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Find the Lady

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  • Find the Lady


    Find the Lady


    Melvyn Steppings our mentor, tired eyed and way past middle age introduced himself with a limp handshake. Settling himself behind his desk he opened his notes and proceeded to instruct us on the nuts and bolts of grammar.
    The monotone droned on then, pausing between similes and metaphors, he seemed to loose interest and mounted his hobby horse; an unlikely nag in the shape of an unpronounceable Russian who I fancied had ceased to be read and long dead before Lenin stepped off the train in St Petersburg to unleash the dogs of war.
    I began to thank my lucky stars that I settled for an introductory first lesson rather than to have paid out for the full course. I looked around the room at my classmates and felt my age at twenty eight. Most of the apprenticed scribblers and were still trapped in their late teens. All were head down, intent on the silent scratch of their ball points, eager to become an extension of their tutor’s ego.
    I made my excuses to Mr Steppings, who didn't seem surprised and left.

    I later met my friend Harvey for coffee at the Caffe Ritazza. Harvey is gay, so no threat to my free time between lovers, good company but apt to play the sexuality card a touch too often.
    “How did the class go?” asked Harvey.
    “I now have ability to know where to place a comma” I replied.
    He grinned “I wonder how writers coped before?”
    “Before what?” I asked.
    “Creative writing classes.”
    “OK, it was crap; I selected a bad one, now will you shut up about it?”
    “Are there any good ones? Give us the money and we’ll turn you into a best seller”
    “God; your like a dog with a bone”.
    On our way home he slipped his arm around my waist; I removed it.
    “Leave it out Harvey; I’m not in the mood for masquerades”.
    He pretended to sulk all the way to the Elephant. As we parted at the end of Leroy Street, I called out as he crossed the road.
    “See you at the Swan tomorrow?”
    “Maybe” he answered over his shoulder.

    Back home I dumped my coat and shoulder bag, put the kettle on and wandered over to the window. Though the apartment was small it certainly had a room with a view. London isn’t the prettiest of cities and no self respecting nightingale would have been seen dead in Barkley Square let alone sing there but as the dusk gathered across the Thames and the Victorian embankment lights stretched west to Chelsea it had its moments.
    I made a coffee and curled my legs up on the sofa.
    If I was ever to complete this damn novel I needed help fast, Aunt Doreen’s small legacy would barely last another two months.
    My problem was that I didn't have a heroine, not that I hadn't tried, I had been pounding the keyboard for three weeks now but all that emerged were two dimensional stereotypes.
    I had joined the creative writing class not for the course but in hope of meeting a professional writer who could help, I was that desperate but not desperate enough to ask what Steppings had to offer.
    I reached for the mobile and flicked up my contacts. No, girl chat wouldn't help now, I pressed on, hairdressers and other meaningless bumph. I sighed and closed the lid on the phone.
    The women I looking for certainly moved in the world of high society of which I had a very limited experience of. So, build her on a role model which wasn't new to me. I was a fairly good observer and had hijacked real people to put the flesh and bone on minor characters before but there was a snag, I could hardly spend a week in the Savoy or the Ritz, one night in either would exhaust my credit card,then I had an idea.

    The next evening, after a shower and still towelling my hair I opened the fridge door. A sad looking bowl of limp lettuce and soggy pasta looking back at me did nothing for my taste buds, a rack of ribs down at the Swan flashed into focus. I’d skip the chips for a side salad as a concession to my struggling affair with the diet and dumped the contents of the bowl in the bin.
    I was frugal with my make up, lipstick, a pat of face powder, a puff of cologne and it was done. I slipped on my coat, grabbed my bag and out to join the late homeward bound stragglers making their way along Old Paradise Street.

    The city has many pubs, its part of the culture, but if you are looking for the authentic London pub you could do worse than to search south of the Thames. I had stumbled on the Swan on my third day in the metropolis as it was only six or seven minutes walk from the flat.
    The Swan wasn’t exactly a time capsule though the decor and the clientele had certainly made no effort to climb into the twenty first century.
    Run by Ma the landlady, big, blousy and very much in charge. She addressed everyone as sweetheart, darling or love regardless of sex and made time to talk to everyone.
    There was no TV and thankfully no juke box, instead a battered beer stained upright piano stood in a corner, used for the occasional ‘knees up’ on a Saturday night.

    I got to the pub early. Ma’s young daughter Sue was talking to a morose looking youth at the far end of the bar; she looked up as I got to the counter and walked over.
    “Hi Chris, what can I get you?”
    “Just the usual, sorry to drag you away”.
    She laughed and whispered.
    “From Wayne you mean? His girlfriend dumped him last week and he needs reassurance that he’s not the total nerd that everyone thinks he is”
    I smiled. “Which you provide”
    “Of course, it’s all part of the service, how’s the book coming along?”
    “It isn't, the train’s hit the buffers. Will Harvey be in tonight?”
    “Harvey? Yes sure to, he eats here every Thursday”
    “That’s a relief I’m counting on his help with an idea I have”
    Sue placed the fruit cordial on the bar and rang up the till.
    “See you later” she called out.

    I settled on a window seat at the deserted end of the bar, pulled out the Kindle from my bag and resumed my tussle with Anna Karenina. Damn Tolstoy, his novel is like a revolving door, so many characters in
    and out, plot, counter plot, sub plot, still they told me it was a masterpiece so I persevered.
    It was around eight when Harvey walked in, I relegated Anna and the Kindle to my bag stood up and waved him over.
    “I was just going to order” he protested.
    “That can wait, besides it’s my treat tonight, I’m paying”
    “Really? Why do I have a feeling that this is going to cost me?”
    “It isn't, now sit down”
    “Harvey, you know of the difficulty I’m having of finding a heroine for my novel well I’ve been thinking where am I going to get a chance to study my roll model, it was then I thought of you”
    “Of me?”
    “The Royal Opera House, you work there don’t you. I thought if I can get a ticket I can study the Hoi polloi crowd in the interval, but when I looked on the web all the performances were booked for weeks. If I asked pretty please could you wangle me a ticket?”
    Harvey laughed.
    “Tuppence I’m an electrician, I do the back lighting, I’m not the Ticketmaster. Besides it wouldn't be of any use if you had a ticket, you wouldn't be able to get into the executive lounge which is where the crowd you are looking for would be. Sorry not a hope”
    “Back to the bloody drawing board then” I sighed.
    “Hmm, wait a minute though there maybe a chance but it will cost you”
    “Go on”
    “It’s the last performance of Giselle on Saturday and most of the company will probably go on to a celebration at a restaurant afterwards and--”
    I interrupted his flow.
    “Wait a minute, who is Giselle?”
    “Giselle is the name of the ballet”
    “Ooops sorry, I’m not into ballet”
    “That’s obvious darling, anyway as I was saying, Šarlota, the prima ballerina is bound to be there along with her entourage and the hangers on, so plenty of choice for your roll model”

    In bed that night I wrestled with the pros and cons. There were few pros and a hell of a lot of cons and not least of them was the hole it would make in my budget. I could live for three days on the cost of a couple of cocktails in some of the mega expensive restaurants around Covent Garden. By the morning my mind was made up, it was a stupid idea.
    Then my cell phone rang.
    “Hi Tuppence good news, I've been invited to the Saturday night Bash”
    “Oh goody for you”
    “No. you’re invited too, as my partner”
    “As your partner? Harvey it may have escaped you but we don’t exactly sing from the same song sheet”
    “Not that kind of partner, I could hardly pull that off; my preferences in that department are too well known at the Garden. No sweetie, for Saturday night you will be my little sister”
    “You’re little WHAT?”
    I could hear him giggling down the phone as he rang off.

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