Stella has known Glad for quite a few years. More than she cares to think about. Lately their friendship’s been under something of a strain, though. Glad has become increasingly obsessed with her dolls – expensive, hyper-realistic babies with internal motors that give them a heartbeat and make them breathe. The dolls are so authentically painted and well-made you’d never know they were fake until you got up close.
‘Her son gets them for her – why, I couldn’t possibly say,’ says Stella. ‘They cost an absolute packet. You have to send away for them. To America or somewhere. She spends hours going over the details, telling them what she wants. Then he buys them with his credit card. I don’t know what he thinks about it all. He’s an only child. It must mean something.’
It’s interesting, talking to Stella about this. We’re sitting in her front room, a warm, slightly down-at-heel place with overstuffed sofas, bookshelves, a coffee table with TV magazines and remote controls, a dog curled up in a fleecy bed. Unlike Glad, Stella’s had lots of children. Their photographs line the walls, glimpses of the usual family situations: holidays, weddings, graduations, babies. It’s all so real. I can imagine sending away for it, and then waiting for the delivery, everything flat-packed, ready to assemble, even the dog (batteries not included).
‘It makes me so uncomfortable,’ Stella goes on. ‘She puts them in a pram and takes them for a walk round the park, even the play area. People come over to have a look because of course they think she’s just a grandma helping out with the kids. And then when they see that they’re dolls, well, they pull away. I think they think she’s got dementia. Maybe she has. The other day one of the parents called the police. They turned up at her house to talk to her about it. They didn’t do anything, though – well, Glad says they took it in turns to hold the baby and take photos, but that was it. I don’t know. It’s all a bit weird.’