Chris and I were intrigued but the previous entry was never finished. We did not find out what had taken Constance two days to do. She started a new page, dated only a day later.
6 January 2010
I’m in Starbucks. I’ve been here all evening, they’re going to be sweeping around my feet in a moment. I needed to get out of the house to pretend I wasn’t waiting for the phone to ring. Of course I’ve brought my phone and I’m waiting for it to ring but no one else knows that. I look like a woman enjoying her chai tea latte on a winter evening. Alone. In Starbucks. Knocking her phone regularly on the table to see if it’s still working.
I want to be Miss Fouquet, the tap-dancing secretary in the new off-West End musical about office workers – TYPECAST! - more than almost any job I’ve ever wanted in my life. I want JohnWoodTheIngrateExAgent to know I don’t need him to get work.
I want to be on stage. It’s been 14 months since my last job. That was an ad, not even national. I want something to do. I want an answer when people ask ‘What are you up to?’ And. I want the money.
I'm not worried, we don't have a problem, Malcolm isn't gambling, he goes to his meetings. He’s not depressed. We just rely on two incomes. That’s normal.
It’s not as normal, of course, for one of those incomes to have been very close to the seven figure mark once upon a time and then vanish. Necessitating a new, much smaller house and lots of jobs one wouldn’t ordinarily want to do. Which has never been a problem, I’ve been happy doing the jobs I don’t want to do.
I don’t know what to do if I don’t get even the jobs I don’t want.
I'm not going to think about that. What I am going to think about are the lyrics for Miss Fouquet’s first big number. They’ve been running in my head since the audition and I take this as a good sign.
Send the memo, type the minutes!
Give the boss his morning tea!
File and phone and meet your deadlines –
Staff the desk e–fic-ient-ly!
Very catchy. Of course I haven’t tapped in years. Not since Trixie True, Teen Detective, where I saved the world by dancing out Morse code on the lid of a Russian submarine.
I just figured out that job paid me exactly ten times what this company is offering.
Not that I'm complaining.
In fact, I gave a creditable performance at the audition. Which is saying something as I can’t remember the last time I needed to audition. I am usually invited in to read. I am given tea, fed biscuits. I often snog very attractive leading men, laughing as we hold scripts and think how much we love our jobs.
This seems to have stopped happening.
However, I was very pleased with myself, because as soon as the music started I launched into my routine. I was in time, my flap ball changes had – flair. Perhaps reciting a speech of Desdemona’s simultaneously wasn’t the best accompaniment but I wanted to show my versatility. A tap-dancing tragedian. That’s an actor with breadth.
Sometimes I think I’m losing the thread. Which doesn’t make sense as I’m doing what I’ve always done and it has always worked before. What’s different? It’s a puzzle.
I’ve got a seat by a window, looking out onto the neat residential lanes running off the high street. Every tree in the city is bare. London in winter is a country, not a season. A wet, dark world. By the end of February I can feel myself evolving out of my eyeballs like one of David Attenborough’s sightless grubs.
Ah! The phone!
Well. This was the conversation.
Voice: Constance Hill, please.
Voice: Hello, this is Smita from Hakim Optical returning your call.
Con: (deflated) Oh yes.
Smita: You were inquiring about your lenses -
Smita: - were they ready.
Smita: I’ll be happy to tell you.
Con: Thank you.
Smita: I’ll just need your details. Can you confirm your date of birth?
Con: 13th March, 1966.
This is where I always expect someone to say ‘You don’t SOUND as though you were born in 1966!’ Instead – a long pause.
Smita: No, I’m sorry nothing. How do you spell the name?
Pause. Sound of shuffling and keys clicking.
Smita: No. No record for Hill under that date.
I have no idea what else to suggest. Check another name? Just give me the lenses for anyone who was born on that date?
Smita: Could there have been any other information?
Con: Such as?
Smita: We file everyone by date of birth. Is it possible you could have given an alternate date?
I say nothing. I feel a creeping kind of horror make its way up my skin but I am repressing what it means.
Smita: It could be simply a data-entry error. How long have you been a customer, Mrs Hill?
Con: Miss Hill. Most of my life. Over twenty years.
Smita: Can you bear with me a moment? I am sorry for this inconvenience.
Con: Twenty-three years.
Smita: I’ll be right with you.
There is more typing and some breathing while a strange desire to end the call overtakes me. I don’t want to speak any further to this admittedly helpful employee of Hakim Optical. I don’t want to know whatever it is she is going to tell me and I am about to say it’s fine, I will do without the lenses, I will make some myself out of Blu-tak and cellophane when her bright tones return, triumphant.
Smita: Ah! Here it is. Just a mis-typing. The date we have is 13th March 1961. How old are you Miss Hill?
A vague and unwelcome memory shoots to the forefront of my mind, not unlike recalling the plot of ground where you hid the body of your psychologically abusive 6th form headmaster and I can feel myself trying to disconnect the phone but unable to think how.
Con: How old am I?
Smita: Is it 1966?
I am caught within two towering and warring impulses. The impulse not to reveal myself as a humiliatingly incompetent liar and the desire to, well – be 45. Even to a stranger on a phone.
Con: Is it?
Smita: Is it?
Con: I –
Smita: Or 1961?
Suddenly it unfurls in front of me, a banner of memory. I am 28 years old and I am getting my first pair of spectacles in London. I’m home from filming in America, being recognised in the street and stopped for autographs in public places. I am tall and curvaceous and beautiful and a classically trained actor – a potent combination the Americans snatched up as the inspiration for Mallory Queen- Girl PI – a crime show that ran seven seasons and bought Malcolm and me our Regency town house and the farm in Dorset.
I am 28 and it’s 1989 and I am asked my age at the optometrist on Tottenham Court Road and in the world before Google, before email, before fan-sites, before public exposure to every private fact, I hear time’s wing-ed chariot in my mind’s ear, deafening in its speed. I look at the open-faced clerk gazing into my famous face and am gripped, in my oesophagus by a breath-taking panic as I think ‘I’m too old’ – and in that split second I perform an act of time distortion worthy of Einstein and Stephen Hawking and Dr Who – and I become 24.
No one knows this isn’t true. Not even Malcolm.
Now Smita knows.
Smita: Miss Hill?
Con: Yes – I’ll, thank you – I’m – I’ll call back.
I push a button and she’s gone and - I’m 45 again. The relief is huge. I don’t stop to think what this means.
Well, it does mean when people say ‘You don’t look 45!’ they are more right than they know. I don’t look 45 because I’m 49.
I am in much better nick than anyone suspects.
Even John Wood my Ex-Agent. From whom I’ve had two messages asking if I’m okay and grovelling and suggesting we have coffee.
This is really bemusing. I can’t understand why he would want to re-visit the scene of his crime. A gloating opportunity? I’m ignoring him.
HA! The phone!
No. Not them. Fiona. She'd put the kids to bed and was returning my call. I'd rung and left a message after I'd removed my fright make-up and taken off Miss Fouquet’s sensible shoes. She must have understood the tone of my voice because her first words tonight were
Fiona: Darling, what happened?
Con: (quiet) I auditioned.
Fiona: (shocked) Good God.
Con: I know.
Fiona: I’m sorry.
Con: Thank you.
Fiona: (placating) Just an artistic director who doesn’t know you. A teenager.
Con: He was 40.
Fiona: (desperate) New to the business.
Con: Twenty years ago .
Suddenly she pulls away from the receiver.
Fiona: Barnaby NO! Get back to bed or you will spend the night away from your brother in another room entirely.
Barnaby: (faintly)There is no other room.
Fiona: You’ll spend the night in the bath, then. (back to the phone) Sorry Con.
Con: He was nice. I just – I’m just losing my –
Fiona: I told you - .
Barnaby: I’d get wet.
Barnaby: I’d get wet when Daddy had a shower.
Fiona: Well, you’d best consider that the next time you think about getting out of bed.
Distant background wailing.
Fiona: What? What for God’s sake!
Barnaby: I don’t want to get wet. Daddy would step on me!
Fiona: Daddy’s not here. Get to bed or I’LL step on you. Sorry Con. It’s been diabolical. Colin is in Brussels and they always act up when I’m on my own. I’m out-numbered. They do it on purpose. And the horrible thing is, I don’t care. My whole life has revolved around them for thirteen years. I have nothing more to give. Oliver is old enough to impregnate his classmates and David looks like a creditable drug-pusher, freakishly tall for eleven. My work here is done. I want to escape.
Con: Oh darling.
Fiona: I’m turning to straw.
Fiona: My hair, my – nether regions. I’m like the Sahara desert. No one told me at 50 I’d become Arid Woman. Do you know what it takes to get any intimacy that doesn’t require industrial quantities of lubricant? It’s not worth it. Colin and I think about it and we have to plot our manoeuvres like a military strike. At 2200 hours I will apply the ointment. At 2215, he’ll advance. 2222, further lubricant. He feels dejected and I feel – a mess.
Malcolm and I have been married over 20 years. We are very good friends. Which means we don’t argue, we travel well together and we haven’t had – mess – for a rather long time.
Con: Have you tried magazines? Or the internet?
I was giving myself away here.
Fiona: What? Oh. Ha, no. No. Not that imaginative, I’m afraid. We’re just soldiering on. If I weren’t terrified of cancer I’d be slathering myself in HRT. It’s hateful. You dry out, then you die. I’m sorry. You didn’t ring for a catalogue of my hormonal ills.
It’s true I hadn’t and it’s also true I felt unable to comment as I’ve been relatively unscathed by it all. Unlike my mother who went insane with the menopause and couldn’t speak civilly for three years. She slept with a rubber under-sheet because she got tired of sweating through her linen to the mattress. My cycle is slightly irregular but that’s it. Some things even seem better.
I have less hair on my legs for one. That has to be good.
Fiona: I’m sure auditioning is an anomaly. You’re a famous genius, darling.
Con: Tell me again.
Fiona: David has your photo on the back of his door. Mallory Queen, Girl P.I.
Con: No! Which season?
Fiona: 1987. In the black leather.
Con: Well, good. That’s how I want my godson to think of me. Bosoms and hair.
Fiona: If God exists, she made all of you. That includes your – hair.
I love Fiona. I was thinking how much I loved her when I felt buzzing and looked down and saw another call coming through.
And it was them.