Tuesday 19 March 2002

My father had a celebratory OBE lunch the other day. He invited 23 friends and family members to the local pub for a slap-up Sunday lunch. It was quite pleasant, not least because I'm happy that my father has actually got some friends. For as long as I can remember he has appeared to operate entirely in a social vaccuum filled by my mother's rambling stream-of-consciousness conversational style and occasional visits from more family-minded cousins.

I am concerned that the OBE has swollen his head quite substantially. Post-lunch coffee was hosted at my parents' house where the dining room had been turned into a shrine to my father's greatness. The OBE medal was there, surrounded by photos of the ceremony and an entire scrap book full of press clippings and letters of congratulation clearly made using Word's mail merge function. The reverently laid out dining room table was pushed back against the wall to provide floor space for prostrate worshippers.

Further, he had applied to get a family coat-of-arms (which are entitled to now) and only stopped when he realised it would cost GBP3500.

I fear for what I will find the next time I return home (henceforth to be known as Dring Manors). A butler perhaps, or a command to never turn my back on the newly esteemed head of household. Even more frightening is the knowledge that genetics and environment dictate he is exhibiting behaviours that I will inherit thirty years from now.

She phoned me the other night. We hadn't spoken for three weeks, because I've been waiting for the transition from thinking about not phoning her to not thinking about phoning her. It seems it may be a long way off yet.

She asked "are you happy?", which was an unusual question given the conversational context (Crufts or walking or something). Despite immediately answering yes it was a question that made me wonder for a good few days after the call.

If she's anything like me then she wanted two contradictory answers - I want to know that:

  • she's happy, because I want everyone to be happy

  • she's having the hardest time of her life, spending evenings crying floods of tears into a sodden pool in front of the TV and spending nights thrashing in a comfortless bed, staring with unseeing eyes at the darkness of the ceiling and falling endlessly into the darkness of her soul.

So I phoned her back and told her that was my interpretation of her question and that my answer was

  • I'm doing alright without her thanks very much

  • I miss her and think about her a lot

I find it all a bit bizarre that I can hold two contrasting views of how I feel (and I how I hope she feels) and even when I express them within three seconds of each other (or write them on the same page) my brain doesn't collapse and leave me lying on the floor controlled entirely by my reflex actions.

Which is a relief.

Wednesday 6 March 2002

Snowboarding in France last week. I'm rad and gnarly and I listen to Linkin Park.

Skiing holidays are wierd, they're a proper and complete break from the norm - I hardly thought about work all week - but they're more regimented than a normal working week. Up at 8, breakfast in the chalet served by London recruitment consultant/boarding dude chalet boy Barney or funny, dreadlocked Geordie/boarding dudette chalet girl Jen. Trudge through slush and ice to the kit shop, boards on, meet stereotypically stereotypical French boarding instructor "ze most important movement is wiz ze 'ips.. you must be like a sex masheen.". Board "you must remove ze brain". Pay 5 for a coke and pizza for lunch. Board "why you fall over so much, are you gay?". Sleep. Eat three course meal cooked by comedy Jen. Drink. Sleep. Repeat until twisted knee or severe stomach cramps force you to miss out on one aspect or another.

It's not even like you're experiencing a different culture, everyone speaks English, the Coke tastes the same, there's so much snow underfoot you can't tell whether they drive on the left or right. Any local with an an ounce of sense hires their place out over the winter and suns themself on the proceeds on a distant beach. It's more like All Bar One does a snow special.

And the wretched, relentless conversational topics, I'm guilty of it too, but the incessant talk of powder, edges and boots, red runs, green runs and off-piste, and all the continual witty banter about the difference between boarders and skiers left me gasping to talk about EastEnders and I don't even watch it. I did manage to talk about cars with someone though so I get high marks for conversational invention.

I had pressure put on me over the week. Five couples in a party of 12 left Jason and I as the token single men and hence duty bound to live life to the boarding max for the vicarious pleasures of the stay-at-home loved-up pairs. MUST drink more, MUST stay out later than the others, MUST pull, MUST be apparently impervious to pain.

I did drink more and did stay out late, and to complete the whole out of character experience, I even pulled a nice Belfast lass, but let myself down by being pole-axed by stomach pain and missing the final night out.

Still, now I've returned I am wishing I was there again - the quiet anticipation of the chair lift, the knee trembling beauty of the view from the top of the mountain, the board schussing smoothly over deep powder, the whiplash motion of my head during big spills, the end of day bruise comparison - it certainly beats Ipswich.

I went to Buckingham Palace the other week for my father's OBE investiture.

He had decided to do everything in a full, glorious, middle-England, Hyacinth Bouquet, "did I tell you I've got an OBE" kind of way. Which he's well within his rights to do. For once the tables were turned, I was all beaming, proud parent and he was chuffed child, I drew short of dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a damp hanky, leaving that to my mother who is genetically predisposed to such things.

He stayed at the RAF Club - effectively a swanky members only hotel facing over Green Park on Piccadilly - and hired a limo to take us all to the Palace. I stared at him when he mentioned the limo, my mind filled with visions of long, white American cars with too many doors, leopardskin seats and a drinks bar, smelling of adolescent vomit and Essex girl perfume. Fortunately my father is a man of some taste (proving that appearances can be easily deceptive - the waistcoat predilection surely leads most to believe that taste is something that happens to other people) and he'd hired a nice, posh, stretch Mercedes driven by a genuine East End gangster "just call me Terry".

Inside the palace, it was just like a palace. Lots of military flunkeys with shiny silver breast plates and big swords. Everything was red carpets, sky high ceilings, gold and mirrors. There was lots of formality and important people dressed in imposing uniforms and displaying perfect etiquette (although I wouldn't know perfect etiquette if someone spat it in my face).

The whole thing was a big West End style show too, the Queen came on stage flanked by Gurkhas looking exactly like Buttons from Ipswich panto and preceded by some beefeaters, apparently the oldest royal bodyguards in the world, and my, did they look it ((c) Norman Wisdom 1973). Then there was lots of official name calling and bowing and curtsying and the Queen made a lot of talking to the plebs style conversation with 100 people in 40 minutes.

Unfortunately the Queen let the whole show down by looking exactly like my Great Auntie Rosie from Tasmania, and I kept imagining her offering me Lincoln biscuits whilst talking about how great the Conservative party is and telling Uncle Tommy to smoke his pipe outside.

Although we all know that celebrity is the new royalty, the most famous person there (other than Queen/Auntie Rosie) was Rudolph Giuliani, which is cool in a "rebuild a city under the most horrendous circumstance" kind of way, but not as exciting as say Cameron Diaz or Brian from Big Brother.

The OBE itself is a small medal which appears to have no magical powers and doesn't even provide discounts at popular museums and tourist attractions like your basic Blue Peter badge, although it does apparently entitle me to get married in St Pauls Cathedral. My father seemed pleased with it anyway.

The Queen was on speed through the ceremony and finished a good half an hour early, she just buggered off after it was done and left us to make our own way out of the building with nary a complimentary sandwich nor cup of milky tea to fortify us against the cold. Once outside we enjoyed the fact that a good few hundred tourists were staring at us and presumably imagining us to be extremely important, and then had Terry drive us around town for 45 minutes. He wasn't the best tour guide, but did point out where he'd mugged various people, and how lovely the Kray's were.