I was halted on my way along Nunhead Lane this morning (purchases from Ayres, butchers, chemist and the newsagents weighing me down) by Belinda Hall who professed great delight in seeing me and rabbited on and on about how well I was looking and how handsome my dogs are and how fabulous my (three year old) shoes were and that I had “nice shapely ankles”. Pleased that she’d noticed one of my best features I let my guard down slightly and dropped my bags where I stood. I was then flattered wildly for another five minutes (“I hear you’re THE person to know in the Avenue” and “lovely hanging baskets”) before she moved in for the kill - outlining her plans to Take Over The Avenue And Usurp The Stewarts.
Apparently, the whole Avenue is up in arms about the stranglehold the Stewarts have on us. I must admit I hadn’t noticed this and told her so – we’re all so used to them and their attempts to bolster community spirit that we just accept they’re “there”. Belinda gaped at me as if I’d suggested that her head was on fire. I admitted that they may be a little domineering but their hearts were in the right place. She clutched at her chest – “They are overbearing monsters who have the whole Avenue tied up in knots….they won’t even leave the Lottery alone, they have to jump on the bandwagon……and as for their ridiculous stab at Neighbourhood Watch……I couldn’t believe they way we were being bullied into coming along on their ludicrous summer outing…..and the way they’re so proud of helping out all of the elderly neighbours…..” I have to admit I tuned out so you’re only getting the jibes I remember.
I snapped back to attention however when she grabbed my arm and said “You must come to lunch. Today. I’ve got some soup I can reheat – homemade of course – and I see you’ve got a lovely French stick……”. Before I knew where I was I was being bodily dragged along the road. “I’m sorry but I can’t” I said firmly, skidding to a halt and snapping my French stick in the process. “But together we can outdo the Stewarts on every turn!” she said, eyes glinting rather demonically. I took three steps backwards, shaking my head. “I see” she sniffed, looking me up and down. I got the impression that she now regretted throwing all those compliments my way. “I see” she repeated.
“I’m sorry” I said and gathered my bags more comfortably in my hands. “I see” she said again, brushing down her neat beige twinset and patting her salt and pepper curls into place. We both stood there looking at each other before I remembered that I’d bought some brawn (eurgh!) for David from the butcher and it was now going all gloopy in my bag. As I turned away I caught sight of a stricken Marjorie on the opposite side of the road, looking at us both with a crushed expression on her face. I waved an Ayres carrier bag at her but she just looked down and rushed into the greengrocers.
Update, 4.40pm: I've just knocked on Marjorie's door with a lame excuse (did she have any cocoa powder, I ask you, pathetic) and was given the silent treatment with additional huge sad eyes. I hate, hate, hate feeling like I've let anyone down and started babbling about how I was hijacked and then practically forced to go home with Belinda to lay down her plans for Avenue Domination. I admit I over egged the pudding slightly in that I said that I was far more vociferous in my refusals and of course grassed up Belinda Hall totally and pledged my troth to the Stewart Cause. I may regret this of course. In fact, I know I will.