I sit at home, drinking gin with the television on but the sound off,
wondering when this madness will end and when I will return to a past that even
if it was not happy at least had meaning.
That new bloke is rather dishy dont you think?
I glanced over at the young man by the photocopier and shrugged.
Josh? Uhm, he is okay.
Okay? Oh Audrey, he is more than okay. And he is so funny too.
That joke about Trump
Funny? Not really, and anyway I cannot understand what he says;
it must be his accent.
But he sounds just like you and me. He is very clear.
He just mutters, or perhaps I was distracted, I do get so bored
easily at the moment.
After my unsatisfactory conversation with Joyce I strode over to my
desk and started to answer e-mails, whilst opposite me Ben was on the telephone
having a loud conversation on what I soon realised, to my dismay, was about
Boris Johnson and Brexit.
He was useless as Mayor and he is even worse as Prime
Yeah mate, I will be there.
Laughter, tell me about it.
At least he will stop this Brexit thing.
And then I lost interest and carried on with my work, but when I looked
up Ben was still on the telephone, same conversation, but apparently with a
different person. He put the receiver down after a moment, and saw me looking
over at him, and said something, I smiled and realised that he wanted an answer
and tried yes, which seemed to work as I got an okay
and he went off in the direction of the drinks machine and brought me back a
black coffee, along with something more fancy for him.
Later Alastair came in, fat and sweaty from the late summer heat, this
is his company, he started it twenty years ago and watched it grow from a
one-man business in his dining room, to a large company employing over one
hundred people, shared out between two offices; one here in London and the more
recent one over in Manchester. The company has something to do with computing,
I am not exactly sure what it is that they do, but so long as I understand my
part of it; chasing up invoices, sending e-mails and answering the telephone
then I am okay, but I do feel more and more lost, as if I had wandered in
here by accident, and that everyone else knows more than I do.
I have been here six years, since the library I worked for was
closed down due to the austerity measures of a previous government, it was a
job I loved and I was devastated to lose it, but I was lucky to get this one so
quickly afterwards, and even if I am not completely sure what it is I am doing,
the money is better and I have got my friend Joyce, who I enjoy chatting with
and sometimes, when the weather is warm, we eat our lunch together in Finsbury
Park, although we havent done it much this summer, with work being
particularly frantic at the moment.
Lately I had been watching the television show House, after picking up
a DVD of the first series in a charity shop for a couple of pounds. Hugh Laurie
is the titular House, a doctor in a fictional American hospital, where he and
his team deal with and, (after forty minutes of drama), invariably solve, the
most difficult and strangest of cases. But it is the interplay between the
characters that interested me; I felt that perhaps I could learn how to behave
and interact with my colleagues by watching the way Doctor House and his team
worked together; the respect and humour, alongside the ability to work together
towards a common goal.
I looked up to see Alastair standing at my desk, smiling down at me
pityingly, Audrey he said and something else which I did not quite
catch and I realised he wanted me to follow him into his office; I wondered if
I had done something wrong and was slightly nervous as I followed him. I sat
down on one of the several uncomfortable chairs dotted about his office;
despite the strong odour of air freshener in his office I could smell his
perspiration which made me edge as far away from him as possible, without
making it obvious.
He started off with something complimentary; I heard the words
hard work and good attitude, but then his voice faded
away, just an uninteresting mumbling, and I could not find the energy or
interest to concentrate. I looked at him with his rather longish black hair
over his large face, those dark, soulful, eyes, trying to find something that I
could understand. There were words, but they made no sense, just phrases which
I could not find a meaning to. And then there was silence.
Thank you I said when I realised he had finished; I tried
to look bright and happy, but he was looking at me strangely, as if I had not
said the appropriate thing. I got up and left, feeling his eyes upon me.
What did he say?
Uhm, just stuff, how hard I am working. Nothing
Are you sure?
I shrugged uneasily, and try to get back to work, aware that other
members of staff were looking at me, even Josh had put the telephone down and
was picking at his keyboard, and then after about thirty minutes Alastair was
back at my desk, sweating even more than earlier, his voice sounded sharp and
What are you still doing here? Didnt you understand what I
I hurriedly started to pack away my stuff feeling hot and embarrassed,
whilst Alastair watched me to make sure that I did not leave anything
Joyce walked with me to the lift.
It was a bit short notice.
But I am sure you will find something else, you are very
experienced. Do you have money tucked away somewhere?
Have I been sacked?
Didnt you understand? The company is struggling, especially
with that new office in Manchester costing more than he expected, and there
were those complaints from people you telephoned
The lift arrived and I looked back at the office, Joyce was already
walking away talking to the new guy Josh, and Ben was back on the telephone,
presumably lecturing somebody else about the evils of Brexit, and I stepped
into the lift and descended.
All these politicians thinking they know what is best for
I hate them all. I just wish they would get on with it.
They are just out for themselves.
I remember Harold Macmillan; decent and honourable, why
isnt there anybody like him in parliament?
I miss the old days.
So do I, so do I.
Stepping past the respectable looking couple, eyes firmly ahead of me,
I gagged on the stink from the various takeaways that lined the road.
Eventually I escaped into Manor House Tube Station with its own
particular, but much pleasanter, smell and after a few moments a half-empty
train pulled in and I sat weeping quietly to myself, whilst opposite me, a girl
wearing headphones stared at me blankly, before closing her eyes and appearing
I sat at home and tried to plan, I had enough money for the time being,
probably for six months if I was frugal, which I naturally was, but I would
have to start looking for another job soon, and the thought of going through
all the job searches and interviews filled me with horror, I was too old for
that now. I wished I could retire or if I had someone to support me, so
that looking for another job was not so urgent; but there was nobody, and I had
to look after myself. In the end I switched on another episode of House and
lost myself in the various machinations of Hugh Laurie and his colleagues.
It is September and the evenings are still bright; and I hear footsteps
and laughter outside. At night I wake up feeling scared and lonely and I potter
into my kitchen and make myself a drink of herbal tea and gaze out of the
window at the large house behind mine which is also divided up into flats. On a
similar night to this one, I looked over at a window opposite, and saw a woman
walking around naked; she had long black hair and I could see her body clearly
through the glass, even her nipples and belly button stood out clearly. With
mug in hand I continued to gaze at her until she looked over at me, and seemed
to wink, so that I blushed hurried back to bed and I never saw her again.
Perhaps it was a dream, or something I remembered from a film, but I think that
it was real, and I often think of her.
I rang my mum on Friday evening as I always do; she lives in Leicester
and is struggling with her arthritis, I have suggested she come to London to
live with me, but to my relief she refuses.
I have all my friends in Leicester and London is so busy. Why
dont you come back home? I am sure you could get a job here;
Judiths son works for a care company, they are always looking for new
people, and you have done that kind of work before.
But that was thirty years ago, and I hated it. And I too have got
She has started to mumble as she gets older, and without visual clues
it is difficult to understand her. I have suggested we e-mail each other, or
even write letters but she says she likes to hear my voice, and the e-mails and
letters that I send go unanswered.
How are you Audrey? she asked when I rang.
I am okay. I decided not to tell her about the loss of my
You sound depressed. Have you been out much?
Work takes up so much of my time.
You need to get out; go to a play or a concert with a friend. You
are in London, you may as well enjoy yourself.
And then she starts to talk about herself Gloria hasnt been
Soon I am losing track of what she is saying, just words that make no
sense. And then there I realise that there is silence, and I wonder if she has
disappeared. I can hear the sound of the wires going all the way from Dagenham
to Leicester, full of static, conveying nothing, just a dull noise.
Audrey comes a voice out of the ether, Are you
You have already asked me that.
You are not listening.
I had better go and I hurriedly put the phone down.
I put on the television and end up watching Newsnight with two
politicians arguing about Brexit, but I realised that I had no idea what they
were talking about, or who believed in what and anyway I had heard it all
before, so I turned it off and put on an episode of House and started to watch
it, but even this I found hard to concentrate upon. Somewhere nearby I could
hear a cat, mewing plaintively, but I continue to watch and then realised that
as I no longer had a job all the lessons that I had learned from House were
I wondered what I should do over the weekend, perhaps I should start
job hunting, but in the end all I did was sleep and went for a long walk along
the Thames, and in the evenings I watched television, but the only thing I
enjoyed was a German film which had subtitles, and somehow I found it easier to
understand. By Sunday night I realised that I had not spoken to anyone since
the telephone call to my mother, even going to Sainsburys did not involve
human contact anymore with the staff being slowly phased out and replaced by
automatic checkouts and machines that allowed you to scan your own purchases.
On Monday morning with no job to go to, I decided to visit my friend
Marge who lives in Highgate; we worked together in the library for many years
and had kept in touch since we both had to leave, and when I mentioned my
friends, it is her I had in mind, although I go for months without seeing, or
even think about her. I caught the tube and sat doing a crossword from The
Guardian that someone had left on my seat.
Bastard Tories, I hate them.
I cannot imagine being one.
How can they be so evil?
We need a revolution to sweep them all away.
Yes a few firing squads would do the trick, the
I edged past the two youths as the train pulled in at the station and I
got out leaving them united in their hatred, and I wondered what they imagined
these evil Tories were, some kind of monster that preyed upon the
poor and vulnerable? Perhaps some kind of alien, trying to invade Earth.
Marge and I sat and drank Earl Grey tea and ate Battenberg cake in her
flat, chatting in a desultory manner; I told her about losing my job, and she
looked at me with little interest or concern before speaking about her
neighbour (and I suspect lover).
Pete down the road asked me to go to a Brexit meeting; it took me
awhile to realise that he was being funny.
Are you a Remainer? I asked not particularly
Yes, of course. I am not going to be dictated to be a bunch of
racists and old fools.
I ate some more Battenberg cake and left.
I rang to make an appointment to see a doctor; I asked for a woman, and
the receptionist said something and I muttered okay and put the
phone down, she sounded obliging so I assumed that she was confirming the time.
The bus was almost full and I sat next to a young teenage boy who had
headphones on, and I could hear the music echoing without melody or charm.
Behind me were a couple murmuring sadly together.
I dont understand it.
Why cant they get on with it?
I just dont understand.
No nor me.
The doctor was a man, Doctor Taub, it said on his door, and
he sat there gazing just above my head as I spoke.
I am confused, I do not understand anything, when people speak I
lose interest and then I realise I just havent listened. I even got
sacked and didnt realise. Perhaps I am going mad.
He briefly looked into his eyes, his hands forming a triangle in front
of him, and I understood that he was playing the role of concerned doctor.
I am sure you are not insane, so dont worry. Everybody is
confused at the moment he said with a smile, and then he started talking
about hearing and I looked at him blankly until it was time to go. He did not
even look in my ears, just talked, words, meaningless words.
Thank you I said as I left his office.
The receptionist called me back into the surgery as I walked past the
reception desk, she handed me a small piece of paper.
From Doctor Taub, you forgot it.
I stood there looking at it, whilst people pushed past me to speak to
the receptionist and one man sneezed into my face, and I automatically wiped
away the snot as I looked at the piece of paper that I had been given, but I
could not understand it and so once I was outside I screwed it up and put it in
There was a pleasant breeze in the air and so I decided to walk home,
following the bus route, not caring how long it would take or if I got lost. In
front of me I thought I could see Hugh Laurie, limping along with his stick out
in front of him; but as he got closer I realised that it was an elderly woman
hobbling along, I said good afternoon and she stared at me as if I
had said something obscene and after the briefest of moments, she stumbled past
me. The streets were full of Londoners going about their business, some
were listening to personal stereos, some having conversations on their phones,
whilst others were talking or shouting amongst themselves, and I was in the
middle of them, uncomprehending and alone.