Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Schuit!

Every morning, a different group of women sit in the same corner of the cafe. They talk about their lives, and their children and the committees they’re on. All of them are always immaculately dressed, with immaculate hair-dos, immaculate nails and immaculate handbags and matching cars. They’re always talking about the extraordinary events they’re organising at Highgate School and I find myself regularly astonished by the opportunities they regularly hand to those kids on golden platters.

I suppose I wonder what these women do all day, apart sitting in the cafe and making themselves look pretty, and doing flowers for the church and organising nannies to pick up their children from school. Perhaps I’m doing them a disservice because they’re obviously intelligent people, but it strikes me that these women have been indulged all their lives. If they feel like doing a course in massage, or reki, then their husband pays, just like Daddy did when they were young.

Do these women meet in Costa Coffee because they’re going out of their minds with boredom? They plainly don't like each other. When one leaves, they all lay into her. They spend their time exchanging stories about their latest status symbols and talking about how they’re worried about their teenage children, who've plainly already entered the cycle of indulgence to the extent that nothing excites them in life because they don’t actually want anything. Their daughters will, no doubt, go to Africa on a gap year, drift through university and train as lawyers, but very quickly get bored, because they’ve never had to do a day of hard work in their lives. So they'll start fixating on finding a wealthy husband/daddy, so that they can have a society wedding and a clutch of children and ultimately leave the job that they find boring... and so the cycle begins again.

But what would happen, I wonder, if one of their husbands lost his job? What would happen if they couldn't have their hair done every week, or shop in Prada? What if they were forced to buy their clothes in the charity shop that they used to volunteer in? Would they still be allowed to meet for coffee? After work, perhaps? Would they stand by their man? Or simply move on...?

I don't want them to stop coming to the cafe. They're all too thin to eat, but one of them always buys a cake, which she leaves, untouched on the table. And I'll let you into a little secret. Sometimes when I'm feeling poor, or greedy... I eat it!

I sat and wrote for a bit in Waterlow Park at lunchtime, with the glorious sun setting my face on fire. At one point I watched as two men re-painted some of the ornate dustbins in the park. They were taking enormous care to make sure none of the black paint went over the golden piping and watching them became almost hypnotic. It struck me that there must be far worse jobs to do on a sunny day in May. Your one task in life is to make sure than none of the black paint goes over the golden piping. Perhaps when I'm old, and the music has left me, I'd be able to do a job like that...

We’ve just got back from Clissold Park in Stoke Newington; a mercy dash to see a friend in need, that turned into a beautiful picnic and a hysterical game of giant darts. I am determined not to miss the sun when she shines this year.

Pepys woke up early 350 years ago, having been informed that the Duke of York would be inspecting the Nazeby. He hot-footed it back to the coast and left the young Montagu in the hands of Mr Pierce the surgeon with orders not to let the boy out of his sight and remain at all times indoors. At Scheveling, Pepys discovered that the wind was far too high for a transfer boat to deliver him safely to the Nazeby, so he headed back to The Hague, only to find that young Edward had gone to Delft. So Pepys jumped on a schuit (a sort of canal boat) and headed to the land of blue pottery and Vermeer.

Fortunately, he caught up with the runaway lad en route, but they continued to Delft nevertheless, and were shown around the town by a young lad who seemed to have a great interest in tombs and church organs. Pepys described the town as “most sweet” and noted that there were bridges everywhere and a river on every street. The following picture of Delft by Vermeer was painted in 1660.



Their sightseeing tour was disbanded when the group stumbled upon the house of a Brit, who invited them in for drinks.

On the journey back to The Hague, Pepys attempted to chat up a “pretty sober Dutch lass” who sat on the boat reading, no doubt trying to avoid making eye-contact with the enthusiastic but slightly odd foreigner who was attempting to make small talk.

This seemingly endless day concluded with yet another trip to the Princess Dowager’s House. I’m surprised she didn’t just kick them all out whilst screaming “leave me to grieve...” She did, in fact die within months. No doubt her slow fade into oblivion was observed by a stream of visitors trampling around her house. It was here that Pepys met Lord Fairfax, of Civil War fame and spent some time marvelling at the nuts growing on the trees in her garden. He was also delighted to discover a fine echo in the vaults of her house. Predictably, he whipped out his flageolet and played “to great advantage”. He doesn't say why he was snooping around the Princess' cellar. Perhaps he was helping himself to wine.

Unfortunately somewhere in all this excitement, Pepys managed to lose sight of Montagu Junior, and was forced to go to bed without discovering where he’d got to...

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