As Christmas we're told, is a time for family, perhaps my brother and I shouldn't have sat in The Punch last night heartlessly going back and forth with a version of Divorced/Beheaded/Died/Divorced/Beheaded/Survived.
'Cancer/Suicide/Sectioned/Cancer/Heart attack/Cancer - actually Uncle Vic's not dead, he just doesn't answer his phone when he sees it's mum.'
Last Thursday I took it that one step too far...
I woke up to an email from Caitlin.
Early next year. Promoting you. Just for context. Ringing you this morning.
Caitlin's first email back in September had read:
Publicity great. Details of you, where?
Then when I'd replied:
Photos worked. Royal Marine vast! Laughed.
I hoped that the brusqueness might mean I was dealing with a spinster.
To the adage If you want something done well, do it yourself might be added: Or hire a spinster of either sex. Granted, you may have to watch the gay spinster for a tendency to drink and miss deadlines passed out in the wardrobe being Joan Crawford in the no more wire hangers scene in Mommy, Dearest. But otherwise, you can rely on someone whose most exciting non-work-related life event will be inter-library loans, starting a new roll of Army and Navy Stores classic brown wrapping paper or revamping skirting boards with white soap, lemon and bicarb.
Sadly, Caitlin's third email read:
Sorry for the bluntness of my previous emails, but suddenly dealing with potty training (ist day) and am frequently distracted by (faintly horrifying!) accidents. Plus bloody au pair left front door key outside front door last night and only just thought to tell us. The utter joys of domestic bliss.
When she rang, Caitlin said, 'I'm terribly sorry but there's been a problem with the batch of Madame Galina Ballet Star Galactica flyers you sent me.'
I was thinking: Napisan spillage, baby sickage, chicken pox quarantine?
'I was up all night with baby crying and I overprinted the wrong date on all of the flyers this morning. Can I have another batch?'
Going down to the post office with my half box of flyers and, apparently, most of Camden I found that there were no longer any weighing scales in the stationery section. Marion, with hair like Twiglets and a badge saying that she was area employee of the month, finally stopped haranguing someone over the phone about the misuse of paper clips and asked if she could help me.
'Erm...the scales that used to be - '
'We defuncted them,' Marion gloated. 'You have to have things weighed at the counters now.'
'But people could just weigh their own items and then buy the stamps from you without having to queue.'
She shrugged. 'You can still use me to buy your items. But then you have to have them weighed at one of the designated counters. And you can either buy your stamps there and then at the counter or come back over to me.'
'But that now means having to queue for however long.'
'Yes, because the scales have been defuncted.'
'Can I buy the stationery when I'm buying the stamps?'
'No. You have to buy the stationery here first before you go over there. it says so on the new sign.'
She gestured at the new sign like God at his newly created sun on the fourth day. And that was me dealt with. She looked past me at someone who asked about celebration stamps.
'Views of the Rock of Gibraltar from our side, Hawaiian nocturnal mammals or evolving designs of Marmite jar?'
Two places ahead of me in the queue for the designated counters was the life and soul of the day centre type. Woolly coat, woolly boots, woolly wig. We had chaplinesque routines with her walking stick; "Daisy! Daisy!" - and how singing and having a laugh was the only thing that kept them going when they were growing carrots on the stretch of green at Marble Arch, getting a clip round the earhole from the local bobby without social services having to investigate in triplicate.
'And being content with nothing more than a lump of dog shit wrapped in recycled cigarette paper in our Christmas stockings.'
When she turned and saw seething me, she said,
'Look at him. Face like a smacked arse. Bet he wouldn't give us a smile. He'd crack hisself.'
I nodded at the half box of flyers in my hand.
'These are the order of service for my mother's funeral next week. My uncle Donald evaded the hospital guards and cut her throat with shards of the mirror he thought she never should have inherited from their mother. We're having to send these back to the printers because they've misspelled "Kum Ba Yah".'
A few stunned seconds later and she was back in the game muttering about them new-fangled Christmas Carols.