Monday, July 26, 2010

Amber Beads.

My Stepmother didn't possess much that I wanted. She wasn't beautiful or charming like my own mother had been. She didn't have a charismatic personality or an alluring disposition. She was clever, quietly studious and industrious around the luxurious home she shared with my father. She 'contained' her personality rather than wearing it openly for all to see.

Her life with my father was very different to the one we had with my mother and when we went to stay we found we were immediately on edge, usually because we were scared of breaking something. The general vibe was: you can look - but if you want to maintain contact you'd better keep your grubby little paws away from our hard-earned reproduction furniture. Compared to the frenzy of disorder that trailed in my mothers wake it seemed like some sort of fictional set-up. Life there was quiet, stable, predictable...and boring. I didn't yearn for a life like my stepmother and I certainly didn't find her staid existence the least bit appealing.

As far as ostentatious adornment went she didn't really wear much jewellery beyond a traditional engagement ring and a string of pearls but what I coveted more than anything else were her Amber beads.

These beads, thick and chunky, richly coloured like lumps of burnt caramel toffee hung around her neck through out my early teenaged years. They taunted and tantalised me with the richness of their glow and their mysterious, ancient and unfathomed depths. I didn't ever dare to ask to hold them, let alone feel the clunky and heavy coldness of their weighty touch around my neck. I could only gaze enviously as she stroked them casually while reading a book on a Sunday afternoon, or absentmindedly rubbing the largest central one, smooth as glass, round like a marble and as dense as the end of time.

It crystallised my feelings for her. Silently I resented the fact that my father loved her so much that his usually cautious ways with gift purchasing had been cracked open by her charms. He had bought her a necklace that for me held the power of love within its solid impenetrable glow.

It was many years later, after her death, that I learnt the truth about the Amber beads.

* * *

I was about 10 years old when my father married again. My brother, sister and I were not invited to the wedding and that single rather cold act seemed to set in place a distance and formality that flavoured all our meetings. It wasn't really anyones fault, just one of those things that can sometimes happen with second marriages and though my Stepmother was warm and pleasant she wasn't ever really fun to be with. She was friendly enough, she was helpful up to a point, but there always seemed to be something lacking. Perhaps she was overcome with fear at being faced with the rough and tumble of a ready-made family at the week-ends. It's possible we simply didn't interest her that much.

She was reed thin and the kind of woman who never had so much as a teaspoon of extra pudding or even a puff of a cigarette. Ever. She was so unlike my mother that the difference between these two older women was more like a chasm.

We would arrive in London for our visits draped in our teenaged finery (at 14 I favoured the short skirt/thick purple eyeshadow of an underage call girl) to find our Stepmother standing at the front door, a tailored and wincingly tolerant smile in place. Her look was crisply understated, white blouse, knee length navy skirt and hair always a swirl of Elnett elegance and coiffed to within an inch of its life.

I wonder now at how she ever managed to walk by my side when at 15 I would beg to go shopping on the Kings Road dressed from head to toe in mismatched tartan gleaned from charity shops and tacked onto the sides of my jeans during a Bay City Roller phase. All that ever escaped her fixed and slightly bemused manner when dealing with us would be a widening of her eyes. She sensibly left all the reprimanding to my father, but we knew that we had horrified her when her eyes widened and then rolled skywards. This strict emotional armour stayed firmly in place until about 10 years before her death when she then suffered a number of devastating strokes which eventually robbed her of her power of speech and her comprehension of every day manners thus loosening her rigid self-control.

Years after I had grown-up and my stepmother had been led towards a sad decline into senile dementia, her jewellery became a forgotten part of her routine. Sometimes a cameo brooch appeared on her blouse and a fragment of her once smart and refined persona would return to grace her. Occasionally she would appear from the bedroom and anxiously ask my father to search for her lost pearls and he would remind her that they were languishing peacefully in the drawer in her dressing table. She would soon wander back in to the room forgetting she had ever asked about them, but the Amber beads vanished from view and were never mentioned or remembered.

It wasn't until a few weeks after her death that my father sat across the table in his dining room and pushed her jewellery box towards me. I opened it up and we began to go through the contents. A couple of 18th century rings, with scraps of still bright fabric set behind thin glass lozenges - of little value despite their age but exceedingly pretty. A neglected clump of delicate gold chains, irreparably spaghetti tangled and twisted. A second layer revealed, along with a lazy jumble of ornamental trinkets, her Cameo brooch, some giant hat-pins and a slim oblong red leather box containing her string of pearls. We shed a few tears, the rawness of her death still with us and the nearness of such intimate items felt like an intrusion at that early stage. We were just about to pack it all away and close up the box when my father suddenly leaned across and pulled out a long heavy-looking string of something familiar and the colour of once forbidden nectar. The Amber necklace. I gasped in goose-tingling recognition at this once longingly loved forgotten treasure and as my father smiled and passed them over I could barely speak engulfed in a torrent of memories and taken surging and bumping back into my choppy teenaged past. When I finally placed those evocative jewels around my neck I was quickly brought back to earth with a jolt. They weren't Amber beads after all. They were plastic.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Pug called Cedric

Last night I collected Master Cedric Nock, a sexy little beast of a black Pug and our guest for the next couple of days. And he is in the kitchen at the moment charging about, snorting and slobbering and cocking his leg all over everything and generally acting like a dirty little pig.

I have known Cedric Nock for many years and used to really love him with his sturdy little body, heavily hung undercarriage and absurd rolling eyeballs, but age, I am afraid, hasn't mellowed him. Cedric has turned into that most tiresome of males, the ageing roue. He has spent most of the day strutting around the kitchen like a sex demon looking for action and propositioning my own dog, a dear little King Charles spaniel called Miriam.

Last night I had to take her upstairs and barricade us both into my bedroom. She was starting to look a little scared. Even I was looking a little scared. He could have had either one of us pinned up against a wall. And his penis is on red alert. Literally. It pokes out like a salami and is just as stinky.

When I was driving us home last night I went round a bend a bit sharply and Cedric went flying into the dashboard and hit his head and then collapsed on the floor under the glove compartment and got all entangled in my handbag and cardigan. I carried on driving, a little concerned, but if I'm honest, not enough to pull over. I don't actually like him that much. I did lean over and pat his head and say 'there there' and eventually he hauled his over-weight form and stumpy little legs back onto the passenger seat. He then leaned back and slumped, like a giant toad, with his red penis pointing out hopefully and his eyes rolling and his stubby little nose snorting away at me, accusingly.

And he looks most affronted each time I go to the fridge and there isn't anything for him. He trots into the room eyes rolling and nose snorting and with such a demanding expression that he reminds me of a grumpy colonel wondering what time supper is. And, sadly for him, he's nearly always already had it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Extreme Cycling Class

I have completed my first extreme static cycling class. And I think I like it.

I was cornered on my way in to the gym by a clean, shiny and enthusiastically earnest instructor and so I decided to bite the bullet and finally have a go. I have avoided this for months but as I slipped onto a cycle in the back row and tried to blend into the wall, the very loud rock music and the intoxicating thrill of a challenge soon began to psych me up. And as the kind of girl who'll never take a front seat if the murky anonymity of the back row is available I soon began to feel secure and able to view the class from my almost hidden vantage point at the back of the trenches.

And then...all of a sudden...we were off.

I didn't exactly keep the speed levels up that all the others achieved but I did at least keep going. I pedalled hard when I was instructed, imagining the mountains whizzing by. I gripped the handles and took the bends like a pro, sweat spinning off at an angle as I skidded red-faced and hot across gritted tracks and swept down smooth and shaded wooded pathways. I stood up and cycled forward letting my arms take all the strain while they worked the handle-bars, driving them from side to side, as I rocked to the beat of the music which accompanied the journey. It was fantastically hard, then I looked at my watch and discovered that only 5 minutes had passed.

I had to focus even harder to get through the next 40 minutes of the session so I concentrated on the large and wobbly forms of the two women directly in front of me. Bottom on the left and Bottom on the right. There was also a tightly-knit trio, one female and two males, further to the left but they were obviously a well-maintained threesome who didn't encourage intruders on their patch. They were fast, tight and lean. The two bottoms and myself were floppy, panting and desperately trying to keep up. Hey we were even starting to feel like a gang! A gang of...erm...bottoms.

The left-hand bottom, Bottom 1, was clad in a totally unsuitable lacy g-string which was completely visible through her cycling shorts which had become diaphanous with age and stretch. They veritably ached across the vast expanse they were expected to cover. The covering for her top half, which was also gallantly stretched to beyond the call of duty, consisted of a selection of well-aged and thoroughly tenderised garments. They wearily crossed and re-crossed each other with a variety of strength and endurance and included some tortured looking bra-straps, a cropped vest, and, inexplicably, a halter-neck bikini top. Trying to mentally untangle this scene almost turned me cross-eyed. Like a Victorian conundrum, I went round and round in circles, searching for the beginning and end to each item of clothing. The whole of the left-hand view became a sort of Gordian knot of the extreme exercise garment world.

I eventually managed to follow the complicated macrame of stretched lace and well-used elastic pathways up hill and down dale as we collectively static-cycled our way across the country. And the view on the left, though stylistically busy and daunting, did actually keep me going, luring me ever closer to the finishing post. If complicated strappy get-ups could do it then so could I. And when I tired of the view I simply turned to Bottom 2, on the right. Bottom 2 was altogether a more comfortable set-up, as abundantly padded as our neighbour but reassuringly well-covered in an all-in-one stretchy black number which allowed the bulge from her back to ooze out of the top under her armpits in a satisfying overhang which neither offended nor screamed for attention.

All three of us struggled and strained and gasped our way through the class. But we made it. I grabbed my water bottle and gulped some life back into me but when I turned back to say goodbye to my team-mates they'd gone. And I thought we'd bonded.

The class was hugely enjoyable and I think I might be hooked. I'm going to try and fit in another one at some stage this week. And I must remember to get there early to get a seat in the back row...I'd just hate someone to be looking at my bottom.


My son is with his father for the week-end and my boyfriend is on the other side of the world.

And tonight I collect Master Cedric, a fat little Pug, who I have as a house guest for the week. His owner promises me he won't pee indoors. We'll see.