I wouldn’t say my world has been turned upside down exactly, maybe just tilted fractionally, but I have certainly learned something surprising about myself. Apparently, I have the laugh of a small fat boy.
A colleague told me this last week, when I being nice (nice! Look where being nice gets you!) and chuckling at something he’d said (which wasn’t even funny in the first place! Again, look where being nice gets you!).
“You sound like a small fat boy,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got the laugh of a small fat boy. Tee hee hee hee, tee hee hee hee type thing.”
I was outraged, as I’m sure any sophisticated woman of the world would be in this situation.
In a civilised spirit of retaliation, I threw a ruler and four paperclips at him, but don’t think he felt chastised at all. He should count himself lucky I didn’t have the sellotape dispenser on my desk.
This afternoon, I’m laughing at something Mr Young has said (or maybe I’m just laughing at Mr Young – the distinction gets a bit blurry sometimes) when I remember this ridiculous comment.
“You’ll never guess what! Someone told me last week that I have the laugh of a small fat boy,” I say. “Honestly!”
Mr Young thinks about this, and then says, “Actually, that’s remarkably accurate. You do.”
This catches me off-guard.
I was expecting him to say, “My darling, that’s preposterous! Your girlish laugh sounds like the tinkle of a mountain stream dancing over sun-warmed pebbles.”
My self-confidence is thrown off balance. My Greta Garbo has morphed into Billy Bunter.
I don’t have any rulers or paperclips to hand, so I just throw a wet kitchen cloth at him instead.
We are still talking about laughs. Mr Young says something that is actually funny for once, and I laugh but remember my non-tinkliness and shut up. Then something occurs to me.
“I always laugh at your jokes,” I say, “but you never properly laugh at mine.”
He protests, but it’s true. He seems to find other people much more amusing than me.
The only time I can remember him really laughing at me was when I walked into the plate glass french doors at my parents’ house last Easter. Admittedly, he was on the other side and I – begrudgingly – have to concede that the look of shock on my face, combined with a squashed nose, was probably slightly comical, but still.
“Actually, I may sound like a small fat boy, but you sound like Ted Heath,” I say. “You do the whole shoulder shaking thing and your eyes disappear because your face creases up so much.”
“Well,” he says, “You’ve got three laughs; the small fat boy one, the sort of cackle thing and the guffaw.”
None of these sound remotely like a tinkling stream.
I shall just have to stay silent. It will be hard. There is so much to laugh at in my life with Mr Young.
Harriet is home from the Gambia with a rucksack full of dirty clothes, stories about filthy rooms, mosquito bites, close encounters with ominous strangers, eating peculiar foods, making new friends and enthusiasm about the excitement and thrill of travelling abroad for a month.
At her age, I’d already travelled round Greece for four weeks entirely by myself (and yes, of course I had friends – it was just that no-one could come with me at the time) and had similar stories to tell when I came home.
But now, I find myself asking her incredibly dull Mum-type questions: Did you get bitten? Did you have enough water to drink? Did you stay away from strangers? Did you get sun-burned? Did you get any tummy bugs?
I try my best to just look at her photos, but Dull Mum chips in with, “Do you want a cup of tea? Shall I make you some toast?”
I just can’t seem to shut Dull Mum up. She goes on and on, bleating away in the background, doing her best to bring down the general level of of excitement.
But when I think about it, I remember my own parents asking me the same things when I came home bursting with the adventures I’d had.
I try again. I open my mouth, determined to join in and say, “I remember sleeping on the beach for three days and driving round Athens in a taxi at four in the morning, and being kept a prisoner by a Greek taverna owner who kept threatening to sell me into slavery,” but instead Dull Mum says, “Shall I put your washing in now? I can do a white wash, if you like. Have everything dry by lunchtime.”
Harriet has bought everyone presents of bright Gambian tie-dye trousers. Everyone except me. But I’m not bitter.
“Honestly, I looked everywhere, Mum.” she says. “Really, I did, but I couldn’t see any you’d like.” (I like them all, in actual fact.)
“But I did get you these,” she says. “I pinched them from a restaurant. Although I think they might be used.” ‘These’ turn out to be tie-dye napkins. Definitely used, as they've got food stains on them.
“But there’s only three,” she says. “Not really a set.”
I wonder if I could do a Sound of Music thing and turn them into a skirt, but they are too small. And, as she has pointed out, there are only three. It would be a very small skirt. Perhaps I could make a headscarf instead. Dull Mum could wear it round the house when she’s doing her white wash.
“But,” she says, “I expect just the fact that I’m home safe and well is gift enough for you.” She’s a clever girl.
She hands me a plastic bag. “And look, here’s a wet bikini I’ve been saving for you. It doesn’t smell very nice, though.” We open the bag and sniff. She’s right. It doesn’t smell very nice.
I try my best to be stoic and not care that I haven’t got a pair of funky African trousers like (it would seem) everyone else in the world. Even Mr Young.
I go and put my napkins in the wash so they’ll smell nice and clean when I wear them on my head.
The video on my new iPhone 4 is really very good. In an idle moment (yes, it will surprise you, I know, but even I have idle moments) I look at a video of Mr Young with Archie in the garden that I took at the weekend.
I show him that evening when he gets back from work. Then I see an earlier video that I can’t remember taking. It turns out to be one I took of Tom at the comedy club the previous week.
I remember the amount of wine and beer I’d drunk and realise why I can’t recall taking it.
“Look, watch Tom on this video,” I say to Mr Young.
There’s someone laughing very loudly, uncontrollably in fact, in the background, which spoils the overall effect.
“Honestly, listen to that! Who on earth is it?” I ask.
Tee hee hee hee! Tee hee hee hee! It goes on and on.
Comprehension dawns. I look at Mr Young and he nods.
Clearly a small fat boy was also in the crowd.