Wednesday, 26 May 2010

In which I have mixed feelings

There are few types of relief so deeply felt as that which courses through the soul on hearing the voice of a friend, recently returned from War Zone, sitting safely at his desk in dull but safe London.

It’s a huge relief to have a phone call in which there aren’t any peculiar noises in the background; when one’s not hearing tales of an army that’s spending cold War Zone winter nights in its summer sleeping bags, or that the lack of helicopters has delayed the mail, so morale has plummeted. There’s relief, highly melodramatic, that there’s a call at all.

Guards Man is finally back at Very Smart Regiment’s barracks after his tour in War Zone, moaning about the paperwork that built up whilst he was away, and decrying ceremonies at the Palace as ‘boring’.

And that’s where I’d far rather have him, not least because now we’re finally in the same country, we can go for dinner as we’ve been planning to do for what seems like endless months.

But since scheduling supper, I’ve found that my overwhelming sense of relief, like so much in life, comes with a flip side. In this case, it’s pretty huge feelings of apprehension.

My friendship with Guards Man is based mostly on the first time we met, very drunk on huge jugs of G&T (God bless the way the Army parties), and the letters sent back and forth whilst he’s been on tour. And suddenly he’s back, and at the other end of the phone, and cropping up in my diary.

And it’s not that I think we’ve nothing in common, or that we’ll have nothing to talk about (I can talk quite enough for two when the going gets quiet). It’s more the fact that he is just back from a tour of duty.

I know it’s his job, that he was trained and (mostly) equipped to do it and that, for the most part, he had a great time. But, ultimately, he’s just come back from war. He’s been part of major offensives in fairly horrific environments. I imagine he’s seen, heard and possibly even done some things that would be enough to incite a week or two of fairly horrific nightmares in your average bear.

And yes, he seems fine, and chirpy; to have enjoyed his time away; to be glad to be back. But I don’t know, under that gentle Scotch lilt, whether he’s ok, or whether, as you hear there so often are, demons lurking just beneath the surface.

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm...

Friday, 21 May 2010

In which I give the boys some tips

I have just discovered Blokely. An online magazine, it contains various stuff within its pages, all aimed - unsurprisingly, given its name - at the boys.

Obviously, I’m not entirely what they’re after in terms of target audience, but for me that’s what makes it a good read. Just as I’m sure Murray watches endless tapes of Federer’s moves before a match, I find it fascinating to get into the mind of if not the enemy, then at least the sparring partner.

A recent Blokely piece gave men all sorts of useful hints and tips for those chaps out there who’ve taken it upon themselves to date a gal much younger than they. Given that it’s an arena in which I have some (not oodles, before anyone says it, but some) experience, I read the piece with interest.

Generally, I had some sympathy with most of the things on the list: for example, “Accept that you aren’t going to match up to the 22yr old rugby playing stud she used to date… make the most of the experience that is on your side.” Fair play, and a good shout.

Of course, it’s a piece clearly written for the boys by the boys so, in the spirit of sharing any wisdom in the hope that it might make life for someone, somewhere, just a fraction easier, I thought I’d add my short guide to dating a younger model – from the other side of the lines.

1. She’s not necessarily with you for your money. Paying for absolutely everything will make her feel like she’s dating her dad. By all means, treat her to dinner at Claridge’s, but when you grab late Sunday morning coffee, let her pick up the tab.

2. Sure, introduce her to your friends, but do some prep work beforehand: do ask them to keep their glares of unbridled jealousy under wraps. It’s not her fault that they have to be back for bathtime whilst you’re still plotting which bars tonight holds.

3. There’s an age gap. You know it, she knows it. Leave it at that. Don’t reinforce the issue by dismissing all her pop culture references with unfavourable comparisons to how things were when you were young. It doesn’t make you look older and wiser. It makes you look patronising and ancient. Ditto any pair of trainers you think makes you look cool.

4. Act your age. An awful lot of behaviour befitting a twentysomething doesn’t flatter most twentysomethings. It definitely won’t flatter you. You won’t look young and carefree. You’ll look pathetic.

5. If you’ve still not learnt to cook, and your fridge holds only booze, San Pellegrino and chocolate, don’t advertise it. See 4.

6. Don’t expect to meet the parents. Don’t even ask to. Daddy’s Little Girl has enough trouble introducing boys to her father. Inducing parental strokes isn’t something she wants to be held responsible for.

7. Don’t perve on her friends. Even when you think she can’t see you. Especially when you think she can’t see you. She can.

8. She knows the shelf life on the relationship is limited, and it hits its sell-by date with the advent of the first tiny crow’s foot. Do her a favour: don’t be brutal, and don’t flaunt the new model too widely. After all, she’s going to trade up to someone with more hair, a deeper wallet and a larger penis. And you wouldn’t want that advertised, would you?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

In which I ponder the one that got away

I should know better than to watch Grey’s Anatomy. Especially on my own. There’s almost nothing I can do to stop the uncontrollable bawling, and I inevitably end up with eyeliner streaked down my face like a hooker caught in the rain.

That was precisely the case one recent Sunday evening as I sat curled on the sofa, watching two fictional patients who’d not seen each other in 50 years happily reunited in that way that only Hollywood can muster.

The ‘one that got away’ is a rich seam for screenwriters to mine by sheer fact of its universality.

Everyone’s got one: that one person who, in an idle moment, you think about; wonder whether, if things had been different, you might be together now. It could be the person you spent years with; it might be the short but intense fling. Regardless of how or why it ended, and even the person you’re currently with, they’re the one who occasionally wanders around your consciousness.

Mine’s Long Term Ex (frankly, when a chap’s family has a castle, that’s pretty much always going to be the case). We’ve not spoken now in several months, but that doesn’t stop him crossing my mind every so often - usually when I hear a mutually beloved song, or catch a trace of his aftershave when some brushes past me in the street. Even the debacles that ensue when we’ve talked about getting back together haven’t been enough to quell the thoughts.

Of course, when you’re deep in reminiscence, the rose-tinted specs sit firmly on the nose. You remember the day messing about on the boat in the sunshine; the spontaneous diamonds; the in-jokes and daft messages left on post-its in the most peculiar places. You reflect on how happy you were, and how fabulous things would surely be now you’re both a bit wiser.

Of course, back in reality, you know better than to think that’s how it was all the time. You know that were you to get back together, you’d be irritated by his bizarre taste in shoes; that even your not-inconsiderable embarrassment threshold wouldn’t take too many more instances of some frankly mortifying attempts to attract the waiters’ attention in the Salt Yard; that his penchant for total uselessness would get very tiring, very quickly.

But that doesn’t change the fact that, no matter who I’m dating - and probably, whomsoever I end up with - I’ll always have a soft spot for LTE. Human nature dictates that we’ll always wonder about the path not taken; whether the devil we knew is better than those we’re yet to meet.
And, of course, the prospect of our own Hollywood ending is a daydream too tempting to give up on too easily.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

In which men should be men

In recent years, the image of men in the press has taken a definite turn for the more metrosexual. We’ve seen pictures of David Beckham in his sarong (shudder) and seen stories about how much time men spend in the bathroom, just they and their vanity.

This is all well and good: after all, it’s nice to have a man who actually listens when one’s talking; who can wield a recipe book with some ease; and who’ll have something pinchable in his bathroom cabinet for when the stubble rash gets just too scratchy to be bearable.

But I spent my formative years at a particularly pushy girls’ school. A huge majority of my fellow Old Girls (as we’re so delightfully known) are just as, ahem, spirited as I am. We spent a long time being told that we could do absolutely bloody anything we wanted (although in my case, that comes with the exception of being able to eat lunch al desko without spilling it all into the keyboard).

That background has led to my being rather non-plussed when faced with Potential Men who display too much of their metrosexual side. They don’t particularly strike me as deeply empathetic and caring – they’re just a bit wet. After all, if I wanted a long and detailed conversation about the perfect malachite bathroom tile, I’d go for dinner with a girlfriend.

And so it was with a sigh of relief that I read an article in Shortlist this morning, about reclaiming manliness for the men (although I don’t know how happy I am about the term ‘rogue male’ to describe them. In my experience, men don’t need any encouragement to be rogues).

Thanks to the popularity of such role models as Bear Grylls, and the lovely Don Draper, a resurgence of a little machismo is apparently what’s called for.


This is music to my ears. Whilst it is lovely to be listened to attentively whilst I’m on my soapbox, or told that a new jacket is particularly flattering, I do like my men to be men. I like them to eat steak, drink whisky and have a bafflingly large capacity for all kinds of sports trivia.

When members of Social Circle Blonde go away for the weekend, I’m fine with the fact that it’s the gals who’ll do the cooking whilst the boys ooh and aah over what’s under the bonnet of someone’s latest toy. I’m okay with it, because I know that they’ll also display the equally manly characteristics of gallantry and courtesy that frankly make the world a far nicer place for everyone.

I’m more than capable of looking after, and standing up for, myself in any sphere of my life: I can defend decisions I’ve made, and I can put up a shelf. But it’s nice when there are men out there who’ll take it upon themselves to do it for me; whose shoulders I can snuggle under whilst they feel they’d like to do it on my behalf. It’s very welcome, and I don’t take it as a slight, but the gesture of care and protection that it’s intended to be.

And if that resurgence of manliness means that there will be fewer discussions about bathroom tiles over dinner, then I’m all for it.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

In which I'm groundhog dating

I’m a gal who tries to learn from her experiences. It’s a necessary way to progress through life when one makes as many mistakes as I do.

Which is why I’ve come to the conclusion that another criterion needs to be added to the list of questions that get fired at Potential Man when on date one.

Currently the list of criteria they have to meet stands at straight, single, and - to all intents and purposes - sober. A question to be added to the list, which irritatingly will ruin the alliterative thing it has going is: is there any attachment, at all, in any way, shape or form, to your ex-girlfriend?

Because, my friends, if there is, I shall run as fast as my heels will carry me, kicking and screaming, from anything to do with the boy.

A thoroughly enjoyable second date with The Planner happened recently, in a small, pleasantly uncrowded wine bar in Leicester Square. We shared a couple of bottles of decent French red; plenty of good conversation and an excellently squishy tiramisu.

However, my thinking that this might prove promising was roundly squished several days later, when TP called one weekday evening. Rather than arranging our next date, he threw into conversation those little words that no gal likes to hear:

“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”'

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Yes, kids. Despite our having a great second date, in which we clicked, and laughed, and I began vaguely to entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, my luck might be about to change, those magic little words cropped up.

Oh, for fuckitty fuck’s sake.

“Um, I got your message,” said PolitiGal on the phone, during a rare moment recently in which she was awake, but not in the office. “When you say ‘guess why’, you can’t possibly mean…?”

“Uh huh,” I said, stretching out on the new crisp, white bed-linen which, after a mere few hours under Colin’s paws was no longer crisp, nor white. “And I’m quite cross.”

This is the third time I’ve heard this particular excuse from the third man in as many months:

“It’s just, well, I don’t think I’m really over my ex-girlfriend.”

Surely no one hears that excuse three times in quick succession in such a short space of time? Maybe it’s actually just an excuse. After all, it does seem rather like the perfect get-out-of-jail-free card; it shows I’m warm and caring, they think, capable of emotional investment, and yet I still manage to get out of things by being the good guy, just a bit damaged.

But then, maybe it’s one of those “life is stranger than fiction” numbers (which I totally buy into, having had a text conversation with Minor Celeb the other day about the latest project he’s managed to get himself involved in. Stupid boy).

Whatever it is, it pisses me off. I appreciate that, by this point in life, all men are going to come with a little baggage - hell, I have enough of my own. But surely if one's baggage becomes so weighty that it’s less baggage than luggage, then surely it's time to pack in the dating for a while, until some of it's been offloaded?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

In which I'm commuter-watching

With the advent of the blog- and Twitterspheres, it’s not news that we all share far more about ourselves than ever before. Without them, I doubt that a frankly mind-boggling (but very flattering) number of total strangers would know quite as much as they do about my love life, Colin’s total defiance towards all forms of discipline and my dependence on large glasses of gin.

But that said, it’s not just online that we all give away hundreds of snippets of information on a daily basis - we disclose little pieces of ourselves simply by being. It’s something I’ve noticed having joined the commuting masses travelling into London from Home County every day.

Simply by sharing the regular journey back in the evening, I have learnt far more than I would thought possible about one of my fellow commuters.

Given that he and I have never exchanged more than a couple of words (and those mainly consisting of “no, after you,” and “are you finished with that paper?”), the amount I now know about him, merely by sharing a space for forty minutes a couple of times a week, is bizarre:

He, like me, lives in Home County Town, but works in London.

He lives on the opposite side of the town, but still within walking distance of the station.

He’s in his thirties, and is married with a young baby.

He’s left-handed, and likes to write. On anything available. In fountain pen.

He’s got a job that involves huge amounts of spreadsheets, but no suits (he favours cords over chinos).

He likes to read trashy male fiction.

He has asthma.

He isn’t too bothered, but prefers a forward-facing seat if there’s a choice.

In fabulous case of nominative determinism, his surname is Devine. It really does suit him.

Of course, on top of that, there’s far more that I could make a wild guess about: I think he probably comes from a well-heeled family, and went to a public school and a red-brick university. I imagine he voted, and voted Conservative, on Thursday. I’d take a stab, and say that he’s into his sport: a rugby person, but also likes football. He probably isn’t too bothered by cricket, nor music. And this might be casting aspersions on the poor chap, but there’s something about him that strikes me as the type to read the Guardian.

All of which makes me think that between wandering around, caught up in the routine of my everyday life, and sticking some of the more peculiar happenings on the interwebs for all and sundry to read, there are people out there who probably know far more about me than is healthy for anyone. For which I can only apologise.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

In which a temper begins to fray

As the more observant amongst you may have noticed, things have been rather quiet on the Speckled front recently.

An exceptionally busy last term at Renowned Military Academy for Speckled Lad coincided with my decision to put into practice the advice I’d been given by PolitiGal, and just put a little more work into my love life. Thus it was that whilst he was doing all sorts of running round in the mud, and deciding which regiment it was that would give him a “decent chance” of seeing action in War Zone before too long, I was embarking on a variety of dalliances with varying degrees of success.

And so, despite regular phonecalls, until the recent Commissioning Ball, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the Lad since we’d gone shopping for suits in January.

Even the day of the ball wasn’t the nattering-in-corners catch-up that Speckled nights out so often are: with the Lad tied up with parades and formal lunches, I was left in the (admittedly excellent) company of his grandmother and brothers. And even when we came to the champagne reception, there were numbers of people vying for his attention - from brothers and their girlfriends to platoon members and commanding officers.

Being a gal who’s able to hold her own in most social situations, I wasn’t too fussed: I‘m more than happy to be hurtled round a dodgem track by Speckled Lad the Youngest, or to stand at the bar knocking back champagne with Speckled Lad the Eldest’s new girlfriend, filling her in on family stories (not all of them, though, obviously).

So, big group toasts and the unveiling of the pips were pretty much as close as I got to SL for most of the evening. But, as has been previously documented, it wasn’t as if I was stuck in a corner contemplating life, the universe and the perfect goats’ cheese soufflĂ©. And so, at the end of the night, when I made my way outside to the Speckled Collective, sitting round a table with cigars and whisky, I was in fairly chipper spirits.

“So Miss Blonde,” said SL the Youngest, “I saw you talking to a boy… Didya get his number? Didya?!”

I took the whisky from him, and sat down. “Yes, SLtY, I did.”

“And are you gonna call him? Are ya?!”

“I don’t know,” I said, taking a sip. “I could do. Or I could call the guy who, er, gave me his card earlier.”

“What? Who?” Speckled Lad said, narrowing his eyes slightly.

“I dunno - just some guy,” I said. “But let’s not get too excited. They can stay on the back burner for now, just in case my date on Tuesday goes tits-up.”

“What? What date? You didn’t tell me you’re seeing anyone.”

“Lad, lovely, I’ve been seeing people since the beginning of the year…”

Speckled frowned. “But I thought you and that guy broke up.”

Everyone shifted in their seats slightly.

“The Nut and I? We did. There have been several dates since then, though…” I took another sip, thinking that more booze was probably the only way out of this particular sticky situation.

“You’ve not told me about them. So who are you seeing?”

It wasn’t a brand new discussion. It’s not the first time that Speckled Lad has maintained total radio silence on the prospect of he and I, apparently confident that should he turn round and decide he wants something to happen, I’d be there, ready and waiting. And then, on finding out that our plans don’t concur, stroppiness ensuing.

And, given the apparently inevitable display of bad temper, it’s probably little surprise that I’ve chosen this time not to discuss my love life with SL - especially given that ultimately, none of the dalliances have really gone anywhere.

It was, though, the first time we’ve had the conversation in front of an audience. And as far as I’m concerned, the last. Between journalists and clients, I put up with enough egos and tantrums at work - I don’t need them in my private life too.

Which is just as well. Because there’s been a stony Speckled silence since…

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