Thursday, 20 May 2010

Great expectations

A couple of weeks ago, WhyMissJones went on a field trip, all the way to south-central London, which is farther from south-east London than you might think. All the way to the offices of Random House publishers, to eat snacks and meet some other lady bloggers and be excited and slightly starstruck in the presence of the main attraction, Lisa Jewell, and her new book After The Party. ATP is a sequel to the much loved Ralph's Party, which has been lauded on these screens more than once, and which came ten years before. It reveals the lengthy emotional hangover suffered by the main characters after we left them giddy and ecstatic and loved-up and what-could-possibly-go-wrong? at the end of the first book. Over the evening, we sat around like grown-ups and talked about, well, being grown-ups, and how the last ten years have changed us, as well as why we blog, and what about, and all that jazz.

No one actually mentioned jazz, I don't think.

From my perspective, little has changed around my own personal circumstances during the last 10 years. I live in the same flat, I remain unmarried and childless, and don't earn a vast amount more. On paper, I'm pretty much as I was at 26. Yet these days, I am less apologetic for my own personal strains of weirdness, and more willing to concede that generally, not all the time, not as much as I'd like, but quite a lot, I am An OK Person.

New people that I meet have occasionally, and over-politely, guessed my age at 27, which is almost a titano-smug, 10-year time-freeze. And any time some Heavy Stuff leans into my consciousness, I still feel that age – and that I'm not quite old enough to be dealing with any of it.

Yet it's true that most of my more trivial concerns echo someone 35 years my senior, enthusing about cardigans and hot beverages and shrinking away from confident youths on buses.

Still, the Big Stuff I'm sweating, is totally Mid-3os Single Female (Classic Version).

I should have been writing about the evening I shared with all those lovely women two weeks ago, and my lame excuses entirely demonstrate the strange state I'm caught in, somewhere between a) immaturity and b) the ageing process.

a) I have had the WORST SORE THROAT EVER. OMG! It was, like, so bad.

b) The time just slipped away. Where does it go? It moves so fast these days, etc. [Commences melancholy discourse on the desparate race against time elapsing, suggesting awareness of own mortality and inescapable process of human decay.]

With reference to b), it's true to say that 'Getting round to stuff' has not found its way into my skill set over the last ten years.

But it hasn't all been illness and sloth. I have also been away for a few days on a south-coast seaside jaunt with Miss R, including a stay in Broadstairs, which features in one of Lisa Jewell's previous books, The Truth About Melody Browne. A lonely little girl who lives in the town is taken to Morelli's, an untouched-by-time ice cream parlour right on the seafront, for a sundae by just about her only friend in the world.

I fell in love with Morelli's when I read that. I'm always passionate about a small occasion. Big ones, not so much. But making a celebration out of an over-elaborate ice cream? Yes. Absolutely, yes. I would have been beside myself with anticipation about this at 6, at 16, at 26. If I ever get too old to be excited by things like this, then in truth I will probably be too dull to realise. But I'm reserving a little bit of self-loathing, just in case.

So we arrived in Broadstairs with ice-cream signs in our eyes. The sun was bright, the beach that Morelli's looks out on was golden and deserted. It seemed that all the elements involved had read the manual on just how this part of the day should go.

Except, oh... not Morelli's.

The landlady of our brilliant B&B had urged us to hurry down there, since they were still operating winter opening hours, and were closing at 5pm. We arrived, anxious, at 4.45pm. Do we have time for a sundae, we asked.

'You've got five minutes,' said a face that last cracked a smile in the 1950s when she first saw the current decor.

'Five minutes to order,' I said, 'or five minutes to eat it?'



We looked around.

Given the large collection of elderly people sitting around nursing cups of tea, with numerous layers of outer clothing to put on, and a trip to the toilet to factor in before exiting, I felt quite strongly that Morelli's would not be closing in five minutes. But since they had already put away all but a paltry couple of flavours, they were clearly not in the market for a persuasion offensive. Or to earn a little more money.

Instead, we went down to the beach and had a Mr Whippy.

But I'm a strong believer in the Church Of Second Chances, so the next morning we returned. I was queasy with cooked breakfast, and a rococo ice-cream experience would be beyond me, but I wanted to look at the pictures and ponder the toppings and sit among the formica – all with a sea view. Then I hit upon the perfect solution. A milkshake. Less flamboyant, no Flake – but still, a fancy glass.

'Excuse me,' I said. 'What flavour milkshakes do you do?'

'None at the moment. The machine's being cleaned.'


We left – with no sundae, no sorries, no customer service to speak of. We went round the corner to a newer ice cream parlour, where they were glad to see us and I had the best banana milkshake.

With the bloggers' evening still fresh in my mind, this felt like a tiny testament to something else that happens as your 20s tip into your 30s. The understanding that your ideals won't always form part of the action. That small series of adjustments and accommodations, all the time.

You can still have your sea view. It just might not be the one you imagined.

[Thanks very much to Random House, Lisa Jewell, everyone involved in organising the event, and all the funny, inspiring, talented women I met that evening.]


Tamsin said...

Ace post as ever Ms Jones. I strongly recommend your next seaside jaunt is to Brighton where you should visit the AMAZING seaside cafe Marocco's. It's at the Hove end of the beach - much quieter and more lovely than the mental Brighton end - and has all the quaint, quirky formica-ness that you are looking for. PLUS they do about 20 million ice cream flavours, are lovely, lovely barking mad people and also offer amazing food for not much money.

If you're ever in Brighton town, I insist that you get in touch and allow me to buy you an ice cream sundae :-)

Miss Jones said...

Thanks, Tamsin, that sounds great. I'm in!