Home > Don't You Forget About Me(6)

Don't You Forget About Me(6)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

‘Constructed reality. Like The Matrix,’ I say, picking up a menu for Shanghai Garden.

‘Yeah! So much of “can’t” and “not allowed” is an illusion.’

‘Tell that to my probation officer,’ I said.

Robin laughed, pushing the window open on its latch, before he lit his spliff. ‘Good one.’

I felt the satisfaction of being a Cool Girl.

‘… Would you share the illusion of a Kung Po rice with me?’


I toy with the prospect of a taxi to Kelham Island, then consider that now I’m on the dole again, the bus is more appropriate. These sort of internal negotiations are alien to Robin.

It’s weird to say, but Robin is sort-of famous. ‘Famous’ is overselling it really, but ‘well known’ is positively misleading. He’s a face and a name you might know if you’re in a very specific age demographic in Britain, watch the obscurer TV channels, follow fringe comedy and are probably a stoner.

When I saw his modern penthouse flat with its lipstick-red leather sofas, white rugs and mezzanine bedroom in a converted factory, I thought wow, challenging offbeat authored comedy pays well.

In the six months we’ve been seeing each other, I’ve witnessed Robin turn down various offers he thought ‘weren’t simpatico with what I’m trying to build’ and toss bills into the bin unopened, yet the lights stayed on and the hot water flowed. Eventually I twigged that income was coming from elsewhere.

Apparently Robin’s dad was some major wheel in the civil service, his parents now retired to the Cornish coast. Robin owned his property outright and ‘I get the rental income from the last place.’ I didn’t inquire any more in case I looked like I was gold digging, eyeing up the portfolio.

‘Are they fans of what you do?’ I asked, tentatively, as code for woah they set you up nicely.

Robin ran a hand through his wild hair. ‘I think “fans” might be overstating it. They want me to fulfil my potential, in whatever I see as my potential.’

Our disparity is never an issue except on the occasions I arrive exhausted from a shift. He’ll shrug and say: ah, sod it off then, as someone who has never understood how it feels to be dangling off the monkey bars with no financial crash mat. His whole inspirational ‘life is what you make it’ schtick grates a bit, as a result.

Though it has to be said, he’s never complained about our differences as a couple, monetarily or otherwise: as the most sinewy, wiry man I’ve ever slept with, he’s very keen on my waterbed belly and marshmallowy arse, and he positively enthuses about staying in my attic room in my terraced house in Crookes.

‘Look at it this way, if you ever want to be a writer, you’ve already got the garret.’

‘Glad you’re enjoying your poverty safari,’ I said, and he said ah poverty safari I like that I’ll use that. He says that quite a lot.

I stub out my fag as the bus arrives and push a Mentos into my mouth. Instead of serving dog food ragu to dismayed punters I have a night off, and the night is young. Chin up.

When I get off at the destination and walk the two minutes to Robin’s, in the dark and cold, I start to question the wisdom of the fabulous surprise concept. I probably should’ve told him …? This is the trouble with being unconventional. You never know when you’re simply being annoying.

As I approach his building, I see Robin near the door: he has a cheap thin blue plastic bag, handles lengthened with the weight of what must be purchases from the corner shop.

This is my moment! I’ll call him and say something like: I hope you have some wine for me in there. I’ll be like Jason Bourne! ‘Get some rest, Pam,’ while Robin jerks his head to see where I’m standing.

I scroll down, hit Robin’s number in my contacts and press the handset to my ear.

Ahead of me, I see Robin pull his iPhone out of his jacket pocket. A moment where he stares at the caller ID, then my line goes blip-blip-blip = call ended. Has he turned it off by mistake? His phone is back in his pocket and he continues towards the flat.

Baffled, and stung, I hit redial. Same process: momentary check, and again, declines it. He’s pressing it fast enough that even if I couldn’t see him, I think I’d know from the desultory length of time it rang that I’d been drop called.

Stubbornly, knowing I’m being uncool, I try for a third time. He’s almost at the door now. If his phone is buzzing, he doesn’t react.

I hear: The phone you have called may be switched off.

What on earth? He’s turned it off? I’m his girlfriend and I got the treatment of an unknown Manchester landline phishing for PPI. Is he angry with me about something? I search my recent memory and nothing occurs. Also, despite his hatred of stand-up comedy critics, Robin doesn’t do fits of temper: either due to his disposition or the quantity of marijuana he inhales, or both.

I’m hurt. As I watch Robin let himself into his block of flats I try to calibrate: how much, and whether I should be.

I anticipate what his excuse will be. Wasn’t in the right frame of mind, didn’t want to inflict myself on you. I called three times though, in quick succession, during what was supposed to be my shift. It could’ve been an emergency? I mean, it’s sufficiently out of the ordinary. Robin calls me a catastrophist but you can be too laid-back.

And I tend to call rather than message as Robin likes to declare himself above ‘the myriad ways of being pestered these days’. Maybe he’s waiting for an important person to get in touch? He was told the BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment might need a chat about now and to keep the line free.

I’m grasping at straws, obviously. My mum used to say that eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves and I feel the truth of that. My temporarily lifted spirits are now in tatters around my feet – I got an insight into how my boyfriend sometimes feels about me, and it’s not done anything for my self-esteem.

I think back to other times I might’ve called and not got an answer: is it often like this? FFS, what does she want now.

I light a cigarette and weigh up my options. If I go back to mine, I might see Karen on her way to her shift and that has to be avoided at all costs. My soul concaves at the thought. I know what I’m feeling and my counsellor told me to name it, when it surfaced: loneliness.

A minute or two later, I’m no closer to a decision, when my phone pings. Esther.

Can you bring red not white? We’re running short on it and I can’t raise Mum. Ta. (Do NOT get some Turning Leaf bin juice from the cash and carry! Spend a tenner min)

Not an ideal audience, but this gives me a chance to rehearse my story, get the lines right to make Robin laugh when I tell him, and I’m still buzzing with the adrenaline of outrage. I call her.

‘Hi, Esther, yes fine about the wine, but I can’t spend a tenner – I’ve just been sacked.’


Maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea.

‘What for?’

‘A customer complained about his food being awful, the customer turned out to be a critic for The Star. Tony fired me in front of him, as if the problem was the service not the kitchen.’

‘Oh dear. This is like that hipster place on Green Lane with the drinks in jam jars where you lost a month’s pay after a row about a bowl of sick and gherkins.’

You know how your family can wind you up in a way no one else can quite hear? Like a dog whistle? To anyone else, Esther sounds sympathetic. To me, instantly bringing up another time I lost my job sounds anything but.

‘They were “kimchi loaded cheesy tater tots” and not really, the manager kept groping my arse so I had to leave.’

‘Well … spend a tenner on the wine and I’ll refund you when you get back.’ I make noises of objection, ‘George, Mark is a member of the Wine Society, he’s not going to drink something from Spar.’

Offstage, my brother-in-law Mark makes tutting noises and then something that sounded like a question.

‘Mark wants to talk to you,’ Esther says.

There’s a rustling as she hands the phone over to Mark.

‘Hi, George,’ Mark says. ‘Sorry to hear about the Italian. This might be a bit soon but striking while the iron is hot and all that, I know a landlord who needs someone to work an event tomorrow night, a pub in town? Under new management. Only one night but it’s cash in hand and a decent amount, if I remember right. Shall I give him your details?’

‘Definitely, thanks,’ I say. Good old Mark.

‘Great, I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon. Best of luck and all that.’

More rustling while Esther wrestles the phone back.

‘Thanks, darling. Can you go check on the dinner please?’ A pause, while Mark is dismissed. ‘Mark’s involved himself by recommending you for that job, the man’s a client.’

Here we go.


‘And please, don’t fuck it up.’

‘Thanks!’ I say, stung. ‘What with me being a known fucker upper.’

‘You know what I mean. Please don’t come back with one of your amusing stories where everything is a huge mess but it isn’t your fault. No incidents. I don’t want there to be incidents and excuses.’

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