Yes we have no bananas
I have to be thankful to Anne Brocklehurst because, through inviting me 'under the bridge' in 1977, the epiphany I had there eventually led to my becoming an international collectables dealer and photo library/archive owner.
Years later I decided to break our friendship for personal reasons although Anne always smiled and said hello on the odd occasions we saw each other 'under the bridge' - the name the trade called the Portobello Road West Way, the cheaper end of the flea market. When Martin, my magician husband, and I left Notting Hill, London for good after 25 years, we moved to Brighton on the southern coast also known as London-on-Sea about 14 years ago.
It wasn't long afterwards that Anne and her partner Paul of 25 years moved to Brighton too. They were inseparable since meeting on an adventure trip in Russia. I had met grumpy Paul a couple of times in London and we had not got on. He was a bolshy, unattractive, pigheaded, character from Liverpool with a strong Scouse accent. The whole time they were together he was unemployed. More likely unemployable even though he was a highly qualified IT expert with a chip on his shoulder for being working class while Anne was middle class. A fine example of the British class system.
Paul owned property which he rented out in Birkenhead, his home town and lived off the cheap rents. He and Anne were always redecorating the houses when the tenants left as he was too mean to employ workmen. They spent time 'up north' with his family as Anne had none 'down south'.
Anne had inherited her aunt's respectable suburban house in 'Middle England' and eventually sold it to buy a dark basement flat in prestigious Georgian Brunswick Square in Hove. They lived in uncomfortable permanent chaos. No room to swing a cat if they had one. Boxes of Anne's textile stock were piled high, unfinished recycled items to sell one day at a tabletop fair, her sewing machine and Paul's woodwork tools and flooring he had bought on the net to lay down one fine day, lay abandoned in the long wide hall that ran the length of the flat. There was nowhere to comfortably sit, so one ended up in the old fashioned kitchen around a small kitchen table.
They never went out to eat or even drink a cup of coffee out because both hated spending the money they had. No one, except myself, was ever invited round. I can only think of one old guest from Scotland who slept an uncomfortable night on their sofa.
Anne was a good economical cook, who could make something out of nothing and always experimented with ethnic fusion tastes so whenever I went abroad, I always came back with spices and herbs for her to experiment with. Although I disliked Paul, I put up with him for the sake of my revived long standing friendship with Anne. However, as her man loved cheese, I would inevitably bring local cheeses back from Spain or Greece that one could not buy in The UK. He would mumble 'thanks' in his usual uncommunicative way.
When I went over for dinner or Sunday lunch during my 'lost years' after 2006 when Martin and I split, I would always bring a contribution to the table. The particular Sunday in question, when I felt very alone and needed her company, she said I could come over even though she had not bought any fresh food. I didn't care because it was mid-afternoon and I only wanted some tea and her company. Unfortunately Paul came into the equation as he never ventured out except to go for a long walk because he had high blood pressure.
I brought a her a cheeseboard and a mug with Celtic lettering saying 'Paul' for him. We had tea and later Anne announced I could stay on because she could cobble together leftovers for a light supper. I stayed on because I dreaded being alone suffering from depression and panic attacks.
There was a large bunch of firm bananas in the kitchen and I asked if I could take one for tomorrow's breakfast. 'Of course.' said Anne and broke off one which I put in my bag. I never went shopping because I no longer cooked. I had cooked for my dear departed husband for 25 years and in 2006 stopped cooking forever not believing in cooking for one.
We sat down to have tinned soup and some kind of veggie mishmash in their uncomfortable claustrophobic kitchen. I was still hungry after the meal because I hardly ate anything in those days dropping from size 16 down to a 10. I was later to suffer from agoraphobia and had developed a stammer. I was of course having a mental breakdown.
I was sitting next to the bunch of bananas languishing on the large kitchen shelf. Starving, I reached out, putting my hand on the bunch, looked at Anne, my hostess and friend, not Paul, and asked if I could have one. Before she could answer in the affirmative, an enraged Paul shouted out disrespectfully,
'Oy, those are MY bananas. You've already taken one!'
'But Paul, I can buy more.' whimpered an embarrassed Anne.
'You're always cadging off us at meal times.' Paul continued.
'You're very mean spirited.' I retorted.
'And so are you!' He growled back spitefully.
How he must have despised me! With that I got up to exit from his life forever. I cannot abide meanness and had had enough of this vile creature even though he was Anne's appendage. I calmly marched out of the kitchen, got my bag from the junk yard of the living room with Anne racing after me apologising for Paul's outburst.
'Paul's thrown a wobbly!' She quivered.
'I will never set foot in this flat while he's still alive.' I replied.
Off I went to a pub to eat some food because I was still hungry and angry. A banana worked out at 10p. Maybe I used have offered this Shylock the 20p!
After that episode Anne would come to visit me usually after her supermarket food shopping in my area without telling her loved one where she was. Anne was a domestic goddess and would love to mop my kitchen floor and wash my ever present dirty dishes. She knew I hated domesticity. When I was collapsing after mental abuse by my Svengali estranged conjurer husband, she would unhelpfully say in her very 'Middle English' way, 'Pull yourself together, Jay.' She always called me 'Jay' instead of longwinded 'Jilliana.'
A few weeks later, I was surprised to receive a surprise email from the monster apologising for his bad behaviour, staying he was full of remorse and, as Anne's closest friend, I would always be welcome at their table. He said he was unaware that Anne had invited me to stay on and eat with them on that fateful Sunday afternoon. I was convinced Anne had dictated the email but when I showed it to her on her next visit, she said she knew nothing about it. I never thankfully saw him again and never replied.
They never went abroad but both had travel destination dreams. Paul was desperate to go to India. Anne wanted to go Sicily. Mon Dieu that would mean spending money and moving out of their comfort zone. Finally Anne won. She left all the arrangements to Paul and he even paid for a four or five star hotel out of his own coffer! I loaned her a pocket sized Italian phrase book and the Lonely Planet guide book to Sicily.
Off they went and I wondered what morsel I would get when they returned from Palermo, which was also on my bucket list so I was surprised when a few weeks later, I passed Anne by St James's church looking guilty. Odd because if she came shopping in my neighbourhood, she would always contact me to see if I was available for a cuppa.
She immediately invited me for a coffee. Anne paying £2.50 for a latte!! Then out the guilty truth came out.
'We didn't buy anyone any gifts!' She blurted out not looking me in the eye.
'You didn't go into a supermarket?' I enquired, thinking of wonderful gastro Italian goodies, bottles of delicious limoncello and fine floral soaps.
'There was nothing to buy, honest.'
I said nothing but my look revealed my thoughts. Then she accidentally let the cat out of the bag describing the weekly market in Palermo with designer bling E10 colourful watches. She knew I collected watches. No watch, not even a Sicilian lemon. So, no doubt controlled by Paul, she had thought of me and my love for all that was Italian and not bothered to open her purse independently. I recalled all the times I had thought of her on my numerous travels and always brought back a little token gift.
For the second time in my life, I decided to break off our lifelong friendship. I cannot abide meanness, especially with close friends. Our friendship had spanned 40 odd years. No more! I sat down and hand wrote a letter explaining how I felt. I never got a reply, not that I expected one but I did receive a packet with my two books without any words of thanks enclosed.
On odd occasions I would see her at tabletop fairs. She would just nod, looking very guilty, and look the other way. Then I heard via my best friend Pauline that she had kept in touch with an estranged 'friend' through writing an article for a local glossy magazine. Anne should have been a journalist because she was a good writer but had wasted her bohemian life away, never having had a 'proper' career eking out a living selling old pieces of textiles and lace. She was also clever at making bags and other handmade items from her recycled pieces of textiles.
Then I heard via Pauline that Paul had died in his sleep. The poor woman had heard him make strange breathing noises in his sleep and in the morning he was dead in bed. I was abroad at the time and on my return did not send my condolences as I did not want to get involved.
Anne inherited all the properties. I saw her at the August Brunswick Festival and gave my condolences. Even though I wondered what she was going to do with the new phase of her life as a 'widow' I said nothing. Pauline has since told me that Anne frequently comes into the high End fashion shop where she works and bought an expensive coat and smartened up. The last time she ventured in, she made a point of asking after me and to send her love.
So now that the 25 year control has been removed, hopefully Anne, like me, will rise like a Phoenix from the ashes and soar into a better world a reborn woman. Meanwhile I smile every time I go into the delightful nostalgic Blackbird tearoom in Brighton and see, framed on the wall, the original 1923 American music sheet 'Yes we have no bananas!'
Written in the Otantik Boutique Hotel, Kaleiçi, Antalya on 24/3/17.
Wikipedia - Yes we have no bananas
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