Mr Young is a very good shopping companion. He truly is. Not for clothes or cosmetics or handbags or shoes, admittedly – although he does make a pretty decent stab at pretending to look interested for the first five minutes, with some vague pointing gestures and the occasional what about that one? comment.
No, Mr Young is a lover of all things that can be classified as household, stationery or electronic. So, a trip to Asda for a new iron means that he is chomping at the bit to rush off and spend a happy hour or so with me, inspecting all the towels, cushions, candles, tupperware and tin openers.
We are both astonished to find an iron in the budget range for less than the price of an average bottle of wine.
“We might as well try it,” says Mr Young. “I mean, what can go wrong? It just has to get hot and steamy, after all. Is there really any need to pay more just for fancy switches and lights and a big water chamber?”
I am inclined to agree.
Quite literally, actually, as I’m leaning against the shelf of irons. Although the what can go wrong? remark is a dangerous question that 99% of the time invites disaster. As we all know.
We reluctantly eschew the equally astonishingly cheap towels, cushions, candles, tupperware and tin openers because we can’t think of a reason to buy any of these – much as we’d love to, even if only to marvel at their low cost every time we use them.
We just pay for the iron and two bottles of wine. Which means, of course, that we have to do a bit more marvelling and repeating to each other that the iron cost less than the wine! at the checkout.
NB: I have to digress and refer back to the word eschew because I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use this very word for, ooh, about six months now and that moment has finally come! I’m almost as excited as I am about the cheap iron.
Sadly, I discover as soon as I get home for the trial run on my ironing pile, it actually is worth paying more and getting an expensive iron. The cord on this one is so short that I can barely stretch it to the end of one of Mr Young’s shirt sleeves, and the small water chamber allows it to steam frantically for about 30 seconds before it empties itself; in athletic terms, it is clearly a sprinter rather than a distance runner.
Even worse, it’s extremely fussy about temperature. Too hot and Mr Young’s shirts are in danger of being singed and begin to pucker in a very alarming way. Too cold and the steam stops its frenzied activity and dribbles as sulkily as a baby forced to eat mashed banana. If I turn the dial by a fraction of a milimetre, I can get it to perform perfectly, but it is the most delicate of operations. I feel like a cross between a master safecracker and a brain surgeon.
It is a sort of Goldilocks situation, with a diva of a Baby Bear.
After half an hour of this, I go to Argos, this time, to buy an iron with a longer cord, a bigger water chamber and a few fancy knobs and dials.
It is, needless to say, quite a bit more expensive than even a very pricey bottle of wine.
I feel that we have both learned a lesson from this. Or rather we should have learned a lesson. But we probably haven’t.
It’s book club night again. We all go to Eye this time – we are rotating our book club sessions around each member’s house. (Yes, I’m well aware that phrase was completely nonsensical but am hoping that it still makes sense anyway. And that just happens to be an analogy for my life, come to think of it.)
Our sessions are getting more and more impressive in terms of the refreshments on offer. I have two large glasses of red wine and manage to empty an entire pot of breadsticks single-handedly (the other hand is either holding the wine glass or groping in what I hope is a surreptitious way for the chocolates).
I’ve already had my go at hosting a session, which means that it will be my turn again at some point next year. I’d better start planning my menu now. I might even get Mr Young to dress up as a butler. That should make up for any potential shortcomings on the exotic crisps and guacamole front.
I have finally given up on the Fringe. It is going today, as Paul has kindly agreed to eschew (twice in three days. Sometimes I amaze myself. Actually, I quite often amaze myself, and not always in a good way) his lunch hour and turn me into a more glamorous, less hairy version of myself.
I tell him I want to look like Jane Fonda. (Jane Fonda now, that is, with her discreet sophistication, not in her bouffant and glamorous Barbarella days. Although this is a secret dream I am loathe to give up.) Paul, I can tell, is doubtful, and summons every ounce of tact he has to suggest that perhaps the Jane Fonda look is not for me and actually just a couple of inches off the Fringe would be fine. Of course, he’s right. It is fine. Apart from anything else, I can actually see again and should now stop bumping into the furniture and wandering off the kerb by mistake. In theory, that is.
This evening, we go to The Cuckoo for drinks with Mr and Mrs L#1, Mr and Mrs Jones, Mr S and Ms B. It is Mr Jones’ birthday on Monday as well. He is a year younger than me; annoyingly, this happens every time we have a birthday.
I have three glasses of red wine, which I only discover the next day are large glasses of wine which means that I enjoy myself far too much and make plans to go to either salsa dancing classes or to start meditation sessions. I’m not sure which.
As usual, Mr Young gets on extremely well with Mrs Jones and, as usual, I can hear them making plans for a French trip. This happens every time the two of them get together.
I think the rest of us will be also be going on the trip, although we will be walking (or salsa dancing, or meditating), while the two of them drive to different French venues, drinking wine and laughing while they wait for us to arrive.
I don’t care. I shall be either be too mentally serene or too busy perfecting my Cuban dance steps to notice.
Everyone is home for my birthday weekend! Hurray! I go into town for a coffee and a sandwich at Caffe Nero with Lucy and Harriet. We sit by an upstairs window and chat and watch the Saturday shoppers and it’s all very sophisticated and enjoyable. I excuse myself to go to the toilet and spend fifteen minutes standing by a locked cupboard, trying the handle every so often, before I realise that it is a locked cupboard and not the upstairs toilet. I no longer feel sophisticated.
Later, the girls go into Waitrose to buy food for my Surprise Birthday Dinner and I wait for them on the bench outside. The seat is made from a granite slab, but I only realise this once I become aware that my bottom has imperceptibly slipped forwards and I am now not only practically supine, but about to fall off and land on the floor. And not in a dignified way.
Once again, I stop feeling sophisticated.
Never mind. Tonight is my Surprise Birthday Dinner. Mr Young has made canapés, Tom has made the starter, Harriet has made the main course and Lucy has made the pudding. There is Prosecco and red wine and exotic vodkas and even a little chocolate muffin with a candle for me to blow out.
Afterwards, the entire family watches Paranormal Activity which is terrifying. At the film’s denouement, I scream so loudly that Archie wakes up and climbs, panicked, onto Tom’s shoulders.
We really have to face facts and accept that he is definitely not guard dog material.
It is my actual birthday today. I have presents and croissants in bed – on the minus side, this means that I will find crumbs and bits of sellotape when I try and get to sleep tonight, but on the plus side, it means that I have lots of cards and assorted gifts of sheer loveliness piled up on my duvet.
One of my presents is from Mr Young; when I first open it, I think it’s a hearing aid in a little black case. Not the most tactful of gifts, I’m about to point out, when I realise that it’s a set of headphones.
“Bedphones, actually,” corrects Mr Young. “You can sleep in them, you see; when you lie down, they’re designed to just fit over the ear rather than pressing in and being uncomfortable.” So this turns out to be a rather sensible and thoughtful gift after all, rather than a cruel joke. Good old Mr Young.
Later, Mrs L#2 (she knows she’s 2 because it’s chronological and not because she’s substandard) arrives with another present of loveliness for me.
“Did you get some nice things for your birthday?” she asks. I tell her that I got some bedplugs from Mr Young. As I’m saying this, I’m aware that it doesn’t sound right. In fact, it sounds quite graphically unpleasant.
Mrs L#2 looks mystified and somewhat taken aback.
“Oh,” she says. “How thoughtful.”
Mr Young joins us and explains that I mean bed phones and not bed plugs and she goes off looking relieved. Although still rather doubtful. Mr Young then reveals, in a sniggering sort of way, that bed plugs sounds a lot like something that is, apparently, some sort of sex aid which I’ve never heard of.
Not only do I now feel naive, I once again seem to have let myself down in the sophisticated stakes.
It’s no longer my birthday. The dishwasher is broken. Everyone has left and I’m alone in the house with the ironing, the washing and the clearing up. We’ve run out of eggs, the oven needs cleaning, the kitchen floor needs hoovering and I still have to get the crumbs and bits of sellotape out of my side of the bed.
Goodbye secret yearning to be Jane Fonda.
I shall just have to eschew those ambitions for another year.