AIDA AUSTIN: "That Girlfriend has put an end to all that ghastly online dating your poor sister had to do", says my mother.

Home, 11.30am. Tomorrow, my sister flies in from London to celebrate my birthday with me, accompanied by her new girlfriend whom I’ll be meeting for the first time.

So far, family opinion on Girlfriend remains absolutely undivided, coming as it does from my mother, who’s the only family member to have met her yet: Girlfriend is delightful. Girlfriend is completely wholesome.

There’s nothing unwholesome about Girlfriend at all. Girlfriend is immediately likeable.

Right now, I am talking to my mother on the phone who has called to wish me happy birthday for tomorrow.

My daughter is sitting beside me on the sofa.

“Ask granny about aunty’s girlfriend,” she says.

I put my mother on loudspeaker.

“Well it’s enough in itself,” my mother says, “that Girlfriend has put an end to all that ghastly online dating your poor sister had to do.

“I mean I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, it’s just like being in a dogs’ home, waiting for re-homing. 

"I mean imagine being a dog and having to wait around for a new owner to like the look of you. Imagine doing that for two solid years.”

“That analogy,” I say, “is so wide of the mark. For a start, she owns her own home.”

“Well,” she says, “can you think of a better one?”

“It’s more,” I say, “that my sister has been like Goldilocks. You know —’this porridge is too cold, that porridge is too hot…’”

“Well whatever about pedantics,” my mother says, “Girlfriend is just right. She ticks all the boxes.”

“Ask her what boxes?” my daughter whispers.

“What boxes?” I ask.

“Well she’s clean for a start,” my mother says, “immaculate in fact.”

“I’m picking them up from the airport in the Nissan,” I say, “there’s half a bike in the boot. And recycling. It stinks.”

“God love poor Girlfriend,” my mother sighs.

“And she’s solvent,” she continues, “you’d hope so at her age but that always helps. I mean your sister’s solvent.”

“I need to know more,” I say, “so far, you’ve given me clean and solvent.”

“She’s very high-powered,” my mother says and describes Girlfriend’s career using the words, “fast-tracked”, “head-hunted”, “ministry”, and “meteoric rise”.

I imagine, with sinking heart, all this in the back of my Nissan. With recycling. 

She expands further on Girlfriend’s career, applying the terms “clever,” and “exceptionally capable,” and last but not least, “the youngest woman in England ever to have...”

“Oh God, ever to have what?” my daughter whispers, looking uneasy.

“Ever to have what?” I interrupt, imagining with a heart that has now sunk, the Youngest Person in England Ever to Have, sitting next to half a bike.

“Ever to have done lots of things,” my mother says, from what your sister told me, “and you know she’s not one to exaggerate.”

“I mean Girlfriend is so modest and sweet,” my mother continues, “she’d never tell you about it herself. But by god she’s tough.”

“I don’t like the sound of tough,” my daughter mouths.

“Tell me something different,” I say, “I want to like her.”

“You’ll absolutely love her,” she says, “you can’t not.”

“Nevertheless, I need you to tell me something different,” I say.

“Well you can tell straight away that she’s genuinely kind,” my mother says.

“Most people are kind,” I say, “tell me something that will properly endear her to us.”

“She was a prison governor at 20 or some ridiculous age like that,” she says, “imagine.”

I look at my daughter.

She is 20, in her pyjamas and trying to find a decent link online so that today, she might binge-watch Girls.

“I can’t,” I say.

“Get dressed,” I tell my daughter.

“What did you say?” my mother says.

I tell my mother that I’m talking to my youngest.

“Put her on,” my mother says.

I hand my daughter the phone and leave the sitting room: I need to attend to half a bike.

I return. My daughter hands me back the phone, looking like someone’s just pinched her. Hard and out of the blue.

“Granny’s just said we have to ask Girlfriend about an incident with a prisoner with a knife up her vagina,” she says.

“Hi Mum,” I say, “it’s me again.”

“Girlfriend got the prisoner to squat and the knife shot out,” my mother says, “pointy end first. It went straight into the lino.”

“I said something to endear her to us.”

"A knife up her nellie,” my mother says, “imagine.”


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