8 December Another haircut with Paul. It’s infuriating the way my hair keeps on growing, especially as my grey roots and split ends are sprouting at exactly the same rapid rate. If only my stubby little nails would grow as speedily. Or the Euonymous shrubs that Mr Young has planted around the bay tree in the garden; these insist on remaining at just the right height to bear the full force of Archie’s early morning toilette. The two are obviously linked. Cause and Effect. (Which, funnily enough, is also the title of the fifth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ah, good old Star Trek. Natch, the original series was the best. This would never have included a bull terrier and a Euonymous shrub. No, just Captain Kirk, some papier-mache boulders, and a badly-choreographed tussle with an extra in a rubber alien mask resulting in William Shatner’s tightly-fitting uniform shirt getting ripped to show off his biceps. Even as a child, I found this appealing in a way I didn’t quite understand. I am thinking about buying Mr Young a tightly-fitting Star Trek uniform, although can’t think of any circumstances, or with whom, he might have to perform a badly-choreographed tussle. Maybe with the man at the garden centre who sold us our non-growing Euonymous. But that would just be too surreal.)
At the hairdressers, we have our usual discussion about whether or not we would eat the person strapped in next to us if we were involved in a plane crash and they died and we survived. This is also surreal. I thought hairdressers were supposed to relax you with frivolous chat about your holidays and whether you were ready for Christmas, not put you on the spot and demand to know your thoughts on cannibalism. Nonetheless, everyone joins in with gusto (with a small g – not Gusto from the Italian barber’s next door). The woman next to me (blonde foil highlights) thinks, after much consideration, she might just be able to eat her fellow passenger, but ‘only if there was a nice sauce’. I sarcastically point out that it could hardly be a dire situation if she had the makings of a red wine jus, and the discussion comes to an abrupt end. "So, everybody ready for Christmas, then?" I say.
11 December Mr Young is away on yet another of his ‘sales trips’. He usually calls me from his hotel room to tell me how his journey was, and what he is about to eat for his supper, which isn’t exactly the most lively of conversations, so tonight, we do videocalls instead, which is very exciting (and actually quite Star Trekky, now I come to think of it). Mr Young shows me round his hotel room (“and this is the basin, these are my free toiletries, this is my bed…” etc), and I show him round our hallway and kitchen (“and this is where the paint is peeling off the bannisters, this where I spilled some coffee on the carpet, this is the pile of dishes I haven’t put in the dishwasher…etc”) although this isn’t as interesting as he already knows these areas very well. I hit on the idea of showing Archie this miniature version of his beloved master. Archie is unimpressed. “Sit!” commands the tiny Mr Young. Archie ignores this, and looks at me instead, because he knows it’s supper time. “Hello Archie!” calls mini Mr Young. Archie takes no notice. “I don’t think he can hear you,” I explain to the camera, just in case the diminutive Mr Young’s feelings might be hurt. “You really haven’t got the hang of this yet, have you?” calls Mr Young. “All I can see is the inside of your nose.” “Oh,” I say, trying to manoeuvre my phone so that he can see the rest of my face. “Actually, you need to blow your nose,” he says. “Well, that’s spoiled a lovely moment,” I say, hurt. But Mr Young just laughs cruelly. It’s easy to laugh cruelly when you’re seventy miles away from home.
15 December Mr Young has shown off yet again and made a Dundee cake for Christmas. Annoyingly, it looks like a very good Dundee cake. Not burnt around the edges and cooked in the middle, with very nicely and symmetrically placed almonds. Therefore, the complete opposite of the last Dundee cake I made. My cooking is definitely on the decline (much like my Victoria sponges – half-hearted culinary pun). In fact, my baking is so poor nowadays that I can’t even make a simple cheesecake. The last lemon cheesecake I made tasted like soap. At least that’s what Harriet implied – in a subtle sort of way. “This tastes like soap,” she said. “Doesn’t it? Does anyone else think it tastes like soap?” (The ‘subtle’ was ironic.) “It’s certainly very dry,” said Mr Young. “What’s it got in it?” I said, calmly, that it had egg whites in it, that I had spent a long time making this cheesecake that afternoon, it was a new recipe, and when I’d licked the bowl out, it had tasted absolutely delicious, and NOTHING LIKE SOAP.
What I felt like doing was picking up what was left of the cheesecake (quite a lot, thanks to the SOAP comment) and rubbing it in both their faces.
That’s what I should have done, instead of going away and crying in the bathroom. Yes, actually, what I should have done is rubbed it in both their faces, and said something witty like there you go, if it tastes like SOAP, why not wash your faces with it? instead of going away and crying in the bathroom like Delia Smith after Norwich City losing at home (culinary/football joke! I am multi-skilled! Back of the net.)
But at least I can still sew. Replace buttons, mend rips, re-hem trousers. This would be a domestic skill to be proud of except for the fact that it involves having to thread the needle first. One of the many, many worst things about getting older (apart from the deterioration in grammar) is the way your eyesight just fades.
One morning, you wake up, look over towards the bedside table, where your close-range vision normally sits, just in front of the alarm clock, waiting for you to see what time it is, and it’s just disappeared. Without warning, or even a goodbye. So now the house is littered with pairs of cheap £2.50 reading glasses that Mr Young and I buy in bulk and then lose behind sofas and under beds because we forget where we put them (come to think of it, my memory just packed up and left in the middle of the night as well, about five years ago. They’re probably on a beach together in the Caribbean, laughing unfeelingly as they look at really close-range objects and then remember them vividly). The threading of the needle usually takes about half an hour, and is accomplished through luck rather than skill; I used to think that this sort of laboured squinting over even minor chores was something that old people did just to be difficult and show off. But nowadays, as Mr Young and I sit in Prezzo, holding our menus at arm’s length because we’ve forgotten our reading glasses, I realise how unfair it was to assume this. I even bit my own finger while I was eating a chicken wing the other day, (although, strictly speaking, that was because of greed rather than short-sightedness).
Tuesday 17 December I’ve been visiting most of the shops in Queensgate, on the lookout for suitable outfits for all the Christmas parties I haven’t been invited to. I did see a few things in Next that I picked up and brought home to try on (I never go into changing rooms unless forced to – why subject myself to that sort of humiliation and total depression? I can get that in front of my own bedroom mirror, thank you very much.) These clothes were all black because black is SLIMMING (lie). Nothing looks good or even fits properly, so I take them all back to the store today. I empty the bag out onto the counter, and hand over my receipt. The Next assistant sorts out each item, folds it, and puts it away. All that remains on the counter is a pair of men’s black underpants. They look suspiciously like Mr Young’s underpants. Which is odd. “Where did those come from?” I ask, laughing. “It’s funny, but they look just like my husband’s underpants!” “They came out of your bag with everything else,” she says. We both stare at the underpants. I pick them up. They are clearly freshly washed, for which I shall always be grateful to the God of Minor But Potentially Hugely Embarrassing Moments. “Are you sure?” “Yes,” she says. “Look, that’s not a Next label.” She’s right. It's M&S. They are definitely Mr Young’s underpants. “I think I must have picked them by mistake when I was putting everything back into the bag,” I say. “Yes,” she says. “I expect that’s what happened.” “I’d better take them, then,” I say. “Unless you want to keep them for sentimental reasons?” Now, if I was her, I’d laugh at that. But she isn’t me, and doesn’t. Not even a smile. Maybe this happens a lot. Although I doubt it. I probably won’t be shopping in Next for a while.
Thursday 20 December Tonight I enjoy my saved-up birthday present from Harriet – a pedicure! Together, the beautician and I choose a nail varnish colour – very dark red, “very Christmassy,” she says, approvingly. She hacks away at my leathery skin and puts on her welding helmet to saw off the end of my toenails, and by the end of the hour, my feet look very pretty and almost normal. I’ve been told to wear flip-flops because the varnish can take a while to dry. I also have to keep my trousers rolled up in case the hem falls onto the varnish and smears it. It is dark, very wet and very cold. Harriet and Jonny are waiting round the corner, but I still have to walk across Cathedral Square to get to their car. I am wearing my parka with the hood up, plus my gloves and scarf. Of course, I am still wearing my flip-flops and my trousers are still rolled up. To make sure that my trousers don’t unroll themselves, and in order to avoid the puddles, I have to resort to walking very slowly with a strange bow-legged gait. I can definitely hear a few sniggers from underneath my furry parka hood. There is also an Ahhhh! As in, Ahhh! Look that poor old dear! She can’t even afford shoes. And in this weather, too. Bless. I’d like to increase my pace, but one treacherous trouser hem is flopping dangerously. I am in a dilemma. Do I run for the car and escape the pity of the crowd and the potential video (Eccentric Barefoot Old Woman in Winter Blizzard), or do I carry on walking very, very slowly and make sure my birthday present varnish remains intact so that I can show it off to Harriet?
It’s a cliff-hanger, isn’t it?