I have a strange aversion to white goods and have never been able to bring myself to buy a washing machine. Once a week, therefore, I take my clothes off to the washeteria and sit in a sort of trance, watching them blur round. The other day I fell into conversation with the lady who runs the laundrette with her husband. She is small, round, and in her late fifties, I would guess. Her hair is set just so, like Elizabeth Taylor’s, and she wears a pair of spectacles on a chain around her neck. Her husband is a placid man who stares out of the window, as if to a far-off horizon. He scarcely says a word; she rarely draws breath. I’ve never been able to place her accent, and it turns out that they are both Iranian. She told me about her life in Iran, before the revolution. Raising her hands in front of her, she said passionately, ‘When I think of my life before, I want to weep … when I think of what I used to have. My father …we had a house, a big house, and flats — many flats. My husband was a university professor…’ she shrugged and smoothed her skirt over her knees, ‘…so we had to run away. My family went to America — I have 55 cousins in Los Angeles. They are all richer than me now. But what can you do?’ She shook her head at me, saying sadly, ‘You never know what is in the pocket of the man who passes you on the street.’ Indeed not, I thought, as I looked at her husband, who sat staring out of the window at the grey street.
Standing in the queue for a cashpoint last week, in a decidedly unchatty mood, my telephone rang. I stared at the name on the screen for a long moment before pressing the ‘reject’ button. To my horror, seconds later, the person in question materialised beside me. ‘Why did you reject my call?’ she said in a hurt voice. Quite embarrassing for both of us. Of course I should have counter-queried, ‘Why did you phone me if you were within shouting distance?’ But instead I stood opening and shutting my mouth, and turning tomato-coloured. Now when I want to reject a call, I have to look carefully round me first. But do I have to pick up the phone? Can’t I not? Is it rude just not to feel like talking?
A fancy dress party at the weekend threw me into the usual spasms. I met an American friend on Saturday morning to discuss outfits over a Bloody Mary. She lamented the English habit of trying to make fancy dress sexy. In America, she told me, fancy dress means funny, so a girl might go out dressed as a beer can or a bunch of grapes. Fancy dress in England seems to be little more than an excuse for girls to put on corsets and fishnet stockings. Pirate theme? Go in a corset as a kidnapped land-lubber. Circus? Strap on a corset and go as a showgirl. Cowboys and Indians? Saloon-bar hookers wear corsets, don’t they? In the event, my American friend went dressed as Br