Barbarella and Kenton
I get back all sweaty and tired from feeding my friend's cats and walking his dog only to catch the last trills of the telephone as I come down the path. I kick off my shoes in the hall while it sputters into answer phone mode. A high female, child -like voice fills our tiny living room.
'Hello you two! Just a quick call to ask if youâ€™d like to go the beach today. It's such a lovely day, weâ€™ll call in and pick you up in half an hour,' she said breathily. I stare at the phone warily and decide not to interrupt the message. Blast! I know it will be almost impossible to get out of it without offending her. The machine whistles and clicks to signal the end of the message then falls silent, its red eye winking conspiratorially.
She is right though. Itâ€™s a fabulous morning. The sun shines on the kitchen windows lighting up the streaks and smears and the thin layer of dust on the bookshelves. Glancing up I can see a skein of cobwebs festooning the ceiling. I don't really feel in the mood for housework. Does anyone?
Donâ€™t get me wrong! Barbarella and Kenton are a lovely couple. Theyâ€™re so generous and kind and full of fun and have been described by some in the village pub (rather unkindly) as the oldest swingers in town. They make a very handsome couple when out walking together. They are both diminutive, but immaculately dressed. Barbarella in her gold sandals, toenails twinkling with purple pearl nail polish and her long, straight hair dyed a fiery red. However, a lifetime of heavy smoking and soaking up the sun has taken its toll. Tiny lines criss -cross her face, deep creases run from her nose to mouth, so often turned down in repose. The watchful green eyes behind the steel rimmed glasses are rather faded and crowâ€™s feet nestle in the outer corners.
Despite her pint sized appearance Barbarella is a feisty lady and has been known to give rein to some pretty spectacular rages if she believes she's been crossed. (Which is pretty much all of the time!!?) Paranoia strikes deep!
Naturally Kenton is very proud of her and doesnâ€™t seem to notice these tiny imperfections. He is fiercely protective whenever thereâ€™s an altercation with anyone who doesnâ€™t quite agree with her opinions. (Itâ€™s more than his lifeâ€™s worth!!) Tradesmen, shopkeepers, villagers and friends alike, and there lies the rub. They just don't seem to have any friends. He's got masochistic tendencies and is brutally tactless and she tends towards Sado- hysterical paranoia, 'Nobody in this village likes me! I've never done anything to them!!' Well! A desire to indulge in cunning game playing and absurd, inappropriate flirting with unsuspecting husbands is no pre-requisite to a lasting friendship with female friends. Loyalty and respect has to be earned. Ah well!
Kenton loves sports clothes. Smart navy polo shirts and matching navy tracksuit bottoms are the order of the day. The whole outfit complimented by snow- white trainers. Although, actually taking part in any kind of sport is against everything that he holds dear. All that pounding the pavements in the pouring rain, and getting home soaked stinking of sweat. Collapsing with fatigue and covered in mud. What does it really achieve except make one feel terribly ill! Besides, Kenton doesnâ€™t have to worry about his figure. Heâ€™s slim but not muscular. For a man pushing 60 he reckons he looks pretty good with a full head of thick, coarse black hair, courtesy of Grecian 2000 (well whoâ€™s to know?) and a heavy moustache on his upper lip as thick as a storkâ€™s nest. Besides, the ladies like a moustache. He thinks it makes him look romantic and macho. You know what I mean, a bit like Charles Bronson! Or Vlad the impaler! Take your pick!
Poor Kenton! He's such a sensitive soul. Living under the cosh of a controlling wife isn't doing him any favours at all. He once confided to the Sloth over a couple of pints of Guinness that when Barbarella's on the warpath he takes to his bed for days, pleading depression. He threatens do a runner one day. That of course, takes a lot of cojones and the Sloth isn't completely confident he could pull it off!
'Why don't you stand up to her?' asks the puzzled Sloth.
'Itâ€™s not that easy. She's got ways of getting back at me. She'll hide all my booze and fags. I used to talk to this bloke in Birmingham on the internet y'know. He's an electric train freak like me. He came with his wife for a visit last summer. We went
to an electric train fayre and we all got on famously. Barbie was charm personified and we
Said that we'd keep in touch by email. Well time went by and I realised I hadn't heard from Billy for a while, in fact there were quite a few cyber friends I hadn't heard from. Barbie said he must be busy. Then the other day Billy appeared on the doorstep. He was on his way back home from a conference in our area so he thought he'd pop over and see us. Very sociable chap is Billy'
Kenton Pauses to take a deep draft of his Guinness, taking care to flick the cream off his moustache.
'Anyway', he continues, 'Billy wanted to show me a new website on the old computer so we went in to my cubbyhole to check it out. Billy's a bit of a whiz on the computer. Not like me! That's why I call him Billy Whiz!! Geddit!!' He then proceeded to laugh uproariously at is own joke. The Sloth nods encouragingly.
'Anyway, after a bit of fiddling it didn't take old Bill to realise that his address was on the 'block sender' list, along with a few other mates of mine.
The Sloth shakes his head in disbelief and sits staring glumly into the depths of his Guinness
'I don't know how you put up with it. What did she say when you tackled her?'
'Not a lot really. Made some excuse about not wanting people to trouble me and make me anxious'
The Sloth gives him an old fashioned look and holds out his hand, 'Gives us your glass mate, it's my round!â€™
I can hear the sound of the front door slamming shut and a clumping of trainers falling onto the floorboards in the hall. The Sloth is back from his morning Jog. Large dark patches stain the back and under arms of his blue T shirt and strands of gingery hair are plastered over his head. Fine droplets of sweat run down his face, pink with exertion. He grins good- humouredly and bends down to kiss the top of my head. I breathe in his scent. Sloth is such a tactile soul! Part of his charm!
'I'm going for a shower' he mumbles into my hair. Then, over his shoulder as he heads for the bathroom, 'Did you put the sausages on?'
'Er..... No. I was just going to tell you. It looks like we're going out for lunch with Barbarella and Kenton.'
His face darkens. 'Oh God! Can't you ring her back and say we can't make it?'
'No, it's too late. They're on their way round here. Now go and get in that shower!'
â€˜But Iâ€™ve got plans for this afternoonâ€¦Iâ€¦..â€™he trails off miserably when he sees my face.
A day out with Barbarella and Kenton is often both eventful and exhausting. This morning, the men sit in the back of Kenton's dusty old Ford, circa 1989, like naughty schoolboys, farting nervously and competing to see who can tell the dirtiest jokes! I sit at the front with the driver who sits on two cushions so that her gold sandals will reach the pedals and so that she can see over the top of the steering wheel. After barking orders sharply to the men in the back seat we set off for the great Welsh seaside adventure.
We arrive at the little seaside town of Mumbles. I always used to wonder why it was called such an odd name and speculated it was because of the sound the waves made as they lapped the shore or the echoes round the bay of the foghorns from the fishing trawlers in the winter. Its name is in fact derived from the French word â€˜Mamellesâ€™ which means breasts, well, it had to be didnâ€™t it! It refers to the two islets that rise from the sea and are quite visible from the terrace of our favourite restaurant on the hill. In his lifetime, the famous poet, Dylan Thomas, referred to it with much ironic affection. However, I think this piece of local culture has passed Barbarella by and she is frantic to find a shop that sells her favourite lipstick because sheâ€™s left her lippy at home!
The whole town has an aura of the 1950s about it. Low key and still relatively un- spoiled. The beaches are empty and the ice cream seller looks rather forlorn. The children have deserted him and have returned to school. No doubt this will come as a relief to Barbarella. Children are a total anathema to her. She could never see the point of them let alone understand why women give birth to them. Such a messy and humiliating business. Then there was the sheer drudgery of bringing them up, not to mention the expense.
She has the privilege of being an only child. Spoiled and petted, attention was lavished on her by adoring parents. She has become addicted to it and as an adult continues to crave it. She certainly doesn't want children vying with her for attention. She wants to be the total focus of everyone she meets. Everything must revolve around her. She is after all, unique!
However, all is well with our princess Barbarella at the moment. She's in a good mood as she swings the big unwieldy car round those tight bends. The sun is shining and everything is under control. Her control! She slips a CD into the player and the voice of Elaine Paige fills the car at an earsplitting volume. Barbarella immediately begins a duet, her pitting her thin voice tunelessly against the strong vibrato of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most illustrious musical star. Never mind that Barabarella is tone deaf and is incapable of carrying a tune in her head. The boys applaud timidly from the back seat anxious to keep our very own diva sweet.
We all heave a sigh of relief when the restaurant heaves into view. Itâ€™s perched on top of a hill overlooking the sea. The Sunny terraces are facing the glittering ocean and have wonderful views. Our usual seats on the terrace are available so we seat ourselves under the gaily striped parasols. The Sloth clearly has designs on the bar and probably on the little waitress in the revealing top with her bottle blonde hair falling seductively over one eye, gazing quizzically over at our group. Barbarella is already issuing orders at Kenton who meekly stands to attention.
'I need a drink after all that driving! Go and get me fizzy lemonade Kenton, and don't forget the ice and lemon like you usually doâ€™, she snaps. Kenton sighs, shoulders now sloping dejectedly. 'Right away my precious'
The Sloth puts a supportive arm round Kenton's now drooping shoulders and gently guides him in the direction of the bar for some much needed alcoholic therapy.
Barbarella and I decide we're definitely feeling peckish and each of us chooses a meal from the menu. In spite of her slender child's frame, Barbarella has the appetite of a Brickie on a building site! She chooses several pasta dishes and a large sticky desert to follow for both herself and Kenton.
She leans back in her chair, yawns and stretches luxuriously, sticking out her well padded bosom obviously enhanced with 'chicken fillets'! Kenton, she confides, loves 'breastsâ€™ and she of course is rather deficient in that department. So she enlists the help of one of the latest accessories for the discerning woman and treats herself to some very realistic inserts for her bra!! Now, voila! Instant pneumatic success.
'But you don't have that problem, do you?â€™ she chirps. I smile enigmatically.
'Mind you, my mother was a big woman like you. She always got so depressed when she couldn't get clothes to fit her'
I bare my teeth in what I hope looks like a grin.
The men come shuffling over to the table each bearing a wobbling tray, heavily laden with bottles of beer, glasses of Guinness and the soft drinks for the 'ladies'.
The men sit down arms akimbo and legs stretched out for any unsuspecting waiters to trip over. I notice that they're are Smirking furtively at each other and divine they're sharing some dirty joke or have been comparing notes about Angelina!!
Barbarella smiles sweetly at the Sloth and keeping her eyes on his face puts her short legs up on the nearby terrace wall and raises her skirts in what she believes to be a seductive manner. She reveals enough cellulite to recoat an orange and varicose veins that stand out like bunches of grapes. The Sloth smiles at her weakly then leans forward in my direction.
'Have you ordered yet?' I ask.
'Well no. I donâ€™t know what you want.'
I'll have the fish'
The Sloth waves the menu vaguely in the air and this is the signal for a tall, gangling boy to come over to our table. He brushes his fair hair out of his eyes and with trembling fingers takes out a little notebook and a stub of pencil.
Yessir! What you like? He blurts.
â€˜Weâ€™d like Haddock and chips pleaseâ€™ said the Sloth gently.
He scribbles own the order and turns to go. Then suddenly Barbarella takes off her enormous sunglasses and calls over to him.
â€˜I want to change my order. Weâ€™ll have the fish too!â€™
The waiterâ€™s youthful brow becomes as furrowed as a ploughed field.
â€˜Yes, Madameâ€™ he murmurs.
â€˜Youâ€™re not English are you?â€™ She drawls
â€˜No Madame, I from Polandâ€™ He stands proudly to attention when he says this.
The Sloth looks up and asks him, â€˜Where is your town in Poland?â€™
He gives a little bow and says, â€˜Krakow sirâ€™
â€˜Itâ€™s a beautiful cityâ€™, says the Sloth â€™Wonderful architectureâ€™
â€˜You can go there sir?â€™ the boy says excitedly.
â€˜No, but Iâ€™ve seen it on TVâ€™
â€˜You spik Polak sir?â€™
â€˜No, but I speak Russianâ€¦â€¦â€™
To the waiterâ€™s delight the Sloth then engages in a little Russian conversation. Although the Sloth has extremely long fingernails (the envy of many of our women friends) and hair to match on occasions, he is possessed of a gift for languages. He can converse with ease in Russian, German, French, Spanish and Welsh too, look you!
Barbarella however, is totally unimpressed with the linguistic abilities of the Sloth and sees them as an unnecessary interruption to her lunch. She begins rattling her knife and fork on the table like a couple of swords.
â€˜Are we getting any food today?â€™ she asks pointedly.
â€˜Very well Madameâ€™ says the waiter and blushing profusely, hurries off to the kitchens.
Barbarella has just reached the punch line of an extremely long winded and confusing joke, when the food arrives. Kenton and the Sloth fall on theirs like a couple of starving wolves. She picks over her food, irritably moving it around with her fork.
â€˜This isnâ€™t what I orderedâ€™ she growls. â€˜And itâ€™s stone cold!â€™ Her eyes sweep around the terrace like a heat seeking missile trying to winkle out the hapless waiter. Her strident voice rents the air as she yells â€˜Waiter!â€™ Some diners glance up from their plates and gaze curiously in our direction.
The waiter comes to the table and bows. â€˜There is something wrong Madame?â€™
â€˜Barbarella wastes no time. â€˜This isnâ€™t what I orderedâ€™ she pipes.
â€˜But you ask for the fish Madameâ€™
â€˜Tell meâ€™ she says, â€˜How long have you been in this country?â€™
The waiter hangs his head unhappily. â€˜Three weeks Madameâ€™
â€˜Three weeks! Donâ€™t they have fish in your country â€˜cos this isnâ€™t fish, Oh no! Itâ€™s bloody pasta!!! Her voice rises to a high pitched shriek that gets everyone's attention.
Our table is now the focus of the entire restaurant. Kenton stops, his fork loaded with food halfway to his mouth, clearly struck dumb. The Sloth and I keep our heads down, concentrating on our food as if our lives depended on it.
â€˜I change Madame, no probs!â€™ The waiter whisks the plate away and rushes back to the kitchens before Barbarella can say another word. A murmur ripples round the terrace from the other diners who sensing a showdown, no longer see any reason to be discreet and have downed their cutlery. They now sit looking over at our table expectantly. They donâ€™t have long to wait.
The waiter returns to the table and with a flourish, places a plate of piping hot food in front of Barbarella. â€˜It is good now Madame, yes?â€™
She bends her head towards the plate and sniffs. â€˜This fish is offâ€™
â€˜Yes, Off, O-F-F off!! Smell it for Godâ€™s sakeâ€™
The waiter bends down beside her and tries to sniff the food, he jerks back, somehow bringing the plate with him and depositing the hot food neatly into Barbarellaâ€™s lap! She gives out a high pitched shriek as the heat burns through her skirt and scalds her thighs. She leaps to her feet.
â€˜You stupid idiot! Look what youâ€™ve done! This is a designer skirt. It cost me a fortune and now itâ€™s ruined!â€™
â€˜Oh dear! I so sorry Madame! Plis! I help you!â€™ the poor, harassed waiter tries to mop her skirt with his cloth. Kenton rushes to her aid with a paper serviette and begins to dab ineffectually at her skirt. The Sloth meanwhile, is making a superhuman effort to remain in control, although I notice that heâ€™s very pink and his shoulders are shaking in silent mirth. I on the other hand try to be helpful and throw a glass of mineral water onto the affected part. This at least will cool down the burning sensation. However, Barbarella is incandescent with rage.â€™ Get the manager. Get me the bloody manager now! I want compensation for thisâ€™ she mutters menacingly!
The waiter stands by helpless, powerless but philosophical.
The commotion has attracted the attention of the owner of the restaurant, a tall figure, who comes rushing to our table all false smiles and useless offers. He listens patiently to her angry explanation. â€˜, and I want him sacked. Heâ€™s useless! He brought the wrong food, with the wrong sauce and then he tipped it all over my designer skirt!â€™ she ranted.
â€˜Why the hell canâ€™t you employ English waiters?â€™
The manager gave her his best and most oleaginous smile. â€˜This is an Italian restaurant Madame; most of the waiters are Italian. They speak good English, but we do employ a few Polish waiters. They are so much more respectful and reliable than English waiters.â€™
There is no answer to this. The manager is however, magnanimous and clearly believes the in the old adage, â€˜the customer is always rightâ€™ â€˜Allow me to bring an a la carte menu Madame, and you and your party can choose anything you like with wine. The compliments of the house.â€™ This seems to pacify Barbarella. This and the sight of the manager taking the poor Polish waiter roughly by the arm for what was obviously going to be a king size bollocking. I expect the poor chap was on the minimum wage too! Life is too cruel sometimes.
The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.