prudent deceit

The steep path clogged up, turning into a Forestry Commission-hacked mesh of muddy sticks.  I reflected on the past, uncharacteristically interesting week.

She was like those all too rare barmaids who make you feel special and witty and welcome.  Their smiles convey such genuine warmth that you actually think you made a connection.  You carry your drinks away thinking, Wow, she was amazing.  A minute or two later you glance back to the bar for a third or fourth time and see she’s serving another customer.  In fact she’s giving those exact same smiles and laughs – YOUR smiles and laughs – to some other mug.  And the dispiriting penny drops.

We’d chatted on the phone several times in the lead-up to the two days’ work.  She’d sounded warm and chatty, had laughed a lot – even when I hadn’t intended to be amusing.  She sounded upbeat and cheerful: a kind of consistent upbeat cheer that an unattractive female might struggle to achieve.  It’s easier to have such a breezy outlook if everyone around you reacts positively, appreciatively.

Her sensible shoes and legs appeared first as she descended a flight of stairs and crossed to speak to the receptionist.  I immediately recognised her accent and introduced myself.  Her permanent smile broadened.  She had thick, dark, glossy hair and cute chipmunky features which accommodated smiling more readily than frowning; an indiscriminate trust in her 24 or 25 years.

It wasn’t long before I understood that she was genial, smiley and prone to easy laughs with everyone – even slightly slimy 50-something businessmen.  There was something about her unblemished youth that I wanted to shake in frustration – not everyone is like that!  They’re just like it to you because you’re adorable!  And there was part I wanted to hold and protect.  How could you ever tell if a reaction was spontaneous or simply behavioural?

A couple of days earlier I held the attention of six youngish females in a pub: drinks after the final class of an evening course.  Their presence and attention flattered my vanity and my performance, both in telling stories and conversing one-to-one, felt ok.  Laughs weren’t alcohol-induced, or At me rather than With, I don’t think I appeared like an idiot at all, Facebook friend requests arrived.

So in that period I was confident.  But like those all too rare barmaids and the smiley chipmunk: while warm and adorable, you never quite know where you are if they’re like it with everyone.  Seeing them peel into giggles at a patently unfunny line delivered by an ageing idiot, it makes you wither and sag and reassess.  They just laugh and simper and charm because it’s professionally prudent.  Of course they do.  YOU are the idiot, idiot.

There was no path now.  I battled on up the mountain, over logs and between stubborn pointy branches of fallen trees, into a wide clearing of recently flattened wood at the peak.  Music review podcasts played in my ears as I tried and failed to figure the geography of the distant hilltops.  A week previous I’d been on another, roughly how many miles east?  Where’s east?

When I returned to the car I’d planned gaze across the scenic valley view, maybe eat some fruit, read a chapter of a book, listen to some music: enjoy the setting.  There was nowhere I had to be.

I found a path and began my descent.

Yet I’d had lucky breaks with people last week, particularly that one day when an unprinted-out eticket had threatened to ruin my day.  I mightn’t have made my destination, which would have had professional implications.  But I explained rationally to each of three people – a train guard, a gate inspector and a gloriously weathered general enquiries attendant whose thick Birmingham accent suited him perfectly.  All were understanding.  Sometimes you get them, even when you expect you won’t, when you grow to anticipate the officious Nazis with the power to gleefully wreck your plans.

They’re probably less frequent still if you’re pretty and female.

Finally approaching the car park I heard the offensive, deafening tinny whinge of the motorbikes.  Little scrotes.  The trees thinned to present two bikes whizzing around the car park: one smaller two wheeled one, ridden by a young boy wearing a helmet; and a larger quad-bike, ridden by two younger boys – neither wearing anything vaguely protective.  The youngest must have been around seven.

Next to my car was a van, presumably owned by the children’s guardians.  They sported questionable facial hair and cans of Carling.

I didn’t hang around.


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