I have gone from somebody who rarely stopped to have lunch, and usually grabbed a bite to eat on the run, to being A Lady that Lunches. Not something that I previously aspired to, but when it happens now I do enjoy the company and social interaction. Tomorrow, all being well, I am due to meet up with a friend of mine. The Sloane Ranger and I used to work together until the inevitable organisational changes and reconfigurations that intermittently happen in our line of work resulted in us based in separate organisations about 30 miles apart. We don't get to meet up that often but still keep in touch by the usual methods of communication - phone calls, e-mails, Facebook and the like. So on this occasion we are looking forward to actually getting together ... having some coffee ... shopping a little ... and no doubt chatting a lot.
The place of work where we were previously based was just awful. A single story building, slightly bigger than a domestic bungalow, on a hideous industrial estate. It was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer - the latter of which was due to the fact there was no air conditioning and for health and safety reasons the windows only opened 3 inches at the most - surely they didn't think we were going to try and jump? However ... one of the good things that we had going for us ... was a Waitrose store on the doorstep. Bliss!
Due to the lack of options available most lunchtimes the Sloane Ranger and I would wander up to Waitrose for a sandwich. Well, our intentions would be to go in and a buy a sandwich but the sandwich would more than often cost us £20, £30 more. Why? Because once lured into Waitrose the temptations were often too great. Now, the Sloane Ranger and I have quite a bit in common but I can say that we have a number of completely different tastes and interests too. We used to walk into the store together, but then she would turn left and I would turn right. She would head for cakes ... whilst I would be on speed dial to cheese ... she would grab the biscuits ... whilst I would be eyeing up the baguettes. We would both be pretty content in the wine section ... but before we got there we would have to pass the ‘Seasonal’ aisle ...
Last weekend, the Sloane Ranger called to confirm details of our impending meet up. We had a bit of a chit chat and then I asked her whether she had something nice planned for the weekend. “Oh yes!” she replied with great gusto. “It is Bonfire Night. We are having a party, with fireworks!” I felt a twinge – but I let it go – deciding not to concentrate on it too much. Until later ... when I popped over to Facebook. The Sloane Ranger had logged on earlier and happily declared to the world and his wife/her husband that she was very excited about the fact "It is only five and half week until Christmas!"
And that was it .... I felt really lightheaded ... giddy ... the room began to spin ... and it came back to me... What came back to you? The night I killed Father Christmas.
Now, I need to explain that these differences between the Sloane Ranger and I stretch further than chocolate and cheese. Yes, she likes bags ... whereas I like shoes (though I don’t mind bags if you are thinking of buying me one). But there is more. For starters you might be able to tell from her name that she isn’t from around these parts. Also, she is much more confident than me. She says what is on her mind. No ... not in an unintentional open-your-gob-and-let-it-topple-out Bridget Jones kind of way ... but in a confident and self assured manner. But the biggest anomaly between the Sloane Ranger and I, the thing that generates the most bickering and heated ribbing, is our opposing views on so-called ‘celebratory diary days’. You know the ones ...
Let me start with Valentine’s Day. Now, I need to be careful here I as I could go on and on as I absolutely and totally detest VD (to give it its proper name). The Sloane Ranger, on the other hand loves it. To the extent that she even got married on VD. But it is so not me. For me it is up there with some of my other Room 101 choices – squeezed between rats, football, polystyrene and sci-fi. I see it as grotesque sickly sugary sweet commercialism which the lines the pockets of crafty marketers such as Mr Hallmark and the like. What drives people to go out and purchase overpriced cards, balloons and flowers is just beyond me. What is even worse is the thought of going for a ‘quiet romantic VD meal’. Oh, yes ... along with 99 other supposed Romeo and Juliets who have been squeezed into the restaurant which legally only caters for 50 covers so you can’t burp without at least 20 supper companions hearing. You are then charged an inflated rate for a meal that you haven’t chosen. “Sorry madam, you can’t order the moules as it is a set Valentine’s Day menu tonight. We are only serving items in shades of red and pink. Would you like some watermelon?” Then, once the meal is finished there are the two camps. The traditional one, where the couples don’t actually talk to each other but look over each other shoulders, staring around the room, just nursing their nearly empty glasses, taking sneaking cursory glances at their watches debating when it would be deemed appropriate to 'sadly' annouce that it is time to go home. And, then there is the new 21st Century camp, where he is on his mobile phone trying to find out the latest football score, and she is updating her Facebook page with details of the ‘wonderful romantic evening’.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not that I don’t do romance and sentiment. It is just that I don’t do it for only one day – and because I am told to. It shouldn’t mean spending lots of money on overpriced commercial rubbish, gaudy cards and hideous stuffed toys from Korea, or going for a meal when you just fancy beans on toast. Touching gestures should be something that you do because you want to. A poem stuck to the fridge door or details of a surprise dinner date hidden in the packed lunch box. Or maybe returning home to a hot bubble bath with a glass of chilled bubbly on the side. A newly released CD by your favourite band ... or even better ... tickets to their next concert combined with a weekend away ...
One of the nicest and genuine things you can do is hand over a little package and say to someone is ... “I saw this and thought of you ....”. As opposed to “I forgot it was VD until my secretary said Wayne was taking her for a special 2-4-1 meal at McDonalds. I popped in to the garage on the way home and I was surprised that they only had these straggly carnations left. Here you are dear ... to show my love ...”.
A couple of Saturdays ago I went in to Sainsburys and demanded to see the store manager. I told him in no uncertain terms that unless he handed over at least half of his confectionary stock then I was going to run around the store throwing eggs and flour. OK – so that is a stupid suggestion. But I thought about it – just to make a case in point about Halloween. My number two calendar event pet hate. The date in the diary when it is OK for anyone under 4ft tall to knock on total strangers doors and demand ‘treats’, such as money or goodies, and, if they aren’t forthcoming, then it is perfectly acceptable to cause cosmetic damage with their ‘tricks’. This year I bought a huge bag of horrid fluorescent sweets full of colours, preservatives and E numbers. I took consolation in the fact the ‘pesky children’ would return home, whizz up and down the walls for at least three hours, before their teeth fell out. By half seven the sweets had long gone - as had my patience - so I put a 'polite' notice on the door saying "please do not ring on on doorbell or knock on door." I am not sure if anyone read this and took heed or whether by that time all the dear 'Little Treaters' had gone home to watch The X-Factor. I was slightly disappointed as I was going to take my revenge on anyone that ignored my note by opening the door ... bare headed. A sight which was going to scare them far more than any fancy dress effort was going to do to me.
And finally .... on to number three .... Christmas. Now, before you shout "Bah Humbug" at me, let me just put my point across. I don’t dislike the whole of Christmas. And, actually, on the day it is OK, particularly by mid-morning when I have a spud peeler in one hand and the compulsory glass of sherry in the other. I just hate the huge build up which commences as early as August - do you realise that there are people working in shops listening to festive musak for over a third of the year? And then there is the pressure for people to spend money that they don’t necessary have, on things that people don’t really need, that also gets my
The Sloane Ranger was definitely at her worst at Christmas. Before we had turned the December page on the desk calendar she would have the tree and decorations out in the office and on her desk. This was bearable ... until our final Yule together ... when she brought in a Father Christmas. You know the sort of thing – a stuffed toy about a foot high. That bit was OK. What totally pushed me to the edge was that on poking his inflated tummy it would sing “Ho ho ho. Have a very happy Christmas.” Now, I know that doesn’t sound much ... but day after day ... after day ... it didn’t half grate. And of course, the more annoyed and niggled I became the more the Sloane Ranger would squeeze the thing and wave it in my face. I give it to the girl; she knew how to wind me up. To the extent that as I sat there alone at my desk one night ... in the empty dimpsy office ... looking over at the grinning bearded face of Father Christmas which I swore was laughing at me ... I came up with "a cunning plan"...
A cunning plan? Well ... you know how I have this vivid imagination ... it kicked into action ... there and then. Staring at his smug little face I thought it would be really funny to grab Father Christmas and dash through the vacant building to the front door. And ... whilst there was no-one there to witness my actions ... manically taking a pair of sharp nail scissors to one of his chubby little legs. Chopping it off with aggressive retaliation and strategically leaving it on the office floor. Then, with some ketchup from the fridge, drawing a dribbly 'bloody' red trail leading to the next roughly amputated leg. Squeezing some more ketchup along the floor ... and leaving the first podgy arm. And finally, some more 'gorey' ketchup leading to the last limb. A pathway of destruction which the following morning would take the Sloane Ranger to her desk. Where she would find the dismembered torso in a pool of grisly sweet sticky ‘blood’ on her chair. And finally ...the solitude head of Father Christmas on her keyboard ... next to a note made up from letters that I had cut from a newspaper, ransom bid style, saying: “Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. Rest In Peace.”
OK. So I didn’t actually do it. I seriously considered it, but eventually came to my senses. It would have been funny but it would have broken the Sloane Ranger’s heart. She would have suffered from lifelong nightmares. Christmas would never have been the same ever again for her.
But ... she needs to remember the thought was there ... and I haven't forgotten it. So, here is a word of warning. If we are sat there tomorrow afternoon, enjoying a nice cuppa and a slice of cake, and her hand slips into that crimson Mulberry bag of hers, and a familiar rosy cheeked and white bearded face suddenly appears only a few inches from mine, and I hear those immortal words “Ho ho ho, have yourself a happy Christmas” then I cannot take responsibility for my actions. I might appear to be a Lady that lunches, but if I see red, in more senses then one, that fork in my hand may just go somewhere where it has never been before.
Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee.