I called dad last night, just for a chat.
“Rachael!” he cried. “How odd! I was just thinking about you!”
“You always say that,” I said. “But you never call me.”
“That isn’t true! So,” he bulldozed past a potentially emotional moment. “How are you? And what do you want for your birthday?”
“It’s two months away. I don’t know. How about cash in an envelope, like last year?”
“You think this is funny, but don’t you go writing about it on your blog,” dad warned me. “People will read it, think you have some rich dad, take you hostage and ask for ransom. And they’d probably kill you, whether or not I paid up.”
“Whether or not?!”
“Rachael, this happens all the time. In Venezuela, they’ll kidnap you for 500 dollars.”
“We’re not in Venezuela.”
“Well, just don’t go writing about me on your blog.”
“Do you really think I have nothing better to do than write about you all the time? Do you think that I call you deliberately to get material? Anyway, I never write your name, they wouldn’t know it was you.”
“There are very few Revesz’s in the UK. All they have to do is Google your name to find my name, thinking you have some rich dad stuffing cash into envelopes—“
“So what do you want for your birthday?”
“I’m not sure, It’s two months away. Let me think about it.”
“What do you want for your Christmas?”
“And that is three months away. What do you want for your Christmas?”
“I don’t want anything.”
“Ok, how about we exchange wads of cash? I can meet you down the docks at midnight before I hop on my return flight to South America.”
“Now, you listen to me, don’t you go writing about me on your blog.”
“I won’t. I write about plenty of other things, you know.”
“Now, what’s your address?” I could hear him chewing a pen.
“I’m writing it down on this envelope.”
“Good idea. I can send my hug over by return receipt.”
“I don’t want anything, I told you,” he huffed.
“What, even a letter from Margaret, head of customer services at Lidl, congratulating you for being their most loyal customer three years in a row?”
“No!” he cried. “Not again! I know it’s you. You think I’m stupid? There wasn’t even a Lidl logo on the letterhead.”
There was a silence, while we paused and reflected. He chewed his pen a bit more.
Finally he said: “Don’t go writing about me on your blog.”
“Ok, I promise.”
“I mean it Rachael!” he shouted. “Stop making me into a caricature!”
There was a pause.
“And don’t go to Venezuela,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”
It had all the trademarks of a speed dating event. Strangers with name badges, an atmosphere of hopeful optimism and the odd, suspicious whiff of halitosis.
But instead of ‘Hi, I’m Bill’, it was ‘Bill, £650, Tower Hamlets’.
After two weeks of house hunting, an advert promised me I could make a quick, painless job of it at a speed mating flat dating event, a convention for house owners and house seekers.
Reluctantly, I paid £3 entry on the evening and related my name, budget and desired location to the girl at the reception stand. She nodded, wrote down some details and handed me a pink sticker. I slapped it on my jumper and set forth.
I was early. A few people were squinting at each other’s badges in the darkness and smiling politely as a disco ball swirled above their heads.
Marc, £900, Elephant and Castle, had a fine sheen of sweat on his brow, and was slurping loudly on a diet coke. I took a step sideways,
Now it was imperative to mingle and show vigour. I approached Peter, £460, Walthamstow.
‘E17, to be precise,’ he said, trying to show me his laminated map, but I could barely see through the fog. ‘It’s a real bargain.’
‘Looks promising,’ I said. ‘So what do you do?’
‘I teach science and maths.’
‘Maybe you could teach me, too,’ I said.
I saw a glint in Peter’s eye, and realised with horror I had just flirted with him by accident.
Encouraged, Peter got out his iPad and flicked through some photos of his house – the big bedroom, the middle bedroom and the small bedroom.
‘Daddy bear, mummy bear and little bear.’ He grinned at me, creepily.
Oh no, there was Marc, £900, Elephant and Castle, and he was shaking slightly. I hurried past, pretending to be dazzled and disorientated by the disco ball.
I shuffled around a muscly boor in Clapham – “your place or mine?” – after making eyes at a stud from Dalston with a hefty deposit – “is there any wiggle room on that?” – to Claudia, £450, Stratford, a dental therapist who provided me with a list of surgical procedures (crowns, fillings, extractions) – “So I’d be living with… just you?”
Nothing was right, nothing.
The swarm of pink stickers, the people desperate for a roof over their heads, far outnumbered the white stickers, those smug cats. I had seen almost all there was to see by 6.30pm.
Who was left? A nervous looking girl from Kensal Rise, a man holding a poster of a converted shed in Barnes, and most likely a drag queen from Islington.
Tom, £575, Shoreditch, was looking at my badge funnily, and for a disconcerting amount of time.
Man, I thought, he just won’t give up.
The badge-lecher took a hesitant step towards me.
Play hard to get, I told myself. Don’t be swayed by the salesman. You have standards, god dammit.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Rachael, is it? I think you should check your badge, think you’ve, erm–“
What a cowboy. I peeled the sticker off my chest and screwed up my eyes to read.
“Rachael, negotiable, anywhere”.
p.s. has anyone got a spare room?
‘How do you like your men?’ the waiter asked me. ‘Then we find out how you like your wine.’
He smiled encouragingly: a simple question, he must have thought. A harmless joke.
But I was in the company of a man at this point. The waiter had caught me off guard – I hadn’t been expecting to give my opinion on wine, on men, or on anything. I had rather hoped I could order a glass of house wine and be done with it. Now this man and I were standing side by side, stiff-backed like colonels, awaiting instruction.
How did I like my men?
Both men waited. I found myself longing for the old ‘What is your type?’ quizzes in Cosmo - tall, dark and handsome, or short, fat and ugly? It was so much more simple back then; long before the days that wives, pension funds or personalities had anything to do with it.
The two men’s smiles were fading. I had wasted too much time. The joke had fizzed, and was starting to ferment. Say something.
But wait – it had to sound like I was speaking about wine, too – it had to sound clever. I wanted to come across as witty and self-deprecating, but also self-assured and confident in life.
How did I like my wine?
‘I don’t know,’ I mumbled. ‘I try it, and if I don’t like it I spit it out.’
The man next to me coughed.
Oh Lord. Try again. Quickly, now. Full bodied? Mature?
‘White,’ I blurted out. ‘White wine.’
Now I sounded like a racist. It wasn’t fair. If the waiter had asked me about humous, I would have said ‘middle eastern’ or ‘Arab’. It was just the context.
Both men looked perplexed.
‘Cave-aged,’ I added. Or was that just for cheese?
If only he had asked me about cheese! I could have given him a much more accurate description of my tastes – blue and smelly. Creamy. Or burgers – lean, rough yet tender, with a hint of pepper…
I was aware my face was red, like the red wine that I would apparently not drink. Maybe say something else – give it your best shot.
The man beside me gave me a quick glance, perhaps considering his own feminine qualities. This had all gone horribly wrong. While the waiter turned and made a show of looking for a white, fruity, cave-aged wine, the taste of vinegar was strong on my palate.
I had imagined things to go differently. I knew nothing of wine or men. If I had learned anything from this evening, it was that my journey of personal discovery was far from over.
‘I’ll take a glass of the sancerre,’ said the fruity silver fox next to me. ‘And the bill, please.’
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.