Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Kate and the Motorcar

Prompted by concerned readers of Kate in the Countryside, I ditched Baz the too-friendly driving instructor. Things were getting serious now with my driving test so soon. Also I was struggling to cope with the stress of Baz's fluctuating moods (dictated - as far as I could tell - by his coffee + cigarette intake, as well as whether he'd had much success on Angry Birds lately). 

Granted, the Driving Test is something that many seventeen-year-olds overcome with ease. But at my advanced years, I could only fear it. 

Lohan attends
Driving Test
So when the morning of the test arrived, I went for a lengthy distracting run and spent an hour or so deciding on a jacket and skirt combo, (court appearance attire) to fully acknowledge the solemnity of the occasion. 

Off to the test centre we drove - getting lost on the way when I took the wrong turning from the A406. For reasons still unclear to me, I was taking the test somewhere halfway to Scotland called Borehamwood. It's a quiet and leafy suburb which frankly made my jaunts up to Marble Arch dodging homicidal maniacs seem a bit unnecessarily Real World.

I tend to talk fast and to excess when nervous. My poor new driving instructor smiled benevolently as we waited for my test somewhere that was a soothing cross between a doctor's waiting room and a detention centre. 

Soon Derek the Driving Examiner processed out of his Driving Examiner Lair: 'Kate Mason?'

KitC: 'That's me!' 

I agreed with everything Derek said to the point of hysteria. (D: 'Good weather we're having eh?' KitC: 'Good? Great more like! BRILLIANT weather!') When he asked me to complete 'Turn in the Road' (three point turn to you and me) I thought all my luck had come at once. The easiest one!
Enough said
It was a rather narrow road. 'Hope I only need three points to my turn eh?' I joked, desperately. Derek looked blank.

'Proceed when ready,' he intoned.

In no time at all I was sweating and shaking as I grappled with steering wheel and gearstick. I checked my mirrors so much I mostly forgot to move.  This I teamed with an onslaught of driving-related jokes in an attempt to charm Derek. It didn't work. He was uncharmable.

At last, it was all over. Back at the test centre, dear old Derek passed me. Then, summoning my instructor to listen, he harrangued me for my inane commentary during my appalling turn in the road: 'It was irrelevant. You did too many points.' etc. I tried in vain to explain that I'd been attempting jokes. He didn't buy it. 

I fled back to Hanger Lane (Where? I have no idea) to catch the tube back to the Pad. There, I was so overcome with relief and adrenaline at being no longer L that I struck up conversation with a mother and daughter waiting on my platform. Luckily, they were Australian and seemed to think such friendly tube chatter was normal, rather than fleeing in fear, as I'd expected.

By the time the train arrived, we were old friends. They asked why I wasn't at work today. I explained (with pride) that I'd just passed my driving test. They were baffled. 'Oh OK. But you're twenty-three right?' asked the sixteen-year-old daughter, looking confused and perhaps a little superior. She - of course - was already driving. Last time I make conversation on the Underground. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

A Valuable Lesson

Enough said.
Learning to drive when you're twenty-three is a fairly humiliating experience all round. As Pimlico Chap pointed out the other day [not to be confused with Pimlico Guru - they don't get on. It's a smaller place than you'd think, London]: 'You have to learn to drive soon Kate, otherwise imagine it - you'll end up like one of those chavvy birds in council houses who are kept at home by their husbands because they can't go anywhere by themselves.' An odd and terrifying thought - but compelling.

So I took my Theory Test (again - turns out these things expire) and acquired a driving instructor (again - as above). And what an instructor old Baz turned out to be.

Driving in London is terrifying enough let me tell you, without the addition of a libidinous middle-aged sleazeball beside you providing a running commentary about 'the women' and his astonishing hit rate with them.

'Wow Baz, amazing,' I'd contribute, at half-hour intervals.

And, while I don't think I'm a bad driver (not in comparison with the others in Central London anyway), it is pretty off-putting when the man responsible for your safety spends half of your 90-minute slot playing Angry Birds in the passenger seat, and the other half expletively wondering how you managed to get lost / kill that granny.

He also seems to have some offensively strong addictions.

Baz: Let's stop for coffee then.

Kate in the Countryside: No thanks.

B: I'll buy you one.

KitC: No thanks.

B: Oh go on, we've been going for ages. O look - there's a Starbucks!

(KitC silent)

B (leaping from car): I need to smoke OK!

So I follow him across to Starbs where he makes an extended charade of his generosity in buying me my own personal latte. I am grateful. Or I would be - except I don't really want one. I want to learn to drive. I have friends for the latte thing.

Baz engages in some prolonged banterous repartee with the Starbucks ladies. I can't tell if this is for my benefit or theirs. No one seems to be enjoying it much. Except Baz.

As we leave, Baz explains. 'Those girls! What are they like?! They think I have so many girlfriends! (Modestly) Yes - I know. And I tell them "No girls, I'm a driving instructor" but they just won't believe me!'

Conversation like that money just can't buy. Oh wait.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Celebration in the Pad (Pretty Neighbour Part 2)

This episode sees Kate and BOF ensconced in the flat of Pretty Neighbour (PN), having established that Dan (‘the competition’) is not of boyfriend persuasion, and that he has moved out. We have learned Other Neighbour's name (Daisy) but PN's remains elusive.

Prepare yourself for a display of miraculous cunning.

Suddenly, PN's front door opens. 'Daisy's home,' PN explains. ‘Daisy! Hey! Kate and BOF came over because their water's not working next door! And look [running tap] - nothing here either!'

'Oh no! I was going to have a bath. Thanks so much for letting us know guys,' Daisy says, little suspecting our ulterior motive. (Probably.) ‘Good day hun? [to PN].'

['Hun'? Oh great. What good was that to us? (Unless 'Hun' is her name - in which case very good. But it seemed unlikely.)]

We chatted in their kitchen for ten minutes, outstaying our welcome, telling endless stories that included one another's names in the hope that we would spark something similar from them. Yet still nothing.

Fearful prospect: a Residents Meeting
It was getting to the point when I thought we’d actually have to go to one of those residents meetings to resolve the Nameless Flatmate Issue, when I had a brainwave.

‘Hey, do you want to see our Pad? Now we’ve had the tour here I mean.'
PN (ever enthusiastic): 'Yeah! that'd be great.'

We traipsed next door to find Bofles and Max a little neglected, discussing water mains like old folk.

'Bofles, Max - meet our neighbours!'
'Hi, I'm Daisy.'

I will leave you to imagine the feelings of delight and achievement this moment produced. Not only did PN’s name imply exactly the sort of fragile drama school type that BOF so loves, but Tallulah's introduction also meant we wouldn’t have to brave a residents meeting. It was as much as we could do to keep our highfiving imagined.

And there was better to come. Soon we were all discussing the building’s problem with damp and 'our local' like characters from Eastenders.

The parting triumph was BOF's alone. ‘Guys, I'm so sorry we couldn't offer you tea,' he remarked gallantly. 'Perhaps another day, when the water's back on? Perhaps next weekend?'

'A deal,' Tallulah and Daisy agreed. 'Also if you know of anyone looking for a place to live - we've got a spare room now Dan’s left.'

‘Max is!’ I volunteered excitedly, thinking it might be a little transparent to suggest BOF.
'Er' (Max)
'OK, great well speak to you soon.'
And they left.

You know that scene in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant the hopeless-bookshop-owner leaves his friends' house with Julia Roberts the film star character and his friends all celebrate? It was like that.

Bofles looked on perplexed and Max, fearful of being pimped out to two women he didn't know (no matter how pretty), fled.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Pretty Neighbour Returns (Part 1)

A mere trifling tea stash
You'd have thought that a week containing a ferry ride, driving lessons and a visit from the briefly-employed brother of BOF, Bofles, would be the highlight of Kate in the Countryside for months to come. No longer.

It was about half past ten the other night when we discovered, on seeking tea, that - though we had nearly fourteen different kinds of tea - we were lacking in tap water. There was none. It dribbled noncommittally from the cold tap before expiring.

Google tells me this is mould.
I've seen worse
Other than Bofles, Max, a BOF school-friend, was round for supper. Max has recently returned from India so we had invited him over to inspect our palatial dwelling. A combination of circumstances meant that Max had been greeted by a lack of loo roll, some gently moulding flowers in the sitting room and an overflowing bin in the middle of the kitchen floor. It was something like domestic cleanliness Cluedo. 

Though I think Max initially believed our claims that we were entertaining him like this to make sure the culture shock wasn't too great, by the time the water ran out he was clearly wishing himself back in Bengal. 

Decisive action was needed. BOF and I looked blankly at each other while Bofles nipped between bathroom and kitchen, trying taps and exclaiming his amazement when the result from each was the same. 

'You know what you guys should do,' Max offered helpfully, 'you should go and see if they've got water next door.'

BOF and I looked at each other, excitement replacing angst.

Regular readers of Kate in the Countryside may remember our feeble attempts to learn Pretty Neighbour's name when we first moved in months ago and, more importantly, the attempts to forge romance between Pretty Neighbour and BOF. Here, at last, was both the pretext and the moment. 

We were out of the Pad in seconds [stopping only to check BOF's hair]. 

Tentatively we knocked. No answer. Bit louder. No answer. Then 'One minute!' from within - the cheery tones recognisable even through the door. BOF looked as though he would flee. But then she was there! Pretty Neighbour herself.



(This was harder than expected. We hadn't even got to the point where BOF used this nocturnal visit as a springboard into a date.)

'Hi. There's no water coming out of our taps. We came to see if you had any! You can have some sugar in exchange!' We joked feebly.

'Oh no, poor you! Let's check. Do come in - Daisy's out tonight. [Yes!] And Dan's moved out.'

'Oh yes we wondered why we hadn't seen him about for a while,' we lied. [Thinking, 'Dan? A thwarted love interest?'] 'So where's he living now?'

'Well, Dan's moved in with his boyfriend.'

Dan, so long feared Pretty Neighbour's boyfriend, was emphatically cut from the picture. One obstacle down. All that  remained was to learn her name. And to commit her to that date.

To be continued....