Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Another extract from my novel.

After a year of speed dating, dining clubs on-line dating, Xanthe remains single. At a friend's party in New York she met the man of her dreams, but all she has heard from him since is silence...

The best thing about having your own party is that you can surround yourself with your favourite people, even if some of them are a bit crazy. Maggie and Jerry turn up first, as Maggie has brought along some food, and she helps me with a few last minute things while Jerry organizes the drinks’ table. Lawrence and Evie arrive next, thankfully minus food offerings, although Lawrence has brought some of his home-made wine which is his latest hobby. Even Evie seems to have doubts about it. Jerry bravely attempts a taste of his potato and parsnip vintage.

‘Jesus! It’s just like paint stripper,’ he declares, when Lawrence is out of earshot. ‘Not that I’ve actually tasted paint stripper of course, but I’m sure it’d be softer on the tongue, let alone the stomach. Perhaps I should try it on those old doors of mine.’
Maggie takes a tentative sip and coughs. ‘What a waste of potatoes and parsnips - they would have been much better in soup.’
Lawrence insists we all taste the elderflower wine, which is not too bad, although it tastes horribly alcoholic, and as the flowers were picked locally I wonder how much heavy lead from Finchley’s pollution is included.
Gradually everyone else turns up and Maggie, Jerry and I take it in turns to warn people about the potato and parsnip. Jerry manages to pour most of it down the sink, which leads to Lawrence beaming with joy that everyone is sampling his hobby and generously offering to run home and get a few more bottles. We manage to persuade him not to miss out on the fun while I hope it doesn’t melt my kitchen pipes. At least it should help clean out any gunk.
‘It probably combats the germ warfare of their kitchen,’ splutters Karen gagging on a sip to see if Jerry’s claims were true.

We have a fest of sixties and seventies music, and I relax into enjoying the company. At just after eleven, Becca and Sam turn up. Their other party turned out to be so boring they beat a hasty retreat to come and join us. They seem to be enjoying themselves, and at least they aren’t the only young ones as Barney’s latest girlfriend looks barely out of her teens. She looks very relieved at their arrival, and she and Becca make everyone dance. Just as well my neighbour downstairs is away because the noise is probably appalling as several guests – led by Jerry and George - have embarked on a kind of line dancing to Queen! They are attempting to make formal bows, hitherto unknown in the mid-west.
‘I can only presume Jerry imagines he’s dancing in front of The Queen,’ mutters Maggie. ‘He’s so drunk he can’t tell the difference. He had rather more of Lawrence’s stuff than was wise.’

I stop for a breather and for just a moment feel a little bit blue. I look at everyone enjoying themselves and realise I am the only one here without a partner. Maggie and Jerry, Becca and Sam, Karen and John, Mart and Simon, George and Sylvie, Barney and Sasha, Lawrence and Evie, and…Xanthe. I know I’m so lucky to have these friends, my little flat, work I love, a terrific daughter. I know all that, but someone special would be good. I think about Harvey and wonder where he is and what he’s doing. Has he thought of me at all? Is he getting ready to celebrate New Year with someone? Let’s face it, even Lawrence, single for so long, now has Evie. Paul and Shelley have probably made up and James will no doubt be tucked up in a Scottish hotel with contender for Wife Number Four. Graeme will be snogging some stupid, desperate woman when his wife isn’t looking. I bet even the Fabulous Fifties men, Geoffrey, and the rest of the speed daters, except perhaps poor Mr Carpet, have all found someone! But not Xanthe.

What will next year bring? I don’t think I can hack more speed dating, dining clubs, or on-line dating. It’s too much like hard work. I think about Jane. Does she feel she has made a good move? Would she ever admit it if she hasn’t? Am I just like her in my quest for that someone special, after all? Or am I capable of being happy on my own? Of course I am, and yet…

It’s getting near to midnight and I’m checking that the CD of Auld Lang Syne is ready in the second player to be switched on for the crucial moment, when I hear the phone ring. I pick up and at first cannot hear anything – probably a wrong number - and I’m just about the put the phone down when a faint voice reaches me.
‘Xanthe, is that you?’
After a brief exchange, I replace the receiver and press play on the CD and lower the volume on the existing music so there is no pause and the old song fills the room. The countdown is chanted and as everybody kisses somebody else, I suddenly don’t feel quite so lonely. Even though there’s no-one for me to kiss, I can’t help the smile on my face and my heart beats just a little faster as I re-live the brief conversation.

‘Happy New Year! It’s Harvey. I have some great news, I’m coming to London…’

Friday, 9 December 2011

Wishing you a Happy Christmas

The following is an extract from my novel.

Christmas Past and Christmas Present....

Rick has always joined us for Christmas except for the first one when he was still enamoured with Psychobitch. Becca and I had only just moved in to our flat and it was still pretty dismal. The grandest thing about that Christmas was the tree – bought by Rick and Becca in time honoured family tradition - with the hideous, gaudy lights, and our usual Christmas dinner.

If our first Christmas without Rick was a bit miserable, luckily his had turned out to be a spectacular disaster. Apparently he had, as usual, left shopping until the last possible minute only to find that all the fresh turkeys had been sold. Lugging home an enormous frozen one he assumed with his usual optimism that it would defrost overnight. It didn’t. A screaming row ensued culminating with Psychobitch hurling the still frozen beast through the kitchen window. The closed kitchen window. The neighbours, hearing screams and shrieks followed by broken glass, assumed murder was taking place and called 999.

Needless to say Rick didn’t get round to seeing his daughter that day, but at least he evaded arrest. He did manage to phone to wish Becca a furtive Happy Christmas while Psychobitch was calming down by having a bubble-bath. I suppose I wasn’t being helpful when I suggested that holding her head under the water for half an hour or so would calm her down admirably.

By comparison this Christmas passes pleasantly and uneventfully. Rick arrives late as usual owing to his non-existent time keeping ability, but at least he’s here before the turkey is done. We had told him we’d be eating at one o’clock when really we had planned for two so in effect he’s early. He staggers up the garden path carrying several bags looped over his arms and a large box. Mary, his latest girlfriend, trots closely behind wearing a curious woolly pixie-hat with tassels. As we call out greetings she sees me eyeing her headwear and exclaims, ‘Isn’t it lovely? It’s a present from Rick.’ She beams. ‘Don’t you think it suits me?’

It’s hideous and she looks like a hobbit with very poor dress sense. I start worrying that she might be a vegetarian or worse, a vegan, and has forgotten to tell me.

As she’s so delighted with her hat, I say nothing and merely give a sickly smile. Rick catches my eye and I know he’s thinking that if he’d given me anything like that he and I would have been divorced a lot sooner. He gives a slight ‘What could I do?’ look and heaves the parcels up the stairs.

The box contains our third visitor; Becca’s cat who still lives with Rick. Nauseatingly called Tinkerbell by a five year old Becca, she is now named Tankerbell owing to incredible weight gain in later life and has recently morphed into Tankerbelly. She is now too fat and arthritic to jump out of her box and seems to be wedged in. Becca has to turn the box on its side and poor Tankerbell flops out in a very undignified position onto the sofa where she shuffles around and assumes a more comfortable and elegant pose. She starts purring. Possibly because she has a sofa to herself as there is now no room for anyone else.

The day goes smoothly. The Christmas dinner avoids incineration, although Becca and Rick, yet again, re-live the year I inadvertently caught Aunty’s Christmas cake on fire.
‘How can a cake catch on fire?’ asks Mary.
‘It was so dry, I’d had to moisten it a bit,’ I explain.
‘With lighter fuel?’ asks Becca.
‘Half a bottle of brandy,’ supplies Rick, ‘and then having eaten more than was good for her, she lights a candle and drops the flaming match on the cake…’
‘And it whooshed up in flames,’ adds Becca. ‘It was very exciting. Well, in my defence, I was only six, and things like that are exciting when you’re six.’

Mary tucks into the turkey quite happily after all. Everyone is pleased with the gifts they receive, although the book from Jane exhorting me to love myself seems a bit over the top. Tankerbell, whose writing on the gift tag is remarkably similar to Becca’s has given me chocolate mice. My mother has sent me a cheque, which will be put into my Frivolous Fund that has been quietly building up on account of my not having done anything frivolous for ages. There is some dispute over whether to watch the Queen’s Christmas message or the alternative one, with Becca and Rick siding for the irreverent and Mary and me pleading for tradition. The Queen wins but we end up wishing she hadn’t.