Tombstone is one of those people who bring on my sciatica. Just by being in the same room. She's a graduate cum laude from the school of gluteus maximus. Normally one can save on Ibuprofen bills simply by avoiding the places these people hang out, but for some reason she is the type who just bounces into your life whenever you think the coast is clear.
Tombstone is known as Tombstone because she's got one of those gulch- like mouths crammed with rounded slabs that just cry out to have an epitaph carved on them. Fortunately, she's not here all the time, slack-jawed ski bunny that she is, because in the winter she cooks and brays in chalets and in the summer she cooks and brays on boats. But for a few weeks around each equinox she brays in London.
So far, it's not been too bad: she's been back three weeks and there's only been one sighting, in the distance. But it had to happen: I got trapped in Fliss's kitchen with her and her Antipodean pal, Deidre. Deidre has just been on a week-long Feng Shui course. She doesn't know how to pronounce it yet, but she's learned enough about which way to point the hatstand to relieve her acquaintances of 80 quid an hour.
So, Deidre is sitting there bitching about Fliss's taste while Tombstone gapes and occasionally lets off one of those laughs that have been known to crack mirrors. "No, no, really, Fliss," drones Deidre, "you can't have those awful striped blinds. I could get you some plain hessian ones for a couple of hundred pounds each and that will balance out the man-made materials in your chairs".
Fliss is a pretty good-natured sort of person: doesn't like to get into fights. Then again, she quite likes her own kitchen. "I quite like my blinds, actually," she says mildly. Deidre leans forward and puts her hand on Fliss's arm, dips her head down to look into her eyes. "You mustn't be so defensive, Fliss. I'm not attacking you personally. I'm just saying things because I know they'd be good for you."
"I'm sure you are. But I like my blinds."
And then Tombstone says the fullest sentence I've ever heard her articulate. Usually all you ever hear her say is things like "Ya. I did that, only bigger", or "Ya, I know him, only better". Today, she has obviously been practising. "Don't be afraid to revolutionise your life, Fliss, there are more things out there than you're allowing yourself to believe. Spiritual things."
"I just said that I quite like my blinds," says Fliss. "No," replies Tombstone, "what you were really saying was that you're resistant to new ideas. That's very aggressive of you." Fliss looks a bit taken aback. "Well, not really. But these blinds are only a year old and I like them."
Deidre sits back. "That's exactly what I'm saying. All you people are so out of touch with your psyches. You should try lightening up a bit and allowing other people their point of view. You have a lot of anger inside you, Fliss. Have you ever thought about crystal therapy?"
I have my face inside a wine glass when she says this, and do one of those chardonnay sneezes. I retreat to the loo to pull myself together. This takes time, as I have to stop laughing, splash my face with water and then repeat my mantra several times. My mantra is "no slapping, no slapping". I coined it early in my school career, in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Back in the kitchen, they're talking horoscopes. "Of course," Deidre is saying, "I'm an Aquarian, so I have a tendency towards psychic ability. And Caro [that's Tombstone's real name] is a Taurus. Very dependable, very methodical."
"Caro!" I cry. "You mean you've stopped being a vegetarian?" Deidre looks at me. "You just have to be a Virgo."
"Uh-uh. A Sagittarian with a lot of Cancer and absolutely no earth. You can't just go on fire signs."
"You see," Deidre addresses Tombstone. "That's just what we've been talking about. People in this country have such closed minds. No one in Australia is like this. We just go with the flow. We're not so wrapped up in people's outside appearance that we don't allow them space to be what they are. God, English people are so hung up. We treat everyone with respect as equals."
"What," says Fliss, "like the Aborigines?"
"Do me a favour. That was hundreds of years ago. We're not killing them off now."
"So you're asking them to your dinner parties?"
"Oh, well, obviously if we had anything in common. But you don't know the Aborigines like I do. They can't take their drink and they never wash..."
You used to be able to scratch a New Ager and find a Druid underneath. Suddenly you can scratch a New Ager and find the same old fascist.
Still, it's not all bad. The landowners will be pleased. The old farmyard impression gag where you leap to your feet and shout, "get off my land, you bloody hippie!" will slide into disuse. They won't have to spend their time running for injunctions and shotguns, as the only people with dreadlocks camping out in fields will be the sons and daughters of the owners. They'll blast out Chris de Burgh on their sound systems and play Up Jenkins! around the campfire, the closest thing to a socialist will be the Lady in Red. Dangerous