Lucy Caldwell: The story so far

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The Independent Online

I spent last week in Swansea, doing promotion for a literary prize. Writers should never be allowed out of their garrets. So much of my time is passed alone that I'm never quite sure how normal I'm being when I see other people. There were six of us. It rained; there were roadworks outside the hotel. We drank too much, and started to wonder if it was all an elaborate ruse and we were being filmed for an undercover documentary.

Back home, I couldn't settle down to work. So I met a friend for coffee. I ordered a cappuccino. I forgot I don't like cappuccinos.

This is what spending too much time with other people after too much time by yourself does to you. You start forgetting which bits of you are you and which bits are people you'd like to be. The only cappuccinos I like are fake, come in sachets and taste like cotton wool and sugar. Utterly disgusting. I only drink them for the little plastic chocolate-sprinkler that comes in the box.

This sort of logic is another consequence of spending too much time making up imaginary worlds. Or else a sign of being drunk: another occupational hazard, especially when you're trying to channel the spirit of Dylan Thomas and convince people that Wales is your spiritual home.

My sister and her flatmate once got home from a night on the town and ate their way through a family-sized selection of crisps because none of the bags they opened were prawn cocktail. Afterwards they realised they'd bought a multipack of cheese and onion. Do prawn cocktail crisps even exist any more? But I digress.

So. My friend ordered Campari and soda, which seemed an extraordinarily good and sophisticated idea. It was three in the afternoon. It would be like being in the Great Gatsby. But when it came, I liked it less than the cappuccino. It reminded me of being 16 and going to Formals at the boys' school and pretending to like Pernod and blackcurrant.

Later on I phoned another friend to see if she fancied wasting the rest of the evening with a bottle of sauvignon blanc. At first she was too woebegone to come out. She works for the Civil Service. Immediately before the "6pm Team Bonding Drinks" slot in her public Microsoft Outlook Schedule she'd entered "Kill Self". Her boss hasn't yet seen the funny side and wants to discuss her Team Spirit Or Lack Thereof.

She came out eventually. We ended the evening drinking our way through a bottle of port because we were thirsty and there was no water to hand. By the logic of my sister's crisps, that seemed to make sense.

'Where They Were Missed' by Lucy Caldwell, is published by Viking, £10.99

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