Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Out with the old

I'm reaching the end of a marathon work stint in the Wapping compound. I say marathon. It is nine weeks. But everyone knows that one freelance week is roughly equivalent to five years of permanently employed service. So I will be expecting at least an engraved Parker Pen on my departure on Friday, not to mention a lukewarm and resentfully attended sparkling wine/cocktail sausage desk buffet.

Will I miss newspaper publishing's very own open prison? I certainly won't miss my computer, where the time delay between my fingers hitting the keys in pursuit of email composition – which I like to do a lot, and fast – and the words appearing on the screen is so slow and bunched up I perpetually feel like it's 1980 and I'm typing on the Grandstand videprinter.

I will, however, miss the nearby Waitrose coffee shop, which has been my only true friend during this difficult time. Today, to heighten my looming sense of separation anxiety, the till operative gave me two free chocolates with my tea. Two! One is a customer courtesy; two is kind of a big deal. In reality, I'm fairly sure it was a result of the eyeroll we shared over the hugely rude SmugMum who had been served just ahead of me.

Lately, I have noticed on several occasions the same elderly man having a cup of tea and taking in the papers of a lunchtime. A few days ago, he was sitting next to me on a high-stools/high-table-along-the-window arrangement, making truly the most phenomenal amount of noise eating an oatcake, which he had brought in from home wrapped in kitchen roll. It was a symphony in sucking and mastication, performed with the mouth. You would not have thought that much moisture could be extracted from an oatcake, but good lord, he was a terrier about it.

Ordinarily, I could not have stood for this feat of noisy eating. There would have been, on my part, geriatricide; on his, no more eating of oatcakes. If there was not actual murder taking place, the Waitrose cafe would have seen at the very least some Olympian tutting, and me sliding off my high stool with clumsy froideur to move somewhere closer to the obliterative roar of the cappuccino machine. But, readers, surprise is a very powerful thing, and my emotional achilles heel is a very weak one, and it is in essence men of a pensionable age sitting on their own in coffee shops. I've said it before, but it is, for me, a 100% sure-fire Random Cry Trigger.

Why was he such a powerful specimen? It probably had a lot to do with his nose, which was Roman, and very much like my grandad's and my dad's and mine, physiognomy fans. But most probably it was his feet, resting uneasily on the bar of the table in front of us, trousers being hoisted up bony flagpole shins by the awkward, forward-sliding posture demanded by the stool. It instantly referred my brain to an image from my younger teenage years that I can't seem to forget – a man being given desperate CPR in the back of an ambulance. I remember two things in particular – the up-and-down arms of the paramedic, engaged in furious chest compressions, and a pair of feet in brown socks and men's sandals dangling lifelessly over the end of the bed. I also remember, as the ambulance pulled away, doors slammed and sirens blaring, my dad saying sadly, and almost under his breath, 'Good luck.'

(In today's parentheses of emotional self-indulgence, I wonder a lot if other people are haunted by seeing this happen to my dad, as I am haunted by this image of someone else's loved one slipping away.)

Come back! Bereavement Two Minutes is over. We're back in Waitrose. And I was taking in my cafe neighbour's gardening-tanned hands and wondering if he had a shed, I had an epiphany and it said a) I must remember to buy some milk before I go back to the office, and b) this borderline fetishism of old people and their lifestyle is possibly slightly weird.

What with this, and my nascent friendship with Lambeth Horticultural Society, and in particular the brilliant Valerie (who may actually be 25 for all I know), I have begun to wonder if it might be healthy to try associating with more people of my own age. I put this to Miss W during a multi-faceted email exchange. Diplomatically she did not reply to that particular thread.

More evidence. Another thing I will remember fondly about this job is the extremely hot lawyer who strides through the editorial office on his way from the outside world to his own glass-walled cell, expertly navigating the assault course of shoes and garments laid out on the carpet by the fashion department as they prep for shoots. To the ingenue, these constitute quite the health-and-safety hazard ('Have you had an accident in the workplace? Tripped over an embellished platform stiletto? Skidded on a shimmering parachute silk jumpsuit? Call Fashion Injury Lawyers 4 U' etc). What I find hottest about him is not his many impressive physical attributes but his speaking voice. Today, however, I realised he sounds a lot like Cliff Richard.

In addition, where did I spend my Friday night? Not taking crystal meth at an underground Dalston speakeasy, but blissfully browsing around the Crayford branch of Hobbycraft.

What comes next? A subscription to the Daniel O'Donnell fanclub and fanatical crocheting?

It is a worry.


ren said...

i was once given a christmas card that had one of those computer chips in it. it was a recording of cliff richard singing a ghastly christmas song. i'd gladly give it to you but it's been slowly degrading and now he sounds like he's had a rather terrible stroke. sad really....

miss w said...

I thought it was a rhetorical question! Er... no comment, anyway.

Miss Jones said...

I was seeking your support and reassurance. I was not seeking that you tell me the truth. Good God, no.