Wednesday, 25 November 2009

My night as a rock chic(ken)

I went to Jools Holland last week with two of my colleagues and one of our authors - none other than the font of all knowledge Vic, Jim Moir, Reeves who was promoting his book.

Oh yes.

Karen and I were there - possibly the only women over forty in the whole room, apart from Annie Lennox, who was singing while we just stood there and did that sort of 'mum at a wedding' dancing that embarrassed even me to such a degree that I refused to watch myself on the television despite being assured that I was seen by no less than two of my closest acquaintances who don't ruddy bother to call me up when I'm not making a fool of myself but still feel moved to get in touch when I'm being a complete ass.

'Aye,' said Big Alan in the office, 'Ah saw you and Karen there, standing behind Jim.'

I winced and waited for the next sentence.

'Aye...'  He nodded.

I think that his tactful silence is a sign that nothing more need be said about it.  Until perhaps the Christmas party.

Actually we weren't quite the oldest swingers in town (and I should confess here that Karen, though probably a decade younger than I, for the purposes of making me feel less ancient, is being grouped in my approximate age range) as one of the bands - a snarling, angry group of black eye-lined, leather-clad boys with serious sleeping-in-a-skip hair and lots of attitude who made the sort of noise that has you saying things like 'but it doesnae have a tune' while they jumped up and down and humped their guitars like they were young ponies they were trying to wrestle to the ground - also brought their mums and dads.  It was hilarious.  One of the mums was wearing lurex and the dad was in a suit - it was more like a Latymer Upper School parents' evening than a gig (says she in the blue polka dot dress with extra cleavage).  And as the band screamed unmelodically and the keyboard player turned his instrument upside down and banged it (without affecting the sound), mum and dad were standing on their tip toes and waving those little peek-a-bo waves, blowing the equivalent of fond parental kisses and saying: "...coo-ee, Justin!  Timothy!".

And after they stopped playing the band waved back.


Non-specific paranoia

'You look dreadful!' Said Fran as I rolled, stumbled, reeled into the office a tad later than usual, the morning after the night before.

'Which one was it this time?'

I just shook my head. Very carefully. It hurt.

I hadn't had a lot to drink but nevertheless when you meet for a glass of wine after work and then decide to have another because you are getting on so well, and then go off to dinner where there's more wine, and - just to prolong it - a tiny glass of something else afterwards... erm, well let me rephrase that. I had actually had quite a lot to drink. And I didn't eat a thing until probably somewhere around glass four. It's no wonder I like this one so much - not only did he bring me a little box of designer chocolates but he is imbued with a lovely rosy red wine glow. However, I think perhaps we do need to try a date where we actually stay sober just to be sure we know who we are 'seeing' as in - will recognise each other again in broad daylight - and no doubt be mightily relieved that, indeed, there is only one of us and we haven't been dating twins. Saturday is the big day. As in all day. He's coming round in the morning and being inducted into the secret life of Marion which involves the purchase of totally useless junk from some stall at the sordid end of Portobello Road which has so far furnished Castle Suburbia with: a set of oyster dishes (I have never once eaten oysters at home) three assorted tureens for all those vegetables that I don't cook for the Sunday lunches I don't make (but which would look fantastic laid out on the several serving dishes I have also purchased) , two or three tiered cake plates for the cakes that I don't bake (or at least, when I do, they don't exist long enough to merit display) and a sauce boat shaped like a bunch of asparagus. Nothing cost more than a tenner. You can keep your Manolo's - as well as being a really cheap drunk, I'm also a really cheap date - give me a ceramic toast rack with a chip on it and I'm delirious. And I never eat toast.

So we'll wander down Portobello. Stop at the next station of the cross which is Eggs Benedict at Uncle's Cafe where they know me so well now they don't even bother to ask for my order but just bring it with extra Hollandaise (I'm echoing Julia Child that "with enough butter anything is good"). And eventually, end up at the Gate Cinema for the latest Cohen Brothers' film. And if that doesn't scare him off, there's dinner later at the dodgy but brilliant Thai on our local council estate. Classy or what? I know how to show a man a good time.

It's slightly nerve-wracking. Okay, no, it's terrifying. But it's not the new man who scares me, it's all the women who've gone before me that I find daunting.

As my friend George pointed out over supper a few weeks ago - you're not just sleeping with the person who happens to be in your bed at the time, but with every single one of their previous partners. And this, naturally enough, does not just apply to their sexual health which is worrying enough, but also to the size of their thighs, quality of their underwear, dress size, exercise habits, body shape, diet and clothing... In short, their details - and - more significantly - yours, live on in subsequent relationships. I hate the idea of the last man discussing my character, or lack of it, with my successor in the way that one does tend to 'fess up about previous relationships and what went wrong with them, especially when she's only getting one side of the story. I don't like the the thought that some other women out there might know intimate details of my life from the lips of an unreliable source without me even knowing she exists. And if she reads this blog she'll be none the wiser because, readers, I LIE. Of course I do. I couldn't have a social life if I wrote the truth, would have no friends left, would never get anyone to go out with me, and you would pity me for the depths to which I'm willing to sink in pursuit of love. I mean - the West freaking Midlands, FFS?

I don't use real names, I exaggerate and sometimes I really, really don't. But former lovers? Do you think they dress it up in prose. Do you think they're self deprecating when they suck their teeth and tell the next one what was wrong with the last one? Viruses aren't the only thing that spread. So, similarly, with new man, the outline has been filled in. I don't know if his last woman went to Marks and Spencers for her tights or if they were hand woven from blind children in Nepal but I do know she had the same watch as me - but hers had diamonds. I know her name. What she does for a living. I know she was slim and gorgeous. And that she had a room for her shoes.

Shall I repeat that?

A. Room. For. Her. Shoes.

So I'm guessing she didn't have an orange crate wardrobe from Homebase at the end of her bed, then. Nor am I seeing her in Bridget Jones big pants.

I also know she never went to the gym, could eat what she wanted and was still skinny, never had children and was ten years younger than me.

Readers - there is not enough butter in the world, and all I have I'm wearing around my hips. I'm wondering if I should pull the bag over his head or mine. (Smear the butter on his specs perhaps..?)

Still the fear of confession and comparison is a STD that affects both men and woman.

I hope.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Proving that female of the species are just as deadly as the male

Apparently the thing that women do is expect to move in after the third date...  I have this on good authority from three of the sane men I've met.  In our minds it goes - coffee, lunch, dinner, bed, weekend, joint answerphone messages and a his and her Christmas card...  Though sometimes the coffee, lunch, dinner is elided.  No wonder they're all cagey about telling you their real names or where they work (for intelligent people they obviously don't know much about the internet, or women's ability to use it to track down personal information).  They're terrified you are going to turn up with your suit cases and scatter cushions. My most recent date who claimed to be fifty nine but looked seventy (an old seventy) if he was a day, and seemed a tad shabbily dressed for the chauffeur driven car that idled outside the hotel bar ready to whisk him away after our drink, told me that his previous girlfriend used to pray while they were making love.  Looking at him shuffling across the floor it's not hard to see why.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

It's a zoo

I'm in New York next week where it will be raining men for my birthday.  Unfortunately they will all be sheltering under an awning to protect their Gucci loafers as they are already partnered up with each other - but at least I shall be a gay icon at my own birthday party.  There are worse things.

After some spirited socialising I'm suffering from dating fatigue.  I'm so looking forward to getting away from it all.  Apart from seeing the relocated Ambassador in Manhattan (I'm dumb with excitement at the thought of it - which is, as you know, a rarity), I am going to a gala evening at the opera, Carnegie hall, having a party thrown for me and generally being wined and dined every single evening.  I can't wait.

Meanwhile it's been convenient that three of the men I've met up with recently have been called David as it saves me having to remember their names, though it is tricky knowing which one is which, especially when I got a message from one asking me to call him back as soon as possible and I didn't recognise the number.  Unfortunately this David was the guy who is coming to fix the flashing on my roof and so he was a bit surprised to be called darling... (it saves me getting them mixed up).

However, my month's dating course is almost up.  What a relief.  I can't stand the highs and the lows. It's an emotional wringer.  It has gone from the giddy excitement of looking forward to champagne at Claridges and dinner afterwards in one of those swanky business restaurants that I used to eat in all the time as the only woman not in a dark suit, and sometimes, the only woman - to the disappointment of realising that the classiest thing about the date is the postcode.  I'm a sucker for a bit of flattery and after months of feeling very under-appreciated by His Royal Worcester it has been wonderful to be complimented and invited out to lovely places where I never once see the bill.  Apart from the flowers I was even sent a gift in the post one morning.  It has been sweet to have some easy affection instead of having it wrung out at the end of a telephone conversation disguised as a cough.   I had a crisis of confidence after we stopped seeing each other and started this dating diet and so I asked my ex husband, somewhat doubtfully, if he thought I was still fanciable.  Yes, he replied, with alacrity (because the man has to be nice to me otherwise I don't let him come round and mow the lawn and replace all the lightbulbs in the house he is still paying for) of course you are.  I know, it's hardly the sexual seal of approval when you have to ask the man who left you for reassurance that some hapless twit out there in the big world of testosterone and "really enjoy staying in with a DVD" (good God, I can do that single, I don't need a man to be bored out of my skull on a Saturday night, thank you very much) will maybe ask you out, remember your birthday and write 'sweetheart' in the card.  It's the sort of  'well-I-don't-want-you-but-somebody-else-will premise that clearance sales work on.

It has been thrilling and fun, but it has also been uncomfortable and, at times, depressing - even, like the last post, really frightening.  The sad stories I have struggled not to bang my head on the table and cry upon hearing, and so many tales of marriage breakdown that dating starts to feel like Groundhog Day - especially when they are all called David.  Even my own story starts to sound like a script.  I've been desired, delighted and then dismissed and still had to drink the coffee. and felt like the relationship equivalent of cat nip for anyone on the autistic spectrum.  There are a lot of men out there sitting at home playing the one arm banjo. Those are my shoppers...

But thankfully there are the nice ones.  And the particularly nice one who I plan to see a lot more of.

Mind you after a martini every one seems nice.  Even me.

One Martini is bliss, two makes Chimps look handsome and three means you can have your appendix out without anaesthesia.   One particular two-Martini man told me I looked younger and 'far more beautiful' than I did in my picture (proving my own point).  If it hadn't been for the fact that he got out a toothpick to excavate the remains of his halibut while he was trying to flirt with me, I would have fallen head over heels in love with him.

Call me Cheeta.
The night after my dinner at Claridges, I had twelve people coming for dinner.  It had been the perfect date.  The sort you dream about.  A real life person who knows people I know, and who has even met my ex husband on a professional level.  But it all felt like it happened to another person now.

Funny how life can change in an instant.  Fear prickled up the back of my neck as the door slammed. The chocolate cake was cooling on the kitchen table - the second one - the first time, I was so discombobulated that I added twice the quantity of sugar and had to throw it away.  The patatas haras had just the right touch of har and the muhammara contained the exact amount of absolutely no ham but was as red as its name promised.  Howevertthe tomato tart had turned as soggy as I had, while the aubergines and I had both grown cold.  I wanted to ring everyone up and say 'don't come'.  But the table was set, the wine was opened, the paella was cooking, very unevenly, on the stove and the doorbell was already ringing.

The show went on.

But let me tell you.  Sometimes my acting skills impress me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Except tall, silver haired man in the evening who turns out to be unexpectedly nice, musical, interesting and who has asked to see me again.  And again.

Friday 13th

Another lovely package...

First proofs of my American book.  Nothing can top this.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Okay, I take back everything I said about nice men. Nice men send you flowers. To the office. In a long box. Orchids. Two bunches. And I don't even remember telling him that they were my favourite.

I thought for one trembling fingered minute they were from His Royal Stinginess but that only proves how mistakenly optimistic it is possible to be.

Atlantic wins award for most beautiful


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

White flag

Thai food. Man of Mediterranean appearance. Delightful.

I get up to leave and glance at the man who I've been watching out of the corner of my eye all night who is none of the above but short, bald, twinkly-eyed, smooth and, as I finally see his face, Brian Eno.

That's it.

Date over.

I give up.

I'm taking up tapestry or bee-keeping or something, going on a diet, becoming a recluse. I surrender.

Rare First Editions

Lunch. Another restaurant. Japanese this time. (I'm eating and dating around the ethnic spectrum.) A banker. Another very nice man. A lovely, gentle, very, very nice man with a soft voice that I have to strain to hear, who asks me all about myself, pays the bill and asks me out again - tomorrow, the next day, Saturday, Sunday, one day next week.

Damn it.

Where do they all come from these lovely, keen, very nice men, apart from The Guardian? I realise I don't know what to do with them. They are wasted on me. I'm unused to handling them. As the Frenchman asked of my books, 'what are they for'?

It's incredibly good for the squashed ego to see someone smile at you across the table with interest and appreciation, but rather than preening like a well-fed tabby and asking to be stroked some more, I can't resist the urge to look behind me to see who they are really looking at. I miss Worcester.  I  have come to realise that I quite like chilly, cold men because there is no chance of getting overwhelmed by the heat no matter how much you try to warm them up. And you can complain about them with impunity rather that feeling resolutely not nice by comparison.

Just as all the lovely men turn up, so in touch with their feelings that they've got them electronically tagged to their ankle, I realise I'm a shallow, commitment-phobe who would prefer that they merely sent them the odd Christmas card. How did that happen? It's not that I'm not a touchy-feely, even gushy, person myself when the fancy takes me, but at the moment I would rather be a fickle, teenage boy who has taken mature, female form.

Nice men are like beautiful hand tooled, fine leather bound classics - too good to do much with except admire and store safely out of harm's way. If you do pick them up and flick carelessly through their pages, you know you're only going to sully them and ruin their value. For now, I prefer the big thick large-format paperback type of man that tells a good story, but may have big flaws in its plot and execution, with occasionally brilliant prose but is not soooo well written that you feel diminished by it, and which can be thrown out or passed on when you're finished with it.

You know where you are with a bastard and I don't want to stray too far out of my comfort zone. All these awfully nice men just make me feel bad, really bad. But not in away that's any fun.

Monday, 9 November 2009


The date, however, was very nice.  Tall, handsome, interesting, beautiful hands, Jewish, paid for supper, drove me home.  A success, I'd say.  Had it not been for the fact that when I walked into Galicia, swollen as usual with professionally sour waiters, old square Spanish men with prune faces and lithping accents, I found my friend Nel and her husband Tom propping up the bar who insisted on coming and saying a loud jocular hello, looking over the poor chap as though they were my parents, and grinning widely.

It wasn't quite as bad as when I turned up at the hotel where Worcester and I had arranged to meet and forgot his surname as I tried to check into the room, but when the time came to make the introductions my mind went blank  and I called him Gordon.

Sadly his name is Geoffrey.

Graceless Host

On Friday, the Frenchman came round for supper. He's someone I've known since my FT days and who, over the years, has become a fri-quaintance. He owns a couple of restaurants but since his wife and he split up he has been complaining that he rarely gets a home cooked meal.

Suzy sodding Homemaker. I walked right into it.

As did he, falling, drenched through the door with his entrance fee – a bottle of red wine which I’d requested. After several texts confirming (you know in case he had a better offer in the meantime) he had called me earlier in the day asking what he should bring. I hate it when blokes do that... You know the form, and you shouldn't need to be told.

If a woman asks you what she should bring she means do you need a salad, some bread, a pudding or cheese, as well as some plonk. When a man asks you, it means I’m too tight and/or can’t be bothered to buy a bottle of wine and so I’m hoping you will waive it and say, oh just bring your lovely self because you’re such scintillating company that it’s a positive honour to slave over the stove all day to serve you without even a token of thanks or appreciation.

I should have asked for a large bunch of flowers.

But Frenchman has never been known for his generosity. Since I stopped writing about restaurants I haven't once been invited to either of his places for dinner - though the fact that he runs the business with his wife might have just have had something to do with that. Moving swiftly on... Except, as the evening progressed, I realised I hadn't moved on at all. I was entertaining Worcester II – the sequel, but wiv a Franch accent.

'Do you think books do anything for a room?' He asked, doubtfully, as he scanned the shelves, the many shelves of books in my sitting room. 'I'm not convinced. I don't see the point of them. I'm not sure why people have them. Why do you have them?'

I explained that most of them belonged to my ex husband, which makes it a valid, if rude, question. He then began to pace, rubbing his hands anxiously, and asked what and when we were eating. He was 'starving', he announced.

I stuck the broccoli in a pan and turned the grill on.

'Don't worry about the broccoli. I don't do green,' He said. Mentally, I put away the salad as I turned off the gas.

‘Oh, I like zis,’ he said, sounding surprised as he toyed with his chicken and chorizo stew which I served with celeriac and mustard mash, the intimation being that he hadn’t thought much of the first course – Serrano ham with baked figs and goats cheese. Something I’d guessed by the fact that he left all the figs… Seventy pence each, not that I’m counting. At least Worcester was always impressed and delighted with whatever I cooked for him. I found myself thinking of his enthusiasm with nostalgia as I watched Frenchman pick chunks of chorizo out of the casserole and tear his bread (Poilane - £6.50) up into shards and not eat it. So much for his supposed hunger. He then asked a long detailed question about the pot I had cooked it in - always a sign of culinary enjoyment. I think not being presented with a menu had somewhat perplexed him. Perhaps owning restaurants doesn’t prepare you for eating what you’re given and imagining that, even as a guest in someone else’s home, you should have a choice of how the food is presented.

‘I would have preferred to eat in the kitchen,’ he told me, as I cleared up.

Well fricking fa la la, I thought – you would would you? I’m sorry your majesty, the maitre d' should have asked you where you wanted to sit at the time of booking.

I didn’t offer him the cheese (Jeraboam's) , pudding (chocolate and coconut tart) or coffee but still had to listen to him drone on about going to some chap’s country pile for the weekend as though he was a household name that I should recognise, though I didn’t, and telling me about the D list celebrities he was going to be with. He dropped their names twice when they didn't make enough impact the first time.

I barely stifled my yawns and eventually he left.

That was the best part of the evening.

I was in bed with Hung by 10.15. Watching, not paying.
Publish Post

Back on the horse, so to speak...

The thing I had forgotten about dating is that you have to eat a lot of meals with men you fancy even less than the food.  I hate having to push two lettuce leaves and walnut round the plate when I have had to pass on the fat chips with mayonnaise because I’ve had a restaurant lunch and I’m trying to make a good – ie non-fat - impression.  Eating two big meals in a day when I usually barely have one is punitive. 

Still it beats the slow weekends in Worcester when the most exciting thing we did was reverse out of Sainsbury’s car park.  How nice it is to be asked: ‘Please may I buy you dinner - chose your favourite place and I’ll come and pick you up’ after five months of regular schlepping to the West Midlands, cruising the reduced shelves at Lidl and never once setting foot in a restaurant.  Not that I didn’t collude in the kitchen-centric nature of the relationship but after our last night out in London – to the Real Greek followed by the Globe theatre where I dutifully counted out my share of the dinner, as well as the price of my ticket – I did start to feel like the ultimate cheap date.  And yes, I do still owe him for the airfare to Bergamo (if you are reading this feel free to send me a bill) but it was only six quid.

‘Aint he treating you?’ asked my Cockney cleaning woman when she brought the ironing round just before I left.

‘No. We’re sharing everything.  It’s only a couple of pounds on Ryan Air and the hotel is quite reasonable.’

‘I fought he’d be inviting you - specially if it’s cheap. So where are you going from?  Stanstead?’


‘Bristol!  All that way? Isn’t it to dear to get there on the train?‘

‘About forty quid.  But then it costs me that every time I go to Worcester.’

‘Dun’t he take you out and make a bit of a fuss what with you trailing up there?’

‘No, not really. I usually cook.’

‘But he took you to the feater the other week, that was nice.’

‘No, actually, I took myself.  He was originally going with his friends.  I got a ticket when one of them dropped out.’

‘You wanna get shot of him sharpish,’ she said, sternly. ‘It’s like you’re paying for his ruddy company, gal.’

And oh God, I realised as the picture that had been developing slowly in front of my eyes as I spoke came sharply into full Kodak colour focus: she was absolutely right.  I didn’t have boyfriend, I had a gigolo.

By this point I was flatter than my freshly ironed pillow cases.  Who needs a mother when you have a 68 year old cleaner to point out a few home truths?  I bet Nigella didn’t swan around in her negligee licking chocolate off a spoon on a six pounds mini break with Charles Saatchi. 

Nevertheless, with the demise of Worcester’s answer to Richard Gere, I fear I may have been a little too enthusiastic catching up with opportunities passed over in the past months.  Life has been very calorific.

Reasons to be cheerful

I saw Roger, my Microbiologist friend on Tuesday – not a person you want to have dinner with if you need cheering up and are newly single.

Evening begins thus: Large bound menu in Italian restaurant in Fitzrovia placed in front of me by Polish girl. I open it as I fill Roger in on the fated weekend in Italy, and I read longingly: Risotto con funghi, Spaghetti carbonara, Linguini con aragusta, polenta con gorgonzola e porcini… cotoletta alla milanaise con zucchine fritte… In Bergamo I had tagliatelli with white truffles – though only half a portion as Worcester insisted he couldn’t eat a whole one so I had to share his. I’ve eaten whole truffle menus in my past life, with matched wines. Sigh. And now I’m eating someone else’s leftovers. I can manage the full plate, believe me. My eyes are torn from pleasing my stomach and redirected to my hips as I reluctantly turn my fat wobbly cheeks on everything I really want and chose breseola and grilled fish.

‘Bresaola? Do you have any idea what the bacterial load on that could be…?’ Asks the biochemist.

Salata tricolore, then. I brace myself for some teeth sucking over cheese cultures in the mozzarella but it passes the lab test.

Damn it.

I nibble on a breadstick and tell him I’m going out on a date at the end of the week.

‘Aye, well did you know that the reported cases of venereal diseases are going through the roof? We’re the highest in Europe.’

I put down the breadstick.

‘Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, Herpes… Even Syphilis is making a big comeback. It’s the post Aids generation – and that’s on a huge increase as well. It’s out of control.’

I am not sure he’s telling me this but I feel like I’m back at school getting the sex-education talk from my teacher.

‘It’s only a date not the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was planning on having a couple of drinks, not an orgy.'

'Well you don't just have a relationship with the person you're sleeping with, you're sleeping with everyone they're sleeping with - they're whole sexual history.'
Publish Post

'I don't have a sexual history, or even a sexual present. I'm not sleeping, or staying awake, with anyone...'

'Just as well.'

Yes dad. 'How come you know so much about it, anyway?'

‘I used to teach STDs at Warwick as an introduction to the ways opportunistic bacteria transmit information and talk to each other because ... (I’d love to continue this sentence but mercifully I have absolutely no idea what his science-speak means, other than that it involves germs.) ‘Aye it was a great way to get their attention – slapping a picture of a syphilitic…’

‘Roger, I thought the main point of tonight was to have dinner. If you actually want me to eat something, you might want to stop about now…’

‘People our age are in the worst demographic by the way.’

‘I’m not doing anything or anyone, for goodness sake. Not likely to either. My weekends are spent watching celebrities in sparkly frocks doing the Cha Cha Cha. It’s hardly high risk sexual behaviour.’

I reached for my wine glass.

‘And another thing. Did you know that in ten years they expect deaths by liver disease to overtake that of heart disease. Can you imagine that? Heart disease is essentially a disease of old age, where as liver disease is really only related to alcohol abuse. There are people as young as 28 dying of cirrhosis.’

I took a tentative sip and set my glass back on the table. So, no sex, no alcohol, no animal fats, no carbs and cured ruddy meat – what else is left?

‘Any news on Christine’s man?’ He asks, before adding: ‘From what I hear he’s going to be taking the drug protocol that my colleague Jimmy developed in his lab the states. With that sort of Leukaemia, the secondary treatment is usually…’

Oh joy - how could I forget? Cancer!

Sod it.

I take a long swallow from my glass, dip a hunk of bread into a bowl of olive oil and change my order to ravioli with butter and sage, then I look around the room for someone who wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.

Unfortunately, there is only Roger.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

My education

At The Gate in Notting Hill watching An Education based on Lyn Barber’s memoirs with a dawning, dismaying sense of recognition as the story unfolds.  The main character, Jenny, was a clever sixteen year old being stifled by her hothouse education and her middle class semi-detached suburban life in Twickenham.  I was a drifting sixteen year old at a tough comprehensive in a working class mining village where university was seen as less desirable than the local Chunkie Chicks or Levi’s factory.

Her David was dazzling and Jewish and drove a Bristol.  My David was nineteen and came on the bus on an hour long serpentine, sick-making journey through country lanes and desolate villages from a town twenty-five miles away.

She met her David in the rain, holding a cello.  I thought a cello was a big fiddle and I would have spelt it with a ch.  I met my David at a dance and at the end of the evening I gave him my address.  Three days later a letter arrived. I was beside myself with excitement.  It seemed so romantic that he would take the trouble to keep my hastily scribbled note (which was probably on the back of a cigarette packet) and actually bother to get in touch again.  With me.  That, in my life, was dazzling.  And I’ve always been a sucker for a man who writes letters.

He was my first lover, my first proper boyfriend and though, unlike Jenny, there were no Ravel concerts, and no trips to Paris in our courtship, there were films and restaurants in Edinburgh and trips in his friend’s modest car to the seaside and drinks in hotel bars that I wasn’t legally allowed to be in.  Even in the depressed backwater of a Scottish mining village, nineteen seemed so much more glamorous and sophisticated than sixteen.  It was practically adult.  He was working.  He had money to throw around.  I was still at school saving my lunch money for cigarettes.

I had never had a proper boyfriend before.  I was plain, tall, skinny and didn’t have the stamp of popularity.  But David loved me.  It was real.  This was grown up.  It was also, finally, was official when my parents invited him to stay for the weekend.

I was getting his bedroom ready.  The phone rang.  It was in the draughty hall at the back of the house, next to the spare room where I was struggling with the eiderdown. I heard my mother assume her Thora Hird with a Scottish accent telephone voice.  Yes, I see, she said formally. It sounded serious.  Her words were clipped.  Angry.  My ears strained to hear what she was talking about but the walls were thick and I could only sense that whatever was going on, it wasn’t good.  She hung up and came into the bedroom.  I looked up at her.  Never warmer than a wet weekend at Saltcoats, my mother’s face was now thunderous.  What’s the matter, I asked, fearfully.  You know fine what the matter is, she told me, spitting the words out. I must have looked blank, because I really didn’t have a clue, but she poked me in the chest with her ash-tapping finger and told me I’d better sit down.  Dutifully I did as I was told, ruffling the surface of the newly made bed that I’d just spent many minutes perfecting.

That was your boyfriend’s mother, she said, pronouncing the word boyfriend with a contempt that swelled to include me.  It seems he has a wife and child at home that he’s leaving to come here this weekend.  She thought I should know that my daughter was a home-wrecker.

I gaped.  I couldn’t really understand what she was saying. A wife?  A child.  At nineteen?  Though it shouldn’t have been so difficult to grasp. Pregnancy was the pastime of choice where I grew up.  There was nothing else to do until you were eighteen and could get into the pubs, except have sex, and teenage mothers and shotgun weddings were so common as to be normal.  In fact, if you were a Catholic wanting to marry a Protestant, they were obligatory.

Are you sure you didn’t know? she poked me roughly again, but this time her ash-tapping finger had an Embassy Regal slotted in behind it.  I dodged the tip.

She made me feel like a slut, and in two seconds – poof - my love affair disappeared in a tawdry puff of smoke and went from being something precious and romantic to a stain that defiled me.  I was despatched to  meet him from the bus and tell him to turn around and go home, back to the wife that he had, I later discovered, actually left weeks before he met me.  I was ordered never to see him again.

I didn’t even look him in the eye when I told him.  I just remember the cheap suitcase that got out of the bus before he did.  And then I walked away.  Feeling just as cheap.

At home, we never spoke of it again. But for weeks my parents looked at me as though I was untouchable.

I couldn’t stand it.  I told them that I wanted to leave the job that I had just recently started in a nearby town that they were both delighted with – a 'job for life' they told me, that felt like I was training to be dead.  I said I had decided to go and live with my aunt in England and, reluctantly, they agreed.

I was seventeen when they took me and my grandfather’s steamer trunk to Waverly Station in Edinburgh and waved me off on the platform.

In the film Jenny, and presumably Lyn Barbour on whom the story was based, was seventeen when she discovered the older man to whom she was engaged was already married with a child and lived a few streets away from her in Twickenham.  After the big reveal she sat her A levels and went to Oxford.

I got there a year earlier.  And David with me. I found him waiting for me on the train, as we had arranged. After the phone call, he didn’t go back to his family, but stayed on with his mother.  We began to meet each other secretly about a month after my parents told me I couldn’t ever see him again. And then we ran...

It was not my finest hour.

I moved in with my aunt and found a dreary job fastening papers together with pins in a mail room.  He got a room in a boarding house and found work.  It was a couple of weeks before I plucked up the courage to confess that David had come with me and neither the news nor the deceit was well received.  She too was disgusted with my sordid life and my married boyfriend so that when he told me he missed his little boy, I encouraged him to go back home.  I was tired of feeling dirty.  I was relieved to see him go.

And then the letters started. One every three days. Each time another landed on the mat my aunt would fume and snap that I should get rid of him and tell him to leave me alone, but I couldn’t.  I was torn. I did, however stop writing.  Still the letters arrived.  Eventually, feeling pressured by my family and the sense of shame that hung over me like poisonous gas, I stopped opening them and gathered them together, cut each one in two and sent them all back in a jiffy bag.

Unsurprisingly, I never heard from him again.

And even though I felt a horrible curl of guilt at what I had done, it was nothing to the guilt I felt at being with him.

And so I didn’t even flinch when Jenny found the letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Goldman in her lover’s glovebox. It seems so un-shocking now as to be almost banal.  So what?  Where’s the dilemma? Where are the footballers and the drug taking and the topless pictures?  I was more shocked by the fact that Jenny’s parents thought marriage was a career option than that he had a wife. 1964 seems like a quaint period piece, as does 1973 in my story.  Did people really watch those boxy little televisions?  Were there really only three channels?  Did people really only have one telephone?  And write letters, actual letters?  And was it really such a big deal that you might be seduced while still at school by someone who would turn out to be a married man with a baby and a home?

But, yes it was.

At the time.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Went to see Surrogate on Saturday as everything else was either vampires or zombies and I have enough of those in my personal life.  Load of tosh, naturally, and disappointingly, Bruce Willis, for once, kept his shirt on.  Though, on second thoughts, maybe that's not such a bad thing...