Wednesday, January 03, 2024


You know I said I'd been reading the beginnings of my novels?

Well...I got sucked into Zuzu's Petals and I have just finished reading it this morning. I haven't read it for 15 years and I enjoyed it. There is some good writing in there, some important themes, some terrific dialogue and unfortunately there's some imagery that makes me cringe a little and that I would now delete.

Have you ever read it? The paperback cover was so awful that when the publisher emailed it to me, I cried, and immediately emailed back, begging her not to use it. She insisted. Who knows if that is why it did no sell?

This was the hardback cover, which is not dreadful, but neither is it enticing.

Anyway, in case you never read it, I thought I'd share a scene from it that really amused me this morning.

Corinne, the narrator, is visiting her friend, an old lady called Mrs Galway. Mrs Galway insists on calling Corinne Caroline, because she likes the name better and thinks it is more "stately."

On the way back from Broomhill the next day I called in to see Mrs Galway.   She looked fantastic. She had the heating cranked up and a fire lit and she was wearing a scarlet silk blouse with short sleeves, and a flowery skirt in black, yellow and red, and a fancy leather belt.

“You’re all dressed up – you look fab,” I said. “And the room smells lovely. Or is it you? Is it lavender?”

“Thank you for the imprimatur, Caroline.”


“How did you guess?”

“Is it a special day? Blimey, it’s hot in here.” I took off my jacket and then my cardigan and sat down in the corner, away from the fire.

Mrs Galway picked up a duster from the sideboard and started polishing the brass drawer handles. “I am expecting a gentleman caller,” she said. “Someone I know from years ago. I was chatting to the young blood who delivered my computer from Finch Electronics, and-”

“What, Derek Finch? He’s the same age as me!”

“Don’t interrupt. I was chatting to him while he was fannying around with all the plugs and sockets, and I asked him how his father was. I know his father from years ago. Years and years. I used to go dancing with his sister. And Derek said his father’s wife - second wife as was – she’d died, and his dad was lonely. So I said You tell your dad that I’m lonely too. So he-”

Are you lonely?”

“No, but…anyway, he rang me up and I invited him round to tea. And now I’m wishing I hadn’t.” She moved over to the fireplace and started lifting up ornaments and dusting underneath them.

“But why?” I said.

“I’m perfectly happy as I am. Why would I want a man in my life?”

“For a bit of company?”

“But that’s not what he’ll be wanting. There’ll be a lot more on his shopping list, you can be sure.”

“Do you mean sex?”

“I was already including that in the company equation.”

“What then?”

“He’ll want to move in. I can’t be doing with that. A fancy man is all very well, but I’m not wanting another husband.”

“I thought you and Mr Galway had a happy marriage.”

“We did. And there you have it,” she said, turning round to face me. “I don’t want another man in my life mucking up my memories of him. Muddying the clear water of my happy past. And quite apart from that…I can’t be bothered with sharing my house with someone else. I have my friends. And now I’m wired up and on the internet, I’m connected to the world. Why do I want a sad old man in my life?”

“Poor Mr Finch, is all I can say. You’ve raised his hopes, and now you’ll be dashing them again.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Oh my God, he’s here already.”

“Shall I go and answer it for you?”

“Thank you.” She hobbled over to the sideboard and shoved the duster in the top drawer.

It was Viv. Between the front door and Mrs G’s sitting room I filled her in on what was going on.

“Oh, Vivien. Hello.” Mrs G took the duster out again.

“What are you going to do with this man, then?” said Viv.

“I’ll show him my computer. I know. I can show him some on-line dating sites. That’ll keep him quiet. Talking of sites, did I tell you I found one all about graves? It’s this man, and he goes about taking photographs of graves. There’s a nice churchyard in Cornwall – right on the cliffs, it is. I’m thinking of being buried there when I die.”       

“What about your children?” said Viv. “It will be hard for them to visit, if it’s all the way down in the West Country.”

“They never come home from Australia as it is. When I’m dead, they definitely won’t come home, so what’s the difference?”

“What about us?” said Viv. “What about me? I thought I was your adopted daughter. Don’t you think I’d like to come and visit your grave?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Mrs G. She was still pottering round the room with her duster, re-arranging ornaments and tweaking anti-macassars.

“I wasn’t joking about you being my mum,” said Viv. “I told you my childhood was rubbish. No room to play, no space to be boisterous. It was full of old people in various stages of gangrenous decay.”

“Viv!” I said, shocked, but unable to stop myself from laughing.

“A constant stream of ancient relatives came to stay and then died – Auntie Edith, Auntie Kitty, Great Grandma, Auntie Jessie,” she said. “They weren’t like you, Mrs G – hale and hearty. If a relative arrived at the door with a suitcase, you knew that death was just round the corner. If an auntie came and just brought a sponge cake, you had a fighting chance she might leave again. Auntie Kathleen always brought a cake, and she always got out safely. Sometimes she brought a salad in a green plastic box.”

“Stop telling us stories, Vivien. Here, just straighten that curtain, will you? It’s caught on the radiator.”

Viv smoothed the folds of the curtain. “But it’s true,” she said. “It was like a stacking system for the crematorium. Great Grandma used to whittle on about what would happen at the resurrection. She had several missing digits and a wooden leg. She was worried about how she would manage.”

“I take it she hadn’t read her Bible,” said Mrs Galway. “At the resurrection we’re all going to get a new body. Personally, I’d like a new nose. I’ve never liked my nose.”

“Oh she knew about the new body thing, but she saw it as a straight trade rather than new for old.”

 Mrs Galway seemed to have the room to her liking, now. She was sitting in an arm chair next to the fire. “Talking of trade-ins,” she said, “to keep costs down for my funeral, I searched for second-hand coffins on the internet - but I couldn’t find any.”

“Did you Google for them – sorry – you know – use a search engine to-”

“Don’t be so patronising, Caroline – I know perfectly well what Googling is. Yes, I Googled for them, but they’re as rare as… I don’t know what. The only place you can get second-hand ones is in Muslim countries, and that’s because they use the coffins just to carry the body to the grave. Then they take it out to bury it. So the second-hand idea is out of the window. But then I had another idea. If I pay for my funeral now, and I do it with the Co-op, I’ll be able to collect the divi on it and spend it before I go. How about that?"

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