Thursday, 23 September 2010

Asparagus wee

I’m sitting in Pret a Manger in Vauxhall about to go to my first rehearsal for the Pepys Motet. On this occasion I shall be working with the folk singers. I am absolutely terrified...

It’s been an ridiculous day, which started at shit-o’clock with a visit to the dental hygienist. She scraped my teeth and gums like a child holding a felt-tip pen and then informed me that I was doing everything right in terms of my oral hygiene, which pleased me. But she'd hurt me... and that wasn't very nice.

After the dentist, I went into Muswell Hill to buy paper for my printer and decided to treat myself to a loaf of nice crusty bread and some asparagus from Sainsbury’s for lunch. I remember thinking, as I walked in the glorious sunshine, how lovely it felt not be in any great rush, and how relaxed I was feeling...

I came home, started printing parts for the motet, and immediately ran out of ink. Not noticing the spare cartridge right next to the computer, I swore several times, grabbed my jacket and trundled back into Muswell Hill. As I opened my wallet to pay an extortionate amount of money for a pair of ink cartridges, I realised, with horror, that my card had gone missing. It’s always embarrassing to have to walk away from a purchase when it’s already been rung through a till. The card certainly wasn’t still in Sainsbury’s, although I’m sure the lovely woman in there would have given me any of the 17 cards that had been left in the self-service area on that day alone. I felt I ought to check at home before going through the misery of cancelling it.

To save myself another journey into Muswell Hill, I went to the bank to see if I could get enough cash to pay for the cartridge I’d sheepishly asked the guy in Rymans to hold behind the counter like some kind of high-fashion dress I didn’t want anyone else to buy. The Polish woman who greeted me in the branch seemed genuinely astonished that I didn’t have my passport with me or one of those modern driving licenses that you keep in your wallet. I’m rather proud of the fact that I still only have a paper driving license, but can see why the lady in the bank wasn’t particularly excited for me. In retrospect I can also see why she didn’t think my bright orange MU membership card was proof enough of my identity, although I did sigh audibly enough to make her feel at least slightly ashamed for refusing it. Fortunately, I know all my card numbers off by heart, so as soon as I’d scrawled them all on a post-it note, I was given £50, had purchased the cartridges and was on my way...

Sadly, there was no sign of my card back at home, so I went up into the loft with a cup of tea to cancel it over the phone, whilst continuing with the printing. I fitted the new cartridge, and all was good for approximately 3 and a half minutes. But then the printer then broke down. I threw a stapler across the room and it shattered into a thousand shards of cheap Chinese plastic. Meanwhile the people at Barclays kept cutting me off, transferring me to the wrong zones of the cyber bank and generally behaving like turds. Eventually, I managed to stop the card and order a new one, but when I explained that my flat didn’t have a doorbell for the delivery man, there was a long silence. “Well if you’re not in when the currier arrives, he’ll leave a card, and you'll be able to request delivery at a more convenient time” said a Barclays employee with a thick Indian accent. “But I still won’t have a doorbell and he still won't be able to deliver my card to me” I said, calmly. “But it will be a more convenient time” he replied... and I couldn’t disagree. I asked if the card could maybe be delivered to my local branch in Muswell Hill, and apparently it could, but only if I went into the branch in person to ask them to request the card be delivered there. “Can they not do this over the phone?” I asked. “Of course not" said my new friend "you could be anyone.” “Well, could you not tell them that I’m me?” I said “No” he said rather definitively. And that was that.

So back I went into Muswell Hill to request that the card be delivered to the bank there; a process which took the best part of two hours and involved a lengthy interview with a man called Jamie who smelt of cucumbers.

On top of all this, gospel singers and trebles continue to elude me. I find myself staring at black women on the tube, wondering whether they’re the answers to my metaphorical prayers. I do sometimes wonder if I’m being punished somehow for my hatred of organised religion. When I look at the websites of many gospel choirs I’m greeted with all sorts of quotes about Jesus that make me feel slightly uncomfortable. Gospel choirs are usually called things like IDMC (Individuals Dedicated to the Ministry of Christ) which make my fingers feel all funny. It is, of course, foolish of me. I want genuine gospel singers – of course they’re going to be hard-core Christians! But... and let’s face it, born again Christians are rude bastards with very little concept of humanity and it’s no surprise at all that out of the 30 or so gospel singers/ choirs I’ve now contacted not a SINGLE ONE has even got back to me to thank me for my interest in them/Jesus. Surely they should be out there spreading their message to the unconverted?

Pepys wrote a classic diary entry on this date 350 years ago, which throbs with the intrigue and sexual liberation we associate with the Restoration Period. It starts innocently enough. He wakes up and claps eyes for the first time on his new houseboy, Wayneman. He doesn’t seem particularly horrified by the lad’s name, which surprises me, but it takes all sorts. In fact, it seems the lad was an immediate hit. Pepys described him as “a pretty well-looked boy”, whatever that means.

Pepys then walked to Westminster with his good friend, Luellin, stopping en route in Salsbury Court for their morning draft and a pickled herring, which sounds almost too horrific for words! The two of them gossiped like char ladies. They talked about a young girl on Cheapside who sold children’s coats whom Pepys had always fancied. Her reputation however, had been recently destroyed by one Lady Bennett, who Pepys refers to as a “famous strumpet” but would probably best be described as a high class “Madame.” Lady Bennett befriended the young girl, it seems simply so that she could sell her virginity to a man who’d taken a shine to her. Scandalous!

Pepys then went to Montagu’s house in Westminster under the pretext of sorting through some books. Possibly spurred along by Luellin’s salacious stories, he instead spent all his time sitting out on the leads on the roof, “gazing upon Diana, who looked out of a window upon me.” Diana, you'll remember, was the daughter of his former neighbour in Axe Yard. It all sounds terribly romantic, but we must remember that a) Pepys was married b) Diana Crisp was barely a teenager c) that Pepys, still hung over from the debauchery of the night before, had just vomited his entire breakfast of herring into Montagu’s “house of office.”

He then went to the bustling New Exchange to buy a pair of short, black stockings “to wear over a pair of silk ones for mourning.” The great and the good were all in mourning for the Duke of Gloucester. It had become a sort of bizarre fashion craze for the well-to-do.

When Pepys returned home, Wayneman was called so that his sister, Jane could show him how to put Pepys to bed. He tucked our hero in and even read a little; “fairly well” as it happens...

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