Archive for the ‘Life’ Category
Before Bacardi Breezers there was Taboo and Mirage.
It was New Year’s Eve. I was about 14 and my best friend Ali was spending the evening with us. We were all – me, my brothers, Ali, my mum and dad – going to a house party with friends of my parents in the village.
It was a bring a bottle kind of a party and when we arrived, Rene waved us through to the kitchen. “Just dump everything on the table in there and help yourselves.” We followed her instructions. At first we drank non-alcoholic stuff or the little bottles of French beer that my parents had taken along. After a couple of those we got braver and started to check out the other bottles on the table. Ali and I and my eldest brother, Jim, looked at each other, a plan forming in our minds. I’m not sure who voiced it first, but we all had the same germ of an idea sitting there. “We should try *all* of these.”
I don’t remember now what else was on the table and how much of it we drank. All I know is that there was a red bottle of Taboo and a yellow one of Mirage – and we were going to drink them at midnight. Everything we did before then would lead up to this one, revealing moment when we finally got to try these glamorous, gloriously tacky drinks.
The evening went on. We drifted around in our little teenage gang of three, shuffling awkwardly whenever adults tried to talk to us and every so often heading back to the kitchen to whisper conspiratorially about the midnight plan. “Taboo and Mirage, yes? Yes.” Somewhere along the way we lost track of time. We were outside in the garden when somebody shouted that it was 11:55 – “Is everybody ready?!” Jim, Ali and I raced into the house as the countdown started. The kitchen table was covered in empty bottles and full ashtrays. We fumbled through them to the centre, where the bottles of Taboo and Mirage still stood, conspicuously untouched. Downing whatever it was that we had in our glasses, we unscrewed the caps of the bright yellow and red bottles. “What do we do with them?” someone asked. “Are they mixers, or what?” None of us knew the answer and we didn’t have time to debate. Besides, there was nothing left to mix them with even if that was what we were supposed to do. We poured hefty freehand sloshes of both into all three of our glasses. “10 … 9 … 8 … 7 …” We stood, poised, glasses to our lips, smelling the sickly-sweetness of the liqueurs under our noses. I don’t know about Ali and Jim, but I was already more than half-regretting this dare. There was no turning back now, though. “3 … 2 … 1 … HAPPY NEW YEAR!” We looked at each other, raised our glasses, and drank.
Jim managed to down his in one, but I made the mistake of sipping it first and all was lost. Ali, next to me, had dribbled it down her chin and was giggling so much that I started laughing, too. Every time I tried to knock my glass back I would choke with laughter again. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what Taboo and Mirage taste like, but I do know that they’ll always remind me of a night standing by a scarred, wooden kitchen table, giggling fit to burst.
This story was written as part of the Scintilla Project, as a response to the day one prompt, ‘Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.’
1. Clear the area to be filled with concrete of dust and loose matter.
2. Get bored of sweeping up dust and gravel.
4. Have lunch.
5. Blog some more.
6. IM your little brother in BA
7. Heft bag of concrete out to the back garden.
8. Find a bucket.
9. Find a bucket that isn’t full of dead leaves and slugs.
10. Pour small amount of dusty stuff from concrete bag into bucket.
11. Add water.
12. Mix until pliable (yeah, right, this stuff sets just like..er..concrete…)
13. Pour resulting glop into hole to be filled.
14. Realise you haven’t mixed anything like enough
15. Go through whole rigmarole 3 more times
16. Go to B&Q to buy another bag of concrete mix.
17. Mix yet more fucking concrete.
18. Finally fill hole and hope to God that the cats don’t walk all over it before it dries.
1. Get a man with a cement mixer in next time.
(originally published January 2005)
It’s a peaceful sort of a day. The sun feels hot on my back as I sit, cross-legged, filling pots with compost, taking pleasure in the feeling of the soil under my nails, resisting the urge (but only just) to make mud-pies. There’s a certain joy in potting up the window boxes and hanging baskets, marking the distances between the tiny plants to give them room to grow. The rhythmic crack of the polystyrene as I pop each plant out of its tray. The hole burrowed by hand into the damp compost. The springy feel of the earth as I firm each plant in to its new home. Then the pouring of water and the start of impatience – it seems like an age to wait for the plants to take hold and grow, sprouting flowers and trailing down the sides of the baskets. In truth, it will probably happen sooner than I think. One morning I will look out of the window and be taken by surprise by the myriad colours; the proof of life.
There’s a robin in my garden. He’s a cheeky sort of a chap, never far away when the garden fork appears, hoping for a fat, juicy worm or two. Strangely, the cat doesn’t seem interested in him. Maybe he’s just too small to be worth bothering with, but she continues to sun herself at my side, stretching onto her back, rubbing dust into her head and then giving me a quick sideways glance to check that I’m still watching her performance. Suddenly her attention is grabbed by something undetectable to human eye and she leaps into action, streaking up the walnut tree. Halfway up the tree she stops for a moment, hanging precariously, planning her route maybe; then she snakes her way up to the top, faster than greased lightning. Maybe she was in search of a sunnier spot, or maybe she just wanted to show me that she could do it. She sits, like the Cheshire Cat, waiting for Alice in the topmost branches.
(Originally published April 2006)
There are photos everywhere in this flat, but the most recent ones are from about 1999. I have albums full of pictures that I took, aged 9, with my first point and shoot camera. Pictures of grass, of icicles, of my pony, of tall ships, of my teddy bear, of my brothers… None of them are great works of art – I have, sadly, not inherited my grandmother’s photographer’s eye – but they all bring back a specific memory. I have cut them into silly shapes and pasted them into the album with captions. I have juxtaposed my own photos with baby pictures taken by my parents. What jumps off the page of these albums is the sheer joy of everything. Everything was exciting, everything worth recording.
Fastforward a few years to early teens. The photos are now of friends. Pulling silly faces, pretending to fall out of a tree, scowling at the camera as I catch them unawares, sitting in a classroom at breaktime, making pot noodles in the common room at night. Dawn, Bonnie, Nikki and me. Dawn was the ringleader, a tall, confident, American girl. Actually, she was English, but didn’t take kindly to being reminded of it – she had been brought up in Washington DC and hated the fact that her parents had chosen to send her to school in England. She was the one who instigated the various hate campaigns that we waged against each other. One day she would decide that everyone was to ignore so-and-so, and the amazing thing is that we all did, despite the fact that we’d been the best of friends the day before. And despite the fact that I knew how miserable and angry I’d been when I was the chosen pariah, I still went along with it when, a few weeks later, it was Nikki’s turn. When the school closed down after being hit badly in the January 1990 storms, we all went our separate ways, swearing undying friendship. When you’re 13 you think you’ll be friends forever, but out of sight out of mind is, sadly, a far truer saying than I would like it to be. I heard that Dawn made head girl in her new school and was glad for her. I think Bonnie went back to Hong Kong. Nikki accosted me on Charing Cross Road a couple of years back, having recognised me from across the street. I was totally nonplussed by this pretty, confident girl calling me Katie – last time I’d seen her she had terrible spots and traintracks on her teeth, and no-one outside my family has called me Katie in years. We swapped email addresses and made plans to meet up, but it never happened.
The GCSE-year photos are cringeworthily embarrassing. Bobbed hair, Rimmel Black Cherry lipstick, bodies, leggings and DM boots. Ali G, Ali H and me, the terrible trio. The photos taken in a passport booth, all three of us crammed in and laughing fit to burst. Smoking at the bus stop and being told, by a 12 year old boy, that I wasn’t doing it right. Photos of hunt balls, of giant crisps, of signing each other’s uniform shirts on the last day before exams started. I made out that I hated that school, and I did hate its small mindedness, but Ali is still one of my best friends 15 years later, and I was actually pretty happy and well-adjusted for a 16 year old.
Boys start to appear in the photos in the A-level years. I say boys, I mean Dan. My first boyfriend and how I loved him. It took me years to get over him. He’s married now, with a baby, and we’re still friends, despite me acting like a crazed lunatic towards him on various occasions. Photos of regattas, of getting drunk in the Soc., of the Leaver’s Ball. A photo of me in a chinese silk dress, made by my mother, with a rose between my teeth and grinning at the camera. The picture was taken by a guy who I’d spent 2 years having a laugh with in English lessons, paying very little attention to the tutor and instead doing the crosswords in that day’s papers. Just after the photo was taken he kissed me passionately and revealed that he’d liked me for ages. I had no idea and dealt with it by taking the piss. Not the best thing to do, looking back on it, but I was 18 and clueless.
Photos of my gap year in Stratford-upon-Avon; hundreds of them. Photos of plays, of costumes, of bloody flowers. One of our shows was Dona Rosita the Spinster, and the stage was decorated with pots of geraniums. We hated that show. Heather got hit by a car on the last night and got rushed off to hospital. We delayed the start of the show and she made it back by the time her scene came around, with her leg strapped up in bandages. Her best friend, Kathryn, was playing the title role and didn’t know if Heather was OK or not, as at the point she’d gone on stage H was still in hospital. Her face when H appeared on stage was brilliant. Photos of all of us meeting up in a pub in Soho after we’d left Stratford, drinking cocktails and ending up in Trafalgar Square worshipping the lions. We had our 10 year reunion this summer – I never thought we’d still be friends 10 years later, but somehow we are, and it’s wonderful.
Photos of drama school, my hair the longest and the blondest it’s ever been. I cut it all off at the end of first year and felt much better for it. Photos of skinny-dipping at somebody’s parents’ house in Wimbledon. Endless photos of the guy that I had a crush on. Photos of my parents’ jack russell terrier, who we roped in as Moonshine’s dog when we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and who was pretty much guaranteed to be found with Lisa whenever she disappeared. I was sharing a house with 2 girls and a very morose French guy at the time. One night, Alex was in her room in her pyjamas, with the dog sitting on her bed. Morose French Guy came in and told Alex that he liked her and was that a problem? Trying to think of a nice way to tell him that yes, in fact it WAS a problem, Alex was saved by Tipsy taking against him and scaring him off.
Post drama school is where the photos stop. In physical form, anyway. I do have some digital photos, but they’re nothing like as prolific as in the early years. Digital photography just isn’t as fun. The excitement of getting films back from the chemist was all part of the experience. Even if most of the photos were a disappointment, I could still look at that blurry mess and remember that it was blurred because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t hold the camera still. There’s a lot to be said for that.
(Originally published November 2006)