So here I was alone again, unnaturally. I spent the next two days in my pyjamas. Compulsively checking my mobile phone for messages, but it just lay in my palm silently judging me.
I decided to start packing Adam’s stuff because that way I would be occupied and also as I was always the least prepared person on the planet, if I actually packed up his things in an organised manner it wouldn’t actually happen.
Unfortunately as hard as I worked it still left me time to reflect.
Adam and I had moved out of London, a year before I blew up The Jeffersons bathroom.
Neither of us were from the city originally having both grown up in rural towns and although we’d loved our flat and I loved my job as an online news editor, we’d just got exhausted with everything really. I’d been ill and although I’d got through the worst of it I’d been left with annoyingly persistant panic attacks. So we’d taken stock and decided to try the countryside for a while. When the job came up in the beautiful village of Leebury it was perfect.
Only an hour from London Adam’s surgery was next to the post office, which was opposite the school and across the road from a pub which featured in the Doomsday Book. There was a village green and a handful of pretty shops. With a retail park only 40 minutes away it was commuter belt heaven and we knew straight away when we’d first walked through the door of the cottage that it was right for us.
Adam had put his arms around me and said “Now Sarah, now you can write your book” My book was our secret, and I’d been so happy I’d cried.
The village was close to my hometown of Darton and the wisdom of the proximity to my family was up for question when my Aunty Edith threw us a, ‘leaving London Party’ the night we moved in.
My parents had died in a car crash when I was seven and my twin sisters Kate and Lucy were four. It was the most mundane and routine of accidents. They’d been on their way to the supermarket on Christmas Eve to get the big Christmas shop and a drunk driver had ploughed into them. It was ten o’clock in the morning. I can remember standing behind my Aunty Edith who had been minding us, when she opened the door to two policemen. Then I hadn’t spoken a word for two days.
My Aunty Edith and my Uncle Peter were the very best of people. They’d only been married a couple of years and had delayed having children until they could afford a bigger house. Then when my parents died they decided not to have any of their own. Or as my Uncle peter put it “You are ours I was just saved the bother of being sworn at by your Aunty Edith in the delivery room.”
I can remember my parents, my sisters can’t though. My mother was gentle and a beautiful singer and my Dad was funny and very tall. They’d met when he was training to be a Dr and mum was training to be a nurse. Then in a heart beat, in a moment of selfish stupidity, they were gone. The driver had gone to prison and after sending us a letter of apology and photo’s of his own two girls he’d hung himself in his cell.
So another family was ruined.
I loved my Aunt and Uncle with all my heart but going home meant we were now only forty minutes from conversations such as the one that had been conducted across me, between my Auntie Edith and her friend Susan Chappell. I sat there like a sort of prop as they batted their knowledge between them.
Susan Chappell to me ”My love do you think if you hadn’t been barren you probably wouldn’t have gone queer in the head? Because, and Edith you can back me up here, you’ve never, never had that on your mothers side of the family, nor your poor dead Father’s. God rest their souls”
Aunty Edith to Susan Chappell “Sue you can’t say queer anymore dear they don’t like that”
Susan Chappell to Aunty Edith “Who don’t like that?”
Aunty Edith “The gays dear”
Susan Chappell ”Oh. Well who changed that?”
Aunty Edith”I think it was Channel 4”
Susan Chappell. “Well, what are we supposed to say these days when someone goes..” Susan Chappell tapped her head.
Aunty Edith “It’s mental now dear, they say mental”
Susan Chappell “Oh I’m glad you told me that, I wouldn’t want to get it wrong and offend someone.”
Aunty Edith sagely “ I can recommend Loose Women Susan, I’ve learnt an awful lot from that and This Morning”
Then these two diversity champions, talked through the wonders of Philip Schofield who “took such a strong line on the rioting plimpsol looters” and moved seamlessly on to the various comparative merits of his co-presenters Holly Willoughby and Fern Britain although neither of them approved of her having had a “tantric band” operation.
I’d sat between them wondering whether, if home truly was where the heart lies, then it was definitely doing so in isolation from the brain.
Still once we’d finally exited the party, ‘from, in and beyond hell’ Leebury was lovely.
We’d done it. We’d taken the plunge and Adam was loving every minute of it.
It was all going so well and then Adam met Gareth at the Tennis club. I knew my overwhelming dislike of sport would eventually give me an adequate reason. They’d bonded initially over a shared interest in tennis. Then discovered over the post match pint that they could also talk endlessly about Top Gear and football fandom. The die was cast.
The other thing, which united them, was their background.
Adam loved his job as a GP but found the salary embarrassing. Especially as his brother and three sisters all struggled to manage most of the time. They’d been so proud of their baby brother. The first in his family to do A levels let alone go to Uni. Because of this he’d always been keen to remember his roots and had always said, “The blight of the middle class is that a corporate box at the footie makes liars of many middle-class middle managers. I’ll never buy into that crap”.
Gareth’s background was the mirror image of Adams except he’d gone into Law not medicine, and it can’t be underestimated how crucial he found this shared experience. But what Adam failed to see was just how differently he and Gareth viewed the level they had reached. For Gareth his past was an embarrassment, for Adam it was his pride and joy.
This was always his favourite rant. The smack down of posturing bullshit. Yet ever since Gareth and his wife Eileen had won his heart with their unctuous lifestyle he had jettisoned reason for aspiration. Never having had a role model in his life he’d been wowed by Mr and Mrs Fabulous.
Gareth’s thoughts on the subject of his own determinedly working class credentials were interesting. Because from what I’d observed they were usually shouted over a Baccarat crystal tumbler of 50 year old whisky, to friends seated at a dinner table big enough for twelve
“ Gareth says he finds it hypocritical that men who never gave a damn about the game, now jostle with young women out to ram their feminazi credentials down everyone’s throats” Adam would relate post tennis as I’d seethe. “And are just attempting to prove Daddy wrong by “getting down the ground” every Saturday to watch a game they don’t really understand, in shitty weather.”
The first time the four of us met in the pub, I was a little braver so when Gareth started his ranting with me on the “ways of women” I said “ Actually many young women actually like and actually understand football in my experience Gareth.”
Gareth raised his eyebrows. He looked at me for a while then said, “I doubt that…actually” Everyone laughed. I turned to Adam and he was laughing too. Then he reached out and patted my hand and said “We don’t have to pretend to like everything, Darling, just to fit in. We’re not that desperate” Adam had underpinned his point with a nervous laugh, protesting a little too much and totally misunderstanding the fact that I’d just done exactly that by not liking Gareth at all.
I was furious. The battle lines had been drawn and I was suddenly and sadly on a different side to Adam. We’d ended up going back To Gareth and Eileen’s for coffee and I’d stared at the teak floor and wanted to burst into tears, until I noticed that there was an obvious burn mark in the expensive rug, which made me feel like a truculent teenager embarrassed by the grown ups and, on discovering a flaw, feeling smugly satisfied in my silent impotent superiority.
This ultimately made me feel worse but my part that of “fool” had now been assigned by Adams new BFF.
The fact that Adam had now become what he most loathed, was an irony totally lost on him. Like many other ideas on this topic I kept my feelings to myself and just poured all of my anger and frustration at our situation into my cleaning. It was becoming a habit.
As Gareth and Adam bonded in their fine Bromance, I hadn’t expected to be caught up in the wake, let alone contained in the socialising net and landed on the trawler of this anti-social circle.
So, true to my perceived integrity, I’d initially refused. “They are exactly the type of people we hate,” I’d ventured.
That was back in the days when Adam and I had discussed things as important as who we shared our time with.
It was still a precious commodity our time together. Then as the months rolled by and I still didn’t find a job and still didn’t write my book, which I noticed, was starting to be referred to by Adam in an irritated tone as “that book”, it began to feel like I was being unreasonably stubborn. He was being reasonable and so my resistance was eventually worn down because I realised that I didn’t know anyone since moving to Leebury and that I was probably in fact quite lonely.
Remembering those first months now as I packed Adams things neatly into boxes and bags, made my heart hurt and made me realise that that loneliness really stemmed from being pushed aside by Gareth and Eileen’s sheer force of personality. Princess Diana had to deal with a crowded marriage of three. I had Four and Eileen had the verbal capacity of at least eight people all on her own.
I was feeling sorry for myself. So I decided that I needed a virtual slap and there was no one better for this than my sister Kate.
So I called her.After I briefly explained she was silent. Then she said “What a stupid fucking asshole”
“I know” I said “but in my defence…”
She shouted “Jesus, Sarah I don’t mean you, I’m coming down there and giving those assholes a piece of my mind…”
“No please don’t Kate. That’s not going to help anyone is it? You and Eileen need to maintain as much distance as possible…now”
Kate snorted. “I don’t know what you mean Eileen loves me Sarah”
Love, as applied here by my sister, was definitely being used in its broadest and her most sarcastic form.
The day that Eileen met Kate was during the time that Adam was still trying to get me and his new friends to bond.
We’d been in the cottage about a month when Adam needed to go up to London for a course. I’d been sorting everything out of the boxes and been busy starting the book, which meant staring at the computer and sighing a lot. Apart from nipping to the retail park for Sainsbury’s and back and forth to Do it All I hadn’t really ventured into the Village at all. I felt happier than I had for months and hadn’t had a panic attack since we’d moved in.
So when my sister announced that she was coming over to “nose at the new house and you can take me out for a boozy lunch” it was a great opportunity to catch up with her and also explore a little bit.
I’d driven through the village on the way to the retail park and had my eye on a lovely restaurant “The fattened haddock” which was open from morning coffee to last orders in the summer because with the pretty cottages and the ancient Monastery, Leebury was a bit of a tourist attraction. So I booked a table.
It was simple except that with my family nothing is ever straight forward
I’m the oldest of the three of us. After my parents divorced, my mum had met and married my stepdad, a man of infinite patience fortunately and they’d gone on to have twins. Lucy is my oldest half sister as she arrived 3 minutes before Kate and Kate has been determined not to be overshadowed ever since.
Lucy is a teacher and married sensible Jack who is also a teacher and they have 4-year-old twin daughters. Lucy is calm and patient and gentle the Ying to her twin Kate’s feisty, flamboyant, passionate, hilarious, Yang.
Lucy was a dutiful daughter and dutiful wife and now dutiful mother. I say that in total awe and wonderment. She doesn’t seek praise, she’s just herself and everyone loves her and runs to her in a crisis for her calm wisdom. Kate however has resolutely refused to do anything, which might, in anyway, follow a predictable path. Especially because Kate would never knowingly cause our Mum anything approaching joy or pride.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone for whom the notion of following in their mother’s footsteps has as all the inviting prospects of a passage through a live minefield. Top of the list of Mum’s ideas for all her “girls” has always been marriage and children. To quote Kate on that notion “She can cock right off with her barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen bullcrap”
True to her word at the age of sixteen Kate declared “I’m sick of her crap I’m off” and so Kate took off travelling. She’d make it home occasionally for Christmas, or birthdays have a huge row with Mum and then go again, but mostly she stayed in London where she was enjoying her career as a music journalist.
Anyway she arrived in her usual blaze of trauma and gossip and fun and we’d headed out for lunch.
On our walk to the restaurant however. Kate did a Kate
We we’re walking past Eileen’s tasteful shop, archly named “Mustique” and glancing at the window and Kate suddenly stopped. “What the fuck’s that shit” I’d been halfway through asking her about Lucy’s girls, who were becoming a bit of a handful, and was thrown for a moment until I saw the source of Kate’s anger.
There was a poster in the shop window, which, I noticed due to its vibrancy, but from the car I’d never been close enough to read before. Reading it now made me wish we’d walked on the other side of the road.
You see as well as businesswoman, mother and wife. Eileen was also a campaigner. A “family values” campaigner.
Kate was reading the poster aloud in an increasingly outraged tone.
“Dear friends and supporters, a public meeting is being held in the Village Hall on Saturday 20th July. To take us to the next stage of our family Values campaign fundraiser. There will be a hog roast and a raffle and as it’s “not a school night “ dancing till midnight, If you value the family, then help us make sure the Leebury family is valued.
We do not need cable in our village “Mr Pornographer”. Label that cable, Ban the Spam. Recognise the Internet for what it is a web for trapping our young people on the information superhighway to family breakdown that it is. NO NO NO the outraged mothers of Leebury say no “porn” on the kitchen table”
The last was a reference to the bane of Eileen’s life. The Internet.
Gareth had explained to Adam that the proposed cable network to the village was one more in a long list of things, which Eileen had challenged. Along with A touring theatre company production of “The Vagina Monologues” in the Church Hall, gamely proposed by the new young Vicar, sex education lessons in the village school and a gay civil partnership in the Monastery grounds.
Eileen had used her influence with dinner party friends on the local council and parish council to jettison anything, which she felt threatened her (therefore everyone’s) family values. The Internet was in her opinion the slippery slope to the abyss. Adam and I had laughed about it especially the unintentionally funny slogan but Kate was furious. Eileen Jefferson was about to meet her polar and equally determined opposite.
“Kate” I said warningly slipping into big sister mode and trying to squash my loathing of Eileen. “I know your feelings on this “ I turned back to the poster “but again you have to remember that we are not all the same and so try and understand that to Eileen, it’s as much matter of principle as it is to you Kate. As ludicrous as those principles may seem to you and me and most people we know, she really does view the Internet as a threat to her children. If you get…”
I was silenced by the sound of Kate yelling “Bourgeois BULLSHIT” from inside the shop.
I ran inside in time to see Eileen jabbing her beautifully manicured forefinger in Kate’s direction and hissing “make no mistake about it, I’ll happily tell you my views too because the problem with this country today is people like you. What on earth are you doing?”
Kate had sat down cross-legged on the floor.
“What do you think I’m doing sister sanctimonious? Consider yourself occupied”
Eileen looked confused “What?”
Kate was searching though her mobile phone contacts. Finding the right number she waited. “Hi is that Buzz? Hi Buzz it’s me Kate Taylor. I’m just wondering if you and Leaf are free today. It’s just I’m in Leebury which is about and hour from London and I’m organising a peaceful sit in…”
“Kate …please” I said although I knew it was pointless.
Eileen was not to be beaten.
She marched over to the phone beside the till and dialled too. As she waited for the phone to connect she glared at me “How did I know this would be something to do with you Sarah? Oh hello there, could you put me through to the Chief Superintendent please. This is Eileen Jefferson and I would like to report a suspected political terror event occurring in my shop”
“Eileen ..Honestly no.. She’s my sister…she’s a vegan…” I was starting to get the familiar dryness in my mouth and becoming very aware of my heart rate which meant a panic attack was on it’s way.
By now Kate was shouting to make sure Eileen knew she was seeing her stake and raising it. “Oh it’s just your bog standard capitalist oppression Buzz, making money from the little guy whilst simultaneously trying to curb free speech with a campaign trying to ban the internet…So you can get here for 3 o’clock? That’s perfect…. Can you bring the drums and the naked street artists…”?
Eileen was staring at Kate open mouthed. The two locked eyes.
I was desperate, so I played the only card I could think of
“For God’s sake Eileen” I yelled as theatrically as I could manage “Think of the children”
I saw Eileen’s eyes flicker towards the elegant clock on the wall. She had got my point. She was mentally calculating that if the other protestors, naked protestors, arrived in an hour they would be just in time to be witnessed by the village school’s entire population making their way home past her shop.
Eileen conceded, “Hello Edward, No I’m sorry.. Everything is fine now…it was…I was mistaken. See you for dinner send my love to Darling Kathryn and the boys, won’t you. Yes.. Yes..thank you Edward”
Eileen replaced the receiver.
She pointed at Kate. “Get…her…out…”
Kate was on her feet. “I’m leaving but remember, they’re just a phone call away Fascist”
With that Kate marched out of the shop.
“Eileen…” I started but her glare was enough, so not for the first time in my life I’d trudged out in the wake of my sister’s chaos.
Of course when I’d found Kate laughing outside, I’d been furious but she’d just hugged me and told me to chill.
“As if I’d know anyone called Buzz or Leaf” she’d said rolling her eyes. ”Honestly Sarah I don’t know whose more gullible you, or Scary Shitehouse in there”
Therefore the idea of Kate arriving in fury hell bent on settling scores with Eileen and letting Adam know exactly where he stood in her opinion didn’t fill me with joy.
We agreed we’d meet soon though. I hung up and pondered the prospect of also telling Lucy and Aunty Edith just to get it all out of the way in one go.
Lucy would be fine but I had a feeling that it would lead to more of Susan Chappell’s wisdom on the functioning of my “inside plumbing problems”
I definitely didn’t have the strength for that.