Short story by Rosemary Jenkinson
Rosemary Jenkinson is a playwright and short story writer from Belfast. Her three short story collections are Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 &54, Aphrodite’s Kiss and Catholic Boy (Doire Press 2016). She was the Artist-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre Belfast and recently received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to write a memoir. Her plays have been performed in Dublin, London, Edinburgh, New York and Washington DC. The Bonefire was winner of the Stewart Parker BBC Radio Award 2006. Rosemary Jenkinson was born in Belfast and is an award-winning playwright and short story writer. Plays include The Bonefire (Stewart Parker BBC Radio Award), Planet Belfast, Here Comes the Night, Michelle and Arlene, May the Road Rise Up and Lives in Translation. Her plays have been performed in Dublin, London, Edinburgh, New York and Washington DC. She was 2017 artist-in-residence at the Lyric Theatre Belfast. Short story collections are Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54, Aphrodite’s Kiss and Catholic Boy (Doire Press 2018). Her writing was singled out by The Irish Times for ‘an elegant wit, terrific characterisation and an absolute sense of her own particular Belfast’. Writing for radio includes Castlereagh to Kandahar and Two People Shorten the Road (BBC Radio 4). In 2018 she received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to write a memoir.
You and the Britbabes: 1997
The final straw comes when the dole has insisted you get reskilled and has drafted you onto an office training course, otherwise known as ‘Monkeys can type too’! It is your first morning there and the woman who runs it is conducting a simulated business exercise called ‘how to answer the telephone’. When it comes to your turn, you find it very disconcerting that you are sitting five metres away from her and you can see and hear her perfectly without use of the telecommunication medium. You think it’s amusing to make up a company called The Girl-U-Like escort agency; she does not. A violently bitter argument ensues between you about the grammatical merits of ‘may I help you’ as opposed to ‘can’.
You decide then and there you are not going back.
That night in your flat you formulate your new career move. You think of some of the most important women in the British economy. You look at yourself in the mirror. Fortunately it is only a small hand mirror and you are spared the full effect of yourself. But you do think you have some potential.
You have been reading in recent weeks about the reported rift in the Spice Girls’ ranks and you are ready to exploit it.
Now you know what you must do. The next day, you track down Posh Spice’s ex-boyfriend to a small flat in Sheffield which he shares with two shaggy, indeterminate dogs. At first he doesn’t seem interested because he is engrossed in watching the Teletubbies, but you impress on him the fact that Posh Spice, or Victoria, is desperately unhappy with her life. Her footballer hasn’t turned out the perfect match for her. You tell him you know that deep inside she wants him back because he was the only one who truly loved her for what she once was.
There are tears in his eyes. He will rescue her, he vows, as he runs to get packed.
You haven’t told him that the management could be about to ditch her anyway because she is the Boring Spice and she keeps buying dresses from Harvey Nics and generally
maintaining a style which is beyond the fiscal capacities of her six-year-old fans, but that doesn’t seem important.
A few days later, the tabloids and even the broadsheets (such is the Spice Girls’ fame) announce that Posh Spice is leaving the band to marry her unemployed brickie ex-boyfriend.
Phase two of the plan immediately goes into action. You get on a train down to London and go straight to the Spice Girls’ offices. I’ve come to be the new Spicer, you tell two guys. One is besuited, the other looks like he would be more at home picking cockles off a windswept beach.
‘What’s your image, then?’ they ask you, unexpectedly. You thought they, being the image-makers, would take care of all that.
‘Brainy Spice,’ you say, as it’s the first thing that comes into your head, and you waffle something you think appropriate about the patriarchal view of women in history and sisters doing it for themselves.
Mid sentence, you notice they have this look on their face like you’ve just endorsed Germaine Greer’s views on the vasectomisation of men.
‘We already have a Scary Spice,’ they say to you, perplexed, and suddenly you know you should have said Fluffy Spice, so you say it as an alternative.
‘Funky Spice,’ shouts out the suited guy, mishearing you. ‘That’s exactly what we’re looking for. Have you got any cool sayings?’
‘Shag everything in sight…steal everything that isn’t nailed to the floor…don’t take drugs, just sell them.’ You hope these are something along the right lines, but the two guys aren’t even listening any more.
‘Great, fantastic fresh attitude,’ says the cockle-picker guy. ‘I see you already in a silver plunge back jumpsuit.’
‘And I see you in a white jacket with the sleeves sewn up,’ you tell him.
‘No, I see her in paisley myself,’ says the suited guy.
‘I was thinking more of L.A. myself,’ you say.
Looking out the window, it looks like you have just made it in time, because by now there is a queue of nevergonnabes who have the same idea as you stretching round the building three times.
You are sent down the corridor where you are orthodontically and epidermally analysed by a council of style consultants. Fortunately, you look quite young for age thirty. You have always attributed this to the rejuvenating effects of alcohol. One of the women scribbles this theory down onto her notepad.
So you join the monster rich pop princesses and you start travelling the world on a transatlantic tide of oestrogen. Life is an endless whirl of film sets, T.V. studios and award nights. Your persona of Funky Spice is an instant hit and you are voted number one in the popularity poll. This does cause a frisson of jealousy within the group, particularly from Sporty who is condemned to wear Adidas and always comes last in the popularity stakes, so much so that during dance practice, she directs a couple of her speciality high kicks in the direction of your head. But you milk your pazzazzy popularity to the full. In your meeting with Prince Charles, however, you do go a bit far when you ask if you can see his crown jewels and make bad taste innuendos about Buck-King-ham Palace and the royal wee. Your management hauls you in and tells you that the mint sauce of royalty doesn’t like to be spiced up. You personally think Charles quite liked it. This is not the first time you have been warned to watch your step. It doesn’t escape your notice that laid out on your bed ever morning over the next week are sets of the tackiest, most risible clothes on the market.
Part of your new job consists of trotting off answers for those endless fanzines. You enjoy this. Years of playing at making up your own answers are now paying off (sic):
Top Tip – Never fill your hot water bottle when you are pissed.
Pet Hate – Hamster.
Hate – Hairdressers that have big windows onto the street, so that you can be spotted
wearing a perm cap.
Least liked comment – If only I was twenty years younger, love…
Best answer – So what? I’d still be single and you’d still be an ugly bastard.
In fact, everything is going so well, it is a shock when you are asked if you can sing. You certainly can’t dance, so you are surprised that they think you might sing. They are arranging an a cappella performance during a press conference to prove we can sing live. You are rushed to remedial singing lessons, but after five days you still sound like a bronchitic budgerigar. By the time the press conference comes round, you have been advised to mime and let the others do the singing. Straight into the song, there’s this terrible drone and for a second you wonder if it is you, but to your relief it’s coming from Baby Spice. It would be kind to her to say her singing voice resembles that of a spiritualist possessed by the soul of a Native American chief. The press members are so dazed, it takes minutes for them to recover themselves and ask us questions. The first question goes to Scary Spice: Any plans for you and Eric Cantona to settle down?
‘No, no,’ laughs Scary. ‘We’re just having some fun at the moment. At my age I’m not into…what’s that word that sounds like a type of wood…I forget…’
‘Mahogany,’ you say, trying to help her out. But for the life of you, you cannot remember the word she means. It worries you. For the rest of the interview you are uncustomarily quiet.
You and the girls go back to your hotel. Truth be told, you are getting rather bored with their company. Scary is sitting on the edge of the bed, thinking up dynamic slogans such as ‘reach for the top’ and ‘go do it, girls’. It’s what they call soundbites, she says. Sounds shite is more the term for it, you mutter under your breath. She is contemplating going into politics with her campaign based on ‘I’ve better hair than Tony Blair’. You don’t think someone who thinks an ECU is a bird with a long neck would be ideally suited to run the country, but after all it is up to her.
Ginger Spice is busy body-stencilling to see if she would look good in a full body tattoo and Baby Spice is sewing gingham shelf trims for her mother. How little you have in common with them. Sporty suggests going to visit Robbie Williams in his detox centre and you decide to tag along. Because the hotel is surrounded by hundreds of iconolatrous fans, you have to slide out the window on a zipcord which leads down to a warehouse housing your private limo. You wonder what the distinction is between a groupie and an insane stalker. They all look seriously deranged to you.
One day there is a tiny piece in the paper about how Victoria Posh Adams has just had a baby girl. We are near the end of our whistle-stop live world tour and, amazingly, people now seem to like our new, punky out-of-tune style better than our bland version. Even serious artists like Neneh Cherry and Sheryl Crow are saying hi to us at award ceremonies. We’re slowly becoming more herbal resin than bubblegum.
The news about Posh Spice has an extraordinary effect. Ginger Spice phones her up and finds out how happy she is with her new life. Before you know it, Ginger starts to get maudlin and says how she wishes she could be a normal person again. Then Sporty says, ‘Do you remember playing football on a Sunday afternoon and then having a few pints and some chips afterwards?’ Nobody does, but each is suddenly lost in her rosy memories of the past. All four charter a plane to Sheffield to visit the baby spicelet. Meanwhile, you stay in America leading your noctilucent lifestyle and you go out briefly with an astronaut who’s famous for probing the stars.
The next day you discover the papers are full of the girls’ announcement that they are splitting up. You have not been consulted. Sporty, Scary, Ginger and Baby are going back to their old boyfriends to lead the simple life. They say are tired of living out of a suitcase (you think being accompanied by a travelling wardrobe of five hundred items of clothing hardly constitutes lugging a suitcase around) and they have been living a hollow sham without family and friends. They now realize they have been untrue to one of their founding maxims: Be true to yourself.
You are horrified. You insist on being hooked up to them live by satellite. ‘Are you out of your tiny gourds?’ you ask them. ‘We’ve got a good thing going here. Okay, so we’ll have a shelf-life no longer than Paul Newman’s salad dressing, but let’s cash in while we can. What do you say, Ginge?’
‘My name’s Geri, not Ginger,’ she says and her eyes seem even more vacuous than before if that’s possible. She seems inordinately happy that she can go back to her old mousy brown colour.
‘Big deal. The wages of freedom are very low,’ you remind them. ‘And what about our anthem, ‘Wannabe’? It was about how men could come and go but the group would always stick together. Did we sell that as a lie to millions of children around the world?’ You start singing the bit about ‘yougottagetwithmyfriends’ and ‘friendshipneverends’.
One by one, they stand up and leave. ‘You never could sing,’ says Baby.
You are left staring onto the Spiceless screen. You start shouting, hoping one of them might hear you. ‘GIRLPOWER! BE WHAT YOU WANNA BE! SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT FAKE IT SHOW THEM HOW GOOD YOU ARE! YOU HAVE GOT THE POWER!’ And as you shout, you almost believe it, but you are also thinking how long it will take you to spend what’s in your account and you figure your best move is to phone Bananarama and see if they want to make a comeback.
© Rosemary Jenkinson