He has been one of my top favorites since I began reading his blog months ago. Humorous and reflective, with a talent for the descriptive that I would sell virtually anything to possess, Mr. London Street’s entries are never dull. He doesn’t shrink away from the controversial and I admire his opinionated nature. I hesitate to make his head any larger than it already is, but I suppose there’s no help for it. I’m honored, even without his having mentioned it (and he did), to be the first recipient of a guest post from him. Actually, it was more like an air-fist pumping HA! So without further ado....
Two nights in the Purple Turtle
Many years ago I met my friend Kirsty for lunch on an anonymous summer day. On the face of it, this was no different from the dozens of other days we had met for lunch, with one exception - this time Kirsty brought her along. We clicked instantly. We spent the whole lunchtime talking as if we’d known each other far longer than we had – far longer, in fact, than I had known Kirsty.
At the end, I went back to my desk to uselessly move work around from one part of an org chart to another in the name of productivity and efficiency. And that afternoon, my email pinged with a message from Kirsty. “She thinks you’re dishy!” it excitedly said. I didn’t think anybody under the age of 50 ever used the word dishy.
Over time, I came to realise that this was exactly the sort of thing she would say.
The emails between us began. Several emails a day – long, chatty emails about everything and nothing. When you first meet someone it’s all there, off in the distance, waiting to be discovered. All those tiny facts that you absolutely have to know when you really like someone – where they went to school, their childhood embarrassments, their favourite bands. What their mother’s like. What they like to eat. What they’re scared of. And then there is that bizarre feeling you get if you‘re really lucky, when you begin to realise that somebody you really like might want to know all those things about you. We have all been there. Those early stages are wonderful, where everything about that person fascinates you, and you want to know it all, piece by piece. All that potential.
The early stages of what though? My jealous, miserable and controlling girlfriend made the answer to that problematic.
The mistakes were all lurking out there, waiting to be made.
Back then I used to escape the house early each morning and hide from everything in Costa Coffee. I had a large coffee and a copy of the Mirror in front of me, along with four cigarettes and once I had finished them all I was almost ready to face my colleagues. It was time to myself to spend not thinking about how my life was going wrong, but then she started joining me. The coffee and the cigarettes still got finished, but the newspaper soon became surplus to requirements.
I never socialised with her outside work, I knew that was against the rules. My girlfriend was busy alienating all the women I was already friends with, initially through conventional means such as extreme chilliness. Later on, she developed more imaginative methods like sending them offensive texts from my phone late at night while pissed, pretending to be me.
So over those months, my life turned into a negative of most people’s lives. My days at work were full of colour, life and ideas and I didn’t want them to end. When I reluctantly shut down my computer I would head back to the house to a greyscale existence of rows and bickering. It felt an awful lot like falling asleep. The only things that were vivid at night were the daydreams and the sadness. The former led inevitably to the latter.
The exception was her leaving do. She was leaving Reading to go study a long way away and we had some drinks in a pub next to a gloriously hideous multi-story car park. Despite the build up, all the action happened elsewhere as my friend Ivor ended up dry humping Kirsty against the side of a transit van in a state of total inebriation. By contrast, she and I seemed like the grown-up chaperones, but none the less in a quiet moment she finally made explicit what had been crackling unspoken between us all summer.
“Something for you to think about when I’m in the frozen North” she said.
Out that back of the Purple Turtle at two in the morning she made a more tangible offer. By this stage we were both quite drunk. She talked about me moving to Newcastle with her, I had absolutely no idea whether she meant it. She invited me to walk her home. I was pretty sure she meant that, and I knew what it really meant.
There was only one problem: I couldn’t be that person.
I had spent that summer wanting to be that person, daydreaming about being that person. But when it came to it, it was beyond me. So I sat there at the bus stop and watched her walking off into the distance, leaving me with only my shortcomings for company. They made for very lousy company.
My girlfriend found out and was furious. She punished me not for what I did but for what I could have done, and I began a protracted stretch living in the worst of all possible worlds. Meanwhile my correspondence with her limped on for a few months but it wasn’t the same. Now she knew this one thing about me, she seemed far less fascinated by everything else. And one day she contacted me from university and told me that our friendship couldn’t continue. It was too painful, she said. I could hardly blame her, since I felt it was no more than I deserved.
If I had liked myself better back then, things would have been very different. For that matter, my whole life could have been very different. But it took somebody else - on another summer’s day, flowing with gin and chemistry - to start to teach me to do that. And this, whatever it is, is not that story.
Life moved on and some time later I got an email from her. “I was looking through some old mails” she told me “and I thought ‘I can’t delete him’.” So we caught up. She filled me in on her news and I told her mine, that I had left that girlfriend and got married to someone I had known for seven months. I decided not to labour the point about the gin and the chemistry. The fact that I had one day done what I couldn’t do back then was in the background of our conversation like static on a phone line, but it was never discussed. I thought it would be okay.
She came down to visit. Kelly liked her and we all got along famously. I had a feeling that something had been mended, that we would be friends now and I was proud of that. Since conversations were no longer forbidden we used to have epic chats on the phone. I usually had to put aside time for them, block out a Saturday afternoon. And then when Kelly and I bought our first place I invited her to the housewarming party. Everyone liked her. My friends liked her. The two guys she picked up in the After Dark and brought back to my living room at 2 in the morning liked her. Even the floor held her in a warm embrace as she drunkenly toppled from her chair, after we had invited her new friends to leave.
And then I ended up sat in my doorstep with her at four in the morning feebly attempting to comfort her as she cried onto my shoulder.
“I always thought it would be me in the end after you split up with Cheryl. I always thought you were my boy.”
What could I tell her? I had always thought that too, but we had both been dead wrong.
The sun was coming up, and she didn’t want me to walk her home. So as before I watched her totter off into the distance but, this time, I went back upstairs to my life.
A curious detail of this saga is that many of the protagonists got back together with their exes. My jealous girlfriend got back together with her ex and now they live in Wolverhampton with a child and presumably a large collection of personality disorders. The man Kelly left for me got back together with his ex. He was decent about it all and I hope he’s happy. And she got back together with her ex too, the ex she was getting over when I first met her many years ago. I think they want children, something I would never have countenanced. I suppose these things have a habit of working themselves out.
The last time I saw her was a few years back on a chilly December night between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when people who wouldn’t normally set foot in Reading, like her, come back to spend time with their family. We went to the Purple Turtle and sat again in that back garden doing what we always did best, talking for hours about everything and nothing. Mended at last, perhaps.
In that setting, with those drinks, I thought it was inescapable that we would get round to discussing the only other time we were in the Purple Turtle together, many years ago. And, at about two in the morning, leaning against a fence and watching the revellers stagger past - younger than us, all their mistakes waiting to be made - we did precisely that.
“I just would have slept with you, you know that?” she said “It wouldn’t have been a relationship.”
I smiled inwardly.