70. Hitch

“I don’t know how they had the nerve. I really don’t.” Louise takes a big sip of her wine, almost a gulp. “And to think of all that effort we went to. It cost us nearly £800. What a fucking cheek.”

I take the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the metal bucket, wipe the drips from the bottom of it with the white cloth that’s loosely tied around the neck, and top up our glasses.

Our waitress arrives with a small bowl of fat, bright green olives, a basket of sourdough, and a shallow saucer of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

“Thank you.” I say to the waitress, smiling at her. I offer Louise a briny olive, and she prods at one with a little wooden toothpick then pops it into her mouth.

“And they never said anything?

Louise shakes her head, chewing in that peculiar way people do when they’re negotiating a fruit stone with their tongue.

“We wouldn’t have even known until the actual day if Pete’s brother hadn’t phoned us. He thought we were invited to the actual wedding. Apparently there was about 50 people there. It was a proper sit-down meal with wedding cake and champagne toasts and everything. I mean, I know people have a rehearsal dinner with close family the night before, but it’s not on is it? To actually get married and then have another wedding the day after but not tell the second wedding people? It’s like they had a fake wedding just for the photos and presents.”

“I bet Pete wasn’t best pleased.” I say.

“No he fucking wasn’t. When he found out he was livid. Two days we booked off work for that, plus hotel, and a new suit. I didn’t get a new dress, but I got some new shoes and a bag. This one actually. ”

She hold up a baby blue, butter-soft Coach hobo bag.

“That’s gorgeous.” I say, reaching for it to feel the leather.

“The actual wedding had a free bar. The fake wedding had one glass of prosecco each and the buffet ran out of food. Pete says he went over to the table where the glasses of prosecco were to get us one, and there was a bloke already there, who…”  she raises and pushes her palm into a stop signal for emphasis, “get this, Pete says he saw this bloke neck two glasses down then carry off another four with him.”

“Classy.” I say, disdainfully. “What is it with free booze that makes people so bloody greedy and selfish?”

“Dunno” she says. “Cos it’s free I s’pose.”

“Did they give a reason why they did it?”

“Well, apparently, the person from their church who they wanted to do the ceremony wasn’t ordained, so they decided to have the registry office one the day before, then their friend could still “marry them” the day after. That’s their excuse anyway.” She does air quotes when she says “marry them.”

“That’s fair enough I guess.” I say, “But it still doesn’t explain why they weren’t upfront about it. Why not just tell people? They could have made up their own minds then about whether they wanted to go or not.”

Louise sighs. “It just made us feel like we were worse than second-best. Like leftovers. If they had just told us that they were getting married, and only having a dinner for close friends and family, then it might have been ok. But I don’t get their logic of not telling us at all though. It’s not like were weren’t gonna find out.”

I dabble a piece of bread into the oil and vinegar mixture and chew it.

“I’m not gonna say anything to them though. No point.” She says. ” It’s done now. Bloody annoying though. I wouldn’t dare. Cheeky bastards.”

Louise glances at her phone for a second, taps the screen and swipes it. “They didn’t have a wedding list. It was one of those ‘your presence is present enough, but we really want you to give us some money so we can go travelling’ invitations. So, we were going to give them £100 and a bottle of champagne, but when Pete found out, he took £50 out of the envelope and put the champagne in our fridge.”

“Good for him.” I said emphatically. “What was the cake like?”

The atmosphere immediately changes, like it does just before a thunderstorm. I feel like I’ve said the wrong thing and started a chain reaction.

“No cake. Just one of those stupid ‘candy buffets’ with the jars of sweets and little scoops with the stripy paper bags. So, all we’d had all day was crisps, some sausage rolls and haribos. So not only was there not enough food, we didn’t even get a cup of tea or any wedding cake. You know what I’m like when I don’t have any food. Especially when I’ve had a drink. Well, we didn’t hang around for long. We left at about three and told Pete’s brother that we were going to check into the hotel and get some food, and that we would be back later. So we went to the hotel, got changed, had a burger and chips and a couple of beers. I had a nap, Pete had a shower and we watched a bit of telly, but we didn’t actually go back to the wedding do until about eight o’clock, in our jeans, just to show our faces and have a bit of a dance.”

“I can’t fault you.” I said.

“Oh did I tell you, we’re going to Copenhagen next weekend.” She says, excitedly.

“No I didn’t know. It’s Letitia’s wedding next Saturday. You’re not going then? To be honest, I’d rather be in Copenhagen. I love it there.” I reply.

“Oh yeah, I remember you saying. We got an invite but I think it was just out of politeness really. We can’t go because Pete’s brother used to go out with Letitia and what with them looking so similar, he thought it might be awkward. Some of the old dears might get them muddled up and you don’t want to see the face of your ex on your wedding day. So we said we were on holiday. I’ll send them a card with a twenty quid Markses voucher inside.”

“Yeah, we won’t stay long at the evening do. It’s my 5k on Sunday.”

“Oh, that breast cancer run for your auntie. I miss her I do, she was so nice.”

We raise our glasses in a silent toast to absent friends and the conversation takes a natural pause whilst we process.


65. No Medicine For Regret.

Like some people, I can be overly self-critical of my past.

A few times, I’ve been sat in meditative contemplation, just passing the time of day, with the calm silence of my thoughts. Trapped on a plane, train or automobile. A captive audience for an unwanted memory to bubble up. I can’t escape it. Suddenly, unexpectedly, like a geyser, I remember. Something I was grateful to let go of and forget.

I am right back there, in that moment. Before the shame, forgiveness and acceptance. Looking around the corner of a future decision, I am staring at the possible consequences of my potentially stupid actions and urging myself to walk away, not do it, calm down.

What was I thinking!

I thank my lucky stars that the majority of my misbehaviour was pre-internet. There may be the odd photo or vhs still around, but the right of my past to be forgotten is freely obtained purely due to virtue of when I was born.

However, I have no time for those whose tall tales of their bravado are always from their youth, and have no recent stories of misadventure or failure. A little probing and the timeline and facts don’t quite add up. I see it as a weakness to pretend to live a perfect life.

My errors of judgement were not illegal and may have fortunately only resulted in physical injury to myself and not others, but didn’t stop once I ‘grew up’. My biggest, most expensive mistake, and another that has cost me months of my peace of mind were very recent. If I could go back, and do them differently, I would. I know my intentions were true, but I’ve been judged on my behaviour. Uncomfortable as it is, on reflection, I have chosen not to try to explain further to some people in my life. I know them well enough to think they probably wouldn’t change their perceptions or opinions of me even if they knew all of the facts, so talking would just muddy the waters.

What could have been is just that.

51. Doppelganger

I moved departments to another building across town and knew no-one. I recognised a couple of names from email correspondence, but that was it. Except they all seemed to know all about me. I could tell in their eyes that they despised me, even though this was the first time we had ever met. I though it might be because I had got the promotion over someone in this department who they were fiercely loyal to, but no. Nothing like that at all.

My new colleague, Pam shed some light on it. I didn’t have to ask twice. She was one of those women who was championed the underdog and wouldn’t pull up the ladder after herself. She seemed unconcerned about whether I would shoot the messenger. I didn’t. I was grateful.

“You’ve got the same name as that woman who was caught doing coke and ‘other stuff’ in the toilets at that Christmas party last year with that bloke from Sales.”

“I don’t even know who she is.” I said ” I don’t even know who he is.”

“They think you’re her.” Pam replied.

“Well, I’m not.” I replied.

“I know that but they don’t.” she continued.

“It’s not even as if it’s an unusual name. There’s hundreds of us on facebook.”

My reputation was tarnished before I’d even started working there.

The irony is that I don’t much like socialising with colleagues, so I wouldn’t have gone to the Christmas party anyway, but now I am going to have to go out with them to the Chinese buffet for Pam’s birthday this week. Pam has assured me that after this meal, they’ll know they were mistaken.

I want to stay under the radar and prove myself on my own worth, but I also want them to know that I am definitely not her.

The food was actually half-decent. Prawn toast, seaweed, spring rolls, spare ribs, prawn crackers, chicken noodle soup, shredded duck pancakes with the hoi sin sauce that gives me nightmares, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, minced meat in lettuce leaves, some spicy beef noodles, a special fried rice with loads of different interesting bits in it, orange segments or pineapple fritters.

I sat next to Pam, as she seems to have taken me under her wing. I think we are going to be friends. I like a woman who supports other women.

The chat is mostly complaining about work and about people I don’t know. I get asked the usual. Boyfriend, house, kids, holidays, hobbies, pets. None of them are particularly interested in me. Not even when I casually comment on the best Chinese meal I had was just before last Christmas when I was in Las Vegas. No-one registers that if I was in Vegas at the same time they had their party, then it couldn’t have been me in that restaurant toilet in Leeds shagging some bloke.

When it gets to hobbies, I say I’m into music and I write a blog. “About knitting.” I add quickly. I am sure now that none of them will ever spend time searching for it let alone ever read it. I tell a couple of craft anecdotes to prove how nerdy I am and to bore them.

“I’m in a stitch n bitch, knitter natter group on Ravelry. That’s our knitting forum. You know when you get wool and it’s all twisted beautifully, and you have to wind it into a ball? That’s called a skank. It’s a cross between a skein and a hank. I met Kaffe Fassett twice.” He’s the most famous knitter I know, and they’ve never heard of him. “What about Tiny Owl Knits – she used to be the singer in Massive Attack when they went on tour? Attic 24?” Still nothing. I was expecting at least one of them to know something about woolcrafts or even music. Just something to divert the conversation somewhere else.

I feel like I’ve just met the in-laws for the first time at a family wedding and they think I’m boring. A joke. A complete square. As cool as a geek.

Normally, I would own my own shit. Take responsibility for my mistakes. If it was me in the toilets, then I would say so. But it wasn’t. In this case, I just know it would be “the lady doth protest too much” so what’s the point? If anyone asks me if I know what they are saying about the-person-with-the-same-name-as-me, I’ll just say, “Yes, I started that rumour.”

Gossip is like ripping up a piece of paper and letting the pieces blow away in the wind. You’ll never get every scrap back and you’ll never know who has read those scraps of paper or where they’ll end up.