Thursday, April 10, 2014

Flat out

In the mid-1990s I was working at a small Scottish legal publisher in Edinburgh and struck up a friendship with the PA to the Managing Director. L was smart, funny and irreverent and we became close; I tried as much as I could to support her as she went through a few major life changes: buying a flat in Bruntsfield, splitting up with her boyfriend who had moved out, and finally losing her job with the company I worked for.

I was going through a few life changes of my own at the time: I’d split with my boyfriend of four years, G, which entailed moving out of the flat we shared, a very much un-mutual decision; I was trying to negotiate a move to the London office; a new relationship was in its very early stages. My life was in flux, too. L needed help with her mortgage and had room in her flat; somehow a plan quickly coalesced and I moved in with her.

The whole experience was an utter disaster. Perhaps understandably, L was a very angry and unhappy person at that time: she was upset about being made redundant, heartbroken about her boyfriend, anxious about finding a new job and worried about money. She made a disastrous pass at my ex when he came round to see me and I wasn’t there; he ended up effectively being blackmailed into building a platform bed for her (a baffling sequence of events that I never quite got to the bottom of). She railed against the company and her former boss. She hated having to have someone living with her under those circumstances, and I was about the worst person possible: I had split with G but there was a new man in the picture, who was phoning me late at night and sending me flowers, and I still worked for the company she’d just left; I was happy about my new relationship, had plans for the future, and was positive about getting there. The atmosphere within her flat was poisonous and I couldn’t wait to leave. I was stuck with paying the mortgage for my old flat with no rent coming in and beholden to decision making in London about when I could move to that office and what I would be doing there, so I had to stick it out. 

Weirdly, every time L and I bumped into each other outside that flat – even just down in the street – we got along as well as ever and she was a totally different person. Within the walls of her own flat, however, she was sullen, hostile, and aggressive.

We avoided each other as much as we could, but three particularly terrible episodes stick in my mind from my time there (a matter of months, perhaps four months at the most, but otherwise an eternity).

  • ·         Cats’ feet are so delicate. I broke a wine glass in L’s kitchen (plus ├ža change) and cleaned up as best as I could. Not well enough for L, however, who left me the following note next to a tissue containing a few remaining fragments she had managed to scrape up: “I found these. Be more careful, the cat’s feet are delicate and you could have seriously hurt her”.
  • ·         Spanish boys are all the same. In September I went on a wonderful holiday to Barcelona and Madrid with my then-best friend Rachael (about whom more some other time). My friend Campbell put me in touch with his sister Jill, who lives in Madrid, and we spent two weeks being escorted around by her friends; we stayed in Pablo’s flat in the centre of Madrid and Jill, Pablo and Jaime drove us on excursions to hidden restaurants and took us to their favourite tapas places. We gazed at Picassos and Miros in the Reina Sofia Museum and attended a packed house party where we learned to cook tortillas and got gloriously drunk on Cava. In Barcelona, we sat on the beach in the sunshine and ate morcilla and blue cheese rolls from a little hole in the wall cafe. Pablo gave us the keys to his flat as a parting gift. It was a perfect holiday. Back in rainy Edinburgh, when Lucy asked me how the holiday had been, I told her how kind the Spanish boys were to us and what a brilliant time we’d had. Her response? “Oh they probably just wanted to shag you. I lived in Spain, Spanish boys are all the same”. I went to work and cried.
  • ·         I’ve hurt my back. In an effort to ingratiate myself with L, I decided to help her get rid of the enormous, mouldering pile of old newspapers that sat in her hallway (at least 15 heavy bundles, most long pre-dating me). I had hired a terrible little car for J’s visit from London and after he had gone home, I humped every one of those bundles of newspapers from her second floor flat to the ground floor, into the back of the little car and off to the recycling centre at Bristo Square. L was at home while I was doing it and I’d thought we could do it together, perhaps even bonding over the task. But instead, she watched me coolly as I huffed and puffed and remarked “Oh, I would help, but I’ve hurt my back”. Did she thank me for completing this Herculean task? Did she hell.

Not long afterwards I got confirmation of my move to London. I left L’s flat at the earliest opportunity, departing for London and then Hong Kong. I’m still in touch with everyone else in this story bar one; but from that day to this I have never spoken to L again. 

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