Pad Life 16: The Rock of Reality
Little Cat and I were having a conversation the other day.
She looked up from washing her whiskers. ‘Have you given up on that Pad Life thing?’
‘No. Not as such.’
‘Not as what then, if not such?’
‘As in every time I sit down to write something light hearted and vaguely absurd, I can’t think of anything more absurd than what’s actually going on at the moment. My slight talent to amuse has foundered on the rock of reality.’
‘I think you’d better get writing,’ said Little Cat. ‘Anything’s better than you sitting at the desk listening to Music That Meant Something When You Were In Your Teens, and coming out with metaphors that even the sixteen-year-old you would have found pretentious.’
‘You didn’t know me when I was sixteen.’
‘Looking at that metaphor, thank Christ,’ said Little Cat.
Previously on Pad Life: The Princess packed in her horrible job at a horrible care home, and within two weeks got a new and enjoyable job at a local leisure complex. She gets the same money, but instead of dealing with suicide attempts and self-harming, she’s handing out clubs for the crazy golf and trying to persuade people to ‘go large’ with their chips. Obviously they will very definitely go large if she’s successful with that, and add to the obesity crisis that is one more thing destroying the NHS but, you know, collateral damage.
The Scion and Girlfriend have moved to Leeds because they can no longer afford to live in York. They are not alone in this. York is a bloody expensive place to live. They’re not helped, of course, by the Scion being a performer. (I mean, a professional musician and actor, not a tantrum-throwing arsehole, although mind you, back when he was sixteen…) Performing’s been a bit tumbleweed over the last eighteen months.
You might think I would see less of the Scion, now he’s twenty minutes up the A64, but you’d be wrong. The boy don’t drive, so now gigs have picked up, he can generally get a lift back to York, but not to Leeds. I could be thoroughly unpleasant and say this is because no-one goes to Leeds unless they have to, but I’d be wrong of course, because Leeds is a perfectly nice place unless, like me, you have a Leeds phobia.
I first went to Leeds for a university interview, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. It was the first time I’d ever been t’North of England, and it was very nearly the last. It pissed with rain, and it was freezing. I came out of the station and got on a bus going the wrong way, and the driver fell about laughing when we ended up in what looked like a war zone and I asked where the university was. When I eventually got there, I had a half hour interview with a bored chap who said yes, you’ll get an offer, now go away and have a look round this great big university, in the rain and the dark, all by yourself. I didn’t bother with the look round, just got on a bus back to the station (not endearing myself to the driver by asking him three times if he was going the right way) and vowed I’d never again go anywhere that involved a train journey from Kings Cross. However, I was persuaded to go for the interview in York, where the sun was shining, the ducks were frolicking on the university lake, and the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen was delegated to show the little interviewees around campus. I adopted the North for ever more.
The second time I went to Leeds was a year or so later, on a group outing to Elland Road because the boyfriend’s team were playing Leeds United. This was in the days of the stands. I’d never come across anything like the stands. I was used to my feet touching the ground when I went from A to B, not being swept along by a tidal wave of people and deposited wherever the wave stopped. I couldn’t see a bloody thing in any direction. I wanted to go to the loo five minutes after I got there, and realised it would be a case of mind over matter for the next ninety minutes, and I also realised the boyfriend was a solitary island of red in a sea of blue.
After about half an hour, I felt something around my nether regions. I knew what it felt like, but it couldn’t be. Not in the middle of all this. But it was.
I tugged at the boyfriend’s arm. ‘Someone’s put their hand up my skirt. I can’t move and he’s setting in for a really good rummage.’
He looked behind me, at the roaring ranks of blue. ‘I love you, you know that, but what the fuck do you expect me to do?’
If you want something doing, do it yourself. I managed to twist my head round and see the ugly mug of the middle-aged bloke behind me, and I knew, by the leer on his face, it was him. I beckoned to him. Slightly puzzled, he lowered his face to mine.
‘I’m on my period!’ I bellowed. ‘I mean, it’s up to you, but…’
To this day I treasure the look on his face.
I managed to avoid Leeds for about fifteen years after that, until the day I drove there in pursuit of a piano. I’d been told of a shop that sold second hand ones and wouldn’t rip me off. The Princess was a few months old at the time – it was actually my first venture outside York since she was born. Off we went, her and me. It was a boiling hot day, and after an hour driving round what could have done sterling service as a game in a Saw film but was actually the Leeds one-way system, I pulled into a car park God knows where, fed the bawling Princess and burst into tears.
I did eventually find the piano shop. It was shut.
And who knew the Royal Armouries could actually move its location, so that although you could see it from some distance away, by the time you got there it had glided effortlessly somewhere else that you could also see from a distance. I remember the eight-year-old Scion asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ and me saying, ‘Are you familiar with the concept, in quantum physics, of something being in two places at once?’ And he said, ‘Really?’ and looked very interested, so that was a waste of sarcasm.
Years later, the Princess and I did manage a successful foray for the purchase of a prom dress. I have no idea why we had to go to Leeds for a prom dress. They have prom dresses in York. I have no idea why we had to go anywhere for a prom dress. With all respect to those of you over the Pond, this is one part of American culture my bank account always wished you had kept to yourself.
And although Leeds has now claimed my son, it also gifts him back to me on a regular basis, usually in the early hours, his carrier bag and guitar in hand, stinking of sweat and alcohol, quite often clutching a kebab, and saying happily, ‘Hello.’ He and Girlfriend are perfectly content there, things are cheaper, neither of them drives so they don’t have to play Saw games, and if she does decide to accompany him to his place of worship at Elland Road, she can place her bottom firmly on a seat. I don’t think she’s availed herself of the privilege yet.
‘Oh,’ said Little Cat, peering at the laptop and waving her tail in my face. ‘I see you’ve managed to drag up some drivel from somewhere. Has it foundered on the rock of reality?’
‘You’re a talking cat, apparently,’ I told her. ‘The rock of reality stands no chance.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ said Little Cat, with a yawn.