Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Comparing Eton Mess Nipples at the White Lion - and Other Uses for Social Media


                     Click for more information on the White Lion Hotel, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

  In Suits, Harvey Spectre walks into his bedroom.  There is a woman in his bed.
  'You said you were getting dressed,' he says to her.
  'I got dressed.  Then I got undressed again.'
  I thought of Victoria Wood's "Is it on the Trolley?" sketch.  
  'We told you to take the trolley away.'
  'I did.  Then I brought it back again.'

  Oh, those days of watching Victoria Wood, French and Saunders, Reeves and Mortimer; and doing my own first sketch shows or song recitals.  When I sent out publicity packs by post, conducted press interviews on a landline and bought train tickets over a counter. 
  But how easily a pang of pre-internet remembrance can turn to a clang of current social media resentment was something Angharad Williams and I discussed over our excellent dinner at the White Lion's Brasserie Bleu Restaurant.

  'I have to take a photo that woman's Eton Mess, Iestyn,' Angharad was whispering. 'See that peaked swirl of meringue?  It's exactly what the burlesque girl's nipples I've been telling you about look like.' 
  I first met Angharad during a Cornish tour of My Tutu's Gone AWOL!  She was in Aldeburgh staying at the White Lion Hotel for the weekend. Sixty-one, peroxide spiky bob, she's a magistrate, antiques expert and tri-athlete.  We bonded, really, because our parents are of the same just-post-war generation; and we had Welsh grandmothers who thought it was as necessary to us as was food, water and shelter to hear their obituaries of complete strangers.  
  'Her from up the forty houses - your mother will remember when you tell her - married a blacksmith from over Tredegar way, had a dog called Captain and was allergic to the fondant stuff in a Wagon Wheel biscuit.  Had her reading glasses on a chain round her neck till she caught them in the spin-dryer.  Well, she's dead.' 
  Angharad, photo of the neighbouring diner's Eton Mess taken, was eating her mussels starter. 
  'Bloody good,' she commented.
  She once had a Michelin Star. And I can't remember a time when I didn't need a compass to find the prawns that were supposedly in the batter.  Then when my coq au vin came I apologised. 
  'You may have looked super-cute wandering free in your Suffolk farmyard, Chicken Licken, but to me, all melting off the bone, this is your finest hour!'  

  Because she worries about me living alone and not cooking for myself, Angharad asked for a doggy bag for her Boeuf Bourguignon for me to take home - heated up today it was fantastic - then ordered cheese and Eton Mess for herself instead.  The kind of Welsh logic that sees the Eisteddfodau circuit produce the Go Compare! tenor.
  'Where's the internet gone?'  Angharad wanted to know. 'Go and ask the barman. What? If he didn't fancy you, why would he have let you have his Facebook details? Don't bother, the internet's back up.  One of those fishing boats just passed over the horizon I expect. What was I going to look for?'  
  The burlesquer from Bideford who had, so Angharad swore, two inch nipples. 
  'Right, where...how...when did Facebook start these messaging sounds like you're being told to get the bloody hell back to your seat as the plane's about to go into the sea never to be seen again?'       
  The message was from an art gallery in Ipswich.  
  'On my way home I was going to stop off in it.  They're saying I missed out on another Mary Fedden, sorry. Been missing out on Mary bastard Fedden's through them now for thirty years.  How do I get back to the pages themselves on Facebook?  No, not...oh, another get back to your seats dong...'
  Sarah, joint owner of the cafe.  
  'Saying...blah, blah...don't give a shit about the house she's bought in Transylvania or wherever..."Convinced that new front of house guy, James, is being on the level about helping set up Pret a Manger and Itsu, it's not bullshit. Pret started in nineteen eighty four, so say James was the whizz kid type who left school at sixteen, he would only need to be forty seven. Nobody can agree on how old he actually looks.  Jules, with the teeth, says nineteen; and differing opinions up to Renata" - who's mental - "saying late thirties. Does seem to have different surname on his Facebook page from the one he's given us, but the pictures on it are all of corporate logos so that backs up what he's saying about Pret and Itsu. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and keep him on. Tilly insisting he did go downstairs to take cocaine mid-shift Saturday. How do we take the tape out of the CCTV to watch?  He's says he's already had some executive ideas".'
  Angharad snorted down at her i-phone.  
  'Executive ideas about what?  We're a cafe. You smile as people come in the door; sit them down with some merry banter; take their order for tea and cake; don't give them enough time to read the whole of Dorothy L Sayers while you're getting it; put it in front of them rather than spilling it down them; don't stare while they eat the cake; take the money; wave them off.  Executive, corporate, retwittered, hashtaggered, memed, vined, viralised, don't need to come into it. Buying into all this nonsense that's started up with each new thing that comes along - carried over by the next thing when that thing finally it disappears up its own arse - and so on onto the next be-buggered app.  I thought app was short for appointment, at first, did I tell you?  Anyway, let me find the girl with the Eton Mess nipples.'
  She was still looking three gins later.  In the interim she had taken a photo of her own Eton Mess meringue peak for a second nipple-comparison, replied to Sarah's message, shown me a photograph of another artist she had collected through the Ipswich art gallery - at St Martin's with her, she'd been the beautiful girl of the intake, but now look at her! She had logged onto the White Lion Hotel website before she ordered anything more from the kitchen, as she needed to check how much of our meal would be covered by the allowance included in the deal she was on staying there - oh, it was actually called an allowance, she had tweeted that it was a rebate, she'd just better delete and retweet, hang on - oh by the way did I notice that the barman put my gin down exactly on the wet-ring left by the last one? He was either lusting or was OCD. Both Eton Mess nipples uploaded now to Instagram and Pinterest - what was the name of this town again?  She'd just get it up on Google Maps and tag us. Hang on, just take a picture. Where had they moved the flash? There we were.  At least this photo was of us out enjoying ourselves, not like the Bideford burlesquer's.  Her photos were all of her backstage - like anyone wants to see anyone else's backstage photos ever?  And surely producers couldn't get access to your photos, if they were thinking of booking you, without befriending you first?  Did she want me to take a sneaky photograph of the barman, now?  Why not?  Then I would know what I had to look forward to, in case I forgot. That Bideford Burlesque girls posts were worse, if anything, than her photos. Either how standingly ovated she'd been - she was the kind who'd go to chapel and post that she'd got a standing ovation when they were just getting up to sing Cwm Rhondda - or else Oh, so much thrilling news in the pipeline that I'm not at liberty to divulge just yet.  Watch this space.
  'I don't want to watch her cowing space,' Angharad commented, ever scrolling. 'She should just accept what everyone knows, which is that your profession is overcrowded.' She sang a few lines of the Noel Coward Mrs Worthingon number. 'But that's what I hate about all the social media today - people can just put out there any shit they want.  Lies about always having stuff coming to them.  It's the modern version of - '
  She stopped.  I thought the internet must be down again.  
  'Fishing boat making its way back the other way across the horizon?' I wondered.
  She shook her head. 'Just realised it's actually always been there, the in the pipeline deluded thing.  My grandfather, on my mother's side, played the cornet. They didn't even have television. Was always on and on about starting up a Silver Band - more posh and rare than a plain old brass one - and doing the rounds of Eisteddfods, masonic lodges, what have yous. Never got beyond the stage of having Elvet Pryce over, played the tenor horn, to do duets and make endless plans.  It's that thing of "Just because I imagine it, so shall it be".'
  I said, 'Welcome to the whole premise of The Secret, Angharad.' 
  She remembered:  'My grandmother would get furious with him for wasting his talent. Played none of the expected bits like "Oh, When the Saint go Marching in". No.  We had Bach's Well Tempered, some Handel.  If he stopped too long at the Social Club of a Sunday lunchtime we'd get Wagner's Tannhauser, all on chromatics. And if my grandmother didn't put a stop to him in his cups, mind, we might also have his filthy versions of David of the White Rock, Myfanwy and O Fy Iesi Bendegedig.' She chuckled.  'But never got past the planning stage with doing it all professionally.  Stayed working in the mines. Just talked about it.  Like the posts on Facebook with things getting stuck up a pipeline.'  She smirked suddenly. 'Like you if you played your cards right, now, Iestyn...'
  She was gesturing in the direction of the bar.  I shook my head, sighing.
  'Wait a second, Angharad.'  Something about her grandfather's repertoire was bugging me. 'If he played the cornet, it was just the tune.  No words.  How would anyone know they were his filthy versions of the hymns?'
  She looked up from her phone.  'From the glint in his eye and the wet on his moustache.  How else?' 


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