The Cat’s Away

The Cat’s away.

A short play.

June 2016:

The saints and all the deities are busy on earth, conducting a review of the impact of a decade of human activity. While St Peter and God are in the UK and Jesus is in the Far East, reviewing life on earth, Mary, God’s mum and her daughter in law, Mary Magdalene (MM) catch up.

 

 

Knock Knock.

 

MM: Coo-ee. MarySenior? Are you decent?

 

Mary – Don’t stand on ceremony love. Come in, Come in. The door’s on the latch love.

 

MM – Blimey, Holy Mother of God. You’ve started early. The yard arms hardly over the whatnot – not by a long chalk. I’ve only just had my lunch.

 

Mary – You young people can be so damned sanctimonious. Pour yourself a glass -and take a pew. It’s a lovely little drop of Sancerre Peter was kind enough to send up – duty free. Picked it up in Calais on their way over – that’ll all change now. All that Referendum malarkey. What does that tell you about Darwin and all that evolution nonsense. They’ve hardly the sense they were born with They’re devolving at the speed of light. Poor God. I’ve just had her on the phone.

 

MM – At least she rings. If there’s a fault, and I know you won’t mind me saying – I’m sure, well, you know, Men. I only hear from your lovely son when he wants something. Picks up the phone once in a blue moon else – but, well, there are worse faults. Anyway. You’ve heard from Pete then. (Ooo, this is a lovely drop – nothing wrong with the Loire – tell God, if you speak to her. She’ll need bouying up – she got that bit of geography absolutely spot on – lovely.) You must be ever so proud – except, well – I’m a bit out of date, me. There’s a whisper going round accounts, that Matthew, ooo he does go on – something about the exchange rate – economy on its ear – What’s the latest. Mum? Any news?

 

Mary: That’s why I’m on the sauce. You know what they say. You’re only as happy as your most miserable deity – something like that and, well, honestly. I’m, ooo dear – pass those tissues love, there’s a dear. I’m not sure I can cope with much more.

 

MM: Here, have a top up – go on – there you are. Now. Don’t let it get to you. You remember the last time? They always have a bit of a wobble in the first few weeks down there – and a decade’s a long time – stuff changes, doesn’t it? They’ve got to get into their stride. It’ll come right, I promise you Mary Mum. They’re naughty really, even breathing a word – I mean, there’s nothing you can do – can’t even pray in a recess. You’ve got enough on your shoulders up here what with all that business with Luke and John – all that nasty business over Mohammed and, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind betting that Nick’s got something to do with it all – this year’s been nothing but bloody infighting – I tell you I smell a rat. They’ll sort it Mum, won’t they now? Have a bit of faith – I know it’s hard but, well, we’ve been here before, we’ll be here again.

 

Mary: Well I’m not so sure. She’s talking of throwing the towel in altogether. Peter’s at his wits end – it’s not doing their relationship any good at all and you know what God’s like when she feels under threat – loses the plot all over the place. Peter’s been asking me to have a word with the Holy Ghost about it – see if we can’t get her some Prozac or something just to see her through you know, because if it does all go tits up and it really is the end of the world – well you know – she’s going to take it hard – I know she will. They’re talking about coming back early – well they can’t – look at this lot – you know I like to have a bit of a do round – a proper do I mean – I’ve got my nets down, sofa covers in the dry cleaners and I’m not even letting you in the kitchen.

 

 

MM: Mines just the same. I spent the whole day yesterday defrosting that massive walk in freezer Jesus picked up in the Soviet Union when they went back to cremating their dead in a day. God knows what all those little bags of this that and the other were secreted in the back of it – if there’s one thing I’m sick of asking Jesus to do, and his dad, now mum number two – ooo I do find the terminology baffling – I just wish God would label things properly – and while I’m on, well – I’m all for the extended family, you know, course I am, we love our afternoons and a bit of Countdown don’t we?

 

Mary: Course we do love – it’d break my heart if you moved away…

 

MM: but there’s limits and I think really God ought to realise, now we’re you know married – well, in a civil partnership – you don’t want your gender realigned mother – once – father, God, popping in willy-nilly to pick up a bag of last year’s turkey stock on a whim. I’ve asked Jesus I don’t know how many times – would he have a word? – tell her we want her key back? but he feels so uncomfortable with it all. Anyway, Mum, don’t you worry your head dear. It’s early days. They’re not about to throw the towel in yet are they?

 

Mary: Well they might – and maybe that’s no bad thing. There’s no point flogging a dead horse is there? The Europeans they don’t know they’re bloody well born; the Brits just take the bloody biscuit – and short of mixing it up a bit and sending them all off to Bagdad (did you see that in the paper yesterday?)

 

MM: No joking matter. Yes. Well no. Well maybe it’s time. Humankind – gift horse – mouth – words that come to mind. Poor Jesus – poor God -and yes, you are so right You’re so right – so right –

 

Mary: but do try Mary Mags. You know how fond I am but – try and give Jesus a little bit of rope love. He didn’t have the easiest of beginnings – oh I know, I know. It was tricky for you too – you were lucky you found each other I know – and I really couldn’t wish for a better daughter in law – you know that don’t you pet? You know I think the world of you love, don’t you?

 

MM: back handed compliment that … Only joking. No. Yes. You’re right Mum. It’s just, you know, when they’re all off on a jolly, it’s nice to get a bit straight and, well, you know – I’m sure you feel the same. Sometimes you think, Jesus, you know. What do they call it down there?

 

MM and Mary: ‘Me time!’

 

MM: Me time. That’s the one. I just want to be able to put my feet up, watch the Xfactor, crack open a bottle of Proseco and know that when I turn round the place won’t look like a bloody bomb’s hit it. And I don’t want him made redundant, home all the time, getting under my feet but well, we all know what he’s like. He’ll not be still for long will he?

MM and Mary gaze into space.

Little Chef.

Little Chef.

God and St Peter had been in The Little Chef on the Oxford bypass for quite some time, in the hope that their journey might be a little less frustrating once the Friday afternoon traffic had abated. Besides, they’d both developed a bit of a taste for coffee; it was one of the things they’d most enjoyed last time they’d visited Earth for a reckie. Rome. Very nice, although, as Pete observed, the Italians would rather drink their own piss than the filth served up in The Little Chef. But anyway. It passed the time and the extended stay had enabled them to sample an all day breakfast, which filled a gap.

‘I can’t quite believe that’s an egg,’ said God.

‘Tell me about it.’ said Pete, pushing his plate away. ‘Shall we make a move?’

‘I’m just going to pop to the er, you know,’ murmured God.

‘Powder your nose?’ quipped Pete.

‘That’s the one.’

As God wove between plastic seating and marauding, displaced ketchup-ed kids with slappy-mums and pot-bellied dads – absent or otherwise, still in God’s sights – St Peter gathered possessions together (God was forever mislaying their iphone) and gawped at the bill, quite appalled. This trip was costing the earth. Peter blamed Brexit and Borris, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove but then St Matthew in accounts had warned God the exchange rate would plummet, to an all time low he’d said, but no. Poor Matt got the usual routine, ‘Trust in Me. Just have faith.’ But there you go. Ten years. Same old story. God had always been crap with money.  It was just one of those things. Peter folded the receipt carefully, tucking it away for their expenses claim; there was no point moralising about it all, not now.  Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose and all that.

God paused to assist a former transvestite, now a trangendered woman who’d got her sleeve caught on the decorative soap dish beneath the Dyson dryer.

‘Ooo, thanks Love’ said Transgendered. ‘What would I have done if you hadn’t come along? I don’t know. I just couldn’t manage it with only two hands. If you ask me we should have been born with four arms, not just two. Perhaps we’ll evolve.’

‘Evolve?’ pondered God. ‘Four arms? Good idea’ and she made a note to herself just in case she were ever tempted to start the whole damned thing all over again.

‘Have a nice day, Sweetheart’ said Transgendered.

‘You too. We’ll meet again.’ said God.

‘Well you never know Love. I’ve met some of my very best friends in the loo.’

‘Mind the step,’ cautioned God, moving on, checking each of the three cubicles for paper before sitting down. She’d been here long enough not to assume other users had care for the next, sad as it was. And that floor. There was no way she was going to let her one-piece touch a tile of it if she had any power left at all. She levitated over the seat.

‘Ready to hit the road oh divine one? Murray mint? Take the taste away?’ offered Pete, gesturing towards the Silver Corsa they’d hired for their tour. God popped a Murray mint between her lips, careful not to smudge the blush-rose lippy that had come with her Elle magazine.

‘Onwards and upwards, Saint Peter. Let’s hit the road. Will you drive?’

‘You’re the boss.’

‘To my shame,’ said God and for once she’d been right. The traffic had eased and they found the remaining few miles between Oxford and Reading passed in no time at all.

Parking was a bit of a bugger but the Butts Centre was easy to find, the Holiday Inn just next door, so there was just time for a bit of a freshen-up before pre-dinner drinks and the decade’s review. It was chilly in the bar, for June. St Peter sent God back up for a cardie while he checked round the lobby for Nick. There he was.

‘Nick’

‘Pete.’

‘How you doing? Ok?’ Old Nick surveyed Peter. Being nice wasn’t really Nick’s thing.

‘Jesus Christ on a crucifix, mate. You’re starting to look your age. Buggered in fact. She takes the piss, does God. No union, holiday pay – well, no bloody holiday at all. I wasn’t about to be stupid enough to stick around for millenia letting myself go to seed. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Still, I can’t say I don’t feel quite smug. And the offer’s still there though, mate. Soon as you’re ready, the job’s yours. Like I said to Gabriel, poor sod. Last visit. Last decade. I said, ‘Gabes, mate; if you’re sick of it, I’m your man. You’ll wake up and smell the coffee sooner or later’ – not that instant stuff you’re rewarded with for serving at her right hand, day, night and bleeding Christmas. No, no no. Pure Arabica; none of your rubbish, you’ll not find that shite down below. Anyway. How is old Gabriel? You needn’t tell, but honestly – well you know. Honesty’s not really my thing but, you know, TBH as they say on the old book of the face – my idea – not Hers – social media’s got my name all over it, don’t you know? Yeah, to be honest can’t say I don’t miss the old crew. Still got the hots – the fire – the passion indeed for Gabriel. He was a go-er and some, before, you know. The fall. The rise. Call it what you will.’

Nick had always been chatty, charismatic, psychopathic some said, but St Peter was losing his edge. He’d had quite enough of giving his all just for now. It had been starting to take its toll,  God’s dreadful neurosis, anxiety and I suppose, if we’re calling a spade what it is, God’s depression really was starting to grind Peter down. He wondered if he ought to have a word with The Holy Ghost about it. Apparently Ghostie’d decided to resurrect his practice in Deistic Psychotherapy and the conversations in the traffic jam that afternoon had, if we’re going to tell the truth (and Pete still had a hunch that he should), well – it had been on the tip of his tongue to tell Her she really ought to go and have a word with someone about it. Guilt you know. It can debilitating and regrets just weren’t worth the candle. Not at this stage. It was what it was. End of.  Yes, it was a mess but in the end. Well. It just hadn’t worked. World peace was a pipe dream and really, although we all knew she’d meant to create something beautiful, it had all gone tits up and that was that. On and on and on and on. All the way from Norfolk and beyond. ‘If only this, if only that. My mother this, my mother that. The crushing shame of it all.’ It was time God got a grip.

Realising she’d left her cardie in the Corsa, once she’d ransacked the hotel room, muddling shoes, stockings, cables for the lap top, this that and the rest of it, (for which she was sure to get the silent treatment from Pete – the cold-shoulder routine – later on), God navigated a newly digitised lift and went up and down seven times before finally escaping on the top floor and risking a rope-free abseil from the roof to the car park below, giving St Peter and Old Nick time to get through their first pint of Stella (or ‘The Wife’, as Nick called it, to produce a peau-faced-P.C.-grimace on St Peter’s smarmy lips) since it was rumoured it was Pete and not God who had come up with the notion of equality way, way, way back then in the day and that he’d been thoroughly pissed off with the Celestial Referendum when female emancipation had been withdrawn from Browndavia or whatever the fuck it was called before all that rebranding following the… boring, let’s get on. They gossiped. Nick wet himself with glee. Pete explained:

 

‘She, God that is, yeah.’ The Stella was taking its toll. ‘It’s the guilt. She’s right though. Easy enough, isn’t it, bolting the door once the horse has bolted. Her Mum, She was right, She should’ve listened. The old girl had warned Her, quite clearly, ‘seven days is not enough. You’ll need eight, maybe nine’, but she knew what God was like. We all did. Reckless. Foolhardy. It’s all very well, that ‘being in the now’; the long game’s never been God’s thing and She’s no eye for detail. No foresight, none at all and now look! Well! I’m glad I’ve not got that crushing burden resting on my saintly shoulders. What a fucking mess. It’s no wonder She can’t get to sleep, and the dreams’ whinged St Peter as God drifted silently to settle beside them at the bar, bedecked in a fluffy pink cardigan that was a complete mismatch with the wrap-around green silk number Pete had said was more mutton than lamb. And the Channel No. 5. It stuck in the back of your throat.

‘Nick. Peter. Sorry,’ shaking hands,  ‘lost my woolly. Quite a day. Need a drink. Top up lads? It’s my round.’

 

Cherry Coombe. June 2016

Like

My kids have grown up and are usually somewhere else. I’m aware of the stereotypes: my son sends photographs and news of things that happen out of the blue, like fabulous sunsets and motorbike crashes; my daughter and I fill cyberspace with the minutiae of daily life, privately via this, that and Whatsap and in public where everyone else does. And as I was brushing my teeth this evening I had a bit of an epiphany.

My daughter is here for a while, with my grandaughter, and life is full of the nitty gritty of teething and tables with sharp corners. Evening meals punctuate uncertain reprieves, when my daughter and I do what we otherwise do on Whatsap, face to face. But as I was brushing my teeth I had an epiphany.

I have always despised the idea that I might metamorphose, get out of my arm-chair and unleash ‘Ernest Me’  – banning children from watching television and allowing a moustache to flourish along with a love of board games and general knowledge. As a child, I was terrified by others’ pushy parents, who tested visitors’ children on the names of the composers playing from the new stereo, lifting their G&Ts. They were the sort who had complicated conversations about geography and politics over cheese and coffee. They knew where everything came from. Some families had a ‘topic of the week’. But someone was always in charge, especially in the homes of the Doctors and Dentists (all I knew were men then), the men were in charge and they’d choose the questions and topics, as far as I could see. I didn’t realise then. It’s something teachers understand. It’s easy to feel comfortable with something you know about so it stands to reason that if you are in charge of choosing the music, you’ll know the name of the composer. I grew up thinking I was a bit dumb. I can choose the questions now.  I had a bit of an epiphany while I was brushing my teeth.

I thought: perhaps my daughter and I should choose something that we are gripped by that has nothing to do with our usual menu of natter and, on alternate days, take it in turns to do the after dinner spot. Then of course I thought of those families that play board games (and of the newsfeeds on which she, the rest of the world and I debate and argue about stuff we are interested in) and I had a bit of an epiphany. Even though we are currently in the same country, the extended virtual networks, however virtual or imaginary, are now part of a social community that does not move, even when individuals move. So the conversations that are public and private continue online whether or not they feature as our ‘topic of the week’ after supper. It may simply be that the discourse, created by and creating the users of social media, enters the room silently as two people decide against coffee. It’s neither visible nor tangible. And it may have just the same impact as the discourse created by and creating individuals’ and groups’ sensed, shared experience.

If asked to choose a ‘topic of the week’ I might sift through the causes and statements I’ve ‘liked’ or ‘favourited’ on facebook and twitter to remind myself what’s moved me.  I realise I wouldn’t ‘like’ many entries if ‘like’ meant ‘I am going to make this my topic of the week’ and I had to research whatever for a week. In truth I am more likely to discuss the things I do not like and grow increasingly gloomy in the process. In many ways it’s a blessing that, increasingly, the weightier matters my virtual friends and I discuss occupy cyberspace more often than they do the kitchen table. Coincidentally, unless perhaps a form of desocialisation derives from hyper-cyber-actvity – move over AD-HD – in which case, consequently, I usually find it easier to ‘like’ the albums showing parties I’ve attended than I do the events themselves.

And as epiphanys go, it’s gone and I can’t remember how far I’d got along the tooth brushing process and I can’t decide whether I should brush once more. But I do know, I’d like parties to stay in cyberspace and conversation to take up residence in everybody’s home.

Happy.

I watched this:

#stratfordeastsingershttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_HC_TaaHHs&feature=youtu.be

It’s the Stratford East Singers’ entry in the Naked Singing competition on the Beeb tonight. And it’s uplifting. It’s unashamed in its religious drive and that’s what makes me shy away.

But that’s an excuse, really. Arguing. These singers are acting out their idea. The idea that they are part of something bigger than themselves – bigger even than the choir – touched the audience and reached Tinternet (thank you #PeterKaye) in a Nanasecond*.

I’ve spent a lot of my life complaining. I’m very good at ‘yes but’ and dredging up the darker possibility from my imagination. I used to say that I would never fall in love again in the same way that my mother swore she’d never have another dog. ‘Because they die, darling’. And then I fell in love again.

This time I really had no choice at all and I never intended to become pathetic. Like all previous loves, this one is costing me a fortune but the rewards are much better and the shops are more fun.

I’m a Granny.

*A Nanasecond is the measurement of time (somewhere between 0.25 and 0.75 of a second) it takes a Grandmother to upload #granspam and #instagran cute pics. A Banosecond is the equivalent length of time it takes for Netgranny to spring into action.

Love makes fools of us all.

I have always found it odd that people are surprised I am quite good at cooking. I think that if you have cooked about two meals a day for half a century for a lot of fussy eaters, you should be able to produce a delicious meal without burning the spuds. I mean this. I am quite judgemental really. Thus, by the same logic it follows that if you get to 59 and you don’t know which side your bread is buttered (and how to give up listening to those stories about ‘if only you’d not burnt them last week and what if you burn them next week?’) if you get that far and you haven’t realised that while you have been worrying about the spuds you have been letting the spaghetti clog up the drain and so now the sink’s overflowing,  you’re probably missing the best bits of life. So I am going to be mindful about that and neither burn the spuds or clog up the sink but enjoy an omlette.

What’s happening, right now, is actually enough. And today, right now, I’m happy.

And if we could all sing, perhaps the world would grow, from the centre of Stratford East and outward, into a decent place to live.

Thank you #stratfordeast #bbc

 

 

Fact

Today I met a Norwegian woman who teaches 17-30 year old refugees, shipped like sardines on boats, who have found a home in Norway. She works with people from Syria and Afghanistan, many of whom have had little or no education but all have stories to tell. She told me one or two and here’s a fact.

As the boats approach the coast, silence must fall on board but babies won’t fall silent of their own accord. The people smugglers administer sleeping potions and the babies fall asleep but some, perhaps three on each failing craft, never wake up again.

These lost souls are not photographed but simply buried on arrival.

The press do not tell us these tales.

Don’t tell me their parents should never have left home in the first place.  I heard stories, far worse, of what they’d left behind. Their courage and resilience is not mine. I imagine I might, quite simply, kill myself and not dare to try to find my family somewhere safe to grow.

 

Fear

Born in 1956, with parents and grandparents who had a peculiar secret past, I had a swing, hanging from a wobbly plum-tree over a treacherous rough terrace of brittle flint. There hours passed in changing forms of light but when the sky filled with the dark grey carcophony of low flying planes, another’s terror of another arrested me, hurrying me down grazed-knee steps to the comfort of my mother’s beating heart.

Later, in a school made from the same rough stone, Hugh, Gill and I read of totem-poles and terrifying human sacrifice and later, straying from national trust paths through tall twisted grasses, we heard imaginary drums punctuating the silence, beating out the rhythmn of our own ritual burnings.

When my brother went to London, where my sister lived, he’d become an exhibit in Central London’s hot-spots, a sitting duck behind street facing sheets of plate-glass, refusing to be cowed by the troubles’ real and threatened angry, violent blasts, that he might horrify his family over Sunday lunch.

By the time I’d finished school, and enjoyed 18 years of post-war peace, I had witnessed violent erruptions between: Catholics and Protestants; mods and rockers; skinheads and punks; greasers and rockers; Enoch Powell and the rest of the world; Greenham Common protestors and the establishment; anti-plastic milk bottle campaigners and Clifford’s Dairies (Henley);   ban the bombers and ban the ban the bombers; football ‘hooligans’ and ‘victims’ of ‘football violence’ and myriad other coflicts between one side and another including those who seemed regularly to lose and win elections.

Threats were evident in grand narratives such as the post apocalyptic – there was a terrifying repeated ‘after the bomb’ tale; threats to social order were phrased in terms of reds in beds and terrifying ideas derived from eugenics circulated by Enoch Powell; personal failure might, similarly, derive from falling under the power of some ‘external’ influence and exposing a weakness such as becoming addicted to drugs, contracting VD or conceiving a child – all of which involve some form of boundary crossing.

Growing up involved boundary crossing of course and yet, equally, not allowing others to cross the line.  Any failure to disallow another to cross the line, any form of intrusion, represented a form of failure for the one intruded upon, the weaker party, the one who had allowed the invasion.

I left home with a ruptured and tenuous sense of innoculation from a troubled outer world.

A cult was on the cards. – A grand narrative promised an alternate exoticism and yet compounded division, shattering dreams of an integration.

Later, the see-saw returned me to a ‘norm’ in fractured 80’s Britain.

Married, fractured bones shattered  dreams.

I divorced the first man I fell for, hook, line and sinker, on grounds of his irrational behaviour and encountered the wrath of those who were more invested than I in his public face, and my own. It was evident that others’ views had very little to do with what was. Romeo and Juliet’s sad story might well have inspired Capulets and Montagues to drop their feud but after an optimistic second bite of the cherry, I found that becoming a widow made me somehow accountable for disturbing the peace. The audience, longing for a happy romance, turn their dark faces towards the stage and jeer, venomous disappointment spilling into graves full of dreams, fearful and exposed.

Conflict rather than burning out, levelling as communication extends and matures or so we imagine, rages on in extremis and magnifies. Current others, to be feared we are told, even if we are in fact one of ‘the others’, since these ‘others’ are brainwashed beyond reason and should therefore fear themselves as much as those who are not ‘others’ fear ‘them’, sound, on reflection, just like the ‘others’ these ‘others’ are hoping to live with in Europe: frightened, lost and clinging to meaning.

Frightened. Lost. Clinging to meaning.

I am frightened. lost and constantly involved in the business of making meaning – writing a life – inventing a space – hopeful that, soon, that space between oppositions might gain an audience.

Fear is not a very good idea my dear – I fear. Oh dear. I fear this fear will kill us Dear – I fear. Oh, Dear.

Blogography

Damage limited, I move between friends who talk of dementia and the cost of care and the wi-fi life which beats my heart, keeping me in touch with my kids and the rest of the world – there, here and somewhere else. Flickering screens speak of fences in Calais and Kent and present a photograph of Pluto. ‘I don’t know’.