Gran’s daily grind in the Costa de Sol

My grandparents came to visit for Christmas. They were just back from a holiday in Torremolinos on the Costa de Sol and were “full of stories” of the place. We were 12 round the table. I was introducing my boyfriend to them for the first time.

“T’was fablus” says Granddad. “Three euro for a flagon of wine. And grand big pizzas for only 5 euro each.”

“Imagine” Gran nods to my boyfriend. “Dan we had a gorgeous time. Gorgeous. But the heat was desperate.” She beckons to Granddad across the table. “Con. Con. Will you bring me my handbag?”

“I will Helen,” he says.

Gran turns to the rest of us with a knowing smile: “Now wait till I show you our party trick. You’ll have to guess what it is.”

From her handbag she pulls a silver yo-yo object with Che Guevara’s face on the front. She opens it. Inside both sides have spikes. When closed the object can be turned either way. I have a fair idea already.

“Now pass that round,” she says gleefully. “Three cheers for anyone who gets it.” My mother goes first. She shakes the yo-yo by her ear. She opens it. She prods the spikes.

“Watch out for those sharp fellas,” warns Granddad.

She holds onto the object for a good minute longer, determined to figure it. But under duress of my aunt the Che Guevara yo-yo moves on. Another shake and she concedes that: “Christ, I have no idea.”

Onto my uncle, who doesn’t know either. My father is stumped, so is my mother’s friend. Round goes Guevara– until it gets to my boyfriend. “I know”, he shouts.

I try to stop him.

“It’s a grinder!” He looks triumphant. Like he’s just made the good impression he was after by admitting an affiliation with drugs.

“No,” insists Gran. “It’s my marijuana crusher”. She looks uncertain. Says it slowly like she’s reciting the word. “mari-ju-ana.”

“Yeah mun” confirms Granddad in a bad Jamaican accent. He picked it up in 1989 after a Royal Caribbean Cruise to Kingston. “No problem mun” he snorts at his own joke.

“What the feck are you doing with that yoke?” interrupts my mother.

“We’ve not used it, Margaret,” says Gran. “We bought this fella in a tourist shop in Torremolinos. Granddad had to ask the young girl at the till what it was.”

“And so we bought another for a woman in Ballydehob who smokes gangja,” explains Granddad. “Dope, like. She’s always at it. That’s what Jimmy Murphy says anyway.” Then he rolls his eyes and says “Christ, it’s disgraceful really. Ah it is, Helen, it is.”

“We’ve three of them actually,” says Gran. “I like to keep one in my handbag to show people, and we’ve a spare in case we lose it.”

“Yeah mun,” says Granddad. “Yeah. mun.”

Photo: Flickr, thanks to RD Imagen

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Welcome to Clapton

I’m out of a three-bed and no living room in Bethnal Green – and into my own house. The last of the rented accommodation years was rinsed away with 99p kitchen spray that my flatmates and I applied to everything and wiped away with jay cloths, socks found under the bed and pink and blue sponges that left behind smudges of dye on the walls. The hard work didn’t bother us. We knelt down and thought of the deposit. It never came.

The accountant is on holiday, assured the letting agent who said he’d have to dock 90 for a stain on the mattress that was there before, and £16 apiece for a dusty skirting board. But otherwise, we’d be rich. “Just give me a week,” he promised a month ago.

The only picture I had of the four of us.

We moved into a Victorian town house in Clapton, East London. Bay windows, exposed wooden floors, high ceilings, a room each and a living room with no beds. Someone had been killed earlier that day, next to the house, and there were bouquets of flowers tied to a lamppost and already an old lady was stealing a couple to sell on. We looked at each other as she passed my gate – a pink headscarf tied under her chin, a dirt encrusted coat, shuffling like a penguin and muttering to herself. The woman caught my stare and she paused for a moment, frozen to the spot, her face contorted. Then she belched and carried on walking.

We had made it big, we all agreed later that night. This beautiful house was mine, a real showstopper, and us four girls would live there together and cook organic dinners and figure out the fireplace and change our lives. We cheersed our good fortune with cheap white wine in champagne glasses. We danced to early noughties RnB in the kitchen at 9:30pm. “I like the way you work it,” we sang to ourselves and meant it.“No diggity, I’ve got to bag it up.”

Just then a series of raps sounded in the room. I glanced around: morse code was coming through the floorboards. The buzzer went, and I was sure the house was trying to tell us something. I went for the door. Two furious sixty year olds stood in their pyjamas in the doorway. The man was wearing a onsie from the first time around- in the style of a hill billy or a 1920s beachgoer. The grey haired woman glared through her spectacles, wearing a red dressing gown that had been aggressively knotted through the middle.

“We live below you, ma’am” began the man. “You cannot be running around, slamming doors, listening to music. The sound is unbearable.” The woman nodded, a sidekick in the lecture, which in total lasted 30 minutes and though I won’t bore you with its entirety, covered the man’s career as a martial arts instructor, the terrible artist who had lived in the house before, my father – he said I must be too young – and too female- to speak to directly about “matters of the gravest importance ma’am” – and finally, lawyers should be continue to live as 20-somethings in the house.

By the end I was sober, speechless. I closed the door and turned the music back on.

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My mate: Engaged and about the right age… we’re older than I feared.

Blushing bride = tan

I spent the Christmas break with my parents in Austria – an overgrown family holiday: the Von Trapps sans lederhosen.

My mother, who had arrived a few days earlier, instructed me to carry an unmarked bag of sea salt in my hand luggage. (She wanted to cook Christmas dinner in the mountains.) “Put in a good whack of it in a plastic bag and bring the rashers” she whispered over the phone on the day of departure. I was dubious. Customs might misinterpret the salt-in-a-bag trick for drug smuggling – the X-Ray unearthing a pound of cocaine flanked either side by a bacon rasher and I’d miss my flight explaining.

But as it happened I over-reacted: no one said a word about narcotics, even though my face had a pre-emptive red hue and I was starting to twitch. My sister had her bag searched. But that was because of a fountain pen – non-regulation nib – which involved unwrapping a present – who could deny the customs officer such a treat?

This Christmas was a good one. It snowed on the mountains where we skied and in the kitchen everything was seasoned and wrapped in bacon. More to the point, a good friend of mine got engaged.

The phone call came on Christmas Day. I was just off a ski lift with a face full of tears collecting in my goggles. The story – ring hidden in Christmas stocking, him on one knee, the old adage… “Will you marry me? – is different when it’s about someone you know. And so what if it turns out I’m emotional? She said would I be maid of honour.

Now I’m thinking of plans. Horny devil ears for the hen night, learner plates and feather boas. No tackiness spared. She’s talking about a villa in Rome but I’m not too sure- a stretch pink limousine roaring through Blackpool while one person pukes Bacardi Breezer out the window sounds better. Now there’s a holiday.

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Christmas in suburbia


And so it’s Christmas. The streets are heaving with shoppers and charity collectors rustling buckets into people’s faces.

Inside the supermarkets where I live poshos recreate scenes from the riots, clambering one on top of the other to get to the last smoked salmon terrine. It’s pandemonium at Christmas.

Just yesterday I saw a granny drive the wrong way around the roundabout by Waitrose. It’s not a small roundabout: four exits and a pile of cars beeping – the granny, too. She beeped back, demented, as she swung a right and edged round the on-coming traffic.

Then she pulled up in the middle of the road (pulled up = generous, she turned off her engine) and beeped again and again until a sweating shop assistant came stumbling out of his shop carrying a washing machine. In it went into the boot. Shop to car service! And without thanks, or indication, the granny sped off into the day.

There’s Beaconsfield for you. The Wild West of suburbia, where traffic is limited to Landrovers and zimmer frames. Me, I cycle my mother’s bike. Because it’s exercise and because I’ve eaten too much smoked salmon terrine. Plus, for a month and a half now, I have stopped smoking cigarettes. Now I am a non-smoker I can use the word cigarettes at the end of sentences where it is not necessary to clarify. I can talk of cigarettes with the smug lack of familiarity afforded to a traffic warden. “No thanks, I don’t smoke… cigarettes” On the downside I have gained weight. Urgh.

But that’s tomorrow’s equation. Today I have Christmas (accompanied by a box of Celebrations), a bicycle and a job application I should be writing.

In the words of pre-eminent fusspot Brigit Jones: Cigarettes = 0, Calories = 4,900 (minus 4000 because ingested while riding bicycle) Result = v v v good.

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Spying on my brother’s girlfriend

The curse of living with mum and dad is no longer upon me – I’m getting out of here. I’ve landed some work at a hot shot magazine. Excellent news. Temporary of course but for now I am a researcher. I’ve got to find people.

In anticipation of this I thought I’d do some method work – gonzo, if you will – and as luck would have it my brother for the first time in his 25 years has a real girlfriend – and not another poor fool who he dates and makes cry. It was a good place to start.

She’s French – or Fraunch, depending on whether, like me, you indulge in impersonation. She mighty purty (Lenny’s voice: Of Mice and Men) and she works in fashion. She’s gone back to le patrie for a couple weeks and, in what might be an attempt to butter up the inlaws, she’s lent me her London penthouse apartment. I have no complaints with this.

So here I am, surrounded by distressed wooden beams and neatly arranged “stuff”. The living room could be in Elle. Everywhere there are nick nacks – not the crisps – but there’s no TV and all her books are in Fraunch. It’s the least I can do, I think, to go sleuthing.

Into the bathroom: headache pills – I open the lid. Inside I find headache pills. I move on, undeterred. Mascara – I apply to the eyes. Very nice, I think, looking at my improved face in the mirror. Next is moisturizer. Not much of this left. I take the smallest blob and rub it into my cheek. Yes, yes. Lovely.

I settle back into the couch and try to read something by Gustave Flaubert. I haven’t studied French since I was 13. I pretend to read it – even though no one is watching – and nod sagely at page 1. After three minutes I’m bored again. I amble into the kitchen. Excellent: a fridge with photos on it. There she is – zee girlfriend (or is that German?) – with her mate pulling an attractive, faux-silly face for the camera. Très bien. 

I’m starving. There’s a selection of aromatic teas perched on the shelf above me but no food – fashion for you. Ginseng and melon tea will suffice. I get to work switching on the kettle: I unhook one ginormous Starbucks mug hanging from a metal frame and reach for the tea. I’m not tall enough – ah, the kitchens of the fashion elite – I stumble stretching for teabags and drag half the shelf with me. Sachets of English Breakfast and chamomile float in slow motion towards my face. Boxes of Twinnings fall to the floor and the debris from the ginseng tea co-mingles with my French mascara stinging my eyeballs.

I slump out of the kitchen, disgusted. Where’s my dinner? Muuuuuummm? My dinner. No one’s given me my dinner. I’m tired and cross. I’ve already messed up the flat. I go to bed hungry and without even the ginseng. All I have is Flaubert – and we don’t understand each other.     


Silly face? Do it properly.

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Romancing journalists: a coffee date for one.

And now for my next trick! I will attempt to become a journalist through the medium of networking.

These past two weeks I have written three toe curlingly sycophantic emails requesting “introductions” with journalists. I’ve simpered about how “I just love your work” and asked for “updates” on whether I can buy these busy, accomplished people a coffee.

There have been stream of consciousness phrases like “I’m just wondering whether there’s been an update on that coffee…” complete with friendly, musing ellipses.

I’m not a natural groveller. I cringe reading over my half-baked quips. And then later, on re-reading the email, discover a typo and experience the urge to abandon my head to the keyboard.

The latest job rejection – after clinging onto two interviews and a bout of shift work – comes off the back of the magazine wanting to hire someone more senior. I’m thinking of growing a moustache and applying again.

But for now – while the Just For Men miracle grow sets in – I pledge to network. Today I meet with a successful journalist: someone who may have taken pity on me. I will bring my portfolio: I had a feature published today – at least 700 words… about an ageing rock band. It will take centre stage. I am thinking of the questions I will ask. One will be “How do you take your coffee?” The others I am working on. Suggestions will be warmly received.   

Moustache: a prototype

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Young, dumb and living off Mum. The day my life turned car crash TV.

The unsavoury truth is as follows: I am a/ unemployed b/ broke off my arse c/ living back at home with my parents. How did I get here?

I’m  24. I’ve just checked a job site and there’s a senior reporter role for Insolvency Today. Isn’t that morbid? Who reads a magazine about flunked businesses?

And what’s worse is I’ve just crashed my car. On Tuesday, the day before yesterday. Right on my way to work at the local paper. Okay, so it’s a job. But it’s temporary. For the last week I’ve been a news hound for all things granny and charity luncheon. There was a space – the previous reporter skiddaddled – I was waiting to hear about a real job. They were paying, I was writing. It was a perfect match. Except they needed me to drive.

I’m not great at that. I’m the kind of driver who leans uncomfortably close to the steering wheel and checks her mirrors every 5 seconds – without registering the objects they reflect. In fact it was bound to happen. But if, at 8:30am in the mid-morning rush hour with vicious mothers in landrovers honking their way along the school run, there was ever a time to experience one’s first crash, it wouldn’t have been now.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” shouted a mother as I stalled for the third time to the side of her.

Wasn’t it obvious? I had belted the car in front of me.

I was just this second completing my crash. I am now in post crash hysterics – which has nothing to do with crying and everything to do with staring vacantly at my surroundings. Like an idiot. I am in the eye of the storm. I should say here that I’m next to a roundabout.

The crashee – not that he knows it yet – has lost the bumper from his parked car. Parts of the bumper are crumpled on the road while other bits cling on lopsided to the metal frame. I’m no good with car brands and am later to learn this is a BMW something-series. I forget the number.

I step out of my car (yes, still blocking the roundabout) and leave the cursory note on his windscreen. “Hello”, I begin. “There’s been an accident” – maybe he won’t notice. And then, for want of what to do next, an introduction. “My name is Clare Conway.” After that a scrawled phone number and a scrubbed out kiss. (My sanity has been mangled by the crash.)

The outcome is I owe hundreds of pounds. My week’s work at the paper is obliterated: 40 hours of sleuthing trounced by 10 seconds of bad driving. And so, with that, I find myself broke once again. Ah, yes, to be young… dumb and still living off mum.

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