The Singer I

March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I was 19 I had a job in Sloane Street with a very up-market Italian brand. Days were spent in what was rapidly becoming for shop girls everywhere The Italian Way by which I mean, folding sweaters.

Being a good brand and a flagship store we would see many celebrities, usually those of a certain age who had money to spend but didn’t want to show it: that very English way of not wanting to be seen as flash, an English way which other Europeans are so much better at doing and sell straight back to us. I’d go home and over dinner would tell my parents about these celebrities because those kinds of people interested them and, as most of the time I’d have an idea of who this or that person was but being a teen not much more, they’d fill me in.

So, This Singer starts coming in with his wife and then he would come back either to exchange or to get gifts ‘for the misses’. He seemed nice if a little short, with lots of hair and was incredibly friendly in what I thought was a very London about 20 years ago swinging way. I’d seen his type in films on BBC2: black and white, staring some Cockney with a good face, a nice suit and a twinkling eye for the ladies one of whom he’d get ‘in the family way’ and would either do right by her of behave like an utter bastard depending on whether the film had Lynn Redgrave in it or not. To me This Singer seemed beyond ancient.

One day he mentioned having had a heart bypass or operation or something and I threw this in just as he had all matter-of-fact over dinner and Mum nearly choked. It had been news, in the Sunday’s and everything. I was hardly ever conscious on Sunday as I would have been out clubbing since oh about Wednesday with my new friend who was a big DJ.

Mum filled me in and even mentioned a song of his that I actually knew through my Brother having been given Mum’s precious and now ruined collection of 7” records. From memory we’d play Elvis the most: King Creole for some reason would have us both in stitches.

Is he that singer who sounds like he sings with hiccups? I asked.

Mum was insulted. This Bloke was apparently pretty good in his day.

To add yet more insult my Brother then randomly reminded me of a Mr Pickwick record we had an album of Kid’s TV themes where the man couldn’t sing the letter R. This made for a great version of The Pink Panther, the second line of which is rinky-dink. Back on track he then did a very good impression of This Singer’s singing style hiccupping the words to the song Mum had unwittingly offered up as ammo. Dinner descended into chaos beyond this point and Mum gave up prodding for information even though she was probably dying to know more.

The next time This Singer came in he asked for me as usual and I served him as usual. It being commission and everything: easy. I didn’t mention Mum knowing about him as no one wants to be that friendly with customers and anyway it was sort of embarrassing, the fact that he’d been a topic of conversation and all that.

A few days later he came back again and totally threw me by asking me to have a drink with him. I burst out laughing. A proper guffaw, hardly befitting a lady and not the answer he was expecting especially not in a busy quietly beige flagship store and so he just coughed and left me folding yet more knitwear in a Japanese style.

Dinner that night mainly revolved around me being highly indignant that he should ask lumping him in with a couple of other singers, haughtily commenting on the perils of being a tall and by all accounts (although I couldn’t see it: too tall, too flat, too shy, my eyes way too small and round) very attractive teen and then banging on about his age. At this point I was beaten down with a heated ‘he’s not that old’ from Dad, which was lost on me seeing as I thought Dad was exactly ‘that old’ himself.

Months if not years later I get home very late and equally furious for Saturday dinner.

Dad has been watching the news and is laughing when I walk in so much so that he can hardly get the words he wants to tell me out. All I can manage to understand is ‘that silly bastard’ and ‘car nicked’ in between chuckles. He finally asks why I’m so late:

That Saturday I’m driving home and notice that my car needs petrol. Reluctantly I pull into a petrol station at Wandsworth, reluctant because I’m already late and Saturday nights are important when you are 19. Busy and annoyed by a dodgy petrol cap lock I fail to notice the person in front filling up what could be a Merc or a Rolls. It’s something big and Dad-like and those things don’t impress me so the only attention I give it is that it’s a larger car than mine, in front of mine.

Mid flow, my mind far away counting down the seconds wasted and what outfit to wear later and there is a shadow at my side, it’s This Singer and he’s chatty, hasn’t seen me for ages, how am I, what have I been up to that kind of thing but I’m not really listening as I’m figuring out just how to alert him to the fact that I think (putting 2 and 2 together: he’s a well know to some old people singer, that’s a big expensive car) that his car is being nicked.

An efficient attendant who has recognised This Singer from some big TV show he was in has called the police. It was programmed when I wasn’t even born but the policeman asks me if I know it anyway. I’m getting increasingly hot. I’m questioned as, to an outsider in a navy uniform, it looks as if I’ve lured This Singer over while my chav friends do a spot of stealing. Standing there in my Italian Brand work outfit which consists of grey V neck, stripe shirt, grey flannel skirt, navy blazer and a sensible loafer – sort of OAP meets posh school girl I’m surprised that the policeman thinks that this get-up would seduce a man in his 50’s but say nothing for fear of getting into even more trouble or for This Singer to say something vile and suggestive and prove me wrong.

At home my parents point to the news and to his face. For some reason I’d quite like the ground to open up. Bolting dinner I shower until my Brother is bashing on the door and head out to meet friends where I retell the car story and thankfully everyone laughs. Someone says that his or her Mum would know him too. We bitch about his age, his height compared to mine (seated my legs are wiggled from under me and high heels jangled into faces to prove a point) and the fact that we have little idea as to who he is and with all the laughter I feel less grubby about the whole thing.

That Monday This Singer comes in to where I work. He wants to see me and apologise but has to settle for a quick garbled message via the store Manager. I’m glad that it’s my day off as that kind of attention makes me feel uncomfortable. For no particular reason I feel uncomfortable even hearing the message relayed.

One Sunday I come in from a long weekend of just ‘being out’. Now that I’m 21 or 22 this is becoming quite a habit. I’m tired, just want to eat, pass out and generally to quote one or both parents: treat their home like a hotel. The papers are on the table and Mum points to one, This Singer is important enough to have made the front cover. It’s a face I’d forgotten,

I read, figuring out in my exhaustion that heart bypasses don’t last long and that he was still as my Grandmother would put it: up to his old tricks. A tabloid noted that an ambulance man had sweetly tried to assure the girl he was with that ‘her Dad would be alright’.

‘The girl looks like you doesn’t she?’ said Mum with what felt like a hint of sadness, unable to hide the disappointment in her voice.

Disappointment because he should have died on top of hers and not someone else’s dark haired, scrubbed faced daughter in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere?

I stared at the picture of his wife and then childishly laughed at the horror of it all.


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