The Silverado train of thought

Until yesterday I didn’t actually know Silverado was a western – a revisionist, postmodern western in fact. There are quite a few craters in my cultural consciousness. Silverado came out in 1985. I don’t know what happened in 1985. I lost interest in most things round about 1980 and didn’t start taking an interest again till 1994.

It never occurred to me either that I could watch a full three-quarters of an hour of a movie starring my heartthrob Kevin Costner without once realising he was in it. Was that really him? Which one was him?

Until yesterday, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought Silverado was a unique, characterful little jewellery shop in a narrow street in Brighton where, in the company of my former friend Isobel (Made Up Name) one Gay Pride Day – it was a coincidence, honestly – we just used to go shopping – I once bought a pair of dangly silver earrings with exotic dark green oval gemstoney-things. The earrings are long lost. I think the hoover ate them.

I didn’t even know Silverado was a chain of unique, characterful little jewellery shops (I am so naïve). It occurs to me now that Silverado (established 1994) may well have named their chain of jewellery shops after the movie. How can I have lived so long and learned so little? I need to know this stuff. Nerdy. Can’t abide those missing details.

Isobel and I should never have been friends, really. We found ourselves working together as secretaries – she considerably more elevated, secretarially, than I – in an educational establishment. She kind of adopted me. I wasn’t aware of having made much of a choice or done any work to achieve Friend status. I have since realised that Only Children do tend to do this – home in on the loner, the drifter, the one without the social skills to wriggle out of it.

She also had one of those credit cards you can buy anything on, just because you feel like it, whenever you feel like it. This meant a lot of standing around outside shops when we went shopping in the afternoon, pretending to prefer watching passers-by to rifling through trays of exotic beads and silver fastenings and buying long cheesecloth skirts and expensive Jumpers.

She had Hobbies. At that time it was jewellery-crafting. Later it moved on to keep-fit and even – briefly, I suspect – belly-dancing.

She was very posh, the daughter and one-day-to-be heir of farmers. I was permanently anxious in case I said the wrong thing or exhibited working-class manners I wasn’t even aware of. She was also very well-educated and had charming, witty, kind intellectual other-friends. I was forced to mix with them too, at intervals. This made me even more nervous.

I don’t know what I did wrong in the end – something. I think I might have accidentally pointed at the door to the Ladies in a Pizza Hut. She gave me a Look, which of course I was completely unable to interpret except it was Not Good – so that might have been what it was. Well, she asked me where it was.

But until it all inevitably went pear-shaped we made a few good memories. We went to Brighton quite a few times. She had appointments at some New Age herbalist for her migraines. While she was consulting the man in the multi-coloured stripey jumper in the back room I would lurk obediently in the waiting room for what felt like an entire Ice Age reading little fold-out pamphlets about Aromatherapy, Reiki and Counselling, then reading them again. Wondering why these places were always so dusty and had that funny sweet smell

But then came the good bit. We would go to an Italian restaurant and have yummy stuff with names like Margherita and Tagliatelle. She showed me how to wind the tagliatelle round my fork using the spoon as back-stop so that it and garlicky, cheesy mushroom sauce didn’t slide all down my tee shirt. We had a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the wiggling of the waiters between the tables. Waiters in Italian restaurants wiggle on purpose, did you know that? It’s part of their performance. And they make the effort to smile. They smiled as if they found us beautiful, and that is an art. Life was good, for a lunch-hour at least.


“How you and your best friend met…”

I did have a Grand Plan to work my way – over the next 100 years or so – through all 250 of William M Tanner’s Topics (1917). However, I have had to admit defeat – at 1. Most of the topics, on closer inspection, either make no sense or fail to spark anything, in the way of inspiration. I mean, what can you do with The Joys of a Country Cottager, The Heritage of the Youngest Child or On Riding Pegasus with Spurs? It’s just too much like an exam. And I must say it’s a relief not to even think of tackling Our Ragtime Age or Sponges.

I am rather a one for Grand Plans. At one point I was going to walk all round the coast of Britain and Ireland. At another, I was going to move to some remote Scottish island and join a commune. I was going to do something vaguely ‘home made’, I remember, like recycling charity shop clothing into patchwork quilts. Or possibly making dollies out of clothes pegs and selling them for… something.

So I’ve rummaged around the internet and found a few, slightly more up-to-date, lists of essay subjects – avoiding the stupid school ones, like All Teachers Should be Forced to Eat Rice Pudding and Wear School Uniform.

So, this one is How you and your best friend met. In fact I have two best friends, and I met them at the same time – or at any rate in the same building and through the same person. I shall call them Rose and Daisy. We are all much of an age – Rose is almost exactly six months younger than me; Daisy a year or two older. We were all secretaries in the same old-established legal firm. The Partners tended to move us about at intervals. Just as you had got used to one desk, one icy draught, one view, one quirky computer, one cranky gas fire (I remember having to light one, first thing in the morning, with a match sellotaped on to a steel letter-opener, whilst leaning as far backwards as possible to preserve my eyebrows) you were being redistributed.

This time I was recruited, on the sly, by the secretary currently sharing an office with Rose – I shall call her Gert. The idea was to fill a suddenly vacant desk – with me – before the Partners could fill it with someone even less desirable. I didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. She was a forceful lady. She also drank a lot, smoked a lot and had a troubled – to say the least – domestic background.

On my first day in the office Gert marched me out for some kind of lunchtime bonding session. I had been planning to curl up in a corner somewhere with a sandwich and a book. We sat in a deafeningly noisy café down the High Street and she chain smoked for the next three quarters of an hour: I came back smelling like a kipper. I have weird hearing – a problem that only becomes evident in crowded places. She talked, over the clatter of dishes and the roar of the espresso machine; I have no idea what about. She blew more smoke at me.

Some time later, when she had decided I was not just a convenient body to fill an empty corner with, but her New Best Friend, she started calling me at home. She phoned me up at 7.30 one morning, from a hotel to tell me she had stabbed her husband through the hand. In any sort of emergency I’m about as much use as a chocolate teapot – entirely the wrong person to ring if you’ve just stabbed somebody.

Anyway, it was thanks to Gert that I got to know Rose – and thanks to Rose that I got to know her friend Daisy. And that’s it, really. We had work in common. Then I left, and one after another we retired – but we still had that particular eccentric legal firm in common, plus all the other times we had spent together – days out in the summer, in sunshine and – at least once, in the pouring rain; meals out to mark each of our birthdays, Christmas, New Year and anything else we could think of; trips to the cinema; the different-and-yet-similar problems in our own lives – practical matters; losses; illnesses; sadnesses and celebrations.

They accept me for what I am, no questions asked: we don’t ask a lot of each other, really. I’m always pleased to see them, and find myself chattering away to them over coffee – noisy background or not – “nineteen to the dozen” – which is a rare thing.

Usually I’m as silent as the grave…