From the Author of Sex Lies and Litigation
In Latest Accessory, Evelyn Hornton, the criminal barrister with a penchant for Mulberry Handbags, Louboutin shoes and unzipped-oneliners is back. Having successfully found her place as a barrister at Pump Court, Evelyn’s bought a London loft conversion sans the conversion in Clerkenwell and discovered a whole new line of accessories including a team of Irish builders.
It’s called joining the property market – and it shits on war for stress.
It was a hot June morning and any sane person was on strike or skipping work and taking the nearest charter flight to a sandy beach. This was a safe-sex-and-Campari-in-the-sun kind of morning. But here I was stressing my way to premature crow’s-feet. I had major accessory problems that no Retinol A, AHA or Prozac-enhanced panacea was ever going to sort.
Every modern woman knows the importance of careful accessorising. It’s seriously vital stuff after all – the breakthrough of the century. If you want to understand a woman don’t study her – study her accessories. Coco Chanel would back me up here. Forget analysts, horoscopes and bank balances, I figure I can pinpoint a woman’s personality, profession, marital status and future by a glance at her jewellery, sunglasses and shoes.
This year, like most of the gorgeous young things in London with an overdraft and a Harvey Nichols’ store card, I was doing Prada handbags, Gucci loafers, thinking about a pierced navel and saving up for a jacket by Alexander McQueen. Then all of a sudden, before I had given the slightest consideration to the idea, the latest nineties’ accessory was mine. And I hadn’t even queue-jumped to get it.
One morning I simply woke up and he was there – my stalker.
And not just a variation on the theme either. I mean this bloke had serious cliché cachet. The whole bit – doorway lurking, large felt hat, trainers, trench-coat and knock-off Ray Bans. I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this. For a start I didn’t have a clue as to why he came to fixate on me. And – without wanting to downgrade my ability as a kick-boxing black-belt or an independent woman in charge of her G-spot – I was terrified!
I mean I know it’s supposed to be like really cool and all, women like Madonna are hardly seen anywhere without a stalker or two. But let’s get real, a stalker of stars is one thing, but what kind of weirdo, no-life saddo wants to follow a relationship-challenged barrister with serious debt status? I had a brown bob for God’s sake! This guy had big problems. The word danger began to take on a personal significance.
The daylight hours weren’t a problem – all he did was hang around outside chambers like a good little obsessive accessory. But alone at night it was a different matter. At first I thought, yeah sure, he’ll get cold or bored and go home to his own bed eventually. But he didn’t.
Night after night, day after day, he was there. For the last one hundred and twelve hours, actually, this bloke hadn’t slept. I know it’s a stalkers job to, well, stalk, but this was taking vigilance a bit far. Was he an insomniac or had he just had a lot of practice at dance parties?
I took a peek out the window. Short, heavily built, Littlewood’s mac – this bloke had makeover needs that not even Giorgio Armani himself could sort. He didn’t look like a party animal either – wrong shoes. Ipso facto my legal brain deduced he must be on some kind of radical upper!
I started to neurose.
Well actually no, I had started to neurose months ago.
Going back a bit, it wasn’t as if the stalker was the only thing playing havoc with my biorhythms. I had entered a world that no one with an evolved sense of joie de vivre would touch with a bargepole. It’s called joining the property market. And it shits on war for stress!
Because once you’re through the loan application and the gazumping and the mortgage documents and the deeds of sale and you’re thinking, phew, well that was ten years off my life but at least it’s all over – it hits you. You need to get the builders in.
I was starting to forget what life used to be like before I had half a dozen Irish chippies constantly under my feet. I couldn’t move without a ‘Bejesus watch where you’re stepping, woman’.
Space. That was the word the estate agent had leant on heavily while he flogged this loft to me – as if good old-fashioned ‘room’ was too outdated, too unhip, too suburban for the Inner London property market. The development brochure spoke hypnotically about light and architectural ambience – glossing over the bit about no kitchen or proper bathroom. There were slick snaps of hip loft-livers in cafés off Clerkenwell Green, knocking back martinis like there was no tomorrow. I was seduced.
The plan was that moving nearer chambers was going to make my life easier. OK, so it cost me every penny NatWest were prepared to lend me, but I believed the bloke from Hartnell Estates when he told me ‘proximity is all’.
I thought that even after nights of bacchanalian martini excess, I was going to fire out of bed like one of those human cannonballs – minus the sequins – and notch up litigations and arbitrations like nobody’s business. I guess I hadn’t counted on the bloodymindedness of the marketing genius who sold me this slab of lead called a futon.
Anyway you looked at it, I had gone into debt for a lifestyle people forge passports to avoid. My clothes and make-up had nowhere to hide and every inch of my two thousand square feet of minimalism was covered with a film of plaster. Every morning I woke up with amnesia. Was this really my life or had I fallen into an Irvine Welsh plot? If so where were the narcotics necessary to face it?
Seriously, this stalker bloke was like the last thing I needed on my plate.
I went to see my GP to increase my Prozac dose. I actually hate my doctor. My grandmother used to call our family doctor her pusher. ‘Don’t give me your Tin Pan Alley advice: she’d tell him. ‘I want drugs – hard ones!’
The only drugs my last GP had wanted to prescribe though were antibiotics. Doesn’t the twentieth century suck? If ever there was a period in history you need sedation to get through, this is it. My new GP wasn’t much better. It didn’t matter whether I had a broken arm or a belligerent pimple, he didn’t even bother to take my temperature before writing me a script for antis. ‘Don’t you know you’re destroying the herd immunity?’ I told him.
Anyway, after quite a few battles I finally broke his spirit and he is now pretty pliant about scribbling down words like Prozac and Analgesic on his prescription pad just to get rid of me. I refuse to take over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol now because I hear they can wipe out your liver, and I am radically receptive to gossip. Basically if you can’t buy it outside Paddington station it’s either useless or will end up killing you, that’s my philosophy.
So anyway, while I was at the doctor’s, I decided to do a bit of research on my stalker and his insomnia. I asked casually about drugs that might be used to keep you up at night and about the side effects of lack of sleep. After telling me I wasn’t fat enough to warrant diet pills and taking my blood pressure, Dr Dickner wrote out a script for Ritalin.
I had created a monster.
I explained that I didn’t want to take Ritalin or any other kind of amphetamine on top of Prozac. ‘You need a reality drug,’ I told him. ‘Even those gypsy women that sell heather at Victoria station can tell you that I need adrenaline depressants not stimulants. I live with a scary amount of stress! If I wasn’t scared of needles I’d be mainlining Valium.’
Eventually I got him to confess that continued use of drugs like the ones he had just prescribed for me, or even continual lack of sleep, could produce a frightening array of symptoms:
loss of appetite
violent mood swings
and – scariest of all – a short fuse.
That was when I decided to do what any girl with high expectations for the future and end-of-the-millennium neurosis would do. I gave up the fight to stay calm and reasonable. We were hurtling towards the millennium without adequate preparation. I had a man outside my door with the profile of a psychotic killer. Paranoia didn’t come close. I started scanning newspapers for stories of stalkers and discovered that I was part of a growing movement of women scared out of their wits because of some loony bloke’s fixation. My clerk blamed the internet.
I stopped going out and stayed home to twitch the blinds and listen to noises. I was too afraid to go out in case his short fuse reached snapping point while I was putting my key in the lock. These were my golden years, I would never be twenty-seven again and I was taking on a lifestyle popular amongst the over sixties. I could hardly sleep. My imagination grazed free-range through horror scenarios Tarantino would pay to option.
Every time I looked out, there he was – lurking, staring through his Ray Bans into my architectural ambience. Basically, my life was being paralysed by a perspiring, constipated bloke prone to violent mood swings. ‘So what’s new?’ my girlfriends said.
My girlfriends Sam and Charles are a lesbian couple I used to live with when I was going through my ‘all men are bastards’ phase. I have now officially entered a new stage – my ‘all men are bastards but so what some of them know where my G-spot is’ stage. The girls asked if I wanted to move back with them. I declined – well they had a kid called Johnny now and my old room had become the nanny’s room. At twenty-seven I was too old and too overqualified for sofa surfing.
‘What does he want from me anyway?’ I asked them. ‘Doesn’t he have a home to go to?’
‘Maybe that’s his point – he wants yours?’ Sam suggested. ‘Like those tramps that stare at you through café windows, you know, dribbling until you can’t take it any more and walk out leaving your pasta for the tramp to nip in and eat. It happened to me the other day in Soho at Café Boheme. Maybe it’s like that, only this bloke’s after your loft pad not your pasta. Maybe he plans to drive you away – or even kill you – and then squat in your loft!’
So much for friends.
The other piece of advice I received was to call the police.
It was a real comedown for the original vigilante kid. Police and lawyers have an unsatisfactory relationship at the best of times. As a criminal barrister working for the defence, I was pretty proud of my ability to break down police evidence in three questions or less. The day I walked into Islington police station was the day they got their revenge.
‘You should be flattered, love,’ the desk rookie joked.
I told him to look in my eyes, and watch his life rushing through my synapse. I was eventually upgraded to a sergeant who had his sympathy stripes. First he got me to admit that my stalker had never attempted to approach me or attack me or insult me. He hadn’t even sent me a note. Then Sergeant Plugg looked genuinely disappointed as he told me that my stalker wasn’t committing a crime.
‘You’re telling me that loitering isn’t a crime? Go and take a look at him yourself,’ I said. ‘That Littlewood’s mac he’s wearing is a crime.’
‘We are still waiting for legislation,’ he explained.
‘Well that’s a comfort. What if he takes to me and stages a frenzied attack with an axe in the meantime?’
He agreed that a direct assault on my person with an axe was a police matter. He told me that in that instance I should give him a call. ‘In the meantime we can have a word with him but at the end of the day it’s not a crime to watch other people.’ He raised his eye-brows as if to suggest that this freedom was the equivalent to the first amendment.
I rang up my analyst.
‘Try to keep it in perspective,’ she told me. ‘Until the guy actually does something you really have no need to worry.’
‘But I’m a panicker not a waiter,’ I told her. ‘I’m impatient, vulnerable and sensitive. You charged me money to tell me that stuff, you idiot! Stuff like I have an innate fear of men causing me pain. Well, one of them is outside on the street now, ready and willing to cause that pain this very minute.’
She then diagnosed me as suffering end of the millennium neurosis again and hung up the phone.
I rang her back and told her she was fired. The bill arrived the next day. It had a sticker on the corner – one of those smiley faces that you get on Ecstasy tabs and a small note on a with compliments slip saying that she was sorry that my destiny was not cooperating with my dreams. This philosophical gem took me half a bottle of vodka to digest.
By day ten I was having trouble talking to people about anything other than my stalker. I knew I was driving potential allies away but I couldn’t help myself. I was his obsession and he was mine. I rang up my parents in Australia a hundred times but I hung up as soon as they answered. I didn’t want to worry them, after all what could they do? But I did want to worry someone.
I guess the fact is that tea and sympathy are thin on the ground in London, a city that’s got its hands pretty much full with terrorists, tourists and a dilapidated tube system. Some people even hinted that I should be grateful for the attention. Some people asked me what he looked like. When I assured them that Hugh Grant had nothing to worry about, they reasoned that the guy was probably just an admirer and completely harmless. I should be flattered. You’re moving up in the world, girl – inner city loft apartment and the accessory of the rich and famous.
The QC in chambers, Candida, hinted that she could have had a stalker many times over, but in the end she couldn’t be bothered.
‘We’re talking about a stalker here not something you can buy from the Harrods’ pet department!’ I reasoned with her.
Anyway I think it was clear I was running low on options, which is the only justification I can offer for the absurdity of my next action – ringing up my ex for an argument. Somehow I reasoned that if I could get the stereo back off my old boyfriend it would at least be a victory of sorts. Then I could drown out my fear with the sounds of my generation. I would blast my stalker off the block with the music of Pulp, Sleeper and Oasis.
“Bridget Jones on speed” The Guardian
“Well might this be called a girlie novel for the nineties!” The Oxford Mail
“Lightening fast comic twists” Elle UK
“A Spirited page turner that’s high on humour” Company