I love being out and about, observing people. I assumed everybody did it, when I was young. I found out in my teens this was not the case. My mother and I used to get the same train in the morning, me to school, she to her job in London. Being a small country station, the same faces could be seen on the platform, day in, day out. I would observe them keenly, noticing new haircuts, changed expressions, who was hiding behind their paper. Now they'd all be deep in electronic devices, but this was the 80s.
I made an observation to my mother once about one of the regulars. She had no idea who I was talking about. It transpired she was busy watching the buds on the trees or the development of the flowers in the changing seasons. Diff'rent strokes.
The first person I observed in the last week or so was a student on the bus back into Brighton from the university. About 20 or so, with badly dyed, pastel-pink hair, she was talking enthusiastically to her companion about the tattoo she was planning. Not on the throat, because that would be painful, but on the side of her neck, perhaps. One of her friends had had carved (sorry, I'm not into tattoos) into his neck a line from Anne Boleyn's speech written the night before her execution, something about greeting death like a sleep. Anne, you did not die in vain.
The second person I saw was a street cleaner by the side of the park, his high vis jacket a welcome spot of colour against the dark bareness of the winter trees. As I approached I could see he was very animated on his phone, his litter picker-upper perched in the crook of his arm as he leaned on his trolley. As I walked past him, I noticed he was Facetime or Skyping a woman entirely in sign language and she was reciprocating. From the grin on his face, I guessed things were good.
The third was in fact a couple who sat opposite me on a London-bound train. They got on at Gatwick, heavy with bags. I think they were Portuguese, although my knowledge of languages is woefully shaky. They each got out an M & S sandwich and removing both halves, stacked one on the other and took a bite through all four slices of bread. In between these mammoth mouthfuls they chatted animatedly. Why the double stack, I wondered? Was it a Portuguese trait or was it just them? I asked on Facebook and it being Friday afternoon a spirited discussion soon sprung up, complete with emojis. Some Portuguese were consulted and they said they'd never heard of such a thing. One person admired the time-saving nature of the practice, another contradicted saying it would take just as long to eat as the mouthfuls were bigger.
....and the tequila shots. I am a student once more! I'm doing a module in Qualitative Research in March. This is because I might be doing some further study subsequently. The word 'PhD' has been mentioned. Not by me particularly, but by my champion and collaborator on some previous research (and bona fide academic doctor herself) Kay. I am a little hesitant, because while I'm good at yapping on here, I'm not sure my mind is sturdy enough for this level. It's somewhat rusty, having last submerged itself in academia back in the 90s (ACCCIIIDDDD!!! - actually no, I was far too timid). Anyway, a module seemed a good plan to test the waters.
The woman in the Student Services said - 'Are you happy with the photo you've uploaded?' I detected a slight hesitancy in her voice.
'I think so,' I replied. Truth be told, it was some weeks back that I filled out the enrolment online. Goodness knows which photo I used.
'It's quirky,' she said. 'Very colourful.'
It was this one below. Bloody hell, I thought, it's lucky she's not met my alter ego Mary Christmas if she thinks that one is quirky.
So here I am, prancing about the campus, imagining myself in Educating Rita and marveling again at how many books there are in the world. Rows upon rows in the library, just about Qualitative Research, many of them theses by those brave enough to have deemed themselves worthy of study.
To my delight I discover a half-eaten brownie in the bag I have taken, still fresh enough to be eaten. Waste not, want not, I'm a student now....
Nothing overly sinister. Not gas, either of the dodgy pipes, or rear end variety. Why have you gone there, Margaret? TMI!
No, what it is, is that my deodorant has changed their recipe (is that the right word for non-edible?) - maybe composition would be more apt. And I don't like it.
For years, I have opted for Nivea Men Cool Kick. Men, yes. Not because there's something I'm not telling you, but because I found women's deodorants to be overwhelmingly cloying and sweet-smelling. Cool Kick was exactly that - fresh and zingy.
Now, my deodorant has an unwelcome floral niff. And looking at the can, I see it has changed its name to Protect and Care, whilst the design remaining exactly the same. Protect and Care - very female, no doubt.
The only other thing of note this week is that I was paying for fuel the other day and the card machine presented me with a new option. Like the 'Add a Gratuity' prompt in restaurants, the up-frontness of which always unsettles me, this machine wanted to know if I'd like to 'Give 25p to charity' whilst paying for my fuel. Which charity, I hear you ask? Well, exactly. I do give to charity, in fact. But I like to do that in my own sweet time, I'm not going to be bumped into a donation (however small) to something nameless while I'm paying for fuel, thanks. I'll set my cool kick on you first.
A few days ago I received my annual New Year's card from J, who lives in the States. I met her about 25 years ago when I was doing a drama summer school. While all the 20-somethings were stumbling around, hungover and complaining, J, who was already about 60, would be there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to start work at 9am.
She was always one of those people who are good for the soul. In the years since, I've seen her every few years when she's been on one of her many UK trips. The lady goes everywhere and she's always been keenly interested in everything, intelligent, humane, kind. The sort of person you could tell your feeble troubles to and feel better about them.
However, last year I received an email with a sentence in it which made me think something was not quite right. I pushed away the thought - it must just be my imagination. She was visiting England with her son and suggested coming to Brighton for us to have lunch. This was duly arranged and a few months back I met them.
This time, however, there was no mistake. Midway through our lunch, she told me how wonderful it had been to attend a Trump rally recently, how bad a press he got and what a great job he was doing.
I was stunned. We have an image of what Trump supporters are. My friend, who as an actor, has worked with gay people and ethnic minorities, not to mention believes in championing women, the poor and the under-privileged, does not fit that mould. It made me think about the Brexit debate, which seems the UK's equivalent situation to the orange monster. I remember a quote at the time: Not all Leave voters are racists, but every racist voted Leave.
Readers, I'm afraid I said nothing. Just changed the subject as quickly as I could. I know, it was spineless and this is how fascism took hold. My friend is in her mid-80s though. In all likelihood, I might never see her again. Was a political argument, that could only end in ill-feeling, the best last meeting to have? I felt guilty about it though. And I still do.
Back to a few days ago. I put the round-robin (more Trump praise) that had come with the card straight in the bin.
I always get particularly maudlin at the dismantling of the tree and the scooping up of decorations from far-flung places around the house, particularly as housework ranks low on my list of priorities. The trudge to the recycling plant in the park, dragging my cross (sorry, tree) behind me. Once it's all done, I can admire the streamlined space and the absence of sparkly segments of tinsel littering the passageways. I just have trouble coming to terms with the end of the period of relaxation. No keen consultation of the Radio Times Double Edition (don't deny it, not only did you buy it, you highlighted it) to see what to watch, or most likely to record and never get round to watching. No licence now to slope about in jim-jams, eating cheese, supping ginger wine (delicious!) and chatting to friends who've just popped in. And feeling ok about that, because so is everyone else. Now we must WORK and schedule in time off to strictly regimented segments. I know Christmas brings sadness and disharmony to many, but there IS joy there.
TOP TIP, by the way, passed on by my friend Kerry. Put an old duvet cover (or in my case ANY old duvet cover) over the tree before hauling it out. All needles contained in cover, not lurking in corners to spike a bare foot for months to come.
....another mouthful, as people often say, come early January, when the corners of the stilton have started to discolour and the thought of a mince pie is less appealing than it was a few weeks back.
I've been musing about this time of year and the need for people to start afresh, wipe the slate clean, lose half a stone, embrace 'clean eating' (when dirty eating is SO much more fun). reconnect with all their old friends, get a better job, write that novel, sort out the cupboards under the stairs, play improving games with their children....
The list is endless. And unaccomplishable, let's be fair. We attempt this Herculean task, while slapping Dry January on ourselves. DRY JANUARY!?! What noob (as my sons like to say) invented that?!
So, let's be clear, I'm not abstaining this month. But I will moderate, for sure. Not least because I have these bizarre swallowing anxiety dreams. I've had them for three nights straight now. I wake in a panic, thinking I've swallowed something harmful. Sometimes, the item is indistinguishable, but last night I'd imagined I'd swallowed an entire turkey. That would certainly cause some serious damage. The night before - a tin of sardines - one of those flat, oval ones. I sit up, heart racing, and have to remind myself there's nothing harmful beside my bed (I have written a note to that effect). Perhaps I should add there's no flipping tin of sardines by the bed, you idiot!
I've been reading one of Alan Bennett's diaries (very slowly. Not because I don't enjoy it, but because it's in the bathroom, reserved for my post-shower sit in towel to dry off). It made me realise I would LOVE my own 'What I've been up to this week!' type column in a paper/magazine. So would many thousands of others, I'd imagine. So, I've created my own additional section here. Less ranty, reflectiony or reviewy than the other bits.