Category Archives: December 2012 Posts

Romance in the rain

Tuesday morning, 20 November 2012.  In one hand I hold a blue umbrella to stop the pouring rain from drenching me.  In the other I hold a cup of hot coffee.  My green handbag hangs over my left shoulder.  As I approach the shops opposite my tube station, I see a man dressed in a dark suit walking towards me.  We pass each other about twice a week.   I smile and nod as a greeting.  He does the same, though he always says something which I presume to be hello or good morning.  With my earphones in I can never be sure.   This morning our regular pattern is abruptly altered as he stops and gestures for me to join him under the awning of the sushi restaurant.

Sheltered from the rain, he takes the umbrella from my hand so I can remove my earphones with my one free hand.  I smile, to ease him.  I sense what’s coming.

Me:  Jeez, it’s really pouring down, isn’t it?

Him:  Yep, though at least it’s not as cold as it was yesterday.

Me:  True.

Neither of us can acknowledge that there’s an oddness to us standing here talking, but we both know it.

Him:  Um, I’ve wanted to talk to you because I see you all the time and I just think you seem really nice.  (He makes a nervous coughing sound to clear his throat).  I was wondering if you’d like to go for a drink some time?

Me:  Oh thank you.  But I have a boyfriend  . . .

Him:  Oh, sorry, I just thought that as I’ve never seen you with anyone you must be single  . . .

Me (suddenly compelled to provide unnecessary detail about my fictitious boyfriend):   He lives in Chiswick, so we only see each other on weekends.

Him:  Ah, okay.  Well I’m going to give you my phone number anyway, just in case your situation changes (he so doesn’t believe me).  I’ve already written it down as I planned on giving it to you the next time we saw each other.

I laugh and he smiles at me as he hands me a piece of paper.  We both know I don’t have a boyfriend.   He’s attractive, well-spoken and well-dressed.  What’s making me hesitate?

Me (still semi-laughing):  Okay … but it won’t be before Christmas.

Him (smiling broadly):  The new year’s good for me.  I’m James, by the way.

Me:  Simone.  And I better head to work or I’ll be late!

Him:  I’m so glad I spoke to you.  Enjoy your day.

He hands me back my umbrella and we head our separate ways.  I look at the piece of paper with his name and number.  I don’t know if I’ll get in contact and am pleased that my pre-Christmas embargo means I don’t have to think about it for a while.  All I have to worry about for the time being is when I’ll next run in to him on the way to the tube.  From now until the new year, I’ll commence every working day with mild anxiety, speckled with the twice-weekly awkward encounter.  Marvellous.

Bewitching burlesque and badly behaved boys

Saturday night, Leicester Square tube, London.  The tightly wedged crowd shuffles slowly towards the exit, barely able to move.  Two parallel staircases lead us out, but the left has come to a complete standstill.  It’s crammed with people but none are able to move forward or backward.  A metal rail divides the right and left staircase.  In front of me, a young man swings his legs over the bar and nimbly leaps to the other side which is slightly less crowded.  In my silver sequined butterfly dress and high heels I inelegantly squat under the bar.  It may be ungraceful but it prevents me from flashing the world.  When we reach the top of the stairs I see the cause of the traffic jam. 

An extremely obese woman has fallen and is struggling to get up.  She’s blocking the left staircase and preventing the flow of people from exiting.  A man with her is trying to help, but most of the crowd is angry at the holdup or fascinated by her size.  I hear a group of guys laughing and jeering “Look at the fat bitch!” “You’re a fucking heifer!!”  I instinctively look at them, irritated and saddened by their scorn and lack of empathy.  The loudest of the trio, a scrawny lad from the underclass, smiles at me “Hey sexy.  Where are you off to tonight then?” I keep walking.  It would please me to see all three of them fall down the stairs and break their necks.

In a few minutes my mood is lifted as I see my friends waiting for me outside the burlesque club we’re attending.  I mellow further when I see the velvet chaise longues inside and am handed a glass of champagne.  In a chandelier lit room I take a seat on a leather wing back chair.  The depressing riff-raff of central London are far away.  I’m content and ready for a good night, though I can’t fully shake the image of the woman on the staircase.  She’ll be feeling low for the whole evening and the experience will linger with her.  I make an effort to put the memory aside so I can enjoy myself.

The DJ

The DJ

The array of breathtaking performances varies from beautiful and seductive to skilled and funny.  I embrace the merriment, laughing and singing when required, though I’m not as much of a vocal “woo-hooer” or wolf-whistler as my exuberant friends.  I reach my happy peak in the second half of the evening when we all move downstairs to a private room.  The music is perfect and I blissfully move to it, the overwhelming heat causing my hair to stick to the back of my neck.  My friends chat to the Hostess and other people they know and I continue dancing.  The DJ smiles at me, clearly understanding that I approve of his work and we exchange a brief simulated dance from across his sound booth.  Earlier in the evening he’d been playing music on gramophones but he’s moved on to more modern equipment and I love it.

The hours pass quickly and it’s time to leave.  Hit suddenly by the drunk, drugged and disorderly sights and sounds of Leicester Square, my happiness goes down a notch.  As I descend the stairs to the tube I think of the woman on the staircase and feel a pang.    I had a wonderful and thoroughly entertaining evening but her memory of the night won’t be pleasant.  I know that the men taunting her won’t have broken their necks but I hope they’ve had a terrible evening (preferably involving a beating) and wake with massive hangovers.  It’s the least I can wish for.

Happy Birthday Eliza!

“You can have a party Eliza.  You can have Grandpa and Grandma and Nana and David and Mummy and Daddy and your sisters.  It’ll be a great party”.

Eliza - aged 1

Eliza – aged 1

My sister tries to convince her daughter to limit her fourth birthday to a family gathering.  My niece looks at her mother silently, but the cogs are turning in her brain.  She smells a rat and two days later, after serious reflection, she’s decided she’s having none of it.  She speaks quietly “I would like to have some of my friends at my party”.

My sister laughs.  Busted.

The only friend Eliza wants to attend is Danny.  Surely she has other friends?  Her preschool teacher confirms that she plays with Ruby and Charlotte but never with Danny.  Strange, even I know she talks about him all the time.  The teacher shines a light on the puzzle.  Danny is the naughtiest child in the class.  Eliza watches him.  His antics delight her.  She laughs uncontrollably when he gets in trouble.

Eliza - aged 2

Eliza – aged 2

A well-behaved girl, Eliza dreams of misbehaving and gets a mischievous twinkle in her eye when she sees any sign of naughtiness.   It brings her to life.  She vicariously lives roguishness and devilry.  Oh how she dreams of being wild and free.  If only she could break the shackles of her parents’ endless rules and regulations, but she dare not.   Danny lives a life of which she can only dream.  She envies and admires him.

To save the effort of having guests at her house, my sister suggests holding the party at the local park.  Again, Eliza is clear about her wishes “No.  I would like it at home.  I want to show Danny my bedroom”.  And there’s no doubt in her mind that she wants the swimming pool cake.  Her mother is relieved – it’s easy to create.

My sister invites a family friend with a five-year-old girl to help make up the numbers.  Three days after being informed of the gate-crasher Eliza very quietly expresses her views “Mummy, I didn’t want to invite Amelia to my party …”.  My sister stifles her laughter.   She’s busted again but it’s too late, she can’t withdraw the invite.

Eliza - aged 3

Eliza – aged 3

Eliza has a clear vision of her party and it doesn’t include a third wheel.

So, in front of her entire family, Eliza will have her party with a boy who fascinates and inspires her but to whom she never speaks.  In thirty years this would be an unimaginably awkward social situation, though arguably still not as uncomfortable as many of my dating experiences.   The lucky girl is blissfully unaware of the world of humiliation and heartbreak she’s yet to experience.  I wouldn’t want to have to grow up again.

Happy Birthday Eliza.  Enjoy these black-and-white years where you know your mind so clearly, don’t have to pretend to like people you don’t, and can openly state your desires without restriction, judgement or consequences.  Have fun with Danny, but if he doesn’t make an effort after seeing your bedroom then forget him.  Bad boys are tiresome and being good pays off, or so I’m told.

The distressed damsel and the dominant doctor

A cold Wednesday morning in the podiatry department of a London hospital. With three others, I sit waiting for my consultant. He emerges. “Simone – let’s see if we can finally sort you out”. In silence I follow him to his small room and sit down.  Always composed and deliberately selective with his words, he radiates control.  I get nervous when receiving medical treatment; the focussed attention makes me self-conscious and uncomfortable. The intensity and quiet command that surrounds my consultant makes these particular appointments worse. It’s not helped by his good-looks and gravitas. This time I’m determined not to let him affect me.

For two minutes we sit in complete silence while he reads my file.  Eventually he looks up “Take your shoe and sock off”.

I do so, and without speaking he indicates for me to put my foot on his lap. He looks at it and moves my toe, applying pressure.

Consultant: Does that hurt?

Me: Yes, very much so.

He rotates the toe for a while and then presses harder, looking at me.

Consultant: Does that hurt?

Me: Yes, it really hurts.

Consultant (pressing yet harder): Does that hurt?

Me: Yes!

Consultant (giving a playful smile): I know. I like seeing your reaction.  There’s a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

My pigeon toe after the first operation

My pigeon toe after the first operation

I roll my eyes and shake my head with a little laugh.

My foot is still on his lap when he looks at the large black ring covered in spikes on my right hand.

Consultant: That’s quite a ring – it looks like a weapon.  Can I have a look at it?

Me: Sure.

He takes my hand in his, resting the other on my leg, and looks at me intently with that twinkle.

Consultant (smiling): Jeez, that’s impressive! You could hurt me with that.

Am I imagining sexual tension? Flustered, I withdraw my hand, look away and start babbling in a light-hearted voice.

Me:  Oh the spikes are actually just rubber, and they’re flexible so it can’t do the kind of damage it might appear to be able to.

Thankfully there’s a knock on the door to break the atmosphere and my prattling.  Nurse Cherry (I’m not joking – I’m beginning to feel like I’m in a poorly scripted X-rated movie) brings in the results of my MRI.   My consultant exchanges some medical jargon with her then looks at me.

My pigeon toe after the second operation

My pigeon toe after the second operation

Me:  Oh sorry, I wasn’t listening.  I didn’t realise you were talking to me?

Consultant:  I wasn’t.  I was talking around you. (He smiles and continues). You’ll know when I’m talking to you.

And he winks at me.

It feels like he’s flirting, but could that really be the case? I say nothing while he silently scrutinizes my MRI results before explaining my options.  In full professional mode he uses very technical terms.  I ask him to explain it to me so I’ll understand.  Essentially, I need him to dumb it down for my distracted squirrel brain.

Consultant: We can cut it off, shave the bone …

Me (shrugging): OkI’ll say yes to whatever you say …

Consultant (cutting me off and grinning broadly): I know you will.

Me (laughing): You didn’t let me finish! I was going to say, I’ll say yes to whatever you say if you think it will fix it. I just need the pain to stop.

He explains the procedure and places his hand on my arm as he says goodbye.  The next time I see him I’ll be in a surgical gown on an operating table.  Unless it’s a really weird X-rated movie for a very niche market, this will be the end of any sexual tension between us.

Afterword

I realise this may all be in my head.  Please don’t shatter my dream – I have very little in life.

I will not be found dead in my flat with cats eating my face

Sunday night, my freezing and tiny flat, West London.  I switch on my laptop to watch a movie before going to bed: a fairly regular routine for me to welcome the working week.  Netflix announces a specific “recommendation for you, Simone” and I glimpse at it without too much thought. I take these recommendations with a pinch of salt.  They’re usually popular movies and often not worth a second glance, but today I’ve been recommended a documentary which is rare.  I decide to click on the information button to find out more.  I read the summary with shock and a slight sinking feeling. “Dreams of a life” tells the “strange story of Joyce Vincent, a 38 year-old woman whose body was found in her tiny flat three years after she died.”  I am 35.  If I died now, my body could be that of a 38-year-old woman found in her tiny flat in three years*.  With slight discomfort and anxiety, I press play.

I expect an American story so I’m startled by the opening close-up of a map of my area.  I know every street staring at me.   The map is replaced by shot-after-shot of Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush.  I’d been there just two hours ago.   Ugh, this is making me feel very uncomfortable.  But I’m sure that Joyce Vincent is an outcast or a misfit, she’ll have been weird and dysfunctional … not “normal” and nothing like me, that’s for sure.   I keep watching.

Joyce Vincent was well-spoken, middle-class, very attractive, friendly, had a good career, people liked her.  I cringe.  Joyce Vincent was far better than me.  Her death, and the reason she wasn’t discovered is a mystery.  How she went from an engaging and social human being to an undiscovered missing person is inexplicable.  Her skeleton was found on her sofa and the TV was still on after three years (I look guiltily at my TV glowing in the corner …).  No one knows how she died and her family hasn’t commented on why they weren’t in contact.

I feel the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is staring me in the face.

My friends and family are aware of my hermit tendencies.  My workplace shuts down over the festive period and a few Christmases ago, when it came time to return to work in the New Year, I realised that I’d not seen or spoken to a real-life person in thirteen days.  It hadn’t even dawned on me that I’d not interacted with a flesh-and-blood human until I arrived at work.  When I enter my cave I can be reluctant to emerge unless absolutely necessary.

This year I have a choice to make for Christmas; I can stay on my own in my flat, or I can visit my friend and her family in Ireland.  For weeks I’ve been stalling on a decision, but the moment has come.  I close netflix.com and open aerlingus.com.  Ten minutes later my flights to Dublin are booked.  I will NOT be Joyce Vincent.

And Netflix, you can keep your judgemental recommendations to yourself!

Afterword

I really didn’t appreciate one woman in the programme vehemently saying “It’s bad enough reaching 40, let alone being forty and alone.  Awful. Shocking.” Not all of us are lucky enough to be happily paired up and that doesn’t make us depressed lepers, thanks very much.

*I realise that I’d be a 35-year-old body in three years rather than 38, but you get my point.