Thursday, 6 February 2014

Time to Change Day & The Gucci Girls

Celebrating Time to Change Day February 6th, and World Book Day, Write Minds - writers raising consciousness and funds for mental health causes! Back to you shortly with our plans and projects. Thanks to all of you for helping us choose our logo design - most of you preferred the one on the left:



No here is a short story for you. It`s called The Gucci Girls:







A crisp autumn morning with a vestige of mist moving inland from Lake Constance dawned at the castle. The depressing week-long Alpine lake fogs of November would be upon us too soon after this week's holidays, but for now the wooded hills and fields all around still gloried in fiery amber and burgundy. A faint trace of fermenting wine hung in the damp morning air around the castle's wine cellars from the vintage that had started six weeks earlier. This was a time for hoarding. As the squirrels prepared their winter supplies of nuts, so I already had my supplies of warming teas for the body, and was hoarding these wine-red and golden treasures of nature to warm myself on during the bleak autumn days before winter arrived.

I opened the heavy wooden door of the Upper Gatehouse that was home to me and forty teenage girls at the most exclusive boarding school in Germany. A small valley had been gorged over several centuries in the arc drawn by it on the floor into the worn terracotta tiles of the entrance hall.  I breathed in the early morning quiet in deep draughts. Quiet and solitude were for me the ultimate luxuries. In less than an hour the cobblestones in front of the building would be a battlefield of taxis and suitcases. It was the last day of term and students were leaving for the vacation. I went back inside and put the kettle on for a pot of tea to brace myself for the three-hour pandemonium ahead. In this moment at least I would not hurry anything. I gave the tea plenty of time to brew before pouring myself some in the biggest cup I could find and gazing out of the lead-paned windows on to the historic idyll around me.

One of my girls had already left for the airport at four in the morning, before even I had got up. Within an hour the concourse of the school was rumbling and droning with Mercedes diesel engines as taxis came and went. Before long, it was even my turn to start my holiday. I had booked a taxi the day before, and it duly arrived exactly on time. This was, after all, Germany.

As I wheeled my battered little suitcase out on to the cobblestones, three gorgeous Gucci and Prada-clad beauties with long fragrant hair tottered after me in tight jeans and high heels.

"Oh miiiiiiiss!" they beamed, waving at me. Dolce Gabbana belts glinted in the sunlight on honed pelvises. When Gucci and Prada-clad people beam and wave at you, you can be pretty sure they want something.
"Yes," I smiled resignedly back, parking my hand baggage.
"Oh miss, we couldn't get a taxi. We've been phoning for HOURS! All the companies are booked out till three this afternoon!"
"Yes, you do need to book them in advance to be sure of getting one," I said, knowing that thinking ahead was not a habit of theirs. On normal days, when they were just going into town to pick up some McDonalds, these girls were in the habit of phoning for two or three taxis at once and just getting in the first one that turned up. Unless it was the middle of the night and they were sneaking off to a nightclub.

"Well, we were just wondering, miss....."
"If you could come to the station with me in my taxi?" I answered.
"Oh yes PLEASE! We just HAVE to catch this train, or we'll miss our connection to Munich!"
"No problem, hop in!" I said.
"Oh thank you miss, you're an ANGEL!" said one of the girls, thwacking me with her Louis Vuitton handbag as she dived into the taxi, taking it as a given that I was holding the door open for her, rather than myself.

A pampered triumvirate of rich, slender derrieres disappeared inside the cream-coloured taxi. Pulling off, our Mercedes oiled its way down to the station, the purr of its engine punctuated only by the occasional discreet spray of perfume being administered to protruding body parts on the leather seats in the back. A few minutes later, the driver pulled the car up on the station concourse. Both back doors opened like a pair of angel wings in smooth synchrony and three gorgeous pairs of legs clad in designer stretch denim unfolded themselves with a swish of practice and experience, depositing three immaculate pairs of high heels elegantly on to the gravel. The breathtaking derrieres followed. The last cigarette was removed from a pack that was allowed to drop nonchalantly on to the gravel by one flawlessly manicured hand. Gathering their Gucci, Prada and Dolce Gabbana accoutrements and adjusting the shades in their hair, the girls set off regally towards the platform of the village station, without even a backward glance. And without paying.

I clambered out of the front seat of the taxi. "You'd never catch any of these girls clambering," I thought to myself, half cross, half envious. Hauling my small but heavy suitcase out on to the gravel (I'm one of those dinosaurs who read books on trains) and straight into park mode, I ferreted in my purse for the right amount of fare, plus a tip for the driver. I thanked him. He smiled, looking wistfully but warily after the flurry of Gucci, and got back into the driver's seat just in time to catch a call from central office. He said he would pick up the next fare in five minutes. Reversing back on to the road with a relaxed, contented purr of Mercedes diesel, he left me standing there alone with my thoughts. It was the first time I had been alone with them in seven weeks.

I am neither rich nor poor. I studied hard. I work hard for a modest salary. I pay my way quietly. I am sober, moderate, responsible, thrifty, predictable, tired and miserable. I am obviously doing it all wrong. I sometimes feel as if I was born middle-aged and am trying to find a way back to the childhood I never had. For these girls, childhood is probably never going to end.

I put my change-lightened purse away, an amused smile playing on my care-worn face, as I ran a hand quickly through the hair that I realized in my haste and distraction I hadn't even thought to comb that day. No day of mine has ever begun with an orchestra of hairdryers, glossy lipstick and sighing perfume bottles. I am always too busy attending to others to attend to myself.

I should have remembered, of course. Rich people never have any money on them. They have this in common with poor people. Except that poor people don't carry money because they don't have it, whereas rich people don't carry it because they don't need it. A small distinction but in practice quite an important one. Come to think of it, I pondered, as I rearranged my depressingly practical second-hand winter coat and trundled my case over the gravel, rich people have a lot in common with poor people. When they do have money on them, they seem to get through it at a remarkable speed, spending it on things that could not remotely be described as essential. "What else is there?" I thought, wincing from the cold as I sat down on the metal platform seat to wait for my train. Well, they get drunk a lot and still look surprisingly good when they have murderous hangovers. For the students in my care, the whole of life sometimes seemed to be a series of loud, raucous celebrations, punctuated by something that purported to be work, but was in reality just a hiatus between drunken parties. Preferably at someone else's expense. Rich girls, like poor girls, dream of landing a rich husband. In fact, all in all, there seemed very little to choose between rich girls and poor girls, except that when rich girls smiled they were a little less sincere, but had whiter teeth.

Key relationships in history now suddenly made sense: of course Charles II would have felt more comfortable with his orange-selling mistress Nell Gwynne than with some tight-lipped, thrifty, responsible, respectable woman. Or Napoleon and Josephine. Rich people and poor people know how to have a good time. And they don't worry about how much mess they are making.

Chunky jewellery seemed to be another thing that rich and poor had in common. Yes, things that flash and clink and glint. There seemed to be quite a lot of that. Designer labels were another thing. Back at the now de-peopled boarding school, housed in an imposing Renaissance chateau, heaps of abandoned personal items, piled high like consumer corpses on the cobblestones, gave the place an air of having recently been raided by Vikings or Visigoths who had just popped out for a beer before loading their longboats. Laptops, leather bags, broken suitcases and battered files filled skip after skip.

But the discarded Gucci, Prada and Dolce Gabbana clothing had all been collected separately some days earlier and put into cardboard boxes to be sent away to charity. It would soon be worn by street children in Mumbai, who almost certainly also never paid for taxis and left their litter where it lay. 

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