I’m writing this on my birthday. My Special Day. You know, the sort of day when I always treat others to mini breaks at Lime Wood in the New Forest or to Michelin-starred meals at Locanda Locatelli and The River Cafe. To Burberry suits. Laptops. Rolex watches*. Today? I received: nothing, nothing, nothing.
Nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing.
I have got two emails: one from the Kennington Tandoori and one from my printer, telling me to switch on the wi-fi so it can order more ink.
Oooh! I’ve just had a WhatsApp from my oldest friend. It’s her birthday weekend, too. She has gone to Chewton Glen to celebrate with her family. I phoned the hotel a couple of days ago and asked them to put a bottle of champagne in her room. I’d love to arrive at a hotel and find a bottle of champagne and a man, both sweating.
I met this friend when we were both 18. We have never had a cross word, let alone fallen out. She was a drama student, I was studying journalism (shorthand, which I’ve never used, and the principles of hot metal type, now as out of fashion as, well, me). She was very glamorous: she drove a car, had Dallas hair and wore Maud Frizon pumps.
We’d go to the cinema every week: Alien, Close Encounters…, Star Wars. We went on a skiing mini break: she would glide down the mountain, hair caught in the wind, while I was confined to a very slow plough shape. While at the local disco, which we went to every night, I got off with a French boy. I brought him back to our chalet, and he tried to have sex with me, but I was too tense. He’d mumbled something crossly while attempting to ‘do it’. Later, I asked my friend what he’d said. ‘Oh, he said he felt like he was trying to deliver room service, knocking on a door…?’ I was so mortified I wouldn’t try again for over a decade.
A few years later, I made my friend go to the Jazz Café with me, and it’s there she met her husband, to whom she’s still married. She lives in the house she moved into when she left
home. She goes to the gym every Saturday and has lunch with her mum on a Sunday. She’s normal.
Unlike me. Although, when we met, all I wanted was a job – any job (I got one on the trade paper for Lyons Maid: it was called Lyons Mail and my first assignment was to visit a tea factory, for which I had to wear a white net cap; Vogue it most certainly was not). I also just wanted a boyfriend. I never aspired to own a house, a car, designer clothes, or to be famous. I wanted to get by. I’d grown up poor: on school trips, I never had money for the ‘extras’, like the two bob it cost to enter the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s cathedral. My only aspiration was to not be run over.
I was never jealous when I went to dinner with a friend and she lived in a mansion on Camden Square, or a loft in Hampstead. I was happy being a lowly serf on a magazine. I actually used to take lunch hours: I’d sit in Hyde Park with a cress bap from Cranks**. I used to get the giggles.
I’m trying to pinpoint when I stopped being normal. When my head was turned, when I started to expect nice things, and work became all-consuming. Even on my Special Day, I still check my emails every two minutes: refresh, refresh, refresh.
And I can’t help but wonder: has it been worth it? No. I’d have preferred a quiet life. I would love, now, to be in a posh hotel with a husband who’s loved me for 30 years. With a daughter. There would be some point to all the hard work.
Not much to show for a lifetime: one WhatsApp birthday message. Two awards. Not even a home I can call my own.
* I still want it back. Thanks.
** I really miss Cranks. When I arrived in London in the late 70s, this vegetarian restaurant was a revelation – I had no idea other vegetarians existed. I still dream about its tubs of macro rice and the homity pie (‘vomity’, my sister called it. And no, not a single
family member has even bothered to text).