s a woman, packing a suitcase is always a problem. I can never believe it when a man goes, ‘Look at mine, I’ve got all mine stuffed in a 10kg suitcase and it’s still only half full’. Brag, brag. As if women everywhere are thinking, ‘Oh, I so wish I could be like you, round of applause’.
We’re not, we’re actually thinking, ‘Could he get any stupider?’ And then it gets even better when you’re on holiday together and they’ve only got one pair of soggy shoes and we get the chance to go, ‘Wanna borrow me sandals? I’ve got fifty, check your bag’.
With a distinct lack of male travel companions, over the course of the following two weeks I had to, on the insistence of Gladys, whittle my travel necessities down from everything to a respectable 25kg suitcase, and it was hard. Squirrels were out, except Mr Nutty McNutnut, tracksuits were at a minimum and toiletries caused me hours of distress.
Finally, the big day arrived and Gladys and I found ourselves in the hallway of her apartment with the sun rising through the glass panel of the front door and our suitcases at the ready.
‘Grace, what’s that?’
‘A beach ball.’
‘You blew it up?’
‘Preparation is everything.’
‘Why didn’t I think of that?’
‘Gladys, what are you wearing? I can see your knees.’
‘Mickey Mouse shorts.’
‘You pulled your space rocket socks up to your knees though.’
‘Right, but I can adapt to the weather in a matter of seconds?’
‘Good thinking, Batman. Why didn’t I think of that? What about your hat? Is that a—’
‘I couldn’t find a proper sun hat so I had to go with an Australian one with fly swatters.’
‘Gladys, I love it. Why didn’t I think of that?’
‘Grace, how on earth did you find a proper hat though? All the charity shops were all out.’
‘Oh, I got mine at the fancy dress shop. I renamed it a glitter cowboy hat after I drew glitter squirrels on it. Fancy, right?’
‘Grace, I love it. Why didn’t I think of that? Look at this string vest though, twenty pence, right?’
‘Gladys, I love it. Why didn’t I think of that? Check out my tie-dye harem pants with matching diamante tie-die boob tube. You’re not going to lose me on Hollywood Boulevard with this on, right?’
‘Grace, I love it. Why didn’t I think of that? Are we going to rock California, or are we going to rock California?’
Greenland was absolutely freezing in February. I wish someone had told us beforehand. We had to play beachball in the departure lounge for four hours just to keep warm. Gladys, as it turned out, was a monstrously competitive beachball player.
Before I knew it, a mix of passengers, cabin crew, pilots and restaurant staff had all come to my rescue, as they said the thought of me losing to a tiny old person just didn’t sit right with them.
This spurred an uprising of old people to seep out of the woodwork to overthrow us with the fire of a thousand fuck-ups that our generation has caused, spurring them on.
I tried pointing out that it was actually the chicken before the egg but that only resulted in one of them throwing a slipper at the back of my head, which was totally outrageous behaviour considering, but thankfully one of the aircraft marshal’s leapt into action and served them up a yellow card.
Beachball eventually ended when one of the security screamed over the departures lounge in a deep voice: ‘HALU, DEPARTURE LOUNGES ARE NOT PLACES THAT WE HAVE FUN IN—ESPECIALLY NOT IN GREENLAND WHERE IT IS ILLEGAL TO HAVE FUN. PUT THE BEACH BALL DOWN SLOWLY OR I WILL ARREST YOU FOR DISTURBING OUR GROUCH’.
Before we even had so much as a chance to reason, Gladys had thrown the beach ball so hard at his head that we all had to spread out like bats and spend the final hour before our flight hiding from him. Which was all right for Gladys because she could turn her hearing aid down, but being trapped in a tiny toilet cubicle with Gladys and Captain Boring, with his entire list of all the places he’d ever flown to spanning his thirty-year career, for an hour, made me want to cry.
Soon enough, the time arrived and we stepped out of departures and onto the runway, all ready to board our first-class jumbo jet.
I nudged Gladys as we made our way across the tarmac. ‘Look at that beast, isn’t it beautiful?’
My eyes glazed over as they consumed the glistening, sleek body of the jumbo jet, the winter sun lighting its magnificence from the winter sky behind. I could almost feel my feet being massaged and the taste of sparkling champagne swooshing around my mouth. Then I noticed something utterly incredible.
‘Look, there are only eight other passengers and us. We’ve practically got the whole plane to ourselves. Can you believe it?’
Gladys scrunched her face up and looked behind us at the other passengers. ‘Grace, you do realise that jumbo jet isn’t for us?’
I looked over yonder, past the beautiful beast, and spotted a tiny ten-seater plane with propellers. ‘Son of a b—’
‘Now then, Grace, we’ll have less of that. Remember the rule, no swearing in California.’
‘This is Greenland. Son of a bi—’
Life-creeps—to be fair, I honestly thought I had wised up to them all, and so did Gladys. Life-creeps are basically those situations you find yourself in that creep up so slowly that you don’t see them coming, despite the warning signs, and it’s only afterwards that it all falls into place.
You could probably liken it to Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, you know, when he’s left with the ultimate choice of whether he accepts his life-creep as reality or he reverts back to pretending it never happened. Unlike Teddy, as a well-adjusted forty-nine-year-old woman, I can finally admit that I have had a lot of them over the years; Gladys too.
When they first start happening you just brush them off, you know, like Teddy did, and carry on. In your thirties, at least, it starts out with small things like adult acne, opting to wear gloves on a chilly night out, separating the whites and realising you can’t handle raves anymore.
Finally, you hit your fortieth birthday and some arsewipe buys you a pair of slippers and you catch yourself loudly announcing, ‘I think these babies will come in really useful’. And then afterwards you’re literally like, ‘fuuuuuuck I’m old’.
After forty, the life-creeps get worse. For instance, I can’t even begin to tell you how many stories I’ve read in those real-life magazines about how some woman has gone to the doctor with constipation, only for the doctor to turn around and say, ‘I think it’s the menopause’. And then the woman turns around and goes, ‘I am thoroughly offended that you are even suggesting that I am old at forty-five. I’ll have you know that my mother had ovaries of steel when she had me at seventy-two, so guess again, chump’.
And then she gets home and finds out she was adopted.
I feel a stab to the heart every time I read it, but then again, I also feel a certain level of complacency because I am so much older and wiser now. And that’s the worst trick about it: the older and wiser you get, the harder the life-creep.
We fall for them over and over again. And that is exactly what happened to me and Gladys when we arrived in California.
We were so tired when our flight landed at 8 pm, that it was only at breakfast the following morning when we realised we had fallen for the biggest one yet.
We both bit into a sausage from our fried breakfast and simultaneously locked eyes with one another over the breakfast table. It was as if the horror we both felt had touched us on such a deep level that our bodies had somehow synchronised and our minds began matrixing out our life-creep in tandem.
We both held our sausages in the air with our forks and glared at our breakfast waitress, who we immediately noticed was dressed for a festival.
‘What the hell is this?’ we both said to our waitress.
‘Namaste,’ she replied, whilst bowing. ‘That is a valerian, tofu and chia sausage.’
Using our forks, we both pointed to our green scrambled eggs. ‘What the hell are they?’
‘Scrambled avocados fortified with maca powder.’
We both pointed to our dry beans. ‘What the hell is this?’
‘Himalayan rock salted chickpeas, tossed with caraway seeds and flaxseed.’
We pointed at our dry toast. ‘What the hell is this?’
‘Rye toast with goat butter.’
And finally, we pointed at our green coffee. ‘What the hell is that?’
‘Maca tea. Is everything okay with your breakfast, ladies?’
‘Wonderful, thank you, Great Spirit Fire, we appreciate your help.’
After Great Spirit Fire floated away, Gladys and I both crushed our eyebrows together and gripped the edges of the table. We then began finishing each other’s sentences as we pieced together the last twelve hours of our existence since we got off the plane.
Gladys started. ‘Our twenty-one-year-old guide, Eric, who picked us up from the airport looked like a streak of piss and was wearing a kaftan.’
‘And then he described himself not just as a tourist guide but also a life guide.’
‘And then the hunched over woman on the coach who kept chanting offered us—’
‘A bible to read, followed by some prayers for our higher being. Then the man sat behind her on the coach said—’
‘He was going to spend the whole of his holiday in his room at the lodge so that he could find himself.’
‘And then we told him that was a waste of a holiday and he should probably think about getting a life rather than worrying about finding himself, cos there was only one solution to his problem. And he said—’
‘He’d pray for us too. Then as we pulled into the drive of our hotel on the edge of the Yosemite National Park, you said I thought we were staying in a hotel and I said—’
‘I didn’t know that large sheds were classed as a hotel. And the man and woman who had been praying for us, for the last four hours on the bus, said that they had read somewhere that there were also tepees out the back of the lodge for guests to stay in, and you said—’
‘We stopped peeing on trees a long time ago. And then in reception, all of the staff turned out to welcome us by doing a conjoined yoga pose, which they then said we would all be able to achieve by the time we left, and you said—’
‘There ain’t no fecking chance I’m doing a human centipede, so just forget it. Which room are we in? And they all said—’
‘We will pray for you both, you’re staying in room five and then—’
‘Our tourist guide, Eric, who said we must refer to him as Tiger Spirit, followed us in, lit a stick of incense and then tucked us both in bed and you said—’
‘That was a pretty nice touch considering the long journey.’
Gladys and I both dropped our forks and scanned the breakfast room.
‘What was the name of this hotel?’
‘I don’t know, I had my hearing aid turned down. Did you hear it?’
‘So why are you asking me?’
‘So, what is it?’
‘The Hardcore Mind, Body and Soul Lodge Next to The Yosemite National Park.’
‘Grace, how didn’t you work this out from the name?’
‘Gladys, I am not psychic and this has to be the worst life-creep I’ve ever had. I’m literally shivering here.’
‘Yeah, life-creeps. They’re those situations you find yourself in life that creep up so slowly that you don’t see them coming, despite the warning signs, and it’s only afterwards that it all falls into place.’
Gladys rolled her eyes. ‘Right, Grace, back to the point. What are we going to do? The sausages are terrible.’
Eric swooshed past us, waving some smoking kindling. ‘Ladies, welcome meeting in five. Please make your way to the back lawn where you will find our Zen garden and take a seat.’
I held the flat of my hand up to Eric as he passed. ‘Eric.’
‘You mean Tiger Spirit.’
‘Fine. Tiger Spirit.’
‘Namaste, Grace Flower.’
I took a deep breath in. ‘Eric, don’t even think about calling me Grace Flower again or I might have to kill you. I am just wondering though. We would like to travel into Hollywood and also visit the Californian Squirrel Reserve. Can you tell us how—’
‘The Squirrel Reserve? You like squirrels?’
‘I love squirrels. Here, meet Mr Nutty McNutnut.’ I ripped Mr Nutty McNutnut out from my handbag and dangled him in the air.
Eric gripped his chest. ‘I, well, he’s certainly special, isn’t he?’
‘Grace, may I call you Grace Squirrel?’
‘Grace Squirrel, may I suggest that you don’t let any of the other guests or staff see Mr Nutty McNutnut?’
I stared at Mr Nutty McNutnut’s cute little face. ‘Why?’
‘Oh, you know, they don’t really … you know …’ Eric grabbed Mr Nutty McNutnut and shoved him back into my bag as one of the other guests passed. Then he leant in and whispered, ‘Grace Squirrel, please don’t show him to anyone.’
I sat up straight and looked around the breakfast room with wide eyes. ‘Are we surrounded by squirrel haters?’
Eric lowered his head as another guest passed. ‘Namaste, Walking River Dust, see you in the Zen garden in a moment’, and then turned back to face us. ‘Now, the Squirrel Retreat is only a five-minute walk from here. After the meeting, I can take you there and then into Hollywood. I’m pretty sure everyone else is planning on staying here for the day and taking part in the activities, as long as you don’t mind a bit of whale music.’
‘I hate whale music. Lovely, though. Fancy that Gladys?’
Gladys smiled. ‘Perfect. No whale music.’
‘Although, ladies, you will be missing yoga and meditation if you want to leave.’ Eric nudged me.
‘Yes, fancy that. We shall meditate in the car in silence.’
Eric continued on his way, swooshing his burning kindling around as he made his way through the breakfast room. Just before he stepped out of the door and into the back garden, he suddenly turned right back around and ran straight for us.
Gladys and I both stared at him as he approached us at speed, clinging onto his black-framed glasses and the colour draining from his already pasty face. ‘You’re not into yoga, are you?’ he gasped.
I whispered back. ‘No.’
‘Or finding yourself?’
‘Or whale music?’
‘Definitely not. We accidentally booked this.’
Eric gripped his mouth. ‘Ladies, listen to me, you must not let on. You both have to pretend that you are, otherwise …’
‘Otherwise they will spend the whole time that you are here trying to cleanse your aura and convert you to yoga.’
‘That sounds bloody awful.’
‘So you’re not going to Hollywood to buy some green stones to rub on your face, either?’
‘No. Why the hell would we do that? We’re going to buy unicorn-themed food and let loose. Also, we’re hoping to bump into either a Kardashian or Will Smith. Which I think is totally possible, but Gladys said there’s more chance of Elvis being reincarnated, so hopefully we’ll bump into him too.’
‘This is terrible,’ Eric said. ‘Just follow my lead at the meeting and I will explain everything in the car.’