underground music

At 6pm I was sitting on my sofa in my poky flat, hot and bothered, bored and glum.  At 4am I was in a stranger’s basement flat assembling Spotify playlists for a horrendously handsome Californian and three French females.

I decided to take a chance on another of those social group meetings, thinking I could opt out and find somewhere else to view the USA match if I wasn’t feeling the company.  I found the bar, ordered a beer, found the group, stood back, watched the first half over the shoulders of the group and made judgements about them.

Would it be hard work?  Could I be bothered to be all genial, cheerful and open?  Did they look odd?

Yes no and yes.  A bit.

The half time whistle blew, Ghana a surprising 1-0 up, and I left.  I didn’t know where for exactly, but I paced the vague direction of the tube-line back, eyes out for an open looking bar in one of those transient West London communities.  They’re often easier places to fall into chat.

A squat, bald man sat on a stool next to me at the bar.  I rested on a pillar, facing the large screen, before which sat an assortment of fans, many of them travellers.  USA deservedly equalised and I exchanged comment with my neighbour.  A discernible West Country accent opened the door for further chat.

It’s a disappointing fact that I tend to be more comfortable in the company of males than females.  There’s no threat and no pretention, no ‘signals’ to be wary of; I’m seldom trying hard, if at all to curry favour.  In a way I wish I found men physically attractive – perhaps everything would be easier then.  Sadly I don’t.

This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a handsome man.  Their effect on me, however, is at best a grudging respect, at worst an outright envy-led disgust at how on earth they had the fortune to be blessed like that.  What gave them the right?

It was with a combination of the two that I turned to the guy along the bar, a handsome chap standing the other side of the older chap, to whom we’d both exchanged comments about the game.  He didn’t look unlike USA player, Carlos Bocanegra, who is no Wayne Rooney in the looks department, but also wore a modest, mildly embarrassed look.  A weathered, stubbled face and arrowing jawline made him appear to be in his mid-thirties, so I was equally appalled to later learn that he was a handful of years younger than me.

He looked American and every inch Los Angeles, not least in the vaguely confused way he watched the football match, as if tentatively trying to consume something people told him was good.   He had only been in London a month, having been transferred on a short-term contract.

Ghana found a new gear and greater strength in extra time, scoring another and comfortably fending off a fatigued American threat.  At its conclusion, my new older friend was disappointed to have lost a bet, and the American shrugged, essentially unfussed.  I was quietly pleased Ghana had won.

We fell into further sporting and political discussions, offering and accepting further drinks, each growing drunk, our older member the most rapidly.  He blamed his age on forgetfulness and losing track of his points, rather than the alcohol.  He called it quits as closing time neared, hopped down from his stool and wobbled away.

Myself and Bocanegra eyed each other anew, or adrunk, still with thirst and nowhere else to go.

“You wanna see if we can get another round here, or..?” I broached.

“Sure, there’s a place I know down the block.  Need the rest room first.  Wait there.”

He took me to a nightclub, where we were rubberstamped like cattle before descending steps into a dark, low-ceilinged basement venue.  Not my natural habitat, but I went with it.  He’d mentioned a complicated relationship setup back home, an arrangement the other party had placed more stock in than him.

I wondered if this would now go like those now rare occasions with friends back home, one of whom is absurdly good looking, quite a buffoon, has no morals whatsoever but is enormously entertaining.  We always used to lose him within minutes of being inside a nightclub.

We bought drinks, took a stroll and I felt that sporadic kinship to Emile Heskey kick back in.  It’s not his fault.

We breezed past a lone female sitting at a table; I half paused, then bottled it.  My smooth companion didn’t.  She was French, upbeat and happy, pretty enough in an understated way; another national descent in there somewhere.  Her friends soon returned from the bar.  We all chatted and it was quickly detectable that they were nonplussed by me.  I left my friend to dance and canoodle with his new femme while I went to the bar and wondered what would happen now, whether I should just leave.

No, roll with everything tonight.  Why not?  Let yourself be guided for once.

I didn’t leave and continued chatting with the other French girls in an entirely innocent, rather bland fashion.  We each asked polite questions without caring about the answers.  Laughs were few.  I agreed to join them outside for cooler air and want of anything better to do.  They smoked.

The club came to close and I chatted again to Bocanegra.  Before entering the club he’d said that he lived really close and I was welcome to sleep on his couch.  We all piled up and out of the club onto the warm street, the French gabbling amongst themselves in French, us mumbling uncertainly.  We’d only walked a minute before he said, “my flat’s actually down this road, now I don’t know if..”

The French twittered in French again.  One, not his femme, expressed her reservations in English, which I said I accepted and understood, partly to make us look regular and unthreatening.  His femme swung them round and we found ourselves walking down his road, stopping at a large anonymous building with multiple buzzers.  I could have forgiven a new sense of foreboding as he led us down the building and through a maze of glass-panelled corridors to his front door.  A newly renovated basement apartment belied his length of time there: nothing on the walls or in the cupboards, which I raided.  Water was literally all he had.  I divided it up into a handful of never before-used glasses and cursed my lack of rohypnol.

We sat chatting and listening to music for a time, stretched out across two sofas and two on the floor, either end of a central coffee table.  Discussions on music and hobbies were more interesting and we grew more relaxed.  If anything untoward would have happened, it would have happened by then.

It grew later and lighter still at 4am, dawn approaching.  The two French wanted to leave, one who lived nearby and another, incidentally the most attractive, who lived not far from me.  She preferred to sleep at her friend’s rather than share a cab.  I conceded and watched them leave first, so they wouldn’t think I was following them when I made my own exit.

Bocanegra again offered the couch, but I knew it would inevitably come with authentic audio of sex from the next room.  We enjoyed a frat boy parting clinch and a shared knowing smile about convincing the females we were longer acquainted than a few hours, which was probably quite pointless.  Then I left.

unsympathetic characters

I’m part way through the second novel by highly rated young American author, Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed.  Up to now, although extremely well written, it’s failed to grip me for exactly the same reason the new Ben Stiller film, Greenberg, failed to grip me.

Both protagonist characters have had mental issues and breakdowns of a kind, yet both have much which is ostensibly enviable: a cushy developed world status, enough material goods and, in the case of The Unnamed, a faithful wife and loving daughter.  We readers and viewers are supposed to be interested and invest in characters that are selfish, slouchy and absorbed, for all their mental ills.  They are shown to be selfish, slouchy and absorbed and we are obligated to hang with them.

It’s a tough ask and a bold gambit: actively producing a main character who isn’t very likeable, who is in fact a boring shmuck you want to shake.  LOOK HOW MUCH YOU HAVE!  What the hell’s wrong with you?  You idiot.

This is the point; this is what we’re supposed to think.  It’s supposed to test our patience, dare us to quit, and by doing so, dare us to stay and see what happens – if they get more sympathetic, if there’s an illuminating back story.  Even if nothing does happen, they remain an idiot and there is no back story.

If they were a new acquaintance, that is exactly what they’d stay.

If there’s nothing which is redeemable about the character either, you end the tale thinking they’re a hopeless unlikable shmuck, is that a success?  Has another human condition been painted enough for you to think Yes, that’s convincing: jolly well done you hip young author.  Or has it simply depressed you, duped you, angered you, wasted your time and fed some stereotypes about Americans who can never analyse themselves enough?

Or maybe this post is the ultimate irony.  Absorbed people absorb absorbed people.

behind schedule

A couple of weeks ago I believed I was on the cusp of change.  I may still be, but one man has stalled everything: my plans, my month, my summer and my life, potentially by up to a month.

I had to restrain my jaw from dropping as I walked around his beautiful waterfront apartment, the place he was leaving and needed to find a tenant for.  A burly, rugby playing mountain of a Welshman, when he opened his front door, I puffed myself up to my full height and testosterone, pumped his hand and communicated in a manly, assertive way.  I think it was convincing enough.  I immediately made him an offer to rent the flat, which he deferred a decision on until others had viewed it.

Later that weekend he called and accepted and I paid him a hefty deposit online, which he then claimed not to receive.  And is still claiming not to have received, well over a week later.  That is, on the rare occasions when he responds, mainly by text message.  I have emailed evidence of payment from my account.  He says he is checking it with his bank.  I have no idea if I’m being conned.

In this limbo period I’ve felt curiously more optimistic about London, perhaps due to feeling that my time here is limited.  Outside of the professional obligations which I will maintain, there’s a lightness I hadn’t felt up until now, almost a new found demob happy fatalism, like when you leave a job.  I’m out, off, away, nothing matters (I think).

Having a deadline, and end-point helps to eek you out of any rut, it gives you a target and makes you hopeful for change.  Having that deadline uprooted and vaguely waved in the air, placing you in limbo: it’s unsettling, but strangely exciting.  Anything could happen: I could still stay or go, leave or stay.  For a person bereft of general direction, it feels like no great sea-change.

That faintly humiliating incident last week was punctuated by my usual mopey mourning for a while, because I realised I did genuinely like her:  smart, sassy, funny, apparently engaged by me for a few hours.  But also, it turned out, married: a major drawback.

After giving myself a stern talking to, I felt freed and unshackled, momentarily buoyed by the fillip that comes from someone like that being willing to give you their attention, their evening.

Fuelled by that, I decided to attend one of the random social group meetings I’d seen online and had one online email account sporadically spammed by.  I had spurned and mocked it before; it would be full of social rejects wouldn’t it?  The transparently friendless; why else would you attend an event like that?  Is it strange for me to try and make new friends when I’m planning to move away?

Screw it.  I was vaguely bored and leaving town soon (probably).  This meeting was only a short walk away, at a pub which would have live music and France-Uruguay and, being a pub, alcohol.

Yes there were dickheads and social rejects and weirdoes and crazy women and those who dripped emotional baggage.  But there were a small handful who were actually all right and digits were swapped.

The following evening I went to a loud, massive bar to watch the England game with one new friend: a good looking personal trainer and former professional dancer.  Early to mid thirties, a surfer dude look, definitely heterosexual.

How on earth did this man not have girls falling over themselves for him?  His Facebook friendstream must be awash with stunning candidates.  I asked him directly and he said sure, there had been loads, but not now.  It was hard.

I didn’t know whether to draw hope from him or consider myself even more doomed, if someone like him was struggling, a dancer and personal trainer, then how…  HOW?!

We got drunk together, glanced hopefully at girls together and swapped tales of the single life – his more successful than mine.  But we were turned away from all decent establishments in the area because of our modest football colours, and parted at a respectable hour.

Freeness to Do and not sweat about consequences feels alien; a reflection of a unique timeframe which will be punctuated by football matches and getting or not getting scammed over a flat, before being embedded in memory at the passing of the season.

did she say she had a husband?

Barry was standing at the back of the crowded, dark basement bar room, near the rear door, watching the speaker at the other end.  Poor lighting meant he could only make out the dazzle of the speaker’s bald pate, and his silhouette.  The words were good though, he could certainly talk.

Behind Barry the rear door swished and he half turned around, smiling instinctively as he squeezed himself against the wall to allow her past, down the steps and into the mesh of people.  Cute, short, a frizzy dark bob, trim shape.  I may have to introduce myself during the networking afterwards, Barry thought.  But Barry thought that about practically every attractive female in the room.  There were several.

The silhouette spoke on, took questions and eventually finished.  Barry left the basement to go outside and make a call.  He returned to find that she hadn’t progressed far into the room and was chatting to a tall, thick-set young guy.  Barry introduced himself to them, noting that the young man imparticular was keen and fully charged to network.

They said what they did and swapped cards.  She was attractive, Canadian, smart, dryly funny and had a similar line of work to Barry.

During his brief trip outside, Barry had unwittingly collected pollen: his eyes stung and his nose twitched.  In the dark, full basement room of loud blaring chatter, the reverb of Barry’s voice inside his head resulted in a tickling sensation within nose cavities.  This led to onslaughts of sneezing, nose running and eye weeping.

It wasn’t pretty.

It also blotted out his hearing.  She spoke at length and he nodded, mimicking her expressions, as is done when one isn’t hearing everything clearly but doesn’t wish to stall the conversational flow every few seconds.  He continued to paw at his left eye, more weepy than his right, surreptitiously graze his nose to check that it wasn’t dripping in an unsightly fashion.  A couple of times Barry broke off to sneeze and visited the gents to splash his face, leaving them to chat together.

He returned, freshened, everything sucked in or blown out.

It’s often the case that publicity, advertising, marketing people have artistic aspirations, sidelines, extracurricular projects or hobbies.  Hers appeared to be more than aspirations, she was firmly on the road to realising a few and they discussed that, slowly marginalising their other company.  She mentioned ‘..-husband,’ her husband(?)

Did she?
Was that what she said?
Bollocks.

Barry nodded, still not quite following as she spoke quickly, interestingly and in depth, swinging from subject to subject.  He didn’t want to lose her.

Barry’s symptoms gradually passed, his hearing cleared, helped by the slow trickle of people out of the bar.  He felt able to speak for longer than ten seconds without the tickling reverb in his head.  So they carried on chatting: arts, books and films, stories found in sport.  There was a distinct lack of networking.  He bought her a drink.

After an hour or so they realised they should make an effort with other people in the room and broke off to join a group of male suits who their original, motivated company was now speaking to.

Hands were shaken and so what do you do?s swapped.  They were largely uninteresting.  Barry split away to another group he partly already knew, always mindful of her behind him.

A short time later he joined her again, sitting at a table with another pair, this time more interesting.  He wondered how they, he and her, appeared to their new company.  They were both borderline drunk now and reasonably familiar – apart from the minor detail of him not being sure whether or not she was married.  “You work together or..?” one of their new company asked.  She fiddled with a roll-up cigarette, which surprised Barry because she didn’t look like a smoker.

“You want to smoke?” Barry asked her, having qualified the nature of their relationship, breaking away from the wider conversation for a moment.

“Yeah, you?”

“No, I don’t, but I’ll come, get some fresh air.”

Don’t want anyone else pouncing on you.

“You’ll come up and watch me smoke?”

I’d watch you clean toilets, you’re very attractive..

“I have my book,” Barry said, lamely, referring to a glossy book of photography which their interesting company had just donated.  His attraction to her was probably transparent now, his lack of will to leave her.  How much did he care?  Best not to think about it.

Outside they discussed health, smoking and drinking.  She said she’d taken up smoking aged 29 after her divorce from a childhood sweetheart she’d been with since she was 17.  It had been a rebellion of sorts.  She didn’t look too much older than 29 to Barry as it was; mid thirties tops.  Superb condition.

But.. hang on, a divorce? Barry’s brain recoiled.  Had she been referring to an ex husband earlier, or a current one?  Had his hayfevery hearing blotted out the all important word ‘ex’?  She barely looked old enough to have gone through two marriages.  So was she married now, or not?

Just ask her?
No, can’t do that.

She proposed leaving there and then, although she had a drink waiting for her downstairs from our original company.  Barry said his jacket was back downstairs too, so they returned.  She said she couldn’t drink all of her new Rum and Coke and asked if they could share.  Barry accepted.

The room was thin with people.  Under a dozen remained and their modest appetite for networking had fully evaporated.  She mentioned an artistic feminism side project she was working on but uncomfortable talking about.  Barry sensitively probed for detail, offered liberal male input.

Lights came on and the basement bar looked like closing.  She went to the ladies, Barry went to the gents.  Shit.  She was amazing.  But she had a husband, did she?  What was the score? he silently asked his reflection.  It didn’t know either.  They had implicitly agreed to leave together, if only to step out of the door of the bar.  Why?

Was there more to this?  What was going on?
Barry hated this shit, would he ever get less rubbish at it?

They emerged onto the upper, ground floor bar at roughly the same time and from separate ends of the room.  They stepped out onto the street.

“Gotta get back then,” she said, looking slightly drunk now, but still beautiful, Barry thought, newly unsure of herself perhaps.  If you just mention your husband again I’ll know where we are.  Go on, mention your husband and I’ll walk away.

“Where you heading?” she asked.

“Um, I’ll probably just walk back through to Waterloo,” I said.

“You’ll walk to Waterloo?  From here?”

“Yeah, it’s not so far.”

Why did you say that, why don’t you just walk with her to the tube?  Idiot.

They did nice to meet yous, Barry kissed her on both cheeks, noting that she smelled brilliant.  Was there anything else? Was he being a fuckwit or just a dickhead?  Would a stronger, more confident, more assertive alpha male just Do Something at this point – regardless of whether or not she had a husband?  Risk the embarrassment and probable rejection.  She hadn’t spoken about him much; hardly at all, if she had one.  That one fleeting mention.

‘Did you say you had a husband?’ he could ask.

He didn’t.  He turned round and walked south.  She walked north to the tube, a five minute walk.  Barry paused after several steps, looked round.  She was dawdling, idling slowly, holding a phone and another roll up cigarette.  You could’ve at least seen her to the tube, Barry chided himself.  Used the tube yourself, instead of walking.  Dickhead.

Why do you always do this? he continued to slay himself.  Do absolutely nothing.  You know why: zero confidence when it really matters, zilch belief combined with a deadly risk aversion to potential embarrassment, meaning you always do nothing.

Still time though, here and now, if you wanted to sacrifice your dignity.  She’s still there, you could.

Befuddled by booze and the raging voices, Barry did it.  He turned on his heel and walked back up the road, feeling nervous and scared and like a stalker.  Still she was still dawdling, walking slowly without purpose, playing with her phone.

Barry got within fifteen yards, could almost smell her scent again, sensed that she was about to turn around.  He was close, this was terrifying.  She paused again to glance at her phone.  Barry leapt into a doorway.

What the FUCK was he doing?  Barry rested his head against cool marble.  You UTTER schoolboy.

He glanced around the corner to see her lazily walk into the tube station.  Barry slapped his forehead with the glossy book of photography he was somehow still clasping, lost, in no-man’s land.  She’d gone in, descended to the platforms.

You are pretty much stalking her now, aren’t you, you freak? Barry told himself as he passed through the barriers.  This was mindless punishment.  No, not mindless.  His mind was working overtime, it just wasn’t producing much that was helpful, chundering out bilge and idiotic decisions at will.  Barry heard a tube arrive beneath him as he descended the steps and jumped down the last few to see the tube, its doors dead ahead, the window next to them and the back of her lovely frizzy bobbed head.  She was there, still; no more than five smart footsteps away.

The doors stayed open for several moments, teasing Barry as he stood at the bottom of the steps, paralysed.  Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, chicken shit.

But was she married?  Did it matter?

She’s just there!  Last chance, idiot!  ACT!

Or don’t act, like usual.  Do nothing, except chase her up the street, into the tube station and almost into the tube, like a creepy weird schoolboy psycho.

Quick chirruping beeps saw the doors close and the tube hum away.  Barry remained standing, frozen still, excepting a slow headbutt of the shiny stone wall to his left.  Hard enough to hurt a bit – not hard enough to really hurt, draw blood or bruise or anything like that.  You’re just a fuckup, aren’t you?

Barry forlornly made his way to the other platform, hating himself, his immortal haplessness in this hideously complicated line of things.  Was he guilty of overplaying this one in his head too?  Maybe.  In femaleworld she’d likely had an amusing evening, albeit mostly with one bloke who she’d told early on she had a husband – so that was fine.  Although she mentioned him little thereafter.

On his own tube, Barry retrieved her card from his back pocket. Was a text message a bad idea?  It could confirm whether or not she had a husband, effectively exonerate him from fuckwittage and return him back into familiar dickhead environment.

Hope you got back safe, Barry typed, it was good meeting, I considered acting but it was probably best I didn’t.

Ack.  That was a bit… too much?  Barry paused over the send button, but not for too long as the signal was sporadic.  Took a breath, fuck it, clicked send.

Who is this? came back the reply two minutes later. Barry smiled initially, thinking it a genuine reflection of how long he had stayed in her memory.  Not long at all.  What was he worrying about?  Nobody remembers you even if you’ve spent three solid hours in their company.  You’re eminently forgettable, Barry, however compelling you might hope you are at the time.  His chest lightened, he flicked through the photobook.

A second message a minute later claimed it was a joke from an overly sarcastic (and married) Canadian X.

So she WAS married!  Brilliant! Great news, Barry thought. He had no reason to be proud of his peculiar behaviour, but at least he was now free, spared from further humiliation. The dunce cuffs were off.

Or were they?

In that moment outside the bar – for everything is comprised of moments of action or inaction – when he ridiculously didn’t even walk her to the tube and prolong their parting until there; in that moment her status barely mattered.  Unease or uncertainty sat in alcohol washed eyes, untrusting, perhaps of herself more than him.  If Barry had been stronger and more direct, like friends of his whose behaviour he didn’t necessarily always admire but…

Ethically unsound if she was married, sure.  But was HE really obliged to care that much?  Should he have just been bold and selfish and fatalistic.  Although bold and selfish and fatalistic wasn’t Barry’s forté.  Dithering in the key moments was where he excelled; in that domain he was virtually untouchable.  Like England and penalties.  Guaranteed to bottle it, lose and feel sorry for himself after the event.

so long, Mrs P (Die bitch, die)

Mrs P was always old to us.  She died yesterday, aged 97, leaving a daughter in her sixties who spent most of the last 25 years looking after her.

Mrs P’s husband died about 25 years ago, her daughter’s husband about 10 years ago.  They lived half a dozen houses apart on our small crescent of a road.  Mrs P was our neighbour Val’s reason for living and the bain of her life.  Old forever, she suffered dementia, delusions and confusion.  Although she retained reasonable mobility, she needed help and depended upon her daughter for everything.  There was never any talk of a residential home.  In return, her daughter had little semblance of a life after her own husband died, emotion invested instead in alcohol and small yappy spoilt dogs.  Then the death of the second caused hurt too great to get another.

A trip to the nearest small town would cause Val dizzying confusion and worry.  A drive to the nearest large city had to be plotted and planned and timed.  It could still paralyse with worry.  She shut herself indoors, intimidated by invitations as far afield as next door on Christmas Day; she went to bed at 7 o clock after a bottle of wine; she went nowhere and did nothing except tend to her mother for 25 years.

During my visit home the time before last, I happened to be around so opened Val’s gates when I saw her car coming.  She was returning from ferrying her mother somewhere and I smiled as the car rolled past me and down the driveway.  Mrs P smiled back, glazed, who knows where, and her daughter smilingly waved her gratitude.  Did Mrs P know who I was when she smiled?  One of the boys from next door to her girl Val, one of those small boys, a man, a young man, a middle-aged man now?  Who knew?  Ageless.  It all blurred.

She had had a stroke a week before but clung on with the same belligerence that she appeared lived her life.

Is she still not dead?
we whispered to our Mum, whenever we returned. She must be, what, two hundred and thirty six now?

And if we were this amazed at her longevity, us who saw her only in passing a handful of times a year – long gone were the days when, passing with the dog, you’d feel obliged to stop and chat – then what of her poor shackled daughter?

Die bitch, die!  Give me back at least some life!

“The doctors told us they expected her to die a week ago,” Val had told us yesterday over the garden fence, red eyed, red faced, those burst and battle-weary blood vessels in her rosy cheeks splitting some more.  “But she stuck it out right to the end.”

seeking (Car)difference

Croeso i Gymru

My stomach sank with a bewildering sense of betrayal as I passed the signpost, crossed the bridge and queued to pay the toll.  How could you do this to me? England seemed to ask my back.  You total bastard.

I know, I’m not sure, sorry, I squeaked.

The bad things flashed back from my six years spent there at the beginning of the last decade; those vile Welshmen who literally sneered and spat at your gall to wear an England shirt on a big matchday; the less seriously intended but still grating anti-English ‘banter,’ the impossibility of finding live football screening if a rugby match is on, the painfully tenuous Welsh angles to news.

I’m English and love England, but I also love Wales and many of its people.  Pressed to choose a preference, I’d have to choose England.  Paradoxically, as it turns out.  Because having pressed myself to choose, I’m choosing Wales.

I’m in a service station a short distance over the border, en route to Cardiff for a couple of days viewing properties and will stay with a friend there overnight. It’s not a decision taken lightly but it would seem that a better standard of living can be achieved for less money there.  While I’m very fond of a couple of football clubs there, that’s it: I don’t need London and it certainly doesn’t need me.  This morning’s drive proved that Wales can be made by car from London in two hours at no great stretch, train routes are straighforward.

There’s the added potential of having more friends back in Cardiff too – older ones with more shared history and theoretically stronger bonds – but whether they’ll be accessible to me given their respective domestic trappings is up for debate.  Even whether they’ll feel inclined to see much of me.  It could easily be the case that I’d see them just as infrequently.

Either way I feel it’s worth the punt, the change, the difference – albeit a comfortably familiar difference.  Six months on another rental agreement – despite all of the paperwork, bills and moving fuss that goes around it – is no great commitment.

If any new opportunities come along or my independent work proves unsustainable, I can sail off again.  Although I’m not averse to the idea of a rudder, should one decide to present itself.

Diolch Cymru, we’ll see.

male fracture

Initially I never minded his relentless, mid-twenties, labrador-like enthuasiasm.  I respected it, was entertained by it.  At least it was character.  He wanted to build an empire, an agency, but he was essentially a freelancer or a small businessman like me – except his speciality was design, he could operate photoshop and believed he had an eye for graphics, although he still needed a developer.  Did that really amount to an empire..?  His confidence was unwavering.

We’d only met around eight or nine months before and liked each other, although our professional interests didn’t align.  I respected what he wanted to do, his bullishness and disrespect for the established industry clique.  It irked me in only a small way that he couldn’t grasp what it was that I did, or that he didn’t want to, had faint interest.  “He’s a writer, a reporter, he’s.. I don’t know.”  I paid him interest and that was enough.  I connected him to relevant people, he helped me with a website.

Despite the pokey Camden flat he worked from, he always spoke big games, frowned upon my contentedness with my scale and platform, my lack of desire to build.  Perhaps he laughed.

Knowing the organiser, we attended an all-day event and joined them for drinks, as well as a meal afterwards.  He thickly laid on his entrepreneurial zest to a successful CEO he thought it would impress.  When I told him a member of the dinner table had (quite understandably) tired of his apparently endless gushing, he was obviously slighted and bitter, pretended not to care but did.

Over the dinner he had voiced ideas about line-up photographs like Sergeant Pepper or Sillicon Valley in the 1990s, charting us all now before we had built our own incredible dynasties.  To me it seemed idiotic, laughable, embarrassingly ridden with ego.  Nobody had a revolutionary game-changing idea or a specific technology (that they were public about), we were all ostensibly performing standard services at a medium to low level.  Nevertheless, everyone made encouraging and agreeable ‘yes-let’s-do-it’ noises.

Having planned to go for drinks after the event and make an evening of it, we left the restaurant, but it was later into the evening than expected when arrived out our favoured Soho bar.

Once seated with beers he fluffed his own self proclaimed business nous, said he was good at identifying valuable stocks and shares.  I quibbled, “you can speculate about the value of any brand and what they’ll do next; it’s all a punt.  Does predicting that Innocent will make food or Bentley will make a champagne mean you’re a visionary, or does it mean you’ve taken an informed guess?”

He disagreed with me that successful bankers needed to be numerate, that it at least helped.  “Bollocks, you and I could be minted bankers if we wanted.”  I disagreed, said I would be if I could be but I wasn’t.  I’d struggled to get a C at GCSE Maths.  I could do what I do and be moderately successful but there was no way could I be a banker.  This disgruntled him.

He was the epitome of a guy from small Scottish provinces who had come to London seeking fame and fortune.  I was arguably similar – but had been dealt little fortune, perhaps had created none, and believed significantly less in my potential for major prosperity.  I wasn’t entirely pessimistic about my future but had no pretensions of fame, above average wealth or building a famed legacy.

“Get me another beer then,” I said into the sulky pause, as we both reached the bottom of our first bottles in the late bar, hoping we could shift conversation on.

Never having divorced from checking his phone for messages, he said “no, ahv gotta be gone in five minutes mate.”

A text message may have changed his course – from his girlfriend or another friend.

“Girlfriend curfew?”

He mumbled unintelligibly.  I didn’t ask further, but it was strange given that he’d said we had a good hour and a half of drinking when we arrived.  Something changed during our discussion, my scepticism was too much, I had depressed and tired him.

“Ok then,” I said, abruptly accepting.  “We’ll call it quits,” an awkward atmosphere had been draped over us.  I had too honestly chided his ambition and he had shrugged, resented it.  I had never meant to quash his enthusiasm, his passion or drive.

Or had I?  Neither of us would speak of it further.

Out into the street, we shook, clinched, spoke token words of next week – I invested little in them – and turned away.

I looked over my shoulder as I walked off, seeing him lingering, diagonally pacing back and forth across the road outside the bar, not walking away, waiting for another.  I wondered if we’d ever see each other again, if this was it for us.  I wondered who he was waiting for, his girlfriend, a mate, a new business partner who he could change the world with.

I imagined we were done.