And then…

Well, this is where I was yesterday. You would have had the photos hot off the old mobile phone, were it not for some sort of misunderstanding between it and Windows 10. I am not on the same wavelength as Windows 10 at all, and my mobile phone and I have only a passing acquaintance.

We were at a place called Teapot Island, which is somewhere near Tonbridge – or possibly Tunbridge Wells. I believe it may be called Wateringbury, or possibly Yalding. At any rate, Wateringbury and Yalding are quite close to one another, and fairly close to either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells, where we were to spend all afternoon looking for a sparkly dinner dress for a friend, who has been invited to a terrifyingly superior Ladies Night Dinner. On Saturday. We found an evening handbag, in fact two evening handbags, in silver, and some silver shoes, but we didn’t find the silver sparkly hair ornament and we didn’t find The Dress.

Neither did we find The Dress again this morning, when we went down to Ashford. Sore footed and desperate, unable to reach a decision for her, and having exhausted the possibilities of dress shops so wonderful and expensive I had never bothered to set foot in heretofore, I wondered if, as we hobbled along, I should casually retell the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes… Perhaps no one would say anything if…

But then I thought, no. They actually would say something. In fact, quite a lot.

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So – Teapot Island. We went on the minibus, fourteen of us. Unfortunately it had been raining rather torrentially and Yalding – which I seem to recall is The Most Flooded Village in Kent – was at least partially flooded again. Our valiant Driver turned the minibus on a sixpence at every fresh flooded road onto the Island, eventually finding the one and only unsubmerged entrance. Puddles, as you see, and high water levels. Actually, it wasn’t cold, just damp.

And there were a lot of teapots there. More teapots than you could possibly imagine ever having existed in the entire world. Little café – we had some coffee. I had a blueberry muffin.

I wish I was interested in teapots, and I wish it hadn’t been quite so damp underfoot, but it was a welcome change of scene.

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I don’t think you actually use these teapots. I think you buy them from somewhere between £35 and £100, and put them on your mantelpiece and dust them, or in a display cabinet if you can’t face dusting them.

And then we went sparkly dress hunting, and had chips in a Witherspoons, or possibly a Weatherspoons, which used to be an opera house, and which still holds an opera, with a proper opera company and everything, once a year.

And then we hunted sparkly dresses some more – me, my friend, her friend and the Driver, who turned out to be an unexpected expert on ladies’ clothes shopping, bra sizes, colourways and whatever. And then the Driver bought us all an ice cream in a box from a small supermarket, and when we turned round he had vanished.

And then a poor woman came up to us whose poor dog had just been run over in Australia. She was here for a three month holiday, and had just had an anguished text from her daughter, who presumably had been looking after the dog. And so she sat, or actually collapsed down next to us and tried not to cry, and said she just wanted to sit quietly with some ladies for a couple of minutes. And I gave her an awkward kind of pat on the back, trying not to experience second-hand the full horror of learning that your dog has been run over on the other side of the world, and lent her my mobile phone so she could phone her husband, who was meant to have been picking her up at the station, but hadn’t.

Women’s lives are full of tragedy, and these tragedies are so hard to bear. Other women’s and one’s own, they bite with equal ferocity. And then she stood up, still trying not to look as if she was crying, and went off to meet her husband.

And we began exploring even charity shops in (in my opinion) the completely futile hope of finding lurking in some dark corner undiscovered an almost new, sparkly, not too long and not too darkly coloured dress in an unusual size suitable for wearing to a sit-down knife-and-fork dinner with swanky gifts for the ladies etc. And instead people tried to sell us old books and record players, dusty militaria and whatever they most wanted to get rid of.

And eventually we tottered back to the bus, parked in a side road (Newton Road – “remember a man in a wig with an apple about to fall on his head”) where the Driver was reading his newspaper and people were arguing about seat-belts and the seats being so hard they made your bum go to sleep after less than half an hour.

And eventually we went home.

Bluebird ober de white cliff of Dober…

Life gets ever more bizarre, but in ever tinier and ever more domestic ways.

Today Godmother Elect and I went once again to visit Mum in the Home. We find her sitting in the day room with many others, classical music playing loud enough to drown out any vestige of thought. Catching sight of us she raises her arms and reaches out to us in what looks like terror or despair.

My legs don’t work, she says. I try, but they just won’t. (Later the carer tells us that Mum’s mobility is improving and that when she thinks no one is looking she can now shuffle herself unaided and, more importantly, un-hoisted from one chair to the next.)

I’m dead, she says. I’m dead. And though it’s a ghastly thing to hear, she’s telling us the truth. I wonder whether there really is some in-between place like Purgatory where the dead and the living walk side by side for a spell, and know not which they are.

Soon it’s time for lunch. They start wheeling the oldies into the dining room and since we have only just arrived we wheel ourselves in too.

A man on the other side of the room cries out joyfully –

Another lovely lady. Come in, come in, lovely lady and sit upon my knee!

He is referring to GE, not me. GE is even older than my mother.

His wife is at his side. It’s because you look a bit like me, she tells GE apologetically. Certainly they both have short white hair. All the same, I’m slightly miffed.

While they are dishing up we read the menu out to Mum. Plaice and chips! That sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Or ham, eggs and chips inserts one of the carers. Irrelevant, I think. Pedantic.

Mum seems terrified of the thought of chips whether with plaice or with ham and just then the man sharing ‘our’ table begins to wave his hands gently as if conducting an invisible orchestra. Someone has turned on the radio and some of the would-be diners start singing along.

One of the carers is a bit of a puzzle. We have never been able work out where she is from but she has an accent so thick it is not always possible to tell whether she is speaking English or her own language – sort of Mexican. But would someone travel all the way from Mexico to wear a brightly-coloured tee-shirt with Carer printed on it in nursery letters?

But she raises her voice and sings along to Vera Lynn and it is a sound so pure and perfectly pitched it brings tears to my eyes –

Dere be bluebird ober de white cliff of Dober… doo murrow jus’ you wade an see….

And it doesn’t matter if she even understands what she is singing, what a powerful resonance those words still have for this room full of the lost and bewildered.

She’s wasted here, GE observes.

But I think maybe not.