, never present, wishing they were somewhere else, or someone else. Sounds grand, don’t it? But I know where I’d rather be any day.
It’s so quiet here, it’s freaking me out. Not a sound. Not even a bird. Dead as a dodo.
I chucked some stones in the water when we got here but there was just a hollow plop and then silence, didn’t matter how many times I did it, or how big the stone or anything. I guess that’s good in a way but it’s freaking unnerving.
I got to get out of here, make tracks without making tracks, if you get me.
I heard women talking and tried to focus on what they were saying.
“A most peculiar looking creature to be sure.”
“Who is she, do you think?”
“Foreign, of that there can be little doubt. It is not the fashion that a lady’s hair be cropped so close.”
“And the clothes we found her in. Why! Little more than sacking.”
“Not one ribbon!”
“But she looked kind…”
“Well, I should not care to be her at the assembly rooms tomorrow evening, for I am sure I should not tolerate it.” Read more
I fill letters home with tales of a happier me: a young woman sitting in the shade on her balcony, trying to read a children’s book in Greek, and nodding “Kalimera” at the neighbour opposite, who is hanging out her washing and admiring our tomato plants. There’s no place for the flatmate tending to his marijuana plants strategically placed between them.
That same young woman spends mornings wafting around the old town of Plaka, walking in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, sometimes wandering over the Agora and all the way up the steep hill to the Parthenon. She would swear she hears the whispers of great men down through the ages. In reality, the men are not remotely great but oily of hair and soiled of shirt and they sidle up to me as I slowly slalom my way through them and their invitations to ‘take a coffee’. Read more
When the first mist ribbon had snaked its way out of the forest and wrapped itself around their Saab on the road from Gothenburg, he understood how you could feel at home in a place for the first time in his life.
Like being on one of those paths that only last for a limited time in fairy tales, before disappearing for another hundred years, here he was escaping the chaos and disappointment of his old life, hoping it would vanish into the mists like the road behind him.
He wouldn’t be scattering any breadcrumbs to find his way back.
Efthalia noticed the changes on her walk to the market that day. The worst potholes in the road had been filled in with great clods of earth, grass, roots and all. She almost stumbled on its evenness. Cratered for as long as she could remember, she’d often found her way home through the ruts and swells of the road in the dark, even when there was no moon to see by.
As she reached the outskirts of town, a new handwritten sign greeted her. Bright blue and orange paint on glaring white matt screamed “Welcome to Potirissi”. You’d only know we were in Greece, thought Thalia, by the wobbly waving flags in the four corners of the sign. How depressing. Read more
“It’s over. I can’t see you anymore,” Lucy had said to him over the phone. “Not now it’s summer.”
What does that have to do with anything?” he’d said to the dialling tone.
He looked out of the window at the park opposite his flat and saw nothing but couples and families. He put his palm flat on the glass and tried to picture himself sitting on a bench, tucked away in the rose garden, carefully peeling an orange where the citrus tangs wouldn’t make people wrinkle their noses as much as they do on a bus or a train. But that reminded him of her shampoo and suddenly what he imagined instead was Lucy in a summer dress, coming along the path hand in hand with a tall faceless man in good jeans and proper shoes, not trainers. She was laughing and pulling him along, chasing the butterflies flitting from pink to white to yellow before taking off out over the lake.
So, she was already seeing someone else. In his park. Read more
He dislikes lying to matron. She is, after all, a decent enough person. But if he told her the truth, she would never let him go. She would probably force him to join in more of the activities at the nursing home. He thinks activities a strange choice of word when the home only really has a dimly-lit television lounge, a large, light sitting room filled with green high-backed chairs and another activities area with card tables and board games.
Bill spends his time meandering between these three rooms in the daytime, sitting for a while, watching and listening, before he moves on. He suffers the odd game of draughts or chess with one of his fellow inmates, listening to their wheezing chest, whistling nose or slapping jaws. He dreads an invite to the TV room, as it means enduring the soaps or talk shows that dominate the schedules.
Despite the constant noise around him, of television, nursing staff, coughs, moans and clicking joints, he sometimes finds the silence of his world suffocating. If it is warm enough, he likes to sit on a bench in the garden. He chooses one halfway across the lawn under some birch trees where he sits and listens to the leaves rustling overhead and the wood pigeon’s plaintive call.
He used to like Sundays, the main day for visitors at the home. Not that anyone ever visits him. His friends are either too frail to travel or gone now. He has no children of his own, only nieces and nephews. They send cards at Christmas and on his birthday but they don’t visit. He used to hover nearby when others had visitors, surreptitiously sharing in their conversation and family. That was until one woman complained and he was told not to bother people any more, which had annoyed him. It’s not as if he’d been doing any harm.
Now he dislikes Sundays most of all. In order to avoid them, he has to lie to matron. He doesn’t like doing it but every last Sunday of the month, he visits his old friend Jim Harris in the seaside town where they used to live. Jim is too frail to travel to see Bill. That’s what he tells matron anyway. So she allows him a day pass once a month and he gets the train on his own. To see Jim. He enjoys those visits but is finding them harder. His body aches for a week now after making the trip and he wonders how long he can continue his jaunts.
When his train pulls in at the station, he opens the door and stands for a moment on the step, inhaling the salt air and smell of grease from the chip shop. Those behind him expect him to take his time getting off the train. Those getting on wait awkwardly, not knowing whether or not to help him off. He walks towards the esplanade and sits for a while on a bench, watching the waves rise and fall. If the weather is bad, he doesn’t stop but instead walks on past the arcades and gift shops until he reaches the bright green and orange canopy of the restaurant.
He always chooses a table at the back, looking out over the restaurant and onto the seafront beyond. To his right is the bar and to the left the kitchens. He knows the menu verbatim but he and the Head Waiter go through the ritual of him studying it each time. He sucks on a bread stick, as he considers the choices. He reads the Italian first, pronouncing it perfectly in his head, then savours the description in English underneath.
It is busy today and he eats even more slowly than usual. He hears laughter and the crack of one of those tiresome party poppers: he guesses they are a hen weekend from their high heels, bare legs and short skirts. He is distracted by a squeal as sundae glasses of multi-coloured ice-cream sail towards another party, a family this time. One of the ices has a sparkler in it for the birthday girl with flushed cheeks, cowering in the middle of the table. To his right, he can hear a father rasping commands to a child, sit up, finish your pizza, stop banging the table leg, or we leave right now and go home. A line or two of ‘O sole mio’ rises in a crescendo from a table of lads by the window. He watches the waiter collect their glasses, smiling patiently and bowing his head when they finish, before moving off towards the bar.
At the other window table sits a young couple: she has long blonde hair that she flicks over her shoulders while she talks; her skin is pale and clear and squeezed into a one-shouldered black top; he sits forward awkwardly in a stiff grey shirt and scuffs his feet while he talks. The first date in a proper restaurant, Bill thinks. Her nervous giggle ripples through the restaurant and his embarrassed cough gives them away as the children they still are.
Bill orders an espresso at the end of his meal, although he knows he will pay for it later. He has had such a good evening of people-watching that he feels like rebelling. There will be another month of insipid tea when he gets back to the home. He thinks he deserves a treat. He pockets the mints for the train ride home. The coffee is sharp and hot, so he lets it cool off, as he watches the parties break up and tables clear. Jim would like it here, he thinks to himself. He realises that he has hardly given poor old Jim a thought this evening. But this would be Jim’s kind of place, he is sure. That is, it would be, if Jim actually existed.