I’d thought I’d waft through the pre-publication weeks, trailing euphoria. Instead I went all nerve-wracked and insomniac. To promote my book, I needed to get myself in the public eye.
BUT WHICH SELF?
The crisp, clever self, of course: a little haughty, a tad scary, with perfect hair and a freshly ironed shirt. Apart from that self had never actually existed. That was ok. I would pull her from the swamps of nothingness. There were three ‘photo shoots’ booked in in the next fortnight. I got my hair cut, and bought a shirt, an interesting, modern shirt, more of a smock than a shirt, white, with big pockets. I went and showed my new look to the Daves, who were lolling on the sofa, immersed in the worlds on their screens.
‘Why are you dressed up as a dentist?’ asked Dave 2, once he’d deigned to lift an eye.
Scowling, Dave 1 looked me up and down. ‘Some clapped dentist.’
Dave 2 nodded. ‘You need a mask. And gloves. And maybe some kind of drill.’
‘But I don’t want to look like a dentist.’
‘Oh.’ Dave 2 shrugged and returned to his screen.
the first photographer was coming round the next morning, so I was going to spend the evening tidying up, and considering alternatives to the white shirt. But a friend asked me out for a drink, and I ended up having three, and when I got home I went straight to bed with a couple of Nytol. I woke up at 9am, feeling groggy but relaxed. The photographer was due at 9.30, which meant she would have to take me as she found me. I put the white shirt on, and some jeans, and a bit of mascara, and thought I looked rather good. Humming, I made a pot of coffee in my dishevelled kitchen.
Bang on 9.30 there was a loud rap on the front door. The photographer was a tall, blonde, willowy woman, dressed in yoga clothes, and surrounded by black cases of varying size. ‘Have you got a permit?’ she said, agitated.
‘A permit! A thingy! For parking!’
‘Oh! No. But restrictions don’t kick in until midday.’
‘Oh, ok, well that’s fine because I need to be out of here in under an hour. I had to leave my twins with a neighbour.’ She started carting in her kit. ‘Bloody school holidays. I mean, how are you meant to cope?’
Helping her with the heavy cases, I agreed. The Daves are old enough now for it not to be such a problem, but I remembered it well…
‘You can’t wear that top, by the way,’ she interrupted.
‘Really? But it’s – I bought it specially.’
‘Definitely not. You can’t wear white. Or black. Haven’t you got something colourful? And… oh fuck…’ She put her hands on her hips, looking around. ‘I mean, where am I meant to take this picture?’
‘Couldn’t I just be sitting at the kitchen table?’
‘Not with all that crap on it.’
‘Oh.’ I gathered up the cereal packets, and shoved all the bits of paper into a pile.
‘Look, I’ll do that. You need to get changed. We haven’t got all day.’
In my bedroom, I searched for colourful tops, and tried them on, doubtfully peering in the mirror.
I jumped out of my skin. She was right behind me.
‘Green’s good. But you’ll have to wear two bras. You’re very nipply!’ She looked around. ‘Fuck! I was thinking we might do the shoot in here, seeing as the kitchen’s such a shithole. But this is just as bad!’
‘What about the sitting room?’ We went to look. Dave 2 was watching the Commonwealth Games in his pyjamas. ‘You wouldn’t mind going upstairs for a bit, would you?’ I asked him.
‘It’s ok,’ the photographer said. ‘It’s far too cluttered in here. It’s going to have to be the fucking kitchen.’
Sitting at the kitchen table, thoughts of clever crispness abandoned, I tried to ‘smile with my eyes not my mouth,’ and ‘keep my chin tucked in’. The photographer got more and more agitated, snapping wildly, then stopping to move some more objects out of the way. ‘You really could do with a sort-out,’ she told me. ‘You need to let go of what you don’t need. OK, let’s try you standing up, out in the yard. If we move this crap out of the way, and you stand in the corner, I can just about make it look like a Mediterranean courtyard.’
It went on and on. At some point Dave 1 got up and had a shower, and a there was the usual faint drainy whiff. ‘Sorry about the smell,’ I said. ‘It won’t last long. Must get some drain cleaner.’
‘But that’s SO BAD!’ She held her hand over her nose and mouth. ‘I don’t know how you…’ She shook her head. ‘Hold your tummy in. I’m sorry, but you’ll thank me!’
At 11.45 I started warning her about the imminent parking restrictions. ‘A traffic warden is looking at your car, waiting to pounce.’
‘Oh fuck. Yes ok,’ she kept saying, snapping and peering at her screen. ‘Oh god. Now I’m all tense. Shit. I can’t see. Look, could you get your kid to stand guard.’
Dave 2 acquiesced. He stood by her car for 15 minutes, while I held in my tummy and prayed for a traffic warden to come, and the photographer cursed. And then a traffic warden did come, and Dave 2 yelled, and the photographer packed up and we all of us helped pile her into her car. ‘It’s been so nice to meet you,’ she smiled sweetly as she started her engine. ‘Best of luck with everything!’