I phoned gran over the weekend for a catch up.
‘I have a new positive attitude to life,’ I told her.
She didn’t hear me at first. I repeated it, with less gusto.
‘Oh really!’ she said. ‘Since when?’
‘Since the clocks went back – I mean, forward,’ I paused, and could hear the TV in the background. ‘Gran, what are you watching?’
‘”16 kids and counting”,’ she said.
‘Ooh, I think it’s repulsive. Bodies weren’t designed to give birth so many times.’
‘I had near relatives with 16 children,’ gran said. ‘And they emigrated to Australia. They were fine!’
‘Yeah, they were perfectly healthy until they died at 55,’ I replied.
‘Women didn’t work in those days.’
‘So they should just be sausage machines instead? Women have brains - they should have stopped and thought: “let’s opt for some protection”.’
‘They didn’t have any back then,’ she said.
‘Or they could abstain.’
There was a pause, while we both listened to “16 kids and counting”.
‘That can be hard, sometimes,’ she said thoughtfully.
‘Or only on special occasions?’ I suggested.
I could hear her fiddling around with the remote. I imagined her jabbing it at the screen, frustrated.
‘You really do live in cloud cuckoo land!’ she said.
She pressed mute. She hated advert breaks.
‘Have you not seen the program “40 year old virgins”?’ I persisted. ‘There was 45-year-old Clive, and 29-year-old Rosie, and–’
‘We’re all animals, you know,’ she interrupted. ‘Did you enjoy your party last night?’
I didn’t tell her about the Justin Bieber lookalike who made me shots of tequila and hot sauce. He was an animal. In print, at least. An animal print onesie.
‘It was lovely, thank you,’ I replied.
Gran yawned, said she was going to catch up on the documentary and go to bed.
‘I am glad you’re not going to become a breeding machine,’ she told me.
‘Only in my spare time,’ I replied. ‘I’m a working woman.’
I was still curled up in bed on Saturday morning as I listened to Dad’s worried voicemail message.
‘Rachael, can you please phone me as soon as you get this,’ he said, sounding out of breath. ‘I got a direct message on Twitter saying they’ve heard someone else is spreading nasty blogs about me all over the internet. I’m calling my lawyers on Monday!’
I phoned him back.
‘It’s spam, Dad: spam,’ I said.
I realised I better clarify. ‘Not spam, as in ham, but as in someone has hacked into this guy’s account.’
‘Are you sure?!’
‘Oh, thank god, you’ve put my mind at ease,’ he said. He paused for a second. I could hear him clicking, tapping, considering.
‘And what about this True Twit? Someone else asked me to respond to his True Twit.’
”They just want to see you’re not spam,’ I reassured him.
‘I hate Twitter with vengeance,’ he said.
‘It’s “a vengeance”, Dad–’
‘I hate it with vengeance, and I hate talking to everyone but no one and everyone has the attention span of an ant!” he ranted. ‘Everyone asking each other for True Twit and spreading nasty blogs all over the–’
‘Is everything else going ok?’ I interrupted him. ‘You been tweeting much this week?’
I could almost hear him puffing out his feathers, like a peacock.
‘I’ve got 46 followers,’ he said proudly.
‘Great,’ I replied, worrying that that was almost as many as me. I needed to tweet more.
‘A couple prostitutes though,’ he said, as an afterthought.
‘That’s spam too,’ I said. ‘Just delete them.’
‘Well, I’ve removed one,’ he said.
‘Why not the other one?’
‘I’m not definitely sure she’s a prostitute,’ he said.
‘She’s being very flirty on the internet,’ he replied. ‘But she also has pictures of horses and things.’
‘That’s ridiculous! You can’t presume someone’s a prostitute just because she’s flirty!”
‘She talks about LEATHER, and PLASTIC, online, Rachael!’ he shouted. ‘You don’t talk about that shit online!’
I hoped dad wasn’t talking about leather, or plastic, or horses, anywhere else either.
‘You know a nice thing you could do, Dad,’ I told him. ”When someone follows you, simply reply to them and say: “thanks for the follow”. It kind of breaks the ice.’
‘Ok, fine,’ he huffed. ‘I’m just doing this because you said it was important.’
I had added Dad on Twitter about two weeks ago. When I next checked my emails, I saw he had finally responded.
‘Thank you for following me.’
Rather somber, and not flirty at all.
Dad phoned on my birthday to ask me to say thank you for his present: cash in an envelope.
‘I wasn’t impressed with your response to my email,’ he said. ‘Apple is a nasty corporate and you should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘I’ll just use your cash to buy the iPod,’ I said cheerily. ‘So what do you want for Christmas?’
‘I asked your sister to buy me a nice, single malt whiskey,’ he replied. ‘It costs £50 so you can split it with her. She always splashes the cash. Unnecessary.’
‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘Money can’t buy you love!’
‘I won’t love her, no matter whats she spends.’ He laughed. ‘I can’t think of anything else I need. Sarah already got me a snowboarding helmet.’
I spluttered into my celebratory glass of red wine.
‘A snowboarding helmet?!’
‘To cycle to work,’ he said. ‘Now, listen, I don’t want you girls spending all this money on me. A nice, single malt whiskey, please.’
‘But you don’t drink, and you don’t snowboard!’ I protested.
‘I cycle to work!’ he said, irritated. ‘And listen, I need you to help me with something when you come home. I’ve built a new log house – a prototype mini log – and I need you to post it on your Facebook.’
I downed the wine. ‘Really dad, you need to learn to use Twitter.’
‘I don’t have time for Twitter!’ he snapped. ‘Just come home and teach me your Facebook.’
‘If you’re a willing pupil, I’ll be a willing teacher,’ I warned.
‘Right, so what do you want for Christmas? An Apple?’
‘After what you gave me for my birthday, that would be extravagant.’
‘No it’s not. I bought Sarah the new prototype mini log home in her garden, and I furnished it, and varnished it, and built it. And I used it as a show-house for clients.’
I didn’t like the thought of dad borrowing my iPod every so often to show to clients.
‘How about some lights for my bedroom?’
‘Ok, good, I’ll go to John Lewis.’
‘But not Christmas tree lights, dad. I mean bedroom lanterns?’
‘I’ll get white lights on a string, from John Lewis.’
‘Money can’t buy love but Christmas tree lights for £4.99 may encourage the opposite.’
‘I said John Lewis!’ he shouted. ’If you don’t like it, you can give it back to me and I’ll put it in the mini log.’
We went silent for a minute and I poured myself another glass of red wine. We eventually came to the same conclusion of yesteryear, and the year before that. I don’t know why we even bother to discuss it.
‘How about a lump sum of cash?’ he asked.
It is Sunday evening and I had planned on watching the X Factor and eating cheese. Instead, I am sitting at the dinner table with June, my 89-year-old living companion, and her friend, the psychologist, sharing a chicken breast three ways.
I had not been informed that a guest would be partaking in our M&S Dine in For Two. Luckily, the psychologist had brought a selection of M&S salads in plastic pots, and we divide them out, grateful and hungry.
Earlier that day June had folded up £10 in my hands and I had come back, triumphant, weighed down by cabbage medley, chicken in breadcrumbs, two lemon souffles and a bottle of elder flower cordial.
‘What is this?’ asks June, looking down at her somewhat burnt cabbage medley.
‘It’s cabbage in a creamy sauce,’ I reply. ‘Although the sauce has evaporated.’
The psychologist starts talking about a paper she is writing for a medical journal. It is to be based on the concept of ‘projection’.
‘Is that when you project your feelings onto someone?’ I ask, crunching on my breadcrumbs.
”It’s a defensive mechanism, where you deny your own thoughts and emotions and ascribe them to someone else,’ she says. ‘Sigmund Freud. Don’t worry about it.’
‘Oh, right,’ I say. ‘Like when in high school, when you have a crush on someone, even though you, like, don’t know them?’
‘That’s idealisation,’ she replies.
‘I’m suffering from all of the above,’ I say, eager for a self-diagnosis.
June is still inspecting her meal, turning over the plastic salad pots and burnt breadcrumbs.
‘Chicken is a cheap meat,’ she says grimly, turning it over with her fork. ‘And cabbage is a cheap vegetable.’
‘It’s a bargain,’ I answer.
‘Rachael was asked to go on Channel 4,’ June informs her friend. ‘But she didn’t go.’
‘Why ever not?’ asks the psychologist, scraping the remaining couscous grains from a plastic lid like a starving but perfectly controlled caveman, and looking at me intensely.
‘I would have to talk about online dating,’ I say. ‘Not as an expert or anything, but just… talking about the fact that I signed up. It would be embarrassing.’
‘Oh, yes, that is embarrassing,’ she agrees.
I stab my chicken.
‘I’ve started working out with a personal trainer,’ I announce. ‘Remember last time we were talking about how hard it is to lose weight? I’ve lost over a stone already.’
I down the rest of my elder flower cordial, happily.
‘What’s the calorie content of that cordial?’ asks the psychologist.
Unnerved, I glance at the label, and then sit in shocked silence.
‘Was this dish the only choice?’ asks June.
The next day I head to the gym and meet my personal trainer. He says he had broccoli for breakfast.
‘I had 50 grams of gruyere,’ I say, shuffling from side to side.
He looks more shell-shocked than when I found out the calorie content of the elder flower cordial.
’50 GRAMS OF CHEESE!’ he shouts.
‘We had to split a chicken breast with a psychologist,’ I reason. He tells me to get on the ground.
As I’m attempting push ups and starting to go dizzy, I vow several things:
Never admit your food intake.
Never try to define a bargain to a woman who has survived the Holocaust.
Never try to be affable with a psychologist.
‘Cheers!’ I call out heartily, raising my glass. ‘Here’s to B.S.N.O!’
‘B.S.N.O!’ everyone choruses.
I had planned this night out for approximately one month and two days. Drink had been lugged in from Eastern Europe, dresses had been bought, taxis booked and cancelled, and spirits – alcoholic and otherwise – had been roused for the occasion.
I had even written an itinerary, folded it up and put in my pocket. When one plans in advance, one’s plans must be noted so as not to stray off course.
It is around 9.30 pm and everyone is here, in da flat, drinking da drinks. Everything, so far, is going to plan. One of our friends is arriving later, potential man in tow, and we are out to get him.
‘Listen,’ says one blonde friend, taking my arm and looking very serious. ‘Do NOT let me say anything to him.’
‘Yes,’ says the other blonde, imploringly. ‘Don’t let us ask him about “his intentions”!’
I promise, panicking slightly that it is now 10.05 pm and the majority of the group have changed into their pyjamas.
I gather the group round the coffee table, much like a shepherd does his flock, and try to introduce a game to them. Like sheep, they look at me blankly and chew their straws. I give up after round two.
We then head out da flat, and walk up to our sophisticated cocktail venue of choice. It is now midnight, we are way off course, and I finger the itinerary nervously.
The sophisticated cocktail venue of choice is ‘crammed’, according to the bouncer.
‘One in one out?’ I ask hopefully, glancing back at the long line of us.
‘Nut,’ he says.
‘How rude,’ I say to the friends. ‘Anyhoo…’
In da club – the classiest lassies in this joint. It is now 1.30 am, and I’ve lost my itinerary. I look around and see an empty meat-market, where the best picks have already been plucked and taken home to roast, while the cheap cuts and offal are still on the dance floor.
The other friend arrives, man in tow. Both look a little nervous. I turn back to the dance floor to observe the leftovers.
‘Hideous,’ I say, slurping on a fishbowl.
Despite the fishbowl having four straws, one in each corner, somehow it’s already empty, and no one has helped me.
Aha! The itinerary is folded up in the crevice of the chair, and I tug it out, triumphant.
9 pm – friends arrive fashionably late, of course, in full attire
9.01 pm – drinking games commence and everyone enjoys them
10 pm – leave flat, on time and in an orderly fashion
11 pm - sophisticated cocktail venue of choice
12 pm – in da club, dancing and prancing until dawn
I look around. One friend is nursing a bruise, wondering how she got it. Another has decided to pick up a slightly battered-looking piece of meat, but isn’t all that pleased about the bargain. Meanwhile, the two blondes have trapped our friend’s potential man in a corner. He looks haggard and abused.
‘WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS?’ they are screaming.
Suddenly the lights come on, and I can’t find my cloakroom ticket. The friend with the mysterious bruise leans over to me.
‘That game you tried in da flat earlier,’ she slurs. ‘It was the worst one I’ve ever played.’
‘Cheers to B.S.N.O!’ I call out, defiant, raising the empty fishbowl.
‘What does that even stand for?’ she asks. I fold up the itinerary, regretfully.
‘Big Spontaneous Night Out,’ I reply.
‘A little fuzzy-haired dog!’
Oxford is a wonderful little town; full of carved stone, bicycles and international students. But I’m not referring to any of that.
This was round four of Helen’s incredible drinking game, which has no name, but should be tried by all that come to Oxford for the weekend. Who needs to go punting, eat ice cream and put on a graduation robe just because if feels nice, when you have a bottle of white rum and friends that you can call your own?
Helen tore up some paper and asked us to write anything we wanted. Among the items noted down were a fancy wine glass, Monica Lewinsky, the Aristocats, Helen’s knickers, Dracula and Elvis Presley.
The first round was easy: describe the word/phrase so the others can guess what it is. The second round was harder: only use one word. The third round was hilarious: make one noise. The fourth round was nigh on impossible: use a facial expression.
I put on a smug smile and bobbed my face from side to side like a Nepalese woman.
‘The Aristocats!’ screamed George, Helen’s flatmate.
I picked up another bit of paper, thought as long and hard as the stopwatch would allow, and put on a smug face and bobbed my face from side to side like a Nepalese woman.
‘A fancy wine glass!’ George called out.
It was his turn. He rooted for a bit of paper, read it, and instantly displayed a look of disgust.
‘HELEN’S KNICKERS!’ we all shouted.
The flatmate clapped his hands in joy, while Helen looked quite offended.
When we got to da club, we played Limbo-how-low-can-you-go, using a belt which a man had kindly taken off for us.
When we got tired of that, we headed to a booth. Two gentlemen obligingly shuffled up to let us sit down. One man leaned over me to talk to my friend, and I rested my arms on the back of the chair and looked around nonchalantly, like I was far too cool to be chatted up anyhow.
‘I’m from Hungary!’ he was saying to my friend. I could have butted in and told him about my planned holiday to Budapest, but I didn’t.
Helen gave him her number and asked me what I thought of him as we collected our bags.
‘He’s very pleasant-looking,’ I said. ‘But he wouldn’t fit in your family.’
‘Because you come from a line of doctors and engineers, whereas he fits exhaust pipes for Honda cars in a factory,’ I said.
‘It shows he’s good with his hands,’ reasoned George. ‘That’s a DEAL, darling!’
‘But what are his prospects?’ I demanded. ‘What are his desires, his dreams? And really, Honda?’
So we played judge-the-factory-worker all the way home, and after resisting a late night snack, we ploughed into the same bed and dreamed of cheesy chips.
The next morning our throats were croaky when we went punting and paid a hefty deposit for the privilege. I collapsed in the boat, hungover, and left Helen to handle the long metal pole. Drenched in sweat and displaying her guns, we avoided trees and crashed into other holiday-makers, caught the punting pole in foliage and nearly toppled into the murky, probably crocodile-infested shallow depths.
A journalist I recognised from Reuters glided past us, his girlfriend gracefully trailing her fingers in the water.
‘Screw this,’ I said, taking out the rest of the rum. ‘Who is up for the game with no name?’
‘That’s a DEAL, darling!’ called George, who had refused to join us, from the bridge above.
Helen dropped the pole, relieved. And so the four friends glided slowly and steadily towards the certain doom of the riverbank, smiling and bobbing our heads like Nepalese women, with the echo and wacky and wonderful nouns around us.
I enlisted my faithful friend to help me write my online dating profile. This is London, baby. You can get away with this kind of thing.
I had a scan of the witty usernames:
Rich in Omega 3.
Come here often?
I scratched my chin and typed: “Too young for this shit.”
Together, my friend Joleen and I went through a first, second and third draft of my profile. Despite her long-term significant other, I asked her to write her own, for the purposes of comparison. She posted it on Skype and I started reading:
My name’s Joleen, I’m 24 years old. I’ve just graduated from University, where I studied French. I’m currently working as a Receptionist at Global Tan Studios. I enjoy learning languages, travelling and cycling…
“It’s quite good,” I told her. “Except for all the capital letters.”
It was boring, and sounded like a covering letter for a job, but I refrained from pointing that out. At least she was taking it seriously. I kept reading:
My biggest flaw is a lack of belief in myself and my capabilities, but my recent Academic Achievements have boosted my confidence and now I’m ready for love!
“Ready for love?” I asked, doubtful.
“Don’t be vague,” she said. “Only the psychopaths are vague.”
I looked through some of the lifestyle options. Under “party” I put “life and soul”, and for style I chose “casual/trendy”.
“I’d say you’re more of an ‘average mingler’,” Jo said. “And as for style…maybe, I mean, are there any other options?”
“Ok fine,” I muttered, updating reluctantly. Jo continued to read through my profile.
“Something’s not quite right, Rachael,” she said. “Don’t tell them you’re stubborn. Don’t say you like Irish accents. Definitely don’t tell them you’re a journalist. In fact, just scrap all of it.”
“But that’s me being honest! What am I supposed to say?”
“Say that you like backpacking and playing hockey,” she advised. “And that you’re always up for a laugh.”
“But I’m not always up for a laugh,” I protested. “And I hate backpacking and hockey.”
“Yeah, I know,” she agreed. “But honesty isn’t always the best policy.”
Next we came onto the “what are you looking for” section.
“How about, ‘someone who has similar interests?’” Joleen suggested.
“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want a boyfriend who watches bad American television.”
We argued for another twenty minutes or so. At midnight, we agreed the final result.
Subheader: Got a problem? Call the love doctor
Hey There!!! I’m a 21 year old Receptionist. I graduated from College last year where I studied Modern Languages – or, you might say, Foreign Languages I’m ALWAYS up for a laugh!!! In my spare time I like travelling, backpacking, exploring and discovering new things and new places!!! I joined the Local Hockey Team last month and I’m in luuurve with it. Don’t be shy and say HI!!! xxxxxx
What I’m looking for:
- Someone with whom I can sharing my feelings
- Someone with whom I can get along well with
- Someone with whom I can keep warm at night with
“That’s much better,” my friend said, after she’d had a read. “But be careful, yeah? There are some real wackos out there who are totally different in the flesh.”