Bright and earlyish on Friday morning I’m heading north a bit to go south again, on the train to see my favourite Londoner.
Later on he tells me he didn’t initially recognise me as I emerged up the escalator at his local Tube station, expecting to see me in my usual travelling outfit of jeans, Converse etc. He certainly wasn’t expecting the girl in the stripy dress and the sandals looking a touch more glamorous than usual.
I hug him hello, my greetings hugs tending to be short and strong, this one being no different.
Predictably, the first full phrase out of my mouth relates to my needing to eat something fairly soon, so we dash into Tesco, buy sandwiches and other essentials (crumpets; Doritos; mint; limes) and retreat to a shady spot under a tree where we can eat our impromptu picnic.
Later we set out on an expedition to find me some shorter summer trousers that I foolishly haven’t brought. We walk, we find some sports leggings that are just about okay, we walk some more, I book an Uber to take us home, it doesn’t show up, we walk some more, we get lost, we sit in a shady park, we get home. I have a shower as I am now absurdly hot and sticky – my dress and underwear mercifully washed.
I resolve to retrieve the Spanx I’ve snuck into the washer myself when the load is done, the magic slimming knickers I always wear under that dress in what I fondly imagine to be top secrecy, the pants that have contributed more than a little to my overheated afternoon.
We have fish and chips for dinner at the excellent local chippy. My order is more than I can manage. The Prof flirts with the waitress a little, who is utterly bemused as she thinks I’m his girlfriend and she also thinks I didn’t like the mushy peas (I did. There were just lots of them).
I’d hoped to go out after dark and watch the Perseid meteor shower, but I’m knackered from all the walking and I just want to prostrate myself on the sofa. I’m indulged in this ambition, and the Prof kindly hangs up my washing.
I half sit up in horror as I realise what is happening.
“Ummm, do you want me to deal with my undies myself…?” I ask hopefully.
“No, it’s ok! Don’t worry!” he cheerfully replies.
I lie back again and morosely think, well, there are really no more secrets now, are there… he could also solve the mystery of my bra size if he were so inclined, but I’m sure he’ll be a gent by dint of simply not caring about it.
Saturday morning brings a lie-in, crumpets, Rock Band in our pyjamas, and a televisual introduction to one of the Prof’s very favourite interests. It’s very specific so I’ll keep it quiet – suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed it; all the more for the expert tutelage beside me, and we spend the afternoon being entertained and getting unexpectedly invested in the proceedings.
We’re in a lively noisy bar. It is Saturday night, we’re meeting a couple of ladies from the Twitter gang who live nearby for a bit of a social outing: I’m inexplicably nervous.
We’ve grabbed the only two seats at the bar, we have to sit close to hear each other, and even then we have to talk into each others’ ears to be heard. I sip my fizzy water and in the half hour that we wait, we are surrounded on all sides by confident, loud, Saturday night Londoners, many of whom appear to have stepped out of Made in Chelsea (which I have never actually watched) (we are not in Chelsea…)
The Prof has a smart blue shirt on. I have my stripy dress on, which has inspired several male drivers to fits of courtesy in allowing us to cross the road. I’ve read about the Prof’s dating style, the legs vs. barstool arrangements – read a thousand times. And here we are, with little choice about where to put our legs as we face each other.
My friend is habitually so careful with me, keeps me always in my designated slot, I’m reminded at least once a day, but this evening it takes so damn much effort to accede, to stick to the damn rules as the rules were agreed.
I sit on my uncomfortable stool and my heels keep slipping off the non-existent footrest. I want nothing more to rest my feet on the footrest of his stool, between his feet, but that would mean really quite a lot of leg contact going on, even more than we currently have, so I brace my legs rather painfully where they are, let my feet dangle uncomfortably and stick to the boundaries. I will not lean on his legs to better talk to him.
I float out of myself as we smile through the noise at each other, laughing at the ridiculousness of what is neither of our preferred environments – I look at us from somewhere else and suddenly I want a stiff G&T.
I’m out of luck though, as when AnnaHopeful joins us, the bar is so busy that none of us get served for quarter of an hour, or even get an acknowledging glance from the bar staff.
We retreat outside, where I can actually say hello to Anna properly, having not even caught her name through the roar of the crowd when the Prof waved her over. Tinderella arrives too, and we decamp to a slightly less busy location, where we manage to eventually grab a table outside. We drink and chat and laugh/are horrified at the drunken antics of the crowd of twenty-somethings and their extras.
I stick to the gin once I’ve started. My mind is a foot to the left after the bar stools and it needs to be lightly sledgehammered back into place. Gin is the obvious choice. I miss my former ability to drink more than the few drinks I can now.
By 11pm I’m tired and flagging, and I don’t want to let on. It’s not the ladies’ fault – warm and fun that they are – it’s just me. The Prof is ready the second I quietly say to him that I think I need to head off. Waiting for twenty minutes at a packed bar has drained me somewhat, and when I get tired I get overwhelmed by everything – noise, busyness, smells, the need to be sparkly – I can feel it coming on and it’s time to go while I can still walk and smile.
We go home, and out of the hubbub I am revived. I pour a glass of wine, we sit on the sofa and watch more entertainments, chat more. He smiles and says we’ve done our social bit; now we can hide away for the rest of the weekend being antisocial – and I happily agree.
It isn’t the first time that I reflect that in another universe, these two people are doing exactly the same thing, sitting on the sofa together, thinking the same things out loud, noticing the same shit – almost exactly the same, but with that extra thing I’m not allowed to think about in this universe.
En route to the bathroom when it is time for bed, I look at myself in the mirror as I pass it in the hallway. I pause and think that I just don’t understand anything, really, nothing at all.
Sunday morning sees us both a little bleary and sleepy-eyed. Scrambled eggs on muffins with hollandaise helps, eaten whilst watching the Olympics.
Later that afternoon we amble into town to play our scheduled game of mini-golf at Swingers. London is warm and sunny and full of people having a relaxed potter about town.
We have a drink at the bar as we are early. A heartfelt conversation pops out of my mouth about how muddling I find visiting him. I didn’t know anyone in London before him, no-one to stay with. It was just a place to visit for the day now and then. Now – I get to see the nice places, the non-central places – the places that make me think that it’s a great place to live, insane property costs aside. The place where the Prof lives has almost all of the things I loved about living in Oxford, but better. Half of the amenities could have been designed for me. I find it very confusing, and I feel rather sad (and guilty for feeling sad) that where I am buying a home simply isn’t and will never be anything like that.
The golf is fun. Loads of fun. Well organised, classy, silly enough to be funny, not so cheesy as to be naff. He hits the ball so hard it ricochets backwards; I overcook it so hard at the final hole that my ball leaps the wall and lands on the previous green, to the great consternation of the man who has just played his shot there. We laugh so hard I cry, and with that final demonstration of how not to play, my friend wins the match, and I’ve enjoyed myself so much I don’t even care.
The winner graciously buys me a Diet Coke, and we sit upstairs, laugh, take silly selfies and talk as always.
Then we set off to find a famous London landmark. In the shadow of St Paul’s cathedral is a restaurant that occasionally masquerades as the setting for one of my absolute favourite TV programmes: First Dates.
En route we find some giant silver vegetable statues, which, having the sense of humour of a small child, I insist on sitting astride and having my photo taken, before directing the Prof to do the same.
After such happy diversions, we find the restaurant, take my photo in front of it, then sit and rest and watch people playing free ping-pong in the square.
We amble across the river, stroll up the south bank, moving with the gentle tide of weekenders doing the same, soaking up the sunshine, no hurry. I tease him and tell him that it is acceptable for him to sit on the sofa bed with me to watch TV, I glance askance at him and laugh and tell him I promise not to touch his penis if he does… He splutters with surprised laughter then teases me back, telling me that he definitely won’t if I don’t. I dissolve with laughter and bat his arm.
Sensibility restored, we ponder dinner gently as we walk. I spot the bar where we went when we first met, on what I mishear him call our first date. We discover that Diet Coke destroys the taste of a G&T, we watch the world go by, we continue conversations started earlier; it’s easy and it’s fun, the sun makes it just that bit extra nice.
Somehow I find myself expounding on my Twitter stance that I’d started explaining earlier at the golf place. I hit upon what seems to be, to my mind, the perfect explanation of how I feel about it …
“I like the real you – the one in front of me here now – much more than I like the Twitter you!”
Erm. Thumping great insult disguised as a compliment, anyone??
For all that my statement is absolutely true, clearly my explanations of things that matter to me need a little more a) thought and b) work…
I try to explain that Twitter doesn’t always sit easily in my mind, I’m not awfully good at being two distinct people in real-time, and I like to find out that things that my friends are up to that matter from them, rather than reading a crowd of tweets. Sure – I love an acerbic observation on hipster beards from a mock cat account – sure, but other than that I find it very frantic. I know that it would be very easy to get find myself entirely caught up in it, swept away in the tide, absorbed in being mostly Cots and thinking how best to portray her, and I don’t want to be that.
And so I dip in now and then, comment on things that people I like have said that resonate with me, pretend mock outrage when the Prof tweets about me wreaking havoc in his flat … it’s enough. Twitter under a pseudonym has the power to hurt as well as entertain: I am cautious.
As we walk to the station, he checks that I’m OK with all the walking so far, as we’ve done quite a lot. I laugh and flippantly say “yes, no need for a wheelchair just yet…” – then I remember someone from his past, it’s like a mental slap round the head, and suddenly I need to tell him right now that that will never ever be me, I will not let that be me, I will never need that kind of help – it spills out of my mouth in a torrent, and I have no idea why it is so very very important that he should understand that. It is only the motion of the crowd that prevents me from stopping dead and clutching his arm as I say these things in horror, aghast at the very thought.
We reach the station, head home, stopping for excellent tapas on the way.
When we get home I get changed. A hot afternoon in jeans means a fresh cool top and my emergency leggings for me…
Usually I try to keep my cleavage at least halfway under wraps (well, between an achievable 65-45% coverage) but it is so hot that I just stop caring. Strappy tops, spaghetti vests – low necklines are the order of the weekend to stay cool.
The same goes for the “try really quite hard not to wear leggings in company as your thighs are a liability” rule I have (this is one I really wish I’d stuck to the first time the Prof and I met – I can only blame a hangover and a hurry) – it is blessedly jettisoned and the cropped sports leggings we trekked to buy are worn when jeans are just too hot… fuck my sartorial notions and hello regulated core body temperature…
The Prof sets up the podcasting equipment, I make absurdly strong mojitos, and we round off our Sunday with an hour of basically recording our normal conversation in a slightly structured way.
Somehow we end up laughing about what a bad idea it would be for me to ever be present when the Prof was trying to impress / chat up a lady he fancied. I am a mixture of laughing at the conversation, and privately but also slightly out loud reflecting that I really wouldn’t enjoy that at all. Things I never need to see… awkward situations I never wish to be in…
I express my mild annoyance that I don’t feature in his blog because I’m not a dating story (although one could argue I’m a not-dating story, which is the negative of a dating story). He says he doesn’t need to because I always write up our adventures so eloquently myself… I laugh and call him lazy, whilst knowing that yes, I pretty much will always write at length about what we do because it’s important to me and therefore merits writing about.
We wrap up and sit and chat some more, relaxing and nattering as we do. I try to ignore the first of a batch of messages that roll in from someone, a former fling, a current potential – I don’t know and honestly, I don’t care.
My silence lasts about two minutes and then is broken in a very garbled manner.
“I’m not being a deliberate bitch, but please can that wait until I have gone to bed?”
This is the price of staying chez Prof: the messages from the ladies, the knowledge that I am interrupting his pursuit of a sex life. It is my bête-noir – every visit I resolve to ask at the start as nicely as I can that could he please just tell them all he has a friend staying and won’t be around much, can’t it wait till we’re in bed separately or I’m in the loo or the shower or whatever?
Pretty much every time my resolve fails me because I hate sounding uptight and demanding. Pretty much every time my failure to do so results in at least one snappy comment escaping my mouth because I find it borderline rude and I don’t do it myself, I’m terribly black and white about it.
But he does, puts his phone straight down and doesn’t give me a hard time about it, not remotely. I’m grateful, and we carry on nattering until it’s time to sleep.
We’re both awake a bit earlier on Monday.
I expect him to still be asleep when I tiptoe to the bathroom, so to hear him en route to the lounge after I return to the sofa bed necessitates a hasty alteration of my nightclothes, the night having been too warm and sticky for PJ bottom – or indeed anything other than a thin vest top…
Modesty is quickly ensured before I am joined on the sofa bed to watch the Olympics and eat crumpets. I demonstrate how I would watch the TV with my oldest best friend, which mainly involves draping my legs over his and accidentally smothering his kneecap. This is a reiteration of my “the world won’t actually end if we touch” point, which I may have made just once or twice previously.
We Rock Band some more, we play Scrabble (regular, then deeply amusing highly cheaty efforts at dirty Scrabble), we stroll out for a late lunch but are thwarted, we return home and the Prof cooks a delicious spag bol instead.
A little more Olympics from the comfort of the sofa, then it’s time for me to go and catch my train. He trails my weekend suitcase with the shitty wheels all the way across London for me, I manage to get into a different Tube carriage to him, we laugh through the open windows before he comes to join me at the next station.
We say goodbye at the top of the ramp of my platform. My hugs goodbye are always much longer, for I like hugging very much. I don’t kiss him on the cheek, which is what I’d do if I didn’t check myself. I thank him for a brilliant weekend, thank him for lugging my suitcase, thank you, thank you – and to stop myself speaking I hug him again, because, you know, I really like hanging out with him.
It’s been a ball. We may not have won the lottery, we may have been absurdly clumsy, we definitely knew what the other person was thinking because we were thinking it ourselves at the same time, we absolutely cried with laughter, proper side-heaving gales of laughter at least twice, and we just … did what we do, without holding hands.
I disengage myself, vanish into the flowing crowds of people streaming down onto the platform. There in the unglamorous London teminus our summer city adventure ends – me to return clickety-clack to the provinces, him to pick up with the backlog of beautiful ladies just waiting to be dated…