Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Proposal II

image

Passersby stopped and stared, was it a joke? The start of a flash mob? Where was the camera? Sarah jigged about on the spot and started to shake as the tears dripped down her face.
Then, the question I had fretted about since I chose it. Would it fit? Of course it did!
An old man stopped and smiled as we hugged and ran off in the general direction of nowhere in particular.
( she said yes by the way, but you already knew that.)
Sarah kept looking down at her finger, examining it from each angle, holding it up to the light.
I can’t, can’t believe it. It’s, it’s beautiful.”
It started raining, we ran through the streets of Islington back to the hotel. Past the tramps, the shopkeepers, the backpackers, the locals, the office workers, all indifferent to our new status.
And so we were engaged, after all the difficulties of the past few years, of tragedy, of upset and turmoil, we had done it.
That night I had booked dinner at Le Caprice, a restaurant in the heart of Mayfair. As the taxi driver, sworn to secrecy, drove us along Park Lane, Sarah held my hand tight and peppered me with questions about our destination, to which I replied, all will be revealed.
Le Caprice is at the end of an unprepossessing cul de sac, with only two artificial trees and a understated blue neon sign to give it away.
The building opposite, covered in scaffolding, was temporary home to a couple of rough sleepers. Stepping into such opulence whilst someone hunkered down against the cold a few steps away made me feel uncomfortable, but I allowed myself to rationalise this poor guy’s misfortune by accepting that macro economics and the politics of poverty and wealth would have to be left to the morning.

image

Inside the restaurant, we were immediately greeted by an immaculate young man who, after relieving us of our coats, invited us to take a stool at the bar; a raised black granite slab that ran the length of the room. We nestled on our perch and took in the view. The black and white theme extended from the bar to the tables and walls where dozens of black and white portraits of the rich and famous hung. This place oozed money. But not vulgar cash – proper, asset rich, portfolio, trust fund, inherited capital. One lazy looking diner in a crushed velvet jacket sat in the corner munching, whilst absent-mindedly chatting to some pencil thin ingenue half his age. Was she simply his daughter out with Papa for a catch up? Or perhaps she was some hopeful starlet out with a Producer lobbying for her place in the chorus line?

Our champagne arrived. Crisp, with a grainy, biscuity finish (that’s enough bullshit wine chat. Ed)
we sipped parsimoniously and held hands. The barman, dressed in an immaculate white tunic looked up from his limes and lemons and asked how we were this evening? His argot as precise as his uniform, he elicited from us our new-found circumstances with three brief questions. Incredibly, our flutes were recharged with some of the same stratospherically expensive bubbles. I was quite getting used to this.

Then the American arrived. In his early forties, dressed in preppy Ralph Lauren with a lean personally trained face, he eased himself onto the stool and snapped out an order for a Manhattan. Our barman complied instantly.
Then, the instant we looked like we were ready to eat, we were temporarily relieved of our champagne and guided to our table. The older guy with the velvet jacket and the young women were just within earshot as Sarah implored me not to earwig.

As far as I cold make out, it was this chap’s niece who had spent the summer in Geneva. As the conversation dribbled away into blind alleys about friends, aunties and her mother, I tuned out and concentrated on Sarah, who wanted to know the gist of my eves- dropping mission. Sarah ordered the sea bass whilst I plumped for the pork belly, a rustic peasants cut of pig that has risen recently in the gastro rankings. It was presented perfectly by a waiter who took efficient service to an altogether different level. Immaculate and crisp like his colleagues, he was super fast with his service and just the right side of curt, a default demeanour best suited for the patrons of this place.
There is no doubt about it, for obvious, special-occasion-Out-of- Towners like us, this place can seem intimidating. The staff are used to people with money telling them in no uncertain terms if things are not to their liking.

Take the yank sipping a Manhattan at the bar. Just before we left to take our table, he looked up at the barman and with a menu waving in his hand said, ” Can I get something to eat?”
The barman replied straight away, “certainly sir ”
Then he returned to the aluminium sink hidden under the counter to drain the water and wash his hands? This delay was obviously intolerable to our American friend, who raised his eyebrow and said, “is that ok for you?”
Which translated meant, get your ass over here and serve me now!
Was this guy a typical rich American, or was he just an everyday arsehole (asshole)?
Whatever he was, the barman sped over and set his place with efficient speed. I guess if you’re paying these prices, you can demand the best.

As the double bass player from the jazz band started his anonymous gentle thrumming, and as the keyboard player launched into the least offensive opening rag time number, we sipped a spicy white Rioja and held hands. My pork belly on a bed of mash was well cooked without setting the place alight. Sarah’s sea bass was a delight, fresh as a quayside box of ice, it’s fleshy slices slipping away from the skeleton as though they were starring in a M&S advert.

Five minutes after our last morsel had disappeared our telepathic waiter appeared to clear away. He stood and mimed his intentions, waiting for my grunt to continue clearing. I noticed the start of an elaborate tattoo peeking from under his shirt cuff. I imagined him sat in a gay bar swirling his swizzle stick and regaling the barman with his favourite Caprice war stories.

We shared a chocolate pudding so sensual I didn’t know whether to eat it or smear it all over our naked writhing bodies (I must apologise for that image).

Then the bill arrived. £ 164.00. Ok not cheap but what do you want in Mayfair?

We said our goodbyes and exited the restaurant. The homeless guy had settled down for the night under the scaffolding opposite.

We decided to head off to our next destination. Now, if you want indulgence, go to Le Caprice, if you want opulence, head for the Ritz.

Advertisements

Stag III

image

My stag begins on Saturday 11th October, allowing a full fourteen days for recovery. Whilst this will give enough time for excess alcohol to leave the body, it is insufficient time to recover from – a) one or more shaved eyebrows, b) tattoo in an unconcealed area, c) broken limbs d) broken hearts e) criminal record for drunken disorderly, although magistrates tend not to sit at the weekend.

There are now twenty chaps confirming their attendance. Some of whom did not make it to the wedding invite list. My fiancé is aghast that I could contemplate inviting someone to the stag but not the wedding. The conversation went something like this –
“Who is this on your stag list – someone called ‘FB’?”
“FB? That’s Fat Bloke. His real name is John.”
“I can’t see a John on the wedding list proper.”
“You won’t, he not on it.”
“He’s not coming the wedding?”
“Nope.”
“So what did you say?”
“I said, ‘Do you want to come on my Stag?'”
“What did he say?”
He said ok.”
“But did he not ask if he was coming the wedding?
“Yes.”
“And what did you say?
“I said, ‘No'”
“Did he not mind?
“Dunno, didn’t ask”
“I’d be offended,”
“You’re not Fat Bloke. And amen to that, darling.”

Sarah sat for a moment and thought about inviting a girlfriend to her Hen Night but not her wedding. She gave a little shudder, then went back to bottling her wedding favour jelly beans

image

We are starting at the smoke house restaurant on Mathew Street, then moving onto the bars and clubs surrounding the home of the famous pop combo that shook the world – that’s right, Tony Jackson and the Vibrations

http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CBIQtwIwAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPjQHlyNtsm4%26autoplay%3D1&ei=MmkhVLH2AY7nsATxkYCwBg&usg=AFQjCNFtaHFhKKkGXNc8xrTiGaAxbXADOA&sig2=unlaaXokts9gtiHizs0-XA

The Stag II

What is the psychology of the modern day stag ? Is it any different to stags from long ago ? In America it’s known as The Bachelor Party, in Australia it’s Buck night, in France it’s called
Enterrement de vie de garçon, or burial of the life of the boy.
Traditionally a last night of freedom for the groom before his wedding, the stag is a rites of passage moment when he says goodbye to youthful cavorting and settles down to a life of commitment. It was also seen as a test, an examination of his will when faced with temptation deliberately placed before him.
In point of fact, the ritual of enticing the groom into mis behaving on the eve of his wedding is underpinned by a strange logic. If he succumbs to some random woman’s dubious charms, then is he really husband material after all? A refusal to take something that is offered up on a plate must be a sign of his readiness to commit.
Whether this was ever a reason for the high jinks stag parties have indulged in in the past is debatable. I like to think however, that in some ancient culture in some far-flung part of the world, a noble Groom stands tall and aloof as a parade of beauties shimmy past, testing his devotion to the maximum.
How this translates to the modern day custom of licking cream off pneumatic strippers in Prague, I’m not entirely sure, but there may be a connection somewhere.
Brides fret endlessly over stag dos, but I think that most of these misgivings are completely misplaced. The fear of some oiled-up professional floozie being paid to massage herself into a groom’s face is real, but in essence harmless.
I gave this scenario to my betrothed the other day.
“Imagine it’s my stag, and the lads have paid for me to have some girl gyrate in front of me for five minutes. Would you be bothered?”
Sarah blew out her cheeks. ” not really, because you don’t know her and you’ll never see her again and it wasn’t your idea, so no.”
“Now imagine it’s me stood at a bar and some hen gets chatting to me, I tell her it’s my stag and she starts to flirt and get very friendly with me?”
“You better stop this scenario.”
“Why?”
“Because I want to kill you and slap that cheeky bitches’ face.”
“But it’s not real, she doesn’t exist.”
“Well, just make sure she never does, ok?”

I think the difference is right there, don’t you?

The Stag I

image

Just sorting out my stag do. Races, comedy club, cocktail bar, wine bar, titty bar. (Joke!). What depressing places Gentlemen’s clubs are- full of middle-aged men in suits pretending to work late, or younger men winking at each other pretending not to be terrified of the nubile nymphs gyrating up on the stage.

I went to one once on a stag do, it’s that long ago I can’t quite recall (honest) Nevertheless, we all enjoyed a free dance as part of the entrance fee, and from what I can remember it was about as erotic as a tax investigation by the inland revenue.
The evening was unremarkable save for my soon- to -be -best -man Greg’s heroics. He refused the first dance, preferring to give his magic silver dollars away to some bemused bald headed chump with a fat belly and a comb over.
As the evening progressed it was more and more obvious that Greg was refusing all invitations to have a dance performed for him. Soon, the dancers began to gravitate towards this strange refusenik. They were curious as to why he didn’t want to partake in what all the other patrons were enjoying
I sat next to him and listened as he chatted to the performers. I, like him, had no interest in the scantily clad young women’s figures, I was more interest in them as people (shut up).
He wanted to know how one particular fresh faced ingenue had ended up in such a grotty place. As she told him her story, of how she was a dancer who was in between jobs and needed to pay the rent, Greg coaxed out of her her contempt for the idiots who she had to smile at every night. Another girl sat next to him, probably happy to escape from the tiresome nods and winks from the oafs crowding her at the bar.
He slipped into her hand the last of his dollars as he talked. The girls exchanged the fake currency for cash at the end of the night. She asked him why he didn’t want a dance, really? Greg replied that he thought it would be disrespectful to his girlfriend, who he loved very much.
The girl’s faced fell into a long “awwww that’s soo sweet ” look.
I leaned over and whispered into his ear ” you’re well in there mate.”
Greg turned to me, closed his eyes and sighed “Tom, you’re such a fucking child.”

Chapter XXIII

So I had my very own fairy. But like any golden goose you have to be careful about sweating the asset, if you get my meaning
My sock drawer joy had me skipping to work. I would hitch up my trousers to marvel at my stockings as I entered my office. And it wasn’t just that my socks were clean and paired; they were new. Sarah held no truck with holes or any that had lost their sock mojo. There was a sock graveyard in the utility room, where she held all the orphans in a holding pen, a kind of Battersea dogs home for socks.
Sometimes, early in the morning, I would sneak down and surreptitiously rummage, looking for some old friends. Eagerly, they would jump up at me and lick my hand, desperate to avoid the recycle bag left out for the charity collection (that wasn’t really a charity). Ok maybe they didn’t actually jump up at me, but these little chaps were another reminder of my bachelor days: a time of confusion, mess, smells and disorder – the single straight man’s natural state of being.
Once Sarah caught me with a hand full of orphans. I put them behind my back and pretended to examine the settings on the washing machine. Of course she knew I was up to something.
“Either pair them, or chuck them out.”
Then she looked down. I was wearing two of them. And worst of all, not only were they not twins, they weren’t even brothers, not even kissing cousins, in fact they weren’t even related. Most outrageous of all, they weren’t even from the same continent. The left one was European Caucasian, the right was of South East Asian extraction.
Now, as a statement of racial harmony, it was bold, courageous even. But from a house keeping point of view, it was a disaster.
“What are you wearing? Listen Tom, am I just wasting my time?”
“Not at all darling, I appreciate all you’re doing for me.”
“Do you? Well come with me then.”
Meekly, I trotted upstairs to the bedroom where Sarah promptly opened my drawers (no, not….oh please).
“There.What’s that?
I was staring at my stuff. I wasn’t entirely sure hat she wanted me to say
“Yeah, there’s my boxers, there’s my socks, there’s my gym stuff….. what about it?
“Look at it Tom, all muddled up in a big mess, you just rummage through it all and leave me to sort it all out again, whats’ s the point of me trying to keep everything nice if you’re just going to balls it all up again?”
Do you ever regret saying something? Do you ever wish you could push words back into you mouth as soon as you’ve said them?
I was once at a works christmas do and I did this fantastic impression of a guy from the stores who had a fantastically impenetrable stutter. I looked up and no one was laughing. He was standing behind me.
So there she was, staring at my clothes, chaos where there had been order, indignantly wondering why she was getting the mick taken out of her. Then I said it.
“Well’ I never asked you to tidy my shit.”
Writing that line makes me, even after the passage of time, wince.
Sarah gave me a Oh, so we’re on that bus are we? look. I opened my mouth to speak and this time I was stuttering for real.
“What I mean is of course I want you to do that, I mean, what I’m tryin to say is…
But Sarah wasn’t going to listen to anymore of it. She stormed off. I tried to rescue the situation with my last throw of the dice.
“But darling, you are the fairy
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Sarah say anything with as much anger as what she said next. She turned around, gave me a withering look and hissed –
“I dont want to be a fairy!”

Silence. What to say next? There was nothing else to do but giggle. All was nearly forgiven.
To this day my sock drawer is still a mess. She still, on occasion , gives it a little tidy.

Chapter XXII

Living together, that’s what it’s all about.
I have been married before, it didn’t really work. I remember our car got broken into in the middle of the night. The police apprehended the miscreant and knocked at my door in the early hours to see if the house had been broken into as well. The officer walked in, saw the mess in the front room and sighed,
“sorry mate, looks like you’ve been burgled too.”
“It’s ok sarge, it always looks like this.”
Its amazing what you will put up with if someone tells you its normal to live in shit.
I remember the first week I lived with Sarah. I opened my t shirt draw and all my t shirts were immaculately folded in neat little rows. I stared at them for a few seconds, unable to comprehend the enormity of what I was seeing. I picked one up. It was washed ironed and folded on top of his brothers. I felt it, smelt it, pressed it to my cheek. And there was another, and another, in fact every t shirt was the same. But it didn’t end there. there was the sock draw too.
In my previous situation, nothing peed me off more than trying to find a pair of socks to put on just to go to work. In the end I’d either put the old ones on or make do with cousins rather than identical twins.
Once, in the dead of winter I had to be in early for a big meeting in work. It was a feisty battle between the accounts and marketing departments. Budget and re-organisations and other boring rubbish which seemed so vital at the time were up for debate. Things were getting personal. I cleared my throat and called the meeting to order. I crossed my legs and in a laid back informal manner lectured the meeting on how everyone unprofessional everyone was behaving
I noticed that some eyes in the room were gravitating to my shoe, perched nonchalantly athwart my knee. Fearing a wardrobe malfunction I picked an imaginary thread of cotton from the hem of my trousers and saw that covering my ankle was a pink and black sock with an image of one of the Bratz dolls (I think it was Sasha). My other sock was brown. I had got dressed in the dark. I folded the offending ankle behind the other and pressed on, my authority in tatters.
So it was that I came across the sock drawer. Little bundles of furry animals curled up together, all snug and cozy. My sports socks on the right, work socks on the left. But where were the odd socks, the socks with holes in? The grey socks that used to be white?
A feeling of disquiet came over me. This had to be a one off, this couldn’t happen every week ,surely? What superhuman effort was required to wash, clean and iron all this and run a house and go to work? This achievement was more than amazing, it was a miracle. There was only one answer. Somewhere, in some unseen corner of this house, out of sight from the humans, a little fairy was hiding.
“Sarah! Sarah! Come and see this!”
“Yes, what of it?
“Look! Look at it all! isn’t it amazing? Where have you hidden her?
“Who?
“The fairy who did all this!
“You’re looking at her.
I gave her my “what you talkin’ ’bout Willis?’ face.
You?
Of course its me, who else?
“Why?
“Why?
she looked at me like id just asked her why she doesn’t steal lamb chops from the butchers
Why? because I love you I suppose.
That’s what happens when you fold up socks.
But, don’t forget what they say about fairies, if they don’t get looked after, they get quite difficult
Of course I was delighted about my new discovery. I couldn’t wait to tell my mates down the pub, were they being looked after in the same manner to which I just couldn’t become accustomed to?
The next saturday, we were all in the bar gawping up at the tv as some over paid Premiership beauty collapsed onto the turf holding his broken eyelash. There was a break in play while the effete little pixie was airlifted to Geneva, and I thought this was as good a time as any to share my good fortune.
“Listen lads, I’ve got an announcement to make.” Pints were held in mid sip, conversations were paused, what was their old muckers’ news? Well?
“….I’m living with a fairy.”
Now, I think men today are a little more pc than they were say, ten years ago, however, before i could clarify the true identity of this heavenly body i could see them all recalibrating their relationships with yours truly.
Eventually, Hugh, the titular leader of the pack, spoke for them all. In a gruff voice he mumbled,
“Well, if that’s what you want we all support you, but what about Sarah?”
The mix up was explained without too much fuss, although I suspect even to this day Malcolm behind the bar holds the tiniest candle for me.

Chapter XXI

So more frustration for me, but we I had to put ‘us’ on hold until this thing with Mike was sorted out. But that was the point, it couldn’t be sorted. There was nothing she or anyone else could do. Convincing Sarah that she wasn’t to blame for his drinking was an Herculean task. Only the partners of drinkers understand what it’s like to contend with. And the gossips didn’t help. One woman accused Sarah of being the cause of his drinking. Sarah came back from the play ground distraught. I sat her down and asked her – “so, did you hold his nose and pour it down his neck?” She shook her head. Anyway, some bitter and twisted women was the least of our problems when Mike was taken into hospital.
His parents didn’t want to know, his internet girlfriend had vanished so it was left to Sarah to go and see him. the consultant took her to one side and spelt it out in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t take one more drink. Mike dismissed it as stress and discharged himself.
Sarah took him home and left him alone. Then the Saturday of the aborted night out I called over and Sarah and I sat up talking. She rang mike to see how he was but it went straight to answer phone which was unusual for him.
The next morning Sarah rang me. She said she was worried that Mike was not answering. I was at my house and had a horrible feeling about it. I told her not to go round to his and under no circumstances was she to use the spare key and go inside.
I was on the way to her house when she rang me. She had gone anyway and let herself in
“Tom! I’m here, he’s dead!”
I changed course and went straight over to his house. The neighbours were already out. Sarah was hysterical screaming about how was she going to tell the kids.
I went inside. The place was a bin. There, in the kitchen surrounded by empty bottles was mike on the floor. Dead at 46.

After the terrible shock of that morning, we had to sit down with Hannah and Rob and tell them the cold hard truth. There was no other way but to spell it out as it was. Rob had just come back from a game and was sat watching TV eating toast. As soon as we came in his face fell. He had a sixth sense that something really bad had just happened.
From somewhere Sarah found the strength to tell him. He was very brave. I think he took it as well as any young person could. Hannah’s reaction is too distressing to recount.
It made me angry how alcoholics only think of themselves even as they speed towards oblivion. But that intemperate attitude has to be balanced against the fact that alcoholism is a disease like any other
After the funeral I had the problem of looking after Sarah. Although they were separated and living separate lives the children kept them close. Any death is devastating but when people accuse you of contributing to someone’s demise the guilt is almost unbearable.i had to basically babysit Sarah to keep her from her own thoughts. I have never been in such a mentally desperate state that my own emotions are too horrible to endure. But Sarah’s were. It didn’t help that his parents cut off all ties the morning after the funeral. They haven’t seen their grandchildren since. Disgraceful.
So like all hostages to alcohol she felt responsible for his demise at a guttural, venal level. Sarah told me once that she had been trained to deal with trauma victims by asking them to recount step by step the exact timeline of whatever traumatic event had affected them.
So I had to talk her through each moment of that Sunday morning over and over again. That was tough. Fortunately, she had some amazing friends that helped her through it too. I had to make sure one of them was on hand to sit with her when I was out.
So after Mike’s death we had to decide what to do. So we had to work out a plan. It was crazy to keep two houses going; in fact it was three in total because apart of my rent I had the ex’s mortgage to keep up to date also.
So, after all the obstacles to us being together had finally been overcome, there was a huge big permanent block to our coupling – mike’s death. How long to delay cohabiting? Personally, I held no truck with the sentimental parochial mores of the curtain twitching fools that surrounded us, but I had to think of everyone else. So we held off yet again.
When would we be together ?