not pulling

Between the largely repressed ages of 18 to 30 I now realise that I did not believe girls really danced on public dancefloors with their girl friends for fun.  Fun?! Really?  Yeah, right.  Who would put themselves through that ordeal for fun, with no ulterior motive?  Dancing, blinding lights, sticky dancefloors, gurning DJ wankers, mostly shit, deafening music, having to shout exhaustingly loudly to have conversations.

No way.  Women were there for men.  To pull men.  Probably.  Not for me, of course, not ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

In the unlikely case this wasn’t true, then they probably either had a boyfriend and were playing wing-woman for their single friend, or they had a big crush on someone else to whom their naïve heart was utterly devoted.  Or, and I often thought this was the most reasonable explanation; they had been placed there by God with the sole purpose of taunting my pallid undersexed miserable self.

But my girlfriend apparently did not go out with her girl friends to pull men.  Apparently not even when she was 18, with 18-year old boobs not requiring support, tanned, trim, single and on holiday with mates in Ibiza.  She went out to have a good time and a dance with her friends.  She was dumbly oblivious and uncaring about the hungry gaze of desperate men (like me).  This happened throughout her early 20s.  Finding men was simply not a priority.

It’s a truth I’m embarrassed to find hard to comprehend.  I now realise I did not sincerely believe in such a mentality.

She even balked accusingly at me when I casually used the word the other week, as if pulling was a crass, distasteful notion.  I did not think she was this posh.

(She is not this posh).


abstract expressionism

We push open the heavy gallery doors and step out onto the museum’s first floor landing.  It had been different speaking about art out loud to you, hearing someone else’s interpretations, not being trapped in the confines of my own brain, wondering if these thoughts were ridiculously pretentious.  Surely a point of art is to unlock that part of your brain, to allow it to freewheel and riff.

The door swings back behind us, clumping closed.  Now the marble and stone creates a wave of echoing acoustic that jars against the sealed art space quiet.  Louder voices, chatter from downstairs, squealing children, pandering parents.

You’re saying something about that last painting but I’ve stopped listening.  I’ve stopped listening because out here there’s a sound, a voice which unsettles me, a blurry familiarity I can’t place, I don’t want to place, I’m scared by.

His voice slices in like a real world sound cutting into dream, like a sound which may initially be part of a dream before becoming real.  Worlds collide with his overfamiliar voice, a voice which has sliced into consciousness from radios and televisions. Those can at least be switched off.  Shit, a second glance.  Definitely him.  I need a magic remote control to just..  What’s he doing here?!  What’s he even doing in this city?  Shit.

You’re still speaking and I’m still nodding, pretending to listen, but this nervous hinterland returns me to dreams of a few hours before.  Afterwards I interpreted them as being related to you, to us, to this; but I didn’t tell you that or explore in any depth.

(I told you the one, where you’d decided not to stay and had caught a bus, literally, the rear pole of an old London Routemaster, just as it was taking off, and you had flown away.  I had been left standing there watching it go, disappointed, confused and yet slightly relieved.  I thought this a reflection of feelings about relationships, their general here today gone tomorrow transience – however seemingly long-term solid or briefly flaky.  Anything can happen.   In the next I sat on the top deck of a bus or a van, not that vans usually have decks, as it sped too fast down country roads.  I felt giddy and sick and couldn’t bear to look, although the roads were scenic.  Everything was moving frighteningly fast.)

Now I peer around a pillar and over a stone bannister to a small mezzanine area containing a statue.  The man and boy are about to climb the small flight of steps up to where we’re standing.

“Do you want to meet my brother?” I ask you.

He doesn’t know about you, of course.  None of my family do; not yet.  It hasn’t been that long.   “..saw him with a girl” I can already hear him telling his wife in an incredulous, mocking tone.

Now he’s climbing the steps in this direction.  I’m semi-paralysed, feet cemented.  Run away?

“What? Why?” you reply, looking scared too.
“Um, because he’s here, he’s just down there, with his son.  He’s coming up this way, now.”
I feel my face pallid, lacking blood.
“Do you want me to meet him?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t mind either way.  Do you want to run?”
“Yes.  A bit.”

Although I feel I shouldn’t.

He arrives at the top of the stone steps, a few feet away from us, still talking to his whining 5 year old. I remain frozen. We could still run. He still hasn’t seen us.

He looks up to get his bearings, glances straight through me once, twice, maybe three times.  We’ve been given ample opportunity to run, to turn our backs and walk away.  Still could.  But somehow I can’t.

Now he registers the unusualness of my unmoving shape, a man rigidly and weirdly staring at him.

“Oh hellooo!” his smarmy voice peels up into the domed ceiling and he smiles broadly, walks towards us.  I smile nervously and he steps into my embrace.  I introduce you.

football first

“If it’s going well, do you think you might sack off the football match?”

A friend asked this before a date and I blanched.  No!  Of course not you idiot, I replied in my head.  The football match was the main reason for my being in London.

It was a fair question, I suppose.  Although I never entertained it as a realistic possibility – because I wanted to go to the game, I’d paid a substantial amount of money, was looking forward to the game and don’t go to matches much – it was indeed possible.  I could have sacked it off.  And who knows?

“Actually, you know what?  Hell, it’s cold, my back hurts.  Let’s just stay here in the warm.”

It would have enabled a longer time together, more conversation, a shared experience of something – a gallery or film – perhaps the added relaxant of an alcoholic drink or two, which could help boozy goggles; more stuff.  And who knows?  Probably not, of course..

But no.  I went to the football, which was half-ruined as a result of the previous two hours.

You ideally want to arrive a while before the match, get into the zone for a game, find out the team news, absorb the atmosphere, grow nervously excited.

You don’t want to travel up painfully overanalysing a date, be irritated that she’d done that defensive girl thing of shoving a cheek in your face at the end.  *Kiss Me Nowhere Except Here On My Cheek Then Fuck Off*.  You don’t want to be very cold and overchew a piece of gum as you walk to the stadium and only find your seat as the players exit the tunnel onto the pitch, and have half a mind on your mobile as the game kicks-off and barely be able to stop shivering and have serious back-pain each time you stand up to watch an attack over a few thousand heads.  You don’t want to feel disappointingly little as your team plays remarkably well and race into a commanding 4-0 lead, professionally strangling the life and drama out of a game.

Even far back in the distant midst of a serious relationship I instinctively put Tottenham first.  A Sunday afternoon in bed was curtailed by a text from a friend reminding me about a televised cup tie against Chelsea which I’d forgotten was kicking off in 15 minutes.  Virtually mid-coitus, I had unapologetically leapt from the bed, collected strewn items of clothing, got dressed and headed to the pub.

We lost 4-0.  Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a hat-trick.

I guess my long term relationship with football and Tottenham, while often rife with angst and heartbreak, has been longer, more constant and more reliable than any relationship with a woman.  Barring one or two horrible summer months, football is always there.  Football always makes me feel something, it always gives, even if it gives shit, even if gives Jason bloody Dozzell.

In trying to explain football to non-football fans I say it’s a story which you’re part of.  It could be a dull story or an exciting story, but it will be a story of some kind, and each match is an isolated narrative of its own, part of something broader and longer: a competition, a season, a career.  You invest in the characters of players, or your perception of their characters.

It helps if there’s some instinctive appreciation of the artistry of ball-play, team movement, the skill involved, the ballet of a beautiful diving header or a perfectly executed bicycle kick.  That makes a story memorable.

This is heightened when you’re playing the game, when you’re living the story, even if there are no spectators at all, even if you’re being embarrassed by the skill of an adolescent half your age or intimidated by the aggression of a maniac more intent on doing harm than playing fotball; it’s enlivening if not always enjoyable.  It makes you feel.

Above anything sport can give out outlet for displaced emotions which you might like to express in other parts of your life but can’t, because right here right now there’s nothing as important as winning.

I like to think I’d be capable of prioritising a woman above football, in the right circumstances, but it would demand a reciprocal certainty I’ve rarely experienced.  Maybe if she could pull off a slick Cruyff turn..

keeping sane

Leaning on the gate of an unused field which probably homes livestock a few months of the year, I felt unseasonably warm sun on my face, stared out across some Welsh mountains and listened.  Birdsong, the occasional dog bark, mostly nothing at all.  I was inflated with a rare inner peace that was embarrassing at first, you “hippy” wanker, but sank in undeniably.  Fuck it, whatever.. 

I tend to idealise being part of a couple, over-romanticise what it could be like.  Plenty of people in relationships are in shit relationships.  They can be lonely too.  It might be pushing it to say they’re as lonely or more lonely than someone who is literally very alone for much of their existence.  Although maybe some of them are.  Young mums in a mess.  Senior females who have lived out whole lives feeling little, in an empty shell, mainly because they were asked and it seemed like the right thing to do back then.  Senior males who feel similarly hollow, the subject of a cultural puppeteer.

Perhaps it’s a different kind of loneliness, a loneliness which also comes with the frustration of being trapped, straitjacketed, imprisoned: something I should be grateful to have never suffered.

While I bemoan and angst and warble over my perennial singledom,
While I tire of dating and all the plastic artifice which comes with it,
While I get sick of the necessary enforced optimism before every first date,
While I grow frustrated at rejection from females I wasn’t sure about either,
While I become painfully bored of being alone, seemingly all the fucking time:
At least I have my freedom, independence.

Plus the inclination to go and do and see stuff, alone if necessary – which it is.  It’s easy to have freedom and not use it.  You can sit on your arse in your lounge and watch crap television and sink deeper.

To get in the car on a nice Sunday and just drive
To fumble my way up the steep side of a mountain after several U-turns,
To seek solace in mournful tunes which fill the shell of my car,
To absorb the beautiful diagonal slanting light, how it illuminates giant slabs of Springtime land:
To take a zigzaggy unplanned walk:
The ability to do this probably keeps me just about sane.

There are worse places to be.

If this sounds like a self-congratulatory back slap, it sort of is.  It’s also a pragmatic mental defence against Hollywood tinted notions of love and romance.  (Although I know it can be good, great, incredible too, for some people – which is why I still hope, why I still put myself through the dating bullshit).  The shining landscape winked back its well-done appreciation at me and I accepted.

what you can hope to achieve

Stuff in this next post or two is backdated from, like, ages ago, so if any of it was remotely true it wouldn’t  even slightly chafe anymore.

The score was level at two all, one minute into stoppage time at the end of the match.  Manchester City’s hapless centre-back lost the ball in midfield and Gareth Bale was released to attack down the left wing.  Spurs had men over on them.  We could win it here.  As Bale collected the ball and ran, you edged forward on your armchair, alone in your flat.

Could we win it?!  It could change everything.  Turn us into real title contenders.  If we beat Manchester City there could be a great chance of winning the league.  This season Spurs looked so strong but it all felt so transient too; a team at their pinnacle, a good blend of experience and youth, a manager who might easily not be there next season if offered the England job, a sense of now or never about everything.

Bale galloped around the defender and whipped the ball across goal towards Jermain Defoe, who charged hungrily into the middle of the penalty area.

“FINISH!” you wailed at the television screen, sinking theatrically to your knees.  Defoe lunged towards the ball, only managing weak contact with the studs of his boot.  The ball drifted impotently wide of the goal.  Your hands covered your face.

In their next attack Manchester City won a penalty through a player who should have been sent from the pitch for kicking one of our men in the head, twice – for which he was retrospectively punished the following week.  He calmly slotted in the penalty kick.  Manchester City 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

Title aspirations all but over.

That afternoon in a crushed beery haze, you exchanged messages with her for the first time.  She looked stunning, well out of your league, as much of a fantasy as Tottenham winning the Premiership.  But the messages snowballed.

Over the course of the following week, correspondence turned to emails, a telephone call and text messages.  This was ridiculous.  She was exceptionally attractive, arrestingly smart, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written.  She ruled your thoughts.

She’d seen one image of your face but still continued chatting.  Why?  The attention on her words?  She MUST have had loads of better looking, more successful blokes vying for her attention.  Maybe there was a wealthy, unpleasant married businessman who gave her functional sex and nice shiny things and put her up in hotels but wasn’t all that interested in her.  Maybe she had loads of blokes she played off against each other.

Who knew?

– Stop thinking about her anyway.  Don’t do this again.  She’s just one female, remember.  Nothing to get all sappy over.. Just one female.

..who is, you know, actually a really fucking incredible female.


[It always pales in hindsight, how besotted you become for a period: a few weeks, a few months.  You look back several months to a year or so down the line and ask: can I really have been that fussed? It feels sort of distant now, like I couldn’t have possibly been that headfucked.  Well know this, Future Self: said female properly dominated your brain for a good number of weeks.]

STOP THINKING ABOUT HER!  Think about football instead.

Yes.  Come on, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Rein it in.  Be cool and casual.  Even if you did meet she’d quickly notice that you’re ordinary looking, forgettable, that you have a gaping harrowing bald spot; you’d inevitably leak weird stuff about your perpetual lonerdom and dreary void of ambition; her interest would understandably dwindle.  Then you’d get all moody and depressive for allowing yourself to hope.  You know that’s what happens.  While there’s the mystique of not quite knowing, you’re little more than an idly amusing Tamagotchi.

Whatever you do, try not to hope and try not to care.  Caring is, like.. SO uncool dude.  Nowadays everyone is flippant and casual and frivolous and throws their hands in the air like they just don’t care.  Caring too quickly makes you look desperate and needy and like you’re not still the 26 or 27 year old you hope to appear and imagine you are in your head.  So no, you mustn’t care or be impatient or honest or want everything immediately.

You knew how this worked.  It had all happened before, sort of.  You were building yourself up to fall.  And yet still, STILL you audaciously dared to hope..   You gigantic anus.

Gareth Bale had galloped beyond the defender once more, his left foot primed to whip the ball across the penalty area, as tantalisingly close to exhilarating glory as to agonising defeat.  You were both on the edge of your armchair and Jermain Defoe, charging into the penalty area; about to lunge for the ball in a stadium full of fifty thousand people, ready to sink to your knees alone in your flat, dagger to the heart.


Empty glumness is hard to shake off when hope fades, despite self-talking-tos. You told yourself not to do this and you’ve no right to miss something you never had. This is precisely why investing hope is so dangerous, you mug.  It’s possible to grieve for hope, although it feels considerably less respectable, more lame, this undignified permanent sense of embattled disappointment you haul around with you.

It’s involuntary though, which almost makes it excusable. Consciously choosing to invest hope is impossible.  “Yes, I will choose to hope about this thing”.  No.  Hope is more subtle, gradually sliding into you before you find you’re freakishly possessed.

It was worse after meeting and seeing that holy fucking shit yes, she IS that attractive.  Extremely attractive.  GOD you wanted to sleep with her so badly.  So what if you thought with your dick a bit.  What man in that position wouldn’t?  Your admiration extended further than that.

Pangs of bitter regret recurred long after you realised there was nothing doing, her interest had died, the frequency of messages had dwindled, her replies grown shorter, questions apparently outlawed – inquisitive ‘did you’s clipped to rhetorical ‘hope you’s.  After pinning your colours to the mast, brave and unambiguous and punchdrunk, her gently subverted response of I’m Not Really Into You So Leave Me Alone Now appeared clear enough.  Perhaps there was different, newer attention.  Perhaps not.

What had previously been a busy junction of two-way traffic – meaty email marathons, semi-regular texts, quickfire instant message chats – was no longer.  It was a transient confection rapidly scaled down to a one-way street; little returning besides token tumbleweed acknowledgements. With it came a slow dawning realisation that now she sincerely gave not even the faintest of shits.

It was fine.  You got over it then lapsed into gloom, then got over it again and then lapsed again.

You angrily reprimanded yourself: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING OF ANYWAY!?  Someone like her: sure, some layer of pretence but still ostensibly an intimidating preening glamour-puss with expensive tastes and talent and drive. And you, who usually goes to work wearing slippers, doing something just about tolerable, albeit unchallenging and boring?  To entertain the notion of any kind of ‘match’ was tantamount to self-harm.  Although it demonstrated a level of perverse ambition too.

At least you could take comfort in its brevity, the small mercy that it wasn’t a protracted period.  Usually it’s only ever a short matter of time between discovering that Yes, oh no, oh shit, you suddenly hope – Bale galloping; and learning that you are of course once again doomed to fail – Defoe missing.  Hope then slips away once more, like a tidal swell dictated by a sadistic god.

then there were none

This one stems from another exhausted attempt with females; that once again defeated deleted what is the fucking point? futility..  Patience spent.

Single women often affect an exterior of confidence but when it comes to making decisions about men, even to meeting, they seem to almost subconsciously erect obstacles or barriers.  Of course this could be because they specifically don’t want to meet me.  I’m wide awake to this possibility, of course.  But I sense that other common factors are often at work too.

My hunch is this.  The one serious, possibly but not necessarily previous relationship, left them crushed and almost critically low on confidence.  Particularly if it was a small town childhood sweetheart upon whose word they hung unconditionally.

Particularly if that childhood sweetheart was an overbearing, oppressive, insecure twat who wanted to demolish them for anyone else.  Men do this.  It’s most effective if the women are left on the cusp of middle age, maybe with a child or two in tow.

Advancing through the emotional wreckage and feeling recovered, a remnant nervousness or flaky uncertainty can still exist, particularly when it comes to relating with men in real life, on that level, in meeting them, at that point when convenient cosy barriers must come down.  This frequently leads to them making excuses, overthinking and bottling it.

Merely a theory but I’m sure there are many like this.

Also unhelpful is the devilish deception of virtual communications.  That feeling of effectively being in each other’s pockets all the time; the blithe underestimation of the non-verbal, which itself carries masses of information.  Words are all we need, right?  That and the odd bloody “LOL”, an emoticon here and there.  Sorted.  Actually meeting can come later, even if you have to wait forfuckingever.

Still I find myself being held prisoner to virtual online communications.  It leads to a protracted period of unsatisfying and insubstantial communication about fluffy things which may easily have no bearing upon liking one another.  Opposites who appear to have little in common with each other can attract too.

Right now I’m again exhausted by the amount of time and effort which needs to be expelled in the virtual world, for nothing.  Months of time and effort and hope so regularly (basically always) turn out to be completely pointless.

You can chat to several people at once, even though doing so can feel oddly duplicitous, but everyone does.  You develop favourites.  You try to take it somewhere, and it eventually flumps on its disappointed arse and you realise your time would be better spent reading books or taking more photographs or playing on your Xbox or watching shit telly or doing practically anything else.

What instead?  Pretend like real life is an episode of Friends and talk to people in coffee shops?  Can you imagine the excruciating results?

I’d still like a dog.

great expectations

A question re-illuminated by events of a couple of posts ago was this: how far should your expectations of a female (or male) be adjusted?  Or, how far should they be toned down?

For a romantic idealist who wears their heart on their sleeve, they’d prefer to be completely wowed by a female.  At least for a brief period.  Sure it’d be unlikely to last forever, but initially they would want that early phase of fuck me, she’s a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

But what if that never happened?  What if there wasn’t ever that exhilarating romantic spark with anyone?  Maybe you could only feel that in an unrequited way, with dynamic females who had been snapped up a good few years ago.  And maybe part of the reason those females are so dynamic, magnetic, electric, is because they’ve pretty much always had the attention.  They’ve never spent much time sitting alone in rooms wondering if they’re fundamentally unattractive.

So what if you met someone and she didn’t exactly knock your socks off?  What if she was just fine to be around?  If it was enjoyable hanging out together, and doing a little more besides.  You weren’t deluged with other offers, so why not?

Should that be good enough?  Should you allow yourself to make that compromise?  Because that is what it feels like.  Or should you go on searching in hope of someone who wows, someone you may never find?

Would it be wrong to lazily throw in the towel like that?  Or is that precisely what people do all the time?  They settle.  Especially if one party is a dominant and decisive, and the other is lazier and doesn’t have the nerve or inclination not to settle.  Because it works well enough.  I absolutely have a certain couple in mind here.  I have no idea how he landed her at all.

It’s arguable that the longer you go on bitterly kicking down the picky single lonely path, the less likely you will find someone you’re wowed by.  More likely perhaps that you’ll gather additional neuroses about how you’d like A Person to be, and collect further constipating baggage through constant over-analyses.  By not thinking: fucksake, just do something you prick.

A friend suggested that, if you asked many unmarried couples whether they’ll go on to get married and have babies, a good proportion would just shrug and say they don’t know; they’re just having an ok time as it is, see where it goes..  There’s no need to overthink it if there aren’t any real fireworks.  Don’t make a drama out of it.  If you find you’re having an ok time, go on having an ok time.  Take each game as it comes.

Therein lies a beauty of being relatively casual.  If someone else should happen by, it’s not illegal, there’s no til-death-us-do part sin, especially if you’re both on the same page about things.

But romantic idealists beat themselves up.  They’re such soft pricks they’re nervous about other people liking them; even ones they don’t know if they like much.  Although a kooky inverse vanity can inflate that impression.  There might not be as much meaning involved as you think.  They might behave the same with any guy and feel exactly the same as you.  They might be a level-headed, mature, sensible person, which is a dangerous assumption to make, but you never know.  They might exist.

It’s still unsettling, all the same.  Now stop cupping my face like that, quit with those soppy doe eyes.  Please don’t like me too much; I’m a prick.  Everyone knows it.  Here, I can even prove that by being honest and saying I’m not really that into you.

Although perhaps I could convince myself into being into you, in time, maybe, perhaps, possibly..

No, I couldn’t.  Shut up.

way to blue

At the end of last year when another ill-fated relationship came to pass, one that had barely even grown serious, I predictably grew miserable then mildly cranky about it.  I checked her Twitterstream too often, beat myself up and generally thought too much about it and her, even while touring around an exciting new city thousands of miles away.

Then I met a new female in said city and the female before rapidly faded. I went home and we began the long distance cyber-relationship, will we / won’t we meet again thing.  Then that faded out too.

Over recent months a new affection developed, originally online.  Again, irritatingly long distance, but not quite as thousands-of-miles-away-unrealistic; merely a few hundred.  Telephone calls became regular, things seemed to be going well.  Reciprocal visits were promised (hers first) but nothing was cemented.  I pressed a little too hard, excited and keen to meet.  But several gently repeated questions about what the issue was, led to her cancelling everything.  Shocked and upset but still patient, I tried to argue against what I perceived to be a rash decision.  Nothing doing.

Perhaps she never really intended to visit. Perhaps she did.  Perhaps there was an element of her just bottling it, or generally getting cold feet.  Or maybe it was all my fault for pushing.  Whichever way, after three months of almost daily communication, the majority of it fun and pleasant, she called a halt to everything and I was crushed.

Another one down the drain then, you idiot.  All that hope invested, despite myself, despite telling myself it was dangerous, don’t do it, don’t hope too much.  And we never even met.   It felt ridiculously, embarrassingly ‘playground’, impossible to translate to less web-inclined friends in the pub.

“Ooh, I hope you used protection, mate!”
“Or at least antivirus.”

These are the times we live in, the straws clutched at by sad lonely guys who live and work alone; guys who don’t often get to the pub with their married or as good as married mates.  Guys who feel slightly too old to play and socialise with a football team of lads in their early to mid-20s.

As ever when you’ve taken an unexpected knock from a female, you try to brush yourself down and say it was their loss.  You must try to convince yourself this is true, for the sake of your ego.  Sigh, grimace, try not to be angry with yourself, breathe, open a beer.  Never mind.  Download another stupid social / dating app to your iPod.  Bound to work this time.

Remembering how a night with an American female helped to dull my aching bitter crankiness about the female before, I considered visiting a female with whom I’d been chatting on the newly downloaded social app thing.  She’d likely be mental too, I reasoned, but sometimes there were virtues in distance; convenience in her being a good few hours’ drive away.  At least she was meetable, without too much planning and strife.

I’m profoundly bored of the internet, instant messaging, telephone calls, the wide and various nodes of virtual reality.  How about plain old simple reality for a change?  That luxury of interpreting facial expressions which aren’t reduced to fucking smileys, the ability to more confidently use sarcasm and irony and say “I’m joking” with a smile; for it to be clear that you’re joking.  Simply having an in-person, physical discussion.  Radical 21st Century ideas.

Playing the long game, being patient and thoughtful and nice?  That doesn’t appear to reward as you might like to think.  Those Guinness ads about good things coming to those who wait?  BULLSHIT.

So fuck it.  Yeah ok, why not?  I’ll come visit you.  It’s a straightforward enough drive, a nice day, I like driving (I’m not doing anything else).  It’s only a few hours (don’t think of the extortionate petrol cost).

She was Hungarian, tired and unhappy.  You probably have to be quite bored and lonely to use those apps and engage with people.  She spoke excellent English but this didn’t mean conversation was always comfortable.  After watching the football in a generally light atmosphere, we ate dinner in a heavier one.  Facing each other, it became clear how miserable she was.  How she wouldn’t help herself.  How insular she was, how unengaged with the world.  All politicians corrupt, all news bad; better not to watch.  An unorthodox job meant she was practically nocturnal, always tired, a ruined bodyclock.  But it apparently paid a better than average wage, which helped to relieve pressures of sending money home to family.  She was the rich daughter living abroad.  She wobbled, momentarily on the edge of tears, I looked down and away.  (Fuck, she was in a worse place than me!)  I suggested things she could do to be active in finding a new job, how she could force herself to be decisive, if she wanted – ignoring my hypocrisy – how it didn’t have to be like this.

The mood recovered, we walked back across to the multi-storey car park in a huge shopping centre.  Mine was the only vehicle left on the roof level, dying rays of a pink sunset casting its warm hue over the city: a beautiful setting for a murder.  Probably a bad idea; too much CCTV.  Instead I kissed her.  She tasted and smelled different.  I noticed it when we first met.  A little like a smoker, although she wasn’t a smoker. So she said.  And it wasn’t that bad.. impossible to put my finger on.  Just… Hungarian?  I drove her home.  She invited me into her studenty terraced house, shared with housemates she barely knew and rarely spoke to.  We went straight to her room.  I stayed.  Nothing more was asked.


A thick layer of mist stuck to the terraced street the next morning, joined by a novel October chill, which felt abrupt due to the unseasonal weather.  My car was still where I’d left it, untouched but tightly hemmed in between two other vehicles.   I wriggled it out, navigated through the city’s rush hour traffic and out onto the long A-roads.  The sun punched a bright white, perfectly circular hole into the grey.  Driving through green hillsides, I listened to a new favourite album and watched the sky wash itself back to blue.

the perfect angle

You think you can make compromises for potential short-term gain.  It’ll be easy.  So what if there’s an age-gap of some kind or there’s another obvious cosmetic defect?

You think it’s true.  But your friend, or one good friend, he laughs, says ‘no you can’t,’ shakes his head like he knows you better than you know yourself.  All evidence points to him being right and you being wrong, which is annoying.

You thought you might be right this time.  She had years on you, a good decade in fact.  But so what?  This wasn’t marriage.  Just.. whatever it was.  She seemed smart and had other strong features, notwithstanding the baggage.  You can’t get to her age, be single and not have baggage though.  It’s to be expected and is extremely rare if that’s not the case.

So you met.  She entered the coffee shop and you saw her and immediately shrunk.  You wanted to recoil back into your shell and not come out until she’d gone.  This was all wrong..  just, no.  Would you have had this reaction if she was more attractive?  Because you are that shallow, without doubt.  How about if she didn’t have such a dominating brace stapled to her teeth?  Still, you had to be polite and nice and charming and play along for a good hour or more, asking questions, lightly filling in the edges of yourself without giving too much information away in case she was a lunatic.  You liked that she knew next to nothing about you, not even any of your many tragic internet identities.

Yet it still felt wrong and you weren’t at all proud of yourself.  You were embarrassed by yourself, tired and irritated.

You took an early day, went for a wander into town, into a grimy pub, and bought a beer which slid down incredibly well.  Then you texted a friend who was just leaving work and open to the idea of a beer in a sunny beer garden.  You met and went to a better bar where eventually you told him how you’d spent your day and he laughed.  ‘You’re pickier than you think!’  You shrugged, and laughed too.  It was ok now beer and a mate were here to rationalise.

After a couple of beers he was harried home for dinner and you parted.  On returning to your flat with beer you grazed social networks to see a female fancy had gone on a successful first date.  It made you sad because you liked her a lot, although you knew you couldn’t put your lives on hold for the memory of one night, when now a few thousand miles separated you.

You drunkenly pondered other opportunities in the last week or two, times when you could have gambled and risked embarrassment, but who knows?

Champagne-at-dawn girl who was surely too posh for you?  Or not.  Was she expecting a move you didn’t make because you were slightly intimidated and rather drunk?

The Italian postgraduate student in the gym jacuzzi who talked your ears off.  Boyfriend in New York but so what?  (As a terminal singleton, it’s possible to respect the relationships of others too much, particularly if signs point in the other direction.  You have responsibilities to yourself too).  You couldn’t help feeling that one of her own kind, an Italian or Frenchman would have made more of a smooth, cocksure play: coffee or something.

The blonde you mocked in a bar for being so cross that there were only three files in the S Drive.  It was irresistible after overhearing her conversation.  She burst into embarrassed giggles.  As much as you played with it in your head, you only had the nerve to use the line as they were leaving the pub; not while they were still sitting opposite you, firmly ensconced in girly conversation and a bottle of wine.

In real-world situations you should be more daring, not in the safe-haven of the multi-layered and often duplicitous sodding internet.  If you really are clinically unable to compromise on the short-term, learn to take a risk or two.  But that’s easier said than done.  Like watching a football team which plays a neat passing game but never takes a shot because they can’t find the perfect angle.

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.