The temp

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The Independent Culture
Kerry found me snivelling in the loo over university boyfriend and came over all maternal. Brought me a handful of bog paper, lent me her mascara and said suitable things like "bastard" and "he doesn't sound worthy of you to me" as I snuffled out my tale of desertion for Little Miss Skirty Suit. She offered me an extra-strong mint and said "don't worry, there'll be another one along, believe me" while I wailed things like "that's it. I'm never getting involved with anyone ever again." Finally, as we went back to our desks, she said, "Tell you what, why don't you come out with me and Louise? We always go out on Tuesday nights".

Which is how come I'm sweating away happy hour in a cavernous bar done out like a Mexican tourist venue - not that I've ever been to Mexico or, at this rate, ever will. Kerry and Louise, it turns out, are heavily into salsa. Still, it could be worse. They could have made me go line-dancing. "Go on, try it," they both said as they slathered my raw-red cheeks with foundation in the loos after work. "You'll love it."

Of course, Kerry and Louise, having been dancing every Tuesday for six months, are red hot, know all the steps, have special clothes with whirly skirts and stretchy tops that make their breasts look like Ferrero Rocher and, despite the thick curls - Kerry's raven, Louise's bottle-red - that cascade down their backs, not a sign of breaking into a sweat. Just the sight of the crowds in this place has made the undersides of my arms go slippery, and I can feel drips running down the inside of my waistband.

I, you see, was born with two left feet and William Hague's sense of rhythm. I spent my teens developing my conversational skills, because when I get on the floor everyone else gets off, grimacing with pain where I've crushed their toes and gouged them with my elbows. I can't ice-skate either, so I guess I'll never even get to be sneered at by Dani Behr on Ice Warriors.

Kerry and Louise try to encourage me by joining the beginners' class. They look fantastic, like a pair of birds of paradise. As the rest of us glower and try to follow the increasingly mysterious heel kicks of the Snooty Spice who walks round going "No! Ees like thees!", Kerry and Louise flick their butts and twirl. There are only two men, both 8ft tall, gangly and very, very methodical. My cheeks are flaming, partly from exertion, more from embarrassment. It's like being the last girl picked for the hockey team; you may despise hockey, but nobody wants to be the worst in the class.

And to make matters worse, this is all taking place on a dance floor in the centre of the room. Every surrounding inch is crammed with blokes from the retail and computing industries, grinning from ear to ear as they perch on high stools and drink bottles of Sol with limes in the necks. There seem to be two types of observer here: the leerers and the schadenfreude boys. The first gaze at my two new friends; the rest seem universally to be watching me.

The class ends, and we lunge at the bar. You have to duck under a bunch of sombreros to get there. Louise says "what do you think?" and I say something about not being very good. "You'll learn," she says. "Sexiest dance in the world." Not, I think, if you look like a water buffalo when you're doing it. Kerry's surrounded by men, and Louise drifts off to join her.

I go back for another margarita, duck below the sombreros and find that some weird acoustic effect makes the voices of the ad sales reps on the other side come through clear as a bell above the hubbub. "Pretty good, this," says one. "How'd you find out about it?" "John at CompuCentre," says his pal. "Scored three times in three weeks here once".

"Why?" "Why? Easy. It's one of those bird things, isn't it? Every secretary in London does it. Split up with their bloke and a week later they take up a hobby."

"There's some nice skirt here tonight."

"Yeah, well. You don't want to bother with the good dancers. That's why we come for beginners'. The good ones are just here to show off. The ones who look like they're wearing orthopaedic shoes shoes on the floor, they're the ones to go for. They're so grateful it's pathetic".

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