The next post will be in or before Thursday July 20th
TINA’S SIN DRUM – a short story
It was mid-August when Jane McGrath informed me that her application for the much-deserved promotion in her teaching career was so urgent, that she couldn’t possibly meet me for at least a week, but to hang on in there at all costs, as she was so wondrously impressed by me and all that I had told her about myself. A few weeks before or it might have been a few weeks after that, another woman called Maggie Stour said she would have loved to meet me in town for an exploratory coffee but her senile Saluki, Reggie, who was 16 and severely diabetic, was in urgent need of TLC after a glandular op at the vets, so she couldn’t reasonably leave him in the lurch, but would stay by his cushion doing Guardian cryptic crosswords and giving him moral support in the same way she would have, had Reggie been a child, which as a matter of fact he was in all but species.
“Saluki?” I asked, trying not to sound too envious of Reggie’s TLC. “A Persian Greyhound? Why don’t you call him Rustam? And as an Iranian, how does he feel about living in Tooting Bec?”
At approximately the same time or it might have been a year or two before that, an interior designer called Fanny Bright said she would have loved to get to know me, but was just off for a month’s holiday in the Camargue with her girlfriend Gail, walking and cycling and boating and barbecuing and hopefully finding some authentic gypsy music among the cattle herders. She had always been nuts about Django Reinhard even though she knew he wasn’t from the Camargue because he was Belgian, and also crazy about flamenco star Paco de Lucia who had died young in 2014 and yes of course he wasn’t French either, but he was in the same mould was he not? Django Reinhard was a notorious womaniser and had two disabled fingers and Fanny wondered in her communication to me were the two things connected, not logically but imaginatively or even symbolically.
“I mean two knackered fingers and yet a great, an unsurpassed guitarist. Can you imagine how that makes any sensitive woman feel? You love the ghosts of the damaged fingers more than the healthy ones he has left. You identify with the ghosts yourself, you almost feel as if you are his two helpless fingers. Oh, I know it sounds whimsical and fey, I can’t put it into words. Well actually fuck it, I can, and I did. That’s me having my say. But look I’m so sorry I can’t meet you for a coffee for at least 6 weeks, you sound really bloody interesting, amazingly fucking interesting in fact, and there are so many dreary, incredibly quite impossibly half-baked bastards of men ready to waste your precious time if you’d bloody let them…”
Round about the same period, unless it were perhaps about five years earlier, Tina Reading was a busy bee as well and she inevitably struggled to find a free slot for me in her bulging diary. She laughed at her penchant for overwork, but the mirth was qualified as she had two very pressing health issues. For 10 years she had had ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, though not too severe, and indeed she held down a busy career as an ophthalmologist and managed to keep her symptoms at bay while at work. But of course. with all that obligatory repression, when Tina got home she crashed, flaked out and lay on her bed doing Observer cryptic crosswords and listening to Radio 4, the early evening quiz shows being the things she liked best. She loved that one with the good-looking very intellectual, very posh English blokes, John Walsh and Sebastian Faulks, with their encyclopaedic knowledge about literature (huge brains are so bloody sexy, there is simply no way of getting away from that) quite incredible, they even knew Bertie Wooster’s butler Jeeves’s Christian name and all about Jane Austen’s discarded juvenilia and all that kind of thing, and it almost made her forget about her bloody ME. That is, had there not also been the hideous and persistent lower spine problem, the chronic pain at the bottom of her back, which at times was more overwhelming and disabling than the chronic fatigue…
Tina Reading had a stern-faced old mother called Martha who was 98 and who lived with her in a granny flat annexe, even though Tina had no kids. Martha had more mobility than Tina had most of the time, and was not particularly sympathetic about the ME, though she accepted the lower spine problems as reasonable albeit retrospectively preventable had her daughter had any real gumption. Two years short of 100, Martha fearlessly lugged the dust bins out the front every Monday night in preparation for their emptying Tuesday mornings, and pointed out that if Tina did the same she might strengthen her spine and who knows even blow away the cobwebs of that wotsit of hers, her Permanent Knackeredness Sin Drum…
“For God’s sake. Don’t call it that, Mum. It’s so bloody undignified.”
“Eh? I only mean that bloody complaint thing of yours. Your Always Shaggedoutness Sin Drum. That Perpetually Buggeredness Sin Drum of yours. That Forever Feeling Really Fucked Sin Drum that you reckon you have.”
“Oh shut up Mum with your bloody Sin Drum!”
They were Martha’s appallingly inelegant paraphrases because she had worked in the saloon bar of a rough dockland pub for most of her life, so that the f-word and all passive verbs like shagged and buggered and knackered, two thirds of which were of course synonyms for coition, came as naturally to her as the air she breathed.
I liked all of these interesting and good-looking women very much and would have loved to have met any or all of all of them for a drink or a meal, but it was all sadly like an ironic and even crudely mocking dream where obstacles in the form of eternal and unvanquishable commitments inevitably supervened. I felt a sense of helpless and let’s face it irritable anguish as I contemplated their perpetual remoteness and harrowing unattainability, as if perhaps my life really was turning into a waking dream, and things and especially those things called women were always going to be unattainable and there was no such thing in the world as a nice lady who had a free evening, not next week nor next year, not next decade, nor next century nor next aeon, nor next Hindu yuga, but dammit tomorrow or even dammit tonight itself! Imagine that, I said to myself, quite breathless with excitement, bloody hell, imagine it, and I even added a louche profanity. Imagine, I conjured to myself, a woman who was available to see me tonight no matter what. Imagine that even if she had a string of cosmically important prior appointments she said to herself bugger it, I am going to meet him, that wonder boy, that hunk, that Lothario, that Abelard, that Jack Nicholson or Steve McQueen or Ronald Coleman or Gregory Peck in his younger days, no matter what… and let the world of tyrannical and ultimately crippling and never to be remembered on your sodding obituary responsibilities go bloody hang.
Fuck me, I said to myself at that glorious and wholly inconceivable mirage. Fuck me stiff.
Or as and according to taste.
And then I added a quaint if mordant anachronism: