Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Jungle Barbie and empty coffee cups

I was sitting at a table in Café Nero, staring at the coffee cup opposite me. Two minutes before Adrian had been sitting behind it, gulping down his three shot cappuccino before racing off to catch his train. Strange, I thought, how he’s gone but there’s still steam rising from his cup. I became a little fixated with it, truth to tell, couldn’t take my eyes off it, wondering at which precise moment it would stop steaming. When he would really be gone. My thoughts turned morbid, as they are wont to do. What if this was all that was left of him? What if the train crashed or a suicide bomber hurtled into Old Street? Adrian, just a bit of steam.

I’ve always had a gothic turn of thought. When I was young – and I mean very young – I used to pore over Bosch paintings, fascinated by scenes of torture. Poor Barbie got it something rotten. While my friends primped and pampered their dolls, mine had to battle through jungles, getting her hair snagged out by the roots and her clothes ripped. I drew scars on her cheeks and hauled her through mud. I even poked pins in her on one occasion when she was being pursued by hostile natives. Barbie wasn’t remotely Lara Croft though – she didn’t kickbox her way out or blast three shades of hell out of everyone. She just submitted in a totally craven and rather pathetic fashion. She annoyed me so much that I decided her life in the jungle was really too exciting so I built her a croft in the remote Highlands (otherwise known as the rockery in our Sutton garden). She got a few scraps of tweed to wrap around her pneumatic breasts and a plastic horse for company. There she stayed, gazing mournfully out over the remains of the lavender, picking at her mascara, until she became green with mould. When each of her babies inevitably died, she hauled herself to their funerals and threw herself onto their graves with fits of sobbing, wiping dirt over her (already filthy) face. OK, so the babies were frogs (having managed to get them from spawn to four legs, they sort of gave up the effort – but this could have been something to do with my home-made bin-bag pond). Anyhow they died, in rapid succession and were buried, with elaborate ceremony and arcane ritual, in padded matchboxes to a backdrop of Barbie’s wailing, interspersed with the odd hacking cough (the poor creature probably had pneumonia).

Sorry, that was a long diversion but it is pertinent. I think my main problem is that I’m having a problem with the fact that – unless some medical miracle occurs – my life is more than half over. I’ve never been very good at the second half of things. Holidays are a case in point. I love the first week, all is promise, hope, excitement, new things to try, taste, smell. Then the halfway point is reached and the gloom settles in. Homeward stretch. I start thinking about the return. Have even been known to start packing. There seems no point in making huge plans, chatting to new people because, well, it’ll all be over soon. Same with everything really. I just sort of wilt after the halfway point, want it all over. Can’t be bothered.
Not a good attitude really when it’s one’s own life in question.

I know this is a common theme and I moan on about it far too much but I’m still feeling washed up. Finding it hard to summon the energy for anything really. Ye gods, I’m turning into bloody misery-guts Barbie.

Back in Café Nero, I suddenly realised I couldn’t bear to see the actual moment when the coffee stopped steaming so I jumped up, threw on my coat and hurtled out without a backwards glance in case seeing the moment of death could, by sympathetic magic, cause it. Is that a bit odd? Yes, thought so.
Still, I pulled myself together and went off into town. I haven’t been shopping, as in proper shopping in a town, for about half a year and I thought I’d lost the knack yet I managed to do all my chores in about forty minutes flat. Then, with two hours still on the parking meter, I thought I’d get my annual spot of total degradation over and done with. This is the moment when I decide I should Make An Effort and buy something shimmery or glittery for all the parties I will try to make excuses not to go to. Last year, you may recall, it was the Only Gay in the Village sequinned t-shirt. This year, I decided, it would be a dress. I know. Don’t laugh. I don’t actually have a dress (no, not one - seriously) so this was a challenge.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Maybe there are women who can sliver into something slinky and smile at themselves in the mirror but those women are not me. OK, so I was trying them on over jeans and pointy cowboy boots, with a white (ish) bra – but still. I looked like a home-made Christmas decoration, overstuffed and straining at the seams. Like Barbie I have out of proportion tits and very long legs. Unlike Barbie I go out at the waist rather than in. It’s not a good look. One dress flattened out my boobs into one enormous shelf – the size and shape of a Wii Fit. Another sort of caught them and tossed them out towards the mirror - two vast flashing white orbs intent on world domination. In the end, after half an hour of vehement self-loathing and self-pity, I settled for something vaguely shapeless with spaghetti straps (so it’ll be a large shawl or coat over that then – truly what’s the point?). It’s still too snug (despite being diaphanous) – so that’ll be a diet then (yes, another one).

Ah heck. Maybe I’ll just forget Christmas and go and hole up in a croft and feel sorry for myself there…watching the steam rise from an empty coffee cup.


Zoë said...

I am having some serious body image problems at the moment too, so identify completely. I am ever reluctant to engage on a social basis also, sometimes I think it borders on mental illness. I get terrified and anxious, and probably excuse myself at the last minute more often than I show up for an engagement.

The coffee cups was poignant and reminded me of something related to Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson; Adam Nicolson recalls them referring to as " 'coffee-cups' - accidental reminders of a person loved: the coffee cup remaining on the table after a friend or lover had left . So true though, such ephemeral reminders.

Also identify with the sense of no energy, although I am hoping that over the next few weeks as the drugs and treatment effects wear off to find a new 'joie de vivre' so lacking in the past 2 years.

Roll on the New Year.

Lots of Love

Zoë xxxxx

Chris Stovell said...

I don't have a single party frock -actually, apart from my Welsh 'dress over jeans' dress which is getting passe even here, I don't own a dress, so I can empathize.

Life in the other half is not so bad, dear heart, especially, as far as I'm concerned, it's all we have. Enjoy!

Elizabethd said...

Party dress?? That sounds seriously like a social life thing.Put a beautiful pashmina thing with it and you will look great.
As to age........Jane, when you get to my age you have my permission to feel that the end is in sight, but half way? No way!

Anonymous said...

You were a child with imagination! I had 7 imaginary horses in tsrict rotation, one per day. Maybe that was the beginning of my rather anal organisational skills.

Party dress? Think accessroies - if you can find a wrap/necklace/shoes that you love (especially the shoes....) you will walk tall and feel a million dollars!

Fire Byrd said...

How can your life be half over when you're not as old as me? Ok I don't think I'll make a 108, but you get my drift!
As for party clothes, killer heels that sparkle work, as long of course as you spend the whole evening sitting down!
if standing then flats but with sparkly diamonds hanging form your neck and ears!

Lindsay said...

Sorry you are feeling down. I am still feeling sad at reaching 50 years old - I am now 63!

Anonymous said...

Always love your blogs, Jane.

CJ xx

Sorrow said...

I am not sure it's not really morbid of me to be reading and laughing.
It is isn't it?
I just had visions of the headless barbies of my youth crawling out of a landfill.
Then there's the holiday madness, I REFUSE to succumb!
DO you hear me!
I shall not go!
Not willingly anyway.
and bloody hell, i am thinking that jeans and a glittery top something sound just fine.
my disproportionate frame looks like an unearthed goddess figure.
okay with that.
Stay away from the NOn prescription mood lightener..
YOU hear!!!???
we can and will get through this insanity,
just as crazy
only on the back hill slide.
sliding sounds fun..doesn't it??
come on now, i'll loan you my sled...

Sally Townsend said...

Stop it this instant or you will find me on your doorstep ready to bash some sense into you. After five mins i would have you dissolved into giggles. xx

Pipany said...

I have the opposite problem Jane in that I look dire in casual jeans which means either looking over-dressed all the time or looking like a shapeless bag lady in jeans which hang off my scrawny thighs but fit my wide hips.Ahh, are we ever happy with what we have (NO!). Christmas seems to bring this out in so many of us and yet when it arrives do we truly care I wonder.

Love Gothic too by the way xx

JanetD said...

For goodness sake Jane, you're going to have me throwing myself into a vat of mushy peas! Ok you thought you were safe as I hadn't learnt how to leave comments but now I can, so come on, snap out of it!!!Remember the sign in the car you saw? ONE LIFE, LIVE IT!I have a very impatient daughter waiting for a punky book , get your pen out and fire up that imagination.And really who cares about what you wear at Xmas?The dress will be forgotten, your sparkling personality will long be remembered.OK lecture over!!!!(Lawyerlady)

Faith said...

I am trying not to sink into gloom too, but if I were you I'd buy a really low cut dress and flash your huge boobs and not worry about how old you are!

Coffee cups, aftershave lingering.... you know I never wash everything of his in the washing basket just in case...couldnt bear to have washed all his smell away...

Milla said...

very funny even through your morbidity. Perhaps you need my experience with the devil to shake you out of your torpor. Death seems scary when you think it's imminent and you're going to the wrong place. Meanwhile, photos are a must of the dismal frock. Sad steam. Death to Barbie. Write your novel xx

Tessa said...

Oh. My. God. I love you. Seriously. And I'm not even a lesbian. It's extraordinary to find someone out there in the ether who says the kind of things I think about (all the time) OUT LOUD.

I'm terrified of people. I loathe parties (especially cocktail ones). I hyperventilate when I look at the invitations on the mantel piece. Seriously. No one believes me because they see me as this eccentric, jokey, madcap loon.

I know that everyone I love is going to die horribly....

Anyway, enough of that. Jane, go Indian and you'll never have to go into a neon lit change room again. Get some kurtas or shalwar kameez. Fling vibrantly coloured scarves around your neck (and over your head, if your hair is looking grotty) and jewels. Lots and lots of jewels. Faux baubles hide a multitude of sins.

Kitty said...

Steaming coffee cups makes me think of James Joyce - probably Ulysses and the not being able to sit in a chair if it still retains another's body heat. I find the same horror when I sit on the loo seat and it's still warm from another. I too have morbid thoughts (through the pink fairy cake fog that surrounds me) but I'm always quite happy about them really. As in 'when my husband and child die in a freak accident then I'll travel the world and stay in lovely cities'. And you think you're barmy? Roll up, join the crew.

Norma Murray said...

Thank goodness Lampie's sig. other doesn't drink coffee, it's not so poignant gazing at a few dregs of tea. I don't remember Sutton being that exciting, though I went to Santas's Grotto once in Shinners. I got a brush and my sister got a dustpan if I remember. Ah! Happy days.
Why don't you buy something from Boden. One of their frocks would look lovely with your sexy boots.


Oh, Jane - you sound kind of melancholy at the moment. Twas a beautiful description of the steam rising from the coffee cup, though, and one with which I could all too easily identify. I think it probably a bit to do with the time of year, the getting dark by five (not to mention the looming party season. Which reminds me - we have our first one on Friday (sounds like we're rabid party-goers, which we're not) and I, too, have not one dress. Well, not one I can still fit into). Are you sleeping any better? Not sleeping certainly doesn't help.

Sympathy and empathy from here, Jane, and hope things pick up soon.


PS Great word on the word verification: Squishph!

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Oh Jane you have done it again. I disliked my dolls very much as a child and so thought it was fine that their lives were difficult and interesting.
And the morbid thoughts: poor Ian is never half an hour late, particularly when riding his motor bike, without my planning in detail the life I will live when he is not there any more. I love him to bits but like Kitty am not usually upset in this scenario.
And I am putting off any form of going shopping. If my work trousers are tight in the waist, as sadly they are, it will just be humiliating.

Edward said...

Ye Gods, this is good stuff. From rather deep and morbid reflection (albeit with hilarious Barbie interlude) to something with which I can only empathise if I mobilise all my imagination. Like you, I don't like second halves, and I'm wondering why I'm bothering decorating the HallStairsLanding if I'm not going to be around long to enjoy it. Also, like you, I would do almost anything to avoid going to a party, though I wouldn't buy a special outfit not to wear.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Jane. A few points which may/may not be relevant:
1. You write beautifully
2. The credit crunch is affecting us all. I cannot bring myself to blog at the mo.
3. You have the bravery to write it all down in all its guts and glory (sotospeak). I wish I did.
4. Do you know Little Holland House in/near Sutton? My husband used to work for the local council there. He's from Worcester Park.
5. My sleeping patterns have gone kaput after birth of second child. So much so hubbie's breathing keeps me awake so we are now in exile from one another. That does make me feel old oddly!!!

Unknown said...

Sounds like you need Trinny and Susannah (or those new two) to tell you what to wear to make the most of the boobs and long legs.

I can relate to that empty cup steaming, it would evoke similar thoughts in me and I'd think, ooh, there's a great idea for a story.

And as for age, look I've been 28 for YEARS! So many years I can't remember how many so don't go trying to tell me my life is half over, as far as I'm concerned it's only just beginning - creaking joints and "degenerating" tendons notwithstanding - I'm just not having any of it! ;-)

mountainear said...

And what a gothic post that was!I am glad Barbie got to live a little though.

As for shopping and clothes - it seems to take so little to tip the balance either way - try something on which doesn't fit and its gloom, depression and dissatisfaction for the rest of the day - but find the right 'something' and accessorise and you feel a million dollars. Get a pretty pashmina, party shoes and some flambouyant jewellery to go with your dress - you'll be fine

Suburbia said...

Now I know why I'm misserable!! I'm on the downward slope. Bugger, I knew I should have made more of the begining bit!

Lois said...

I'm with TESSA your way with words extraordinary.

And SUBURBIA said it so well. maybe the aging bit doesnt bite so bad if the beginning bit was done better,(but that is hindsight isnt it?).

Like MILLA said, write your novel!XX I'd buy it.

Mark Bridge said...

Half way? Pah! I'm hoping for the medical miracle. No, seriously. I'm also planning to buy a copy of Sara Maitland's new "A Book of Silence". It seems that lonely crofts are the place to be this year!

Liz Hinds said...

I was eating maltesers when I read about your diet again. Me too. I so know that trying on clothes thing. Boobs the size of overgrown pumpkins.

I still pretend I'm a horse and gallop round the house on occasion.

blogthatmama said...

I've been out two nights on the trot now and am seriously looking forward to being at home, drinking wine and stuffing my face in my fleece and tracksuit trousers. My body is flared too, blancmange style with lumps in the middle. I find a nice cardi covers a multitude. Cheers! Blogthatmamax

CAMILLA said...

Well I think you would look fab in a dress Jane, together with those seriously gorgeous shoes we have seen you in for that photo shoot of cover of book.

I spend most of my time in trousers, that funky dress only comes out from the closet when the need is there.

Know that when festive period arrives I will be running around like a headless chicken, when although I love the odd party, just want to sit snuggled up in front of fire with endless supply of plonk and a good book, and NO COOKING.!!

So, get out that dress Jane darling, and knock em dead, go girl.!!


John said...

Ah desperate - remember the Woody Allen film, something like "Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask"? Anyway your post about bossoms reminded me of that ... I think there was this vast tit roaming the countryside, and one cop said to the other, "Be careful, these things usually travel in pairs".

And you had me in stiches.

DJ Kirkby said...

Oooh have you crawled inside my head or something? I can totally related to almost every word in this post!

abcd said...

Hi Jane,
I am about to reach the half centuary mark so reckon I am well past half way now and can identify with your morbid thoughts! I am quite taken with Eckhart Toile's idea of living in the present moment but find it easier said than done.
I have been dress shopping this week for the birthday party and as I live in jeans and jumpers for most of the time, strappy dresses feel like I am going out in my underwear.

Jackie B said...

Well, I laughed too, in sympathy of course. Also have big boobs and long legs. Don't go for floaty or Indian. I tried some on and my friend said I looked like the mad one at a WI meeting. Jeans are good, jeans are our friends. Our long legs demand them.

Fennie said...

Well, that was a treat. Something - not steam rising from a coffee cup - made me turn to your blog page and there we are. Almost a short story, weaving in and out, past present and future. Yet I would hate to think of you half way through anything. It seems you are only at the very start of buying dresses for instance and such has been your disappointment that I wonder that you don't turn to designing your own. Remember just as there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing....well you get the picture. Mind you if all else fails you could try Gok Wan! Did I ever mention that Elder Daughter used to be his manager when he worked for Body Shop? I am sure we could arrange an introduction. This could be the start - the very beginning - of your career in television fashion. Get thee to thy wealth corner!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Middle age is a trying time. We are caught between youth and old age -- elderly, ailing parents and young children sprouting wings getting ready to fly the coop. Our bodies no longer can fight off the ravages of time. We are confronted daily with images of what some magazine editor thinks we should look like and dress like. And all we want to do is crawl in a hole and forget about it all. I hope your mood has lifted.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Award for you over at my place...very well deserved I may say!

Ladybird World Mother said...

Oh my god you are my doppelganger!
Hooray! Found you! Will stop exclamation marks immediately...
gripped to every word. Loved your post. Please dont say that you are going to stop blogging now. Every time I read Fab Blog they go and close shop.
I'll be back.

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Anonymous said...