How to get a life

New YorkNew York

 

 

 

Annabel had gone to the States and come back with this book called “Get out there and get yourself a life.” She had insisted she read it.  Despite her hatred of self-help books and their self righteous advice that only seemed to work for the writers she had gone through it and decided it needed another title- “Get out there and get yourself a man.”

 

The writer Kim Bradley thingy … something double barrelled who had been a high flyer in the stock exchange had met Mr Right – a brilliant neurosurgeon; decided that the cut throat world of the New York Stock Exchange had lost its attraction,  got married and lived in some gigantic house somewhere in Boston. Sounded like one of those irritating afternoon TV films made in the eighties.

 

Anyway when Kim had turned 36 her mother had been diagnosed with something serious and had said don’t let me die without seeing you happily married.  This had been enough to stop Kim from sitting down and waiting for Mr Right to come to her. She decided to get off her derriere and go track him down.

 

She had accomplished this by drawing a list of all the places where men liked to hang out or where they just could be found. She would list the American example and had helpfully included the English equivalent just to increase the transatlantic appeal of the book to other singletons across the pond. –

 

  1. Train stations/Greyhound buses/ Public Transport/London Underground
  2. Churches
  3. Supermarkets/Retail outlets/The Mall
  4. Hospitals
  5. The Jailhouse/The Police Station/Fire Station/Army Barracks
  6. Sports events i.e.- Softball/ Basketball/Football stadium
  7. Sorority Events/ Alumni Events for Universities i.e. – Association of Lawyers/Doctors/Engineer yearly balls
  8. The School/Cookie mornings/PTA Events
  9. The Library/Internet Café
  10. Bars/The Pub/Discos/Raves/Restaurants
  11. Theatres/Cinema Houses
  12. Self –help seminars/ Business world/Seminars/
  13. Banks
  14. Car Shows

 

By the time she got to 14 I was in tears. Of laughter.

 

“Ooh…number 5 looks promising.  All we need to do is to hang outside the police station down the road and look for any of the old Bill to emerge and go up and say to any fit officer….Excuse me…but I’m really lost and I need you to show me the way…

 

Annabel looked hurt.|” I should have known you will turn the whole thing into a joke….look do you like spending every Friday night at home watching Friends?

 

I thought long and hard. “Its better than hanging outside ….|”I snatched the book and read the list again in a mock American accent…”Train stations, churches, the Mall, hospitals, the jailhouse….Wow…my mum will like that …looking for men in the jailhouse…I can see shades of Jailhouse rock in there girl…..

 

Annabel’s lips were a thin red line.

 

Or whatever.  According to her mother she was too choosy or not doing enough to make herself look presentable.  Short of asking the next eligible male she saw on the street to marry her she didn’t know what else she was supposed to do.

 

She was 39 and she should be anxious about her ever advancing biological clock, the fact that she had been single for the past 15 months and that in the past few years she had only had one date which had ended in disaster – he had forgotten his wallet at home (or so he claimed) and his phone kept ringing during the date.

 

Not good.

 

“I’m out of here.”

 

“Enjoy the party.”

 

“I did invite you but you have to be such a party pooper!”

 

“It’s Friday. I want to sit down with my hair tied up in a scarf, in my old baggy dressing gown and eat lots of ice –cream while I watch footie.”

 

“You are such a stereotype.” Annabel walked off. “Except for the football.”

 

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Becoming Miss Selena

Selena was a model worker.  She got to work early and left long after closing time. As PA to the Chief Executive her job meant rushing about making sure meetings, seminars and everything concerning The Big Boss went without a hitch.  This convinced me that she could run the world whilst remaining unruffled, perfectly poised and totally unflappable.  I could see her at the head of the table at the UN with Heads of States as they sat staring at  this elegant creature in her crisp white shirt and black skirt suit, long blonde hair swept into a chignon; reassuring them that everything was fine and that she had it all under control.

 

I was just fresh out of Poly with my HND in Business Studies and had got a job at Jones and Sons; one of the reputable construction firms in the country. The Interview had been an absolute disaster. I still wonder how I got the job with Selena firing questions at me like an automatic rifle.

 

I was going to be her assistant, the Personnel Manager informed me with a pitying glance. “It might be hard going initially but stick at it.  Selena likes things done her in a particular way.  She is a top class PA and has lots of knowledge about this place that can really help you.  So try and learn as much as you can.  She knows her job.”

 

Why didn’t she just tell me I was going to be working for a control freak? 

 

By the end of the week Selena had shown me her synchronised filing system, her diary, the company database, supplier’s lists and thousands of spread sheets and I still didn’t understand most of what she was talking about. It wasn’t that I hadn’t worked in an office before but this job was like Medusa; everywhere you turned it grew another extension.

 

She would give me work and then go over it bit by bit marking corrections with a red pen.  She timed my lunch hour to the minute.  Overtime was unpaid and something you did for the ‘Good of the company as all good workers should be prepared to go the extra mile when necessary’. Everything had to be perfect before she could leave for the day.  Besides that was how Mr Jones liked it.

 

I would sometimes catch her looking over my shoulder when I needed to get an address on the Internet; this was to deter me from surfing during work hours; as if I would dare when I sat under her nose.  Then when I answered the phone I could feel her cobalt blue eyes boring in to me.  Sometimes she would correct me while I was still dealing with customers.

 

“Its Jones and Sons….not Jones and Jones.  Mr Jones likes his documents prepared like this, his tea and coffee like that and don’t forget to note the numbers for all faxes that go out…”….I felt completely useless and wondered whether I should resign before they gave me the shove.  I talked to my best friend Alison about it.

 

“You’ve never been a quitter you know.” She advised, “Give it a few months and see how it goes…”

 

So despite my misgivings I stuck at it and gave it my best shot.  I bumbled along under Selena’s hawkish glare wondering whether I was doing a good job.  A month dragged into three and then into six.  I felt I was beginning to actually understand what needed to be done and how it had to be done.  We had a conference and she let me sort out the planning for the catering and it all went well.  Then we had some international visitors over. I handled the hotel bookings and soon I stopped noticing her surveillance whilst I did my work. I learnt how to use PowerPoint and did some presentations for Mr Jones’s important meeting with some new clients that got us a contract.

 

One day she announced that we were going for lunch.

 

I stiffened and then she smiled.  I had never seen her stretch her lips that far apart before. I stared again to make sure it was actually a smile.

 

Then she laughed. “I owe you lunch…. we will eat and talk.  Got some news for you.”

 

I was in a daze until lunch break.  Then we went to this cosy Italian place just behind work where I had been a couple of times and had Lasagne.

 

“How do you like Jones and Jones?” She said twirling a piece around her fork and popping it through her lips.  I sat watching her wondering whether the lipstick would smudge. It didn’t.

 

“I like it.”

 

“What about the work?  How do you think you’re coping?”

 

You tell me. I shrugged. “I’m doing my best.”

 

Her blue eyes pierced mine. “I know I have been an absolute ogre for the past few months. Tyrant, witch…you name it…I deserve it.” Her lips curved into a smile again, “I know I’ve been a terrible task master but I needed to know whether you were the right person for what we have in mind.”

 

I stared at her. “We?”

 

“My job. I’m leaving Jones and Sons.  You were employed as a possible replacement but we wanted to check you out first.”

 

My fork clattered noisily onto the plate; my mouth falling open. “Me. PA to the Chief Exec….but I can’t do it…Il’ make mistakes.”

 

Selena laughed. “You have handled the past few months well. I know you can do it.  Besides it’s too late now.  I’ve already told Mr Jones and he trusts my judgement.”

 

More money.  More prestige but more stress and more work.

 

If Selena said you could do something you had better believe her. Compliments never exactly dripped from her lips.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

Her gaze held mine again. “Look at me Jane.  I’m the office freak.  I have spent almost twenty years of my life doing this job. Il’ be forty soon and I promised myself that Id be living my dream by then. I’ve had the money and the highflying job and now I’m downsizing and going off to South Africa with my fiancée.  He is a Doctor in a little beautiful war torn village and Il’ be teaching English.” She looked faraway as if she was already there. “I want what I do to count for something.”  Then she turned to me again. “So what do you say?”

 

I went home that day feeling a bit light headed. I had said yes.  I thought of little orphaned kids deprived of everything because of some senseless war and Selena Harper going in to sort everyone out and bring some kind of order.

 

Maybe she might end up teaching the UN something Image

 

 

 

 

Upstairs and Downstairs

I fill my lungs with air and expel – enjoying the tranquillity of a second, that turns to a minute, and then another and I close my eyes willing myself to sleep before the next onslaught, that shatters another night as I see sleep elude me again and I reach for the ear plugs and stick them as far as I can into my tymphanic membrane.

I think of James. We work together. He told me how he ended up in A&E one night because he rammed the ear plugs he brought to drown out the nocturnal noises of his neighbours, so far into his ears that he burst an ear drum.

I fiddle about with the thing in my ear, and catch the fraction of a moan followed by another and hear a deep voice that echoes and echoes round my room and pierces through my defences and my patience, already hanging by a sheer thread of resignation backed up by two years of silent embedded fury.

I went out and got myself a diary to record for posterity, for myself and for the officer at the housing, the different sounds and noises I had complained about. They wanted proof you see, just in case they needed to go to court.

I was so happy when I moved in here. I had been on the council waiting list for fifthteen years because I couldn’t find anyone that I liked enough to want to live with or have a baby with me. Besides Ive always been strange like that, wanting my own space, the ability to know exactly where I will find my toilet seat when I plonk myself onto it in the morning, that my toothpaste will not be strangled out of shape and my controls are exactly where I left them in the morning.

Don’t come visiting without telling me.

You see, I keep a mattress in my sitting room. I usually keep it under my bed for visitors but when the action gets going downstairs I set it up, so I can sleep. Sometimes the noise gets so much that it travels all the way upstairs, through the wooden doors and boards and the wall with the slightly peeling wallpaper that I have been meaning to change since I moved in. So I know when they are frying plantain, cooking a stew with garlic, or smoking weed.

I know when they wake up, when they go to the toilet, when they cook, wash clothes or mate. That is was what led me to take the course of action I did. I mean what would you do if your neighbour constantly put the washing machine on at 2am every day?

It’s these old houses. You hear everything, smell everything, and see everything about your neighbours. A lot of things you would rather not know. A lot of things they would rather you did not know.