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Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Ways of Lebanese Menus

In Search of Lost Time - Proust. Seven books in total. I've always wanted to read them, I even have one on my bookshelf, but I pick it up, look at the tiny print and decide for the fifth time I haven't the time because its Saturday night and I am going out. I slide the book back and convince myself I will read it one day, besides, I know a bit about it - a character eats a madeleine cake, which evokes a memory of another long ago madeleine cake. Then somehow the cake business makes me torn between two of my selves: the one who wants to stay in and know more and the other who wants to party. I tell her, who reads Proust on a Saturday night? You have on a good dress and a pair of red tights. Your hair has done the right thing. You have madeleine memories of your own to make.

I leave the flat in Penge, just as the friend I'm meeting calls to say she is leaving her house in Bromley. We've settled on meeting in the middle at a Lebanese restaurant in Beckenham. The thought of Beckenham makes me defensive. I went to school there. It was really white, well off and stiflingly suburban. David Bowie escaped as soon as he could. People from there take the mickey out of my beloved Penge. It's something to do with the word sounding like minge. I realised a long time back that the word Penge is a cross between penis and minge (coarse I know). And it's where we're all from.

The five minute bus ride from Penge takes me out of London and into Kent. Maybe times have changed. I speed into the restaurant as soon as I see my friend sat, waiting. I talk ten to the dozen, so glad to see her. Wine arrives and the waiter asks us three times if we would like to order. I keep saying not yet, sorry. He shows us a way to use the menus: face up they mean we haven't looked, one face down on top of the other means we are ready to order. It's like the world of handkerchief wearing in the back pocket. We order. The mezze arrives quickly, I eat it as quickly as it arrives, I drink and then we drink faster. We ask for another bottle before it is finished. The wind of the air-conditioning blows my hair. We finish. I ask for a traditional Libyan coffee, meaning Lebanese. The waitress doesn't seem to mind. I'm on holiday, destination misplaced.

My friend says let's go clubbing. I think of meat markets. We end up in a wine bar, I am still the prejudiced teenager, convinced that there is no place for someone like me in Beckenham. I buy drinks and get too much change back in my hand. I buy more drinks with the change as if the place is willing me on. My friend's eyes go hazy after the sambuca. She gets a cab. I sit at the bus stop and the barmaid from the wine bar is smoking in an adjacent doorway. We talk, she says she is nineteen and she doesn't know what she wants to do in life. All she knows is that it isn't what she's doing now. I ask her what she is interested in. She doesn't know. The bus swings past me. "Is that your bus?" she says. I nod. She runs in front of the bus and tries to get the driver to let me on. He won't. She brings me back in the bar. Orders me a cab. She tells me to sit down as I'm still hobbling from the last blog's injury. I have a stool of my own.  I have a place at the bar. They order me a taxi. The bouncer opens the door and winks as I leave.
I have my own madeleine memory, but it is an aubergine dip. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Naked Posing

Last Friday I went down to Lewes to earn some pounds as a life model at the Old Grammar school. As I leave the railway bridge I fall down a step and sprain my ankle.A young girl with a side sweep presses my arm and asks if I am OK in a tone which implies I am not safe to be out alone. I limp up the hill, thinking about how there are no black people in Lewes and also wonder why I am so accident prone. I decide it is because I can never really be sure how big I actually am. I use the word big, because I am both tall and wide, though in my mind's eye I am shorter and slimmer. Bad at judging the space around me, I am like a cat without its measuring whiskers. I walk into lampposts, bump against people on trains and knock over books in the shop with my bottom. I am never sure where I end and the world really begins.

The children are all polite and courteous as you would expect from a posh private school. There is no sniggering, the type that I would have made behind my hand at their age. The teacher, Miss Dinmore, is an old art school friend of mine. I keep slipping up by calling her Jane. Miss Dinmore repeats over and over, Karen is not a series of lines, she is blocks of shadow and light. Give her weight, make us aware of her insides, draw the dimples on her thighs, look at the curve of her substantial bottom. 
Miss Dinmore makes me nicely weighty with her words. I actually begin to feel more myself than ever. It is an honour to be looked at carefully. Five minutes into the first pose, standing with hand on thigh and the magic begins to happen. I drift off, leaving the confines of my body. I think about Virginia Woolf as I am very close to her writing house which is up a side street near the school. I recall how Mrs Dalloway remembered something from her childhood by simply walking up a set of stairs. Bingo! Within minutes I have got the solution to a part of the novel that has been troubling me for weeks. I am worried that I will forget the idea as I can not move to write it down. I repeat the words over and over so that it burns into my memory. Life modelling is meditation. Being naked while standing or sitting still unchains the body and therefore the brain.  
In the break I look at their drawings. I cannot grasp anything concrete about my size. Some pupils have given me long breasts and a floppy belly and others have sliced pounds off me drawing me with small hips and girl's slender arms. In one drawing I have a beak on my face.
I fully recommend anyone to take off their clothes and stand still. Let some teenagers draw you. Let someone else try to work out your shape and size. It's a relief not to be concerned about it.