Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentines Day

Has yours been as much fun as mine? There was a part of me that thought this would be an ideal evening to trawl the dating sites – surely, any woman logged on tonight would be, by definition, just a tad desperate. But, in the end, I decided I was not quite that sad.

A little light supper, then, and an early night.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Special Kind of Hell

“I really hope I'm pregnant”.

I instinctively squeezed the accelerator even more, hurtling the Alfa through the oncoming blackness, while the shock washed over me. I stole a glance to see if she was joking.

Charlotte looked deadly serious. Her innocent, almost child-like face was set in a mask of determination, and her lower lip pouted insolently. Framed by the tangled locks of long, golden hair (unavoidably curly due to the preceding week in the sun), she would have looked almost comical, had I not known that she was, in fact, badly upset and probably close to tears. In truth, of course, she looked as she always did – utterly adorable.

I tempered my acceleration, and brought the Alfa (a present to myself the week after Charlotte had finally dumped me) down to the cautious side of ninety.

“I mean,” she continued, “I had to lie to him and say I was on the contraceptive injection. Not that he seemed to care – coming all over the place, and only then saying 'I hope you're on the pill'. So I said yes, yes, all safe, contraceptive injection, lasts for ages, no problem … but I hope I am”.

“But you always said you didn't want any more children,” I said, “That having Bella was enough ...”

“Yes, but it's different with Kevin,” Charlotte continued, “I want to have a baby with him”.

Knowing the full details of your ex-girlfriend's new relationship is a special kind of hell. Even, or perhaps especially, when that new relationship goes wrong. Because, then you find out all the things she's prepared to do to try to keep hold of him, that she would never have done for you. And, however much you try to be adult and sensible and claim to have moved on, the reality of how much more she thinks of him than she ever did of you is a death watch beetle that gnaws at your soul.

I met Charlotte early last year. At first I was dubious, skeptical of what a 25 year-old girl could see in a 40-something divorcee such as myself. The photo on her profile at the dating website was not encouraging: a blurred, phone-camera shot of a girl who may have been just a tad shapeless, and who's face could not really be determined with any certainty. But, she had contacted me in the first instance, and had continued persistently with messages and then texts, and had even wanted to come over to my place with a bottle of wine so we could get to know each other.

So, I agreed to meet up, expecting little, and had found my expectations to be completely wrong. Charlotte was nothing like that blurred photo; she was utterly, captivatingly, gorgeous. The body that I had thought shapeless was, in fact, stunningly proportioned, with near-perfect curves that reminded me of the late Anna Nicole Smith. A classically beautiful face, with eyes of liquid fire and a smile that touched my heart. And she was the easiest, funniest, sweetest girl to talk to – it was a first date that just flew past, and I never wanted it to end. As we parted, we kissed, and I felt a bomb go off inside my brain.

Date two was dinner at my place, following which she stayed the night. Date three a romantic restaurant meal. By date four I was hopelessly, helplessly in love with her, and for a while it seemed that she felt the same. For a while …

That I fell for Charlotte was no great surprise. After all, the preceding November I had finally buried the stinking, rotten corpse of my eleven year marriage, following a bitter two year battle through the divorce courts, and years before that in which I had endured a sexless, loveless state of civil war with the Screaming Banshee. In truth, I find it difficult now to think of a time when my marriage was actually happy, although I accept that the early part must have been. Maybe for the first six months or so …

But, anyway, there I was back then, suddenly presented with a gorgeous, funny, clever, kind, adorable dream girl, who for some unaccountable reason seemed to be crazy about me. And, after untold years of near celibacy (broken only by a couple of lousy one-night stands and a half-hearted attempt at a “relationship” that was not worthy of the name), I was suddenly having the BEST SEX OF MY LIFE, with a girl that not only did everything I had ever dreamed of doing with the greatest expertise, but quite a few other things that I had never thought of trying but found I rather liked when I did.

Of course, it couldn't last. Maybe in someone else's life, but not mine. So, here I was now, months later, with our relationship (as far as Charlotte was concerned) long dead and buried, but obviously still a raw gaping wound for me. And, having to act as the best friend when she told me all about her recent failure with some utter, utter wanker who was not fit to lick her boots.

“Maybe I was a bit too much for him,” she continued, flashing me a glance with those adorable deep brown eyes, “On Tuesday, I'd just come out the shower, with no make-up on and my hair all frizzy, and he grabbed me and we had really boring sex, and he said that was the Charlotte he really wanted. Not the 6 inches of slap, the high heels, the Ann Summers outfits, the hand-cuffs or anything. So maybe it's all my fault. Maybe I'm just too much of a nympho. He did only want to have sex once a day most days ….”

The painful reality of my once-more celibate existence clawed at my soul. Sex only once a day? God, how awful ...

“I just wish I knew what it was I'd done wrong”, Charlotte continued, “We'd got so close, everything was so right before we went away. And I loved being there with him – the hotel was beautiful, the suite we had was fantastic … but he kept saying he didn't feel well, and stayed in bed most of the day. And, then, the other day he said he just couldn't hack it any more. Booked himself on an early flight home. Left me … alone …”

My heart welled with irrational pity and outrage. Charlotte was, for all her sophistication, quite child-like in some ways. I knew she had never travelled alone, or been in a foreign country without someone else there to take care of the details. In fact, from what I knew of Charlotte's adult life, she'd never spent much time alone at all.

Hence the sudden, surprise call on the last day of her holiday – in a voice almost breaking from tears, she'd asked if could I possibly collect her from the airport. No question that I would, of course – I'd have gone all the way to the hotel to meet her if she wanted, crawling naked across broken glass if so required – and of course hope sprung eternal once I heard the full story. How Chavvy Kevin (ok, my nickname this time), the latest in a string of unbelievably humiliating replacements for me, who Charlotte had been seeing for a mere few weeks, had decided to abandon her half-way through their holiday. Perhaps he was missing his wife and kids just a bit too much.

Whatever. At any event, the tear-induced comfort sex that I was hoping for did not materialise. I drove Charlotte home – her home. And I was not invited in.

As we parted this time, a moment's rational thought crossed Charlotte's mind. “And he promised he was going to pay me back for his share of the holiday when he could. That's probably not going to happen now, is it?”.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Art of Parties

Well, January is over, but perhaps it's not quite too late to wish everyone a happy new year. What's new in my life? I believe the French have a phrase – plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. But, hey, everyone has a great time at New Year itself, right?

New Year's Eve was indeed party time. And my friend Nick was having the biggest and baddest party of them all, in the legendary “Supershed” in his back garden.

Now, a party in a shed, on the 31st of December, may not seem like a very enticing prospect. But, perhaps if I were to explain that Nick is a man of some means, and what he calls a garden shed is larger and more luxuriously appointed that most people's homes, then the picture may become clearer. As well as being heated and furnished, the Supershed sports a bar, pool table, wide-screen TV (with Latvian satellite subscription), sound system and, er, the notorious hot tub. I must admit to some culpability in the notoriety of the hot tub, and of Supershed parties in general, as the first was held back when Charlotte and I were still together. With the further addition of Charlotte's hot friend Debbie to the proceedings, it was indeed a memorable evening.

But that was then and this was now. No Charlotte (I did ask her, but she was having a quiet night in with Chavvy Kevin), and certainly no Debbie (even more yesterday's news than myself). So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, a single desperado out for action, adventure and may the devil take the hindmost! Or, something like that.

I was not without hope. Nick was single like myself, and had contrived to ensure there were a generous number of invitations sent to single women. No guarantee that they would turn up, of course (unlike the usual bevy of drunken reprobates who pass for our friends, and whose attendance could be pretty much guaranteed). I was hoping, nonetheless, for a reasonably sophisticated evening in mixed company, rather than a typical Sunday afternoon Supershed session (lager, premier league action via Latvia, more lager, then Latvian action of a different kind on Kanals Pornografiska XXX).

Before the party proper, it was decided that a few looseners were in order, and hence the advance guard met up at the White Horse. For me, the beauty of both the Supershed and the White Horse, of course, were that both were within staggering distance of my front door – an important consideration, especially on New Years Eve. Thus, I was honour-bound to meet up with the advance party, which turned out to include such luminaries as Mad Steve, Dirty Dave, Wicked Willie Jones, Robbie Robinson, the Amazing Ciderman, and Nick himself (who, as he had invented most of these monikers, didn't have one).

“Hail Caligula!” came the ritual cry as I entered the bar – a reference to the hot tub incident involving Charlotte, Debbie and myself at the first Supershed party (there are worse nicknames, I suppose) – and it was clear that alcohol was going to be a serious factor tonight. Good , I thought, (who can face New Year sober?) and ordered my first beer of the evening, while making the usual small talk with the guys.

I noted then that Robbie wasn't part of the usual scrum – he was in a corner by the door, intently chatting to two girls who I failed to recognise. Fresh blood, or more particularly fresh female blood, was always welcome in the Horse, and I could see an ideal opportunity to move in there. After all, Robbie could hardly expect to engage both women for much longer – in truth, despite very much looking and acting the part, Robbie's conversational gambits tended to run onto stoney ground after the first ten minutes or so. And that was with people he knew.

So, I reckoned I'd be doing him a favour. “Hey, Robbie, how's it going?” was my opener, and it was indeed well-received.

“Ben!” Robbie's smile was of a man who welcomed reinforcement like a regiment under siege, “I was just telling these two young ladies about the party we're all off to at the Supershed. They really do need to come along, don't they?”

“It's not just a shed, it's a super-shed, then?” the taller of the two girls asked, her voice tinged with an amused skepticism, “Just what's so super about it?”

Now, in formulating my response, I should in theory have given due consideration to which of the two was to be my prime target, but that was a tough call. Robbie was a mate, and it was only fair (given that he had done the heavy lifting so far), to give him first shout. Plus, in the looks stakes, there wasn't a great deal to choose between them – both in their thirties (the older one possibly nearer forty), brunette, slim, and elegantly turned out in retro cocktail dresses and plenty of costume jewelry. Going for the shorter of the two would, perhaps, have made the most sense, given that the tall one was actually taller then me, and more suited to a 6'+ chap like Robbie. But, she was also the older of the two, clearly older than Robbie, who on that criteroen would have been better matched with the smaller one.

I decided to play it by ear, concentrate on having a good time, and not worry too much about which, if any, I made any progress with.

“Let me put it this way,” I said, “It's a shed, in the same way that the Olympic games is a school sports day, the Bugatti Veyron a nippy little runabout, or the Grand Canyon a bit of a gully. It's where all the best parties around here are held. And, after all, we're all going [I gestured expansively], so it's bound to be a terrific night”.

The assurance that the event was, indeed, a general social gathering involving most of the bar, and not just a creepy invitation to go back to Robbie's garden shed and “party”, seemed to have done the trick.

“What do you think, sis?” said the tall one (sisters! No wonder they looked so alike), “If everyone's going ...”

So it was that, within the hour, we all decamped the Horse for Nick's back garden and the Supershed opened its doors. Nick had also laid on a marquee, several outdoor heaters, strings of fairy lights, and copious amounts of booze and food. Combined with the elegant background haze rising from the hot tub, it was indeed an ideal setting.

It turned out the two sisters were quite local. Fairly early in the procedings, Robbie managed to spirit the younger and shorter one off beside him on the garden swing, while I was left chatting to the tall one in the marquee. Fair enough – except that it wasn't so much a case of talking to her, as listening to her hold court, to both myself and Craig and Gina, an older couple I knew from drinking in the Horse. Now, I don't mind letting women talk about themselves – it's what you seek to encourage on a date, after all – but this wasn't so much a case of her opening up as monologuing. She had recently qualified as a solicitor, so it seemed, after years of working as a paralegal and doing the exams in her spare time. She and her sister shared a flat in a new development nearby, although it was made clear it was the tall sister's flat and the younger one simply rented a room. The general impression that this was the smarter, more professional, better off sister was laid on fairly thick.

I decided it was time to demonstrate some value and move on. I wandered into the Supershed proper to find a very happy Nick leaning against the pool table. The reason for his happiness had her arm around his waist.

“Captain Ben!” Nick exclaimed (another of his nicknames – I'm really not sure where he got “Captain” from), “This is Julie, an old friend of mine”.

Strangely for one of Nick's “old friends” I had never heard of Julie before. She was a tiny, waif-like creature, with a rather pretty face and an elfin hairstyle, who closely resembled one of my old ex's from long, long ago (before I was even married). In fact, so close was the resemblance that I had to stop and look twice, to ensure I hadn't misheard the name and it really was my old Jenny from the ancient days of the mid 1990's.

It was only later, while Julie was chatting to someone else, that Nick was able to fill me with the full picture. He had indeed known her for some time, but only slightly, through their children who were a similar age and went to the same school. Through the wonders of Facebook, they were suggested to each other as online friends, had chatted that way on and off for a couple of weeks, and then Julie really had accepted Nick's party invitation. And, it looked like things were going swimmingly.

Disappointingly, it looked as though few other single women had taken up Nick's offer. The overall turnout was good, but it was mostly civilised groups of couples, as you would expect from our generation. Whatever happened, I wondered, to those parties of my youth, the furtive, whose-parents-are-away, sneak-in-a-bottle-of-vodka parties that were basically massive copping-off fests? At the time, I never dreamt that the parties of later years would pale by comparison, despite the advantages of freedom and wealth.

Oh, well. We all know that youth is wasted on the young. Disappointingly, the tall sister was still holding forth to Craig and Gina, and was showing no signs of wondering where I had gone. I caught a snatch of her exclaiming how she really wanted to be a teacher, and was now thinking of going back to college (obviously, the first thing you think of doing after spending years qualifying in law), and decided to demonstrate a bit more value.

After a spot of banter with Mad Steve and Rich, I realised that the only other bit of “spare” present was an old friend of Nick's late wife, a rather large lady known to all as The Matron. The resemblance to the late Hattie Jacques was quite remarkable. I also realised that I was sufficiently drunk not to care anymore, so simply let the evening take its course.

Shortly after midnight, Nick waived goodbye to one and all, and headed off back to the house with the lovely Julie clamped tightly around him. The genius of the Supershed concept was obvious: you get to host a great party, then when you've had enough (or when you seriously score with a hottie), you can slope off back to the house and leave everyone to it. People did start to drift away, apart from the hard core alcoholics, and I was thinking increasingly of how nice my bed would feel.

At that point, the younger of the two sisters suddenly appeared, in a state of some distress. “Have you seen my sister?” she wanted to know, “I don't know where she's gone … she's always doing this … we should be going home now ...”

“I don't know, I'm afraid,” I said. Rich seemed to think her and Robbie had gone together to the Black Lion. The younger sister rolled her eyes and flounced off.

Strange, I thought, as I didn't remember seeing Robbie talking to the older one much at all, but I was really beyond caring. Home and bed were calling strongly.

It was as I was heading off that the mystery was revealed. Nick also has a standard-sized shed, filled with standard-type contents (lawn-mower, tools, etc.), which stands near the garden exit. There's a narrow corridor between the side of the shed and the fence, normally hidden from the rest of the garden, but which can be observed by someone on the way out, should they so choose to glance that way.

For some reason I did, although I doubt that Robbie noticed me doing so. I doubt, in fact, that he would have noticed a low-yield nuclear detonation at anything greater than a 50 yard distance. His eyes were closed, and he was leaning back againt the shed with his knees slightly bent. The elder sister was crouched below him, engaged in an enthusuastic al fresco blowjob. It was an exceptionally mild 1st of January.

Happy New Year, matey, I thought as I headed home.