A former colleague had a word that she used to describe a lingering sense of unease bordering upon resentment with someone with whom she had previously had what might be loosely termed a full and frank exchange of views, but with whom for the purposes of everyday life she is required to maintain an air of civility and co-operation. An aubrey, she called it. A bit unfair on anyone actually called Aubrey, as if they didn’t have enough to contend with just bearing that name. But an aubrey it is, and the word has entered my own vocabulary. I have an aubrey at home. Don’t ask, don’t mention it. I feel like some sort of modern-day Basil Fawlty confronted with a coach party of Germans – don’t mention the trans! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.
Just as I was finishing my previous post, Mrs K entered the room. She wanted to watch something on TV together, but I asked her to hold off for two minutes as I was proof-reading the post before hitting “publish”. She asked if I was relating the big conversation we had had a week or so previously when I had told her that I wanted to transition. I replied that no, I had already written about that, this was something else. And from that short exchange, it just blew up into another one of those awful conversations where neither of us can hope to gain anything useful or comforting, but it just carries on down the tracks with an unstoppable force. I am untrustworthy, a liar. I promised this would never happen, my promises are worthless. The fact that I genuinely believed it when I said it means nothing, like than a man having an affair defending himself from accusations of being unfaithful by protesting that he meant his wedding vows when he said them so it’s ok. She is now saying that the shock could kill her mother, who isn’t in the best of health anyway. More guilt for me! And she repeatedly asserts that I’m writing on here about what a horrible selfish bitch she is for not letting me be my real self and embracing my transition. Which isn’t the case. I completely understand why she feels the way she does, but I can’t help this. So the conversation reached no resolution, it just petered out and we went back to the aubrey, which still persists. Well, I say no resolution, there was something. An instruction. She knows it’s happening, and it’ll happen next year. So for this year, I am under instructions not to mention it unless she brings up the subject. Just pretend all is well, and Bob is going to continue forever. Give her one last year with her husband, one last holiday, one last Christmas.
OK then, with that out of the way, on to more frivolous matters. It’s time for Kirsty’s monthly book review. In fact, this month I read two books for the book group, one of which I read by mistake. At our previous meeting in December we had agreed that instead of the usual format of everyone reading the same book and then discussing it together, we would all read whatever book we wanted and then spend five minutes telling the others about it. Great, I thought, I have a book lined up already. I had received an email from Amazon about a week prior to that, inviting me to sign up for their “Daily Kindle deals” email and get a free Kindle copy of “Girl On A Train”. OK, I thought, “Girl On A Train” is the book that everyone is reading, the bestselling novel of 2015. I’ll have a free copy of that. I can delete an extra email every day while I’m deleting all the crap from Groupon and LinkedIn. I even told a few of my book group friends that I was going to read this book.
When I did actually get started on “Girl On A Train” I found it rather disappointing. The plot – girl seated next to the protagonist/narrator on a train seems agitated, gets off train, throws herself in front of train at level crossing, protagonist convinced it isn’t suicide, goes all Miss Marple – was compelling enough, but the standard of prose was awful. Really badly written. A bit like Dan Brown in that respect; you want to know what happens, but you wish someone else would write it.
By sheer coincidence, one of Mrs K’s work colleagues had lent her a hardback copy of the book over the Christmas holidays. At one point we were both sitting on the settee, she was reading the physical book and I was reading it on the iPad. I looked across to her and remarked how unusual it was that we were both reading the same book at the same time. She asked what I thought of it and I said what I have just written here – plot ok, prose appalling. Mrs K, who is much more literary than me and holds a Masters in European Literature from Queen’s University Belfast, said that she thought the prose was fine, couldn’t see any problem with it. I wondered if I was getting above myself with all these literary novels I have been reading with the book group. Then I noticed something else. The titles didn’t quite match. My Kindle version was titled “Girl On A Train”. Her hardback copy was called “The Girl On The Train”. I just thought that was odd, a little publishing quirk. She, on the other hand, twigged immediately.
“Who wrote your book” she asked me.
“A J Waines”
“This one was written by Paula Hawkins”
We were reading different books! Damn you Amazon and your similarly-titled novel scam! I persevered regardless and finished “Girl On A Train” – don’t bother – and then I borrowed Mrs K’s borrowed copy of “The Girl On The Train” and read it next. Quite a contrast. “The Girl On The Train” is perfectly well-written, with a real page-turner of a plot and a nice style that drip-feeds you enough information to want to read just one more chapter. It is written as diary entries from the point of view of three different women; Rachel, the titular girl on the train, takes up the lion’s share of the book. At the outset she seems just another commuter, taking the daily train in and out of London, and she has made a habit of observing one particular couple whose house can be seen from a station at which the train stops every day. She names them Jason and Jess, and imagines them being the perfect couple with the world’s happiest most idyllic marriage. Over the course of the opening chapters (don’t worry, no significant spoilers) we learn that Rachel has become an alcoholic following a divorce from a husband she still obsesses over, and that she is keeping up the pretence of getting the train in and out of London every day because she can’t bring herself to tell the truth to the friend with whom she is lodging. And Jason and Jess live in the same street as her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby daughter, in the same house that she shared with that husband. Rachel is also prone to harassing her ex and his new wife Anna, drunk dialling and drunk emailing, only finding out what she has done by looking in her “sent items” the next day. One day she looks out from the train to see “Jess” passionately kissing another man, and her illusions are shattered. Two days later “Jess” appears on the news as being reported missing, only her real name is Megan. Not only that, but Rachel knows she was on their street the night Megan disappeared, but was so drunk that she can’t remember anything. Megan is the second narrator, only her diary entries start a year before Rachel’s and over the course of the book they gradually build up a picture of what was going on in her life up to the point at which she goes missing. The third narrator is Anna, the ex’s new wife with whom Rachel has a rather stormy relationship. Over the course of the novel we learn what happened to Megan, how Anna’s view of Rachel changes, and principally how Rachel gradually pieces together her memories of that fateful evening. Just what did she do that Saturday night? Read it and find out. Really, read it. It’s really good. Not a literary masterpiece my any means, but very very entertaining. And a whole lot better than “Girl On A Train”. And my tale of how I accidentally read the wrong book at least got a laugh from my book group friends.
Changing the subject completely, over the last month or so the Belfast Butterfly Club has been running a cooking competition, along the lines of the TV show “Come Dine With Me”. Last night was finally my turn to exercise my culinary juices and I really did try my best to wow my diners. Andrea had actually been a guinea pig for the starter and main course when I stayed with her the weekend before Christmas, and while the taste was good, she suggested that I put a little garnish on the plate with my starter to jazz it up. I tried that, but couldn’t think of anything that actually tasted good with the food, so instead I resorted to carefully-positioned blobs of HP sauce and salad cream. It looked rather fetching, even if I do say so myself.
I had actually booked the afternoon off work in order to slave over a hot stove, but I managed to get all the prep done over the previous two nights, so it was just a question of loading everything up into the car and heading across to the Butterfly Club good and early. Well, not quite. I actually got mostly transformed at home as the house was empty. I did toy with the idea of completely transforming myself and just walking out the front door to the car, but in the end discretion prevailed. I had all my make up bar lipstick done, no hair in place and was wearing Bob’s jeans and shoes, but everything else was done. Then a quick trip to my usual lay-by to change shoes, replace jeans with skirt, sort out hair and slap on the lippy, and I was on my way. I just brought everything into the club and then left for a few hours’ window shopping. I didn’t buy anything although I did try on a rather fetching pair of ankle boots in Sainsbury’s. The final thing I had to buy was actually some ice cream to accompany my dessert, so once I had that it was back to base for the cooking to begin in earnest.
My starter was a quiche made with parmesan cheese, onions and lardons. It’s based upon this recipe from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation, not the Belfast Butterfly Club) Good Food website, but I use less parmesan, cream and onions, and add the bacon and an extra egg. Nom.
Second course was from a recipe book I got at Christmas, and was called “Korean Cola Chicken”. It’s chicken thighs marinated overnight in light soy sauce, ginger and garlic, and then fried in the pan along with a can of Diet Coke. Really. Once the Diet Coke has largely boiled off you are left with an absolute taste sensation. Then I served it up with some vegetable fried rice of my own creation. Double nom.
Finally, for dessert, it was a double chocolate chunk brownie, also from the BBC Good Food website, along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and an After Eight truffle, which is from that recipe book again, mashed up digestive biscuit and cream cheese with peppermint essence, all coated in dark chocolate with more peppermint. Triple nom.
I don’t know how I have done in the competition as the marks won’t be revealed for a few weeks, but I really enjoyed the food myself, and I also enjoyed putting it all together. I suppose I just like cooking. Maybe this woman’s place actually is in the kitchen after all.