Bank holidays and long walks

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It’s been a bank holiday weekend, always a bonus in my eyes.

This time last year I was in Brighton with Cousin Z, having a splendid time staying with her lovely chums, one of whom is now doing the conveyancing for my house.

In a change of scene this year, I was scratching my eyes out with claustrophobia. Having already decided to pop into Birmingham to mooch around and get out of the house, I then decided that it wasn’t actually that much extra bother to go a bit further and give a hug to someone who might have needed it.

Luckily I didn’t just hop on the next train that way, as would be all too easy and tempting for me to do, and this person got the peace and quiet they’d been looking forward to this weekend rather than an over-exuberant hug from an excessively spontaneous wally trying to be kind and pretty much just being a bit of a twat.

Dissuaded, I stuck to my original plan and took my rather embarrassed self off to the city to eat Japanese foodstuffs, inspect the library, and poke around the (ferally busy) shops.

The view from the roof terraces at the library was fascinating. The weather was hot and oppressive, and the clouds suggested that rain, if not indeed thunder, was on the way in short order. The shopping and the eating nicely circumvented the rain…

Sunday morning saw me heading off to British Camp at the Malverns to meet the lovely Piano Learner and his wife for a walk in the fresh air (and rain). We have been blogging buddies for really quite a while now, and given that we all like fresh air and muddy boots, it seemed a logical plan to share a walk in a mutually favourite place and actually meet in real life.

Luckily for me, both Piano Leaner and Mrs Piano Learner are lovely people – gregarious, generous, helpful, and totally accommodating of my need to stop fairly regularly and eat a non-sugary processed-date sort of biscuit thing every hour. Their patience with my ambling walking pace meant that we achieved a huge thing – namely walking from British Camp to the summit of the Worcestershire Beacon.

I climbed it straight up with FF at about this time last year, immediately after my course of B12 injections, in the two days I felt brilliant because of them. Six months after that I felt so poorly that I was in serious doubt that I would ever walk more than a mile, let alone anything more strenuous – and I was deeply sad in the belief that I may well not ever repeat the walk.

But there I was, fuelled by dates and BBQ beef Hula Hoops (and other more balanced food!) – I’d made it! I leaned on the trig point in my now customary photo pose, got a victory snap, and three seconds later we were enveloped in driving rain – time to descend pretty sharpish. The Red Arrows were kind enough to fly over us as we returned, glimpsed between the trees.

Back at the car park a while later, I managed to have the willpower to decline the (utterly delicious) ice creams on sale, whilst whinging possibly a little too much about missing it. However, the long walk meant I was naturally tired, so sugary ice cream would have been asking for trouble. Piano Learner let me try his, for which I was most grateful!

Today has been lazy. A lie-in, reading my Kindle in bed, letting the sun stream over my legs, feeling only slightly sore in my legs after the hiking, not feeling broken and exhausted. My body actually felt like it had been used well, and felt all the better for it. My pesky arms ached a little, but I told them to sod off and ignored them.

The family came round for early dinner, so there was much playing in the garden with the nephews. A sunny end to a long weekend.

Funnily enough I also have news on the dating front, although it’s not quite as exciting as it may seem.

My bonkers former reflexologist (she of the angels), with who I am friends on Facebook, messaged me to say she had a nice single friend who she thought might be really good for me. Smart, my age-ish, works where I do (big place) – she would put him in touch with me if I didn’t mind?

My first thought was “gawd, what if he’s into all this angel nonsense??”

My second thought was “you haven’t had a date in a long time. Stop being a judgemental bitch and have coffee with the man”

He sent me a friend request; I accepted. We will call him Mr Single.

First impressions on checking out his profile were that he was pretty earnest. Volunteering (which is fine), lots of friends commenting about stuff. His work credentials were rock solid, and indeed impressive.

His photos, though, didn’t fill me with glee. Not ugly, per se. Just a bit… dorky..?

He messaged me, saying hi, saying Ms Angels had mentioned me, hoped I didn’t mind him getting in touch?

No, it was fine, she had suggested it, on with the chat…

It was fine, inoffensive, chat about work, where we live, etc. He admired my profile picture and the background picture, in which I guess I look fairly pretty.

My heart sank a bit when he asked if I was single, stating that he was and he had been for ages!

Now. It’s a fair question. There are a few photos of me and the Prof knocking around there, and it’s not unreasonable to think that two such devilishly attractive people might well be fucking each others’ brains out.

I simply said that yes I was single. Admitting you have been for ages just isn’t cool, and makes you look like an undateable spanner.

Whilst this may actually be true, I don’t want anyone I don’t know to think that or have just cause to even imagine that. I found his admission that he’d been single for such a long time decidedly offputting…

I suggested meeting for coffee after work one day (not tomorrow as my parents are miraculously out and I need to a) colour my hair, b) watch some shit TV on my own and c) do that thing which makes me feel great and puts a glow in my cheeks) (Yes. That. Sorry.) We left it that we’d confirm later this week.

When, after my walk, I put up a rather “hurray!” post about having got up the Malverns again having thought I might not ever be able to again, lots of my friends liked it. The ones who know how hard things have been at times, the ones that are delighted to see me getting better and achieving things. My sister said something lovely about hard work and determination.

What I didn’t expect or really appreciate was Mr Single liking my post. I hadn’t discussed the illness that I have that I pretend not to have, even though Ms Angels has it herself (much more severely) and probably told him. I didn’t mention it.

Also it’s just plain weird when someone you’ve only just become “friends” with with no prior interaction starts liking what you post. It is weird!

I mentioned my mild discomfort to the Prof this morning as we texted mid-lie-in.

He was onto Facebook like a shot, sussing out the new person. He had actually been rather unusually protective and suspicious when I even mentioned that Ms Angels was setting me up via FB. Everything was above board, I told him.

He wasn’t wildly impressed. It gave me great relief to hear him express exactly the same thoughts that I’d had, the same impressions, but some even funnier. It’s always a ginormous weight off my mind when I see it’s not just me being bitchy and judgemental – oh no, it’s him too, and we agree perfectly.

I sighed with relief.

“Can I just say “aim higher” and leave it at that?” the Prof asked, trying to be tactful.

And of course the bitching continued, happily and enjoyably, on our particular wavelength.

I will have coffee, I’m always prepared to be wrong – he might be the man of my dreams. I’d put money on him not being, and I’m torn between dressing casually so as not to lead him on or give him false hope, or wearing the sexiest outfit I can get away with at work (and thence to the date) to give my self-confidence an unkind boost from a man who thinks I’m pretty but to whom I do not return the compliment…

I am a dreadful dreadful person… but I’ll probably wear jeans…

 

Not Like That – Episode 4: Very Hygienic Lovers

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Yes, we’ve done it again – a fourth episode of Not Like That where the Prof and I chat about all things dating, more things sex than he ever wanted to hear out of my mouth, words we hate, places we would rather lovers didn’t venture, the magnetic attraction of my cleavage, the sexiest thing we’ve done with our clothes on, Swingers, dirty Scrabble, and plenty of general silliness.

The Prof calls me Piglet and I don’t notice – we drink very strong Mojitos that I have made – we laugh a great deal, and there is, as always, much affectionate mocking.

Got a burning question for us? You can email the show at nltpodcast@gmail.com

Don’t Call Me Ms

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I have a pet hate about being addressed by an incorrect title.

Maybe “pet hate” is not quite the right description. “Morbid hatred” should do it.

Admittedly it is less common these days to be addressed by a title – the world has changed, becoming vastly more informal, and the only place it crops up verbally nowadays is when I go to France and shopkeepers or waiters address me (sigh) as “Madame”, which is less to do with my marital status and sadly everything to do with my age…

Here in my country of residence, however, it is a problem when I receive letters, or indeed important documents such as one gets quite a lot of when one is trying to buy a house – as indeed I am.

The first document from my solicitor referred to me as “Ms”. 

I immediately fired off a friendly email with hidden veins of steel asking her ever so nicely to use “Miss” henceforth in any other documents. She is fabulous but she has forgotten once or twice, so last time I simply crossed out the offending pre-typed  “Ms” and wrote “Miss” on the stamp duty form.

I often feel that my intense dislike of the prefix “Ms” is completely irrational, and I wonder why it bothers me so much. I am often addressed as such in letters from people or companies or organisations that don’t actually know me properly. I suspect it is a default setting if they haven’t been told my title – it’s a catch-all for ladies of a certain age – statusless, if you like.

But I hate it. Truly hate it. It actually offends me, in a totally pointless and pedantic way.

It sounds like the noise a mosquito makes. It is also just a pair of consonants, but unlike “Mr” which is a declination of “Mister” – it isn’t actually short for anything (that I know of, at least – not actually having the Encyclopaedia of Everything in my brain).

It’s a horrid, nasty little meaningless syllable that no-one really knows how to pronounce. To me, it has connotations of a bitter divorcee – “yes, I used to be married but now I’m not, and I need a title that reflects that”. A certain type of woman.

Funnily enough I am a divorcee. Oh yes.

However, I got divorced in my early thirties, and, given my pathological hatred of “Ms”, immediately changed my title back to “Miss” and reverted to my maiden name. I’m not joking. It happend the same hour I got my decree absolute – bought shoes, went to the bank to change my name. Done.

I’m not so old I can’t get away with being a Miss. And when I am, I’ll carry on using it and just stick my tongue out at anyone who quibbles.

So yes, I’m a Miss, through and through.

Today brought a special extra bonus to this particular Miss. A letter addressed to “Mrs Surname

What the fuck? What the actual actual fuck?

How have my details been so badly passed around the NHS that my carefully and specifically-requested “Miss” has been tossed in the sharps bin and “Mrs” plucked out of thin air instead?

My stomach turned as I laughed in disbelief on reading the letter. I thought it was addressed to my mother initially, until I saw my own first name there in clear black print after the offending three letters.

I haven’t been a “Mrs” for nearly six years. A long time has passed since then. It’s a time I don’t much want to be reminded of, to be honest. I love being a Miss, thanks, it’s a nice little word, sounds nice; is nice.

If it seems that I am overreacting to something so trivial – I can only recommend getting divorced yourself. That’s all I can say.

And so, in the voicemail I had to leave confirming I’d got the letter and yes, I wanted a place on the next CFS support training session (which is for absolute beginners and I’m going to have to bite my tongue and not get annoyed that I’ve already done what they’ll talk about), I had to ask – in that terribly British embarrassed-but-adamant way – that they change my title from “Mrs” to “Miss”.

I didn’t even apologetically add “if it’s not too much trouble”, so they’ll know I really really mean it…

Yeah. Titles. Important in their small way!

Zipped

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This evening I just don’t want company. I want to be entirely on my own.

The only thing – the only solitary thing that I want is to flop on my sofa in front of my television and watch my choice of shit mind-numbing trash without saying a single word. Not a single fucking word.

I don’t want to watch Eggheads and discuss my day. No. I don’t.

Instead I am lying on my bed wondering how I can catch up with the Bake-Off this evening without my dad commenting every five minutes. There is only one Sky box in the house. I have no choice about where to watch it. 

Dinner will also be ready soon, as we eat at early-o’clock here, which is not my habitual dinner time.

I do know that coming in the front door and just saying “tired” to the question “how are you?” is rude. And that saying “yes” when asked if apart from being tired, am I okay? is also rude.

However. I am tired. Quarter of an hour ago I was wrestling the roof of the car up half a mile from home because it started to rain more than the odd spot that I was too warm and brain-dead to care about, after my hour’s train ride (delayed) after my 20 minute walk.

The roof wouldn’t quite go up right, when it usually does first time, and after nearly kicking the car with sudden rage that burst out of nowhere, I sat in the seat struggling with the clip and holding back the tears.

I knew I’d have to interact with my parents when I got home, and I just didn’t bloody want to.

I feel all the more horrible because they’ve tidied up after HBF and the godkids stayed last nigh, and fed them breakfast without me because I’d had to go to work… yep, that’s me – too tired and claustrophobic to even say thank you instead of “TIRED”, or indeed to remember to get the bunch of flowers I meant to buy my mum on the way home….

I am a massive ungrateful fucking bitch who is getting absolutely desperate for the house to go through AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE so I can have my own sodding space again.

Maybe my sanity will come back tomorrow. Maybe it’s just been a long busy day in the office on a bad night’s sleep. Maybe I’m just being a bitch for the day. Maybe I am just going to be ragingly ungrateful for absolutely everything today. Who knows?

Just – please – don’t try to speak to me….

Non, je ne regrette rien

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No Regrets

“Have you got any regrets?” FF asks me as we’re sitting outside after a very nice pub dinner.

I sit back and ponder. It’s a pretty big question.

It would be really easy to say “yes – marrying Ex-H”, but the truth is if I hadn’t done that, so many things wouldn’t have happened…

If I had stayed at the university I originally attended, I wouldn’t have swapped, wouldn’t have moved to be with him, wouldn’t have met FF, HBF, WBF.

Wouldn’t have got married, bought a house down south, worked at the school I did, fallen in love with Mr U, left Ex-H, moved to the Cotswolds, got divorced – wouldn’t have had all the adventures herewithin this little blog of mine, wouldn’t have dated, fucked, shagged, bonked, moved six times, or lived with Housemate S.

I wouldn’t have met the people I know today who matter to me most; perhaps wouldn’t have bonded with Cousin Z in the way that I have. There would be no Prof, nor the pleasure I get from writing this.

Maybe I’d have had a brilliant job – maybe I’d have worked abroad, travelled more, had lots more money.

Then again, maybe I’d have had a really horrible relationship that did me no good, and maybe I wouldn’t be as tough and independent as I am now. Maybe I would have been hurt in other ways. Who can ever know?

So, I sipped my drink and gave FF my honest answer.

“I regret eating my way through my twenties…”

That’s it! That’s my biggest regret!

I laughed at the smallness of it.

As I said, I couldn’t regret whatever happened to give me M.E. because I have no bloody clue how or why that happened, so I couldn’t have avoided it.

I perhaps regret a little bit not being much stricter with Ex-H about his finances, and not just respecting his wish to manage them himself (baaaaaaaaaad move).

But, d’you know what? I’m buying a house anyway, after all that shit – all on my own, from nothing. And I can be very proud of that. Ex-H is still renting…

I try not to hurt people, I try to be kind: I don’t think I waltz through life trampling people left right and centre. I try and be there for my family, and for my friends if they need me.

I can’t really say I even regret some of the truly iffy sex I’ve had (Mr Poland, I’m thinking of you…) because it always resulted in a funny story that made someone else laugh.

I don’t even really regret wearing my heart on my sleeve at times, because I think it’s okay not to be a mind-fucking game player.

Perhaps I wish I knew then what I knew now – that I could have done Maths A level if I’d properly put my mind to it, that putting on weight is easy but losing it is hard and gets harder with every year – not to take my body for granted.

But we all have those wishes, and I don’t think that constitutes a real regret.

I have things I wish could have happened, people I wished could have liked me – but those were out of my control so can’t constitute a personal regret.

I don’t regret being an utter geek, I don’t regret being stubborn and learning how to say no or how to ask for pay rises. I don’t regret not having played much music for my twenties, because I’ve found it again in my thirties. I certainly don’t regret not having kids – quite the opposite, I am hugely relieved.

Having established that no, our lives weren’t full of regret, FF then made me laugh by very sternly telling me that in fact men do look at me when I walk into a bar.

“You are so striking! Your hair! Your stripy dress! Your boobs!” she indignantly informed me.

How I love having girlfriends that don’t allow self-pity, and indeed ones that see the things that you might be blind to yourself.

I still reckon she is remembering one particular night we went out years ago (when I had blonde curly hair) when I pulled one guy and got chatted up by three others (so long ago that I can’t remember the blog post title!), but it did make me stop and wonder how ridiculous I was being (conclusion: maybe a tiny tiny little bit, but my worries are still valid).

So non, rien rien, non – je ne regrette rien…

Sauf mon appétit… peût-être…

Plan

Things that are still slightly beyond me

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I do irritate myself sometimes. Get these ideas which must be acted on immediately, pull my finger out, go and do them, inevitably get a bit knackered.

I know exercising isn’t meant to be easy, and it requires sticking at. I don’t have an issue with that (these days; miraculously).

It is just rather disheartening to get home from an hour trying out the gym and then to fall asleep for an hour and a half.

On the plus side, my arms aren’t in agony from making them do some resistance, I knew how to use the equipment, it was all fine.

It just made me tired again. Bugger bugger fuck fuck fuck

Too soon. Too soon!

Happily I said I’d need to see how the session affected me before I signed up to anything; wisely, as it turned out.

I’m still committed to improving myself, I still want a better figure (and oh, there truly is nothing more unkind than a mirror in a gym changing room to really ram that point home) – I just need to work out whether I can join the gym, do the gentle yoga classes, do a little weights, swim a little bit, and not do lots of cardio without it all being a waste of time and money, or whether I might be better doing what I’m doing now, which is more walking, and maybe add some strength exercises of my own at home.

Not currently sure… today’s kick up the arse was perhaps slightly too strong…

The things I can do

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Every now and then I have a thought that sticks, one that compels me to go and do something about it.

Today’s Big Thought wasn’t a new one, or an original one. It’s one that causes me some perennial sadness, more so because I have only myself to blame.

Yes. It’s that tedious old chestnut – my figure.

I vacillate wildly between loathing it, and thinking there are much worse out there and I should be loved just the way I am. After all, I have hardly been short of admirers keen to view more of it, in the past.

But now – pressure is winning, my over-active suspicions about what makes me unattractive or not attractive enough – as I articulated this morning to the usual long-suffering receiver of my deepest thoughts, aside from being a miserable antisocial cow, I can’t see what it is that keeps me so damn single, apart from my imperfect figure.

Improving my diet isn’t doing it alone. I’ve had a year of being much more sedentary than even I would normally be, and that has made things difficult. Only now am I starting to do more, walk more, get more active – and it’s a big relief.

And so I have painfully concluded that the time has come to join the gym. A focused effort is needed to wrought the changes I wish to see in my body, to give myself a chance to finally be the “hot” one instead of the one “who would be gorgeous if…”.

I have, since my heaviest a long time ago, lost three stone. This isn’t a mean achievement by anyone’s standards.

But I’m still fat. And it’s such a hard word to say.

If I could wave a magic wand over my waist, my hips, my bum, my thighs, my wobbly upper arms – I would, in a trice.

I want to be that gorgeous girl, the one who is worth swooning over, the one who guys quietly dribble over. Who doesn’t want to be that girl? I’ve never been like that. I’ve never really aspired to be that.

But now – now something is keeping me from getting someone I love. Something is offputting; something that men see that I don’t, or that I do but that I pretend is not that bad.

I’m tired of it. Truly – I’m fed up of it. I want to be loved, and for that, lust needs to be in the equation, pragmatically. I’m only getting older – this won’t get any easier or better without action.

Not everybody else has M.E. to contend with, certainly, if I allow myself some degree of forgiveness.

However, looking at things carefully and analytically (and, indeed, how else would I look at anything?), this year has brought great changes on that front, some of them almost without my noticing them.

Six months ago I had to carefully plan the “one” thing I was going to do each day. It was do this OR do that. Make the choice, do the thing, then rest. For the rest of the day.

Now – now! I can go to the office for the day, then either go out for a walk, or properly join in if my sister brings the nephews round, pop to the post box – I’ve stopped having to limit myself so drastically.

Now I can walk five miles, and yes, I might be a little weary when I get home, but a hot bath helps, and I bet most people would be weary too.

I don’t need a sleep in the afternoon any more. No naps. I’ve got the hang of it, I listen to myself, I push just a little bit when I need to, but not so much I break myself.

By consistently doing that, by gradually upping what I’ve done, I can now do more. The changes are actually pretty massive. I have hope that either one day it will be gone, or that it will become so insignificant that it barely matters. I don’t mind taking life a little more slowly, because it absolutely is working.

Sure, some days will just turn out to be hectic and busier than planned. I find intense concentration on work tiring; I find emotional upsets instantly draining. These are things that can’t be avoided.

But I can walk five miles round London on a hot day. Even if the taxi doesn’t turn up, I can still make it home, even if it’s slowly and with a rest. I don’t feel bad about that because I still got there and I didn’t need a huge sleep afterwards. The next day I wasn’t broken, and I walked plenty more before the weekend was out, even if it was at a light ambling speed.

Today I’ve been shopping, walked 2.5 miles, and planned to go out with FF – and the only thing that stopped me walking further was the blister on my toe. I don’t have to choose just one of those things. The wine with dinner (at home) didn’t completely slay me, to my delight.

I am not all M.E. any more; it is not something I have to constantly think about – and I’m so so grateful for that. I want only to be as normal as possible, all the time.

And so, tomorrow, I am visiting the gym for an introductory session. I believe that now I have the beans to cope with more structured exercise. I may not last a whole hour in an exercise class, and I’ll pick them with care so I don’t undo all my good work, but I can work with a trainer to improve my body, lose weight, get that gorgeous figure I lost when I was eighteen, get healthier, and finally be able to look myself in the mirror with genuine pride.

It might be slow, it might take time, but nobody else can do it for me.

And now that my brain is starting to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t – well, I’d better seize the moment and turn over a new leaf.

A long weekend Chez Prof

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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…

In which the visit goes smoothly

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The WBF visit went well, as it happened.

I’d been worried, concerned that our friendship was reaching the end of its life. I felt that WBF didn’t give what she’d got, that we had drifted apart just too much, that I still had at the back of my mind the ball débâcle where she hurt me, badly.

It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start with their arriving late. 45 minutes late.

Being late is a guaranteed way to annoy me. Being late and not letting me know is a stellar way to raise my blood pressure.

But they arrived, eventually, all smiles and flowers and wine for my parents. I bit my tongue and thought, if I start being grumpy now, things will go downhill rapidly. So I shut up and pit my gracious welcoming face on.

We sat outside and chatted. I was a little fettered at first. But they asked very genuinely how I was, what had changed, what the specialist had said. I asked them about their health glitches, about the house, work, everything.

It was a strange feeling to not know all of it as a matter of course, but I was grateful that we were talking properly. 

They were excited and interested about the house (all back on post survey panic, the roofer I sent round to assess it following the worrying comments from the surveyor called me and told me the surveyor has cateracts, doesn’t know what he is talking about, the house bloody well doesn’t need a new roof, it’s fine), and I was excited about telling them.

We went round to inspect my sister’s new kitchen, the nephews ran around, we chilled out and laughed and nattered, and it was good and relaxed.

Later on we all went out for dinner, sister and her husband included, dressed up and looking glamorous. Then drinks at a bar in the High Street, where, being Saturday, the was loud music belching out of the speakers. I switched to soft drinks, having managed some prosecco with dinner without it killing me off, and shouted across the table to be heard. We rued the lack of a decent grown-up bar in my town… and left when we simply couldn’t bear the noise any more.

It was lovely to have the five of us out together again – we always have a great time. We planned another bigger outing next time, which will be fun. The WBFs, incidentally, insisted on paying for my dinner, suspecting (rightly) that every penny at the moment is going to solicitors fees and the suchlike. I was touched and very grateful. It was a lovely (and very reconciliatory) gesture which I thoroughly appreciated.

Then home, tottering up the hill in our heels. The WBFs and I sat in the lounge after my parents had gone to bed, shooting the shit, reminiscing, talking over the end of my marriage, for some reason (they asked, I guess).

Things finally felt normal. There was no weirdness, it was relaxed and easy and like old times.

We went to bed late, got up late, I cooked breakfast for everyone, they departed just after 11, WBF hugged me extra tight – “love you, hon” she said. Mr WBF hugged me tight too, and told me to look after myself.

I had to go and have a sleep as soon as they’d gone- the rare wine and the late night caught up with me and I felt crap.

A couple of hours later I woke up feeling brighter and happier. I resolved not to mind as much that we didn’t text or email as much, and to be understanding of WBF’s foibles. It was plain to see that we all still cared very much about one another, and even though life has taken us different ways, we still cherished our friendship.

And that was what I needed to know, I think. That it was worth cherishing, worth the effort.

I feel infinitely happier about them now. They are gleefully anticipating coming to stay at the new Chez Cots (hoping that nothing else untoward happens with the searches etc.), and I feel better about investing the effort to go and see them, now. They offered to collect me from the station, which – as I’m more into my train travel these days, accepting that lots of driving isn’t the best idea – would suit me nicely.

So I will let go my grumbles, accept them the way they are now, feel confident that they accept and still love me the way I am now, and be thankful that our friendship endures.

The Fall

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It is nearly the end of my working day.

As is often the case, we are Skyping each other from our respective offices, only next door. You are teasing me about making yet another cup of coffee, another fruit tea for me which you don’t know that I only drink to join in your hot drink rituals, this thing we can do for each other.

You have parents’ evening, and you don’t live close enough to go home. I feel very sorry for you, knowing as I do that this means fish and chips in your office on your own, marking Year 10 homework.

So I invite you back to my house for a cup of coffee and a biscuit and some friendly company, to look at the brochure for the car that I’m buying because of you, all you.

You ask if my husband will mind?

Of course not, I chat about you all the time, he knows we work together, how friendly we are. I omit to say “how married you are, that you have a family”, but my husband does know that too. You are reliable, you are not dangerous, you are Mr Uncorruptable.

And so, half an hour after I have got home, you knock on the door of my cottage. I’ve changed out of the skirt and heels that is my habitual work-wear, casual trousers, just me at home.

I give you coffee just the way you like it, a biscuit that I made. You admire the tiny cottage, you smile and laugh and joke, your eyes are warm. We sit together and look at the car brochure. You tease me and push my buttons, we laugh and it is warm and fun and easy.

You regretfully head back to school to parents’ evening; I prepare the dinner and collect my husband from the station, where he has returned, as regularly as clockwork, on the 7.10pm from London Bridge, after texting me to confirm there are no delays.

The next day at work, you have a free period, and you are Skyping me, seconds after I have been into your office and given you a cup of coffee.

You were disappointed that I had got changed out of my pencil skirt by the time you came round to my house…

That week, the tone of our Skyping changes subtly.

Throughout my time at the school working with you, one or two older, wiser members of staff have observed how close we are at work, even though everything has always been absolutely above board. We are usually laughing as we sort reports, plan the next timetable – I take my shoes off and sit on your floor amongst the papers, I give you cheek, we take the piss out of each other.

You have comforted me with fruit tea and biscuits and uncomplicated friendly warmth when my husband has done something stupid and I’ve been too upset to hide it.

But now – now, our Skypes are becoming dangerously full of “what-if”s, and it is plain to see that the harmless little crush I’ve always had on you is more than returned.

I’ve always thought you utterly untouchable. Your reputation as a dedicated family man has been more than enough to make my flirting with you as light as I can keep it, but your personality has earned my friendship wholeheartedly, as well as my respect.

And now, it is you saying the “what-if”s. It isn’t me. I am stunned, thrilled, breathless.

A week after the original parents’ evening comes another one. It is also your birthday. I cannot bear the thought of you sitting in your cold lonely office on a bleak December evening waiting for your first appointment.

Of course you must come round for coffee again, and another of the cupcakes I’d made you for your birthday.

You gladly accept.

This time, I keep my black satin pencil skirt on, and you see it as you walk into my cottage.

This time I am nervous and I don’t quite know what to say or think. I go and put the kettle on, the familiar routine keeping me occupied. I find the cupcakes and eat one quickly – my stomach is doing somersaults, I am graceless.

You stand in the kitchen in your suit. I am leaning against the sink. I can picture your face now, to this day, ten years later.

You are looking at me in a way that I do not have the words to define. My heart is beating so loudly I think you must be able to hear it.

You sigh deeply, and you say my name. I can hear the weight of it, the depth of it.

Something propels me to take a step towards you, and even now I still think that we will stay away from the edge, even as I step into your arms, open my arms, and hug you.

“Happy birthday” I whisper into your ear, because I don’t for the life of me know what on earth else to say. I kiss your cheek, a chaste birthday kiss between friends.

My head is next to yours, still there, turned towards you after that innocent kiss, I haven’t moved away.

Your arms tighten around me, your head turns infinitesimally, all it takes is the fewest degrees and we are kissing, falling over the edge, we are kissing and it feels so ridiculously right to be kissing you, my darling you.

Your hands are in my hair now, and you are kissing me like you cannot believe your good fortune. My hands grow bolder and slide down to your bottom, which is peachy and firm – it makes me laugh with joy and ask where you have been hiding it all this time?

My laugh and my sparkling eyes quicken something in us, and we begin to pull at each others’ clothes, kissing and tugging at fabric, your tie goes flying somewhere behind us.

I have a moment of panic that the neighbours might see into the kitchen window, so I try and close the blind whilst covering up my bra – I can’t reach so you do it for me.

I race upstairs while we are apart, I grab the duvet from the spare bed and a box of condoms from my husband’s bedside drawer. I feel not the faintest flicker of guilt as I do so, I am only anxious to get back downstairs and into your arms before you change your mind amidst the enormity of what we are doing, the line we are leaping over.

You are still there, waiting for me. We spread the duvet out on the lounge floor, close the curtains, and continue to undress each other with rapacious hunger.

Your mouth closes around my nipple, I can feel your erection bursting through your suit trousers, and the only thought in my mind is “it’s you, it’s you, it is really you“. You hands are running over me, you pause from kissing me as we lay naked now, side by side – your sweet voice nervously laughs and tells me you have only ever done this with one person.

My brain chooses not to think about your wife or your son or my husband at this particular moment, and thank goodness your mouth is once again kissing me, your hands stroking me, my hands are on you and oh my goodness there is a lot more of you there than I am used to…

We deal with the condom with shaking hands and laughing eyes, we kiss some more, and then you are inside me, with that tiny “oh!” that will become so familiar to me.

You fill me up, you kiss me, we are urgent and passionate, rolling around on the floor, we cannot get enough of each other, I whisper to you not to worry about me, I’m not easy in that department and it is enough for me to be doing this with you, more than enough – you come, hard, your eyes close with the force.

We come back down to earth – sweaty, shocked, elated.

You go to the bathroom to clean yourself up. I survey the explosion of clothes, and begin to get dressed, knowing you have to be back at school presently.

You return, much more dressed, subdued. You collect your tie, your jacket, your watch. I make sure you have absolutely everything. There will be nothing to give us away.

You put your shoes on and stand awkwardly by the door. My instinct is to hug you, to kiss you all over again, but something tells me to cool it a little. I give you instead a gentle kiss on the cheek, and reiterate my birthday felicitations.

With your hands in your pockets, your guilt is writ large across your face. You look at me, and you say “you know it can only be this once, don’t you?”

I wish that what we had just done had not wrought that pain in your face, but even as you say the words, as I mechanically nod and seem to accept them, knowing that you are now feeling the tidal wave of guilt and shame at this awful thing we have done, I know with an absolute certainty that it will not be the only time.

I let you go, I wave you goodbye as you walk down the garden path and through the gate. I close the door, lean on it briefly, then I begin the process of erasing every trace of what has just happened in the house I share with my husband.

I open the windows, I wash the duvet cover (and later I will pretend I spilled something on it accidentally, rather than my own hopelessly excited traitorous juices), I leave the mugs drying because it was known that Mr U was popping round for coffee again, it was never a secret.

I undress and climb into the shower, washing away every trace of being loved.

I dry myself and drop my dirty washing into the laundry basket, the domain of my husband, in an action that will return to haunt my husband but that I denied for the sake of limiting my cruelty – I drop my knickers in, those underthings explored by a man who isn’t the one who will wash them for me.

In that moment, as I wonder whether that is a step beyond the pale, a callous and sadistic sickening insult – I hear my husband’s voice as I stood in exactly the same spot where I have just been kissed, the voice telling me that he was in love with his colleague as well as with me, the voice that made me understand that suddenly our marriage wasn’t about “us” any more and that I should look out for myself more – I hear that voice and I feel the shock, I recall the loss of respect, the pitying of my drama-queen of a husband duped by a ridiculous office floozy stringing three men along by their ties, my husband the biggest naivest fool of them all.

It turns out that I too am admired, courted, feted by other people. My reason to resist has been excised. It is not revenge, it is the simple removal of my only reason not to.

I dress, I inspect my face in the mirror. It is the calm, serene face of a girl who has no doubts. She is not someone who will ask or require someone to leave their family for, she understands that even now, but instead she has become someone confident that she is worth being loved and not taken for granted.

I dutifully chop the vegetables, and then, after acknowledging the usual text, I am waiting at the station at 7.10pm as always, listening to a detailed recount of his day, dismissing mine with the barest “it was fine”, saying that yes, Mr U did come round for coffee, such a pity having to work late on his birthday…

I feel not a flicker of guilt, which in itself troubles me. I know the depths of what I have done, and I feel no remorse. I suddenly understand what brilliant sex is, and that will long be my undoing because I will never settle again. I lie, I pretend, I carry on as normal – just wanting to borrow you for a long time.

As is the way of these things, it couldn’t last. It was not a fairytale: it was a tale of hurt and pain and love and loss – the oldest and most predictable story in the world.

I will always be grateful that in the end I did not break your family, that you got to hang on to your happiness. You are not the reason I ended up leaving my husband, but I thank you for opening my eyes, for loving me the way that you did for that brief period of sunshine.

I only caved once after I got divorced, pretended our friendly emails were just friendly, gave in to temptation just once when it was clear that we were still holding a candle for each other, I got the better of my conscience and invited you to visit me.

After that I knew I had to let you go, that if I gave in and kept snapping my fingers you would eventually find a way to see me occasionally again.

I couldn’t do it to you – who had already risked so much, you with a larger family now – so very much to lose after nearly losing it once already over me.

I couldn’t do it to myself either – keep having these tastes of a lovely thing that I could never keep, it was ultimately too sad, too painful, too hard to keep reminding myself of a love I simply could not have. I told myself that somewhere in a parallel universe it was our turn to be together somehow, and that there we were happy and fulfilled and in love, but in this universe we could never be together.

And so I did let you go. I think of you now and then, when I need to remember a strong embrace, someone who loved me exactly the way I was, someone who risked a great deal to do what we did, someone so incredibly thoughtful and kind to me, uncomplicated love.

I think that you were the foundation block for the new me, the one that took some time to emerge fully after we ended, one that started crystallising after I left Ex-H and forged my own life my own way. You gave me something indelible  that can never ever be taken away, and I will always love you and be grateful for that.

I will fall in love with men who do not or cannot love me back – and I will wonder why they cannot when you could; I will discard men who do not meet my high standards, thanks to you. I will never ever regret those standards, nor drop them – I will keep what you gave me and use it to make myself stronger.

I may not ever see you again – and I believe that however sad that is, it is undoubtedly for the best – but there will always be a tiny little bit of you that I carry in my heart; always.

xxx

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