My name is Samantha … not Sam. I hate it when people shorten names. What’s the point? Your Mum and Dad have taken the trouble to give you a perfectly decent, respectable name like Charlotte or Philippa instead of landing you with the name of a fruit or a football team. Why does everyone feel the need to upset them and confuse everyone else?
Anyway, my name is Samantha and I live in a small seaside town in North Wales which has seen better days. If I tell you the Victorian pier is rusting away and closed for safety reasons, as well as being an eyesore, you’ll get the general picture though the sands are still great and it has some pleasant parts like the park. Cheap flights to Spain killed the holiday trade so people just come for a day out or the market now and the shops struggle and have gone downhill. We do get some lovely sunny days but you can never rely on it.
The council keep on saying regeneration is on the agenda but it’s been a long time coming. I rent my own flat thanks to housing benefit and live alone. Used to work at the old Hoover factory until it closed down. Twenty years I put in there. Taught me never to have a tumble drier because it ruins your clothes!
I was in two minds about the closure. It’s hard having no money and being on the dole, no matter what people say. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a bit more freedom to be yourself. Between ourselves, the work was very boring and I didn’t fit in with the rest. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of your scroungers. I have tried to get work. Still go down the Jobcentre and pick up the odd interview. But that’s where it ends. They never seem to like me.
It’s not that I don’t smarten myself up for them. You wouldn’t catch me in T-shirts and track suit bottoms with trainers any day. I always make sure I’m well turned out, pay attention to my clothes and make-up and never go anywhere with chipped nails or down at heel shoes. I love false eyelashes and Foxglove and Cracker Red are my favourite shades of nail varnish. Quick drying so they don’t smear. I apply a fresh coat every day.
I’m sure I could work in an office now – I’ve been on computer courses and all that. Would love being one of the girls, comparing fashion notes and getting all the gossip … perhaps even making friends at last. My work adviser is a poppet and does her best to encourage me. But even she gets disheartened at times.
“I really don’t know, Sam,” she sighs, after yet another failure.
“Yes … sorry. I’d employ you. I really would.” Then she’d get me off her books of course. But I think she really means it.
“Is it because I’m not getting any younger?”
She shakes her head firmly.
“Not at all. Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against age anymore –or disability or race or – anything else. I don’t know what it is, I’m sure.”
Well, she may not, but then she only looks about twelve and still believes in fairies. OK, I’m exaggerating … just a bit. However, you and I know it doesn’t matter how many fancy laws they pass on the subject. It doesn’t make any difference. They choose who they bloody well want to. I feel really sorry for the properly disabled.
There’s a lovely girl downstairs from me who has CP- that’s cerebral palsy apparently. She’s not really spastic, just walks with a limp and has slightly slurred speech. One of her arms turns in a bit too but she’s bright as they come. She’s a single mum. Told me she got taken advantage of when she was very young. The boy is always well turned out and off to school every day on time. She used to help out in his school playground. Then they put her on dinner duty one to one with another spastic kid, helping him to eat for a while, till he had to leave. She missed the playground. When she applied for a proper job as a classroom assistant, they turned her down even though she‘d done all the training and that. Such a shame. She would have been great. Her name is Sarah. That’s a nice name. I know you can shorten it to Sally but that’s still girly enough and people don’t use Sally as much these days because it sounds old-fashioned.
Anyway, Sarah is lovely to me and always uses my proper name and title. She’s the only one who bothers with me in the flats. She does neighbourly stuff like giving me change for the meters and a cup of milk or sugar if I’ve run out. It always seems to be me that runs out but then she invites me in for a coffee as well and we have a good chat. She never wants paying back. I’ve offered to babysit for her so she can go out on her own now and then, but she just laughs and says she has nowhere to go, no-one to go with and couldn’t afford it anyway. I know how that feels. So I gave her one of my favourite pair of earrings one day to say thank you and I think she was touched.
My counsellor says it’s very important to have positive thoughts. As I said, I do have my freedom and that’s positive. I love clothes shopping, even if it is only through the windows most of the time and I like reading chick-lit from the library or the charity shops. Most days I take a walk along the promenade. I’d like a little dog like a Bichon Frise or a Yorkie with a ribbon in its hair, but the landlord won’t allow it. I’m not a big drinker and I don’t go in any pubs – they can get real rough round here and that’s not for me. I’m afraid I am addicted to the weed – tobacco in roll ups, you understand, I wouldn’t touch any of the other stuff though there’s plenty in this town that do, more’s the pity. We’ve got a junkie in the attic flat and he’s thin as a rake, always dirty and snotty-nosed. Brings the tone of the place down. I don’t have to talk to him though. I do alright and the telly’s my friend. I try not to bother Sarah too much though she’s always there if I need her.
Then there’s this café. Found it by chance. Just off the promenade but nice and quiet, especially in the winter months. It’s not too big and the schoolkids don’t go there. I avoid children – they’re always shoving and pushing and sniggering in each other’s ears. No manners.
The café is plain and old-fashioned with net curtains and plastic flowers in green jars on the tables but it’s very clean and cheerful. There aren’t a hundred varieties of coffee and tea to choose from so you don’t get flustered. It’s just ordinary tea in a pot or coffee in a mug or cup. I always have tea with a cup and saucer. Same size, same price and steaming hot from the boiler. The cakes and pastries are all homemade and they make fresh sandwiches. The waitresses wear printed pinafores and have their hair tied up in a scarf like they used to in the old days. I’m all for a touch of wartime nostalgia, not that I’m old enough to remember it myself. I’d have been getting my pension for years if I was still alive and that was the case! But I like the old romantic films. Shame how that generation are passing away. The pinafores bring some class to the place and remind me of wearing real silk stockings which I adore, and pretty dresses with swinging skirts instead of trousers. The girls are friendly and because I go there nearly every day they second guess my order now, know my name and ask how I’m doing. Their chit-chat makes me feel normal again even if it is only about the weather.
Then one day, an old trout comes in. Very posh. Reminds me of my mother who I haven’t seen for years. I wouldn’t have thought it was her kind of place but it’s raining and cold and the windows are all steamed up from the warmth inside, though there’s a good smell of coffee and baking and the cheerful clatter of plates.
I envy her real fur coat. It’s much better than my mangy fake jacket. She’s flashing real diamonds too – not like my chunky costume jewellery. Well made up, though she can’t disguise the heavily wrinkled neck of a walrus. A careful grey wave to the hair. No prizes for guessing which way she votes. She sits down at the table opposite mine –I’m in my usual corner –and looks around as if she owns the place. She does flash me a brief smile though, so that’s good. Orders tea with a scone. Pats her perm in case the wind has ruffled it (it hasn’t – her hairspray must be extra heavy duty) and plonks her bag down. Takes off the clear mackintosh protecting the mink but leaves the mink in place.
“Terrible weather for May!” she says conversationally. “So blustery and cold with it too,” and I agree wholeheartedly.
What’s she doing in a town like this? I’ve never seen her before. Bet she’s come on the train from Cheshire to visit a sickly aunt in one of the many nursing homes near the front, sticking around to lay a claim on the money. I can hear my counsellor saying not to make assumptions there, but I can’t for the life of me think why else she’d come. She’s nosey too. Looks everyone up and down though there are only two or three other old gentlemen in and she turns back to me once her tea is brought.
Then she begins staring harder at me and it’s like being dissected with an anatomist’s scalpel. She takes everything in: the floral designer dress from Oxfam which was a real bargain, the cheap earrings and bangles, the heavy make-up and the polished nails which are my pride and joy. Her manner has turned disapproving as if she has a bad smell under her nose, though in fact we’re not dressed that differently. It’s just that I’m younger and far from rich. Then her eyes move down from my beautiful long, blonde wig to dwell on my prominent Adam’s apple and over-large hands. She guesses and is horrified and disgusted. I mean really disgusted and shocked, not just surprised.
I finish my tea with trembling hands, my day ruined and the café spoilt. I don’t think I’ll come here again. I want to be back in the hidey hole of my flat but stumble outside in my ridiculously high heels that hurt like hell, leaving the money on the table. I light up, leaning over the promenade wall, one shaking hand sheltering the poor flickering flame in the other from the gusting wind. The persistent rain stings my face and I’m going to get drenched but I don’t care that much anymore. Only the seagulls keep me company. Mind you, they sound as if they’re laughing too.
As I said, my name is Samantha now. Not Sam anymore. It’s nobody else’s business and I don’t harm anyone, not like those pervy DJs and TV presenters. And not everyone is cruel as my counsellor says. Even if your parents and siblings and all the rest of your family do cut you off. Perhaps you should go to London, Sam – anything goes there! But how can I do that without any money? At least I have my warm and quiet little flat here. My refuge, even if sometimes the four walls seem to talk back to me. I do believe or at least hope not everyone is cruel. After all, there is Sarah. But it’s hard to remember that when even the seagulls seem to shit on you.