Monthly Archives: August 2014

Chapter XX

So 2005 segued into 2006. The familiar problems of timing our time together got worse, not better. Sarah was a mum in the week, I was a Dad at the weekends. But there was a storm coming, one that I foresaw, but one that Sarah couldn’t or didn’t want to face.
After being married with kids for years, Monday to Friday on my own was at first, a strange experience. Married friends of mine would wink and nudge me asking me if I knew how I lucky I was. And then there were the offers of dates. Women emerged from nowhere. Smiles got wider and conversations in the precinct lingered. For a single man in early middle age it was like walking into a sweet shop. I had a pal who was in perma –date mode. He had a different squeeze every week. He would regale me and the lads with romantic grand guignol stories that would make my teeth itch. He procured his conquests from the internet. He was no watercolour himself and so his world wide web concubines I suspect, set their own quality control dials to somewhere very near zero .
But the thought of embarking on what can be loosely collated under the catch-all phrase ‘fun’ left me cold. There was only one girl for me.
We would have Sundays together when the kids were at their various activities. We were at our usual generic tax dodging coffee outlet when I suggested next Saturday night as a possible window of opportunity. Evan and Emily where away with Grandparents and so I was free. It was like observing one of those medieval planetariums where you turn a wheel and the copper planets revolve around a sun. it is only on very rare turns that the planets align perfectly, and so it was with the children, when one was out, the other was in; so a night when they were all catered for was rare. So the forthcoming Saturday was a precious window indeed. Unfortunately, Sarah defenestrated that idea with some worrying news about Mike, her ex.
“Saturdays are a no no from here on in?
“I can’t trust Mike with Hannah any more. He’s getting worse.
Mike had a good job and was on the surface a normal middle manager type bloke. But like so many problem drinkers, he was a ranging sea of uncertainties, contradictions and frustrations that only in his covert, desperate drinking did he find relief.
The previous Saturday Hannah had found him comatose on the bed and had calmly rang Sarah to say that she couldn’t rouse her Dad. Fearful of the backlash if she confronted him, Sarah told Hannah to wait outside while she sped round to pick her up. Torn between the desire to have even a tiny amount of free time and the guilt of leaving her with Mike, inevitably she chose caution and so we were on the back burner. Again.


Chapter XIX

It was pointless pretending. Sarah and I were now an item. We had gone beyond – to borrow a phrase popular with teenagers – “speaking” and progressed – to borrow a different phrase popular with my Auntie Joan’s generation – to “walking”, as in walking out together. She was on the arm, she was my squeeze. If the Mothers on the playground were happy to whisper snippets of half truths vis-s-vis our non relationship, now that the news was out they had one last chance to gossip about us before our coupling became old news. Like a may fly who only lives a day, out outing needed to be gobbled up and digested before sunset. I walked through the precinct and bumped into Nerys. A formidable woman with a bent nose an a fearsome reputation as a persistent and determined gossip.
Hi Tom? Well, I’ve heard the news. You and Sarah? Well I want to hear it from the horses mouth.”
“yes, we are an item.”
“Well I’m so pleased, I don’t listen to the gossips.
“So how long have you two been seeing each other then? I reckoned a good six months but others think longer.”
What gives people the right to stick their (in this case bent) noses into our business? I smiled and went to walk away. She blocked my path like the school bully.
“Are you moving in together, and have you looked into renting yours out?”
“No, and have you looked into plastic surgery?”
Sarah was unimpressed on the phone. “you said what? Well that’s made my school yard trips a whole lot easier, thanks for that.”
“Well she’s a nosey cow, I wont lose any sleep. By the way, are we moving in together? What are we doing?
“Tom lets just get the kids used to it first
But I hardly ever see you? They’ll just have to get used to it.” Typical bloke. I’ve noticed with men, when they decide what they want they just stumble forward without a care for the consequences.
“No. Wait we have to be sensitive.
So it would be another twelve months before we finally moved in together. But it wasn’t a happy event that caused us to co habit, it was a terrible tragedy.

The Dress IV

What I am about to relate is, I’m afraid, hearsay. I don’t mean Kim Marsh and the bloke who looked like Shrek popped round to sing a song about The Dress. I mean that because I wasn’t there I have to rely on third party testimony i.e. Ella and Sarah.
So, they chose the dress. It was not the second dress they saw, or the third, or the twentieth. In fact they lost count of the number Sarah tried on. It was such hard slog Sarah said that it was a better work out that the thirty day shred.
Sarah was starting to panic after she went into one place and told the owner her wedding date. The woman gave a sharp intake of breath like just like when a mechanic opens the bonnet and gives you that little wince.
“It’s October, this year? Ooh you’ve left it a bit late my dear. If you want to have one made then you’re really cutting it fine, or there is one off the peg but there’s fittings and alterations…”
Sarah grabbed the first dress she saw and said “This will do”
Ella was the voice of reason. In her best Micheal Winner she said
“Calm down dear, there’s another shop down the road and it looks a lot nicer than this dump
Ella guided Sarah to the door as the owner shrivelled up her disapproving face. Ella smiled as they left and said.
“Tatty bye dear, we’re off now, come on Sarah, let’s go and find a proper shop.”
And the next shop was were they found it
I’m not saying Ella is the Ice Queen but if you ever stumble through some fur coats and end up by a lamp post in a snowy forest, don’t be surprised if you bump into our Ella in a sleigh (and don’t forget your Turkish Delight)
She isn’t without feelings, it’s just that if she was actually tasked with hiding her emotions, I reckon she’d do a better job of it than Penn and Teller.
So they walked into yet another bridal shop. The same racks of impenetrable gowns, the same over attentive staff. Sarah, by now looking rather bedraggled was on her last legs.
“I don’t think I can put on another dress today, I’m exhausted.
Ella was having none of it. “We are going to find you a gown if it kills you.
“Don’t you mean ‘us’?”
“Listen, its not me in a jam dearie, I’m sorted, ha!”
With those words of encouragement Ella plunged into yet another vast thicket of creamy chiffon and silk . She re-emerged with a dream of ivory. “Now, what about this?
“I’m not sure. “
“I’m sorry sis in law to be, but you really haven’t got a say in this process anymore. Now shut up and go and get this bastard dress on.”
Smelling a sale, the assistant dived into the rails and emerged with some tatty frock. Ella dismissed her with a cursory aside
“Don’t bother with those love, they wont suit.
“But these are new in.
“I’m not arsed. Put them back where you got them.
“The assistant reversed into the clouds of lace, chunnering to herself.
Then, from behind a curtain, Sarah emerged in the dress.
“What do you think? Ella?
Ella couldn’t speak. She was bereft, speechless.
“Ella? Are you…crying?”
And so it was that the dress was chosen. Silently, without words., Poor Ella the ice queen was reduced to sobs of girly joy. She clasped her hand to her mouth
“Oh…my…god….you look,….amazing! It’s perfect!
“Do you really think so?
“Does it feel as fantastic on you as it looks? Please say yes.
“Ella, do you know what?
The assistant and the owner plucked up enough courage to venture into their own shop. They nodded to each other, their professional eye confirmed what Ella had sensed.”
“What Sarah? What?”
“I’m saying yes to this dress!
“My brother is going to be in a heap when he’s sees this.”
“What the dress”
“No the price tag! Ha ha!
And there you have it. But what it looks like, what it’s made of, how its cut, how it hangs, its length, its fit, all of these things are as mysterious to me as are the stars in the sky, the secrets of the oceans and the inability of England to qualify for the second round.
I feel like one of those toothless swivel-eyed soothsayers who constantly updates his disciples with the date of Armageddon. “The end of the world is nigh! Er, you know when I said it was last Tuesday? Well I actually meant a week next Thursday.” Only my predicted date for The Revelation is indeed certain and cast in stone. The end of the great mystery will most certainly be 17.00hrs 25.10.2014.
Save the date…..
Until then, I’m afraid my loyal followers, we will all be in suspenders….

The Dress III

All through that agonising fortnight I would wait expectantly for Sarah to return from her dress search. She would shake her head and flop down on the sofa. It was difficult observing from the sidelines and being unable to help . I couldn’t offer any advice nor could she give me any pointers.
Then one night – I don’t know how or why – I found myself flicking through magazines full of bridal gowns. It may even have been that magnificent periodical known as You and Your Wedding.
This act of solidarity with our marriage journey brought a strange reaction from Sarah. She walked in on me browsing through the mags and it stopped her dead in her tracks
“Tom, What are you doing looking a dresses?”
“Er, I just thought I’d see if I could help my love.” I licked the tip of my finger, gave a little sigh, and returned to my page flicking.
“Tom, is there something you want to tell me?
I put the journal down.
“Look, do you want me to help or not?” Sarah exited the room and after a short pause, during which I heard her groan under the weight of something heavy, returned with armfuls of glossy magazines that slipped and fell about her like a freshly caught haul of cod. She plopped down beside me and once again I was plastered in gorgeousness.
Then the flicking began in earnest. But it wasn’t a joint effort. I flicked, she stared. She looked at the image on the page then stared at my face for my reaction.
“What do you think of that one, and that one? What about that? And that?”
I felt like I was down the precinct going through mug shots as a detective waited for me to pick out my attacker. I looked up from magazine number three and recoiled slightly as Sarah’s glare bored into my eyes
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
The stare became darker “I’m not staring at you. “
“Well, you are.”
“I just value your opinion.”
“My opinion about dresses? How can you value it? I haven’t got an opinion. I don’t value your opinion about Everton’s midfield, do I?”
“You must know what you like? You have looked at enough
“Yes but after a while they all merge into one. It’s like that time we went all inclusive in Grand Canaria, after three days everything starts to taste the same. Well after a few hours these all start to look the same, you know what I mean?”
Sarah grabbed a publication so thick and heavy I had wondered if I might borrow it to do a mini home workout. She pointed at yet another svelte twenty one year old stunner adorned head to toe in silk
“Well what do you think of that tea length with the puddle train?”
“I’m not talking to you if you are going to speak in riddles.”
No, really? do you like it? Really?
Actually, no I don’t like it
Sarah’s face fell “Why? Why don’t you like it?”
Fearing I had said something terrible I did what all men do when faced with disappointed partner. I lied and backtracked.
“Well when I say I don’t like it I mean, that I have certain reservations, but it would look nice on you, probably. I mean she’s not got your figure, mind you, looking at her, neither has any other woman in Britain got her figure, er…” My pathetic dribblings ran into the sand.
“That’s fine. At least your being honest.
“Am I? I mean yes I am .”
The phone rang. I answered. It was Ella
“Has she told you what’s happened?
“She hasn’t told me anything. What?
“We’ve found the dress! Today in Liverpool! We found it! Can you believe it?”
“Oh, right. Well that’ good news. I got to go.”
I hung up. I turned to Sarah
“That was Ella, she said you found the dress.
“Yes we have, but now I’m panicking
“Because I’m worried that you wont like it.
“I’m sure I will. What’s it like?
“I can’t tell you, can I?
“Well if you don’t tell me what it looks like I cant give an opinion. Is that why you’ve been staring at me?
“Yes, trying to gauge your reaction.
“And have I seen something similar to yours?
“Yes, just now.
“And what did I do?
“You shrivelled up your nose, like this.
“Did I? I don’t remember ?
“Well you did.
“I might have shrivelled up my nose because I was happy
“Don’t insult my intelligence. Oh Tom what am I going to do if you don’t like it?
I made a mental note -Tom, next time you look at your favourite BMW in a car mag, shrivel up your nose.
“Don’t worry. It will be fine. How did you know it was the one for you?
“It was obvious really. Because of what Ella did.
“And what on earth was it that Ella did?
“Well let me tell you…..

The Dress II

“Sarah. I am not the best person to talk to about this, in fact, I can’t talk to you about this, I can’t go with you can I? I cant know anything about it. All I can do is give you a lot of support
“I’m not Manchester fucking Utd.”
“I know, but I understand now how tricky it is. Look, lets have a look at what wedding shops are about, why don’t you take a day out to have a scutch around.”
“But I always go shopping with you? Who am I going to go with?Deb (MOH) is working long hours and my Mum is too infirm.
“Why don’t you take my Mum?”
The words turned to dust in my mouth, like biting on sand at the beach.
“Are you for real?”
“ok Forget that.”
“Tom I need someone who is not going to bullshit, someone who is going to say it like it is, someone who is not going to care what people think. I need someone who is going to be totally, brutally honest”
Then, for the first and last time in the wedding process, I had an original idea of my own.
“Sarah, I know just the person….”
My sister Ella and I have an endured a fractious relationship in recent years. But no matter how hissy the spat, the unique sibling bond healed the argument, cauterizing any row that threatened to fissure our relationship

Ella actually met Sarah before me. She was on the playing field with her daughter while Sarah played with an infant Hannah. It caused must hilarity when Ella discovered that Sarah and I were an item. She wondered what a nice girl like her saw in an oaf like me. That affection disguised as insult shtick holding just as strong today as it ever did.
And so it was that Ella was recruited to invigilate Sarah as she sought out her gown.

“Listen darling, if you look a bastard in any of these frocks, believe me, Ella will tell you.
So it was that they set off in the hunt for “ the dress.” I must point out that the following story is as told to me by Ella so I cannot vouch for the veracity of the account.
The first shop they entered Sarah pulled on a bridesmaids dress because she thought it would be an acceptable halfway house between a real bride and, well, someone who is at the wedding but is not actually getting married.
She emerged trepidatiously from the changing rooms.
Ells immediately passed judgement,
“Yes, very nice, if you were a brides made, but your not, you’re the bride. So get it off.
The owner appeared .
“Look, will you tell her love, she is the bride, so tell her to get a bloody bridal gown on! Never mind that she’s not 21
So under orders, Sarah started to try on dresses. On that first day she tried on 6. She would appear from behind the curtain, unsure of whether she liked it and unwilling to offer an opinion unless she upset the owner. Ella was unworried by any social constraints such a politeness.
Sarah appeared from behind the curtain. The owner cooed appreciatively
“Now that looks lovely on you.
Ella begged to differ
“No it doesn’t, you look a bloody state, get it off
Head slightly bowed, Sarah picked up her train and toddled off back behind the curtain
Dress number two didn’t fair much better
“Jesus, you look like Tugboat Annie, get it off
Dress number3
“Have you just come back from casualty ? That’s just a load of bandages. Off!
Number Four
“No! Off!
Number six didn’t even get a response. Just a shake of the head
The stern-faced owner showed them out of the shop. .
Sarah was on a downer after leaving the establishment.
“This is futile
“Don’t be silly, this is only shop number one, there’s another 13 to explore.
“I don’t want to put you out. Debi is coming with me next week.
“Don’t worry about me I’m having a lovely time. Anyway just wait here I wont be a minute
Ella went back towards the shop
“Ella, where are you going?
“Back inside, I’m going to ask her if she wants to advertise in my magazine
And with that, beaming expectantly, Ella trotted off to chat to her new friend.

The Dress Part I

Let me pause our story to talk about….. the Dress. Let’s talk about The Dress.

If only I could. I don’t know anything about the dress. I don’t want to know anything about the dress. What dress? Who mentioned the Dress? I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.
Me and Sarah don’t really row. Sometimes we disagree, sometimes we have a little tiff, very occasionally we are close to having “words”. But a full blown, not speaking, sweary high volume hammer and tongs? No.
That is until Sarah started talking about the problems she was having deciding what to wear on her wedding day. We had named the date and things would have gone a lot smoother if I hadn’t come out with four words to strike a chill into the heart of any bride not in the first flush of youth. “What four words are they Tom?” I hear you wince from behind your world cup cushions. Well let me put my tin hat on and explain….
Sarah wont see 21 again, but then again neither will I . And before we named the day I knew as much about weddings as Gok Wan knows about blown head gaskets (hang on, maybe ….no, doesn’t matter).
So, In my head there were three looks for an older bride, Mrs Haversham, Giant Meringue and…well I’ll tell you
Sarah came in flustered, she was muttering under her breath and couldn’t settle. Now to a great reader of Human behaviour like me, I could tell that something was on her mind.
“What’s up chicken?
“I’m fretting about what to wear on my Wedding Day.
“It was then that I uttered the four words. And I didn’t even drop the paper to bark it across the room.
“Oh that? I just thought you’d just got out and buy an Age Appropriate Trouser Suit.
But not a tranquil quiet that settles over a house at peace with itself. This was a chilling, bone freezing silence, a deal breaker silence in the middle of a row. A pause before the storm, a drawing back of the tide before the tsunami.
I lowered my force field (Guardian) a quarter of an inch. I caught the molten fury in her eyes. The force field slid back up. A puny defence against what was to follow.

“Trouser suit? What are you on about?
“Well my auntie Joan looked lovely when she got married (wrong answer)
“She was 71!
“Yes but, er….she didn’t look her age? (second incorrect answer )
Sensing a faux pas on a tectonic scale, I desperately tried to slam the conversation into reverse.
“Look, I’m sure you’ll look amazing whatever frock you choose
“Frock? Why don’t I just get a maxi dress from Tesco?
“No, don’t go there, there’s bride shops full of frocks
“Will you stop saying frocks, please? Maybe I’m too old for this, , maybe we should just call the whole thing off, maybe I’m being ridiculous
She sat and started flicking through wedding magazines. I jettisoned my force field and went to sit on the arm of the chair. I put my hand on her shoulder, she threw it off with a sharp roll of her deltoid. This was bad. Really bad. I stayed where I was. Blurs of white fluff flicked past my eyes. Some were smudged. Drip, drip. Sarah was crying.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a tough guy. (stop laughing.) But I can’t stand it when she cries. And this is a sort of a helpless, sands of time, femininity draining, inevitable kind of upset that drills itself down like a bo weevil into the bowels of a woman’s despair.
“Just leave me alone Tom.”
She stood up grabbed her coat and made for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Marks and Spencer, that’s where. Happy?”
I didn’t know what she meant, but at the same time I sort of did
I jumped into the passenger seat I don’t know what was in M&S, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good…