62. To Absent Friends

Sometimes, no, quite often in Winter, I am the first person to walk in virgin snow down my street. I leave the house for work before most people’s alarms go off. The quiet hush of morning. Getting up and about at 4am is very different from still being up at 4am. It feels safer to walk in the dark that early/late than it does at midnight. Too soon for food; maybe not coffee though. Polite nods to the regulars. I can’t imagine chatting to anyone on my commute, or I will have to talk to them every single day for the rest of my life. Life before earbuds and mobile phones? I guess people read a book or the newspaper.

I’m not sure if acquaintances, colleagues, and family count as friends. People who are there through habit, obligation or payment, rather than choice. I do try and find some common ground with the people I spend the most time with, even if they don’t like me. I know I’m not for everyone, and that’s fine. If I know people for long enough, then we are bound to find something we dis/like something about each other. We all move between the levels of circles of trust in each other’s lives over the years. If you asked me about someone I’ve worked with for five years, I might answer, “I knew them quite well a couple of years ago, but not really so much now.” I’ll never understand how a person can be on their best behaviour at the beginning of a relationship, and expect someone else to feel ok that they’ve got to know a person who only exists in very rare circumstances.

Detective Lieutenant William Somerset in Se7en could have been talking about me when he said, “anyone who spends a significant amount of time with me finds me disagreeable.”

Those popular people who get invited to everything, go with the flow, know when to shut up and agree with the consensus, regardless of their own viewpoint. I can’t even do group socialising unless there’s an activity or it’s structured. (Craft class, theatre or meal.)

Occasionally, I bump into someone from my past and am surprised at how enthusiastically I am greeted. At the time when we knew each other, I was unaware that we were such good friends. I have no idea if I’m doing this friendship thing all wrong. I suppose the surprise of meeting again after years doesn’t give anyone the time to prepare their reaction, so it’s one way of knowing. I wonder why people don’t tell each other how much they mean to each other at the time. Kindness is free.

A little bit of rose-tinted nostalgia is nice now and then, but I like to live in the present. FB doesn’t appeal to me although I know it must work because it’s massive. The constant reminders of forgotten times. If I was feeling low, the comparison between the edited highlights of someone’s life and my mundane would be unhelpful, at the exact time when I would need friendly support the most. It would be impossible to leave, and keep that easy network of contacts. There’s only a handful of people that I like enough to make the extra effort with, so even though I might have fewer than 20 numbers in my phone, I’ve always got someone to go to the cinema with.

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50. Pants on Fire

“No, sorry.” I said, wearily. “They told me they’re fully booked but could maybe squeeze us in at 9:30.”

This was the first day of the family holiday and the boyfriend and I thought we’d try our luck at the posh, white napkin, seafood restaurant for tomorrow, which was Saturday night. A very long shot I know.

About an hour or so later, the boyfriend’s Mum says,

“I just phoned that fish place on the harbour and booked a table for all twelve of us for tomorrow night at 7 o’clock.”

“The lying bastards,” mutters the boyfriend under his breath.

“Brilliant. Thanks.” I say.

45. Cuckoo

There was just under an hour’s wait before my train and I really needed a rest and something hot and restorative. I love London, but it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. A sit-down lunch, I thought, but I didn’t want to spend too much, get looks of pity from strangers for eating alone, nor get booted out of the restaurant as soon as I had finished. So, I settled for one of those Vietnamese Street Food noodle bars that have sprung up everywhere. Cheap, tasty, quick. Light enough so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the train and end up north of Sheffield.

I am so over a posh burger.

It was quite busy, so I was seated next to a couple of men on a long communal table. I ordered a one-chili rated chicken and mushroom Pho with a coconut water. Occupying myself by playing on my phone, like everyone does these days, I couldn’t help but overhear them talking. I tried to be discreet but figured if they didn’t want to be heard, then they wouldn’t have had this conversation in public.

The Scottish man sat next to me had recently split up with his wife and it appeared he had moved in part-time with his friend, the man he was dining with. Fortunately, his ex had no intention of going back to the States, so he felt he wasn’t going to lose his children.

“Thanks fer renting oot yer back room tae us. Ah’ll no be there half the time.”

“It’s no problem mate. It’ll be like the old days. PS4, a couple of beers and a pizza.”

“We cannae afford tae sell the hoose an the weans are all settled in at school.”

“Jeez. Nah, you don’t want to be messing about with catchment areas now, not now they’re in school and house prices are shit. I thought we were going to get negative equity at one point.” He took a swig of Saigon beer. “How’s it gonna work then?”

“She calls this ‘birds nestin’, if ye can believe it. Ahm there Monday an Tuesday, she’s goat it Wednesday an Thursday. An then we take turns every weekend.”

“That’s actually a bloody good plan. I’ve never heard of it before. Less disruption for the kids and you get half the time each with them. And there no chance that their PE kit will be at the other house. Is it a California thing then?”

“Aye.”

They pause for a while to finish their beers and reflect on what’s been said.

“We agreed nae partners can come over, what with the weans an aw.”

“I bet that’s the last thing you want right now. It’s definitely over then?”

“Aye right, nae chance we get back together.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“Naw, it’s aw in the past. It’s for the weans sake.”

This seems such a civilised, if not temporary, solution to a desperate situation. To allow all parties breathing space and time to adjust. I hope it takes off in the UK and becomes as regular as weekend Dads taking their kids to the park and Maccy D’s on Sundays.

I thanked my waiter as he brought me a huge bowl of steaming hot noodles, then smiled sympathetically at one of the men as we made eye contact when they got up to leave.

*Thanks to ma pal Joni Hunter for the brilliant translation into Glaswegian.