So it’s the first Thursday of Autumn, in a way, and the year is ageing fast. Only a couple of weeks ago I was heading for a swim in the sea at seven in the evenings when Juanita my Love had left for work, and now, now! I have to ensure I have lights on the bike when I go for the evening ride at the same time as it’s dark on my way home. But then that has long been the case in some ways. The sunsets have been quite picturesque though. Last night the lowering sky was layered with dusty rose pink and a colour I can only describe as magnesium lemon, and tonight it looked like a thermonuclear tangerine was easing itself silently through a lilac shroud into the sea behind the breakwater. Always crowds of people standing on the beach and the pathway capturing images on their devices. I just absorb it through the eyes like a spiritual virus into my soul. Colours, colours everywhere, and I feel them burning within me. Or maybe that’s the skordalia I made and gorged on yesterday.
I’ve been going right round the back of town a few times lately, where the lovely big villa type houses are. There are balconies, loggias and you just know that most of them have fake inglenook fireplaces and box rooms and the occasional galleried mezzanine. Some are painted white with green tiled roofs. But fuck me, the lawns are manicured to death, there are no weeds in the borders and the streets are patrolled by elderly men in crisp pressed unfaded blue jeans, pale denim shirts with smooth collars lying flat and mother of pearl buttons. Their wives wear headscarves and wellington boots when they walk their spaniels and labs. I find it all very unsettling, like a tranquil retirement hell for lecturers, company execs and civil servants, and pass through quickly. I couldn’t live in streets like those. I bet you have to live up to certain standards.
I had me a day off yesterday so I went into Brighton to buy a pen, some clothes, an anniversary present for my wife and some leaves, grains and spices from the Lebanese shop, where I saw an old lady get caught shoplifting three juicy peaches. For dinner today I made some breaded sliced chicken breast baked and then drizzled with a lovely fresh tomato, roast pepper and chorizo sauce using some pimenton dulce what I got yesterday. Drizzled, did I say? Puddles of the stuff more accurately. Tres nice, as you might say if you were linguistically confused. The town was heaving with crowds of these horrible people who wander from shop to shop, vacant of eye and mean of spirit, who check out goods in the shops and then you know, you just know, they go home and buy whatever it is off the internet for three quid less than they would have paid in the shops. After spending ten pounds on parking or bus fares or whatever. And probably fifteen ninety eight or something in MacDonalds or KFC. I sometimes try to dislocate their kneecaps with my shopping bags in passing. Not very successfully it has to be said. They just tell me to watch where I’m fucking going.
On the slow moving bus back from town I was idly looking at a little flock of sparkling starlings on the Tye, chirruping frantically and slaughtering worms or bugs or seeds in a busy little crowd. As one they lifted off in panic as a kestrel came skimming over the grass less than two feet above the ground and snatched one of the slower ones, who probably didn’t even notice its sudden violent death approaching. An Arabic girl was speaking loudly into her phone in the seat in front of me, madly overusing the letter L. I don’t think she saw the drama on the green.
The phone rang in the shop on Tuesday. I answered it as the girls were otherwise engaged chatting and discussing Facebook things. Never done it myself. I simply glowered meaningfully at them and picked up the phone.
“Hello Graham it’s Betty.” The only Bettys I know are my aunt who is 92 and lives in Broadstairs but has a broad Lincolnshire accent; it wasn’t her, and another lady called Betty who died three years ago. It wasn’t her either. Unless technology and medicine have progressed together at a very frightening rate and in a quite fucking disturbing direction.
“Betty? Sorry, Betty who?”
“I come in your shop. I buy bread” she said. That narrowed it down substantially. It’s a fucking bakery.
“Oh” I replied, for want of anything intelligent or relevant to say.
“Have you got Brian’s number?” She asked. I’ve got a cousin Brian who lives in Cheshire. He’s a copper. Retired now, I fancy. I had a feeling it wasn’t him she wanted though. I wouldn’t have handed out his contact details anyway.
“Brian? Betty? Sorry love, I really don’t know if I can help you. I really don’t know if you have the right number.” I really don’t know if we live on the same fucking planet.
“Yes Brian. He’s a painter and decorator. Or a builder. Anyway, a couple of years ago he was working across the road from you in one of those buildings. I wondered if you had his number.”
I wanted to say “Fuck! What the Fuck? Is this a fucking big fucking stitch up? What the Fuck? This is Fucking political!” And press my fingertips to my temples while showing too much dental hardware. Rather channelling John Malkovich in the opening scenes of Burn After Reading. though I don’t think he said “stitch up”. He certainly said “what the Fuck?” with a capital F quite a few times.
“Aaaah. Sorry. Betty? If Brian had been Brianna or even Bronye with big blue eyes and a cleavage to get lost in I might have attempted to get a phone number. But as it happens I don’t recall a Brian. Mind you, there are five businesses and three residentials across the road. Have you tried any of them?” I try to be helpful.
“No, it wasn’t Brianna or the other one. It was definitely Brian. I’ve got two walls in my front room, they need painting. I wondered if you had his number. That’s all.” I had the feeling that Betty was disappointed.
I said goodbye, hung up and got to wondering about a front room with two walls. Perhaps Betty lives in a alternative corner Universe.
Perhaps Betty is just another madwoman, determined to share her love with the rest of humanity.