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.

A many splendored thing

I can count on one hand how many times it has happened to me – well, actually three fingers of one hand. But for some people, all their fingers and toes may not be enough, while for others a big fat fist of zero says it all.

A simple, probably unoriginal comment on one of those social networking sites – the one that sounds like a brand of bird food – got me thinking. It said: “Women use sex for love while men use love for sex.”

Of my three ‘occasions’ just one did not start with sex, but all three ended in failure or rejection – maybe I am just good at getting it wrong.

The one that did not start with sex, ended with sex, so what’s the difference? He was a good friend and I actually fell for his personality before his looks (let’s call him S). When we went out as a group on a Saturday night in our 20s, I somehow always ended up chatting to S, moaning about a clingy boyfriend I had at the time. S was always willing to listen, impart his wisdom and never looked bored. Maybe he was just a good actor, but I began to realise how unique this was for a man in his early 20s.

I then began to notice his face, the way he talked and everything about him gradually became wonderful, beautiful, perfect. I would gaze into his eyes as each Saturday he would make time to ask how I was in a way that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The flip side was that he was also a big drinker and would deteriorate into a shambling mess by the end of the evening. And he was still deeply troubled by the break-up of his last relationship. But the lost and troubled boy was all the more endearing. I thought I could heal him. As the months passed it became obvious to everyone else that I was smitten – especially since I have never done well at hiding my emotions, even when I think I am being discreet. He knew it too.

We managed a couple of drunken snogs, out of the sight of everyone else – I thought he was being romantic when in fact he probably didn’t want to be seen with me. We also fell into his bed drunk on one occasion, but it was strictly clothes on and no sex.

A year passed and my feelings didn’t change. I would sit in my flat listening to Radiohead and crying into my pillow at the injustice of him not wanting to be with me. S had said he did not want a relationship. This in the phrase book of the male language, which I will write one day, should end with the silent two words of ‘with you’. The other well known, overused dumping line is ‘I can’t do this anymore’, only slightly less common than ‘it’s not you, it’s me’!

S and I continued to have our drunken snogs, which lifted, then dashed my spirits repeatedly. Then, I thought we had a minor breakthrough on a visit to friend in another town. We all slept on his floor after a wild night out. We kissed and fumbled and he allowed me access to his lengthy member so I could quietly tuck in. But still, despite my success at popping his cork, he wouldn’t let me in emotionally and I returned to my pillow and Radiohead.

So, I surrendered, tried to move on, had other relationships. But for a year or so, I would always compare them to him and they never matched up.

Then I met the man I ended up marrying, which seemed to give him a sharp kick in the nads. As soon as he heard I was engaged, he sat up and took notice. I continued to have the odd night out with my friends without the fiancé. But S became the attentive person he was when we first met, asking if I was sure I wanted to be married. This turned to ‘do you have to get married’ then ‘don’t get married’. We then had a very drunken night – I can’t even remember where or when – and ended up at my flat. He pleaded with me to ‘do it just the once’ before I got married. What could I do? After all those years of love and lust, how could I resist, even though I was supposedly making a lifelong commitment to someone else?

We hurriedly threw our clothes off, as if the heating had suddenly been turned up, and dived into bed. But alcohol had the last laugh. He entered me once then rolled over after a few seconds when everything wilted. I am not even sure if what happened actually qualified as sexual intercourse.

We left it at that, remained friends, I got married, the marriage broke up after several years, he got together with a long-term female friend and they are still together. He got it right. I got it wrong.

And the other two occasions – one was a six-month relationship at university with another drunk – this time a very intelligent, musically talented and charismatic one who got bored of me. And the other? That would be telling.

The naked barman*

I stood in the doorway of the shabby ground floor apartment, aghast – firstly at the stack of clear packages in the bathroom which contained an illegal white powder – then at the naked Mediterranean man reclining on the bed, beckoning me to join him.

It was the very early 1990s, I had only just turned 18 and had led a relatively sheltered life up until now. But here I was, on my first holiday abroad to a Spanish island (I am being deliberately vague on location to protect the ‘innocent’) with three friends, whom I now suspect only invited me along for amusement value and to make up numbers, rather than a genuine desire for my oddball company (I was rather an eccentric teenager). What should have been a fun-filled riot of a trip had taken an unexpected turn and I had ended up in the apartment of a coke-dealing/snorting Spanish barman who thought he could shag me in his break.

I suppose being 18, extremely naïve, drunk in his bar every night and flirting outrageously didn’t help my cause. I had even had what is nowadays referred to as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ one night, in which the strap of my dress had snapped and left one of my boobs hanging out. I had been so drunk on cheap beer that I didn’t notice until the end of the night when my ‘mates’, and some guys they befriended, finally pointed it out after sniggering at me all evening.

On another occasion I was in such a state that I was either vomiting in the street or sitting flopped over with my head between my knees for the whole night. When we returned to our apartment my ever-so-kind-and-caring chums thought it was a good plan to spray me fully dressed with a cold shower.

Back to the barman: He convinced me that he really liked me and I swallowed every cliché and false compliment. Then one night he suggested I hung about until closing time when he would take me to his apartment.

He had whipped his clothes off while I used his loo/coke store. I was a virgin and he was only the second fully naked man I had ever seen (my first was my granddad when I was staying at their house as a toddler and decided to go for a wander in the early hours. I bumped into him coming out of the bathroom. I don’t know who was more shocked – me or him – but to this day the image has never left my memory). I had seen penises, supplying a few blowjobs, as I wasn’t in a rush to lose my virginity and thought this would appease them for a bit. But I hadn’t really seen the full picture and how it all fitted together. What I couldn’t take my eyes off was the piercing he had at the top end of his penis – what many refer to as a ‘Prince Albert’. The little gold ring seemed to wink at me as he pulled his substantial willy about in an attempt to lure me in. He even said it ‘made sex better’.

While the effect of the large glistening bell end had the appeal of a bowl of chocolate whispering the words ‘eat me’ a feeling of discomfort had already started to grow in me, like an aggressive weed. Despite my dizzy beer head, everything suddenly felt wrong and this was not how I wanted to lose my virginity – to a creepy, serial shagging drug addict barman – all his exotic appeal and handsome looks had suddenly faded. Even his ability to toss and spin bottles with the skill of Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’ now seemed like some crude circus act. The more supportive of my three ‘friends’ had also agreed to wait outside for me, so I grabbed my bag, dashed out and we flagged down a taxi.

*If you read my first ever post you will recall my assertion that what appears here is part truth, part embellishment, so while some of this is true, some is not – just don’t expect me to specify which is which…