In Which Helen Meets Sam the Volunteer


April 29th 2010

Today was an ego affirming day.  I’ve been running around like a rat in a maze trying to get all these costumes together for Sweet Shop which begins shooting in two days and of course Murphy’s Law reigns.  “How” I can hear you cry, “can you have an ego affirming day when you are mid hell week, sleep deprived, surrounded by models and rocking ghetto fab like it’s going out of style?” (Tee hee)  Well let me tell you.  I was out shopping in the Charity Shops for some finishing touches on Simone’s café costume.  I had just picked out a charming Top Shop blouse and was headed over to inspect the belts when I inadvertently disturbed the rather unfortunate chap in the corner.  I had not noticed him before but nearly stepping on a person brings them rather sharply to your attention.  He had dark greasy hair and plastic glasses perched on a bright red bulbous nose.  He was hunched over his sci-fi novel  reading with the loving devotion of a monk pouring over holy texts.  Or  a curious 13 year old guiltily perusing the lingerie section of the Sears catalogue.  Every so often he would tug on the end of his already enflamed nose and the movement of his arm would stir up the air around him wafting an acrid cloud of body odour to the olfactory sensors of the unsuspecting.  Suddenly my need for a belt was not so pressing.  I scuttled to the front of checkout counter.  The unfortunate chap scuttled to the back of the checkout counter.

“Did you find everything alright?”

“Yes, yes I did thank you.”  Don’t breathe… Just don’t breathe…

“Top’s nice.  It’ll look good on you.”

“Oh it isn’t for me.”

“Do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Oh, I expect I’ll stay in.”

“That’s a shame.  My friends and I are going out for drinks later.  Newbury has a pretty good nightlife. ”

“I had no idea.  Well, you have a good day then.”

As I walked out of the Cancer Research post haste intent on hitting up a few more shops before packing it in I reached into the bag to collect the receipt for my records.  Instead I found a little hand written note.

Saw you looking all cute in Cancer Research 

and decided I’d slip you my number. 


in case you would like to go for a drink?

Sam the Volunteer


There have been only a few times in my life where I was well and truly, jaw droppingly, shocked.  This was one of those times.  For several seconds I stood there agape like a cartoon character.  Then my mind began to work again. 

Who does that? Seriously who?  And when did he have time to write it?  Surely there wasn’t really enough time.  Which means he had to have written it before he rang up my purchase.  Even before I’d realized he was there.  Or maybe he does this a lot.  Maybe he had a stash of little notes to slip to unsuspecting bargain hunters.   Every time a cute girl walks in he gets his game on, grammar school style.  Oh man, those pigtails are so cute!  It’s time to pass some notes!

 Now I want to know if it works.  Do the lucky recipients of old school spam sit there and read the note and think “Well he thought I was cute and he is a volunteer…”

*Not the real number.

In Which Helen Recalls the Dark Days


Sometime in the 8th grade

You know how it is.  One day you are just walking along minding your own business when suddenly you are rugby tackled by a memory you forgot you had forgotten.  Today the horrors of 8th grade PE were harassing my ruthlessly.  I hated PE.  There is nothing worse than having to run in circles parading your insecurities around the gymnasium in brightly coloured nylon track suit bottoms.  Even worse, by eighth grade I’d only just started shaving my legs.  I was too embarrassed to ask how so my first attempts were with a dry disposable razor which left my legs red and oozing but hairless.  Of course it was a completely useless exercise, now that they were all cut up  I had to cover my legs anyway.  Anyhow on this particular day I was running late for that hated hour of hell and in my haste tripped over my own oversized platform sneakers.   Please remember that this was 2000 or 2001 and such things were fashionable.  These ridiculous shoes were my pride and joy.  Not only were they millennium chic in three different shades of blue suede with silver trim and  2.5 inches of solid, white rubber souls but they were a size 8 women’s shoe.  You see at the age of 14 I was still half child.  And the child half of me still believed that the bigger my shoe size was the closer I was to being an adult.  Oh how wrong I was.  Now that I am a fully formed adult, about as tall as I will ever be I wear a size 6.  I can pull of a 6.5 with nice thick socks.  So for several years I was running around in shoes at least two sizes too big for me.   So between lateness, bad fashion and worse fit I twisted my ankle.  Oh happy days!  I explained my situation to my PE teacher and he confirmed that I had no need to run!  Joy aboundeth!  I loped off post haste to the nurse’s office for ice and sympathy.   Sadly when the teacher in question saw the eagerness with which I made my escape  he decided I must be bluffing and sent another student after me to drag me back for an excruciating turn around the gym. 

“Oh the pain!” cried my wounded ankle.

“Oh the injustice!” cried my wounded pride.

“Oh the humanity” cried the part of me which had not yet read Bartleby the Scrivener but knew that quote had some literary significance.  

The next day I limped into PE, still hurting, still humiliated and still wearing wholly inappropriate footwear.  I sat down bracing myself for the pain to come when my PE teacher came in… on crutches.  Apparently he had severely twisted his ankle  playing basketball.   Some may have called it divine justice.  I don’t know about that.  But I do know that I didn’t have to run for two weeks after that.

In Which Helen Speculates About the Outcome of the NCAA Tournament


April 23

I am on the bus, as I so often am when my eye alights on something I did not expect to see this far from a basketball loving nation.  There is a Carolina fan sitting right in front of me shamelessly wearing his official Tarheel’s hat even after their defeat. He can hardly suspect that right behind him sits a Blue Devil Baby, mental pitchfork ready to prick some Achilles into that Tar Heel of his.  If there was ever a time to wear this year’s NCAA Championship T-shirt today is the day.  What are the odds that the most passionate rivalry in college basketball would be represented by chance, by two random strangers, scant inches away, on a bus in London?  His ears are bright red.  Someone must be talking about Carolina disparagingly…

In Which Helen Sees a Tiny Tot Slathered in Sludge


April 8th
I am decidedly not a fan of small girls (under 10) wearing makeup. There is certainly a time and place where it is acceptable, a bit of mascara to make the birthday girl feel special, a touch of rouge for a ballet recital, but nothing over the top. So imagine my distaste when a father walks up carrying a not yet 5 year old girl with enough make-up to put any beauty queen to shame. Even though the combination of green eye shadow, hot pink rouge and the violently red-orange lipstick with matching gloss should have looked like a riot had started in the paint room of Andy Warhol’s art factory it was all expertly applied. Not a single lash was out of place. You would have thought that any child with sticky gloss on their lips would be wiping it everywhere, but she seemed completely at ease. Now imagine that my distaste turns to horror as the mother approached. Her hair was crispy with hairspray and her skin had been baked into fragile tissue paper folds that quivered over her bones and between her fake DD breasts. Her face is a mask of the same bright green eye shadow, thick crusting of mascara, hot pink rouge, and that violent red-orange lippy-gloss pairing which is smeared across two of her crooked teeth. As I explained to the circus, er, family, that we are on a 45 minute wait for a table the mother lost interest and began adjusting her silicon with beclawed hands.
Please dear God of all things holy, I threw up a silent prayer, do not let this little girl turn into that.
Perhaps it was too late because as I stole one last look at mini-mommy I could clearly see a lacy red training bra showing through her yellow and white butterfly shirt. Her last hope now is that her teenage rebellion will bring on a nature loving granola munching makeup hating phase.

In Which Helen Rides the Bus


March 31st
There are two children inspecting the sign on the bus, indicating that no one should smoke on public transit. After being questioned their mother explained as much, and one child, as children so often do, began to ask questions.
“What else shouldn’t you do?”
“Stand on the seats.”
“What else?”
“Run up and down.”
“What else?”
“Generally be naughty.”
“Is pushing and shoving allowed?”
“Is that being naughty?”
Silence from the child, followed by, “Weeeelll, what if…” There was a long, drawn out, and very complicated monologue where the child tried to describe a scenario where in pushing and shoving would not be considered naughty but necessary. Presumably he was searching for self defense but in his innocence could not think of any particular scenario where he would need to defend himself. It was like watching the child hover on the line between naivety and comprehension of a grown up world. He knew he may one day need to defend himself but could not imagine what that situation would be. His face as he struggled with these concepts was the picture of dawning realization, but his dawning realization was of a world that he didn’t understand, and the mother’s realization was that he was moving into that world and knowing very soon that he’d lose the purity of mind that would never be attainable again.

In Which Helen Observes


March 28th

Each month corporate offices pay a secret shopper to come and judge our performance in the restaurant. This month the secret shopper gave the host department 68%. The managers have kittens if anyone gets under 90%. On a side note, the image of my managers trying to squeeze out kittens from whatever orifice comes most naturally to them will live with me forever. Fortunately though, no negative ramifications have come down the pipes as of yet. I have my theories as to why this might be. The name of the host on duty was not given and for a hot second I was worried it might be me. However, the secret shopper was very clear that the host on duty was “incapable of speaking English.” I know for a fact that this was not true, now admittedly half the host staff are not native English speakers but gregarious Columbian and Portuguese beauties here in London to study English. As a result of their rigorous courses, many of them speak better English than your average Londoner. (Innit!) And yet, so often they endure the following;

Host: (slight accent) Hello, welcome to Hard Rock, how can I be a help today?
Guest: Yeah, I’d like a table for four please.
Host: (slight accent, thus the ‘a-very’) Oh sir, I am a-very sorry, we have no table at this moment. If you do not mind to wait…
Guest: No, I would like a table now
Host: I unnerstand you sir, but we have no table, you can take a drink at the bar or go to the shop.
Guest: No, you don’t understand, I want to eat. Do you get that? Eat? (Makes an eating motion with his hand) Find me someone who speaks English!
Host: I am speak English to you, let me help you.

And so on, and so forth. My theory is that the secret shopper was one of these. And, I’d like to think that the management was smart enough to recognize this fact and are leaving well enough alone.

In Which Helen Goes for Breakfast and Gets History


March 21st

I may have expressed this opinion before but I still believe that high heels in London are a status symbol.  The average Londoner finds herself walking great distances in the course of a single day.  So it has always baffled me to see the number of women wearing incredibly high heels, especially when they go clubbing.  Once they emerge, teetering, they chose a direction and after about 12 steps, they turn to hail a cab.  Cabs are expensive at the best of times, but catching a cab to the fringes of London are even more so.  The girl wearing high heels says “I can wear these because I can afford not to walk.”

I have just finished going to breakfast with Sarah, I will not tell you what is said between those hours because it is sacred between two friends.  After seeing her off at the tube station I went for a wander and wound up in Soho square gardens.  Here I have smelled earth for the fist time in weeks.  I think that is what drew me to this square, it didn’t smell like London with is patina of cigarette smoke, rubbish, waste; human, and animal mixing disconcertingly with the savory smells of restaurants.  In the middle of the square is a statue of Charles II looking bilious, as representations of Charles II so often do.  I sometimes wonder if Charles II was capable of looking any other way.  It was originally fashioned, rather poorly I think, in 1681 and restored to the park in 1938 by Lady Gilbert. At some point, ironically I think, his face fell off (like father like son, neither the apple, nor the face, fall far from the tree,  teehee) and had to be reattached, this was also poorly executed (so was dad come to think of it). Yeah, I could go on like this forever. Moving on.  The statue stands in front of a half timber gazebo which appears to be turned into some kind of shed, there are also palm trees, I find these incredibly out of place, and feel like Vegas is haunting me… maybe not. 

According to the signage, the square draws is name from the hunting cry ‘soho!’

“Why?”  I hear you cry.  Well as it turns out this tiny patch of well tended grass is all that is left of a fox and hare hunting ground. 

“In the middle of London?”  

Yes, In the middle of London.  Isn’t random history fun?  You can also see around the square where the cast iron railing were removed for armament manufacture during WW2  and, according to the sign detailing the historical significance of the square, air raid structures were built beneath the square.  I strongly suspect that the entrance is through the afformentioned shed.  I have already inspected the doors, but sadly the gardener was not so careless as to leave them unlocked so that I could explore.  How do they expect us to get to shelter if the shelter is locked?

I’m playing detective on the tube, again.  This is currently my favorite past time.  My fellow passenger are, from right to left, a man who has marshmallow sweets in his bag, he eats them when he thinks no one is watching.  Seat 2, a woman, has just bought a new phone, and is reading the manual.  3 and 4 are a unit.  They are not married but I am certain they are living together.  Seat 5 is married, if her ring is anything to go by, but no woman with children has her immaculate demeanor or her pristine clothing.  Seat 6 is very “metro,” he wears a black suit with a black and white gingham shirt, a skinny black tie, and pointy black leather shoes.  He also carries a black leather “Murse” with brass buckles that match the understated ring on his pinky finger.  He is balding, but has made the right choice and shaved his head to disguise that fact.  He is reading ‘the dog that saved my life’ and instead of furrowing his brow as any other person might, he purses his lips instead.  Perhaps afraid he may make lines in his forehead.  He has neat, well manicured fingernails that would rival Barbie, they’re almost hypnotic as he taps them against the back cover of his book, I am unsure whether I will be able to look at anything else for the duration of the trip.   It’s either that or the exposed boxer shorts of the man standing directly in front of me.  They are patterned with a comic strip. I wonder if he’s used to women laughing when he takes his trousers off.

In which Helen Encounters Improbability


March 20th

I think I have I believe I have discerned the origin of the game hopscotch. One day, two guys were walking along. They were very drunk having just visited the pub. One was full of hops the other full of scotch. Reduced by the booze to a childlike state they take a trip down memory lane and begin hopping along paving stone by paving stone, avoiding cracks and lines to save their mothers’ backs and spines. Suddenly one of them finds a penny and to make the game that they had come up with more interesting he started throwing it, ergo hops and scotch created hopscotch. As improbable as this story might be it is not nearly as improbable as what happened to me tonight. For starters I inadvertently drank on the job today. Let’s just say when people are really, really hungry and have to wait for two hours they become incredibly irritable, so irritable in fact that they may throw their drinks at you. If you happen to be mid sentence, and your mouth happens to be somewhere between closed and wiiiiiiiide open, much of that liquid will go down your throat. Ergo, you will have inadvertently drunk on the job. There are certain things that one does not calculate the probability of. One may think to oneself they may have the likelihood of catching the bus on time based on a number of figures, the time they left their house, the frequency of the required bus, and the number of people likely to already be on the bus, the number of stops between their starting point and their final destination. One does not however spend one’s time calculating the likelihood that they will find a pair of black women’s hose under table 142 of an American style family restaurant. However, after such an occurrence one will often entertain oneself coming up with theories as to how they appeared there in the first place and how cold their former occupant might now be. Both these events are highly improbable, however not as improbable as what happened next, They say that in London you will never meet the same person twice without intentionally meaning to. However, it is more unlikely that having met someone on the opposite side of the world when you were 6 years old, during Odyssey of the Mind in elementary school, then falling out of contact with them at the age of 16 that you should, 7 years later meet each other on the opposite side of the world in London, without previously planning to do so. It goes without saying that after all that time it seems unlikely that you would somehow recognize each other instantly. However, this is what happened and early tomorrow morning Sarah and I will be meeting in Russel Square to go get crepes for breakfast and catch up on the past 7 years.

In Which Helen Loses Time


March 16th

I have not been writing much in the past few days, just jotting down notes here and there.  I am absolutely shattered.  I’ve worked something like 45 hours this week and I believe that the timing belt in my brain has snapped.  I’m losing minutes and hours of my day.  I’ll be in one room, turn around and be in another.  This morning I was running late for work.  I dashed into the kitchen, snagged a yogurt for my breakfast and slipped out my door. Once outside I patted my pockets to make sure I had everything I needed.  In doing so I was surprised to find that I was no longer holding my yogurt.  Mystified, I walked back into the house.  I searched the kitchen and double checked the fridge to be sure I’d actually taken it.  Nothing.  I finally found it in my bedroom.  When did I go there?

In Which Helen Contemplates a Man on the Train


March 11th

I’m playing “Detective on the Tube.”  The man standing across the way is stern looking with fuzz on his face somewhere between stubble and scruff which he occasionally scratches with his left hand.  In his right he holds Casa Nostra: The History of the Sicilian Mafia.  As he reads his facial expression doesn’t alter, except perhaps to become more severe.  I wonder idly if he is a history professor.  If he was my history teacher I’m not sure how much I’d learn, I’d be too distracted by his rugged, though somewhat worn, good looks.  Even now I find myself wondering who keeps him warm at night.   Wishful thinking conjures an image of him returning to his empty studio flat and pile of research.  In my head he picks up a book about to read, he unconsciously craving someone as a distraction.  I look for more clues in the clear plastic bag nestled between his sensible, though stylish brown shoes.  On top are two pristine copies of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick which at first supports my original hypothesis about his character.  Then I have to wonder why he has two copies.  Is he giving them as gifts which will be grudgingly received but thoroughly appreciated on a rainy day?  Perhaps he always buys two copies of a book, one to keep and one to read into rags? Is he part of a book with his flat mate? 

Under the books are cans of tomato basil soup, juice boxes and baby food jars.  Each one has Peter Rabbit on the label proudly declaring the contents to be organic.  He has a child.  Likely a very young one.  Suddenly my perspective shifts and I see the shadows under his eyes that echo the midnight hours spent awake soothing his progeny.  The stylish dishevelment is actually disheveled style.  I wonder if the organic food is a habit that extends to his own diet or whether he is simply taking particularly good care of the wee one.  If so I think this is his first child.  I have nothing to base this on but I’m inclined to think that he is taking such good care of a little princess for whom he would do anything to see her smile and to keep her safe.  I smile secretly to myself at this thought.  There are roughly 7.5 million people in London and each and every one of them has a life rich with likes, dislikes, family, friends, coworkers.  I can see this man in front of me but in my mind I see his family.  Faint lines seem link them and as I imagine their friends and associations the net expands at the sped of light until everyone in London seems linked somehow.  Then I realize how narrow my imagination has been.  So many people in London are from somewhere else.  Again my perspective changes and the imagined London flies away until it is only a tiny speck on the face of a planet crisscrossed by a net of  golden association.  I know this should make me feel tiny, being an infinitesimal spec out of billions, but now my heart is swelling with the significance of being one point in the massive web that links us all.  I look up at the man again secretly call him brother.