The skirt grazed the floor as Zuzana danced around Zvolenská Slatina’s town hall. She’d borrowed it from a friend. Every few months the younger village kids would dance at local weddings or perform for bleary-eyed parents as they registered their newborns. When Zuz turned 6, her grandmother decided that the dances were regular enough that she deserved her own skirt. Margita’s generosity and modesty meant she commissioned a local seamstress rather than make the skirt herself, in spite her own proficiency. The dark cotton velvet was expertly ‘tambour’ stitched. As Zuz spun around, the stitched flowers and vegetables cycled through the seasons from early Spring Lily-of-the-Valley through to Summer roses and the Autumn harvest of corn. The skirt shrunk, from sitting mid calf to shaving her knees and with her teens came the inevitable period of self-consciousness and she, along with many of her friends, gave up folk dancing. This year Zuz turns 32, she’s not taken up dancing again but on special occasions, she still wears the skirt, which now ‘just covers my arse’.
Josie had made toast but the butter dish was empty, she headed out to the corner shop. Her street was piled with bin bags slumped against full wheeley bins after the weekend. They were not pretty, foxes had ripped into the loosely tied plastic carriers scattering the street with slimy salad bags and the mouldy heels of bread. But propped against all this fetid rubbish something glinted. Josie thought it was beautiful. She was having that clock, she’d grab it when she came back from the shop. But half way down the street, she turned around and sprinted back, she grabbed the clock and quickly lodged it inside her front door. She headed out again to get the butter. Five minutes later, she was back on her road, butter in hand. She stopped to let a bin lorry pass. The street was clear again, all the rubbish had gone. And her clock sat safely at the foot of her stairs.
She was from Paris. She’d been a real head turner in her prime but now she’d been abandoned half way up a mountain. Coco lived in the valley, just a few miles away. It was 1957, 12 years since the war had ended but France was still recovering. Coco, like many in rural France, was living hand to mouth. He kept a few chickens and a small flock of sheep who grazed on steep pockets of land near the base of the Vaucluse mountains. It was Coco who’d discovered her, a deep inky blue beauty with a claret interior. But Coco didn’t love her for her looks. The Lincoln had broken down near Grenoble and was left stranded at Albertini’s garage, until Coco towed her 20 miles south and flipped her on to her roof in a field. It was her chassis he was after, it would make a perfect trailer for his tractor. Years later, Coco’s friend Marie-Hélène took Gerry to look at the car. Gerry was visiting from England, he’d grown up with a dad who spent weekends buffing the family’s Mark 10 Jag – and Gerry had inherited his love of cars. This number plate is Gerry’s memento of the old Lincoln, he also took a pair of Bakelite door lock stalks that he plans to make into earrings for his girlfriend Louise.
‘She honed her humor to its most economical size.’ Dorothy Parker’s writing, though apparently effortless, wasn’t so. She was meticulous, slicing away until there was no fat. But this sparsity and wit meant she was often dismissed as trite. At parties ‘fresh, young gents’ would demand she say something ‘funny and nasty’ like a performing seal, but her shyness with strangers rendered her mute. Critics denigrated her poetry as ‘flapper verse’; 30 years of work in The New Yorker, as opposed to some little literary magazine, only confirmed her as unworthy of the status afforded to some of her contemporaries. She was as critical of herself as her critics were of her – ‘Wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words’ whereas ‘Wit has truth in it.’ Her obituary gave her the acclaim she was due, quoting her ‘bright black authenticity’. It’s these characteristics that attracted Tony to her work, and prompted him to buy a signed copy of her first volume of poetry, ‘Enough Rope’. He identifies with her conviction, her acute wit, the economy of her work, it’s beauty and it’s utility – conveying feelings with understated power.
Simon found a seat and spent a couple of minutes going through emails, then another ten minutes reading and re-reading an email from a client – this meant he had the rest of the journey to contemplate being fired. An hour later as the 452 rattled off down Ladbroke Grove, Simon was being beckoned into his boss’s goldfish bowl office. Simon had moved to London at 19, he ‘let the breaks off in a big way’, and spent 10k of his grant on drugs, he had no choice but to defer his degree. He took stock, cleaned up and returned to college. He graduated with a first, walked into his dream job and within 3 years was an associate, trusted to run a team and cover for a colleague who was on holiday. The cover this time involved a quick site visit and a request to encourage the client to keep to the original scheme of concrete floors in their basement. Simon dutifully did as asked, meeting with the client’s PA on site and following up with an email reiterating the recommendation to use concrete. The reply arrived swiftly, ‘If I want my floors covered in muesli with shag pile carpeting on the walls that is what I will have.’ clearly the client did not want concrete, clearly he was incensed to be patronised by someone with such ‘an obvious lack of experience.’ He magnanimously offered to ‘draw a line under this – I assume drawing lines is well within your skill-set.’ Simon has framed this email. It was a lesson in not dictating to clients and the catalyst to setting up his own practise, a practise which studiously avoids the ‘spoilt rich’. Simon has just finished designing his own house, he held off on the shag pile carpeting for the walls and chose concrete instead.
They met for tea every Friday, but each time, just as the second brew was ready, Lorna’s lunch hour was over. For the first of these meetings she’d spent a considerable time choosing what to wear. Anders arrived on a beat-up old bike in a grey sweater peppered with moth holes – and Lorna resigned herself to having made another friend, a dear friend, but just a friend all the same. Their conversation was always easy, meandering from Japanese cooking to Chinese medicine to Lorna’s Amatsu exams to the flavour of the steak and wine Anders had ordered after an abstemious week on a Buddhist retreat. It was this refreshing absence of earnestness that Lorna, a self described ‘spiritual but no nonsense Yorkshire lass’, loved. Their tea dates evolved into date dates and they moved in together. Every night they had tea, laughing over the increasingly naff aphorisms – ‘nafforisms’ on the tags of their herbal Yogi. One uncharacteristically balmy London night, Anders returned home with flowers and Prosecco. He made a lovely, lazy supper of leftovers and they sat out in the garden. By 10pm Lorna was sleepy from the booze, she said she’d skip their customary tea and head for bed. Anders suggested she get ready for bed and he’d make tea. So Lorna sat outside in her pajamas while the kettle boiled. Anders read the tag on his tea ‘ “Truth is everlasting”…what does yours say?’. He smiled as she read out, ‘After drinking this tea, would you like to marry me?’.