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.

Dirty stop out

Before I launch into this week’s offering, I have to explain, dear readers, that my face is burning hot while I am shivering and coughing like a cat with fur balls. This isn’t because I have my front against the oven and my rear in the fridge, while gorging on doughnuts, either. I am not expecting your ‘there theres’ and sympathetic violins – I just felt the need to explain why what follows may be a little below par. But in the absence of a deputy DSM, I will soldier on, muddle through and fight my bug to bring you your weekly service! Hurrah (cough, cough)!

Your eyes open, you start to come round and it suddenly hits you that you are not in your own bed – the sheets smell different and the pictures on the wall are alien – and who is this person snoring next to you?

It may be the first (and last) time you have woken up here; it may be the 20th, but for whatever reason you have to leave, now. The first obstacle is wriggling out of bed unnoticed – easy if the other person is facing away from you on the other side of the bed, not so if you are clamped down under their arm. After you have pulled a move a contortionist would be proud of, there’s the clothes scavenger hunt – taking you all around the bed, on selected stairs and down to the lounge where you will find your bra/wallet/coat/leftover chips.

This all a breeze compared to getting out of the house, facing the cold light of day and doing the… WALK OF SHAME. And I’m sorry, men but this is much worse as a female, unless you hooked up at a fancy dress party and have to somehow get home dressed as a chicken.

My first WALK OF SHAME (WOS) occurred rather late, when I was a student but any shame or embarrassment was probably largely in my head and not evident on the outside. My underwear felt grubby, worse so when trapped under tight black leggings, I felt dirty and my makeup was smudged and crusty. I thought everyone would be able to tell I had been a ‘dirty stop-out’ and committed a sin by spending the night with a man.

In truth, being a student in the 1990s probably worked in my favour – I could just be pulling the grunge look, like a bargain bucket Courtney Love (Google her, if you are too old/young to know her), except I’ve never had bleach-blonde hair.

The worst thing would be running into a friend while walking back from a night of sin, although this was rare as it would usually be a Sunday morning. If it occurred I would avoid eye contact and pretend to be in a hurry.

A particularly bad WOS happened when I made a serious error of judgement in winding up at an ex-boyfriend’s friend’s house. He happened to live on the same road as my ex and I was spotted by the ex’s mum sneaking out the next morning. Of course she wasted no time in telling her dear son what she had just witnessed. And an angry confrontation took place later that day.

The other that sticks in my mind was several years later when I ended up at a house in the outskirts of a nearby town, somewhere I am not too familiar with. I had successfully pulled the bed exiting wiggle, the clothes hunt and was ready to make a break for it, when I realised all the doors were locked and there were no keys in sight. What security conscious folks this guy and his housemates were. It was early and I didn’t want to wake anyone so I looked around frantically for a way out. The front door was out so I looked to the kitchen and side door. Firmly shut, but the window next to it was the sort that opened outwards on a hinge across the top. I couldn’t squeeze through it (I’ve never been a willowy type) but maybe I could manipulate the handle from the other side. And I did. Thank goodness for dodgy rented houses and their dodgy locks.

But my problems were far from over, as after tiptoeing into the street, I realised I had no idea where I was. The outskirts of a town, yes, but what area and bus route, no. It was a hot day and my night-before clothes stifled me as sweat trickled down my back. I waited at the nearest bus stop, hopeful.

A bus appeared after what seemed hours and I asked to go to the town centre. It turned out I had flagged down the wrong bus and was standing on the wrong side of the road. I imagined the largely geriatric passengers, probably on their way to church or visiting friends, tutting and shaking their heads in disgust. Somehow I made it back home, but I did panic that I would have to return to the house, shame-faced and pleading for help.

Maturity means I am now better-prepared for a journey home from The Man’s house. I usually manage to take a spare top and knickers and am allowed a shower before I leave, so I don’t have the Eau de Sweaty Slut on me as I travel home. The Man also builds me back up with breakfast and coffee, so hopefully no one on the bus suspects my debauched night, but then again, who actually cares?