My mother-in-law looked after the children, dog and pony in Italy for three days while we went to a wedding in London and she is still here now. There is blossom on the pear and cherry trees, the horse is snorting, birds chirruping, black dog basking. You get the picture. My mother-in-law, though blessed with many qualities, is not known for her boundlessly enthusiastic dynamism. My husband has inherited this trait.
We were just downstairs eating olives on crackers, pukh blowing in the open windows. Pukh is the Russian word for that white fluff that flies around Europe in spring, pollen or seeds or something from birch trees I think, though I could be (probably am) wrong. Winnie the Pooh is translated into Russian as Vinni-Pukh, which is perfect, because pukh is exactly the sort of fluff his head is supposed to be full of.
I said: ‘God, eating olives and feta cheese on crackers makes you feel like you’re abroad. You know, somewhere you can just pop out and eat fresh Mediterranean food in the sunshine.’
‘Like London,’ my husband said.
‘Exactly,’ I agreed. I brought the feta back with me yesterday.
My mother-in-law looked a bit glum.
‘I was going to make an orange and chicory salad with walnuts,’ she sighed, as if this impossible dream had long since slipped away from her.
‘Great! Go on then!’ I said.
People who were going to do something or wish they could have done something or are vaguely thinking about doing something drive me INSANE. Life is short! This is our chance to make salads! Soon it will be someone else’s turn to toast walnuts! Quick! Quick! Surely it’s better to regret doing some of the things you do than never to do anything in case you might regret it. No? On the other hand, I am in no position to talk, I thought.
‘I was going to win the Oscar for best actress,’ I breathed, suddenly infected with listless despair.
‘When?’ my mother-in-law asked.
‘I suppose I noticed that I hadn’t really been getting on with it when I was about thirty,’ I admitted.
‘I was going to change those lights in the bathroom,’ my husband nodded, acknowledging that this was now as likely as my Oscar dream.
‘I shouldn’t,’ his mum warned. ‘They look deadly.’
‘I would have worn my wellies,’ he said, staring gloomily at an oily olive.
When I was about thirty…Hmm… I had a two year old and a newborn baby when I was thirty. The quite glittering journalistic career I’d had in my twenties was in a permanent vegetative state now and about to have the life support turned off to put it out of its misery. I was broke, overweight, crushingly lonely and about as likely to be cast by James Cameron as ever be taken out on a date again. Especially given that my acting experience was limited to playing Oliver when I was ten.
When I got married at 27, a friend of mine said: ‘God, that’s a big admission.’
‘Well, if you get married now, it’s like admitting that you’re never going to marry Brad Pitt.’
I laughed, but she was right in a way. Making big decisions does mean that you are ruling out the other options. If you don’t dare audition for drama school you’re not going to be in the RSC. I didn’t and I’m not.
I was interviewing a policeman the other day about the NYPD. I asked him how you get young drug dealers to cooperate on homicide cases – surely it’s not worth even trying. He said of course you can and do and, in any case, you have to try because you certainly can’t get them to cooperate if they’re dead. Nor, of course, can you audition for drama school, make an orange and chicory salad, fix the bathroom lights or resurrect your comatose career if you are dead. Which is why you need to get on with it NOW. Which reminds me of the Marvell poem, To His Coy Mistress. ‘The grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace.’
Incidentally, the salad was delicious. Blood oranges are the key, I think. I have been commissioned to write a screenplay, so will have content myself with that level of proximity to the Kodak theatre or whatever it’s called. The bathroom lights, however…
Well, it’s nice brushing your teeth to candlelight really.