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.

Friday, 24 July 2009

In which I am confused with Robert Smith for the second time in my life*

Miss L and I were pedecommuting from London Bridge to Wapping this morning, and as we were striding along the South Bank, we were stopped by a middle-aged Japanese couple brandishing a camera. But before we could argue about which one of us would take their picture for them, the female half of the pairing had whipped us round with surprising strength for someone of her stature, and was beaming at the camera with an arm locked around each of us, while her husband snapped away and we wore rictus grins of baffled surprise. As we broke apart, still a little dazed, Miss L asked if they would like us to take a picture of them together, perhaps against the popular backdrop of Tower Bridge. Affirmative, seemed to be the response, but before we knew it, we were being grasped by the male half of the double act, and again making a tourist sandwich for the camera. Still, we nodded and beamed our way through the breakdown in communication, and carried on to work, speculating on why we were such irresistible elements of the composition.

In the office, Amy, who I sit next to, who is lovely, and about five foot ten, said it's because Miss L and I are tall, and the contrast between us and the Japanese couple makes for prime photo-album fodder. But I am not that tall. I am only five foot six, which is at best the taller end of normal, and not even tall enough to be a model, which is unfortunate, because at the moment that's the only thing holding me back.

So what was it? It's not like we're dressed as beefeaters, I thought to myself. At least, not intentionally. It's not like we're punks. And then, as I thought of my pale complexion, and my dark, dark, hair, and looked down at the thick black tights I was wearing, which had been gently derided earlier by Miss L for getting an outing in July, I had an unwelcome epiphany.

Perhaps, just perhaps, they thought I was a goth.

That reminded me of living in halls in my first year of university, and how a boy called Andy, who lived downstairs, would habitually call me Robert Smith. Robert Smith of wild hair and delinquent lipstick. Robert Smith of The Cure. Robert Smith of the male half of the species. Now I write it down, it seems like I should have been annoyed, or angry, or upset, or furiously remonstrative, but he did it in such an affable, matter-of-fact way that I just wasn't. Maybe once I might have countered weakly, 'I really don't look like Robert Smith.' And it was as if I had tried to claim that the sun didn't really rise every morning. 'You're so Robert Smith,' was the calm, apparently definitive reply.

I think there is a reason it didn't really bother me, and that is because when I was about 15, which is a vulnerable, fumbling, finding-your-way age, someone - an older person, a person I trusted - told me I reminded them of Su Pollard. I think you will agree that next to this, being compared to Robert Smith is virtually a compliment. And it is that from which I have never fully recovered.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Owls and aubergines

Back at the Lambeth Country Show, the competitive baking, the Mr Whippee vans, the alpacas, the sheep-shearing, the dubious crafts, the bowel-bothering, bass-heavy sound systems, the medieval jousting and the sheepdogs chasing herds of ducks up and down a miniature slide are all just so many support acts before the two main attractions:



Vegetable sculpture.

Malheureusement, it was not a good weekend for owls. Humans cannot perform thrilling aerial acrobatics when it's gusty, and nor can owls. In addition, they have a peculiarly sensitive artistic temperament, particularly when it comes to the big occasion. "Look at Tiger," said the owl wrangler, in a strong West Country accent, of one of his starlets. "He's a bag of nerves. He's never flown in the big arena before."

If you ask me, Tiger had had enough of his human sidekick giving out cheap, crowd-pleasing chat like this: "Right, kids. Who likes to go to McDonald’s? Who likes burgers? Chicken McNuggets? Yes? Well, owls would like to go to McDonald’s if it was RAW.’

Here is Tiger, his face bleak with contempt.

Meanwhile, in a tent on the other side of the park, red-hot vegetable modelling action. You might expect that the recent demise of Michael Jackson had inspired many artistic endeavours. You would not be wrong.

Yet neither will you be surprised to learn that the judges were not to be swayed by the gimmick of topicality. Here is the more classically inspired victor:

But wait. What is her hair made of? IT IS MADE OF WOOL. Instant disqualification, surely, and a failure of imagination on the part of the artist for not turning to some moulding asparagus, for example, to give similar colour and texture.

Here is second place. Excellent use of engraved watermelon to provide a tortoiseshell effect:

And here is third, apparently a tribute to Wilf Lunn, at least in terms of facial hair. I could not say if Wilf smokes a pipe.

But let us not forget the children, as they are our future. Teach them to make vegetable animals well, and let them lead the way. Also be there to mop their tears when one of their creations literally falls off its perch [below, extreme right].

I would also like to highlight the show's competitive floristry wars, with one category of exhibits themed around a West End musical.

Here is 'Cats'. You can see that the artist has used a china cat to suggest the musical Cats, and also a card that says Cats on it.

And here is 'Wicked'. Thrillingly, at the edge of the frame, you can catch a glimpse of one of the tent's security personnel, tensed like a jungle cat, ready to pounce at the first sign of a riot. The crowds at the Flower Show can be large and unruly, particularly in front of the vegetable modelling entries, where there's more push and shove than the opening of Primark Marble Arch. You may think that the cord around the security agent's neck is attached to her glasses. It is actually holding a lightweight Taser.

Finally, if you are moved to enter a category at next year's show, might I suggest marrow growing? Look at the sole entrants, and the over-ambitious table space that has been allotted to their no-show rivals.

They look as glum as the last two marrows to be picked for marrow football.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

I fought the Lambeth Horticultural Society, and the Lambeth Horticultural Society won, but I came second

Previously on Why Miss Jones, I told you how I was grievously slighted by someone in authority at the Lambeth Horticultural Society, during the Lambeth Country Show. You may recall that I swore vengeance.

Well, this weekend [steely, ominous voice] it was time.

The battlefield was the Domestic Classes of the 2009 Lambeth Country Show Flower Show (too many shows, but I cannot explain it any other way) - in particular, the baking categories. I did not, as I had proposed, learn skills from the world’s best baking ninjas. I did not travel to Vienna and Kyoto. Instead, I searched deep, deep within myself – past the literature of the American renaissance, past my A-level French vocabulary and past all the lyrics to Duran Duran's Rio album – and drew on all I had learnt at the formica worktop of Mrs Jones. I also trusted in an email I received from a lovely lady called Valerie, a benign member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, who answered my plea about how to enter and also wished me good luck.

I put my entry form in the post, thereby sounding a warning. I would bring bloody warmongering to Class 76 Cranberry and Ginger Blondies. I would bring righteous fury to Class 77 Marmalade Cake. I would bring noble fire to Class 79 Chocolate Cherry Cookies. I would bring the ingredients to my kitchen on Friday night and spend hours baking, then end up scraping the lot into the bin at 1am in a tantrum of curdled hopes and burnt dreams, hot flour-streaked tears pouring down my cheeks.

Or so I thought. Instead, the gods of baking smiled on me on Friday night. The blondies and the cookies worked like a charm, despite the obstacles put in my path by LHS in the form of numerous errors in the recipes. For example:

150g (5oz) white chocolate, broken into pieces
50g (5oz) soft butter

How much bloody butter? 50g? Or 5oz? Because they are really, really different amounts. Hear me when I say this, elderly recipe writers with your trembly-fingered typos, you will not destroy me. I AM STRONGER THAN YOU.

Unfortunately I was not quite strong enough to make a decent marmalade cake. I am blaming this on an extremely suspect jar of marmalade. My cake mix tasted disgusting, and alarm bells rang immediately, because everyone knows that cake mix tastes better than almost anything in the world. I then tasted the half-empty jar of marmalade. It too was abhorrent. However, I was not a sound judge, since marmalade always tastes like the foulest poison to me. I consider it literally the preserve of the devil.

I texted Miss W for advice. She had expressed enthusiasm for the marmalade cake and marmalade generally – yet, charitably, I was still allowing her to be my friend. I asked her if marmalade was meant to taste quite so repulsive. She told me probably not, and administered her usual pragmatic comfort, reminding me gently that I was entering the competition in an ironic and post-modern context. Let me tell you, I was not feeling ironic, post-modern anguish. It was the real thing.

So the marmalade, a brand new jar, was rotten. But what could I do? The shops were shut. I could only shove the cake in the oven, put the best of Teenage Fanclub on the kitchen stereo to calm me down, and hope for the best.

The sun rose over Brockwell Park on Saturday morning, and I made my way to the Flower Show tent with my freshly baked weapons. I walked up to the reception desk, told them my name and in return I was given this:

Oh yes, readers, I am kind of a big deal. These change hands for hundreds of pounds in certain tea shops and garden centres with wheelchair access.

The atmosphere in the tent was – heh – intense. People were nervously primping bonsai trees and smoothing out crocheted blankets. An elderly man was wiping stray smears of homemade jam from around the rim of a jar with the concentration and precision of a watchmaker.

I started to lay out my entries on their special, pink paper plates. Then a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would like to use some of her clingfilm. I felt a warm glow spread through me, from my sweating feet to the tips of my shaking fingers. It was a glow of camaraderie, but also of smugness because I may be a rookie, but I had remembered to bring my own clingfilm. So I said no thank you, and told her she was very kind. And to make conversation, and try to prolong the moment of respectful bonhomie at the competition coalface, I said, ‘Oof! It’s really hot in here, isn’t it!’

'Oh,' she said ominously, striking a deadly blow at my ingenous enthusiasm, ‘this isn’t hot. This is nothing compared to some shows.’ She also told me that she had won the handicrafts cup a few years before. That put me in my place.

Once I had set out my plates, and spent several minutes moving them a few centimetres one way, then several centimetres back again, I wandered around the tent (which was still closed to non-exhibiting civilians) looking at all the other displays, without the crush of the general public. It was a special time and I thought this is what it would be like if you were allowed into The Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York at dawn, just the greatest treasures of the world, and you. And about two dozen really competitive pensioners.

But then, a man shouted, ‘Stop exhibiting!’ and it was exactly like Masterchef, and all the arranging and fussing was over, and we had to leave the tent so that judging could begin.

A couple of hours later, I had been joined at the Lambeth Country Show by Miss W and Marbury, and with them by my side I returned to the tent to Face Destiny.

Firstly, the marmalade cake was not placed. I was not surprised, given the rogue batch of marmalade. Thanks, Forest Hill branch of a popular supermarket chain, for RUINING MY LIFE.

But then there was this:

And this:

Two second places. TWO SECOND PLACES. I felt elated. I felt alive. I suddenly felt really, really tired.

Yes, you are right. I didn't totally win. But I rocked the Lambeth Horticultural Society to its foundations. I think. No one could say I was not a baking force to be reckoned with. All of south-east London will know and fear me.

So, to the runner-up, the spoils. And here they are:

Three pounds. Three whole pounds. Two second-place prizes of one pound fifty. It’s unfortunate that I then spent eleven pounds on my way home in Herne Hill’s excellent branch of Oxfam, but I don't need to tell you that here, money is unimportant. Like all the great contests – Mastermind, Fifteen To One – prize money is irrelevent. It is about prestige. It is about respect. It is about glory. And now, I am only hungry for more.

Next time on Why Miss Jones: more from the Lambeth Country Show, in particular, vegetable sculpture and owl-stretching time.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Red for danger

This was waiting on my desk to greet me when I got into work on Friday morning:

Ever-mindful of health and safety – yet not quite enough to give the toilets a really good clean with any degree of regularity – the facilities department had let rip a warning with their red print cartridge.

I'm supposing the alcohol denial is important and necessary, and it's not just intended to be small print, but whoever typed it didn't know how to change the font size. I'm supposing it says something about toxicitiy, or lack of, and rules and legality and blah blah.

Yet in this setting – polystyrene ceiling tiles above, stained carpet below, walls closing in left and right, soul seeping away front and centre – it suggests that they envision their beloved employees attempting to suck tiny drops of numbing comfort out of a sanitising wipe, with the desperation of a dying man in the desert. They are probably right.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cut me, I bleed cool

It's true to say that when it comes to fashion advice, this blog is not necessarily your one-stop shop. But what is that gentle breath you feel upon your cheek? It is the winds of change.

We are opening the Style Bible 2.0 with the delicate art of accessorising. This is a balancing act indeed. Merely the injudicious addition of a gold chain can take you from Sevigny (Chloe) to Savile (Jimmy) in a semi-precious flash.

It is best to take as your base a timeless item of tailoring, perhaps a vintage Marc Jacobs blouse – and I cannot stress enough that this is a purely hypothetical example – that you were especially pleased/smug at finding tucked away in a second-hand shop in Norfolk. But I am not suggesting you set this off with a waisted belt, a classic clutch or piece of statement jewellery. Fashion is about pushing boundaries. I am urging you to unconsciously deposit a thick strand of banana rind on your chest, preferably somewhere near the blouse's defining feature – in this case, a large bow – in order to draw the eye in.

The banana rind is really enjoying its fashion moment. It is organic, ethically produced from sustainable materials, and will provoke fascinated glances from passers-by. These people are now your style disciples. It is more effective, more edgy, more totally now than, say, a cappuccino five o'clock shadow, a piece of toilet paper stuck to the sole of your shoe, or having the back of your skirt tucked into your knickers. I do, however, recommend wearing it for at least half an hour, while you walk down a busy Saturday-morning suburban street, and around a hectic station concourse, before removing it in the privacy of your train seat.

[Top, £40, vintage Marc Jacobs; bag and cardigan (just seen), stylist's own; banana, 30p, Marks & Spencer]

Next time: how to make your summer-sandal scabs totally 2009!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Gift shop despatches

Apparently there are some people in the world whose idea of a good day out does not include either a gift shop, or a cup of tea and a nutritionally void item of baking. To those people, I say nothing because I have nothing to say to them.

Although I could perhaps wrestle my antipathy to the floor for long enough to say:

You would probably go to Kew Gardens with your friends – if you had any, which, like, you totally don't – and you would stride through the shop in your ugly shoes, with your overrated sense of purpose, on your way to the toilet, without a sideways glance and you would completely miss the Never-Ending Wall Of Technicolor Confectionary.

You are the kind of person who thinks there are two kinds of jam in the world: red jam and marmalade. You would probably look at this jar of High Dumpsie Dearie, which I have learnt is a traditional recipe for Plum, Pear & Apple Jam, and think, 'Why don't they just call it Plum, Pear & Apple Jam?'

You are probably not even excited by salt and pepper shakers – or a 'cruet set' as people who write copy for mail-order catalogues are wont to call them – in the shape of guinea pigs.

Your heart is made of sawdust and steel – not silk and steel, that would make you Five Star – and nuts and bolts done up too tightly. If we were at school, you would probably borrow my felt-tip pens without asking, and press too hard, and then not put the tops back on properly. You have to push them on until they click, you savage.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sky's the limit

I have things to say, but I am too busy sobbing at Michael Jackson's memorial service and shouting at Kay Burley to say them.

Kay Burley is conducting an inappropriately euphoric interview with two Welsh ladies who had taken a speculative trip to LA to soak up the atmosphere of mourning, and had then been given tickets to get into the Staples Centre by Sky News. Both the Big Reveal ('How would you like to be watching the service… inside?') and their Big Reactions were as if their homes had been chosen for a 60 Minute Makeover, or they had found one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets.

Burley is catching up with Dead Jacko's own Violet Beauregarde and Veruca Salt after the show, as they froth about what a blast it was.

'And who's the best TV channel around?' smarms Burley, repulsively.

'Thank you, Sky!' they beam back.

This is a memorial service, you cretins, not Mecca bingo.

I am reminded of a line spoken by Janeane Garofalo to Uma Thurman in The Truth About Cats And Dogs, a romcom which I love, but which is probably not considered among the greats (see also While You Were Sleeping) as Uma is practising for a newscaster audition:

'You might want to make the carnage a little less upbeat.'

So, with this trauma weighing heavily upon us, let's turn instead to the great directory of Speedy Pictorial Blog Posts.

Many are the important messages that have been written on napkins - 'Bartlet for America' is just one. And here is another - a portrait by Young Miss Jones The Younger of her beloved aunt, drawn on Sunday.

You may notice that her rendering of my hair is, colour aside, uncanny. As is the alarmingly unflinching way she has captured my classic British pear shape, total lack of discernible cleavage, and the puny sloping shoulders that leave me infuriated with shiny-materialed shoulder bags on a daily basis. Sylvia Plath said in the poem Child: 'Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.' In the matter of my portrait, I could handle the clear-eyed candour of my youngest niece being slightly less clear-eyed and candid. I am misappropriating Sylvia Plath's words somewhat here, but I like them, and she left them lying around, so what does she expect?

The legs are less convincing. Or are they? I was sitting down, after all.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Glory days

If I had £1 for every conversation I've had with girlfriends lately about how incredibly hot Bruce Springsteen still is at 59, I'd have about £4.50.

So let's spend that £4.50 on a hotdog and some root beer, even though I would rather have a milkshake, sit back and enjoy these…

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Viva la revolution… but let's have a sit-down first

I'm not saying definitely, but I think I'm being targeted by a collective of geriatric guerilla revolutionaries who want me to join their number.

Recently, I received a mysterious communique through the post. My name and address were handwritten on the envelope - rather than the usual printed labels fronting oily incitements from Foxtons and invitations to vintage fairs I have never been and am unlikely to ever go to. This was thrilling enough in itself. Then I noticed the spidery quality of the biro-work, and wondered if my nan was trying to communicate from beyond the grave. I would show you the envelope but then you would all know my address. This would be fine, obviously – it's not like I don't trust you – but what if you all dropped by at the same time? I only have four chairs, and where would the other three of you sit? Actually, I can show you this bit:

Before I opened it, I wondered if it was a personal, handwritten invitation to compete in the baking contest at this year's Lambeth Country Show. (At the same event a couple of years ago, someone in a position of power in the horticulture/baking/vegetable modelling tent was unnecessarily rude to me as I was attempting to view the winners just when they were about to clear everything away. I swore then that I would go away and learn from the world's baking virtuosos, from Vienna to Kyoto, then come back with a cake that would BLOW THEIR TINY MINDS, win the competition, and TAKE THAT MEAN OLD BIRD DOWN. This is part of a pitch I'm working on for a quirky British film comedy called The Flour And The Glory. It's just a working title). ANYWAY. It was not that. It was several sheets of A4 covered in tutting, typewritten capital letters of outrage. It was from someone in their late 70s who is very disappointed with our glorious government. They begin thus:

'I know of pre war years, fear free streets, open front doors and when life was simply happy for all.'

I don't know if this means they fear free streets or know of a time when streets were free of fear. At the very least, their organisation could do with a specialist in adjectival hyphenation.

In essence, they tell me that England is on the verge of destruction, and if you were to ask any of their pensionable comrades what they thought of our political system, 'THEY WOULD REPLY CXXP, SXXT OR RXXXXXH.' This either represents a particularly coy approach to swearing, or RXXXXXH is such an abominable cuss that even I, with my great enthusiasm for the raw broadness of the English language, am unable to imagine the depths of repellant profanity shrouded by those Xs.

The letter, from a group calling themselves 'The Grey Ones', essentially urges me to contact the Queen and request that she abolishes all political parties, and embrace something they're calling the priorities poll. It also includes the phrases 'THE DAYS OF PARLIAMENTARY JANGLE WILL BE OVER', 'PICK UP YOUR PEN AND TRY FOR YOUR FUTURE' and 'GOD HELP ENGLAND AND HER TOMMORROWS'.

It runs to five pages, and I felt utterly spent just reading it. I can't imagine the titanic effort involved in its composition. I can only assume the author was briefly rendered super-human by the triumphant completion of a particularly vexing crossword, or slaying their nemesis at bridge. Look, here is one of the pages. The bad cropping is a result of my sub-standard scanning, not of their hurried, furtive library photocopying, sheets of propaganda concealed in the pages of The Gardener's Yearbook.

Maybe these were the ramblings of elderly fanatics, but they were elderly fanatics with my name and address, and I was pondering exactly how worried I should be about this a couple of weeks later, as I was enjoying an al fresco lunch by one of Wapping's most attractively dried up bits of the Thames. Probably, I reasoned, I wasn't a specific, isolated target. Probably I wasn't that special. Probably my neighbours had received a similar communication. I could find out, but that would involve me actually talking to my neighbours.

So I had resolved to forget about it, but as I started to walk back to the office, I took a look behind me, in my gently OCD way, to make sure I hadn't left anything behind. There, under the bench where I'd been sitting, was a screwed up piece of paper. I am 100% positive it was not there when I sat down. I thought it was the receipt from the purchase of my Waitrose lunch, so I went back to pick it up because a) show me a litterbug, and I'll show you a loser and b) I didn't want some grubby old lunch pervert knowing what sandwich filling fills me up (incidentally, considering their positioning in the market, the selection of sandwiches in Waitrose is Poor Indeed). But it was no till receipt. It was, of course, a coded message.

First, I thought, 'What would The Usborne Detective Handbook [which I owned in 1981] tell me to do?' Secondly, I decided that the handwriting looked a bit French (I had a penfriend for six weeks in 1984) and with the sleuthiness of a more stylish Columbo I had deciphered that the letters were the initials of the days of the week in French (lundi, mardi, mercredi etc). Oui monsieur, I have an A-level and didn't my would-be conscriptors know it. Somewhere in a sixth-form centre in West Norfolk, my academic records are missing from a filing cabinet, and a school secretary sits tied up with her own support tights. However her assailants have left Radio 4 on. They wouldn't want to miss The Archers, so nor, they reasoned, would she.

What of the numbers? Here they have made an error. The Grey Ones are clearly trusting that my B grade in A-level Maths was not the fluke I will happily admit to. I am no mathlete, and so their message to me remains a mystery.

So how did they find me? Simple surveyance. Staking out Sainsbury's, spying on shoppers, communicating between the aisles with walkie-talkies - or, more likely, two tin cans with a length of string between them, constructed in HQ laboratories, or as they're more prosaically known, Someone's Shed. They saw me in my cardigan and comfortable sandals and knew I was their girl. "Wood Pigeon, this is Murray Mint. Do you receive? Confirming re-up of Battenburg in civilian's basket. Positive target identified." Perhaps they had even seen the small packet of wet wipes I like to carry in my bag fall to the floor as I was getting out my purse at the self-checkout.

But still. Two messages, and I was yet to reciprocate their contact. Then, on Sunday, when I was returning from the Shennan Birthday Celebrations, I saw this pasted on a empty shop window near where I live:

Unless you are, like, Superman (and he totally reads this blog), you will be unable to see what this says, but it is one of the pages that I received through the post. Clearly, the Grey Ones are getting twitchy. I mean, twitchier than normal. They are taking some risks - and I'm not talking about eating crusty French bread with their dentures in. They are taking a chance on a public showing.

It made me uneasy. And who does one turn to when one is scared? When one feels one is being pursued by pension-drawing agitators? One's family. of course. But when I showed Mrs Jones (65 on Sunday) the first letter, in the hope of some reassuring words, she said ominously: 'There will be a revolution. I know it.'

Et tu, Maman?