Tag Archive: Isabel Wolff


Heartbreak is a curable condition. And remember that your ex is only your ex because he’s wrong for you otherwise you’d still be together, right? But it’s not easy getting over someone, ‘ I went on, thinking of Ed with a vicious stab. ‘So you need a strategy to help you recover. Now were there things about him you didn’t like?’ ‘Oh yeah!’ she exclaimed. ‘Loads!’ ‘Good. Then make a list of them, and when you’ve done it, ring your friends and read it to them, then ask them if you’ve left anything out. Get them to add their own negative comments, and ask your family as well. Then ask your next-door neighbours—on both sides—plus the people in the corner shop, then post the list up in a prominent place. Secondly, get off your bum! Get down to the gym, like I did, and take up kick-boxing or Tae-Bo. Kick the shit out of your instructor, Fran— believe me it’ll lift your mood. Because it’s only when you’re feeling happy and confident again, that the right man will come along. ‘

True, Henry had never really lit my fire. He was the human equivalent of a lava lamp—very attractive but not that bright.

‘Thanks. That’d be nice. So where do you do your… star-watching?’ I asked as he got down twoglasses.’The best place is Norfolk—I used to go there with my grandparents. You can do it in London, but you have to choose your spot carefully because the sky-glow’s so bad. ‘ ‘The sky-glow?’ ‘The light pollution. That awful tangerine glare. I’m involved with the Campaign for Dark Skies, ‘ he went on as he poured out my beer. ‘We ask local councils to install star-friendly street lighting which throws the light down, where it’s needed, not up. It’s tragic that people living in cities don’t get to see the night sky—they miss so much. I mean just look up, ‘ he said suddenly. He switched off the light, plunging us into darkness, and I peered up through the conservatory roof. Through the glass I could see five, no… eight stars twinkling dimly against the inky night and a sliver of silvery moon. ‘City folk miss so much, ‘ he repeated as I craned my neck. ‘How often do they see the Milky Way and the Pleiades, Orion’s belt, or the Plough? You don’t even need a telescope to be an amateur astronomer. You can see so much just with your eyes. ‘

‘She felt I was letting her down. She’s a solicitor at Prenderville White in the city, ‘ he explained. ‘She’s very driven and successful, and she expected me to be the same. She wanted me to put everything into my accountancy career to match her success, but I couldn’t. I did all the exams but by then I’d become far more interested in astronomy than in spreadsheets. So I left Price Waterhouse and took an undemanding book-keeping job so that I’d have more time to write my book. Fi said I was being self-indulgent and that I should knuckle down to my career. She kept on and on and on about it, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back. So five months ago she said she wanted out. ‘ Poor bloke. There were tears in his eyes.

Everyone thinks I’m so brave, ‘ she sobbed, her face red and twisted with grief. ‘Brave Bev. Battling Bev. But I’m not like that inside. I’m not like that at all. Don’t tell anyone this, ‘ she confided with a teary gasp, ‘but I get so upset sometimes. ‘ ‘Do you?’ I said. ‘Yes, ‘ she murmured with a sniff. ‘I do. But I can’t help it because I know I’ll never—uh-uh—walk, or run again: I’ve got to sit down for the rest of my life. And I tell people that I’ve— uh-uh—got over it—but the truth is I haven’t and I never will!’ I thought again of the suppressed sobbing I’d heard through the wall and of the hockey sticks she’d burned on the fire. ‘And all these paintings of these lovely—uh-uh—women with their— uh-uh—lovely, perfect, strong legs… ‘ Bev I know you’ll be… ‘—my throat ached: I find crying catching—’I know you’ll be fine. ‘ Her sobs subsided, and she looked up and wiped her eyes. ‘Yes, ‘ she croaked. ‘Maybe I will. I’m sorry, ‘ she said, ‘I know things could be worse. The way I hit the ground I’m lucky not to be a tetraplegic, or dead. Perhaps I should go to the ball as a still life, ‘ she added with a bleak smile. ‘I mean, there is still life. ‘

I have agony aunted myself to the conclusion that although I behaved very badly I can’t put the clock back so I might as well try and forget. In any case I’m very good at not thinking about unpleasant things. I shut them away in my mind. I neatly compartmentalise them and lock the door: a skill which I learned as a child. So I’m not going to dwell on my humiliation: it’s over: what’s done is done. In any case some good things have come out of that evening and so, despite everything, I’m still very glad that I went.

There was a card from Pyschic Cynthia with my astrological chart for the coming year. Thanks to ‘generous Jupiter’ I could look forward to ‘stunning changes ahead. ‘ I don’t want any more stunning changes, I thought, I’ve had more than enough this year. I’d moved house twice and my marriage had failed. I needed only a death to complete the hat trick of traumatic life events.

I think it was the twins’ sense of completeness which drew me to them—the way they belonged together, like two walnut halves. Whereas I didn’t know who I truly belonged to, or who I was related to, or even who I looked like. Nor did I know whether my real mum had ever had any other children, and if they looked like me. But Bella and Bea were this perfect little unit—Yin and Yang, Bill and Ben, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Like Tweeldedum and Tweedledee they argued a lot, but the weird thing was they’d do it holding hands. They’d been coupled from conception, and I’d imagine them kicking and kissing in the womb. And although their mum would dress them in non-identical clothes every day, they’d always change into the same thing. They did absolutely everything together. If one of them wanted to go to the loo, for example, the other would wait outside; and their mum couldn’t even offer them a piece of cake without them going into a little huddle to confer. Sometimes I’d watch them doing a jigsaw puzzle, and it was as if they were almost a single organism, heads touching, four hands moving in perfect synchronicity. And I found it deeply touching that they were so totally self-contained, yet wanted to make space in their lives for me. I was mesmerised by their mutuality and I deeply envied it—the power of two. They’re thirty-seven now, and very attractive, but they’ve never had much luck with men.

‘We can’t find anyone, ‘ Bella sighed as we sat in the kitchen. ‘It always goes wrong. ‘

‘Men don’t see us as individuals, ‘ said Bea.

‘Hardly surprising, ‘ I said. ‘You look alike, sound alike, talk alike, walk alike, you live together and when the phone goes at home you answer ‘”Twins!”‘ ‘We only do that for a joke, ‘ said Bea. ‘In any case there are huge differences. ‘

‘Like what?’

‘Well, Bella’s quieter than I am. ‘

‘That’s true, ‘ said Bella feelingly.

‘And we went to different universities, and until now we’ve had different careers. ‘ Bella was a financial journalist and Bea worked for the V and A. ‘Plus Bella’s hair is short and mine’s shoulder length; her face is a tiny bit narrower than mine, she’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, and we have different views on most things. ‘

‘Too right. ‘

‘We’re not one person in two bodies, ‘ Bella pointed out vehemently, ‘but men treat us as if we were.

And the stupid questions we get! I’m sick of men asking us whether we’re telepathic, or feel each other’s pain or if we ever swapped places at school. ‘

‘Or they meanly flirt with both of us, ‘ said Bella crossly, ‘to try and cause a rift. ‘

And there’s the rub.

The twins may complain about their single status but I have long since known the truth; that although they both say they want a serious relationship, the reality is that they don’t; because they’re very comfortable and compatible and companionable as they are, and they know that a man would break that up…

After a nasty break-up it’s a good idea to put a few postcodes between yourself and your ex. The further the better in fact. There’s nothing quite like it for distracting you from the fact that you’ve just been given the push. Dumped in Devon? Then why not move to Dumfries? Given the big E in Enfield? Then uproot to Edinburgh. You’ll be too busy focusing on the newness of your environment to give a damn about Him . Not that I am thinking about Him. He’s history. My campaign to exorcise Him is going well. It’s already eight weeks since we split and I can barely even remember Ed Wright’s name. I’ve done what I advised that girl Kelly to do—I’ve neatly excised him, like a tumour; I haven’t even sent him my new address. So I think it’s all going to be plain sailing from here.

Having my marital rows re-enacted at top volume by a bird had shaken me to my core, so I did what I always do when I’m feeling upset—I got out the ironing board. And as the iron sped back and forth, snorting a twin plume of steam, my heart rate began to subside. I find there’s nothing more therapeutic than a nice pile of pressing when I’ve had a nasty shock. I iron everything, I really don’t mind—tea-towels, knickers, socks. I even tried to iron my J Cloths once, but they melted. I’ve never really minded ironing—something my friends find decidedly weird. But then my mum was incredibly house-proud—’a tidy home means a tidy mind!’ she’d say—so I guess I get it from her.

. I suddenly felt that I’d been born to be an agony aunt: at last I’d found my true niche. It was like a revelation to me—a Damascene flash—as though I’d heard a voice. ‘Rose! Rose!’ it boomed. ‘This is Thy God. Thou Shalt Dispense ADVICE!’

I’ve been screwed up anddiscarded. You might find that weird, but after what’s happened to me I see rejection in everything.So to keep negative thoughts at bay I started doing the crossword, as usual tackling the anagrams first. The skill with these is not in rearranging the letters—that’s easy—but in spotting them: you have to know the code. ‘Messy’ for example, usually indicates an anagram, as do ‘disorder’, and ‘disarray. ‘Mixed up’ is a good anagram clue as well; as is ‘confused’ and also ‘upset’.Doing anagrams makes me feel oddly happy: I often anagrammatise words in my head, just for fun. Perhaps because I was an only child I’ve always been able to amuse myself. I particularly enjoy it when I can make both ends of the anagram work. ‘Angered’ and ‘Enraged’ for example; ‘slanderous’ and ‘done as slur’; ‘discover’ and ‘divorces’ is a good one, as is ‘tantrums’ and ‘must rant’. ‘Marital’, rather appropriately, turns to ‘martial’; ‘male’ very neatly becomes ‘lame’, and ‘masculine’—I like this—becomes ‘calumnies’, and ‘Rose’, well, that’s obvious. ‘Sore’.

Looking back, the only thing that gives me any solace is the knowledge that I retained my dignity. It’s only in my dreams that I throw things at him, and swear, and rage and hit. In real life I was as cool as a frozen penguin, which might surprise people who know me well. I’m supposed to be ‘difficult’ you see— a bit ‘complicated’. A rather ‘thorny’ Rose—ho ho ho! And of course my red hair is a guaranteed sign of a crazy streak and a wicked tongue. So the fact that I didn’t erupt like Mount Etna in this moment of crisis would almost certainly confound my friends. But I felt oddly detached from what was going on. I was numb.

Serena, let me tell you, inhabits Cliche City: she could win the Palmed’Or for her platitudes. She’s one of these people who are perennially perky; in fact she’s so chirpy I suspect she’s insane. Especially as she invariably has some dreadful domestic crisis going on. She’s late thirties and mousy with three kids and a dull husband called Rob (anagram, ‘Bor’).

My practised eye had already identified from the writing the likely dilemmas within. Here were the large, childish loops of repression, and the backwards slope of the chronically depressed. There the green-inked scorings of schizophrenia and the cramped hand of the introvert. While Serena logged and dated each letter for reference, I sorted out my huge index file. In this I keep all the information sheets which I send out with my replies.

At parties people often ask me what other qualities are required. Curiosity for starters—I’ve got that in spades. I’ve always loved sitting on trains, staring dreamily out of the window into the backs of people’s houses, and wondering about their lives. You have to be compassionate too—but not wet—your reply should have a strong spine. There’s no point just offering sympathy, or even worse, pity, like that dreadful Citronella Pratt. What the reader needs is practical advice. So that means having information at the ready: information and kindness—that’s what it’s about. Having said which I’m not a ‘cuddly’, ‘mumsy’ agony aunt—if need be I’ll take a tough tone. But the truth is that my readers invariably know what to do, I simply help them find the answer by themselves.

‘Of course it is, ‘ he guffawed, ‘that’s exactly what it is: other people’s problems give us all a lovely warm glow. ‘ I suppressed the urge to club him to death with Secrets of Anger Control.

‘Goodbye, Ed, ‘ I said firmly. ‘I am ex-iting from you; I am ex-pelling you; I am ex-cising you. You are ex-traneous, ‘ I added firmly. ‘You are ex-cess. I am making an ex-ample of you, because I do not want you any more. I do not want you any more.

I enclose my Confidence leaflet and the number for your local community college,and I wish you really good luck. I felt so sorry for him that, on the spur of the moment I added: PS. If you feel you’d like to, do let me know how you get on. But as I sealed the envelope I realised that this was unlikely, and that’s the weird thing about what I do. Every month over a thousand total strangers tell me about their problems and their intimate affairs. I give them the very best advice I can, but I rarely, if ever, hear back. My replies go out into the void like meteorites hurtling through space. Did what I write help them, I sometimes wonder? Are things going better for them now?