Geraniums in the window-box outside my bedroom.
There she was again, at the back of the audience. Tall and tanned, with golden tresses cascading teasingly over her narrow shoulders. A body-hugging jumper and a black pencil skirt. Bewitchingly beautiful – and she knew it.
This was the third time she’d stood and watched my presentation. Laughed at the jokes, smiled at the irony, raised her hands in mock-horror when I singled out somebody for special attention. And when it was over, she melted into the crowd.
“Wow!” said K, “isn’t she a stunner?”
I unclipped my lapel mic and powered down my laptop.
“Who?” I said distractedly, gathering my notes and unplugging my mouse.
“God, what I couldn’t do with her,” he said, his eyes flashing with barely disguised lust. He scanned the audience to wait for his prey.
But she didn’t turn up. Not for him, nor or for S, B or C – all of whom had heard of the blonde temptress with the golden skin and pouting lips. Who would catch this bird of paradise?
A pattern emerged. I presented, she appeared, the others slavered. And when I came off stage, she disappeared. They followed in hot pursuit, squabbling over who stood the best chance.
And on the last day, the inevitable happened – but none of them saw it coming.
There she stood, arms crossed, lips glossed and hair silky smooth. Smiling coyly as I delivered my well-worn jokes for the last time. I finished, the pack readied itself for the chase, and…
She stood right where she was, waiting for the audience to disperse. Then slowly, deliberately, slinkily, she made her way to the stage.
“I wonder,” she said in a voice like honey, “if you’d like my number. We could, you know, meet up for a drink sometime.”
She raised an eyebrow in expectation. Over her shoulder, I could see the pack staring in wide-eyed disbelief.
“I’d love to,” I said, “but I’m afraid I’m involved.”
“Too bad,” she said silkily, “just too, too bad.”
She smiled broadly, turned and headed straight for the pack, her hips swaying temptingly. As she neared them, they parted in mute surrender. She looked over her shoulder, and gave me one last look, a smile crinkling her glossy lips.
And she was gone. The pack watched her disappear, then slowly looked around in silent awe.
I packed my laptop and left.
’30p each or 4 for 98p’ says the sign next to the bagels. How can I resist?
I look around for the tongs to select my four. Ah, there they are. But no – all the tongs are on a chain, and the nearest ones won’t stretch. Underneath the bagels, a metal ring marks the place where the bagel tongs once sat.
So I look around, and make sure the coast is clear. I do the unthinkable and use my own hands to pick my own bagels. I must remember later to wash my hands before I eat those bagels.
Next, my eye is caught by a touch-screen. ‘Save time!’ it flashes. ‘Label your bakery purchases here.’
Now let’s see – ah yes, bagels, plain, quantity 4. Price? £1.20. No – that can’t be right. I must have missed a step. Let’s try again. Bagels, plain, quantity 4.
£1.20. So much for saving time.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m at the checkout.
“Hello, how are you?” says the oriental man with wire-framed glasses.
“I’m fine, thanks,” I say. “And how are you?”
He looks blankly at me, as if that’s not in the script. I wait for the offer to pack my bags, but it never comes. He’s obviously thrown off his stride.
And here come the bagels. He jabs several buttons, and I look at the display. £1.20.
So I tell him: it’s 98p for four. I had the same problem at the bakery.
No, he says. Not £1.20, 98p. All OK. No problem. So I explain that his display – the one on the stalk – said £1.20. No, he repeats. No problem.
Finally, his till spews out a long, snaking receipt. He takes a pen from his top pocket, and marks a neat little asterisk next to the bagels.
“See?” he says. “When I press total, money off.”
Yes, I repeat, now tiring of this conversation. But the display said £1.20. And I thought it had the same problem as I did when I tried to label the bagels in the bakery.
“Yes,” he says again, mechanically. “Total, money off. How it works.”
I make one final attempt to explain. The bakery, the display, the incorrect total. The till, the display, the same error.
“Total, money off. It work,” he says again.
The couple behind me are getting that why do I always choose the wrong till look. She’s fidgeting with the conveyor belt divider, and wondering how much longer this is going to go on.
As am I. I evaluate my chances of getting my point across, and decide it’s not worth it. I’ve got my 22p off, so it’s time to leave.
“Lovely,” I say in my best Sybil Fawlty. “Thank you so much.”
With a flourish, I snag the till slip and spin the trolley round.
Mr Money Off looks disappointed. His mouth is open, his eyebrows riding high, a look of expectation and bewilderment painted on his face.
I smile regally, and begin to move off.
“Cut all the grey out,” I said to the hairdresser when I saw her last.
“So you wanna skinhead, then?” she said with a crooked smile. Chewing gum lopsidedly and pulling down her crop-top, she surveyed my ever-greying temples.
“Seriously, like, you’ll have nuffin left, innit?”
And serious it was, so I settled for a number two on the sides and back, with damage limitation on the top.
The advance of grey has got me thinking about dyeing again. Or rather, about not dyeing. I simply don’t have the patience. I can scarcely make it though my 15-minute conversational ordeal every three weeks. It would be unbearable to extend it for a little hint of raven’s wing or autumn leaves.
Yes, yes, I know, I could do it myself, but I’ve been there, done that. I was 15, and I really wanted blond hair. It was all that was missing in my life – the final piece of the happiness jigsaw.
So dye I did – with disastrous results. My hair ended up a screaming shade of orange, better than the tackiest fright wig. All I needed was a red clip-on nose and I could have run away to join the circus.
And yet, despite my bungled attempt, I can see the attraction. Overnight, you go from slightly grey to a beautifully even shade that winds the clock back.
Or so it seems. The trouble is, your face slowly gets out of sync with your hair. And one day, you realise you look ridiculous – so you stop.
“No you don’t, dahling,” a former boss once said to me, as she ran a pink Barbie comb through her faux-chestnut mane, surveying her handiwork in a little mother-of-pearl compact.
“That’s the beauty of it. You nevvver stop,” she purred, as her carmine lips stretched into a broad smile. She snapped the compact shut, adjusted her sequinned bolero, and whisked me off to the marketing meeting.
And that’s just one of the reasons I never started.