Big hugs

The other day a male work colleague dressed a deep puncture wound on my left ring finger.

This was an unremarkable event in itself; I had accidentally stabbed myself when washing the giant blade of a new food mixer. A day or two after, when I was in work, I asked him for advice, when it was still bleeding quite a lot. He had done a first aid course, you see.

But as he gently applied a padded dressing and secured it with some surgical tape, it sent a strange tingle from my wrist, up my arm, shoulder and into the back of my head. It’s that odd, but pleasant feeling you get when someone touches you (not sexually) in an unexpectedly gentle way. I remember the same feeling when I was about seven and my piano teacher adjusted my ‘fingering’.

I have no feelings of attraction towards this colleague – he’s a sweet, funny man about 20 years older than me with a twinkle in his eye, but nothing to appeal to me in that way – nor my female piano teacher of 30-odd years ago.

But the significance of this event – which I would never tell anyone, as it would sound self-pitying – was that it must have been the first time in over seven months that a man has actually touched me. Here, I am not counting a hug from my brother on Christmas Day, or repeated hugs and kisses with a four-year-old boy (my little boy, by the way). And because of that, the thought of it lingers in my mind. And how careless I was when I was washing the ruddy big blade that sliced through my washing up gloves.

I am not making this observation for sympathy and pity, just noting it for thought and the fact that when we get ‘touched’ regularly we all tend to take it for granted. If you’re bored with your man, irritated by him grabbing you from behind as you do the dishes (avoiding sharp mixer blades, I hope), kissing your neck or squashing your legs, as you sit together on the sofa and he does that turning sideways to stretch out and use you as a foot rest thing, just think about it. What if all that physical contact suddenly stopped, even though you find it annoying at times?

It feels cold – cold and shivery. Yes, if these things happen, we just have to suck it up. Shit happens, as less articulate philosophers would say. And lots of old people live for years without a single hug, kiss, touch of a hand. I remember (long gone) older relatives attaching so much meaning to a mere hug that, clearly, it was a major event in their lives.

So, really, I mustn’t grumble. But nothing can replace a big man hug, that kind where you can bury your head in his chest, hear his heart beating, smell his scent, feel the warmth emanating through his clothes, as he holds you tightly, for a few minutes. Even emerging with an imprint of the knit pattern of his jumper on your face, and feeling slightly woozy, because you haven’t breathed proper air for a few minutes, is worth it.

Don’t get me wrong – I still miss the sex bit too – my God, I do! But I have ‘machines’ that can help with that.  Whereas, at this time of year, when temperatures drop below zero, any number of layers of clothing, heating on full blast, jumping up and down and jogging on the spot, are just not enough. Nothing can replace snuggling up with someone on the sofa or under the duvet.

Walking home

I leave the warm, bright and hazy air of the pub. The laughter and babbling buzz of voices fade abruptly as the door swings shut behind me and the smell of real ale and sweat is replaced by the cold, stale winter air. Rotting leaves, car exhausts, cigarette smoke and a faint whiff of spicy takeaways fill my nostrils.

An icy, wake-up gust of wind strikes my face and makes me pull the zip further up my chest and the scarf over my chin.

But you were all drunk, you waved me off absent-mindedly and returned to your blokey conversation – space travel, comic books or bacon and eggs… My departure is a mere pause in your ramblings. You will have forgotten I left and half an hour later, one of you will say ‘has she gone?’ and another will shrug, before you get back to worm holes.

But I have had enough – time to go, time to go before I slur my words, before I knock over a full glass of sepia liquid, or fall off my stool, or crash into someone carrying three full glasses from the bar, or the strange moustached man with the red braces tries to talk to me. Before I do something I shouldn’t.

The wind is now whistling and humming in my ears. I have crossed two main roads, my head down, purposeful ‘I’m not drunk and I know where I’m going’ walk. Huddles of people walk past me – a group of four or five girls not wearing enough clothes for a winter night, three men in their 30s who stumble from one side of the pavement to the other, a couple giggling and clinging on to one another. An older man on his own, in a long woollen coat comes towards me. I look down to avoid eye contact. It seems to work and he shuffles past. In fact no one seems to see me as they glide past; it is almost as though I am invisible, or they are not real. A few more people walk by – lost in their own worlds, full of the drink, conversations and hopes for the rest of the night.

The almost-bare trees sway and dance in the wind, like a sea of arms; bits of litter float across the pavement in the breeze; grates gurgle, and the lights behind closed curtains give a hint of those indoors, cosy on their sofas, watching Saturday night TV.

I stride out briskly, quietly – thankful I put on my flat, warm boots. They make me feel stronger, more able than some teetering, clomping heels.

I turn up the hill to my house – my walk seems to have taken no time, I think, as I wonder what my tipsy male friends are doing now.

The house is dark and empty, no light to help me find the shape of the keyhole, so I scratch and scrape around, until it goes in. Then I am alone in the hallway, wishing for a cuddle and a kiss.

I remember days of urgent fumbling, passionate snogs, teeth clashing, desperately grabbing at belts and zips, slamming against the wall, unable to wait to go upstairs, warm bodies, firm crotches…

Instead, I make some toast and flick through the channels.