In the days of luncheon vouchers


When I wrote for a sort of living it was on a freelance basis so I never got luncheon vouchers. But I do remember going with the LV crowd to our favourite Italian family run caff in Holborn.  I was living on next to nothing and so ordered the same thing, which was more or less the cheapest thing, every day. This was an egg and salad sandwich and a frothy coffee, before we knew what cappuccino was  and it was all done by Kenco. The sarnie comprised: two slices of bread ( brown or white, they really didn’t taste any different) spread with marg, a wilted slice of a very floppy lettuce, I can’t remember the type,  maybe Cos, not iceberg or romaine, just something that was on its last green legs, the lettuce version of Greta Garbo in Camille. Half a very cold tomato, two slices of cucumber and some sliced hard cooked egg, the yolk covered in a greyish pallor which put me off egg yolks for life.

The frothy coffee was over-boiled milk whipped up into a frenzy, with a small bit of coffee sort of stuff at the bottom. This filled me up til dinner, which was sometimes nothing at all, sometimes a tin of soup and Jamaican water crackers, the appetite dulled by a ten quid wrap of sulphate, or something purporting to be sulphate but you never knew until your nose felt Vimmed and you weren’t really feeling up to staying up all night.

I write this now firmly on the other side of the caff counter. Firmly on the other side of drugs. I make food , I make lunch, often the high point of the day for  some desk-bound, boss hating, uni grad saddled with bills, both present rents and old uni fees. I haven’t been to work in a while so I forget that anticipatory smile of “Hey, mediocre lookin, whacha got cookin” that sort of gladdens my heart and has me reciting our menu like an Our Father… This is serious shit. Lunch may be the last time this person feels OK until it’s time to clock off.

I think that caff in Holborn is still there. The sandwiches are now American style, way too big to get your gob around without making a mess. And my mind is cast back to one of my series of very shit jobs after a spell in, let’s just call it a facility.  I was at a big restaurant. My main job was washing and polishing glasses which had been full of stuff I could never drink again, but did, still, sometimes anyway.  And then I thought, let me have a go at the kitchen, maybe this is where my talent lies, if I have any left. And I was working with this pregnant lady, and she was jaw droppingly  beautiful. And she had been to a really good catering school. My job, funnily enough, was washing and spin drying all the lettuce. I say funnily enough because I was sent recently, by mistake, eleven heads of lettuce. I like lettuce, but really not that much , not eleven heads of it.

So there I was with beautiful pregnant lady, sticking all this lettuce into a gigantic sink and after that, a gigantic salad spinner. It really took rather a lot of arm power to spin all that lettuce.

I asked the beauty, “How do you know like, what size chunks to rip the lettuce into, what is too small , what is too big, what is clearly, I’m doing this in a big hurry and don’t give a shit?”

She said, imagine you are on a date, and you order a salad ( the salad in this restaurant was just lettuce and dressing, none of your cukes or strange leaves or cabbage or radishes, just lettuce, and dressing) and you are trying to eat the lettuce but still be ladylike, and to be ladylike you don’t want this big piece of lettuce hanging from your mouth. You want to get a forkful in there and chew and swallow without the guy thinking “Oh my God, look at her, with that lettuce hanging out of her mouth.”

And I said to her, you know, I would never have thought of that. But I would have thought, why are we eating here? All they serve is steak and chicken and some strange patty thing for vegetarians, whom they clearly hold in contempt.  And so the chef will hate me, for ordering cheaply, and the date, if I ever have one again ( which I did, and we went on a boat and heard music so lettuce did not come into it) will be thinking, look at this lady with this green stuff hanging out of her mouth. That’s disgusting. And I’d be thinking, look at this guy, eating a bloody steak, served not even on a normal plate but like a wooden board, with all the blood seeping into the wood.

And then maybe I’d stab him. I would say look you bloody meat eating guy with blood drippin out of your mouth, who’s gonna be able to tell if that’s your blood or the cow’s blood. It’s the perfect crime.

Only I don’t believe in violence so that would never happen. We’d probably make small talk and we’d split the bill and I’d never see him again.

I liked the people in that job. I didn’t like the job so much. Now I hardly ever eat out except with my son, who likes Nandos.  At home if I cook for my boyfriend I make five different vegetables and something with protein in it.  I have a very small salad spinner. I buy bottled dressing.  I wish my salad spinner made some sort of musical noise. Then my dining life would be almost perfect.




Learning new things


Watching an Irish lady giving youtube tutorials on how to play the Anglo concertina, one of which was pulled out from under my sofa. There is all sorts of crap under my sofa, most of it broken, but with the hope or half arsed promise of getting fixed. Truth is, none of this stuff will be fixed, not the turntable, not the stained beyond anyone’s idea of disgusting duvet cover,  not the , wow, I don’t even know what this next thing is, it might be something you use in the kitchen or bedroom. It’s so fucked up and broken I have no idea. It has dead batteries in it.

So nice Irish lady tells you where to put your  fingers to play a D. Most rousing Irish music she tells us is played in key of D. She goes on to play rousing Irish music. I am mildly roused. I put the kettle on and say Irish lady this is too hard, I need you here  in my front room , physically placing my fingers on the buttons so I can play When the Saints Go Marching In , the obligatory starter song for any new instrument. I fucking hate that song. What saints? Aren’t they all dead? Would that not be gruesome, were they to come, zombie like, into my flat. I’d be all like oi saints, take your putrid bodies but pure spirits somewhere else. I’ll carry on going to St Chads, which smells like joss stick and builder’s tea.

And I am trying, trying to understand why the note sounds different when you push the bellows in to when you push em out. There is a metaphor in here but I can’t find it. Story of my life. It always sounds different on the way in than on the way out.

I have been more or less flat bound for most of the summer, due to an operation on a congenital deformity that was causing me great pain and sleepless nights. The operation itself was nothing. Once the drugs wore off, as has often been the case in my life, everything totally sucked. The pain was off the scale, and all I wanted to do was sleep.

Now I am in the halfway house of nearly better but not better enough to work, so I try to teach myself the concertina, and find even this designed for morons lesson rather taxing.  All I seem to do these days is wait. Wait for the council to help me out. Wait for the foot to stop swelling to the size of a very large and ugly foot/cankle by midday. Wait for the agent to read my book. Wait for a burst of energy.  Wait for the saints to come marching in.



stuff about cleaning I could not write in the article


It was at a warehouse conversion in East London. Near the Royal London, where the Elephant man lived. The woman was neatly pregnant, a bump on a stick, took every supplement under the sun to ensure that not only would her labour be easy, but also that her kid would be born a genious, eight pounds of Omega three and coconut oil and flaxseed oil. The kid would probably just slither out, a perfect slick of oil in the shape of a baby. The kid would have been listening to Mozart concertos in the womb, and when the doc cried “It’s a girl,” the oily Churchillian face only a mother could love would do the obligatory cry to clear the lungs, ask for a tissue to spit and ,and then request a violin, to compose a free form jazzy thing about childbirth. The parents would expect nothing less. Back they would trek to the high spec, germ and dust free warehouse, a separate mop for every room, and the nanny would already be installed. Mother woud feed on demand, but as she is juicing to lose the baby weight before any of her antentatal friends, the baby would have horrible spinachy nappies, and hand the child over, arms length, to the nanny, declaring Samsara had done ( fake giggle) a bit of a pongy poo. Of course after changing the nappy, she would probably have to get the ebola disinefctant team in, so germ and dirt phobic is the mother.

When I went there for my first and only clean, the house looked like a photospread from any magazine I could never afford to buy. The deal about these gleaming houses is that no matter what you  do, it’s gonna look worse, you will ruin the finish with your streaky products. You can kill fifteen minutes pulling great lumps of long hair out of the power shower plug hole, possibly enough to make a Malibu barbie doll for the baby, but that’s not OK cos this baby is not gender specfic. Samsara may chose to play with AK47s, which  is fine.  You can check for dust under the marital  bed, but there you will find her sex toys. A blindfold, a whip, and a feather sort of thing. Stillettos.  Well, we know how she got knocked up but will she be able to keep the pace, her tits leaking milk every time Samsara cries, her bits still sore , her fatigue not touched by all her yoga appointments, her pilates, her baby massage. He  might lock himself in his doctor’s office ostensibly looking at studies on the latest techniques for gall bladder surgery, but actually he could be looking at Aisan Babes with Nothing On. In three years time he will be deeply embroiled in affairs with at least two nurses. He will get one what she wants from the medicine cabinet. She will fuck him, the way his wife used to, before she beame a slave to Samsara. The other one will be more the mothering type, drug free, but will do pretty much anything in bed. She thinks he will leave the yoga wife and go with her. Perhaps he will and there will be an expensive divorce. She will win everything, but still bitch with her overly worked out friends, at wine o clock, about how could he leave her, for that fat cow?  One day Samsara will come home declaring she wants to be like the other girls and fast for Ramandan. At which point, Mum will sell up to Hipsters and move to Primrose Hill.

cleaning the office where I was concussed


First, a practical tip.If you are a proper cleaner and get down on all fours to scrub the floor,  this not only gives vibe that says “Wow, she gets down on her hands and knees to scrub the floor. Is it sexual, ( it would be if I were sporting stockings, high heels and a knowing grin, and were 30 years younger) or is it really the only proper way to clean a floor?” It is the only way to clean a floor, properly.  Your knees go funny, you get cankles, but still, what price to pay for dimishing sexual attraction for paying the bills ? Last night at the office clean, amidst the handcreams, ergonomic desks ( am I the only one who wants to punch a person who leaves his desk at standing level, a real look how seriously I take this fitness shit sort of guy) slight smell of dead mouse, congealed coffee cups, emtpy Pret boxes, home lunches consisting mainly of goji berries and Brazil nuts. Loads of Lempsips ( cold season) loads of herbal teas, a bizarre but compelling spray paint of Shiaparrelli pink paint round the bins. Loads of mind maps and flow charts. I thank my lucky stars that someone has left his computer on, and on Spotify. I play Joy Divsion’s She’s Lost Control, because it makes you clean more fitfully, jerkily.Not well, but interstingly.  Plus, it’s a great song. At one point, exhausted, I flop on the floor, spent, readly to pass our, and my floor eyes few reveals at least five more IKEA style overflowing bins. My work here is not really done, but I am done in. Soon, I will walk home, past the guy under Shoreditch overground station. The guy with a well fed dog, who sell his etchings of his well fed dog, til the cops move him on. I smell the lovely pizza smell from Rays, who sells it American style in slices. I don’t have to experience America in London. If I want, I can go back to Queens, and go to Danni’s house of pizza, for I am bound to find a roach on my pizza and bound also not to complain, ever, as I feel there are mafia connections.

Next week you will find my cleaning musings in broadsheet, voted best newspaper of the year. Am I a writer, or a cleaner? I am a cleaner who writes. Last week, in same office, I found a bit of old cake that said “Eat me”  Very Alice in Hipstervilleland.  This week, the most interesting find was the missed the target pink spraypaint. These kids are so young, I bet they think they’ve discovered. pink. There must be flow charts, business plans and mind maps and strategies and interface to spread the pink word.  I finish the clean by pulling all the dead leaves off the office plants, which are most of the leaves. Soon the plants will be no more, but I’ll still be here, not crying over spilt milk.

Quentin plays recorder


THE TRICK IS NOT BLOWING SO HARD, says Quentin, back on form after last week’s trip to Siberia to wash his dirty pants.
Now there were several ways to take this. I could have gone all Round the Horne on him, the dirty pun hanging in the air between us.

Of course, he was talking about recorder practise. His favourite thing to do is play me a song and then I have to guess what it is. It is an easy game, for whatever he plays, whatever the tuneless tune, it is Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

So I said, hmmm, I think it could be Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, and he said, to his credit, “I’m surprised you got it. Doesn’t sound a thing like it.


Quentin goes to Belfast


Quentin’s ever complicated travelling plans and his refusal to even contemplate a cheaper or more convenient mode of transport to Belfast makes my feet ache more than they do anyway, from being on them most of the day. The first involved an overnight coach from Victoria , a ferry crossing, another long coach trip then a taxi.

He is a man of slender means. Even though he was unable to get a refund for this ludicrous plan, he made alternative arrangements through, his words, the I said doesn’t sound like an airline I’ve ever heard of, but perhaps a travel agency. He said no no no, it was totally an airline. He was feeling a bit down , so was watching an Abba tribute band on youtube.

My painful feet informing my bad mood, I said, why not just cut to the chase and get real Abba, followed by an equally irate , “Let me see your travel plans.” Now he showed me a better plan. This plan by the very famous airline involves getting six am flight to Luton ( which is a billion miles away) to Dublin.

I actually put my head in my hands and said, “Why are you going to Dublin , when you are booked into a hotel in Belfast for nearly six hundred quid” He said that is what cheapo.comadvised. I said but then you have to get up at three in the morning or earlier to get to Luton, then get from Dublin to Belfast, as well as pay the money for the fares you can’t get back.

He said it’s fine, he had a better plan.

I just didn’t give a fuck at this point, not about his plan or lack thereof, but of my throbbing foot ) the toenail has gone black, this does not bode well for a very physical job) so I sat down and said so how are you going to get to Luton that early. He said he would go the night before and sleep in the airport.

I said how is that better than sleeping on the coach, in fact how is any of this creeping up to 800 quid plan for five days in Belfast better than flying directly from London to Belfast?

And he said it was his mistake, confusing Dublin with Belfast. And I felt sorry for him, and felt like killing the people at for not realsing he was old and confused and ripping him off. I mopped leaning on the less painful foot, I was in a really bad mood. He showed me the Stephen King novel he was reading, which had musical notation in it. He had a go on the recorder and he said can you tell the tune, and I said, probably Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, and he said yes probably, it does seem to crop up rather a lot.

He said this was his last holiday apart from one Age Concern or some army vet thing will lay on at a reduced price. I said where to. He said Bloomsbury. I said oh, that’s good for the British Museum.

He said no that was in Kensington. I said no that’s the V and A and two others, he said no no no, he knows for sure it’s there because that’s where he saw a prototype model of Robert Louis Stevenson’s railway.
Every single bit of my right side hurts, from the blackened toe upwards. I am going to dose up with paracetamol and plasters and hobble to my next dumb ass job. I think I might not say a word for the rest of the day. How the heck do dancers dance when their toes turn black? Why has my toe turned black? I don’t even wear heels. I asked Quentin if I could leave early. He said yes. Small mercies.



When I as 17 and still a virgin, but considering not being one with my first boyfriend,  one of my best friends, a wonderful dancer with a rapier wit, came over to the apartment where I lived with my mother and ran into our bathroom and threw up. I rapped on the door. “Do you want some Pepto Bismol?”

“Nah, ” he gasped. “I don’t want to throw up pink.”

“What difference does it make. Are you colour coordinating your puke with your outfit? You want some of my scrips? I got valium, I got compazine,  I got something else, it’s not that good , it makes you shake and I don’t even know what it’s for?”

“No, shut the fuck up. Just let me throw up in peace.”

So I did and took the drugs myself, apart from the shakey one. When he finally emerged, pale, long legs shaking, drenched in cold sweat, I gave him some water and asked him what happened.

“I was in the West Village last night, this place called Uncle Pauls. I don’t even know if there is an Uncle Paul.”

“But how did you get in, you’re only 14.”

He looked at me as if to say , oh really, how stupid can you get, that’s exactly why I got in.

“So I had some drinks and then went out and this guy was in this car and he said hey get in, and you know you have a few drinks, anything seems like a good idea.”

Then what happened?

“I don’t really remember, we went to the docks on the Hudson. He parked. He took his dick out. He told me to do something. I did it.”

“Did you want to do it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to throw up again.” So he went to throw up. When he came back, I said,

“I don’t think you like what you did, on account of the throwing up when I asked if you liked it.”

“So what are you saying? Does that mean I’m not gay?”

“I dunno. Are you sure you don’t want the compazine? It really works. I think you might be gay but maybe just don’t like what you did, where you did it and who you did it with.”

“I don’t think you would know about it. You are a virgin. And straight.”

“You could be right, but so could I. Why don’t you try something with a guy you do like and see if you throw up?”

He thumped the table. “It doesn’t work like that. You go to clubs, you go in cars, some shit happens in back rooms, with whips and shit. It’s not your world.”

“Is it your world?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to do it again?”

“Yeah, just to find out.”

So he did it again, and other stuff and he really liked it. I think he had fun, more fun than dancing even.  He wore tiny little shorts with all his bits hanging out.  He thought it was normal. He got lots of different jobs, most of them paid pretty well. He was a make up guy. He did Joan Rivers once and once the wife of the then head of the UN Boutrous Boutrous something. He said she had really bad breath but bought a ton of stuff.

Round about the early 80s we started to hear whispers of this gay cancer thing. By the mid 80s, my friend got tested and it was positive and they put him on AZT, the only drug available at the time. It made him really sick, but it was hard to know what was the illness and what was the AZT, though technically, his T cell count wasn’t low enough to be considered full blown.

Years later, I moved to England and was pregnant with my first child. My friend had settled down with a rich guy but didn’t seem that into him. He came to visit me and though he looked pretty sick by then, he made a beeline for Soho and I didn’t seem him for a few days. When he came back he was sort of exploding from both ends and rattling with drugs. When it all calmed down,  I said, are you proper sick, now, not just the before bit.”

“Yeah, I have AIDS.” He didn’t bat an eyelid. “Don’t fucking cry on me, I hate that shit.”

I gave him pasta and pesto.

“I hate pesto, ” he said, and pushed the dinner aside and took about 40 pills and got into my single bed. I cuddled up to his bony frame.

He sweated and shook and sweated and shook and then took a bath and shat in the bath and I cleaned it up.  The next day he felt better so we went to The Tower of London. He said he loved London. Then we went to Harrods and bought a bunch of stuff on the guy’s credit card, the one he didn’t love. Then they took a trip on the Orient Express.

He went back to New York and got sicker and sicker, even though he was on a new type of drug therapy. He was plagued with parasites. My sister stepped up to the plate and really looked after him as much as she could with her own young family. I was pregnant with my second child and he came to London once more, with a different rich guy. This guy was nicer. We all sat in their hotel lobby drinking coffee and the guy got up and left and said, “I am leaving so you can talk about me.”

Drew said he was nice, but he couldn’t really do the physical side of things anymore, but he was nice.

Maybe six months after that, my mother called to say he was dead. I cried my head off and took a long walk. She said they tried to scatter his ashes in Central Park but the wind changed direction and the ashes blew in their faces. That was him all over.

A few months after that I went to NY and visited his mother, who had once had three sons, and now had none. They had all died.

She cried and said, “I slapped him. He went running round the apartment throwing up and shitting and he just wrecked all my stuff so I slapped him and said goddamnit just do all this stuff in one place, so there is one stain, this is gonna cost me a fuckin fortune to clean.” And she cried her head off for thinking about money when her son was so sick and dying.

And just listening to it, and imagining him running round that apartment, which looked like John and Yoko’s white room, I started to panic. I felt his presence, and he was saying get me the fuck out of here, if I go here, instead of there, I will feel better. And he went everywhere with rich boys and he never felt better in any of those places. And I had to stand out on the balcony and gulp down air. I took a Dial a Ride back to my mother’s. She was minding my daughter. My son was back in England.  Up until that moment, I ran away from death, like Drew tried to. There, I’ve named him. After that I went totally the opposite way and became consumed by it. If I knew someone who died, if I knew them and loved them, even just a little, I would crack up just a little bit more, until my very best friend died and I went totally nuts.

A little over a year ago a really good friend died and he made me promise not to go crazy or take drugs if he died. I have kept my promise.  Because he said if I didn’t he would haunt me.  I am done with being haunted. It’s really much better on Scooby Doo. In real life, you are not really living if you are living haunted. You are living with the dead. Now I live with the living. It’s a lot more fun.