Bendy Brian, getting used to being grey and being on mailing lists for older peoples products. Gail and Meg deal with the joys of growing up disgracefully.
Needless to say, Meg is horrified by my ‘au naturel’ hair. Her mouth literally hung open, until I closed it gently with the back of my hand. It took her a while to compose herself.
‘What have you DONE?’ She eventually asked in that passive-aggressive way I know only too well. ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead without colour on my hair.’ She licked her lips as she scoffed a squidgy chocolate brownie in a little cafe around the corner from the church hall. We’d just done our FLexercise class and Meg was determinedly balancing calories lost and gained.
‘The other day,’ Meg carried on, ‘this hideous catalogue came through the letterbox with the world’s worst outfits. All elasticated or flowing like tents in crazy patterns that could cause epilepsy if you looked at them too long. It also offered furry slippers with zips and wing-backed chairs that lift you up and onto the floor, at the switch of a finger. I was so depressed and have no idea how it got to me. It’s bad enough finding incontinence adverts on Facebook because of course, it knows exactly how old I am.’
I smiled, tucking into a lemon polenta cake, which, being gluten-free, was to my mind miles healthier for me, never mind the butter, sugar, almonds and eggs. It was zingy heaven. A frothy cappuccino sprinkled with chocolate dust in the shape of a heart completed my calorie rebalancing act.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I got that catalogue too. It must have been something we bought online and ticked some box we shouldn’t have. Anyway, I was horrified and rang them up because I didn’t want to ever see another one. This miserable-sounding woman answered. I told her that I wouldn’t be seen dead in the clothes from the catalogue and to delete me off her lists. Or whatever they’re called in computer-land. She actually laughed and said she agreed with the horror style.’
‘Brilliant, but you have to be so careful don’t you?’ smiled Meg, wiping her chocolate lips with a serviette. ‘I once ordered a free moisturiser that promised to knock off 30 years. I had to give them my bank details just to cover the postage. Sadly, somewhere in a heap of tiny small print I couldn’t read without a microscope, was information telling me I’d signed up to monthly deliveries costing me £100-a-go. I nearly fainted when the next one arrived. It took my son two days to sort it out and the bank offered to send me on a computer course for the over-50s. I drew the line at that.
Anyway, enough of boring stuff, how is Harry?’
‘Gone to America, with his ex-wife.’
‘Blimey,’ Meg put her tea down. She was in danger of having her jaw drop again. ‘What happened?’
‘It’s not as bad as it sounds. Well, maybe it is. Their older daughter is working over there and went down with pneumonia. She’s a single mum with a two-year-old son so they’ve gone to share the care until she’s back up and capable.’
‘Oh well, that’s kind, and a bit strange too, living with your ex. I’d rather pull out my own teeth without anaesthetic.’
I nodded and quickly changed the subject to Meg’s eight-week creative writing course. Actually, I was getting a lot of messages from Harry saying how he missed me. But, I was keeping my distance. Did I want a complicated relationship? I forced myself to stop wondering/worrying about the future. It never does me any good and only leads to sleepless nights and eating lemon polenta cake.
Meg is attempting to write her autobiography but has got stuck in the pre-school years.
‘Isn’t that a little early in the saga for writer’s block?’ I asked. ‘You’re lucky to remember anything. My early years are pretty hazy.’
‘Oh, I remember a lot before I was five years old. Apparently, it shows I’m very intelligent so God knows why I ended up working in an office for the last 25 years.’ Meg picked at her nail. ‘I remember my parents fighting a lot, over my head like giants and their great angry faces close to mine, yelling. And it didn’t improve as I got older either.’ She shrugged and I squeezed her hand. Meg’s parents were a nightmare.
‘It’s probably therapeutic for you to write it all down. A way of getting some perspective about them.’
‘I think it’s a way of getting my own back,’ she smiled, ‘and of course, in my story, I’m a beautiful, perfect child, just like I am now.’ We chuckled at the thought of Meg being perfect and polished off our delicious cakes.
Suddenly, we were interrupted.
‘Ladies,’ came a falsetto voice. We bristled immediately. Ladies? Please!!!
Meg gave a bland smile that did not reach her eyes. Still, the man settled noisily beside her. Bendy Brian we call him. He’s a yoga teacher and likes nothing better than to adjust women’s hips whilst they are in the downward dog position. Seemingly, no one has complained so he just carries on. He certainly doesn’t know we call him Bendy Brian or Mr B for short. He makes us feel uncomfortable on a number of levels.
‘How are we today, then ladies? I see you’re enjoying your naughty treats.’
I was mute. Listening to him talk was like having half a lemon forced through my teeth. He proceeded to tell us the best yoga positions for ‘ladies of our age’ that will keep us active. While Bendy Brian has a brilliant body, he has the kind of personality that sets your teeth on edge and you can’t help staring at his terribly dyed hair, chestnut brown, like a helmet of dank autumn.
Brian glanced at me briefly. With a pained expression plastered to his chops, he asked if I was feeling well. I looked down my nose at him as I realised he was referring to my new grey look. Oh the irony. Mr B can hardly take the high ground on looking well. With his skinny body, face raddled with lines and a tan that makes him look like he’s been dipped in tea, he’s hardly Adonis.
‘Have you thought of coming to my new classes for the over-50s?’ he asks. His face is a fake concerned yet caring mask. ‘It’s just that there’s a focus on suppleness and balance because you don’t want to be falling over in case you break a bone.’
‘At our age?’ I practically hiss. ‘Actually, Meg and I have been going to hot yoga in the city centre. It’s been an absolute revelation.’ I realise this is also a revelation to Meg who has not stepped through its swing doors. Happily, I have, although it’s not an experience I’m in any hurry to repeat. It turned out to be a lesson in making us vent our free-floating anxiety and fury. Seemingly, there was a considerable amount in the all-female session. I didn’t go back for the second week.
Bendy Brian’s face sets like cold cement. Meg is now smiling for real and nodding at me, echoing how really good it was.
‘Yes,’ I add, ‘and we’re considering heading to Cornwall for a special holiday combining surfing and yoga because, as you say, balance is very important for riding those big waves.’ Meg’s eyes are practically on stalks as she tries not to laugh.
‘Well,’ said Bendy Brian, getting up and brushing non-existent mess from his too-tight stretchy pants, ‘I may have to close that class anyway because I just can’t get the participants.
He stalked off and Meg whispered. ‘I can’t imagine why.’
Mr Bendy’s step faltered briefly or was it just his own balance?