Monthly Archives: March 2011

Urban Shed

If shed is a place where undisclosed activities take place- where private time is spent, time spent not playing with the kids, playing with nose-hairs instead- then car is urban shed.

A child got into mine last week and observed that it smelled- not just of poo, but of old poo.

Naturally, I blamed Rufus but the stench of shame out-stank it: I have since set about sprucing up the interior by means of hoovering and coconut waxings so that now the old poo odour wears the whiff of a Caribbean holiday.

World of Car is peculiarly intimate- a traveling capsule wardrobe of its owner. It distills all the charming character traits a casual visitor to the home would need a cup of tea to pinpoint: Aha! Directionless list-maker with a questionable taste in music.

Like the open-plan work station, it is designed to feed basic ugly needs within the proximity of an outstretched hand: communication, sustenance, excretion absorbancy, lip moisturisation.

Unlike the open-plan work station, finessing is redundant as passers-by are a.) strangers b.) passing by too fast to pass judgment. Intrusions will be shortlived:

‘I’m in my World of Car. You’re basically looking into my bedroom. I may be in a queue, plucking my eyebrows and scoffing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup while mouthing the words to what you deduce to be Barry Manilow’s hit ‘Mandy’, but as soon as the lights change I will be out of your life for good.’

Only here is rubbish allowed to co-habit undisturbed with snot tissues, a mauled A-Z and the spoils of dehydrated motorway service station hang-over stops, for interminable stretches of time; only here may penicillin party on the remnants of a Ginsters sausage roll.

Except in the inner sanctum of those for whom car-as-extension-of-self is exaltatory: people who arrange, suspend or otherwise undignify fluffy animals in the business of hauling their public-transport-averse bods from A to B; for whom a plastic tulip in a vase-effect plastic moulding is a day-brightening experience.

Or in Clean Cars, to which adheres (as to the virgin bride) the indelicate aura of ravagings ahead- the releasing of a toddler into a decontaminated rental vehicle aping the proposition of blank canvas/ paint bucket to Jackson Pollock: it will be transformed.

Meanwhile, usually NOT to be found in boot- the only proper secret space- is a corpse. But universally not a spare tyre, oil, water or health kit.

Because in an emergency- when the engine dies and the nearest phone is 3 horror-film miles away- what will really be required is a fishing net and nibless biro, those well-known objects of redemption…

Possibly sensing his work as exposer incomplete, poo child fiddled in the glove compartment on arrival and out fell a packet of marshmallows.

Our exchange of looks, wordless, was loaded thus:

‘You conceal sweets.’

‘Don’t tell.’

‘Bruno’s Mum is a sweetaholic.’

‘Don’t tell.’

‘I’m telling.’

‘Please don’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because what happens in urban shed stays in urban shed.’

All the same, double helpings of chocolate ice-cream with mallows on top for a certain little sir at tea-time.

And just a cup of green tea (one day at a time, one day at a time) for me.

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Colin and me

I got a message from Colin Firth saying he was overwhelmed by the high life and wanted to chill out with someone friendly.

When I arrived at his house he looked less large and green than I had expected and it occurred to me that maybe I’d dreamt the whole thing when I fell asleep during ‘Shrek’.

But being Charm Itself he welcomed me in and we enjoyed a pair of Alpen Light cereal bars. We doubted the judgment of Tesco Online’s substitution of them for Nature Valley granola bars but they turned out to be quite tasty.

‘So Anne Hathaway. Mouth too big or do you think she rocks it?’, I quizzed mid-dunk.

He gave me that steely English reserve look he’s known for and coughed. After slightly too long I moved on to his staggering success, to which he responded with the old King humble speech (no stutter) but his left eye was twitching, which denotes a gargantuan ego, in my experience.

‘My first exposure to you was in the film ‘Another Country‘ when I was at boarding school. My friends fancied Rupert Everett but I suspected he was gaywise even back then and went bananas for your sulky schtick.’

‘Really, that’s too kind,’ he said humbly (eye twitching).

We established he is rarely mistaken for Colin Farrell (although how would he know: ‘Hey Colin, great hair in that movie!’– see what I mean?) before indulging in a bit of Darcy chat.

Of his path to glory he said he could take absolutely no credit whatsoever for anything he has ever done ever because it had all simply landed in his lap.

‘You mean you didn’t have to sleep with even the teensy weensiest casting director to get the role in ‘Nanny McPhee‘?’ I asked mischievously.

I took his silence as a yes, allowing him to take the lead in the conversation, which he did with considerable earnestness and at some length on the subject of ‘A Single Man’. I nodded a lot, resisting the urge to tell him his clear-lense spectacles had made the greatest impression on me of all.

‘But you’ve had fun too!,’ I exclaimed, trying to lighten the mood. ‘Bridget Jones. St. Trianian’s 2. Mamma Mia!’

For a split second I thought he was going to cry but he widened his mouth in the manner of a smile instead. At which point I suspected his teeth were not quite as nature intended and come to think of it not much else either.

But you don’t sit in a star’s living room and tell him his complexion is waxy, especially when he’s about to sing like a canary about Renee Zellweger’s weight gain.

Which he didn’t so much but he does think Hugh Grant is a peerless human being (hooker scandals notwithstanding), that Meryl Streep does a better English accent than him and that Uma Thurman could actually do with being a bit taller.

‘Do you remember making eye contact with me in the children’s play area of the Natural History Museum a few years ago?’ I probed, bringing him back down to earth.

He hesitated ever so slightly before saying, ‘Not exactly’, and looking uncomfortable. So in I jumped: ‘You’re absolutely right. It was the Natural Science Museum.’

I didn’t think I should miss the opportunity to show a bit of leg but his mind was elsewhere and before long he had me folding napkins for his dinner party.

I wanted so much to ask him about his child with Meg Tilly but he was humming a song from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and it was just too good to interrupt.

When it came to an end I picked up my pot plant and kissed him on the cheek.

‘Do you know why women love you, Colin?’ I said as I sashayed out the door, his eye starting to twitch immediately. ‘Because you’re intense, sexually unthreatening and posh.’

And then hurried back to shout ‘But not like Prince Charles!’ through the letterbox.

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Read before you die

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Bruno, the surrealist

Sometimes, spending time with Bruno is like being in a David Lynch film. He has the universal logic of a 5 year old, twinned with his own particular brand of derr.

‘The poisonous spider got into the woman’s car recently. With children.’

Dreams are weird but what are you supposed to do with that?

If you say, ‘Fantastic!’, you’re the schmuck. If you say, ‘I’m worried about you’, then he’s the schmuck.

All that’s left is to gently navigate the limits of his sanity, in the way you would with Vanessa Feltz: ‘Okaaaaaay. And what exactly do you mean by that?’

‘I spy’ can take a long time. ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with G’, he might say. Then 20 minutes later, ‘Shall I tell you? There was a woman walking past and she was holding a Japanesey bag.’

Or, for ‘D’, ‘It’s ‘D’ for dropping because sometimes acorns drop from trees like that.’

Or, if it’s my turn and I say ‘B’, ‘Is it the ‘B’ from ‘beginning with’?’

So instead we play the game where you make a sound and the other person has to guess what it is. Like Capital Radio only you don’t win £25,000 and you’ll never be able to get it because Bruno’s sounds aren’t related to audible reality: ‘What’s chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-chk? Give up? It’s the sound of two objects clattering against each other.’

Jokes are predictable non sequiturs.

Q: ‘Why did the egg crack open its head?’ A: ‘Because it kicked the butcher’s cat.’

Q: ‘What’s gooey and really soft?’ A: ‘A newspaper’.

He’s deeply assured of of his own sense-making. Which would be fine, only it’s not a business I’m 100% tight with myself.

B: ‘Mummy, do you know what Millenium Solcans are? They are a kind of bear that’s really comfy and can move on the radio. They can go all around, just like my fire engine, with string attached to it.’

Me: ‘Really?’

He makes a victorious did-you-see-that face when he throws a winner in Snakes and Ladders, convinced the dice is listening to him requesting the numbers. A few spaces away from the finish line he whispers weird stuff into the little shakey cup thing:

‘Please, please may I have a 1? I love the smooth spot of it and if you do I’ll get you a dice girlfriend and a Transformer.’

‘What do you think swung it, Broons? The sweet talk, the love interest or the plastic toy?’, you quip. Whereupon he looks at you like you came up on the down train.

Magic’s fun. You can literally do anything and he thinks you’re a genius. Though I won’t be repeating the one where you pretend the coin’s travelling around your body, in case he keeps trying to swallow one pound coins (‘Why not? You just did it!’)

He’s similarly impressed with his own powers, a coin stuffed down his trousers or flung over the shoulder and lost in the sofa constituting an illusional masterpiece.

But, of course, the joke’s on me:

‘Hands up if you’re allergic to cats?’

I put up my hand.

‘Hands up if you’re a bit allergic to dogs?’

I put I my hand.

‘Hands up if you’re allergic to rabbits?’

I don’t do anything.

‘Good. Can we get a rabbit please?’

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