THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT (I GOTTA WEAR SHADES)

So, former husband was going round the house chanting to himself Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades, Future’s So Bright… which was at least an improvement on The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show, The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show or Member of Lloyds, Member of Lloyds… He used to get phrases stuck, which was annoying. I think The Future’s So Bright… featured in an Orange mobile phones advert at the time, and that was how it had got to him.

The Don Lindberg Aquatic Show was something we witnessed on The Leas in Folkestone in 1970-something. All I can remember is this man at the top of some sort of cherry-picker or giant crane arrangement, doing a lot of posing before diving with enormous ceremony into a plastic paddling pool, and somehow emerging from it without a broken neck. By the way, if you are the Donald A. B. Lindberg (born 1933), Director of the United States National Library of Medicine from 1984 till your retirement in 2015 and known for your work in medical computing… I know it wasn’t you.

Personally, I found it boring but my husband liked that sort of thing. I did catch a glimpse of the late Alan Freeman in unwise leather trousers. Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman was at that time a famous radio disc-jockey, known for catchphrases such as Greetings, pop pickers, Alright? Stay bright! and Not ‘arf! He had an orange-y face and seemed so very small, out of the radio. He was later to be the inspiration for comedian Harry Enfield’s Dave Nice in the Smashy and Nicey sketches, which I believe he quite enjoyed.

I can’t really criticise ex-husband for his occasional bouts of echolalia since I too get phrases stuck in my head and can’t somehow get them out, the only difference being that I don’t verbalise them all the time. I suppose we were both a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, not to mention the Asperger’side, the unsociable side, the smart-arse side and the irritating side. There were really quite a lot of things we had in common. We might have noticed this if we’d had any patience with one another. But of course, we didn’t.

Which brings me to what one of my fellow bloggers refers to as a meme… so many new words, so many new words, so many new words… which everyone will no doubt know to be an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture:

A reporter asked the couple, “How did you manage to stay together for 65 years?”  The woman replied, “We were born in a time when if something was broken we would fix it, not throw it away.”

So – this meme thingy. I wonder how many years the old couple would have kept trying to fix the poor, broken old thing? We spent twenty-two years, on and off, trying to fix ours. And then, of course, unless you were rich, before the nineteen-sixties you didn’t really have the option of divorce: you either fixed your mistake or suffered for it – more often a combination of the two. But the sentiment is good, and fixing’s always worth a try.

Going back to The Leas. This is a long, wide strip of grass – lawn – stretching the length of the cliff above Folkestone to Sandgate, providing ‘a cliff top promenade with fine sea views’ according to one old leaflet:

http://www.visitkent.co.uk/discover-folkestone/folkestone-historical-walks—promenading-on-the-leas.pdf

Folkestone is a seaside town in Kent, on the south coast of England. Lots of interesting things have happened on The Leas over the years – air displays and such. It has a slidey lift down to the beach which has been there since 1885 and a Bandstand (1895). It was extremely popular with the Victorians, who came to Folkestone to breathe in the clean sea air. Spacious and Gracious used to be its advertising slogan. In the ’70s when I was there, some arty-farty clever-clogs re-labelled it Specious and Gruesome and everyone thought that was hilarious for a while. But it was OK. By the ’70s it had dimmed into just another British seaside town, sprawling, shabby, a bit rough round the edges, but it had baby seagulls on the rooftops and fairy-lights looping through the trees along Bouverie Road West. It possessed a shabby, nautical, slightly bohemian charm, I always thought.

There’s also a cavernous, in-cliff venue called the Leas Cliff Hall where people can go and see acts like Steelye Span (Yay! Steelye Span!) Psychic Sally and One Night of Elvis featuring Lee ‘Memphis’ King.

I can remember two things about The Leas, apart from Don Lindberg and his blasted aquatic show. One was going for a walk along The Leas with my mother, father, youngest sister and husband not long after we had married and moved to Folkestone. My sister, around fifteen at the time and still going through the ‘Kevin’ phase, was so fed-up with the whole visit and probably with me – even more probably with my new husband – that she collapsed flat on her back on the grass, in her winter coat, gazing up at the grey sky and scudding clouds and refusing to move. Someone took a photograph of her in this position, which is now lost – except to memory.

The second is not so much a memory as a story. I had a friend, once, who had been pursuing a certain gentleman for many years. He lived in her village. He was nice. I met him. They undertook the New Year bell-ringing duty together each year but no canoodling was ever reported to have taken place up in that icy midnight belfry. It was sad, gothic and romantic, but he never proposed.

So we all got older and older. In her forties she became interested in belly-dancing – she was always trying out one thing or another – and she and her belly-dancing group were out performing their routine one Sunday on The Leas when she spotted in the crowd – yes, none other than the object of her longings. I gather he had never seen so much of her on display until now, and of course for belly dancing you have to display so much – all those wobbly-waggly tummy bits one prefers to keep hidden under floppy tops and smock-like dresses. So there she was – wobbling, waggling and gyrating, unable to stop and run away without ruining the group’s routine and making herself even more conspicuous – and there he was – surprised, spectating – and it was embarrassing and mortifying and…

If it had been a Mills & Boon story he would have been smitten, stricken or similar and rushed forth from the crowd to drop on one knee and propose marriage, babies – although it may have been too late for that – a gold ring, a massive reception with Asti Spumante and those little throwaway cameras on the tables for the guests to take pictures, a five-star honeymoon at poolside hotel in Antigua…

But of course, he didn’t.

ISN’T IT RICH? ARE WE A PEAR?

  • Isn’t it rich?
  • Are we a pair?
  • Me here at last on the ground,
  • You in mid-air.
  • Send in the clowns.

Stephen Sondheim: Send in the Clowns

 Sorry about the pun. Couldn’t resist.

I’ve been thinking about doppelgangers – or doppelgänger if you want to be faithful to the original German. I mean, it is the sort of thing you think about, isn’t it? With Halloween coming up an’ all.

My first brush with these mysterious doubles took place, unusually for me, in real life rather than literature. I was in my twenties – a couple of years married – and had just started a job at a small publishing firm. This small publishing firm was at the far end of a dire industrial estate. I sometimes feel as if I have served time in every office on every dire, concreted-over, weed-and-speed-bump infested industrial estate in the South East of England.

We published two things, mainly – Book Auction Records and Art Prices Current. My official title was Editorial Assistant but all I had to do, all day long, was leaf through auction room catalogues converting catalogue entries into reference-book entries – selecting the required information and abbreviating it. This abbreviated gobbledegook then got transferred onto a white file card and filed into a filing cabinet. Our boss had a personal hygiene problem. One of the girls I worked with – a real hippie, with long blond hair done in those marvellous ripples you could achieve by plaiting and sleeping in the plaits overnight – used to file white cards at random:

Mr X should buy deodorant… Mr X niffs a bit.

I felt a bit sorry for him really, poor wee fellow.

Back to doppelgangers. One morning one of my fellow lady Editorial Assistants remarked in a knowing tone that she’d caught sight of me one lunchtime getting out of my car and going into some man’s house. This was in a road I had never heard of, in a part of the town that as far as I knew I had never visited. I had only moved into the area when I got married, from forty miles away. I told her she must be mistaken but she swore black’s blue it was me. Then someone else said they had also seen me, in another part of town. At this point I stated to worry, if only to myself. Could I have somehow visited these streets and these mystery men during some sort of sleepwalking or schizophrenic episode? When I continued to insist that I had never been there I got knowing nods and winks all round and realised it was hopeless – they were smugly convinced I was having an affair and had been visiting these unknown roads/men for some noontime nookie.

Then my husband came home one day and said the people in the newsagents round the corner from our flat had accused his wife of not coming in to collect and pay for the serialised sewing magazine she had ordered, and would he please ask his wife to pay up. He was annoyed. I was bewildered. I had certainly been into that shop once or twice but had no memory whatsoever of ordering a sewing magazine. I wasn’t even interested in sewing.

After I had protested my innocence at great and tearful length he said it was OK, but I could sense that he neither trusted nor believe me. And of course I could never set foot in that shop again. What sort of mischief was ‘other me’ up to? Was she deliberately playing tricks on me? After that I scanned the crowds for ‘me’ everywhere I went in the town but I never, ever spotted ‘me’. I came to the conclusion that ‘me’ existed purely for the purpose of being spotted by other people.

Writing this, I suddenly recall a poem I wrote there, around the same time – Remembrance Day, it was called. The poem has long since vanished. I can only remember one line, probably because it was the only line worth remembering:

While my green ghost stands behind me spending money.

Thinking about it does bring back the general atmosphere of the poem. It was written, unsurprisingly, on Remembrance Day (the eleventh day of the eleventh month) and was partly sparked off by the little wooden crosses with poppies on, arranged around a war memorial in a little park, the park being the space once occupied by the town’s main church, destroyed by a wartime bomb. There was just one small corner left standing, a kind of clock-tower. The rest was now neatly-mown grass, and a pathway, and this memorial surrounded in November by poppies and crosses, paying tribute to the dead of the two World Wars.

I remember standing around in the November drizzle staring into shop windows and wishing I had some money – any money – to spend on something. Retail therapy: I just desperately wanted to spend something, on anything, to make myself feel better. The green ghost was a kind of avaricious alter-ego. I remember being very, very unhappy in that God-forsaken seaside town that wet November, no doubt because I had married the wrong man and knew he was the wrong man even before I married him, and because there seemed to be no possible escape from the situation I had got myself into. I had thrown away my career for a lifetime of dead-end jobs and unhappy co-incarceration with a man who was wishing he hadn’t married me. In my misery, could I have somehow brought into being that ‘green ghost’, as young teenagers are said to create the poltergeists which wreak violent havoc on their behalf?

After four years we left that town and never came back, and as far as I know my double did not come after me. Is it possible she is still meandering round the old town, placing orders for things in newsagents and not returning to pay for them, visiting strange men and making sure people see her doing so? Maybe she doesn’t realise I’ve left…

… and with any luck she won’t be reading this blog.

IT’S ONE OF MY PHOBIAS

On the one and only occasion I attempted to test the air pressure in my own car tyres, I let all the air out and had to phone a friend to rescue me. He was scathing. Ever since then, the testing of tyre air pressures has been, to use one of my mother’s favourite phrases, ‘One of my phobias’.

‘One of my phobias’ means, for both of us, not so much ‘I am too terrified to attempt this under any circumstances’ as ‘I don’t intend to do this unpleasant thing EVER and you might as well abandon all hope of persuading me’.

So yesterday I popped in to the garage. They usually check my tyres for me for free of charge knowing I’ll come to them for everything else as well, even though I now live an hour and a half’s drive away. It was just as well I went this time. The kindly garage men discovered that whereas three of my tyres contained around the usual 30 whatevers  the fourth was down to 10 whatevers. This suggested a puncture but they couldn’t find one.  In spite of being stacked out with work, they found someone to take the tyre off, and there was a nail hiding sneakily inside the rim.

They gave me a long description of the exact technique they would use to mend the tyre – pulling something or other through something or other else and neatly snipping off the ends whereupon the mended section would wear in to the substance of the tyre… and this would be far less expensive than ripping the stupid thing off and stuffing another one on, as I had suggested. When bewildered, upset, bored or tired I find myself drawn to the Nuclear Option.

Until the day I left my husband I had never filled a car with petrol. Putting petrol in a car was One of my phobias, just as stairs, hospitals and an ever growing list of other things are of my mother’s. I didn’t know how a petrol pump worked and dreaded being observed by that forbidding lady in the glass booth as I peered at the instructions and tried to figure out what to do. I dreaded a queue of angry (male) motorists forming a line behind me. I dreaded the panic which was bound to overtake me if they started tut-tutting and hooting.

So I left my husband, who was no doubt relieved to get rid of me, with a car so full of cardboard boxes that I couldn’t see out of the back window. And part way to my destination the car started bleating that it needed petrol so, One of my phobias or not One of my phobias, I had to pull in at a petrol station and fill it. And yes, I did get it wrong. And yes, I did panic. And yes, the forbidding lady in the glass booth did stare at me.

You learn quickly and hugely when you are first on your own: how to fill cars with petrol; how to change light bulbs in spite of not knowing what to turn off first; how to describe what’s wrong with your car to a garage mechanic in spite of not knowing the vocabulary; how to find your way to the Civic Amenity Centre, a species of miniature, enclosed, Mad Max, post-apocalyptic landscape you never even imagined existed; how to prise out a broken plastic lawnmower blade with a kitchen knife and force another one on in its place… the list goes on and on. And yet after all these years of fending for myself I still feel deeply uncomfortable in  ‘male’ environments such as garages and Civic Amenity Centres (town rubbish tips). And this is true however nice the actual men who inhabit these spaces are. I grew up before Women’s Lib had really taken hold, and that may be why; a younger woman would wonder what on Earth I was talking about. Do you know, I was reading Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in the days leading up to my wedding. She laid out for me in forensic detail all the reasons I shouldn’t be getting married – and I still did.

Faced with garage personnel I find myself simpering, talking too much and making unfunny jokes. It’s a performance, I know it is, I can’t see the point of it yet I can’t seem to stop it. And then there’s the waiting. Cars take such a long, long time to fix. The garage does now have a shiny new coffee machine, I notice. Their previous model would spit out red-hot, watery coffee that smelled and tasted of engine oil, yet I felt compelled to get cup after cup of the stuff and sip it because it was so awful. Why was that?

Then there are the framed posters. You know how you find yourself drawn to anything printed when you’re waiting for a long time? I read the framed poster with the tiny print about correct and incorrect number plates, with diagrams. The correct plates are marked with green ticks, the incorrect ones with red crosses. I also read from top to bottom the one about tyre tread thicknesses and the various gauges used to measure these for the purposes of MOT testing…

Maybe a magazine? As always it was a choice between every single issue ever published of What Car? and a lone celebrity gossip magazine. Most people seemed to have plumped for celebrity gossip because the magazine was wrinkled and dog-eared. I learned that Kerry-somebody-famous had just divorced or separated from her third husband and that Colleen-somebody-famous was pregnant again. There she was in a skimpy bikini revealing her Baby Bump. I find this bewildering and I have to say a little distasteful. Why would you want to combine a bikini with a Bump and publish a picture of it in a magazine? Memories of my mother expecting – it must have been – my youngest sister. She wore a long smock to cover the bump, with a huge silly bow at the neck. Maternity smocks always seemed to have either this bow or another similar device to draw the eye away from the Bump. And over that, if coats were needed, a long, special, maternity swing coat. Expectant ladies looked Blooming in those days, not Bumpy.

What puzzles me even more is why, when I never leave the house without one paperback, usually two, or a paperback and my Kindle in case of unforeseen delays, I feel magnetically drawn whatever other stuff is lying around or stuck on the walls. I do believe I would have picked up one of those What Car? magazines rather than open my half-finished Brick Lane.

As far as the tip’s concerned, no problem with reading matter there. You just need to get into and out of them as quickly as possible because there are always queues of other cars behind you, and the smell is appalling. Until recently I would struggle up the steps to the various skips myself, heaving whatever giant bags of rubble or garden waste I needed to get rid of. Then I would take a deep breath, trying not to look anxious, and summon all my strength for the manhandling of each sack to shoulder height and the flinging of it over the rim of the skip. Until recently, the Waste Disposal Operatives would stand around watching me wearing the same look of sardonic amusement that the woman in the glass booth at the petrol station used to wear:

…and here comes the cabaret!

But on my latest visit, for some reason I forgot the act and allowed myself to hesitate by the open boot of my car, looking vulnerable, feeble and watery-eyed. More like the way I felt. At once a Waste Disposal Operative with hair like a labradoodle and a great bushy beard walked over and offered to help me.

This is maybe a lesson I should have learned earlier.