NaNoWriMo Day 5 & 6 Update

Fuelled by the complacency of (almost) hitting my word target four days in a row, I happily allowed myself a lighter writing session on day five (what? It was a long day, I was tired – excuses ad infinitum). Despite feeling justified at the time, I am kicking myself today. Because, the fact is, week one of NaNo is about getting AS MANY WORDS DOWN AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW this, because I’ve done it several times before. According to Chris Baty in No Plot, No Problem (the edited version of which I have started re-reading to aid me along this attempt at the challenge) Week One is the fun part, when all the words come tumbling out and your characters are romping away. Week One’s evil twin, Week Two, is the bitch of the family, and by cutting myself some slack now I’ve played right into her cunning little hands.

The truth is, my characters were romping away, getting themselves into all sorts of scrapes without my even having to exert any influence. But all of a sudden, after yesterday’s pithy seven hundred words, the well of inspiration has run dry. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not inspiration that’s run dry, it’s my brain that has decided to down tools and stop. Take now for example. It is telling me, quite clearly, that it is Friday night at 9pm and I should, categorically and without question, be curled up on the sofa with a LARGE glass of Cab Sauv watching some heinously terrible TV programme. It does not, and let’s make no bones about it, wish to be sitting at the same computer it’s been sitting in front of all week, trying to make up stories about fictional people. In short, it’s just not having it.

So you see my dilemma. And even as I’ve been ruminating on this blog I have been switching over to the WIP, limping along with a broken stream of uninspired words, wishing my way to the word count target for today. And, to be fair, I have at least crossed the 8,000 mark, which feels like a bit of a milestone (until you consider I started today at 7,004 words). But it’s not flowing and I want with every fibre of my being just to stop and veg the hell out. ARGH. This is torture. But I SHALL NOT be defeated. I shall pour myself a glass of wine (hell, it IS Friday. I’m not a bloody saint) and plough on for just a little longer….


Christmas Swish

It’s been a while since Susy’s last swishing party, so tonight was warmly received by all those who attended. As usual Susy was the perfect hostess, plying us with what have now become the customary sausage rolls to wash down our Prosecco and girlie banter. The turnout wasn’t huge (damn Christmas parties) – around ten of us in total, which gave the evening (and indeed the clothes selection) more of a boutique feel. That said there were still plenty of good quality clothes to go around, and I think most of us walked away with several quality items in our Christmas sacks as well as full bellies.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Swishing parties rock. What could possibly be better than getting together with a group of friends for some wine, party food and a natter, with the added bonus of taking home some lovely (and, more to the point, free) new outfits? Christmas swishes are the best as everyone is also feeling festive and up for a giggle-not to mention particularly keen to bag themselves a sexy number for the office Christmas party-which makes for an even better paper, scissors, stone-off at the end of each round…In short, it’s been another splendid swish. Thanks Suse! X


Growing old disgracefully

As predicted yesterday’s wedding was magnificent in every way. The weather gods were smiling and there was barely a cloud in the sky. The church was beautiful, the reception venue stunning. But nothing and nobody was as radiant as the bride herself – just as it should be.

As the sun beat down the champagne flowed, followed by wine with the wedding breakfast, and by the time 10pm rolled around it was unanimously declared to be jagerbomb time, though everybody had drunk more than enough. There was dancing and much merriment…and then there was today.

Waking up at half past six in the dress you wore to the wedding with the bedroom lit up like the Blackpool illuminations is rather disconcerting. What’s more disconcerting still is having no memory of getting back to your accommodation. And what’s even more disconcerting than that is the grim realisation you have an unavoidable three hour drive ahead of you.

After downing some water and eating a hearty fry up I hit the road, convinced once I got going I’d feel better. Not so. Shortly after leaving the bed and breakfast, in fact, I was forced to pull over and eject the aforementioned fry up on the side of a country lane – watched by a herd of unimpressed cows. Clambering back into the car and convinced that now I’d feel much better, I continued on my way.

After almost an hour of driving around narrow country roads I entered a village and my heart sank – it was the same village I’d driven through forty minutes earlier. I had, in fact, been driving around in a circle. As this realisation sank in my body decided to eject another bit of fry up for good measure. This was rapidly descending into the journey from hell. Not only was I overwhelmed with insatiable nausea, I was also now stuck in the countryside, in my very own version of Groundhog Day.

Of course there was no mobile phone reception, so when I saw the first car in what felt like hours I flagged it down and asked for directions. As I spoke the man inside regarded me with a bemused smile – it was only afterwards when I looked in the mirror I realised my hair was sticking out at right angles to my head and I had sick on my top.

Fortunately I did eventually make it out of the maze that is the Shropshire countryside, and four and a half hours later I arrived, dishevelled and grumpy, at my parents’ house, where mother saw fit to point out that I’m far too old to behave like this. And I realised I’d left my shoes in Shropshire.

In another life

If you had to choose five alternative careers what would they be? I’ve thought about this question for some time and my five (besides being a famous author, which I haven’t put on the list since I’m hopeful it might yet happen) would be:

1. Restaurant critic

It’s no secret that I love food (the only eating disorder I’d ever be capable of would be extreme binging – without the post-binge purge), so I’ve always thought being a restaurant critic would be right up my culinary street. Can you imagine making a living out of stuffing your face? Not only that-stuffing your face with top quality fare (because I’d obviously only be sampling the delights of the top rated Michelin star restaurants, not Happy Eaters or Wetherspoons. Hang on, do Happy Eaters even exist any more? Oh God, I think I may be showing my age).

2.Chocolate/cheese/wine taster (ideally all three)

On the same theme as number one, this is a no brainer. Chocolate, cheese and wine are unquestionably three of my favourite things, so why wouldn’t I want to spend my working day sampling them? One possible danger of this career choice would be risking getting sick of what you spend all day tasting. Possibly also the high chance of becoming morbidly obese and/or an alcoholic. Would still be fun though-for a while at least…


I have my second job to thank for my  interest in photography. A colleague – who sadly passed away from a brain tumour while I was working there – taught me the basics of working in a studio with an SLR camera, and when I subsequently went travelling I bought my own second hand SLR to take with me. In the years since I’m ashamed to say the manual settings have taken a back seat in favour of automatic, and after my camera died a death (RIP Canon EOS 3D) I reverted to taking snaps on my phone, as I still do today. The iphone does have a good camera but nothing beats the feel of an SLR in your hand and the thrill of capturing a really crisp, professional looking shot. I wish I hadn’t let my photography skills slide. I think I’ve got an eye for a good picture and could have been a good professional photographer.

4.Travel journalist

Another no-brainer; I love to travel, I love to write, hence getting paid to do both would pretty much be my dream career. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after and competitive careers out there. But a girl can always dream…


I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and have always wondered whether I should have pursued it as a career. I’m interested in all of the theory (in particular Freud’s psychoanalysis) but in practice I was never all that academically minded, and I was beyond useless at statistics. Perhaps I’m just looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but if I had my time again I might just consider taking it forward. Fortunately I now have a job that has an element of psychology to it, so I suppose I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Thinking about it, in one way or another my life does incorporate most of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s just that not all of them bring financial gain. And as everyone knows money can’t buy happiness, that suits me just fine.


Of course another career could have been as a pop star. I think I look right at home with McFly in this picture, taken way back when they came to play at McDonald’s on the Strand for competition winners when I worked for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Can’t think why they didn’t ask for a duet…

Epiphany on me

Every so often when I’m engrossed in a book, or lost in a song that’s so beautiful the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I get a sudden rush of overwhelming anxiety. Why? Because in that moment it dawns on me that I will never be able to read all of the amazing books in the world, or hear all of the glorious music that’s been produced over the many years since music began. It’s obvious, of course, but whenever I think about it for any length of time it’s still a sobering enough concept to take my breath away.

Phase two of this bizarre anxiety involves my ruminating that I haven’t read the right kind of books, or listened to the right kind of music. As I’ve grown up – and I should point out at this juncture that I still find it hard to accept that I am, in fact, grown up. Indeed when the prodigal and only child of the family returns home for a familial visit my parents also often have some difficulty believing this – I’ve always thought my capacity and hunger for knowledge would increase and my tastes would mature, not unlike a fine wine.

By my early thirties I was certain I’d have moved beyond childish chick lit ‘novels’ and the kind of soulless popular music that’s relentlessly and indiscriminately spewed out by endless commercial radio stations. I would, I thought, be reading Proust and Tolstoy, listening to Beethoven and Chopin, spending my spare time studying philosophy and going on cycling holidays to French vineyards with my similarly-inclined peers.  

But alas, ‘twas not to be. At thirty one I’m ashamed to admit I still spend most weekends drinking cheap cider and falling out of clubs (playing – you’ve guessed it – popular music). I still haven’t read most of the Orange and Booker Prize-shortlisted tomes I acquired some years ago in a fit of pique at my own ignorance of the workings of the literary world (‘you want to be a writer!’ I’d scold myself. ‘How can you write without reading the works of the great writers?’)  And the sum total of my knowledge on classical music and wine would fit on the back of a postage stamp (and still leave room to spare).

The interest in politics and international affairs that I thought was a rite of passage of getting older never quite materialised. Nor the savvy business mind which would easily decipher tax codes, pensions and such like. Instead of a one woman dynamo I stand before you as an empty, muddled and ignorant shell. I am a caterpillar that failed to undergo metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly. I am a Monopoly piece that didn’t pass Go.

I suppose a psychologist would say that the root cause of my anxiety is my feeling small and insignificant, not knowing my place in the world and worrying I will never make my mark. And I suppose with that analysis they would be pretty spot on (in fact I’ve surprised myself by trotting that out without too much thought and whilst simultaneously wondering what to cook for my dinner – who says we women can’t multitask? Oh, I did, in yesterday’s post. Damn).

But hang on just one cotton picking minute. What about the things I have achieved, the books I have read, the music I have listened to? What about the friends I’ve made, the stories I’ve written, the places I’ve visited? I may never know my Beaujolais from my Fleurie, or be able to discuss the merits of Aristotle’s theories over Plato’s. I may not develop a discerning ear for classical music, know the background to every international conflict or be the next Jane Austen. But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll write for pleasure, read for pleasure and continue listening to music that makes my hairs stand on end – even if I heard it on Radio 1.

And above all else I’ll do my best to be a good person and make other people happy. Because no amount of knowledge, maturity and finesse can make up for not being able to do that.

I took this photo when I went on a walk by myself along the beach in Lombok. It reminds me of a quiet, reflective period in my travels – appropriate for this post, which actually made me feel surprisingly emotional as I wrote it.

Final day in the U, S of A – cheese and cupcakes

My final (sob!) day in New Jersey didn’t get started until gone midday, due to our impromptu late bedtime the night before. We took our time having breakfast and getting ready before heading into Manhattan for the main event of the trip: Murray’s Cheese Bar. Jen had told me about this place a couple of weeks before I arrived and I’d been eagerly anticipating my visit ever since.

Originally set up as a cheese shop, six months ago Murray’s opened its cheese bar where, for a very reasonable price, lovers of cheese and wine can find utopia. The bar itself, located on Bleecker Street, is decked out in pine with red detail. Diners can sit at tables but the best spot is along the bar that runs the length of the room, where the ultra-friendly staff (our server, Brad, was a great character) can chat to you as you sample the fare.

Murray’s does provide a range of starters, mains and desserts but the jewel in its crown is the cheese boards, which can either be selected from the menu or recommended by the knowledgable staff (we sampled Brad’s favourite cheese as part of our five-cheese board and both agreed it was the best of the lot).

And then there’s the wine. Since arriving here I’ve been amazed by the quality of the wine, and not a little embarrassed about the relative rubbish I’ve hitherto been consuming back home. It’s true that wine is more expensive in bars here than in England (a glass will set you back on average £8 or £9 compared to about £4 or £5), but the standard is noticeably higher so it really is worth it. At Murray’s you can have your cheese board paired with different wines in faster form or select one wine to drink throughout. We opted for a 2010 Argentinian Malbec which was just beautiful.

Our cheese board comprised one Camembert, a dolce latte, a blue cheese and two hard cheeses and they were, without exception, the most delicious cheeses I’ve tasted. Each board comes with a selection of bread, crackers and olives which the staff are happy to top up as required. The total bill set us back $100 including a $20 tip (I’m only just getting used to the 20% tipping system, but now I understand how little staff are paid in restaurants here I’d never consider not paying it) and it was worth every penny. We were even given two fresh baguettes to take home on our way out.

After Murray’s we decided one final culinary blow out was in order and walked over the road to Patisserie Rocco, but were dismayed to find it closed. Fortunately Jen recalled the name of another nearby patisserie, Sweet Revenge, which (as it happened) was also the place my friend had recommended I visit but whose name I myself had been struggling to remember – it must have been fate!

Sweet Revenge blows Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes right out of the water. It’s only a small place but it has a lovely ambience and a mouth-watering selection of treats. Best of all, they offer a wine and beer pairing menu to help you choose the perfect alcoholic beverage to accompany your cupcake. I had the self-titled house speciality cupcake, the Sweet Revenge, which had peanut butter frosting and chocolate in the middle, and it was the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever tasted! It was paired with the same Malbec we had enjoyed in Murray’s.

After our cupcakes we rounded off the evening with a decaffinated cappuccino. Just before we left we offered the bar staff our baguettes as we knew we wouldn’t eat them and didn’t want them to go to waste. We were delighted when they not only accepted but promptly brought out a plate of cheese from the fridge and sat together to eat it with our bread. It was a particularly lovely moment given it was Easter Sunday-we joked about the irony of us having had our last supper before breaking bread with strangers.

Back at Jen’s we had one final picnic on the floor (now somewhat customary!) with peppermint tea and s’mores before turning in. As I write this it’s seven hours later and I’m sitting at Newark airport waiting for my flight back to London. The past six days have been nothing short of perfect, I’ve really loved every single second and don’t feel we could have done anything better if we’d tried. Jen’s been the perfect host and I’m now in no doubt whatsoever that we will be friends for life-amazing given that when I arrived here we’d only met once before in an Indian ashram two years ago, where our shared love of wine and food didn’t even come to light! I know we’ll support one another in achieving our writing goals, and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to repay her generosity in London if she makes it over anytime soon.

It’s been the best holiday and I’ll be smiling at the memories for a long time to come. I love New York! 🙂


Bar Review: Barrio East

Last night I had my work leaving drinks at Barrio East on Shoreditch High Street. Having never been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect of my reserved area, ‘The Caravan,’ but it was everything I’d dreamed of and more.

What strikes you as you walk in the door of this South American-inspired bar is the brightly coloured lego-esque furniture in the front room. And from there onwards things keep getting quirkier, with splashes of colour just about everywhere you look. The friendly bartenders serve up an array of delicious cocktails (Top tip: Get there between 4pm and 8pm for bargain price cocktails and £5 discount on wine) as the music gets you in a dancing mood.

There are three different rooms or areas at Barrio East, each with its own distinctive style. But the one I liked best (and had, by happy coincidence, reserved for my gathering) was The Caravan. Located directly beside the dance floor, it is exactly what it says on the tin: A caravan. In a bar. Amazing. Seating up to 15 people (allegedly – though I’d say 13 tops if you want to be comfortable rather than elbowing each other in the face) it’s comfortable, wonderfully kitsch and also has the added bonus of feeling like an elevated throne from where you can look down at the drunken antics on the dance floor below with a self-satisfied smile.

An hour or so after we arrived, when we were happily ensconced in our self-styled ‘caravan of love,’ with bottles of wine and plate of nachos a plenty, the band arrived. It’s always a bit nerve wracking when a band turns up on a night out; it has the potential to either make or break the evening. But fortunately in our case it made the evening. Freddie and the Freeloaders (great name!) were just the ticket, and soon had us dancing away to their soulful tunes.

Weird as it sounds even the toilets deserve a mention in this place; when you walk in you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to Brighton seafront at the height of summer, with rows of painted beach huts (the toilet cubicles).

In short, this place is great – a little gem that’s a big break from the norm. If you like your bars to be crazy, quirky and kitsch then this is the place for you. Once you’ve tried it no local boozer will ever seem the same again. You have been warned…

A caravan. In a bar. AMAZING.

Time flies

I can hardly believe my final week at work is already upon me. It’s a cliché, I know, but time really does fly – not so sure about the ‘when you’re having fun’ bit, but hopefully that’s still to come. This time next week, quite possibly, as I recover from this weekend’s 16 mile Wholefoods run in style with a trip to the Big Apple to visit the girl I affectionately call my ‘spiritual twin’ (so named after the two weeks we spent helping each other  cling to our sanity in an ashram in southern India in 2011).

After the events of the past few weeks a holiday is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m very much looking forward to taking some time out to reflect on the imminent changes in my life (not to mention start tackling the enormous writing-related tomes I’ve purchased in preparation for going freelance). The plan, thus far, is to sip coffee, nibble (oh alright, scoff) cake, down wine and eat inordinately large amounts of CHEESE – with a bit of sightseeing and a LOT of nattering thrown into the mix to boot. In short, we’re going to set the world to rights one mouthful at a time and I cannot WAIT.

Because of all the recent changes in my own life it’s no surprise that I’ve been ruminating on the nature and importance of change as a life driver. Should we, I wonder, embrace it regularly as a way to rejuvenate ourselves, or should we rather seek out a more preferable state of equilibrium, in which we can be happy to see out the rest of our days?

At the moment I’m inclined to think the former, not least because of this article I remembered having read a few years back about how the brain perceives time. The article discusses the central concepts of a book, Making Time, written by Steve Taylor. In it, he claims that as we get older it seems as though time is speeding up, but that’s only because we fall into hum drum existences and get caught up in the same old cycle, day in, day out. If we seek out new experiences – for example by filling our weekends with trips to art galleries, coffee in kitsch new coffee houses and lunches and dinners in new locations with friends and family – then our perception of time actually changes and we view it as having passed more slowly than it actually did.

It could be argued that this is counter-intuitive, since the sensation of being bored often feel s as if it spans a lifetime, but if you stop to consider how fast the last five years have gone since you joined your current company you might begin to give credence to the idea.

As I’m no expert in how to live life, I’ll close with a quote from Steve Taylor’s book:

“Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you live a life that’s full of routine, then time will always speed up but if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness slows down time.”

It seems a pretty compelling argument to me. Now where DID I put that passport….?


I fell in love with this clock in the main square of Prague’s old town. It looks like a time machine!

Mother’s Day, mighty roasts and Malbec

The surprise Mother’s Day visit didn’t get off to the best of starts when I arrived home from the supermarket to find half of the dessert ingredients contained an ingredient Mum’s allergic to. Fortunately I cottoned onto this in time to avoid Mother’s Day being memorable for all the wrong reasons, and managed to claw victory from the jaws of defeat by pulling off a pretty decent two course meal (which, since you’re asking comprised pancetta-wrapped tilapia fillets with new potatoes, sugar snap peas and a lemon and caper sauce, followed by baked peaches stuffed with a mixture of amaretti biscuits, brown sugar, lemon zest, butter, almonds and pine nuts – the latter two ingredients being removed in Mum’s portion in order to avert severe anaphylactic shock.

With Mother’s Day celebrations ticked off the list I trekked from Weybridge to East Dulwich (via two trains and one rail replacement bus service) to meet friends for lunch at the Bishop, a delightful public house on Lordship Lane which was just what the doctor ordered for an afternoon of catching up, scoffing, quaffing and watching a spot of rugby. The staff are friendly and attentive – in particular Chris, the charismatic Manager for whom no request is too much trouble – and the food is quite simply divine. After a series of underwhelming Sunday roasts in similarly underwhelming pubs I felt I’d hit the jackpot today, with a gorgeous cut of prime beef served alongside a mound of fresh vegetables, crisp roast potatoes, a giant Yorkshire pudding and an individual gravy boat and portion of horseradish sauce (being a horseradish addict this last detail particularly delighted me). The Manager’s recommendation of a glass of Malbec was the perfect accompaniment, and a few bottles and several desserts (top tip: The chocolate pot is to DIE for, and I don’t say that lightly) later we rolled out the door feeling sated and content.

And so to the weeks ahead; ten more working days in my current job before a trip to New York and the start of a new job and part time freelance career. After two years of living miles apart my boyfriend has just moved to London for four months which couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Things are changing and it’s about time too. In the words of Orange, the future’s bright.


Past Post: Back to the fuschia

This is the first chapter of one of my NaNoWriMo novels which I unearthed this morning and was surprisingly fond of.


It was four o’clock on a quiet Friday afternoon when Maggie burst into the shop, a mass of untamed frizzy hair and multi-hued chunky knitwear propelled by her characteristic unbridled enthusiasm. She dumped the load of wicker baskets she was carrying onto the floor and turned back to close the door with a flourish.

Evie was so lost in the display she was working on – a beautiful amalgamation of lilies, chrysanthemums and peonies that had been ordered for a christening – she didn’t even register the tinkling of the cowbell on the front door. Biting her lip with concentration, she tucked the last peony into the moist block of oasis with the same careful softness of a woman tucking her child into bed. A snort alerted her to her eccentric friend’s presence, and she looked up.

“Jesus Evie,” said Maggie with a smirk, “that’s one hell of a scary face you make when you’re lost in the land of hearts and flowers. If you do that when you’re out on the pull it’s no wonder you’re still single.”

“Thanks a lot!” Evie grabbed a length of twine from the counter and leaned over to take a swipe at her friend.

“You’re welcome,” Maggie said, her plump red lips stretching across her freckled face into a deliberately grotesque grin. She surveyed the display in front of her and nodded. “Very nice indeed. You know, I really think you’ve got a knack for flower arranging. I might just have to hang onto you.”

“Grab that, will you?” Evie said, ignoring the compliment and gesturing to an empty box on the floor. Maggie brought it over to the counter and in amiable silence they together transferred the flower display into it.

As Evie busied herself with curling lengths of baby pink ribbon, Maggie rolled up the sleeves on what Evie affectionately referred to as her multi-coloured dream coat and pulled over a three-legged stool from the far corner of the shop. She sat down and leaned conspiratorially towards her friend.

“So,” she began, and Evie rolled her eyes. “What? I haven’t even said anything yet!”

“You don’t need to, Mags. I can tell by the look on your face I’m not going to like whatever it is you do have to say.”

“Well bollocks to you then!” Maggie leaned back and folded her arms across her chest in mock irritation.

“Okay, okay,” said Evie, holding up her hands in acquiescence. “Hit me with it.”

“We’re going out. Tonight. You and me. In town.”

“What about Dependable Danny?”

“Dependable Danny’s seeing his ex this weekend.”

Evie put down her ribbon “And we’re okay with this because..?”

Maggie laughed. “We don’t call him Dependable Danny for nothing, remember? There’s as much chance of that man fooling around with another woman as there is of the Pope renouncing Catholicism. And besides, it’s their kid’s birthday. They’re taking him to Thorpe Park.” She paused. “Evie, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Evie said with a weary sigh. “It’s just – well, you know.”

Maggie slapped her hand to her forehead and groaned. “God, Evie, I’m sorry. That was such a flippant comment. You know, sometimes I really do think I should have my mouth stapled up. It might solve a lot of the world’s problems. Not poverty and war, granted, but it might just eradicate foot in mouth disease.”

Evie laughed. “Don’t worry Mags. It’s fine.”

Maggie took her friend’s hand and kissed it. “But are you?”

“Of course.” With her free hand she tugged at her hair elastic and her mass of curly dark hair cascaded Venus-like down her back. She ran her fingers through it, teasing out the knots that always seemed to form during a day in the shop, no matter how many products she treated it with.

“You haven’t…you know..?”

Evie looked at her blankly. “Haven’t what?”

“You know…heard from Rob?”

Now it was Evie’s turn to snort. “Why would I have heard from him?” She shrugged. “There’s nothing left to say.”

“I can certainly think of a few choice words I’d like to say to the lying little tosser,” Maggie said with conviction.

Evie pulled her hand free and stood up. “I know you can Mags, and so can I. But what’s the point? What’s done is done. There’s really no point in dwelling on it. The best way to get revenge is to show him I’ve moved on. There’s nothing big or clever about entering into slanging matches with an ex. It’s a waste of time and energy.” She stopped. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

The thoughtful expression on Maggie’s impish face gave way to a warm smile. “Because I’m proud of you. You’ve come so far since that shit-bag did the dirty on you.”

“Yeah, well, we’re six months down the line now.”

“That’s not the point. You could have fallen apart. Plenty of women do when that happens to them. But you didn’t. You stayed strong.”

“So you wouldn’t call quitting a high powered job in the city to work in your friend’s florist shop a falling apart of sorts?”

“Not at all, you’ve just reassessed your priorities. Taken some much needed time out from what was a ridiculously hectic lifestyle. Jesus, Evie, I barely even saw you for the best part of four years. Your family barely even saw you. Hell, much as I hate to bring him up, your husband barely even saw you.”

“Which might go some way towards explaining his more recent behaviour, some might say.”

“Well they’d be wrong, because there’s no excuse for doing to another human being what he did to you. None whatsoever. You have got to stop beating yourself up over this Evie. I mean-” She stopped mid-sentence to pick up the phone, which was trilling in its cradle. “Back to the Fuschia, good afternoon? Ah, Mrs Braithwaite, yes, I’m glad you called. We’ve had some problems sourcing the African violets-yes, yes, I am aware they’re an integral part of your daughter’s wedding but you see the particular genus you requested is actually very rare-endangered even-and whilst we could certainly get hold of a quantity of the regular variety-”

Maggie threw her hands in the air and pulled a face at Evie, who winced in sympathy and made a t-shape with her hand. Maggie nodded and continued, her voice sounding more strained with every second.

“Yes, I quite understand how important it is to get every detail right…yes, I appreciate you could take your business elsewhere, but I’m quite sure you’ll find that other florists will say the same thing. It’s simply not possible to source enough African violets to fill a ballroom Mrs Braithwaite, certainly not at this time of year, anyway. Right, yes, I understand. Goodbye, Mrs Braithwaite.”

“That sounded painful,” Evie said moments later as she emerged from the back room, tray in hand. She set it down and began pouring the tea.

“That bloody woman has been the bane of my life for the past two sodding months,” Maggie said, fumbling underneath the table and triumphantly pulling out a packet of half eaten chocolate digestives. She offered one to Evie, who shook her head, then shoved a whole one in her mouth and chewed it furiously. “Well,” she continued, crumbs spilling onto her top, “she can stick her daughter’s posh wedding up her trumped up arse for all I care. I hope it’s a total bloody disaster and no florist in the land is able to get her African bloody violets.”

“Who’d have thought the life of a florist could be so stressful?” Evie said with a smile. “Come on Mags, forget about it. Tell me what your grand master plan is for tonight instead.”

“We-ell,” said Mags, taking a big gulp of tea, “we’re going to a school disco.”

Evie stared at her for a moment. “A school disco?”

“And not just any school disco, either. The school disco. You know, the one they do in Hammersmith.”

“Still not sure I’m following you here Mags. You and me going to a school disco? I’m staring down the barrel of thirty and you’ve already climbed into the barrel and been shot out the other side. Why on earth would we want to surround ourselves with nubile young girls and pre-pubescent boys – most of whom are young enough to be our children, I might add, and all of whom are far more attractive than ourselves,”

“Hey, speak for yourself!” said Maggie, waving a tea-soaked digestive in the air in protest.

“And,” Evie continued, ignoring her friend’s objection, “whose sole intention it is to drink so much vodka and red bull they lose consciousness and end up spending the night with a stomach pump for company rather than someone of the opposite sex.”

“I had a feeling I’d face stiff opposition on this.”

“Well then I’m happy to confirm that your instincts, if not your mind, are still fully intact.”

“Which is why I took the liberty of not only booking tickets to aforementioned disco but also sourcing our outfits prior to inviting you. Oh – and I’ve also taken the liberty of enlisting a certain someone to help convince you.” The cowbell rang out from behind Evie and she jumped. “Ah, perfect timing Senor.”

“Darleengs,” said a high-pitched male voice.

Evie turned around and regarded Alfonso, the flamboyant gay owner of the unoriginally titled Alfonso’s Deli on Bromley High Street. He claimed to be in his thirties, but Evie had long suspected this to be about as true as his claim to have been a famous dancer in his native Spain during his twenties (some months previously Maggie had discovered in an internet search that he had, in fact, been part of a travelling circus troupe, which, whilst no less impressive, had cemented their appraisal of him as a fantasist). Today he was wearing shiny black trousers with a black ruffled shirt, and his (dyed) jet black hair was swept across his face, Marilyn Manson style. His stack-heeled shoes belied his diminutive size – without them he barely reached Evie’s shoulders, and she was only five foot six.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Evie said, greeting Alfonso with a hug.

“Of course not darleeng,” he said, “and to prove it look here, I have our outfeets.” He held up two dry cleaning bags and thrust them into Evie’s arms.

“So this is what my life’s come to,” she said, stifling a giggle. “Married, divorced, and now going to a school disco at the age of 29 with a mad old florist and a queer from the local delicatessen.”

“I take exception to the word ‘old’ in that sentence,” Maggie said, pulling the freshly laundered school uniforms out of their cellophane covers and holding a skirt up to her waist for size.

“And I take exception to the word ‘local’,” said Alfonso, pulling a pair of grey flannel shorts on over his trousers, “Alfonso’s Delicatessen is an eenternational operation.”

Evie laughed as Maggie and Alfonso strutted up and down the shop in their respective apparel. “You both look thoroughly ridiculous.”

“Come on,” Maggie said, throwing a second skirt to Evie, “live a little. You never know, you might like it.”

Evie walked to the door, flipped the sign to CLOSED and turned back to her friends. “Wine,” she said, “there must be plenty of wine. That is my only prerequisite.”

“I think we can do better than that darleeng,” Alfonso said, producing a bottle of champagne from his cavernous man-bag. “Tonight we will drink like Keengs!”


This is one of the many pictures I took at Singapore Zoo last year in their flower garden – doesn’t really need more explanation than that!