It had been a hard morning at the gym made worse by my final session on the treadmill. Dylan’s Isis came up on shuffle, which I like. The song takes me on a journey, there are some juicy soundbites, my favourite being: ‘The snow it was outrageous,’ but it doesn’t last long enough. The tune that came up next was Scott Joplin’s The Entertainor – only four and a half minutes but it exhausted me keeping up with the bloody dancing piano.
I was ready for my Waitrose Coffee and banana.
I didn’t know there was worse yet to come.
Part of the ritual is choosing the banana, preferabley large and just touching ripeness. At the counter I’m always greeted with: ‘Your usual, sir?” which makes me feel grand, like I belong to a venerable gentleman’s club somewhere in the vicinity of St James’ Square. Admittedly there are no roaring fires or plush leather chairs, and the illusion lasts a mere second or two, longer if I close my eyes and slop coffee all over the place.
I sat near a window, giving me a view of Monnow Street and the bus station, which, to be honest, is geared more for stagecoaches. The question now was which to to first: peel the banana or open the newspaper.
At that moment, she spoke.
It was Princess Margaret or someone channelling her spirit.
I read somewhere recently that the late Princess had a distinctive diction, pronouncing ‘yes’ as ‘ears’ and ‘no’ as ‘nyah.’ Try it some time. It becomes quite addictive though everyone around you will think you a prick.
Anyway, one of those was sitting behind me, holding forth in voice like a corncrake only louder. In the space of twenty minutes I knew – along with half of Waitrose – her views on Brexit, her eldest child’s schooling—he’s dreadful at maths but he has a very poor teacher, and that she thought the recent tornadoes in the Americas were really quite dreadful.
I couldn’t understand how she was able to breathe and talk with such speed without the hint of a break. I wondered who she was talking to, and why the hell they didn’t say something, anything—like 'shut up woman'. I risked a casual glance round as though inspecting the air. Her companion was another woman who nodded a lot and occasionally brushed crumbs from her jeans.
Princess Corncrake possessed a toddler neatly encased in a pushchair . Like me, he was approaching the end of his tether and risked a small howl.
“Really, Jasper, that is quite unacceptable!” She threw him a crayon, one of a few she had on the table, and returned to commenting on the weather: ‘perfectly beastly for the coming weekend.’
Jasper, not unreasonably howled louder, which earned another rebuke. “Jasper, that is quite enough! You really must exercise more social control.” She spoke to him like he was a badly behaved dog, but used bigger words. ‘He can be a little anti-social at times,” she said by way of apology to her friend and the café in general.
When I got home I was asked the usual question. ‘Gym good?’
“Ears,” I said. “Waitrose, Nyah.” I started humming Earstoday and wondered what other songs might be similarly improved