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Sunday, 10 June 2012

I'm sorry, Simon Amstell

Yesterday, I was reading the new 'Are You My Mother?' by Alison Bechdel, author of the marvellous graphic novel memoire Fun Home.

It absorbed me with its talk about psychoanalysis, the false self, the true self (which always tries to win out, hooray!) depression and the unmetabolized emotions we absorb from our parents. But then, I had to stop reading it in the same way I had to stop reading the diaries of Sylvia Plath, Kenneth Williams or Janice Galloway's novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing. There comes a point, a specific sentence, where a feeling of suffocation triggers this sadness or melancholy, rolling over my head like a rain-cloud, and I have to get out.

So, I decide I'll go for a walk. But, before I can leave the flat, I have to have a reason to go for a walk. As I don't have a dog to lead me out into the open, I usually pretend to need something from Sainsburys and go and buy a bottle of fizzy water or a tin of olives. This time, I think, I'll save the 80p and go and pick some thyme out my mother's garden for the roast chicken later.

'I still can't find that lead,' she says.
'For the new radio?'
'Yes, I've looked everywhere I would normally put it, but it's not there. The shed's a mess, don't even go there about the shed.' (I find it funny how she incorporates American black slang into her chat.)
'Where's the box then?'
'Threw it out. You know, I could get more batteries, because I like it being a portable radio, but then they will just run out. I should just use the lead.'
'But, you don't like the lead to show, do you?'
'No.'
'Though have you moved the radio off the fridge since you got it?'
'No.'
'Then it doesn't need to be portable, does it?'
'That's right, but still.'

We look together in the sideboard in the dining room, although she says she has already looked in all the places she would normally put such a thing. I like looking for lost things, because if you find them for someone the reward is the look of relief on their face. She offers me a bronze cast of an anonymous child's boot from the back of the cupboard to take home. I'm surprised there is anything left like that, from the old days, as for the last few years she has been clearing everything out. I have my school reports, letters I sent mum and dad from school journeys, photographs of great grandparents I never met.

Dulux Eygptian Cotton

Mum has had the front room done up.
I am standing admiring how big it looks with its warm grey walls and new limestone fireplace.
'My last front room' mum calls it, as Dad has said it was too stressful having it done and that there will not be any more redecorating in the house until after he's popped his clogs.
This sounds like it should be a joke, but it isn't.





On Friday night, I went to an Italian restaurant before seeing Simon Amstell's show Numb with my niece. I realise at seventeen years old, everything is a potential disaster for her. She was worrying about losing the tickets, not finding the venue, drinking too much Coca Cola in case she needed the toilet during the show. These little frets are her moorings. I'd forgotten how good worrying about those small things could be. So, we found the Shepherd's Bush Empire first and then sat at the restaurant opposite it, just in case it moved in the next half an hour.
As we were shown to the restaurant table, the sun came out through the square plastic awning which made an al fresco area of the pavement. My niece said it was a bit like Benidorm and I didn't know if this was good or not. The prices on the menu were so cheap that I thought we may have time travelled back to the eighties. I chose an Abracadabra Cocktail which was priced £3.
My cocktail didn't look like this
An Abracadabra was Vodka, orange, cranberry and ice cubes. Ice cubes featured largely on the cocktail list. Their strange importance harped back to the days when ice was a luxury. As the waiter brought us our drinks I had the little chat I like to do with waiters, having been one for so many years. The sun hadn't been out for two days and I said, 'Ooh, you'll have to take our picture, it's as if we're on our holidays.' My niece gave me the look. I had said one of the sentences that belong to my mother.
'Sorry,' I said, 'That was Nan wasn't it?'
She nodded and said, 'It's OK though.' I looked around the empty restaurant and said, 'She'd like it here, wouldn't she?'
My niece nodded and smiled.
The whole meal, pizza, cocktails and service came to £12.

I can hardly remember any of the comedy show, not because I was absurdly drunk or tired or that it wasn't memorable, as Simon Amstell is very funny. We were in the front row, close enough to see the follicles of his messy hair. I think it was because he was so quick with his wit. All the months he took to observe and write the show were squeezed into minutes and seconds where there wasn't enough time to mull it over. I wanted to think about what he was saying while he was saying it, like when you read a short story.
It was nearing the end of the show when I did the embarrassing thing.
I had gone into this type of trance, just watching him, when I shouted out the word 'Kleenex', loudly, like a heckle. I don't know why I did it. I've been over it a thousand times: he was asking a question, not to the audience, only to himself, but I thought I knew the answer. I don't think I shouted it so I would get a laugh, it was just more of a knee jerk thing. The part of me that I'm not really in control of wanted to join in with him. Simon Amstell just carried on as if nothing had happened, and to be fair, nothing had for him, because he hadn't heard me and was immersed in his script. This was not an interactive show. He was the light on the stage and I had paid to sit in the dark and listen. That was the deal. I think I felt invisible. I think I had had enough of feeling invisible.
Sorry Simon Amstell, I thought you'd get what I was saying if you heard.
Sorry niece.