Hastings was hot, so we jumped in the car – that’s not quite true – we slid into the car the skin on my thighs sticking to the seat. Thursday,is our away day so we put Norman the Sat Nav on and headed for Rochester. Not far, but far enough to suck two mints from the glove compartment and not worry about needing a lavatory.
We met up with two people we haven’t seen for ages. The old git had played in a band with the husband, whilst his dear lady wife had been instrumental in forging the careers of many female comedians. The conversation started on the doorstep, continued in the car on the way to the Chatham Dock Yards, and carried on over tea and scones in the caff.
The Dock Yard is a prime location for feature films and telly’s “Call the Midwife’; indeed we saw a group of thespianic nurses wandering back to their trailers The atmosphere of the dead docks was eerily full even though there was nobody there. What was once a teeming workplace is now home to the University of Kent and film makers. We were allowed in The ROPERY, a very long shed where ropes are made and twined, the ancient floor trodden on by Nelson’s sailors. Our escort has a prestigious job at the University and a lanyard and bunch of keys to prove it – which is how we were able to see behind the scenes. The offices, performance spaces and rooms full of sound engineering equipment are all overseen by him. He pointed out the beams in his office, original timber from 1771 now painted white. We wandered past ships, helicopters, Nelson’s living quarters and wooden sheds that still house the planks of wood from decommissioned ships from the 1700s. I felt like The Queen, who as somebody pointed out years ago, thinks the world smells of Dulux: she has never smelt the aroma of a run down school, or the savage stench of an uncleaned lavatory in a BP petrol station; she doesn’t know what she’s missing.
On the way out I was stopped by three women. They were on a two day trip down south having left their curlers back home in Jonfield.
One was ever so sightly younger than me, one was as old as the Northerner, and the third was a jolly woman who was older than all of us.
‘Weren’t you on the telly?’
‘Yup.’ I said
‘What were you on?’ they chimed
‘Any old shit and that was me.’I said
‘Didn’t you used to be Jeni Barnett?’
‘Yes.’ I said grabbing a deliciously flabby arm – the smoothness of old lady skin is unbeatable.
The smell of Floris’ ‘Lily of the Valley’ and old aunty scent clouded the air. I stood in the middle of three women who had grown up on me.
When I started on the box I was too embarrassed to reveal who I really was.
Well I had been a rootin’ tootin’ gal of the left. I had been a fist punching feminist who thought nothing of spitting on police vans and having my picture taken by the Special Patrol Group. I was an unambiguous daughter of the revolution who thought nothing of cleaning the oven and boiling the tea-towels for my boyfriend who lived in shabby filth in Sheffield, and who spent most of the day planning revolutionary acts whilst schtupping groupies of the ‘Human League.’
We did not bring down the establishment but by golly we tried.
Our female guide said I still had the knack – well I’ve never really lost it – of fraternising with my public. Only now I’m like the old granny who sits on a wooden chair outside the front door, knitting and sharing memories whilst the interested bring me mugs of luke warm Rooibosh.
Chatting about what is and wondering about what will be is the prerogative of the young and middling people, whilst for us ancients life is predicated on what was? The truth is nostalgia is the bed fellow of the wise.
Wasn’t I Jeni Barnett? Well I still am, only now my teeth are chipped and my barnet’s silver grey – at least I’m not dead.