memories of brighton, england

gosh – darlings – we’d Completely forgotten we’d started this story – a long(ish) time ago – but something about the rain Today (RAIN?!) in los angeles and of course we are Thrown Instantly Back to Brighton (did we tell you who-we-are-in-RL was born in brighton?)

so here’s the beginning of something that we never finished – maybe we never will – but *sighs* at Some Point it might be somewhat Cathartic and possibly Lucrative.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back in Brighton

Maisie had not intended to go back.

But when the first year at university ended her rich friends took off for glorious adventures abroad, or headed deep into the English countryside for endless summers at their family estates. With neither option on the horizon; and the distinct lack of money in her bank account requiring actual paid work, rather urgently, she sighed and took the train back to Brighton.

She found a house that someone needed looking after for the summer by the Duke of York cinema and asked for her old waitress job back at Fitz.

It was as if she had never been away. The same lilting voices of the art students from Liverpool drifted across the wooden tables and mismatched chairs as they sat eating a fry-up before retreating to the kitchen to prep. Only the waitresses changed each season. All except Maisie who had started there when she was seventeen and, with her recent return, never really left.

A week after arriving back in Brighton and working at Fitz a familiar routine enveloped her again. She lit another cigarette and looked out at the July rain. Some kind of summer, she sighed. The restaurant was set up, the chefs busy downstairs and the other waitresses – Joan and Sue – were gossiping in the back by the coffee pots over Joan’s new conquest, Darren, the soux chef.

Then came the unmistakable sound of a screw top bottle being opened, something poured into glasses and the bottle replaced on the shelf. Maisie knew what had just taken place – the so-called Fitz Nip – a pre-shift slug of coffee liqueur emptied into a frothy milk-rich beverage. She took a drag of her cigarette, finished it and stubbed it out and went to turn the sign on the door to open.

As it was a Saturday the shift got busy really quickly and the three women were barely able to catch their breath. It was only when Sue asked her to take an order on table nine because she had to nip to the loo, that Maisie realized they were both completely drunk.

When surrounded by others getting quietly hammered during Saturday afternoon shifts, it was best to follow suit, so she quickly took the order on number nine and helped herself to the bottle of liqueur on the dresser. It did not matter, after all. Fitz was hardly an upscale restaurant, it was a place you sunk into, gratefully, to escape the rain or to while away the afternoon with one cup of coffee during a quiet afternoon writing your novel.

Fitz was named after Mrs Fitzherbert, the mistress of the Prince Regent, who later became George IV, and there had been a cafe called Fitz on the premises since between the wars. A gay man from Chicago had bought the resturant on a whim from bankruptcy court in the mid 80s and, just as quickly, sold it on to two brothers from Leeds.

You never saw the owners who were savvy enough to install a bona fide restaurant manager, Mike. Mike was a thin man who dressed in ill-fitting grey suits, losing the jacket to help out during Saturdays in his shirtsleeves.

During her first winter working at Fitz, Mike had suddenly appeared before the evening shift, on a quiet Wednesday, wearing tight jeans and a black leather bomber jacket, on his way to hear a big punk band play down in one of the clubs under the arches by the beach. It had seemed so unlikely. Especially since the ill-fitting suits returned the very next day and the leather jacket was not seen again. But Maisie knew Mike had another side. Everyone at Fitz had another side.

She had been left on her own that night. Not many customers, a few tourists in need of a reasonable, dubiously English-style meal or one of the slightly risqué-named hamburgers. Like the “magic mushroom burger” (the only magic was a lethal garlic mayonnaise – she watched Darren make it fresh once a week) or the “Saturday night burger”: was the pineapple on melted cheddar meant to be an extra special – only-once-a-week treat? Or was there something suggestive in the pineapple ring almost penetrated by the strips of bacon lying across it?  That was Darren’s theory. But, that first winter, she had been a seventeen-year old virgin so just blushed.

A  full two years later she did not blush when the boarding school boys came in with their local girl dates and ordered the burgers by name; the blood rushing up the backs of their necks as the sassy Brighton girls sucked on a cherry on the top of their Diet Coke swizzle sticks.

Maisie clocked off at four and headed for her locker downstairs by the kitchen. She opened the door and saw Darren smoking on the iron steps that led to the patch of concrete where the kitchen put the rubbish out each night. He turned around as he heard Maisie flip open her Zippo lighter.

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said, looking directly at her in that art student way of his, as if appraising her face for the way the light fell before he drew her. “Not once you’d been to London.”

He said London as if it did not impress him at all. The inverted snobbery of the Northerners was not lost on Maisie. The way they left Liverpool and Manchester to come to the art college in Brighton, by-passing London entirely and yet, if they had any hope of a commercial career in art, the very city they would have to settle in.

She wanted to answer Darren in a way that would make him realize she was no longer Mousey Maisie, the teenage waitress. Not that she had any interest in Darren but his opinion set the tone at Fitz so she needed to make sure this summer got off on the right foot. While she was still thinking of an answer the kitchen bell rang and Darren got up, handed her a beer from the ice bucket on the steps and disappeared.

Maisie almost dropped it but Darren didn’t notice. He had gone. It was not that she did not want it. But it was only four o’clock. And if this summer was about drinking at four o’clock there would not be an adventure. And she really needed an adventure this summer.

and from a little bit further on…….

The corrugated iron door was ajar and she could hear a track of music blending into another as a line of melody clashed with  dark drumbeats and then, finally, silence. Constance, dressed in boy’s jeans and a stringy tank top waved from the DJ booth. Maisie waved back and took a warm beer bottle from the crate in front of the booth. She watched Constance for a while and tried to see if she had changed at all since last summer when they all celebrated the end of school and the beginning of what was next. Constance had stayed behind in Brighton to continue DJ-ing at the Zap. Her parents were both in the music industry so rarely around and certainly not worried that she did not want to go to university.

Maisie had learned how to blow smoke rings in Constance’s bedsit opposite the Palace Pier. A one room disaster zone in a crumbling Regency house. The orange swirly carpet studded with cigarette burns from the mid-70s, a kitchenette, never used, a bed, always unmade, and a nubbly brown sofa rescued from the street. Constance and Jolyon, her sometime lover/sometime dealer lived on pizza, beer and cigarettes, projecting John Wayne movies and stolen porn onto the blank wall from an old projector.

Finally Constance wrapped up her mix session in the booth and came down to look at Maisie who, unlike Constance, had changed radically in the course of a year. Her old schoolfriend took in the black bob that replaced the long blonde hair, the thin layer of black liquid eyeliner on her eyelids and the distinct dark circles underneath. Maisie shivered. She felt strange being back here at the Zap, especially under Constance’s scrutiny.

The Zap had been the pinnacle of Brighton nightlife their entire teenage years. A place she despaired of ever being old enough to get into. A place of many drunken, wonderful, Bacchanalian confusions but now, with the fading shaft of cold daylight from the rainy beachfront piercing the shabby interior, it looked drab. Constance took the points of Maisie’s new black bob and pulled them towards her cheekbones. “Very Louise Brooks,” she said. Maisie felt foolish. Of course it was exactly why she had a black bob cut in the first place. But it was embarrassing to have someone know that about you.

and the last bit before we Dash out of the door to do-some-work-in-the-Valley.

The sweet shops selling rock and toffees and ice-cream under the arches were closing for the night and the pubs were opening on every corner as Maisie made her way up the hill, past the railway station, and into the house she was looking after for the summer. It was completely silent. A really ordered house. There was no clutter or eccentricities or junk flowing down the stairs. There was even a coat stand by the door and a little shelf where you could hang your keys. Maisie still thought that was so grown-up, so strange, but she carefully hung up the still unfamiliar key ring and checked her appearance in the hall mirror. She smiled sadly at herself, thinking of Constance’s non-committal reaction.

“Doesn’t look as if anyone is going to throw me a welcome home and coming out party then.” She went upstairs and crawled into bed and try to fall asleep but she was hungry.

The best thing about working in restaurants is they feed you. The worst thing about working in restaurants is you never buy food to keep in the house. Maisie decided she could not stay in so she got up, pulled on her clothes again. A bag of peanuts in the front balcony seats for the late showing at the art-house cinema next door would do for supper again.

Summer passed quickly as the restaurant got busier and Maisie fell back into the routine of working, watching endless old movies and going clubbing at the Zap at the weekend. Then Constance moved to Glasgow at the end of the summer to DJ but did not leave a forwarding number. Maisie only found out when she wondered why someone else was in the DJ booth that night.

After her shift the next day she went round to Constance’s bedsit and found Jolyon sitting on the steps smoking a joint and reading Camus. Or rather not reading Camus but the note stuck inside a copy of Camus, left by Constance. They talked for a while. Jolyon did not appear to be upset. But there again Maisie could not remember Jolyon ever actually having any sort of emotion for as long as she had known him. They walked to the train station together. Jolyon had decided to move to London, now Constance had left Brighton; as if her exit gave him permission to leave too. He told Maisie he was moving to Blackheath.

“Do you know why it is called Blackheath?” asked Maisie, who was full of odd bits of knowledge. Jolyon did not look as if he cared. But he did perk up slightly when Maisie explained it was because of the Black Plague. She explained nothing could ever be built on the heath itself for fear of releasing the plague once more. Jolyon barely registered what Maisie was saying. So she asked him why, exactly, Blackheath?

He was more forthcoming about that. He told her about his brother who was a fight instructor at The National Theatre and lived with a crowd of dancers and actors who passed through each other’s bedrooms and lives under the watchful gaze of the mural of Salvador Dali painted on the kitchen wall, his mustache flicked over the peeling paint on the window frames. “You should come over some time” said Jolyon, leaning into Maisie’s breasts as he tried to steady himself and buy a train ticket from the machine.

hmmmm, it’s Definitely bringing back memories…….maybe we’ll leave this one for Another Time and finish The House on Church Row before writing a 2nd Emerald novel ;-)

or not.

maybe this one is Next.

sometimes stories just get Insistent to be told.

or   r  e  l  e  a  s  e  d.

overcast like an out-of-season bank holiday weekend at an english resort town.

darlings

tis very strange and grey/gray/overcast outside the window – it doesn’t look like los angeles at All – more like an out-of-season bank holiday weekend at an english resort town.

*lookstocamera*

oh.

wait.

all the bank holidays are In Season, right?

but still terrible weather if we recall rightly.

back to the simile and metaphor and meta-ness.

so today has got us in mind of a day inside a (3 star) hotel at a english coastal town, hands up against the window (“take your grubby hands off the window and go and wash up”) nose pressed to the glass, trying to find the beach through the raindrops and wondering if it’ll clear up long enough to build a sandcastle and maybe eat an ice-cream (rum and raisin in those days or a 99 with a flake from the vans with the tinkling italian music).

perhaps it’s because The Persephone Biannually arrived in the post yesterday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we devoured it after breakfast (bran flakes, 1 per cent milk, coffee – 2 x cups).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

gosh!

well.

we stopped in our tracks Instantly upon reading this.

you see at the age of Eleven we went to school in eastbourne (although we re-named it Charstleymead in our novel called “Emerald”*) and spent Many Hours lingering in Old Town (waiting for the bus which went along the coast road – in the times when we weren’t boarding – we only got to stay when we were Doing A Play, sadly.)

will you indulge us?

She had no idea she still believed in magic. As if expecting the stone to transport her back, as if by closing her eyes and wishing it so hard that her heart felt it might break again, she could wake up in the Upper IV dormitory upstairs, tucked in tightly by matron under thick white cotton sheets. A faint smell of lavender from the linen water used to smooth out the pillowcases at the local laundry service. The casement windows open to the elements, birds singing outside and the clatter of kitchen staff frying sausages and making endless rounds of buttered toast.

But it was not possible. She knew that – even if she wished and wished and wished so hard. There was no way of returning. She whimpered in fright at the thought of returning to London, to her horrible cold life in that terrifying building.

Earlier that day, on her way to interview the actor, the rest of Charstleymead had looked the same. The beach still had pebbles, not sand. The same line of striped blue and white deckchairs sat waiting on the promenade, their linen blown out by the sea breezes. The Devonshire Park Theatre was doing its umpteenth revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives and the old art gallery still showed watercolors by talented local painters of the surrounding chalk cliffs and Sussex Downs. Charstleymead was the same but it had no place for Emerald.

Suddenly she saw someone sitting on the wall over by the Lawrence College playing field. Emerald wanted to run across the old grass lawn now worn in places and in need of fertilizer and love. Automatically, the bit of her that was still Emma ran down through the punishment list:

1. A nuisance mark for using the wrong entrance.

2. An untidiness mark for having hands covered in rust from the gates and not having brushed her hair for at least three days.

3. An order mark – if not two – for being caught smoking.

4. And definitely disapproval for not being a good sport and loyal Old Girl who showed up to support Harcourt Hall over the past decade.

There was a girl, about fourteen, she guessed, scuffing the backs of her school shoes by hitting them on the other side of the wall, rhythmically, angrily – and, noted Emerald with a wry grin – smoking.

*no update yet From New York City on the reading of Emerald (our own literary agent – such a lovely phrase – said it was “poignant” and “very good” and has passed it on to another to “co-read” as the Other Agent is a Special YA – young adult – Agent – still waiting with crossed fingers – only metaphorically so or we couldn’t finish the newest novel, of course).

talking of writing we always find it Difficult With Jet Lag – so we need to nap a little more and Build up our strength before we get-back-to-it. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

luckily we have lavender spray from The National Trust (doff cap) from William (darling – a Lot of Hairy Chests on that tumblr we note ;-) to put us in the English bank holiday mood.

because we really Miss Annabelle and Marion and Lydia and Charlotte and Simon (he’s making tea in the kitchen next door and wondering if Marion really is a Witch just as the BBC camera crew have left).

lots happening.

we hope they wait for us to get plenty of rest so we can come and watch and write-it-all-down.

are you having a delicious sunday?

what are you Up To?

do. tell.

we love to hear your news.

vision boards in silver lake.

darlings

we went to silver lake last night and there was laughter and thai food take-out and candles, roses, tons of magazines and sparkly mineral water, scissors, glue and glaze.

yes!

we were doing Vision Boards.

wait!

don’t leave…….

vision boards are not only magical but Awfully Helpful in revealing what one might be looking for or about to arrive if only one would Stop long enough to see the train pull in and not run to the station ahead on the Line and see it leave.

yes, patience.

and gloriousness.

plus some of the Best people do such things, don’t you know.

and it IS Los Angeles – we must adhere to at least a few of the local customs.

they’re so delicious. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA yes.

lovely.

words+pictures = a new life.

just as we had hoped and wrote about the day-before-we-moved-back-to-this-Coast.

what we’re a little Perplexed By are the two old wooden doors to the left and the right of the image – the beautiful chap is definitely portrait photography (and a tiny bit reminiscent of a shot by Mr. Ritts which is an awfully good sign) – there are words/books/morebooks mentioned and a preponderance of satin and designer fragrances (on the right track already with both then) – there’s a chandelier (phew) and a 1930s Hollywood shot of Mr. Grant and the twinkling lights from over Mullholland Drive and our favo(u)rite place for tea (and christmas morning breakfasts) – chateau marmont

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

– but the Doors – are they of Perception?

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
― Aldous Huxley

how exciting.

 

Leonard Cohen, corduroy trousers and #drmartens at The House on Church Row

darlings

after our treatise into the worlds of cultural theory, despair and longing and Sixties photography (which we are sure baffled a few and probably could have become a separate sort-of-a-blog itself) – we’re BACK!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit’s 10:01 AM on a saturday in Los Angeles and we’re about to swim (bliss) and then go for a walk to meet friends-for-lunch and then tonight it’s the french film festival again – could life get any better?!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyes.

if the co-agent in NYC who is reading Emerald suddenly decides she loves it and wants to co-represent us (hint).

more of the present Novel (64,615 words!!)?

you are Terribly Kind!

Over at the Agency HQ just behind St John’s Churchyard there were some very angry conversations going on. Why wasn’t Marion O’Neal scared of them watching her? How come that English ghost had escaped again and not finished her task? Where was codename: Deneueve? Apparently she had gone back to Wiltshire on the last train out of Paddington unexpectedly. The Harden brothers had not cashed the check, which was deeply odd. And now there was a global movement building momentum while everyone slept in England because the bloody interweb was a 24/7 operation that had no leader and no controls and a surfeit of women-who-blog. It was all too much.

Time to call in the big guns. A message was sent to NYC by morse code. If the Agency could still use WHITley-1275, they would. They hated progress and the demise of the telegraph system was the last straw. Email was completely beyond the pale, naturally.

********************************************************

To the naked eye, all was well in Hampstead. The week passed fairly quietly at the creative advertising agency and the blog campaign overtook any and all other media. It was astonishing. Annabelle learned about writing good headlines and tagging and not forgetting to put posts into categories so they could be found easily. Libby had expressed so much anger about the destruction of the environment that Marion had given her a column to write and she was linking up with all the other disaffected teen girl bloggers around the world. Thanks to Google Chrome, she could even communicate with her newfound friends in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, with the auto-translate feature. It was glorious.

Simon had bumped into Lydia at the corner shop and found she was at a loose end. He went back to her house and had tea and admired (greatly) her talent for baking.

“You should set up a catering company!” he said, stuffing another slice of swiss roll into his hungry mouth.

Lydia was deeply flattered. She had tried to cook for the warlocks/students but they liked to say terribly thin (because they were mostly studying comparative literature and all their heroes were thin, tall and underfed like Stephen Spender). Simon raised a spark in her. She confessed she knew nothing about setting up a business and so he offered to help.

“I had no idea you were an accountant,” she said. And he paused, embarrassed. Nobody had asked him what he did before.

Together they went to Hampstead Town Hall and registered her new business and the Jones’ family became her first client. When Annabelle came home that night she was astonished to see Simon and the children tucking into a creamy chicken pie with an actual pudding to follow (sticky toffee pudding, with custard). And there was Lydia standing by the over, a little flushed and wearing a faded pink Cath Kidston apron.

After the washing-up was done (by the children – another astonishing sight for Annabelle Jones to see her daughter happily wiping down the plates), the adults shared a glass of excellent brandy from the Dordogne and talked over their day. Both Annabelle and Simon had grown up with cooks and a Nanny and realized how hard it had been trying to bring up children without help. Now Annabelle was working they could afford to hire Lydia a few days a week to cook for them. It was such a good solution all round. Lydia wanted to be part of a family and Simon felt useful mentoring her in business. Even Annabelle set up a catering blog so Lydia could publish recipes from her grandmother’s collection and link up with all these other doughty British women around the globe, eager to share wartime childhood memories and tales of school puddings.

Lydia felt that much closer to getting inside the house next door. She sent a text message to Charlotte and told her everything was in place. Charlotte instantly packed a small overnight bag and took the overnight train to Paddington. She was going to stay with Lydia, as she could not risk the displeasure in invading her son’s home again.

*******************************************************

The next morning was a bright Saturday. It had rained during the night and everything looked fresh and shiny. Just like the day Marion had arrived, almost six months ago.

Mark rushed down the street holding a basketball and his parents, who were trimming the roses in the patch of front garden, looked up.

“Dad!”

“What’s that old chap?”

Marion opened her front door and automatically put her Tom Ford Aviators on to shield her eyes. Another late night working on the campaign and her head was killing her. Then she looked across at Annabelle who had also worked until the small hours and she looked as fresh as a daisy. Still wearing the loose scarf around her neck to hid the scar though, she noted.

“We’re playing basketball at school now, I need to get some practice in.”

Simon felt a sense of dread. If English prep schools were teaching basketball instead of cricket and rugby there could only be one answer.

“Our new head of games is an American!”

And there it was.

“Oh, hullo, Marion,” said Mark, shyly, blushing bright red and seeing his own reflection hideously beamed back from her reflective glasses. Marion grinned and blew him a kiss. He nearly fainted.

“Sounds like my people are invading the area,” she drawled.

Annabelle laughed. Her husband did not.

“Dad – will you practice with me? I’m rubbish at it.”

“Not really my game, old chap.” Simon wished he was standing tall in a pair of reflective glasses looking like that chap Tom Cruise flew against in Top Gun, not on his knees cutting back the roses in a smelly grey sweatshirt and unattractive corduroy trousers.

Marion instantly canceled her plans for the day. Exercise would banish this awful hangover, together with a vat of coffee.

“Give me ten minutes to get changed and I’ll shoot some hoops with you.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. But don’t expect to go easy on you because you’re a boy.”

She beckoned Mark into her house without asking his parent’s permission. Simon fumed. Annabelle felt strangely light-headed watching Marion with her son. There was something so capable about Marion. And deliciously sporty too – like that head of hockey she had admired at school. What was her name again? As Annabelle had a reverie of schooldays, Simon noticed his daughter leaning out of the top window watching them all. She saw her father look up and ducked into her bedroom. The next thing they heard was Leonard Cohen.

“Leonard – bloody – Cohen?” said Simon, exasperated.

“Marion brought over mummy’s record player for Libby the other night.”

So Marion had been hanging out in his house while he wasn’t there. He didn’t like the sound of that. Or Leonard bloody Cohen. All the cool girls at university had liked Leonard Cohen – and Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins and Depeche Mode. It occurred to him that he was attempting to bring up someone who scared him as much as the girls that wore Doctor Martens at university. It was not a good feeling.

His son disappeared into the house next door. Annabelle straightened up slowly and re-adjusted the scarf around her neck. He knew what was coming next. “I think I’ll watch Marion coach Mark next door,” she said.

“I’ll walk the dog then,” he said, wiping his muddy hands on the corduroy trousers. He looked down at his trousers and realized that this was the problem. He was the sort of man that bought corduroy because his father had worn such trousers. While walking Sally over Hampstead Heath he wondered how his son was getting on with the gorgeous American next door. For a moment he wanted his son to be the sort of chap that girls in Doctor Marten’s fell for.

d6d4020aa9ce11e280b322000a1f9c82_7

back to Church Row – and a drag night at the Black Cap, Camden.

darlings

we’ve been writing FURIOUSLY for a few days now and we’re up to 55,500 words of The House on Church Row and Ever such a Lot has Happened (much of which surprised us, in fact, but we’re just the one that “sees” the movie unfolding in front of our mind’s eye and get to transcribe it, with a modicum, one hopes, of skill).

firstly a photograph from England to put us all in the right aesthetic frame:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

anyway – we’re a little Beyond this bit (below) but wanted to share it with you and sort of it send-it-out-into-the-world.

such fun.

isn’t being creative just the most joyful experience ever?

With great reluctance, Kelly got into the cab too and scooted over to the middle of the back seat. Marion got in and told the driver to get going. She looked down at her beautifully cut Donna Karan pants and silk blouse and knew instinctively that she wasn’t dressed properly for a drag night in some bar. And then she looked over at Annabelle who was pulling her cashmere mix threadbare cardigan from Jigsaw around her shoulders over her summery dress. They were going to be quite a threesome down the Black Cap.

Simon could not believe what he was seeing. His wife had just got into a taxi with that American woman and the younger one with the leather trousers and driven off. “Oh, mother, now look what you’ve done!” he said, exasperated, storming back into his house. Charlotte pulled out her mobile phone and clicked a few buttons. She was tracking the cab.

“Get your jacket, Simon,” she said, “We’re going out.”

********************************************************

The line stretched around the block as the cab pulled up. Clearly Dorian had quite a following in Camden Town. Marion looked at the faces of the people waiting. They all looked so young and fresh – despite the general state of disorderly drunkenness most were in already. What must it have been like to grow up here?

Marion had grown up in Manhattan. It was all she’d ever known. It had been an orderly childhood, mostly spent at boarding schools in Vermont, shivering under not-warm-enough coats and playing sports to get rid of the rage. What would she have been like if she’d gone to school here? Would she be one of those hanging out in the line at the Black Cap on a school night, heavy with mascara and full of pints of beer, smoking a Camel cigarette?

She looked across at Annabelle who was staring at the crowd as if she had never seen anything like this. Maybe she hadn’t. It was becoming clearer and clearer that Annabelle had been so sheltered and overlooked, in her family (Marion had heard about Elyse, but not quite the details of how she died), at school (a prefect, but not anything important, barely scraping by and then working at the last minute to get decent A’ Levels and off to University) and now her marriage. Annabelle had never just been Annabelle – she had always been the support, eternally connected, with someone stronger with a larger personality.

Kelly jumped out of the taxi, expecting Marion to pay, which she did. She rushed to the head of the queue and talked to Danny on the door. He nodded and then raised an eyebrow when he saw the silk shirt and trousers from Manhattan and the threadbare cardigan from Hampstead over a cotton dress. Kelly just shrugged. She wanted them in the pub as soon as possible so she could find her mates and lose the lovebirds.

Unfortunately Danny had other ideas. He stopped Annabelle at the door and looked her up and down with a not-so-kind appraising glare.

“What on earth are you wearing, love?” he said.

Annabelle looked to Marion for help. Marion took the elastic band off Annabelle’s ponytail, grabbed her cardigan and tied it around her waist and slapped her on the ass. Danny was so taken aback (Annabelle swooned inside a mixture of fright and fascination at what-just-happened). Then Marion reached for her own silk shirt, undid the top two buttons, reached over to Danny and kissed him lightly on both cheeks, slipping him a twenty pound note without anyone noticing.

They were in.

A few moments later another taxi pulled up and Charlotte emerged, regal in her Dior, with Simon in a sad old leather jacket he had found in the back of the cupboard from his university days. Charlotte dispatched Danny at the door with a crisp fifty and they headed to the bar. Danny looked astonished at Charlotte and slowly but surely took in all the details. She was his new inspiration. Danny was the headliner at the Black Cap on a Wednesday night. He had a wicked idea for a new regal female persona.

Inside the pub, Annabelle stared up at the gorgeously camp chandeliers and the red-flocked wallpaper and mock leather padded seats. She perched awkwardly at the bar and sipped a white wine while Kelly did shots of tequila off a woman’s stomach on the tables at the back. Marion was in heaven. This was London, at last. A seething Bacchanalian mass of wildly dressed highly individual characters, singing along to all the words of Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera, with her Creative Director, Dorian, up there on the tiny stage, directing the crowd.

She heard that New York had parties like this but she was always working and there were no clients to be found at bars with drag acts, so she never went to one. In fact, towards the end, she just went to conferences and mixers and award shows and got take-out from the gluten-free Asian emporium in SoHo.

She had sat in there one time and had chicken soup with rice noodles but it was so depressing eating alone, and she was terrified someone would see her – and pity her – that she always got two days worth of take-out as if she was having people round. She wasn’t. Dinner parties were not a feature of her life downtown. She heard people did that on the Upper East Side or took over restaurant back rooms on the other side of the park, but downtown was different.

Downtown was away from the families and weekend celebrations and bar mitzvahs and engagement parties and the Looking for Mr. Goodbar single women perched prettily and desperately on barstools. Single straight women were not seen much downtown. Because there was not much point looking for a rich man downtown. If they were male, and rich, downtown, they were gay.

Talking of gay men, Marion smiled and looked around. This was a very mixed crowd, very young, no one apart from herself – and Annabelle – was over thirty.

Where was Annabelle?

And then Marion saw that Annabelle needed rescuing. Charlotte Jones had just sailed into the Black Cap, followed sheepishly by Simon, wearing a not-old-enough-to-be-retro leather jacket. Kelly was nowhere to be found. Marion guessed that the night was over. Or that she had found someone else to play with. Dorian’s act had finished and he/she stumbled off-stage, pulled off the white blonde wig and disappeared into the crowd.

“Can I buy you a drink, Charlotte?” said Marion.

Charlotte swirled around to see who had touched her arm, but not quickly enough to hide the device blinking red from Marion. So she was being tracked. How disappointing. But by Charlotte Jones – or, Deneueve – her codename – why?

Suddenly Marion was tired of the game. If in fact it had ever been a game. She knew the Agency had done a background check on her. Of course they heard about the other campaigns at the smaller places she had worked before. Of how they became a giant success overnight and how everyone said it was the “numbers” or the “strategy” but nobody really knew. They just knew that Marion knew.

She got Charlotte a Jack Daniels and handed it over with an approving nod; impressed that she was drinking Bourbon and not something sparkling. Of course she wouldn’t be drinking any cheap sparkling wine that much Marion knew, it would be some grand cuvee, no doubt. But even Charlotte Jones would be hard pressed to find a decent bubbly at a dive like the Black Cap.

Would she let Charlotte knew that she knew about her being Deneueve? Hell, no. Let them chase her for a while. She had great plans for the Harden brother’s car campaign. She wanted to have some fun. Especially if this was to be her last gig. Who knew that the last job would have been in England, though?

Oh to be in England, now that spring is here. Was that the line? She remembered reading it at grad school. But who was the poet? She turned to Charlotte and said the line out loud. Charlotte knocked back her Jack Daniels, put the glass on the bar and opened up her arms wide, declaiming:

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England–now!!

 

And then from nowhere Dorian was suddenly standing on stage with the microphone, beckoning at Charlotte to join him, which she did, and they finished the poem with a rousing finish, joined by a surprising number of the punters at the Black Cap.

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops–at the bent spray’s edge–
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
–Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

The last three lines were punctuated with excited shouts at the words “gay” and “gaudy”, being both particular favorites at the pub, especially with those who had a decent education before turning to drugs, drag and despair, like Dorian.

“We adore Robert Browning,” said Charlotte, quite out of breath, her arm interlinked with Dorian’s, as they approached the bar.

“Another glass of Jack for my friend,” said Marion, laughing, and whatever Dorian is drinking.” Dorian gave her daggers. He was still in a lemon yellow housecoat and court shoes with matching handbag. “Sorry,” nodded Marion to his outfit, “Whatever Doris is drinking tonight.”

“I’ll have a BabySham, Mike,” said Dorian, cocking his head to one side with a 1950s housewife benign smile.

happy monday!

629072109ae811e2987422000a9e08f2_7

struggling under a pesky PayPal button.

darlings

a Most frustrating Morning.

we’re in the Midst of planning for the “first picture show” Back East (as we can now say, with some amusement, just like all those hardbitten New Yorkers in Hollywood do).

and we Knew we needed to set up an online shop.

so we WRESTLED with setting up PayPal buttons and it was going Very Well until (well, until just this minute) when we Launched the page and did a quick test (as it was very much in beta and we had to go into the text editor and do actual Tags which we’ve not done for far-too-many-years-to-mention) and we clicked.

success!

a page appeared as if we were going to “check out” and then our heart sank – PayPal had doubled the price of the final “unit” as one says in Retail and we couldn’t work out why (unless it was just PayPal urging us to make more money which is possible).

*sighs*

we took the page down Instantly and made it “private” and we’ll wrestle with it again on Monday.

still, there was a modicum of achievement, one thinks – especially as we’ve been Procrastinating horribly about making-the-shop in the first place (the agonies of Commerce and putting-oneself-out-there and so forth).

so – what’s new with you?

we’ve been Uploading more Clips to the site run by who-we-are-in-RL in order to look a tiny bit more au courant as a writer.

and it was amusing to see some of our Work from the Last Time we lived in Hollywood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

when we worked at the digital agency 8Edge (sadly no more), we cold-called 20th Century Fox in order to Pitch and Pitch until we won the account to develop the USA website (and templates for international release dates) and the games (online) for The Devil Wears Prada.

our job (as head of account management and sales) became extended into writing all the copy for the websites and the games and generally supervising the Project which was Such Fun.

and then Another department at 20th Century Fox called us in and asked us to Write the mock “Runway” magazine for the International Press (of course we said Yes – and it was Thrilling to be invited to a “Preview” ON THE LOT in the same tiny cinema that Marilyn Monroe used to watch her own previews with her best friend and confidante Truman Capote). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we wrote an A – Z of fashion (and a travel section which we can’t seem to find in our files today – *looksaskancetocamera*. Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 1.51.04 PM Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 1.51.21 PMand a set of articles posing as “Advice Columns” to girls-who-want-to-get-ahead-in-publishing (yes, we sense the irony as that’s what we then did).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and yesterday we were At a Movie Studio which was Ever so delicious. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand now we need to find a cool, calm cafe and read the Letters of Martha Gellhorn which the kind librarians pulled out of the stacks for us and let the anxiety from wrestling with the PayPal buttons subside.

yes, it’s a Saturday.

but we’re ever so busy at the weekends too, darlings.

just until we get a bit more Settled.

 

care and feeding of the soul: roses, friendship, fresh tomatoes and blood red oranges.

darlings

feeling very grateful and sprightly this morning – settling down to write early before the day begins – a large mug of strong coffee to hand – blood red oranges from the farmers market on the counter for a mid-morning repast, tomatoes getting all silky and juicy with sea-salt and olive oil in the fridge (another find at the farmers market), palest creamy-white roses (again, direct from growers, at the market), a Conference Call at 10am (proper grown-up psyche prepped for that) about a digital Project (#weadoredigital but #onlywhenitdoessomethingUsefulandBeautiful) and then………well……..there’s lots more…..but the Muse(s) call (it feels like there’s a lot more than one as we have So many disparate characters in The House on Church Row) so We Must Write!

see you later, darlings.

for now – some photographs and perhaps you can feel us smiling out of the window across the power lines and the clever 802.11 beams through the interweb and waving (in a non-scary way, of course) through your own digital device.

if you were here, of course, we’d offer you a coffee – there’s a full pot on the burner and some 1 per-cent milk in the fridge.

wouldn’t that be lovely?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA*wavingfromLosAngeles*

not with the coffee cup aloft this time ;-)

 

7 pieces of random-ness for a sunday inspired by @Madame_de_Pique

darlings

the most lovely Madame de Pique has graciously bestowed on us a nomination for an award, which is Most delicious, *humblecurtsey*.

Versatile Blogger Award

however, we are going to break the rules (and not make any New nominations ourselves) because we have engaged, quite recently, in a long (and some might say exhausting) round of a similar experience of nominating and reading and commenting and being re-nominated and we just can’t face putting people through that again…..

so just because it’s Sunday and we’re feeling a tiny bit jet-lagged but generous – do check out Madame de Pique’s nominations so we can expand our family of aesthetes around the world a little more each day.

Nominations from Madame de Pique

(in a perfectly random manner) 

  1. Tiaras and Trianon
  2. the Pragmatic Costumer
  3. Empress Chronicles
  4. Life Takes Lemons
  5.  Saints, Sisters and Sluts
  6. teamgloria (note to self, you’re already here, darlings)
  7.  Splatter
  8. Sifting the Past
  9.  Good Gentlewomen
  10.  Versailles Gossip
  11. Cafe Royal
  12. Education of Madame X
  13. Les Favorites Royale
  14. Edwardian Promenade
  15. WTF Art History

and now our 7 random facts:

  1. a ripe peach with feta cheese (small cubes please) is our preferred breakfast fare
  2. this is our favo(u)rite photograph (taken by someone else) of all time (we have a large copy of it in our boudoir)
  3. celestial blue and slipper satin pink are the most soothing shades and we have accents of both all over our house
  4. we don’t like distractions so we don’t have skype, cable (television) or a facebook account
  5. we long to have a house in new orleans and work with Patrick Dunne on its decoration
  6. we wear three fragrances, depending on mood, time of day or activity ahead: Vivienne Westwood Boudoir, Chanel No. 5 and Chloe by Chloe (originally launched by Karl – may we call him Karl? in 1975 – not easy to find as the market has all the updated ones, not nearly as evocative of estoril, portugal circa 1984, but we just visited a classic fragrance seller in manhattan and found a single bottle which we brought home)
  7. we are slightly scared by writing because it seems to come from somewhere else and is a most insistent energy when it wants to be expressed, no matter where or what we are doing at that moment

and now here are a few photographs from our sunday-back-in-the-city-of-angels (basking on the sofa in sunlight, writing in bed, heading to the farmer’s market any moment – #divine – as one Does in this beauteous Land.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

how’s your sunday so far, love?

and merci to Madame de Pique for inspiring this post.

a morning in bed, writing a novel, thinking of london.

darlings

happy friday!

we don’t have anywhere particular to be until Later so we decided to stay in bed and write (what a lovely sentence to be able to say) as we are writing a minimum (on most days) of 1000 words into (not of, but into) the new novel.

may we share a bit more with you?

firstly a few photographs we took before – on a trip to London – just to add Context – and get you in the right Feeling or mood.

oriel sloane square 20th Century Fox London BBC london ready? do you have a snack and some caffeinated beverage? it’s a longish read today (and may we say thank you for reading – we truly Appreciate it, darlings).

There is something quite lovely about an English early spring morning. True – there was still rain on a daily basis. But in between there were glossy bursts of sunshine, which brought out birds and children and dogs in a fit of activity. Annabelle stood at her kitchen window and watched the sparrows tussle with each other in the guttering. A door banged and shook the windowpanes slightly and the birds scattered up and away, onto the back garden shed and over the rooftops. Annabelle looked in the direction of next door. That must have been Marion leaving for her new job.

Annabelle took down a tea towel and started to dry the dishes, in something of a dream. Secretly she wished she had a job. It must be nice to have somewhere to go. She finished drying the plates and put the kettle on to make a pot of tea. A note from her son’s school was lying on the table. She picked it up and frowned. Mark was not doing well and she had no idea how to help him. Her daughter, Libby, was the smart one and, to make it worse, somewhat athletic too. But Mark was different: lost in thought most of the time, in his own world.

She picked up Mark’s textbooks and started to read about the Tudors and the Stuarts. It engrossed her so much she did not notice the kettle whistling furiously on the stove. Annabelle stopped reading and turned off the kettle then, without knowing why, she walked quickly into the garden and threw some seeds out for the birds. It was a few moments before she realized she could hear voices in the next garden.

“But why ENGLAND?” said a woman’s voice – an American voice.

Annabelle crept closer to the fence that divided the two parts of the house and sat down under the apple tree on a low bench.

“Why not PARIS?” said the voice.

There was a pause.

“They speak English, don’t they? Well, I’d pick it up.”

Another pause.

“You’re killing me. This is like something out of a PBS Masterpiece special with Dame Maggie Smith and her cohorts of strange village women in tie-dye robes and I just don’t see why I got punished. The numbers were great. You know they were great. They were off the chart great!”

Annabelle was fascinated by the woman’s voice. She realized it must be Marion. She sounded so brave, so present and so gloriously angry and defiant. It was exhilarating. Annabelle felt desperate to see what she looked like. She decided to risk peeking through a hole in the fence.

At first she could not see anything. Just a mass of newspapers strewn across the picnic table, which she knew was a bit wobbly because it used to live in their garden. There was a large coffee container from the American chain on the corner – that must have been why she heard a bang this morning – Marion leaving to go up into the high street.

And then she saw her. A woman with sleek blonde hair but not brassy blonde, expensive, high-end salon Hollywood movie star blonde – and she was running her fingers through it in frustration. The cellphone was clamped to her ear and she was wearing dark glasses. Annabelle was impressed. She had never seen anyone wearing Jackie Onassis large dark glasses in Hampstead, especially not in their own back garden, before nine AM.

But her clothes! Annabelle got as close to the fence as she dared to take a better look. Marion appeared to be wearing pajamas under a Macintosh raincoat. But not the sort of pajamas one found in John Lewis – those sensible ones in flannel with unflattering drawstring waist and saggy bottom.

Marion’s pajamas were white satin with a thin navy blue piping down the front and a monogram on the pocket from some fancy store in New York probably, thought Annabelle. And the way the trousers flowed was so elegant, just skimming Marion’s long legs at the top and occasionally touching her ankles gently as she stormed around the garden. She must be wearing some sort of silk tank top under the button-down jacket as the thin material glowed gently in the spring sunshine. She was a vision, thought Annabelle, quietly hugging herself on the other side of the garden fence.

The phonecall ended abruptly. Marion threw the phone onto the picnic table where it skimmed off the newspapers and fell onto the grass. She left it there and stormed inside, banging the back door loudly. Annabelle leaned back against the tree and tried to breathe evenly. She could not remember the last time she had been so exhilarated by someone.

The rest of the day passed in a slow rhythmic haze of tasks and chores and rather too much sitting down reading about the bloody battles of England in Mark’s textbook. Annabelle knew she should feel guilty for not really enjoying her life, but nobody knew she didn’t. The house was sort of tidy. There were meals and outings and she always showed up at parent’s evening at her children’s schools. She loved her husband. It was impossible not to. The whole of Hampstead appeared to love Simon Jones. And it was not as if there was something necessarily missing.

But ever since her family divided the house and rented out the other half and Elyse’s accident – she shook her head – the therapist had told her not to dwell on either matter so she would not.

******************************************************

Marion slammed the back door hard. She was furious. The office in New York was adamant. She had to stay here in England, at least for a year. She would much prefer Paris. It’s true, she did not speak French, but she would learn. Americans did so much better in Paris, everyone knew that. Why England? She fumed and stormed up and down the hallway, making the umbrella stand rattle and the rugs bunch up as her slippers scuffed on the tasseled hems.

Had someone been watching her from next door? She heard a sound when she threw the phone on that wobbly picnic table, a giggle and a shuffling from behind the fence. Where was her phone? She looked around. Still outside. She walked out into the garden again and grabbed the phone. Then she stopped and listened. Perhaps that person had gone back inside. Marion walked up to the fence and peeked through the slats, which were coming apart. Their garden was actually lovely. An apple tree, not yet in blossom, a small garden seat encircling the tree, a sturdy long table set with two benches and a stone flagged pathway leading up to the back door.

Marion wondered what their lives were like next door.

Her white pajamas had green grass stains on the bottom and her slippers were soaked from the morning dew where the sun – what sun there was – had not dried out the lawn. She turned around and leaned back against the fence, getting the back of her pajamas jacket stained from the mud-spattered wood slats. She closed her eyes and sighed. She must make the best of it here. They were not going to let her go back to New York for a long time after…………but best not to think about that now. Maybe if she did well they would let her go to Paris in a year. Was there even a Paris office? If not, she would open it.

Slightly less angry for a moment, Marion considered the damage to her pajamas. From what she knew about England, there probably wasn’t a twenty-four hour dry cleaning pick-up service. She turned back to look over at the eaves of the house next door, just where the apple tree curved over the roof. Maybe her next-door neighbor would know about the local cleaning services. What was her name again? Arabella? Isabelle? Annabelle. Yes, that was it. She would ask Annabelle about the area. It would be good for her to have an English person for research purposes. After all, if she was going to have to sell products to the English that they didn’t know they needed, she was going to have to tap into their psyche.

For a start, she needed to know what did people who lived in houses like this and had benches round an apple tree feel?

Pleased by her strategy, Marion decided to get dressed. Tomorrow was her first day in the office. Later on today, she would meet Annabelle from next-door. Excellent.

Her mobile was ringing. An American number but she did not recognize it. Not New York. Not a 212-area code. Where was a 310 number? Oh, right – Los Angeles.

“Hello?” she said.

There was a click on the other end.

Marion dialed the number back. It was engaged. She tried again. Still engaged. Odd. Then her phone rang. An English number this time. She picked up.

“Hello?”

“Marion?” said an English voice.

“Yeah.”

“It’s Diana Knoll-West – just checking up on you!”

“Everything’s great, thanks.”

“Oh, good. Well, if you need anything just ring.”

“Actually, there is something,” said Marion, looking down at her pajamas. “Is there a dry cleaning pick-up service?”

“A pick-up? Sorry, don’t quite see what you mean there.”

“A dry cleaning service that will come and take away my clothes to be cleaned.”

There was a pause.

“I do believe that Mr. Brown on the High Street is open tomorrow, you could ask him if he could dry clean your clothes for next week.”

“Next week? Wait. He’s not open today?”

“Gosh, no, I think he only works Wednesdays.”

“Let me get this straight – a dry cleaning service that doesn’t pick up and is only open once a week and takes a week to dry clean?”

Diana took a deep breath, she was equal to this; of course she had read all those articles about New York and its 24-hour delivery culture but, really, imagine. “Marion, this is England, remember, not New York!” she tried a gentle laugh on the other end but there was silence from number 28 Church Row.

Finally Marion spoke. “Where do you English people buy pajamas then?” she said. Only dry-cleaners in New York could probably remove grass stains from satin piping.

Diana was thrilled to help. “Oh, we always buy PJs at Peter Jones,” she said, “Do you have a pen? I’ll give you the address in Sloane Square.”

“You mean you people still go to an actual store?” said Marion, in disbelief, “Don’t they do online same day delivery?”

“Gosh. I have no idea. We’ve always gone to Peter Jones and had lunch at Oriel after, such a treat, delicious scones. Yummy Eton Mess and Pimms.”

Marion had no idea what Diana was talking about but it sounded like major carbohydrates. So this was England – no 24-hour dry cleaning pick-up service or online same-day delivery from whatever Peter Jones was. She wondered how long it would take Brooks Brothers to deliver from Manhattan.

“OK, thanks, Diana. I’ll ask my assistant at the office tomorrow to get me orientated.”

“An assistant? What fun!” trilled Diana, but Marion had already rung off and walked into the kitchen to find something to eat.

She opened all the cupboards but apart from some tins of treacle pudding – whatever that was – and the cookies in a plastic Tupperware – and some (she blanched) full-fat milk – that had to go – she poured it down the sink – and (white) pasta – there was nothing she could eat. She looked in the freezer. Several packets of frozen peas, some cheese topping pizzas and, she noted, no ice-cube tray. In a drawer by the stove she found some delivery menus for Chinese and Indian food. She put them back. Could not risk getting fat this year. Not if she was going to run the Paris office at some point.

There was nothing else for it – she would have to get dressed and head back up to the High Street to find a salad or something light. Marion would not admit it, but she was almost excited to explore the new area, but just until she could go back to New York or move on to Paris, and only in the name of research to study these British people without 24 hour dry cleaning services and a desire to still go to actual stores and buy things and then carry them home. Marion shook her head in disbelief and went upstairs to get dressed.

********************************************************

Annabelle was baking. She kept consulting the Nigella Lawson cookbook but was utterly convinced that whatever she was making would never look like the photographs in Nigella’s book. She was so absorbed by the food porn photography that she did not notice her daughter, Libby, poke her head around the door.

“Homework!” said Libby, quickly, and then clattered up the stairs, banging her schoolbag behind her.

Annabelle rushed to the hallway. “Not so fast, young lady!” she said. But there was silence from upstairs behind closed doors. Sally padded into the hallway to help Annabelle and looked up at her with her huge brown eyes. Annabelle crouched down to bury her face in Sally’s fur and stroke her. Sally started to lick her with some ferocity and clearly deep pleasure and Annabelle realized she was covered in cake mixture. Was that dangerous for dogs, she thought? Sally did not think so and Annabelle wondered again at her lack of natural ability at this housekeeping-children-and-animals activity. Looking up at the stairs again she decided to take charge and headed for Libby’s room.

She knocked tentatively at first and then more firmly until Libby answered, her face visible but the rest of her body covered behind the door. Annabelle had an inward panic. Full body tattoos? Piercing? Was her fifteen-year-old daughter wearing a slut-walk-outfit of something feminist yet ironically streetwalker-esque?

Annabelle and Libby did a stand-off from either side of the door. Ever since Libby had turned a teenager there had been little communication. Libby looked furious and with a pent-up anger that Annabelle remembered well from her own teen years. At least she had shared a room with her sister who got to hear all her angst. Libby just had a younger brother and he refused to do anything but lark around which drove Libby mad.

“I’m doing my homework, what do you want?” Annabelle could not remember why she had come upstairs. Libby narrowed her eyes. “Where’s my hockey kit?” she demanded.

Suddenly Annabelle also felt angry, but she did not know why. “Are the workings of the washing machine completely unknown to you?” she spat. Libby shrunk back, suddenly scared.

“You’re the mother.”

“Mother, yes. Slave, no.” There was nothing else to say.

Mark Jones, thankfully, chose that moment to come home from day school. He stood in the hallway and looked into the kitchen – nobody there – and heard voices. He knew his mother and sister would be arguing so he threw his dirty boots into the hallway cupboard and called to Sally, who came rushing down the stairs, thrilled at his arrival. They ran around the garden and waited for the storm upstairs to subside.

“The prodigal son returns!” called Annabelle from the top of the stairs. Libby closed her door firmly and Annabelle made her way back to the kitchen. Mark came in from the garden all scabbed knees and sweaty and seemingly taller than he was when he left that morning.

“What’s for supper, mum?”

“The cry of the disaffected youth returning from a hard day in the salt mines of education.”

Sally and Mark exchange glances and the dog slumped down onto the kitchen rug, looking hopefully at the cake mixture on the counter.

“My own expensive education is utterly wasted on you children. I thought we could converse about Keats and Milton.”

Mark was used to his mother’s plaintive wailing. He patted her arm and walked to the freezer. “Shall I put in a frozen pizza?” he said, realizing that there was nothing but cake mixture on offer right now.

“Do we possess such a product in our humble pantry of organic delicacies?”

Mark grabbed two boxes from the freezer, opened the Aga’s top oven expertly and popped two pizzas in. Annabelle looked suitably abashed, but grateful, and went back to staring at the photography in Nigella’s book and back at her cake mixture. There was the sound of the front door opening and closing and a cheery voice talking to someone on his cellphone. Simon Jones entered the kitchen and surveyed the scene, proudly. His pretty wife was baking, his son was suitably covered in mud from some sporting activity, there was a dog and – he checked the room covertly – the scary teenage daughter was safely ensconced in her bedroom and not snarling at him for once.

“Darling.” He kissed his wife

“Mark is rustling up a couple of frozen pizzas,” said Annabelle, nuzzling into her husband’s neck with happiness at his return from a business trip.

Simon looked at his son with pride. “We are sending him into the world fully equipped,” he said. He ruffled his son’s messy hair.

“You two are so weird,” said Mark, and took an apple from the bowl on the table.

“He even makes balanced nutritional choices,” smiled Simon as Mark started to bite into the apple, pause, and then offered him some.  Simon took the newspaper from his briefcase and headed to the table, grabbing a bottle of scotch from the sideboard. “Snifter, darling?”

“Not until I’ve finished baking,” said Annabelle.

He poured himself a generous measure of Scotch into a thick crystal glass that was part of their wedding anniversary set from his parents. All felt right with the world. “Baking? Haven’t done that for a while, darling?

Annabelle paused. “I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Simon didn’t really hear her. He read the paper. “Sorry, darling – leaf?”

“I’m re-embracing the female arts.”

Mark put his head in the fridge. He emerged with a stick of cheese. “What, mum?”

“The female arts,” said Annabelle.

“Mum’s acting weird again,” said Mark to his father. “Maybe it’s the Change, we learned about that in biology.”

Simon looked up from his newspaper, suddenly worried. His wife was not yet forty. “Good lord, where are we schooling our children? They only did rugby and Latin in my day.”

Annabelle wiped her hand on a tea towel and comes over to the table. “It’s got nothing to do with hormones. I just wanted to see if I could really do this.”

Simon put down his paper, walked over to her and looked into her eyes carefully. He really loved her. But sometimes she got the oddest notions in her head. “We are very happy with the creative chaos around here.”

Annabelle blushed. She really loved him too. “I met someone at the shops today.”

Mark puts his head into his hand. “You’re getting a divorce!” he cried. Annabelle laughed. Simon looks a bit shocked at his son, why would he think that so quickly?

“No – a woman,” laughed, Annabelle.

Mark looked interested. “You’re a lesbian!” Simon looked worriedly at his son. He was only eleven. How did he know about divorce and homosexuality already? Perhaps the day school was more liberal than it appeared.

He turned back to his wife. “Are you, darling? You can tell me,” he smiled, indulgently.

“You know her – Lydia James. She lives in the big house on the High Street.”

“The one with the flowing robes?” said Simon, absentmindedly, half-watching the clock. Mark saw him look and suddenly jumped up.

“The match!” Mark ran out of the room and Annabelle heard the television go on. Simon wrung his hands and looked guiltily in the direction of the television room. She laughed and waved him out with her tea towel.

Annabelle looked down at Sally on the kitchen rug and confided in her. “Apparently Lydia is the leader of a goddess cult,” she said. Sally raised an eye to the other room and wondered whether to watch the football match with the boys. “She told me that I’m about to have a big awakening.” Annabelle leaned in to look at the author photograph of Nigella Lawson and wondered if Nigella had had a big awakening at some point. Of course she had, she smiled to herself, she’s Nigella Lawson. And she finished the baking, put the scones into trays bought from Peter Jones in Sloane Square and slid them into the bottom over of the Aga. Then she poured herself a Scotch and walked into the garden, pulling a soft cashmere cardigan from Jigsaw, that she’d had since university, around her shoulders and looking at the house next door for a long while.

Jeannette Winterson's shop

yes.

well-spotted!

that *is* Jeannette Winterson’s shop, in Spitalfields, London.

(we thought the muses would approve and it’s ever such a nice shop too).

btw (as the young people say) we are Not comparing ourselves to the Terribly Smart Ms. Winterson (although we do admire her greatly) – we’re sort of aiming for the Genre of the Domestic Drama (isn’t that what Publishers call such things?) so well-explored by Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper/slash/E.M.Delafield (helpfully there’s an article by Jilly – can we call her Jilly? on E. M here) – but with a twist (quite a few twists, actually – we Do like to slip magic into the Plot).

did you like it?

*nervouslooktocamera*

emerald – finished and off to our lovely Agent in NYC.

darlings

we completely forgot to write yesterday.

quelle deep sigh.

why one might ask (well, we did, perhaps you did too)?

well as much as we Love being in Los Angeles, we have to say it’s also a tiny bit unsettling (and not just because it’s tax season) to build a new life while waiting for paperwork and so on and so forth.

so we write (alas not Here, yesterday – but lots of Other Stuff)

because – as we said on the Telephone to a friend in England (she called us – we don’t yet have International Dialing – one has to sign up with Different services and it’s Awfully Complicated and we almost don’t have the strength) – we-write-out-the-drama (and hopefully it becomes profitable which more than makes up for the pain of aforementioned drama – if it’s painful in the first place and, let’s face it, drama usually is – non?)

we digress.

as usual.

so we Don’t have Drama right now……

although – *warylooktocamera* – we are a Tiny Bit Nervous about bumping into People From Our Past as we had a Past here – we just – for the most part apart from that small diversion – had a Career in NYC.

so while we have a Pause on any drama at all we like to Mine the Past (profitably).

which is why we Finished the (first) Emerald novel after a very early start this morning and much languishing in bed trying to sort out grammar and be all Correct about paragraphs and Spelling and so forth.

viewerand sent it to our Agent in New York.

now Emerald (the first novel) is something we’ve worked on for a while but it was painful and funny and heart-warming and everything that a novel Could Be but we were nervous about releasing it into the world.

that sounds pretentious.

we really didn’t mean it to be so.

we just meant that sometimes writing something so Revealing is, well, revealing.

but stories are given by the muses in order to be shared (we think and we believe that’s a lovely and slightly humbling and Quite Magical way to think – so we continue to do so).

we’ve talked about Emerald before – in fact – we wrote the screenplay version of Novel 1 a while ago and embarked upon writing a Movie about her adventures at University (an excerpt was posted here, just in case you’re curious). 

and the Whole Point of moving to Los Angeles was to Write_and_take_photographs which we’re doing and feel Rather Kosher about with an actual book deal and who we are in RL is out there Taking Meetings and being a Special Advisor and finding consultancy clients and generally wearing-the-pearls-and-black-jacket look and driving around Beverly Hills and Having lunch on the Lot at the Hollywood Studios with Her Contacts (whom we are assured are jolly nice).

viewer-1

she does it awfully well.

but it would be half a life if one couldn’t be Us too (in a post-modern delicious way) and lie around and Write and send Notes to New York and receive deeply encouraging phonecalls from the Other Coast.

viewer-2and pop into beautiful francophile hotels to admire the subtle glow of an early–eighteenth century light fixture on a pale butterscotch wall.

may we share a few pages of Emerald’s adventures with you?

just for luck?

so we can say we’ve sent it out Into the World and now we need to let go and See What Happens?

you are Very Kind.

*winningsmiletocamera*

truly.

Very Kind.

Here goes (do you have some tea? you might need it).

a visual to start (not one of ours, sadly, so we’ve linked it to the Original source to be polite) – and we recommend you read this with a multi-textual-layered sense of irony

top layer = schoolgirls in england but the meta-text is all about the End of the Empire and how Girls were Educated and being different and personality splits and So On – just so you know – didn’t want you to miss out.

and it’s what the Publishing Industry call a YA novel (which is not Princess Anne being posh and saying Yah, it stands for Young Adult – i.e. teens).

void(0)

 

As always, Emerald snuck the letter into her left glove as they walked in elegant pairs to church. Henry keeping lookout, she swiftly posted it in the red post box with the regent’s initials in gold.

The letters to James could be sent, most safely, through the steely eye of a long-suspected school censor. Everyone left letters on the vast silver salver in the main hallway and the postman came every day before breakfast to pick up a bag of franked letters from the headmistress’ secretary.

But the notes to Sebastian – so full of intrigue and longing and dared for tales of nights in Paris dressed in ballet slipper pink satin with butterfly wings – no, those were never sent through the System.

It was Henry who acted as a go-between. Her parents, appalled at the possibility of a school censor who might read Henry’s bank statements, had set up a secret P.O. box at the local post office. So, on Saturdays, when the prefects escorted boarders to the village to buy sweets and magazines and postcards, Henry would slip undetected into back of the post office with her key and stuff the letters into the waistband of her school skirt.

As payment for Henry’s loyalty, Emerald ghostwrote her letters home and kept Henry’s parents happily entertained by the daughter for the first time since her attendance at pre-prep school.

While very grateful to Henry, Emerald started to become irritated at the double standard set for girls at Harcourt Hall against those for their male contemporaries at Lawrence College. At Harcourt Hall they were watched like hawks by schoolmistresses and staff alike, right down to the dinner ladies who ladled out the rice pudding, watching for those who were too old to receive second helpings and censuring those who were putting on weight. The whole system, noted Emerald, was to ensure that Harcourt Hall girls remained as white as snow, not too wide-of-hip and sadly lacking in individuality.

“The desired outcome,” she hissed to Henry on their way to church, “is to produce endless drones suitable as wives for perpetrators of the British Empire. Which,” she continued, “I hate to mention this, but the British Empire no longer exists.”

Myrtle overheard Emerald and was very shocked. She pursed her lips and shook her head as the three Sarahs crooked their ears trying to hear what Emerald was saying this time. Alice was making up a pair with Myrtle and they exchanged dark glances of bitter disappointment. Emma Katz had been doing so much better this term. Even Henry was being sociable and only slightly eccentric thus far.

“Besides,” said Emerald, a little quieter now, her neck hot with the disapproving stares from the pupils behind her, “Sebastian’s housemaster would probably be more than thrilled to find out he is corresponding with a girl. It would only enhance his reputation. If I get found out, I’m gated with an order mark and probably solitary in the San.”

Henry was bored by this whole conversation. She did not understand why Emerald was so sensitive to gender relations. As far as she was concerned, if you pretended it did not exist you did not have to follow the dictates. But there again, Henry had no interest in writing to a boy at Lawrence College. She sort of understood that Emerald needed someone to talk to about books and it was true Sebastian had read most of the books in the western world. But it was all really dull as far as she was concerned.

“It’s like we have a price on our heads,” said Emerald, now outraged and warming to her theme. “We are highly priced potential goods.”

By now Myrtle was beside herself with anger. Just because Emerald was against marriage it did not mean that she was allowed to dismiss the whole notion. Alice resolved to have another talk with Emma. She just could not go around referring to her form-mates as cattle to the slaughter. They were English ladies in waiting, English schoolgirls with expectations.

“And it is just not done,” hissed Myrtle, “for Emma Katz to speak badly about our futures filled with babies and nannies and chintz sofas and proper linens and a sensible husband in the City with prospects of something terribly interesting in the Foreign Office.”