This morning, after a particularly disheartening hospital appointment that I couldn’t get out of, I found myself with an hour to kill in Chelsea, and it was then I remembered that there was a fabric shop a short walk away.
Bingo! Artist’s date No. 2, or Artist’s date No.1 Part 2 if you want to be pedantic.
‘No way,’ my Artist pouted, putting up a struggle, ‘after the last time?! Can’t we just go to Rococo and get some chocolates? It is Valentines Day, after all….’
‘Come on! It’s stopped raining and it isn’t far, we won’t be very long.’
Striding up Old Brompton Road ignoring my Artists passive aggressive muttering, I was inwardly hoping that wasn’t going to be a wasted journey. I really need to find a way of rewarding and nurturing myself with beautiful things and experiences rather than with food and wine.
‘Happy Valentines Darlin’!’
A building site to my right; of course. I smiled and nodded at my hulking, grey haired hard hatted ‘amore’, vaguely wondering when these cat calls would actually stop, given my age, general deterioration and whatnot, but at least they are a little more respectful and a little less dirty nowadays. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for a little unsolicited male attention, tragic as that is.
That said, being alone on Valentines Day doesn’t usually upset me. Hell I’ve been single most of my adult life, and have always hated that hangdog look men look get they’re forced to be ‘romantic’ and get roped into contributing to what is a very lucrative industry indeed. My last boyfriend and me used to take great pleasure in refusing to allow ourselves to get ripped off by buying astronomically expensive flowers and/or ‘special’ menus at restaurants. Instead, on D Day (or should that be ‘V’ Day?) we would go to nice deli, get some yummy things to nibble and a nice bottle of red and take ourselves to bed for the evening and make our own entertainment. Then a day or so later, we would go to our favourite restaurant and dine well, without being forced to eat and pay for six courses of food we didn’t want, much to the pique of the maitre d. ‘Why you no bring her here yesterday?’ he would wail at A, arms waving theatrically, ‘we had very special menu, guitarist playing, very romantic evening!’ But we would just grin at one another conspiratorially, him happy that he hadn’t been forced into being fleeced in the name of ‘romance’, me happy that he didn’t panic and buy me something naff or resort to a bunch of petrol station flowers.
Once there was a time, when men were kind….
I remember….a surprise winter weekend in Venice, so cold that we had to wear thermals and clung to each other as much to savour our closeness as to keep warm….. a real live baby lop eared bunny dropped on my bed one morning as a surprise gift…. being brought a squished, sweaty pastel-de-nata for my breakfast by a lover after his morning run…. a proposal of marriage whilst bathing in the Mediterranean with a hangover…. being held, shivering miserably from Noro Virus one Christmas Day by an ex who had never gotten over us…. looking into the eyes of an other and both being totally overwhelmed by the depth of my feelings…. lying on rumpled, crisp white sheets replete, backs damp with sweat cooling in the night air, watching a lightening storm…. a kiss…. a caress…. my hand encapsulated by that of another, and a bond that felt it could last forever……
Then it all went wrong……
How else could it have been? Whoever appeared to be at fault at the time, I was so damaged, it could only ever have failed. I had numerous chances, and although I didn’t know it, and didn’t mean to, I fucked them all up as I was totally unable to trust anyone long term. Too late, too late now…..
‘Hell-ooo?’ snapped my Artist, bringing me back to reality, ‘is this the place?’
I checked the name over the door; yup this is it. Again, nothing flash from the outside, but surely it can’t be worse than the last place. That said, it sounds like the people inside are arguing. Great.
A bell sounds as I enter the shop, and the Middle Eastern family gathered around the till immediately stop yelling, stare at me for five seconds, then turn around and recommence their heated debate.
‘So much for customer service’ sniffs my Artist.
But I don’t care. Because this place is a veritable fabric smorgasbord. Every wall is filled with bolts and bolts of cloth, all absolutely top quality. Liberty, Rose & Hubble, Viyella in linen, cotton, organza, velvet…
There is so much that I’m a bit overwhelmed; how do I choose?
The matriarch is gesticulating to me, jabbing her finger towards the floor.
‘More! More downstairs!’
Really? I beam at her then wander down to the lower ground floor and carefully scan the shelves trying to limit myself to one project to buy for, and after browsing undisturbed for a while, I decide to make some cushion covers for my spare room and pick out some beautiful cream corduroy material with a green flower pattern.
The matriarch is back, so I show her what I want and mention that I might want to buy some off cuts as I want to make some soft toys. She immediately shows me to a back room where there is a pile of cut price folded fabric at knock down prices.
‘Just look at this stuff!’ I exclaim, fingering some beautiful, iridescent velvety fabric.
‘It is lovely, ‘ my Artist concedes reluctantly.
I pick out a couple of pieces, and when I can’t find much in the way of zips or thread it dawns on me that this company mainly cater to internet/wholesale business hence their lack of sales pizzazz in store.
Happy with my finds, I queue up at the register and wait patiently (for a change) as the family bicker over a broken credit card machine and how to get it working again.
‘Turn it off Mama, then turn it on! No Mama, that won’t work! Turn it OFF then turn it ON! NO!’
God, do they have to scream at one another all the time? Imagine their house on Christmas day? But hey they wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas would they, so I mean….
I start at the beaming bespectacled Papa who has suddenly materialised at my elbow.
‘You singing! You sing nice!’
‘Yes you were!’ smirked my Artist, ‘to Dolly and Kenny no less!’
I am suddenly aware of the background music that I’d been warbling away to, and for the life of me, I cannot remember the last time I sang along to anything, and then, yes, there is was, a fleeting moment of happiness.
I laugh, say thank you and wait another ten minutes for them to fix the damn machine (‘No Papa, not that way! NO! PAPA!’), pay for my treasures, and say goodbye to the suddenly attentive family (great timing) and exit with a ping onto Old Brompton Road.
‘Islands in the stream,’ sings my Artist, mockingly ‘that is what we are, no one inbetw…..’
‘Oh be quiet! Anyway, there you go,’ I waggle our bag full of booty, ‘Happy Valentines Day!’
‘Pour moi? Thank you!’ simpers my Artist, ‘So, where are you taking me tonight?’
‘Whoa Nelly, don’t get carried away with yourself. It’s only our second date!’
I do however pay a little visit to Rococo and purchase some amazingly delicious salted caramels and some lavender and lime truffles.
Not for me of course, I’m on a health kick.
They’re for my Artist, not me…..
I wonder if my Artist is allowed to drink at all?!
No? OK, calm down, it was worth a try…..