I meant “Neanderthal”

Dear Lucy,

I called a man a Palestine the other day. Well, I almost did. I actually wanted to call him a philistine which, turns out, wasn’t even the right word anyway.

It got me thinking though, about the reason that I wanted to shout at him at all, especially as I’m really not one to shout at people in the street.

I was walking to Tesco with my young colleague at lunchtime. A gentleman walked passed us, looked my colleague up and down and said, “mmm nice shape, yeah!” with a big grin on his face.

Feeling she’d been Weinstein’d, I became incensed and said “excuse me?!” as he passed. He then repeated it, eager to ensure the compliment was received, missing my tone completely.

I said “That’s not acceptable anymore you know… it never really was!”, if I was quicker off the mark, I’d have said “’Time’s up’ buster!” Honestly though, he looked bewildered. That’s when “you Palestine!” popped into my head.

But was it so wrong, what he said? People admire people all the time. If people tell me they like my hair I’m not offended.

But to comment on someone’s body, with such a sexual overtone (the “yeah!” punctuating his desire) It’s just not on. I wouldn’t go “corrrr, nice arse!” to a passing cyclist. I might think it (and I’m not going to lie, I regularly do), but I wouldn’t say it. Also, it did make my colleague feel uncomfortable, but was it my place to make the comment? Not really.

If I’m being really honest, I think I may have been annoyed because the gentleman concerned seemed more like someone who would be in my limited fan base. So maybe I was just put out that he complimented her and not me. This, my friend, is hard to admit.

So whilst I conclude that he didn’t behave well and was a bit of a Neanderthal (finally, the right word), I find that I’m more at fault than him.

Thank goodness though that I didn’t call him a Palestine, or a philistine! Being judgemental and passive aggressive is one thing (actually, it’s two), but incorrect use of English is unforgivable.

Be careful what you wish for

Dear Lucy, 

I recently brought a brass lamp in a charity shop. I brought it because it was in the ‘this stuff is seriously crap’ 50p box under the till. The lid was missing and had been replaced by a stress ball that looked like a sprout. Its plight overwhelmed me – no-one would ever buy this lamp. No-one but me. 

Back home, as I was forcing some shine back into it with a Brillo pad, out came a genie who didn’t so much burst out of the spout as seep from the gap where the sprout stress ball didn’t quite fit. His flamboyance, like the lamp’s lid, was missing. Despite his flawed vessel and attitude, he told me I had a full three wishes. 

I of course had many, many questions. I wanted to ask if I could have time to think about it, but risked that being a wish. Also, what exactly were the boundaries of what I could wish for?  

Could he give me a crystal ball to look into the future and see how things turn out? Give my ears an ‘on and off’ switch so I don’t have to listen to people sniffing on the bus? Get Confucius round for a bit of Life Coaching?  

Or was it non-magic, but still good stuff like winning bundles of cash? 

What if I wished for something I was going to get anyway? I wouldn’t know of course, not for sure. But every time I enjoyed the thing I’d wished for, I’d wonder and thus spoil the thing forever. To be sure of not doing that, I’d have to wish for inconceivable things, but that goes back to my earlier concern about boundaries. 

I also worried that he might make assumptions about what I might want instead of actually listening to my reply. Like a bored shop assistant spouting pre-scripted words, “Do you want a 5p bag?”, but then not listening to your reply and packing your stuff into a 5p bag anyway even though you’ve got your re-usable (much more than 5p) bag already on the counter. Because you always have a re-usable bag. Because you’re a woman of a certain age who is prepared for anything!

Perhaps this whole thing is a test of my character. It’s not really about me and I should wish for world peace. Instead I want to ask for Benicio Del Toro, Adam Driver and Mark Ruffalo to take part in a series of manly quests to win my hand. I could just wish for all three, but who’d get the 7th day? 

What I did ask for in a panic, was the perfect pair of shoes that would go with everything I wore.  Instead of the shoes, he gave me a suggestion to achieve my wish, and that was to wear only one outfit. A sarcastic genie wasn’t something I’d anticipated. But they do say that the genie reflects his master, don’t they? In my annoyance I wished he’d go away and wish himself into a more satisfying career. And poof, he was gone.  

Afterwards of course, I felt terrible. Genies don’t have feet. Perhaps his sarcastic comment was born out of his own sadness at being footless. How could I have been so insensitive. 

I rubbed again and again trying to re-ignite the genie so I could make good our farewell. But he was gone, just like all the Brill from the Brillo pad. As a last-ditch attempt to redeem myself, I took all my shoes to the charity shop, keeping behind only one pair. When I got home and viewed my almost shoe-less wardrobe, my heart swelled. For there, previously unnoticed, was a pair of shoes that went with everything. 

I just want some space!

Dear Lucy,

I had coffee with a friend last week. He’s all for supporting local, independent ventures and so he chooses the location. I already know in advance it will be ‘one of those’ trendy coffee shops where, one way or another, I’m going to get a cup of coffee I won’t enjoy, feel generally insecure about myself, whilst most likely sitting on either a broken cinema seat, an upturned barrel or a seesaw permanently up on one side.

As I entered, my suspicions were confirmed. The staff were all in their own, generally creative/scruffy clothes, some had a hat, (beanie/flat cap/bowler), and an air of nonchalance, sealing the look perfectly. To be fair, it doesn’t matter whether you’re cool and nonchalant too, as long as you play the game and pretend that you’re all old friends, all will be well.

You will enjoy your coffee from either: a chipped china tea cup and saucer (non-matching of course), a watering can or an old marmalade jar with marmalade still encrusted on it. Actually, you won’t enjoy your coffee. Not if you take it black like I do. The first few sips are really nice and then suddenly and inexplicably, it tastes like beef and sock stew. This is particular to trendy coffee shop coffee.

Anyway, I’ve noticed they have takeaway cups, two sizes. I ask for the larger of the two – what I would call ‘regular’. I’m not taking away, so I’m now committing an environmental violation, likely to upset my friend, but I understand the size of this cup and its associated proportions so I go ahead.

After some discussion about what size to the call the cup I want (he says it’s ‘tall’, not ‘regular’), I explain that I would like two shots and I would like a good deal of space at the top – I just prefer it aesthetically and the strength of the coffee for a cup of this size is just right. I even do a ‘can I have the bill’ type mime to show the space. The look in his eyes tells me we’re no longer friends.

He says that a ‘tall’ cup comes with three shots and suggests I have the smaller cup if I want two shots, which is the allocated amount for the smaller cup which he tells me is called ‘extra grande’.

I try and explain again that I like the space and if I had the smaller cup, ‘extra grande’, with the two shots and the space, it would then be too strong.

So he suggests having more water and not having space if I want it weaker.

Again I try to explain the importance of the space, and now he assumes I want milk. No, I don’t want milk, I just want two shots and some space. In the ‘tall’ cup.

I wonder if there is some coffee shop law that says if I don’t have the amount of shots allocated to a particular cup, that someone will be executed in the back room. If so, I wish they’d just get on with it so I can have my coffee.

I know that I’m being high maintenance and can hear Harry from ‘When Harry met Sally’ saying to me ‘this space thing’s a very big thing for you’. To which of course I’d reply. ‘I just want it the way I want it’.

And if he’d just listened to what I wanted we wouldn’t be in this tangle. Of course I know that he couldn’t give two coffee beans about my space requirements/issues and I also know that I was sent to the ‘you should have gone to Pret’ naughty corner long ago. I wish I’d gone to Pret too!

I know Pret is a chain and I’m not supposed to like chains, but Pret understands me, and even has a name for my coffee. A ‘three quarters black Amo’. I order an Americano because I’m too self-conscious to use barista-talk, but I do use the ‘three-quarters’ because it saves me having to do the mime.

Anyway, I now have my coffee. I enjoy the first two sips and then the beef and sock stew smell starts to kick in, so I leave the coffee to one side, pretending to my friend that I’m saving it for later, hence the takeaway cup.

I could just order something else, but I think I enjoy the risk. The tiny chance that I’ll get a good cup of coffee and stay friends with the barista, like caffeine itself, is a thrill I’m not prepared to give up.

List-less

Dear Lucy, I had a most terrible and thrilling thought this week. What if there were no more lists? What if I stopped making lists? I immediately want to make a list of all the lists I could stop making. I don’t.

The list of lists I’m making is the list to end all lists. This list-less life I’m making is so list-less, listless – list.

I’m panicking. I’m making tongue twisters about lists in lieu of making lists of lists. I’m not making this up. These words are flying out of my fingers.

The tongue twister is swiftly followed by a rhyme: The list took centre stage and stood before its crowd, the content

so beguiling, no need to speak aloud.

Then a riddle: The list went into the woods only to come out from where it started.

This panic is a sure sign that making lists isn’t healthy. Not forever, and not for everyone, but for me, right now.

I   d e c i d e   t o   s l o w   d o w n    t h e   w o r d s   to calm down my terrified fingers. ‘It’s OK’ I reassure them, ‘It’s OK’.  

I have an urge to put some rules around not making lists, which will of course be a list. Sneaky brain.

I’ll just have one rule, and that is this. Instead of making a list I’m drawn to making I’ll just do something instead. Like, something that would have been on the list. Wow.

Day one of my new list-less life finds me accidentally making lists every time I have a pen or a keyboard in front of me. The urge is clearly Pavlovian; I don’t even know I’m doing it. Pen = list. Paper = List. Keyboard = list. The first, an innocent food shopping list, written idly whilst I’m having breakfast. I throw it in the bin and a glowing smile full of glitter and sunbeams darts in behind it.

Next, a list of all the things I’ve learned about life (yes I know, I have way too much time on my hands). It sat there looking at me in all its bullet pointed glory, full of pride, not knowing that where once it was welcome, it’s about to be asked to leave. I keep this list to avoid any shame and gently turn the page.

Finally, the food list has another attempt at getting itself heard – the food items literally sneaking and snaking their way in between other words I’m writing. Unbelievable.

I might have a ‘eggs’ problem. A real one. Is there ‘oatcakes’ a Lists Anonymous group? “Sorry, I can’t make it tonight, I’m off to ‘bananas’ LA!”

Despite the rocky start, by the end of the day, I feel amazing. I’ve done everything that would have been on my list, had I had one. My ‘just do it’ approach really has worked. All those nagging things to do circling like sharks, keeping my attention on red alert, are now gone. Poof. Just like that.

If I’d actually made the list, I know for a fact I wouldn’t have done half of them. I choose not to analyse why – list-making opportunities are lurking literally everywhere.

I’m not going to sign off with an amusing quip about something I’ve forgotten to do because now that I don’t have a list, there is nothing to forget! I am literally a new woman. Once listless, I am now list-less.

‘Broccoli’

Mrs Bennett

Dear Lucy,

I wanted to tell you about my recent visit from Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. I saw she’d become a Dating Coach and my interest was piqued. It was pricey having her to come and live with me (essential to her way of working) but how could I resist. Things however took a turn, and what follows became our last conversation.

Mrs B: “Claire, Claire, your phone is making such a racket I can scarce hear myself think! Have you no care for my nerves!? How they are stretched by the constant pinging and zinging of that phone of yours.”

CP: “I urge your forgiveness Mrs Bennett for I do believe I’ve found favour with a suitor who likes the way I play the ukulele and take a turn about the hallway. We are to meet at the Rising Sun Public House on the over-morrow and it’s all I can do not to begin choosing the font on my wedding invitations.”

Mrs B: “But what happened to the gentleman from the bicycle shop, or indeed the Rasta in the corner shop, I felt sure that both were smitten by the diversion of your character. I wouldn’t normally support the union of gentlemen from such unknown lands, but as I’ve explained to you, you are no longer in a position where you have many options and must be satisfied with what comes your way.”

CP: “Sadly things have not progressed as I would have hoped, indeed as you would have hoped my dear Mrs Bennett. Though he also enjoys my ukulele playing, and admires, indeed encourages my consumption of chocolate from his fine selection, Rasta is married to his free-spirited Rasta ways and won’t be tied down.”

Mrs B: “Good lord, what a scoundrel! And what of the bicycle shop man. You can do no wrong in his eyes; he even admires your uneven temper and short attention span. A perfect suitor surely?”

CP: “The man from the bicycle shop indeed adores my every move. But after ill-advisedly showing him my ankle in public, he mis-used the glove I gave him as a token of my affection and I can no longer look him in the eye.”

Mrs B: “Oh my dear girl, I told you if you don’t lower your expectations, others will fall in line where you fail. You are more than 9 and 40 and cannot afford to be so selective anymore. This new man you are meeting, you must learn to bend and sway to meet his ways and not be so quick to turn him away.”

CP: “But I am on the internet now, which means I can pursue as many gentlemen as I please, it is allowed.”

Mrs B: “You! Pursue a gentleman! Now you really are trying to vex me. Is your character so very determined to ruin your reputation, not to mention that of your family? You! Pursue a gentleman? It cannot be so. You must only be pursued.”

CP: “But the gentlemen who pursue me are all 30 and 39. Rotund and over-eager. They admire all the wrong things about me and talk enthusiastically of “cuddles” which quite undoes me, and not in a good way. Must I settle for one of these?”

Mrs B: “Settle you must my dear! Do you want to endure the false praise and genuine pity a spinster must? When you haven’t got a roof over your head, you’ll be glad of any gentleman with an eye for an ample bosom, no matter how over-eager. Do your parents know of your resistance?”

CP: “To speak plainly Mrs Bennett, father would see me off with anyone with a pulse and seems to find some amusement in my position. Mother feels I’m just a little too much like Kylie – unlucky in love, (‘Unlucky, lucky, lucky’).

Mrs B: “Well, I’ve never understood the amusements of men. Mr Bennett vexes me on a daily basis with his gentleman ways. As for unlucky, there is no such thing, even if this Kylie – whoever she is – happens to wax lyrical about it!”

You see how it went on Dear Lucy. I thought her old-fashioned council would be invaluable, but all she did was criticise and screech about the house. I told her that it wasn’t going to work but she refused to leave, her contract harder to get out of than an online dating membership (which is harder to get out of than a gym membership). In the end, I simply had the fainting couch removed and she was gone before lunch.

As for the suitor I mentioned earlier, it was not to be. Not only had he lied about his age and marital status, but he also confessed to not enjoying the gentle strum of the ukulele. In the past I may have taken to a nervous eclipse, but instead I heartily recommended Mrs Bennet’s services to him as I bid him adieu.

Handbag

Dear Lucy, my handbag is more confident than me.

I didn’t mind at first, letting it put its best foot forward whilst I followed with my less best knee. In situations where I felt less confident – almost daily – my handbag acts as a buffer between me and that experience. Slowly I catch up with my handbag much the way your breath catches up with your skin when you go in the cold sea.

But now it seems to have got a bit too big for my reluctant boots. It barges through queues to the front, me trailing behind, embarrassed, apologetic. It re-arranges itself into the foreground of any situation, “look at me!” it seems to cry. It acts as though we are a fully co-ordinated affair even when I’m in jeans, a jumper and socks that’d don’t match.

It has changed colour and material too, whilst the shape remains. It used to be soft, tanned leather, now it has a firm structure and is red and shiny. It’s handsome alright, but not what I would choose. My lap enjoys the new bag more than my shoulder, it’s a pickle.

Perhaps it’s my mother’s genes, the ones that are more socially feral than my mother’s other good qualities. Are they finding a way out despite my best efforts to keep them hidden, pushed down deep with a long arm? Me, no longer in control of what stays in and what comes out. Mother tourettes. Her genes ‘will out’.

So one day I decided to follow my bag’s lead. I dressed in my most confident of clothes and highest of heels and stomped around London feeling entitled and important. I shouted at people instead of apologising when they get in my way. I didn’t worry what anyone else thought.

My handbag was mortified. I was released.

Ex-boyfriend

Dear Lucy, my ex-boyfriend keeps rejecting me in my dreams.

It normally starts with an unspoken reunion though occasionally it’s like a fairy tale. One time he even built me a shopping mall with everything I could ever want so I didn’t have to leave. Normally though it’s quiet and familiar and I just kind of appear in his life like a lost sock.

But always, always, at some point, I am dumped, rejected, removed. All the while, I always have itchy feet and am doubtful with the reunion. I’ve never felt, yes!, this is it, even when he built me the shopping mall.

It doesn’t happen dramatically – our relationship was never that kind. I’ll suddenly notice his latest girlfriend in the background, or she arrives at the flat and he ignores me or even locks me in a room to hide me. Or he just goes out, becomes distant, sees me to the door… Over and over again. Rejection, rejection, rejection.

The feeling puts me in mind of being ‘managed’ by him when we had the ‘we’ve had a separation and we clearly aren’t getting back together’ conversation, where I cried so much the waiters brought extra serviettes long after we’d stopped eating. I swam home that night.

The irony is that I left him. He told his friends we ‘came to an agreement’. What he actually meant was that he said “ok” when I suggested things weren’t working. I wanted him to fight though I knew he could never win. I wanted him to care, and cry and scream and holler but instead, I did that bit too.

Did I do it all? Did I conduct the entire relationship on my own, did I need him at all, even at the end?

I’ve imagined speaking to him to ask what he wants. I’m quite certain he would say “isn’t this your dream? I’m just minding my own business.” The message is clear.

I fear that this is the only relationship I will ever have. One that is long dead but lives on in my dreams, my own Groundhog Day. Bill Murray learned to be a better person to break the Groundhog spell, but I’m already a good person, maybe I need to be bad.

At least I get the whole bed to myself even though I never sleep in all of it. Perhaps tonight I’ll sleep on his side and see if I dream about dumping him.

Paying on a date

Dear Lucy,

I was on a lunch date recently, and the gentleman I was with wanted to pay. Women aren’t supposed to pay on dates, I know, but I’m not like other women.

I don’t know how to not pay, like I don’t know how to play Lacrosse. And men know I can’t play Lacrosse, or cook a good Goulash, or do exotic things wearing exotic underwear. They know, so I pay. That’s how it goes.

But this man wanted to pay.

Of course I wanted him to pay, mainly because I need some new jeans and I’d rather buy those. But what would it mean if I did, let him pay?

Would I have to do something in return? Kiss him? More than kiss him? Would he expect me to move up from lunch to dinner and if so, would he still be paying at dinner or would it be my turn? If that’s how it’s going to be I’m going to end up paying more because dinner always costs more than lunch and I’m not sure I like him that much. I’ve already imagined our first argument, and it didn’t end well.

The other option of course, would have been to insist on splitting the bill because I’m a fierce and independent woman who oozes self-respect. Paying half is what I would normally do after all, but it doesn’t mean I want to.

If I was a Feminist, I’m sure I’d have known what to do in an instant; pay for it all, pay for half, not have gone on the date in the first place because dates just reinforce out of date gender roles? Like Lacrosse, I don’t really understand how Feminism works.

Maybe I was getting ahead of myself. Maybe he only wanted me to say “thank you”? He seemed a nice man, but one thing I do know is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

So in the end I let him pay, but then I climbed out of the toilet window so I didn’t have to deal with the consequences. It was just big enough. I hurt my ankle and grazed my chin on the way down. I didn’t mind though because it means I can go shopping for jeans. Perhaps I’ll wear them on my next date.

See a penny

Dear Lucy,

I do believe I have a legacy, but I’m afraid no-one will know it was me who left it. It’s not necessarily that I want to be remembered, I just don’t want to be forgotten, and this could my ticket.

So here’s what it is. I made up a second part to ‘See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck’. It was a few years ago now, not a happy time in my life. I was walking to work, trying to set my intention for a good day. I saw a penny and decided to leave it for someone else, even though I could have done with some luck. I’d read something about giving to strangers and was keen to put it into action. I must admit it made me feel good to intentionally leave it there for someone else.

Naturally, ‘see a penny, pick it up’ came to my mind and I decided there should be a second part, a part about leaving it there, for someone else. So I spent my journey to work making up part 2.

I had several diverting ways to engage my frazzled brain on my journey to work at that time. Sometimes I would pretend I was in a musical number to accompany a song I might be listening to. I’d imagine all the people around me breaking out into a colourful dance routine, with me at the centre of course. Other times, I’d race the other pedestrians. They didn’t know they were in a race which seemed a bit unfair, but really, it was just me, not being over-taken by anyone. If I made it to Lambeth Bridge, I ‘won’, but if anyone overtook me, it was all over. I only ever won once and it was a genuine thrill. Did I mention this was a dark time for me?

Anyway, on this day, it was making up a rhyme, and here’s what I came up with. ‘Leave it there for someone later, your reward will be much greater’.  My sister thought it so professional sounding that she doubted I’d made it up, but I really did. It took me, funnily enough, until I’d reached Lambeth Bridge to come up with it. Another victory.

I suppose it’s possible I could become famous for the saying. I can see myself now, a full blown z-list celebrity, appearing on panel shows and mid-morning cookery programmes. There would be the inevitable backlash of criticism for my lack of talent and my limited contribution to the literary world. This of course is true, for I have come up with no other rhymes, even though I’ve tried, a number of times.

Like all legacies though, it would eventually become obsolete. One day people won’t even know what pennies are because money, and possibly even the concept of money will be long forgotten. The last penny sitting safely in a virtual museum, hoping some virtual visitors will stop by. Hoping that, it too, will not be forgotten.

One thing I can tell you is that I’ve not come into a great fortune having left pennies all over the place for ‘someone later’, so I say just stick to part one and nab that penny when you see it.

Typewriter

Dear Lucy,

I recently brought a typewriter, a big ugly (but beautiful) electric one from the 80s. I just loved the idea of seeing the mark being made on the paper as I typed – touchable, inky, noisy. I could see myself smacking the paper with letters, words and wonder. Turns out it has a dicky ‘h’ that looks like a slightly spidery capital K. I kind of love it all the more for the flaw.

Beyond testing it to see if it works it now it sits, waiting for a fresh piece of paper to be wound into it, ready to come to life and clack away merrily.

But I just can’t seem to sit down at it.

Maybe I know it’ll be a short lived fad and all my Ebay bidding will have been in vain. I could just type swear words over and over again, getting out all my remaining blocks lodged in my finger tips.

It was more of a gesture really. I suppose I liked the idea of putting my steak in the ground and saying, yes! I’m a writer! Look I have a proper typewriter!

I imagined people would go “oooh’ and ‘aaah look at your lovey, but yet ugly typewriter!”

And I’d go “yeeesss, Isn’t it beautiful.”

And we’ll all start making oooh and aaah and other happy noises together and it will make such beautiful music that the pictures on the wall will come to life and join in.

Then the house itself would bring in a deeper, base sound to harmonise.

And then the sky would be filled with so much beauty that it will start to sing too, a rich and full  symphonic sound, the birds in turn, making beautiful patterns in the sky with their golden wings.

Finally the universe would be so moved by all the beauty that it would break out and join other universes and galaxies and then they’d stop spinning and growing farther apart and instead start coming back together until everything came back to one single point again, still and perfect, surrounded by nothing, but full of everything.

No pressure. Poor typewriter.