best wishes

It’s the wedding of one of my best friends tomorrow.  I say ‘one of my best friends’ as a kind of defence mechanism, because he probably is my best friend, although I’m not his.  Which is fine, really.  I’m a backbencher with no formal role at the wedding.  He’s a popular guy with more friends than me.

On switching secondary school in the middle of my teens, I was led to a classroom which would contain several boys who I still count as friends today.  A good handful of them will be there tomorrow.

He was one of them; the cool kid on the cool kids’ table in class.  I never quite attained that status and flailed at the fringes, often being forgotten for parties and gatherings, either by virtue of living a couple of villages too far away, or generally being a forgettable kid.  He claims his popularity waned in the sixth form, when I went elsewhere to study my A Levels, but we came back together in our University town: a place he’s never left.

During University and for a few years afterwards, we were as close as girlfriends would allow – his more than mine, frequently meeting for beery evenings.

Two or three days before I was finally due to leave the town for something approaching a permanent job, we went out drinking.  Much of our friendship has revolved around drinking.  He can’t have just one drink.  It will usually spiral, though this has been tapered in recent times.

But that night, two or three days before I left, it did predictably spiral.  He remembers it better than I – with good reason because it was the night he met a young woman he’ll stand with at the front of a nice middle England Church tomorrow.  He recounted it last week when we met for beers which didn’t spiral.

He had another friend out in town, a friend and colleague who was leaving his office.  This guy was encouraging him to go to a dark and dingey indie club mostly frequented by pierced, scary teens wearing dark T-shirts and sullen looks.  I wasn’t at all keen but was lured close.  A five pound entry fee confirmed my view but my friend was set, he was going in.  We shook hands, said see you later, and he went in and was introduced to his bride-to-be, who is the least likely character to be found in such a venue.  She shines with a toothy, well-heeled veneer.

The following night we both had dates.  He’d moved quickly.  Mine was with an eccentric French woman with a cannabis dependency and strange teeth.  His was with a 19 year-old, beautiful perfect girl.  19?!  Bastard..  We exchanged text messages during our dates.  He’d said he thought he was out of his league.  Of course he wasn’t.  His way is to be self-deprecating to a fault.  It usually makes him seem charming and cute.

I, on the other hand, had stopped trying to make my date laugh or even smile because it did something alarming to her face, which was quite reasonable when relaxed.

Then I moved away for a few years, to a couple of different places.  Although generally slack and without much initiative, he was one of my only friends from home who visited.  I say this as a defence mechanism too.  He was the only friend who visited me; once in both towns.

I returned to our University town just under a year ago.  I knew I could have more of a social life here than I had in London, a more real network.  And it was cheaper so I could afford more nice things: a bigger flat and a better car.  Knowing he’d be around for a beer now and then, when his relationship allowed: that was no disincentive.

She’s excellent, his betrothed.  Several years our junior, which is idyllic in several ways: a younger bride with no biological clock screaming and a frankly indulgent amount of time to get used to the idea of fatherhood.  But I do like her too, though he accurately skewered my early misgivings – which perhaps she shared about me.  I felt the need to prove myself.  She has one of those gushing, gleaming manners which can immediately strike you as artificial even if it’s not, especially when delivered by tall, attractive, smart females, as she is; and received by bitter, cynical blokes like me.  But this is just her.  It isn’t a front; it’s genuine.  I’ve grown to recognise this.

God knows what emotional cocktail will gurgle in my gut when I see them up there tomorrow – notwithstanding disasters or drama.  Probably one or two will be morbidly self-regarding.

Not sure how to finish this now.  I wish them the best.

office remembrance

For the first time in around two years I worked in a regular office this week.  That is, not the office in my flat, but an office within a building within a proper sizable organisation.  It was a peculiar sensation knowing I’d been hired in a temporary freelance capacity to ‘hit the ground running’ – which I think was what I did.

I was reminded of the difficulties as well as the positives of being around more people, answering more telephone calls and being more in demand.

How tough it is when you’re sitting at a desk and a female strides purposefully into the room wearing a low-cut top which immediately stings your eye-level; how hard it is for the eyes not to be drawn to one particular area.

How intolerable bawdy, nerve-driven laughter can be.  I can’t feign it and play along.  My face just goes blank, or even blanker.

How you have to compromise and be patient with people and their systems.  How some just talk and talk and talk to no end when they gave the basic answer in three words two minutes before but their nervous stream makes it impossible to interrupt so you have to listen and wait.  I’m not great at this but have battled through.

How your experience of someone in a one-to-one office scenario can be completely at odds with your experience of that person around another person the next day.  Why did you change?  I thought you were fairly normal.  Female weirdness can appear to be sort of infectious, osmotic, as if it undergoes metastasis around other females.

How challenging it is to temper a whisp of undercurrent misogyny in an all-female environment.  Forgive me but it’s hard to experience nothing like this when you’ve spent a large and ever growing part of your life generally being shunned and ignored by them.  And on the occasions you’re not, the overriding impression is that they’re probably all quite weird and messed up in one way or another.  Although you don’t WANT to think they’re all lunatics.  You want to still hope.

How tricky it can be to contribute to female conversations when they hurtle at such breakneck speeds through different topics, driven by that same nervously verbose, machine-gun style.  You think you have something witty and relevant and interesting to add, but it’s gone in the blink of an eye and they’re suddenly talking about plants.

No shit Sherlock

He’s had a haircut, I observed of the young gym manager handling someone’s query at the hotel reception desk.  “Hello mate,” I said, and bleeped my membership card under the scanner to unlock the door, not commenting on his haircut.  He replied in kind and I flicked a glance over my shoulder at his customer, just as the customer looked up from his administration towards me.

Millions have been snared by the soulful eyes of Benedict Cumberbatch, from the stage, screen, magazines and newspapers.  He’s especially great for the page, almost naturally 3D, and this week vying with Dr Who on the Radio Times cover.  Seeing him there wasn’t entirely out of context as I’d just read an excited tweet from a writer of the Sherlock series which Cumberbatch was in town to shoot.

Ooh look, it’s him, I thought, as we both looked away.  Thought he’d have had a better hotel.

I hauled myself into the changing room with the faint shame that comes from visiting the place without intending to do any sort of workout.  Tired from a family weekend involving entertaining children and charming old people, I just wanted a steam, sauna and maybe a soak.

As I began to undress, he glided into the otherwise empty changing room behind me, radiating the easy grace of someone well-used to commanding attention.

Faced with celebrity at such close quarters, you’re never quite sure whether to engage them, or just let them get on with what they’re doing.  I’m sure many females would have happily traded position with me at that moment and simply watched, entranced by his being.  The comments below and wildly inflated traffic directed from numerous fansites would seem to support this.

Yet here was the sort of setting – empty gym changing room, Sunday evening – when it was natural to exchange a few civil words with someone, so I chanced conversation.

“Filming starts tomorrow, right?  I saw one of the writers’ tweets just now.”

“Oh, he’s been tweeting, has he?”

There ensued a few minutes debate about Twitter, only broken when he realised he didn’t have a pound coin needed for the locker and I offered him one.  He declined: “God no, it’ll be fine.  There’s nothing of value in there anyway.”  Really?!  I thought.  Selling his mobile phone to a tabloid fleetingly scurried through my brain.

The chat even continued while he used a urinal.  It was clear he had no time for Twitter and couldn’t see how others did.  I understood why it holds no appeal or necessity for him: a widely admired, successful young bloke with an instant audience and network.  However, I tried to persuade him that there are many others who really do have the time, in fact far too much of it. Like me.  There are others not blessed with a network or audience as immediate.  On top of this, it serves all kinds of purposes in business and socially.  I wanted to transmit this without giving a strong impression that I was the kind of needy tosser he derides.

“Have a good swim,” he said, leaving the changing room before me, his antipathy towards Twitter unshaken.  Again I felt guilty that I wasn’t planning on swimming or doing anything that required exertion.  Hampered by an aching lower back I even felt slow changing into swimming shorts, then doubled back for a pee before heading to the steam room.

After several minutes of solitary time in the steam room, a heavy breathing Cumberbatch entered.  I wasn’t sure if he was disappointed to see me: oh, not him again, don’t talk to me – so I showed no sign of recognition for a couple of minutes.  He’d just done his lengths in the pool and glugged hungrily from a water bottle.

Ah, bollocks, I thought.  “Good scripts then?” I asked, as if seamlessly resuming our earlier conversation.  Still recovering regular breathing and taking in water, he nodded.  “Very good,” he said, “less establishing is needed for this series so they’re quite different.” I didn’t know what else to say after that, so let the silence hang.  “Going to the sauna,” he added soon after.  “See you in a bit.”  He stood up and left.

This left me with a dilemma because the sauna was my next planned stop.  But I didn’t want him to think I was stalking him so gave it a few minutes.

Hell, I wasn’t going to be guilt-tripped into not taking a sauna by Benedict Cumberbatch.

I exited the steam room, showered, walked several footsteps, opened the sauna door, enjoyed the warm blast, and sat down.  It was empty except for him.  He probably hates me now, I thought.  I won’t say anything else.  Instead I stared blankly at the floor, like people do in saunas.

“This your local gym then?” he asked.  Quickly followed by “lived around here long?” and “what do you do?”   Fuck Ben, I’m an aimless freelance nobody with an anonymous online identity because I’m a spineless lonely man necessarily protecting a boring professional identity.  Let’s not talk about me.  You’re an actor at the top of his game who’s short skip away from Hollywood, if you want it.  That’s a bit more interesting.

I didn’t actually say that, of course.  By way of compromise I steered discussion onto areas of London we were both familiar with, the things Cardiff and Wales has to offer.  We each shared a dash of family history.

There was a brief but comfortable pause.

I expressed my guilt at going to the gym without doing any work.  He said I should swim, just a few lengths to get the heart pumping.  I didn’t impose the story of my dodgy swimmer’s ear.  He told me he’d just done thirty lengths, really fast and really badly, but it was enough.  It was true.  The naturally neon Cumberbatch face was glowing even more than usual.  I could easily imagine him doing meditative exercise too: yoga, pilates, or Tai Chi.

Rising to leave, he said that regular exercise was good because filming could get really boring at times; lots of hanging around on set, just as bad as any office job.  I openly spluttered my disagreement and his expression conceded that it was probably an unfair comparison. We bade each other goodbye for the last time.

He was replaced in the sauna by two local guys, some distance apart in age but joined by their love of Cardiff City Football Club.  We discussed the club’s PlayOff chances and the decapitation of a British holidaymaker in Tenerife.  The younger man threatened to chop someone’s fuckin head off if Cardiff lost to Swansea in the PlayOff final.

Attack The Block

I’m rarely compelled to write after seeing films I like, because commenting intelligently beyond saying: “yeah, amazin, really good, great characters, plot, performances..”  doesn’t really add an awful lot.  I’m equally rarely compelled to write after seeing bad or average films.

It’s when there’s been a good degree of promotion, a bandwagon of sorts, a level of anticipation and expectation has been generated; when that happens and I feel let down, on leaving a theatre I’m something of a coiled spring.

Attack The Block was the first film in a long time which I’d been looking forward to and had high hopes for.  I saw positive tweets from people, albeit of a celebrity-ish profile, whose opinions I rated.  I’m a huge fan of the first time director Joe Cornish’s work and general humour through early-days television and podcasts with Adam Buxton.  He reliably has me giggling and spluttering each week.

Ergo this film would make me laugh, surely once, hopefully several times.

It didn’t, which really disappointed me for all of the above reasons.  Ok, I thought after the first and second acts, something will now happen which is inventive and clever.  Nothing did.

I’d heard Cornish mention how he hoped the narrative would mess with the audience’s heads by sticking with the unsympathetic characters that carry out a council estate mugging in one of the opening scenes.  It didn’t.  It just made it more boring.  That is, for me: a white middle class boy.  But irrespective of that there was very little personality to any of the characters; none were memorable, winning or funny.

The narrative vehicle of an alien invasion on one council estate – “The Block” – was unorthodox and wacky, yet you still felt like you’d seen it before.  Or something like it.  And it was done much better.  The film had drawn comparisons with Shaun Of The Dead, a film with much more wit, charm and warmth than this at any point showed an indication of mustering.  It was a wildly flattering comparison, possibly helped by Nick Frost’s appearance in both.

Being a bitter cynic, I wonder whether the successful promotion and build-up was as much a result of Cornish’s profile, the contacts he must already have, the good nature he exudes and must receive back in turn.  I’m sure he’s a nice, witty guy who people warm to, so they want to help him out and like his film.

And I understand why; it’s human and natural, as well as being contrived and something which might have other would-be film-makers gnawing their hands off in frustrated disgust.

Yet nothing could get in the way of the fact that this wasn’t very good.  Granted, by no means terrible or painful to watch, but for what it was, bereft and average.


“Mate, I’m going to go,” a friend told me in the late night suburban bar.  Our Royal Wedding party, which had begun in a beer garden and passed through an Indian restaurant before ending in the late bar, had dwindled to two.  But I’d just begun chatting with a young female who seemed strangely interested in me.

“Ok, no problem.  See you later.”  And with that he left me.

Not willing to engage with my challenge of the long walk back across town, or getting a cab, I stayed there speaking to the female, whose name I instantly forgot, and her friends.  They were all in their mid-twenties, a handful of years younger.  She told me how they were mourning the very recent loss of her best friend, a 36 year-old woman, through cancer.  She confessed that it probably hadn’t really sunk in yet and told me how close they were.  I sympathised, thinking that she was cute, without wearing much make-up.  Unlike my date the previous evening, who wasn’t cute without wearing much make-up.  Perhaps, I wondered, my entertainment of a not hugely attractive female might pay strategic dividends and make modestly cute-seeming females appear more attractive?

Whereas the poor date had frustrated me by being so comfortable in her self-admittedly disengaged bubble of Daily Mail and chick-lit, this female was initially interested and interesting.  We spoke about business, what I did, her own connections.  She asked for a card and gave it, together with a small briefing to a group of uninterested friends.

I went to the toilet and decided to go, still none the wiser on her name.  After seeking her out, she asked for a card for herself so she could give me a text.  I obliged, not sure whether or not she would, gave her a kiss on the cheek – despite suspecting that more might have been in the offing (had we not been in such close proximity to her friends, I might have), and left the bar.  The considerable alcohol in my system helped propel me back through the suburb, into town and out the other side.  It also exaggerated my regret at not having her number or even knowing her name.


The next morning my mobile chimed with a text from an unknown number.  It was her.  There followed a series of chatty text messages through Saturday and Sunday, when we were both planning to be out in town.  She was interested, still ended all her text messages with Xs, still seemed smart and articulate (no LOLs or bad spelling).  There was hope.

On Sunday evening I went to a barbecue of football team-mates: themselves too in the 24/25 age zone, good guys I’d got on well with during the season.  While not a huge gathering in total, a fun atmosphere was generated and I found myself warming to another female with a similar background, who looked like a younger version of a friend’s wife.

During that stage of the evening, Friday Female was intermittently texting.  She sent a picture I didn’t remember posing for.  It threw me because I didn’t initially remember it, or know where it was taken.  I also have a minor phobia about having my picture taken, believing myself to be one of the least photogenic people on earth.  Was it unorthodox behaviour to send me a picture of myself?  Creepy or fine?  It slowly dawned that it was taken on Friday and she’d cropped herself out.  There had been no Facebook espionage.

After a few hours at the Barbecue, taxis were booked and we made our way into town.  As Barbecue Brunette continued drinking in the bar, she grew distant and uncommunicative.  A friend said not to worry: she gets weird when she’s had a few drinks.   I wasn’t worrying because Friday Female was by then a few bars away and summoning me over in yet more texts.

So I detached myself from the Barbecue group and went.  It was a huge, loud warehouse of a bar with a massive dancefloor where she was dancing with a clutch of guys her age.  There might have been one or two other females, but all I saw were the guys.  Being allergic to most dancefloors and what happens on them, I did what any brave male would do: I took a drink, watched from the side, and tweeted about my situation.  She looked young and carefree and like she was having more fun than I could possibly add to.  She kept pulling up a low slung top, which wasn’t becoming, oblivious to my eyes above.  She looked young (25?), happy, was with friends.  I was now alone, old and wrong.  The situation felt weirdly unorthodox, something not quite right.  I bottled it and left.

My phone rang as I was walking the five minute walk back to my flat.  She’d just left, her friends had gone, where was I?  Could she see me?  I turned around and walked back.  She was wearing a large green hoody donated by one of her male friends who was just a really good friend, honest.  We went to a late bar, I bought drinks – a fizzy water each, we sat down and she told me.

Here’s what she told me.

She was due to be married in three weeks’ time to a 53 year old following a 7 year engagement which began after he’d started grooming her at school, or college.  (SHe might not have used those exact words).  They shared a flat already but lived separate lives.  She felt obliged to go through with the marriage, as if she owed it to him.  This couldn’t be challenged, it was a view cemented in her head.  She had to marry him.

I don’t know exactly what my face did at this news, but I imagine it fell a little.  Initially I was unsure if she was about to piss herself laughing and cry GOT YOU!  Several seconds without further speech suggested that wasn’t going to happen.  Did I believe her?  Was she a spooky fantasist of some kind?  This dramatic news, added to the opening dramatic news of her best friend just dying: how plausible was it?  Did she ‘play’ men like me for creepy twisted kicks?

She said she really liked me and had never done this sort of thing before.  It sounded sincere, but..  I naturally doubt people and when presented with this story, it’s hard not to question.  She curled into me wanting to be hugged and I hugged her.  Lights came on and burly barstaff started asking us to move downstairs or leave.  We walked to a bench in the street.  She kept talking, trying to explain her obligation, trying to convince me it was true, everything she had said was true and she did really like me.  She could have not told me, played me along further, pretended.  In a way that approach would have made more sense for her, if she’d wanted a final fling, a fantasy pretence.  Why tell me this now?

I was grateful that she had told me, presuming it was all true.  But of course she’d sensed my shock, disappointment and general retraction.  I hadn’t immediately run for the hills but I really wanted to.  And yet still she curled into my arms, looked hopeless, cute.  It was then that stupidly, regretfully, I kissed her.

What did you do that for? she asked afterwards.  I was asking myself the same thing.  No answers.  I mumbled something about a goodbye kiss.  She said she wanted to come back to mine.  I pretended not to hear.  Taking it any further could only make matters worse.  Why had I kissed her?  I asked a different recycled question about her friend.  She withdrew a phone to show me a Facebook profile.  Sacred fucking Facebook.  I was reminded of the film, Catfish.  Was she like…?      It was all fucked up and ridiculously complicated and something I wanted nothing to do with.  I’d barely known her 48 hours.  I wanted to be gone now, leave, draw a line under the episode, forget it.

She didn’t.  Declining my offer to walk her to a cab, we parted in opposite directions.  I thought, and hoped, that would be that.  My phone rang on the five minute walk home.  It was her, she was in a cab, she felt sorry, had she hurt me?  It wasn’t hurt as such, just shock and a sense of disappointment.  I closed the conversation as quickly and sensitively as I could.  Two more text messages discovered on getting into bed.  Could we still see each other as friends?  I didn’t reply until morning: I don’t think that would be a good idea, look after yourself.  She tried calling me just as my parents arrived, she sent a text saying she just wanted to explain.  She sent another text gushing about more pictures of us from Friday.

Bunny Boiler?  Innocent fuck-up?  Very sad case?  All of the above?  Either way, every instinct is telling me to activate the ejector seat.  I’m pleased she doesn’t know where I live.