"What are you ringing for," I ask pleasantly, after we've chatted about the Rosemary West trial. "Anything in particular?"
"Oh, no, no," she says, then goes on about having just received some cuttings I had sent several months ago via a flight attendant friend. How good they are, she bubbles (well, you know how mothers go on); it's come to something, hasn't it, when your kids are cleverer than you are. All of this is pretty disingenuous since the Mater can be as sharp as a rapier when it suits her, so I just let her witter on.
The thing about her is that no matter how alert you are, you just cannot get your defences up quick enough. There she is, nipping under the portcullis with an incendiary device while you're still dithering on the battlements. "And you know what gets me?" she suddenly says in her special five-seconds- to-bomb-time voice. "That you're using his name on your pieces and his family will get all the credit."
At which point I start bawling: "It's my name, it's my name too!" And she yells: "I know but I can't help it, it just makes me mad!" And 6,000 miles apart we slump into chairs to the sound of falling masonry.
OK, back-story. I remember I was made to stand at the front of the class in primary school while teacher told everyone that I would now have a different surname. This was back in the dark ages, darlings, when there weren't so many broken homes about and the tiny daughters of solicitors and doctors stared at me from the immaculate incomprehension of their stable family backgrounds.
I didn't like my poxy new name: I didn't like it when teachers said things like: "Oh yes, Feay by name and fey by nature." I didn't like having to spell it all the time. I did quite like it when I went to a new school and a boy sniggered: "Not Feay. Freak," thus giving me a funky new nickname.
It has bugged me all through my life, this name. Especially the spelling. When I was temping once, a thousand mailshot leaflets were printed inviting people to "phone Suzi Faey". Trembling with rage I gathered up a handful, barged into the marketing director's office and piped: "What is this abortion?" The poor man had to be carried out, foaming at my temerity.
But finally, gradually, I have grown into it, which is why I didn't dump it when its original owner went the way of all men. I wouldn't have a boring old 10-a-penny name now if you paid me. I like having a name that you can't find in phone-books or on war memorials or what's-your-coat- of-arms stalls. I like the fact that if the bastards learn to spell it, they're unlikely to forget it.
So what name would satisfy Mater - the one I was born with? Alas no. It turns out that mum, sis and bro are all thinking of taking her maiden name, and why don't I do the same? I explain how this would bring my byline uncomfortably close to that of a certain feminist columnist whose fuck- me shoes I'm not fit to lick. I explain that it's really quite cool to take someone's name and rub their nose in it. (I think about the poet PB Shelley taunting his estranged father with "Bysshe, Bysshe aye Bysshe 'til you're deaf!") But none of this cuts any ice with Mater.
I admit, one of the drawbacks of a funny monicker is that you can't pretend to be someone else. The other day I received an ominous letter at work: due to certain occult signs on the envelope (correct spelling, my middle initial, the quaint designation "Miss") I knew this must be someone from The Past. And so it proves: he informs me he often visits the metropolis so perhaps we could meet "as friends". (How else should we meet, I wonder? As Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn?)
Taking up my pen to respond to this rather worrying missive, I notice that the handwriting is so bad I can't read the address. That's the boy I knew! So, John from Epsom, if you're reading this, get back in touch.Reuse content