I went through a stage of being my mother around the age of thirteen. My French teacher, Noel Picarda-Kemp, would often remind me that conjugating irregular verbs really didn't require me to low like a menopausal cow.
By now I've turned into Terry Allen, who worked in the Royal Opera House box office and then, when he was sacked for one curmudgeonly queeny outburst too many, in the china department in Harrods. I was lucky that he liked me and did nothing worse than send me up generally and nickname me Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
'It was how you came down the main staircase carrying that box of programmes, dear.' Bifocals tilted above his receding hairline, rheumy suspicious gaze, beige spiv-suit. 'All lopsided intent, little face screwed up, sleeves past your elbows, hips swinging like an elderly washerwoman. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle to a tee.'
Terry could turn apoplectic when he was working on the high turnover foyer box office kiosk in the hour before curtain up. Face empurpled, spitting down his cigarette, eyes boggling.
'Madame, your efforts at annoying me are clearly employing all the available neurons from your brain.'
'SIr, a pillow is what rests against your bed's headboard; what will restrict your view of tonight's performance of Nutcracker is a 'pillar'. No, sir, not as in 'box'. That is what one would put letters in addressed to sir. In all likelihood postmarked in Streatham, expressing unkind sentiments and with letters cut from copies of the Mencap Magazine.'
'Trevor, there has been a serious bomb threat made.' Trevor Jones, house manager, was a favourite target for Terry. 'The opera house, with us all in it, is not your ship from your navy days for you to go down with in all your glory, standing on the poop deck singing "Nearer My God to Thee". So, not pooh-poohing an IRA threat, dear, but making that tannoy announcement. Remember, we don't want me making the tannoy announcement, as I can never resist signing off with Brunhilde's Battle Cry; which screams - literally - a lack of decorum.'
Terry, perhaps not quite unknowingly, described to me c1986 what my Christmases would be like today.
'Oh, why is there all this pressure and hysteria over a family Christmas? All these films about being desperate to get home to the nearest and dearest; mountaineering himalayan glaciers, mining hell frozen oven, fording tsunamis. And that's just the labrador, the bull terrier and the Siamese. Oh, I knew you'd get that reference to The Incredible Journey straight away - you and your sensitive streak.That's why it says in the house manager's book that you're forbidden to watch the last act of La Boheme - there's no mascara ever going to be made adequately waterproof. So, no, not Christmas with my family, Mrs T. Jane Austen said it perfectly about family gatherings in Emma. DInner and dessert passed away, the children brought in to be talked about in front of them - "Dull repetitions, old news, heavy jokes". What? No, we've never played a parlour game in our lives. Except my uncle James seems to think that farting in secret is a parlour game. I don't have a television, dear, no. Nothing I ever want to watch. Once every blue moon I buy myself a copy of the Radio Times and I sit down with it for a thorough go-through; and I tell myself that if there were just five things that I would want to watch, then I would buy myself a television. Never are, Mrs T. I shall be in my most comfortable armchair with a dish of beef and a dish of greens on the table within easy reach; one piece of fiction, one piece of nonfiction. And I shall lift a bumper or five. Lonely? I don't get lonely. It's the same with why I never go on holiday. If I didn't like where I was all the year round, I wouldn't stay there. I might just ring Lal, my friend Lal, at a push. He has Christmas alone. We have an on and off tradition of ringing each other and getting reduced to the giggles changing the end of A Christmas Carol. "And Tiny Tim, who had a long, lingering and agonising death, the insufferable little bastard!" See? What else do you need of a Christmas?'