Monthly Archives: July 2014

CHAPTER XIII

“Tom. I’ve got 2 kids here waiting for you. Hello?!”
I was late. The gymnastics and football practice was part of the Divorced Dad routine. I was late for both. There was no point going home so I watched Emma go through her gymnastics. As she did her back flips and summersaults I gazed into space wondering how a new relationship could survive two ex’s, three mortgages and four kids.
And the logistics couldn’t have been any more awkward. I had my kids at the weekend she had hers in the week. Her working hours didn’t coincide with mine. And worst of all she was a Capricorn and I was a Cancer, and we all know what that means!
It was like being given the keys to the sweetshop only for someone to break in overnight and change the locks. It wasn’t fair. And dissecting a relationship via electronic means was a waste of time.
The iron was hot, it needed to be struck. So I went along to our next date with surprise number two up my sleeve.
The date was once again at the generic multinational tax dodging coffee and tea emporium in the precinct. I was beginning to hate that place. The dull eyed girl behind the counter with half a scrap yard hanging off her face and her gormless colleague with the acne and runny nose.
Then, for the first time since the concert I saw Sarah walk through he door. Immediately, the stress of the day evaporated like morning mist in the summer sun. I snatched my watery chocolate and we weaved our way through the laptops and vacant looking student types and sat at our table. Big smiles and more big smiles that segued into giggles about nothing in particular. My hand weaved past the menu to find hers.
“So have you listened to any more Bruce albums?
“No I deleted them all, it was only a ruse to get you into bed.”
Have you ever done that coughing out of the nose splutter thing with hot chocolate? It’s like being jump started in second?
“Are you alight?
“I’m fine.
“That was a joke by the way.
“I’m sure it was.
‘Well half a joke. (big smile)
Now, I do believe, if John Motson had been sat at the next table with his sheepskin coat and Microphone he would have described the action thusly:
And that’s a lovely pass from Rooney to the feet of Tom Hughes – he’s clear through, and the flag stays down , he’s on side , surely he must score!
Surprise number two was half out of my pocket when Sarah’s ex rang and they recommenced the argument that had been going on since 1998. Sarah’s face changed to black and the surprise went back into my pants
“And would you believe it – he’s put it wide!”

Then it was time to spring surprise number two
“Look, what are you doing a week on Friday? Can you get the night off ?
“Er I’m not sure, why?
“I’m not asking you to organise it this second Tom, I just want to know if it’s a non starter or not?
“No, I know you are not asking that? I am just thinking about it. About the logistics, that’s all.”
“Well get the logistics about this, a night in Rookery Hall with me.”
She looked around the room to see if anyone was looking, then slid a voucher across the table. She whsipered in my ear
“Someone at work won this and gave it to me. It’s a freebie. 3 course dinner and….an upgraded room
I felt my heart pounding in my ears.
“Why are we whispering? Have you brought your duvet?
“Don’t be funny, I am not in the habit of doing this.”
I felt a micro chill in the air. Men suggest stuff like this to women all the time, almost half expecting the brush off. But the other way round? Its no laughing matter. Why was I hesitating? What was up with me ?
“Well, its up to you. I –
“Yes! Of course, yes, it will be a giggle.
“Tom, it will hopefully be a lot of things, but one thing I am not expecting it to be, is a giggle, ok?

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Chapter XII

Encores over, the concert finished. We entered the concourse and weaved through the milling crowds. We broke momentarily and in an instant Sarah was gone. I turned 360 degrees but she had vanished into the throng. I rang her, but the network was busy. I reckoned the best way to retrieve her would be to stay put. After what seemed like an age she emerged from the dissipating fans carrying something.
‘Where did you go?
“I got you a present. If we ever go to another show you’re not wearing that tatty thing
She held out her hand. She had bought me a brand new tour t shirt. And she got one for herself too.
After a quick visit to the ladies she emerged as Britain’s newest fan.
We emerged into the crepuscular sky different people. I have never held onto someone’s hand so tightly, guiding her through the crowds, glaring at any idiot who stepped into her path. She was now mine, no one was going to take her away. We got into the car and waited for the traffic to clear. It didn’t matter.
We kissed – over forties inappropriate snog alert! But it was appropriate. It was the most appropriate thing ever.
The drive home was muted, it was like the coach ride back to the airport after a holiday romance. Reality rushed in through the windows like a neap tide. We arrived at her car. It was time to say goodbye.
“My mum’s with the kids so she will be expecting me back.
“Ok where did you say you’d been?
“Oh just out with a friend
“Well you didn’t lie then
“I did
“Why? Am I not your friend?
“Of course, but I don’t want you as a friend. I want…
Her voice trailed off. One last kiss and she was gone. I drove home alone. We texted each other until late. I fell asleep listening to Our Song on repeat.

I wanna build me a house, on higher ground
I wanna find me a world, where love’s the only sound
High above this road, filled with shadow and doubt
I want to shoulder my load, and figure it all out
With Leah

I walk this road, with a hammer and a fiery lantern
With this hand I’ve built, and with this I’ve burned
I wanna live in the same house, beneath the same roof
Sleep in the same bed, search for the same proof
As Leah

I got somethin’ in my heart, I been waitin’ to give
I got a life I wanna start, one I been waitin’ to live
No more waitin’, tonight I feel the light I say the prayer
I open the door, I climb the stairs…

I woke up on Saturday morning to 9 missed calls. Sarah’s bloody keen I thought. Then I looked at the call list. My kids and the ex. And the texts were not the ones I had been used to.
“Tom. I’ve got 2 kids here waiting for you. Hello?!”

Chapter XI

WARNING: First Proper Kiss Alert. The following posts contain graphic scenes of romance that some cynics may find distressing.

It was one of those balmy early summer evenings, when the convertibles are pulled out of the garage and motorbikes roar along shimmering tarmac.
The venue was in a different city. There was no point us going in two cars so we met at a pre -arranged spot near the M6 She was already there. She got out. She looked amazing. Her hair was up and she had on heels and a short sleeve blouse. She was stood in front of her motor in the dimming sunlight as the cars sped past. She pulled whisps of hair from across her face as the summer wind wipped up dust.. I smiled back, she had really made the effort. I got out and went to her. As I kissed her cheek her face changed. She leaned back and stared down.
“Tom? How old is that t shirt?
“Er let me see, Tunnel of Love Tour, so that’s… 1988 .
“This is our first date and your wearing a seventeen year old tatty t shirt?
“Why, what’s up with it? You’re lucky, my Born in the Usa t shirt from 1985 has disintegrated.
“ I’ll drive shall I?
“I don’t mind I’ll drive if you want.
“Wont you want a drink?
“I never drink at a Bruce concert, it impairs my concentration.
Sarah blew out her cheeks. We set off. Then it hit me. This was the first time I d ever been alone with her. As in just her and me with no one else around. We started talking. And, like spies who have been set loose by their handlers, we began to talk freely. She told me about her job as a counsellor, how she listened to some pretty awful stories. She told me about one lady from last year who was on the verge of suicide because of some unspeakable things that had happened to her. She talked about how she had been trained, how stressful it could be and how frustrating people are when the answer is staring them in the face.
I came out with all the usual ignorant platitudes about how I couldn’t do it and I admired anyone who had the patience to listen to another person’s plight unconditionally. I said she was very altruistic. She replied that there was no such thing as altruism. That set off a discussion about what it means to be good and why people behave (or misbehave) like they do.
I started to talk about stuff that had happened in my life and as I talked I got the feeling, for probably the first time ever, that Sarah was actually listening to me, without any agenda of her own. Try it. try and listen to another person without your own opinions and emotions getting in the way. It’s not easy.

Then we got off the light-hearted subject of the meaning of human existence and onto the far more serious matter of the concert. I rambled on about how I got into Bruce when I was a student . How I spent the summer of 1985 following him around Canada and America, and what I thought of the new album.
“I I think this is his best solo album since Nebraska. Some of the songs are excellent.
“Yeah, but don’t you think Ghost of Tom Joad is right up there with the others?
“Ghost of Tom Joad? How do you know abut that album?
“Because I like it, that’s all.
“When have you listened to that?
“On this. Its an Mp3 player. I bought it last week
“Have you got the new album on that thing?
“Yes
“What other Bruce albums are on there?
“All of them.
I was struck dumb. Sarah looked out of the window.
“Turn in by that Marshall, we’re here.
The demographic of Springsteen fans has changed over the years. The callow youths with mullets and drainpipe jeans are now middle aged and balding middle manager types who now take their sons and daughters with them. The arena was hot with anticipation. I bought a couple of drinks and we stood in the concourse talking. Ex’s, kids, work, mortgages, friends. Then we realised we had something in common. Something that is endlessly fascinating if you are a people person (i.e. nosey). We both were avid people watchers.
“Don’t tell me she’s with him?”
“Shush, don’t look now, but, you see these two behind us, they’re in the middle of a proper domestic.
“These two aren’t married to each other.
“How can you tell?
“Inappropriate snogging over the age of forty.
“Maybe they’re just in love?
“Maybe.
I had a pain in my face that started to worry me. Like I’d just been the dentist. Then it hit me. I hadn’t stopped smiling for ages.
“So what is your favourite song on the new album?
“You’re the expert, you tell me
“I asked first.
“Well if he plays it I’ll let you know,
“Ok, I will too
“Anyway Tom , we will be buggered if it’s the first song,
“Why?
“He’s come on stage!
In twenty years of seeing Bruce I had never ever missed him walking out onto the stage. But then again, I had never met anyone like Sarah.
We rushed through the dark auditorium and edged past angry fans to our seat. We were twenty rows back in the middle. We sat as Bruce finished his first number. I looked down. We were holding hands.
Bruce was his usual charismatic self. Not many people can stand alone on a stage and hold three thousand souls in the palm of his hand. But I wasn’t really interested in the Boss. I couldn’t stop looking at Sarah.
I made excuses to interrupt her.
“What do you think?
“Good.
“Isn’t he brilliant?
“Tom, let’s listen.
“Ok. “
To be honest, Bruce could have been playing Tiger Feet, I wasn’t really interested. That is until he played the next song.
The first bars rang out. This was my favourite track. I was at a Springsteen concert with a beautiful girl. I have never taken drugs, but I guess this is what it must feel like. No, that’s wrong, I don’t think the strongest drug cooked up in any lab could have replicated that feeling.
We mouthed the following exchange to each over the music….
“This is my favourite!

“Is it? it’s mine too.
“Why are you crying?
“Because you are.
Then I closed my eyes and moved forward into the space in front of me where my kiss met Sarah’s. I thought my chest would explode. A warm soft dizzy kiss. A kiss that made you glad to be alive.
“You’re really beautiful you know.
Reply there was none. Just a smile, a slight colouring, and yet another delicious, heart stopping goose bumping, angel calling…..kiss.
Oh the song?
This is the song. Our song.

version recorded in Italy a week after our concert.

Chapter X

We were stood outside the bar, ready to go home. It was now time to play my ace card. The tickets had Ben burning a hole in my pocket all night. I said,
“So, I thought we could start our affair by going to see him.”
She looked at the ticket. You know that little facial tic people have when they look distinctly underwhelmed? A tic that they immediately try and hide so as not to cause offence. Well Sarah did that.
Bruce Springsteen?
Yes. Bruce Springsteen
Oh right, er…
At this point I was getting wound up. I’d just handed a her a that I had queued all night to secure and Sarah and a face on her like she’s just missed the last bus home.
“Look, if you don’t want to go there are plenty of people I know who –
Sarah threw her face into reverse
No! I mean no, I’d love to come really. I’d really like to come. I don’t really know any of his songs. Oh apart from that one, er what is it? Born to run in the USA?
“Born to run in the USA?
“Is it not called that?
“No.
“Have you seen him before?
“Erm… yes.
“Something clicked in Sarah, and her weirdo antenna started flashing, He eyes narrowed
“How many times?
28
You’ve been to see Bruce Springsteen 28 times?
“Yes, what of it?
“Why would anyone want to see someone 28 times? What’s so good about him?
“Because he writes about the big stuff, love, hate, death, injustice, what it means to be alive. What it means to die. His songs are lyrical, cinematic, heartfelt. He sings about ordinary lives in an extraordinary way that resonates deep inside here, inside your heart. He is serious passionate and committed, when you go see him you feel part of something very, very special.
Ok…
This tour is different, its just him and his guitar. Forget all that x factor nonsense, if you want to see real stage presence an artist that makes you want to clap cheer shout if you want to experience a show that will move you to tears, if you want to stand with a whole bunch of strangers and feel as though everyone of them is your buddy –
“Tom why have you started talking like an American? You’re not American.
“Ok then, who do you like?
“Robbie Williams
“Really? And why do you like Robbie Williams?
“I dunno. Because…. he’s got a cheeky face?”
Like I say, the grease that turns the flywheel…..

It was time to say goodbye leave the Travis bar and go our separate ways. I didn’t want to leave and I don’t think she did either, but the impatient texts about being picked up and taken back home were flashing through at an ever greater pace.
Now I always think a parting kiss between two people whose relationship is in what John Motson would call, “The corridor of uncertainty” (for a full explanation, please refer to your various H2b’s is usually a variation of a playground game. But instead of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” it’s “Cheek, Mouth, Tongues”. Get it right and it’s heaven, get it wrong and its Cringe City, Ohio.
We stood to go and I kid you not, to anyone watching it looked like we were rehearsing the Tiger Feet dance..
Cue the video to 1.09 for our dance

Eventually, we agreed to a peck on the cheek.
And that was that. It was bye bye Merseyside, we were airborne……

 

 

Chapter IX

We sat and began to talk. Well we didn’t talk, that’s a lie, we engaged in a bout of verbal subtext gymnastics that would have had Freud and R D Laing both scratching their heads.
“Hi Sarah, You’re early.”
(Translation –for an ice queen you’re a bit bloody keen love).
“I had to drop the kids off at his so I thought I might as well get over here.”
(Don’t get any ideas Charlie boy)
“I’ll let you get these Sarah”
(I’m not here to play games.)
“It’s ok, I’ve already got them in.”
(I am a modern sassy woman and I have no problem taking the lead…I think)
A pause to sip vinegar. And on we go…
“So…”
(This is awkward)
“So…”
(You asked me here love, so cut to the bloody chase.)
“Look Tom ,there’s no easy way to say this.”
(Actually, now that I am on my second, this is really quite easy)
“It’s ok I’m a big boy, I can handle it.”
(I’m a little boy, I can’t handle it)
“It’s like this. Brian had kids, they didn’t get on with Rob and Hannah. It caused big rows. My kids come first so I ended it. I don’t want to put my kids through it again. I’m sure your kids are lovely, but I can’t take that chance, so I think we should just leave it there.”
(Tom I think you’re lovely, talk me round?)
“I really don’t know what to think.”
(I really don’t know what to think)
Then it hit me. Of course!
“I have an easy answer to all of this Sarah. I am a great believer in being honest and truthful with women (shut up). So here is the best, most honourable solution. To all of this.
“What ?”
“Let’s have an affair and keep it secret”
“Who from ? We’re both single? Secret from who?”
“Who else? The kids.”

Chapter VIII

The Travis bar in Liverpool was, at the time the place to be seen. It was also where I met Mozza345 for our disastrous liaison. But it was a swish place for a first date, if that’s what it was – a date.
The worst kind of dates are the ones that aren’t. Sarah wanted to meet up to talk about how we couldn’t start dating, and the best way to discuss that with me was to ask me out on a…. date ?
I had an idea that that was her plan, but I had something ready for her in my pocket . (What? No, not that. What filthy minds you all have.)
I’d got out of work handy, Nigel wanted me to stay behind because he’d just been sent the very latest edition of Office Stationary world and the centre page spread on staplers had sent him a bit giddy. With a promise to look at the sleek new models in the morning I escaped to get ready for our non date.
It was ninety minutes before our date. I decided to kill some time by choosing my outfit for the evening. I went up to my bedroom and went through my entire wardrobe. That ran the clock down for at least ninety seconds so next on the list was my hair.
Then there was the accident.
Have you ever been distracted? Have you ever disengaged your brain? Have you ever not had your mind on the job in hand? Have you ever confused Andrex moist toilet tissue with flash disposable bathroom bleach wipes? No? Well, take it from me, on balance it’s a mistake best avoided.
I was just grateful that the neighbours were out. The screams were bone chilling, So after some emergency repairs and some tears, I was ready for my non date.
Ok, I know, you are all dying to know about my non date wardrobe? Did I go smart casual? Shabby chic? Formal? Informal? In the end I went for the classic look- jeans and a long sleeve shirt. And the shirt was ironed. Well I ironed the front. (We all know sleeves don’t count) the back I can never do so I after it was on I did a few lateral spread poses ( the body builders amongst you will know what that means ) that pulled out the creases. I think.
Then it was off to the bar. got into my car and (gingerly) eased myself into the drivers seat.
Even with the rush hour traffic I was early. And to my wonderful surprise, Sarah was already there!
She was wearing black trousers and a cream blouse. She was fully made up (That’s her face , not because I’d bothered to get there on time.) She smiled that lovely half smile and prepared herself for “the hug”,
Let me talk you through the hug. Like any great symphony, Hugs are broken down into movements. Firstly there is the pre hug. This is when the hugger, (as opposed to the hugee) readies him/herself for the embrace. Raising to their full height they adopt the “Hey dude, I’m about to give you a hug!” look. The mouth is in half smile mode, the eyebrows are raised and the the head is in that funny leaning back /tilting to one side position that screams – “oh, come here ,you big lummox.”
Then there is the hug itself. There is the tight hug, the kind of hug you get at funerals or the end of Cillas Surprise Surprise when the Latvian granny finds the grandson from Northampton that she left on the station in 1978. Sarah’s hug wasn’t that kind of hug. Sarah’s hug was the classic bend at the hips hug.
The bend at the hips hug is were up top it’s all going on – cheeks, arms, hands on shoulders etc, but down at the business end., the tummy /hip area, there is a nine inch exclusion zone packed full of what is known on the continent as English reserve.
It’s as if this whole hug business has been fostered on us by Johnny foreigner. I don’t remember anyone hugging any one in the seventies when I was a kid. I do however remember being pistol whipped with a plimsoll by Mr Gledhill in PE, so perhaps things have changed for the better.
Anyway, Sarah gave me a hug number two.
to be continued

Chapter VII

After the episode in the generic coffee shop things between me and Sarah inexplicably cooled. Why that was, I couldn’t fathom. I was a free agent, despite Mozza and the Nokia. (She wasn’t so much a bunny boiler as a Warren Gasser). My computer was under my bed, away from temptation. I spent my days at my desk and nights in front of the tv. Weekends were taken up with Everton and my son’s football team.
Rob got a lift off one of his mates dads so Sarah never made an appearance. The fact that she stopped going, the fact that missing her sons game meant avoiding me said it all.
The team was struggling too. No striker, no midfield, rubbish support and constant grumbling from the supporters. And My lads team were rubbish too.
There had to be a way of getting to see her. Texting was out of the question. I couldn’t see the point.
What? “How are you? X” ?
What would I get back? An explanation of how she felt about me? Via a text? Anyone who has tried that knows that there lies purgatory . Imagine pouring out your heart in txt speak?
I rlly dnt wnt to c u again Smily face you r doin mi ed in tm coz I cnt cmit to anther knb head rolf x
Actually thinking about it, maybe that would have been preferable.
Anyway. Salvation was at hand. An earthquake? A mass murderer loose on the street? A riot ? Social unrest? No, something far , far worse – Parents evening!
I was sat under the fluorescent lights of the sports hall. One of the parents I knew from my time at school. It was Ralph, the lean jock who broke every fifth form girl’s heart with his film star looks and perfect physique. He was the bald headed chubby guy with the defeated face and straggly comb over.
There was Diane, the star of our net ball team, a girl whose sapphire blue eyes and hour glass figure launched a thousand cold showers. Strode past me in her baggy grey trackie bottoms and carrying her innumerable double chins before her. She caught my eye as she rolled down the corridor, giving me a shrug of indifference that summed up the last twenty five years of her disappointment
My son was sat in one of a row of chairs waiting for the stern remonstrations of Mr Fletcher the maths teacher. A gangly man with the dress sense of Rupert the bear and just enough nasal hair to weave a small basket.
My lad was slumped so far forward his nose was almost touching his knees
“Son, cant you just pretend to look interested?
“What’s the point Dad? No matter how much you think you have done with your life, in the end we all return to the earth, and the worms.”
“Well before you go and see the worms, can you try and make a better fist of trigonometry?”
“Whatever”
OH the joys of parenthood.
Then just as we sat down in front of the thicket of tangled hair that was protruding from Mr Fletchers’ considerable proboscis, I saw Sarah with Rob. They were in the queue for Miss Bowden Smith the arts teacher. Rob must be doing art.!
Have you ever tried to hurry up a conversation by means of your head alone?
“Well Mr Hughes, your son here needs to raise his game, I mean if we just look at his geometry marks for this year.”

“MMM yes (nods() mmmm yes I see well I’ll be sure to tell him anyway thank you.”
I lifted my boy gently from his seat . As I lifted him up and away, the apple of my eye kept his chin planted firmly on his bored knuckle, so it looked to all the world that I was stealing a miniature version of Rodin’s the thinker.
We joined the cue for art. At last my lad sprang into life.
“Dad, I don’t even do art
“Shut up,
“Dad?
“I think you should give it a go. I think you’ll be good. Really
“You What?
Sarah finished with the teacher and walked past.
“Hello
“Hello stranger
“Look, sorry about the other week, I want to explain
“This was a tight window of opportunity. Ai had to act quick. But before I could speak Sarah spoke.”
“Ok where?” (god how off hand was I?)
“Travis bar in town?
“Yeah sure, tomorrow night?
“Yeah
“Ok
“Ok, see you then
And that was that. I shoved my lad out of the door and we were gone.
That night the texting started again. Cautious at first, then more friendly, may be this time, maybe, just maybe.
I went into my lads room. He was asleep. On the table were some drawing of some cars and a giraffe.