Today has been - er - an unusual day. To explain it properly, you will need a bit of backstory. Well, two bits.
I am a member of the Red Hat Society, a worldwide social group for older women who are done with being proper and respectable, and just want to embody Cyndi Lauper's song "Old Broads Just Wanna Have Fun" (or something like that), and Jenny Joseph's poem about when she grows old wearing purple with a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit her. When we go out, which I've been slack about these last few months, we are a sight to see: anywhere from twenty to fifty of us, all in purple, with red hats. We stand out, and we have an outrageously good time. That's bit number one.
Bit number two is that yesterday I received formal notification that a company that provides me with a regular service decided that a valid payment I made, cash-register-imprinted an' all, wasn't valid for some weird convoluted reason of their own. Having received no satisfactory response to emails or phone calls, yesterday I rang my local Member of Parliament, who sadly is currently embroiled in a scandal of his own dating from his pre-parliamentarian days, hoping that a phone call from his office might expedite matters.
So I awoke in a state of nervy hopefulness, and left the house way before I needed to, to meet my appointment. Along the way, knowing how ridiculously early I'd be, I chose to break my journey, and when I did so, my eye was immediately caught by a mob of older fellers all wearing the identical blue fleecy polo-neck and blue baseball cap. From a distance they looked as if they worked together, but for two things. They were a fairly large group of men, and they were all even older than I am, if you can imagine any such unlikely thing.
When I spotted them, I immediately thought "Red Hatters!" They were entering the door of a certain well-known morally and nutritionally bankrupt franchise which supplies hits of fat, sugar, starch, poor-quality protein and fat again, one of the prime movers of the underhand American Cultural Invasion. I'm not going to mention their name because I don't choose to give them publicity this side of the River Styx, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.
So of course, being curious by nature, I tailed them in.
For once, the high school students from the school across the road - where my daughter was School Captain last year - were badly outnumbered, and not by random civilians but by these sartorially coordinated guys. Drawing nearer, I noticed the following logo on their fleecy polonecks and matching baseball caps (why, in a country where hardly anyone plays baseball, do so many people ape the wearing of baseball caps? Just another part of the American Cultural Invasion, I suspect),.
Immediately I felt right at home: the logo looked as if it could have slotted quite comfortably into the Tarot Major Arcana at card number thirteen. A skeleton with a top-hat leaning jauntily on a gravestone? I'll tell you, I'm not much for men, but these ones were My Kind Of Guys!
On the pretext of wanting fats and salts, I queued up with them, and waiting for the atrocious service provided by inadequately trained and overworked teenagers, I fell to chatting with one of them. He told me they were "just a social group" for older men who felt like "growing old disgracefully". How many times have I and my Red Hat companions explained our own mystical order in those same words? I felt right at home. I ordered some caffeine and a sample of the currently-promoted fat and salt wrapped up in gratuitous glutenous carbohydrates, and chose a table near the succession of tables that they were invading.
I wolfed the calories (that was just under eight and a half hours ago, and I haven't eaten since), and started on the caffeine. They offer two kinds: cheap and horrible, and slightly pricier and bearable. I had opted for the latter, so I was happy to linger. As I did so, I pulled out my copy of the Radiant RW Tarot deck, which is not my preferred reading deck but certainly invites strangers to walk up and talk to me, and started playing Tarot Solitaire, a game of my own devising. As I did this, I wasn't actually eavesdropping, but it was nice to hear a group of older men, talking and laughing, no bitterness or competition or dark masculine silences in the air, just having fun together.
One of them got up and went to check that the place had functioning plumbing. On his return, he had to pass my table, and asked if he could sit with me. He pronounced "Tarot" correctly, and asked me how I'd bent the rules of Patience (our word for Klondyke Solitaire) to fit in with the Tarot. So I explained it to him, and we chatted about his slightly fey daughter, who was forty now but had been shamed out of her gift by her peers at high school. Sadly, I think that happens a lot.
Another guy came over and joined us, and all three of us ended up chatting quite freely and openly about geological features and man-made features, about power-places and ley-lines, about sacred space and the divine, and about draughtsmanship and over-engineering backyard constructions! It was thoroughly delightful, and I ended up handing out a few business cards although they don't hail from around here, and I really hope one or two of them keep in touch.
They had touristy things to do, though, so they took their leave as the rest of the group prepared to leave, and I went on the next leg of my journey. I spoke to the politician's staffer, and she rang the company in question, and at last I was put on the phone to someone who actually had at least a semblence of power, and who promised to investigate my case without cutting off their services to me. It's amazing how a whiff of political power intimidates tin-pot bureaucrats!
I left, knowing it wasn't resolved yet and wouldn't be for a while, but that at least they were prepared to hear me out and allow me to present my documentary evidence. Much lighter-at-heart, I waited or a homeward-bound bus, and a vision of loveliness walked past me. Don't get me wrong - I don't usually ogle teenage girls, but she was something else. Or at least her legs were. She was wearing leggings (tights in Foreign, I believe) and an oversized tee-shirt, and I simply couldn't take my eyes off her legs. The tights were over-printed with the most sensational and realistic Hubble Space Telescope images of a colourful nebula on her right leg, and some stars and galaxies on the left.
I asked her where she got the leggings from, of course, and she seemed amused, pleased and quite accustomed to strangers dribbling all over her legs and asking that - she bought them online. She wrote down the website for me, but when I arrived here and fired up the net, the URL didn't function. Drats - foiled again! I would have loved to walk around with my legs wrapped up in the heavens.
So I went out in my backyard, and found the most peculiar bird on my washing line, along with a butcher-bird and a couple of native Mynah birds. I looked at it, and it looked at me. Then I started thinking of some shamanic work done for me recently, and I started having a suspicion. As soon as I was thinking along those lines it opened its beak and let out a burst of song, as if to allow me to identify its species. It was an albino Australian magpie! Its normally black-and-white body was all-white, its eyes and legs were albino-pink and its beak, normally a two-toned black-and-white, was a delicate two-toned pink. It could only be identified by song.
And it sang for me personally. I have no idea what happened to the time or to its escort - it was just the two of us. I was mesmerised. After a long time it paused, and I roused myself. In fifty years of bird-watching I'd never seen an albino magpie before, so I scurried in to grab my camera. When I emerged, the pink and white creature was gone, leaving only a delicate tracer of memory and a faint echo of its melodic warble in my ears.
Today has been a magical day.