Did I tell you about Scary Karen?
We met when I inadvertently sat down next to her during biscuit time at parent and toddler recently. She was older than most of the other mums, big and looked serious. She started a conversation by introducing her toddler. "This is my son, Malcolm. He's named after my dead brother." She followed this up by introducing her baby. "This is William. He's named after my uncle. He's dead now, too." She then proceeded to breastfeed the baby.
Now I'm used to being around breastfeeding mothers. Some are so subtle that I've been talking to them for five minutes before I realise there's a baby up their jumper. Most use a certain level of discretion or at least give me enough warning to look away while their human limpet gets properly attached. Not many wap out an enormous quivering boob right in front of me while continuing to fill me in on the details of their deceased relatives. I just about choked on my chocolate digestive. It was scary.
Most people would probably have smiled politely, gulped down their coffee and then whisked their bemused child off for an unexpected nappy change. I, however, have the unfortunate character flaw of being a 'good listener'. If someone starts talking to me then I'll just sit there in rapt attention like a toddler mesmerised by a row of flashing lights. I'll nod and smile and occasionally interject but I'll be unable to move as my brain is slowly filled to bursting point by knowledge of what everyone in someone else's family had to eat for lunch in a museum of miniature teapots on a daytrip to Dumfries. Even better, as they consider exactly how many little jars of jam were consumed, my screensaver face kicks in and I'm really in trouble. When my brain explodes from shear tedium it would be nice if I developed a blank gape and a vacant stare. Maybe then I'd get left alone. Instead my facial muscles slump idly into an expression of sage-like thought and concentration. This just makes it look like I'm listening even harder. I get to hear all about the teapots and an exhibition of replica steam engines whittled out of railway sleepers from around the world.
So I sat there and quickly discovered that Scary Karen is a 'good talker'. There was no escape. I learnt about her bowel surgery, aromatherapy, her difficult experiences in childbirth, a past life as a torturer and the importance of dental hygiene. She only stopped when the helpers started turning out the lights. Marie had already climbed into her buggy and was straining forwards while holding onto the frame in a doomed effort to drag herself home. We left at speed but I kept looking over my shoulder to check Karen wasn't following us.
The next week was similar except she hunted me out and sat next to me. Then it was wap, choke, chat all over again. I nodded attentively as I was informed about the wonders of homemade cottage cheese, the variable consistency of cat vomit and the dangers of naked yoga on a bus. As soon as everything went dark I grabbed the buggy and ran, screams of "You don't push! I pull me!" trailing behind us down the street.
Things have not improved much since. I've considered changing toddler groups but I know lots of the people at St Jude's, it's close, the chairs are comfy and there's nothing much else on a Monday anyway. I've been trying to disagree more audibly with everything Karen says but she doesn't appear to have noticed. Worse still, she's starting another group on a Wednesday morning in the Millennium Centre which is virtually across the road from my house. She's got the hall booked for tomorrow and invited along a few people she met doing community service. And, you've guessed it, she wants me to be one of the group's founder members.
Another of my character flaws is that I'm not great with conflict. I much prefer to give someone a valid excuse for not doing something than simply tell them I'd rather eat my only pair of shoes. I told Karen that I need Wednesday mornings to do my grocery shopping. She suggested using the internet and getting a delivery. I reckoned it was easier going to the store myself. She gave me a computing tutorial. I said that I didn't really trust some random assistant in Tesco to choose my bananas. She told me she worked as an assistant in Tesco. I... I caved in. I said I'll go.
It's going to be me, Marie, Scary Karen, a select band of her scary friends and a gaggle of their no doubt scary children.
I'm a little nervous.
Yours in a woman's world,