Sunday, 2 March 2014

Afternoon tea with Germaine Greer

Yesterday, a man who looked just like Benny Hill - including hat and raincoat - was riding round and round town on an electric bicycle with a trailer, belting out American Christian music to go with the excerpts from the Gospels pinned to a huge A-frame at the back.

After his fifth circuit, there came a ring on the door buzzer, and I went down to see who it was. Standing patiently in the porch was Germaine Greer. She must have trawled her way backwards from the photo of her exposing her fundament until she had worked out the precise location of our compact but adorable city apartment, probably using all the pictures I had taken out of the window.

She was not happy, but then again, neither was I.

"Are you Tom Stephenson?!" she demanded, her eyes popping through two sets of crocodile hand-luggage and her white hair blowing in all directions, despite the absence of any strong wind.

It was then that I fully understood the nick-name given to me by a couple of cruel friends (who, incidentally, have emigrated to Australia) - Germaine Greer. John occasionally calls me Margaret Rutherford, but he only has the odd photo to go by. To see me standing side by side with Germaine after a night on the town would change his perception forever.

I snapped out of my fascinated reverie and answered, "No."

Germaine mumbled some insincere apologies, glanced up at the statue of Queen Victoria to try and get her bearings, then turned to go.

"Wait!" I found myself shouting, "Tom Stephenson doesn't exist. That's just a name I use for my blog, trolling, and all the negative reviews on Trip Advisor!"

Her head turned before her body did, and she slowly approached me with an almost audible growl. I began to regret my inexplicable outburst of honesty, but this was - after all - Germaine Greer, and I may never get the opportunity to speak to her again.

I had to think quickly. "I expect you have come about that photo of you on the blog?" I didn't wait for an answer as she was getting a little too close and weighing-up her handbag with a few, quick up and down movements of her powerful right forearm.

"That photo reminds me of a really good joke. Would you like me to tell it to you?" I didn't wait for an answer to that question either.

"What do women put behind their ears to attract men?" She remained disconcertingly silent.

"Their knees!" I accompanied the punch-line with a nervous shriek of falsetto laughter, but nary a smile showed itself on the old antipodean's cracked features. Her eyes did narrow slightly, but I don't think this was as a result of the bottled-up laughter.

I adopted a studied, crestfallen attitude and reluctantly invited her up. Best to face the music, I thought, and best not face it on the doorstep.

All that hacking through dense vegetation down in Australia has kept her very fit indeed - she virtually bounded up the four flights of stairs and once in the flat, showed no signs of laboured breathing at all - unlike me. This was a bad sign.

She accepted my offer of tea with a wordless nod, and I went into the kitchen to make it, leaving her standing in the living-room and casting her eyes about as if she had just broken the door down in a drugs-raid.

When I returned with the cups and saucers tinkling in my trembling hands, I found her standing next to the desk and examining my camera which she had taken out of its case, weighing it up like her handbag and turning it over and over as if trying to find something overlooked on the previous rotation.

"What kind of Olympus is this? I've never seen one of these in Britain before."

She seemed to have calmed down a little, and I tried to utilise my recently acquired knowledge of her interest in photography by telling her of its provenance and the long journey from its birth in Japan, to little old England via the USA. It was like hypnotising a cat, and pretty soon she had the lens-cap off and was taking pictures of the Portland Stone version of Victoria through the window of the sun-lit flat.

I knew that all of this was only putting off the inevitable, and that - sooner or later - the subject of that photo on my blog would be sure to arise, even if the subject of the Somerset Wetlands did not. Then I had a brilliant idea.

"I know!" I exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm, "Why don't we recreate that photo of you lying on the floor, completely naked and exposing your butcher's dustbin for all the world to see?"

At this, she looked thoughtful, and gazed into the middle distance of the outside world without the view-finder of my digital Olympus.

"I dunno... it's been a long time and... well, I'm not as young as I used to be, y'know..."

"GWAN!" I encouraged her, "You know you want to!" I had a slight growl in my voice at this point, and it seemed to fire her up to the idea.

"Well... aw, what the heck. Let's go for it."

Pretty soon, she had her ample backside stuck firmly to the coarse, wooden boards of our Georgian living-room, and it made little squeaking noises against the paint as she adjusted her position to my directions whilst I composed the shot, occasionally looking at the 40 year-old original which I had brought up on the iMac for reference.

It was at that point at which I awoke, head down on the keyboard with a small strand of saliva coming from the corner of my mouth.

Oh well, maybe one day.


  1. I am quite in awe of you and your dreamy prowess Tom. Still, all that lies behind my slightly weathered antipodean ears are some lint and a hint of patchouli.

    1. Patchouli?! You old hippy. You know that stuff was invented to mask the smell of shallow graves, don't you?

  2. Ms Rutherford !
    You and your " marbles in a cloth sack" face has done it again!
    A cracking post

    1. Well it made me laugh. I surprised myself at how easily I could visualise the whole scenario. Creepy.

  3. Oh Tom you are awful (but I like you).

  4. I wager you've always known the universe out there in middle distance.

    1. Well I spent enough time staring at it through the window when I was at school.

  5. she looks like worzel gummage in that picture. I saw her on some politics programme. god does she go on

    1. Oi - watch it. That's a picture of me.

  6. I dreamt the Stasi came for me.

    1. I went to the Stasi headquarters in East Germany about 4 days after the wall came down. Never seen so many arials on one roof before or since.

      They had all left the building by that time and were mingling unseen with ordinary people - like they always had done. Unseen, but not unnoticed. Just ignored by this time.