Paradise Lost

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CC Image courtesy of Glen Bowman on FlickrSeveral years ago, the BBC broadcast a period drama called The Paradise. It was about a department store in the north of England run by charming entrepreneur Moray. The local totty thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and badly wanted to marry him (which would have been to his advantage, since totty’s father had pots of money ready to invest in the store).

Enter Denise: pretty, clever and ambitious. She makes her mark at the store (lots of bright ideas for displays, that kind of thing) and even catches the attention of Moray. Cue URST (UnResolved Sexual Tension).

Just when we think Moray and Denise are about to sail off into the sunset, there’s a twist (SPOILER ALERT). The crucial speech:

Denise: I don’t want to marry Moray. I want to be him.

That’s the line from the series that most stayed with me. And it’s the line I resisted the urge to quote when, earlier this year, I found myself on a date with the man who’d helped script the series.

‘It was great!’ I said. (I probably clapped.) ‘It was better than Mr. Selfridge.’

He grinned. ‘Aww bless you.’

(I should have known then it was doomed.)

 

We saw each other a couple more times, and each time conversation turned to his job.

CC Image courtesy of Marvin (PA) on Flickr

I’ve dated people from a range of professions: engineers, a journo, an architect, a theoretical physicist. Infatuation, I find, is usually accompanied by a heavy dose of job envy. And if I don’t fancy doing the actual job – me as a theoretical physicist LOL – I’m seduced by the lifestyle that goes with it. I still have no idea how the physicist managed to go on fortnightly holidays.

But – the journo aside – it’s all been fantasy. Until Moray.

 

I hung on his every word. Date one, I admitted to having tried to get into script development a while back. I’d even spoken to several script editors about the best routes in. He knew the people I’d spoken to. It just gave us more to talk about.

But, unlike Moray, he didn’t come to me on bended knee. So, shortly before the inevitable parting of the ways, I started mourning the relationship. He was fun; I’d miss that. I’d miss the sex too. But what I’d miss most was sharing a passion. We’d watched the trailer for The Crown and agreed about the lack of conflict. We hadn’t agreed about Michael’s character in Mum (I found him a bit annoying), but we did both love the theme tune (‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’) and listened to it together the last morning I spent at his.

I told him the best bit of screenwriting advice I’d ever read. He told me about the alien story his company was in the process of pitching. He loved his job. I loved his job.

I loved his job. I loved his job.

Five-hour meetings to determine characters’ back-stories. Brainstorming plot lines with a writer in their hotel room. Working all Sunday on a scene breakdown.

 

I set about updating my CV, making over my LinkedIn profile, emailing potential contacts – the works.

 

Occasionally I thought of him, pictured his head resting on my pillow.

I like you.’

I smile. ‘I like you too.’

We kiss.

‘What do you want?’ he says.

It’s a script joke – a protagonist should always want something.

The same thing as you,’ I whisper, and pull him closer.

If only that had been true.

CC Image courtesy of Oceans of Lilim on Flickr

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Reality Check

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CC Image courtesy of reuvenim on FlickrNovember 2014

‘So I’ve got one silly man-related question.’

My mother looks up from her iPad, wearing a patient, slightly pitying smile.

‘Your email the other day made me smile,’ I begin. She removes her glasses, prepares herself for what is clearly going to be the ‘round the houses’ approach. ‘The one where you said you hoped Gus wasn’t going to get my hopes up.’

We laugh.

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘he sounds dangerous.’

‘No, it’s fine, really.’

[insert long rambling explanation of why it’s fine]

‘But,’ I wind up, ‘well, what I wondered is, if Germany does come back to London – and I know I’m asking you to predict the future here – but if he does come back to London, what are the chances he’ll get in touch?’

There’s a pause.

‘He might get in touch,’ my mother says, slowly. ‘And he might suggest meeting up, but then you’d have to decide if you were happy with things on his terms.’

‘I wouldn’t be. I mean, I don’t know to what extent his ‘terms’ were because we were in different countries, but, if we were in the same city then he’d have to want to make it work or I wouldn’t go there.’

‘Right.’

‘And… if he did get in touch and suggest meeting up, then you’d say, what, go for it?’

‘Well, if he gets in touch and you end up… going out, well, then that’s fine… until he meets someone else.’

‘Because,’ I hesitate a moment, ‘I guess the bottom line is, being in the same city wouldn’t make him fancy me more.’

‘Correct.’

‘Hmm. And… if he did get in touch and we went out or whatever, it would probably end in tears?’

‘Yup.’

‘Because if he doesn’t fancy me enough to make it work when we’re in different countries, then it wouldn’t work when we’re in the same country.’

‘Correct.’

There’s another pause.

‘Is there any chance it wouldn’t end in tears?’

‘Nope.’

‘None?’

‘Mmm nope.’

‘Hmm. You don’t know that!’

My mother doesn’t say anything.

‘So really,’ I go on, ‘if he did get in touch, then I’d be better off not going there at all, because it would only end in misery.’

‘Yup.’

‘And heartache.’

‘Yup.’

Another pause.

‘So you’re saying it would be best not to go there, knowing it would all end in tears?’

‘No, well, I’d go there.’ She looks thoughtful. ‘But I think perhaps you wouldn’t.’

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The Fall

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‘He told me to move,’ Ryan says. ‘He said, ‘I want to talk to Anna’.’

‘Oh!’

I look over at the man who supposedly wants to talk to me. This is surely what my mother and flatmate would call a clear sign of… not interest – that wouldn’t fit in the circumstances – but something. I pick up my things and go over to him.

Once seated I become the sole focus of his attention. It’s wonderful. We talk about everything: pets, smoking, Woody Allen films, Cate Blanchett, online dating

‘You’re on Tinder?’ he says, surprised.

‘Yes, well, everyone is – aren’t they?’

‘Well, I’m not, but I’m married…’

 

The previous autumn there was a leaving drinks for one of our colleagues. Cheesecake was served.

‘Who made it?’ I say, taking a slice.

Tobias‘s wife.’

 

‘What?!’

Colleague looks disbelieving when I tell her. Her funky dairy-free diet doesn’t permit cheesecake, but even harder to digest is the news that Tobias – elegant, stylish Tobias – has a wife.

 

For six months or so after finding this out I was invincible. No matter that his gaze made me weak at the knees or that we crossed paths in the kitchen too often for it to be a coincidence. The guy had a wife, and one who baked decent cheesecake at that.

I was invincible when he told Ryan to move in the pub so he could talk to me; when he brought in a DVD of one of the films we’d talked about for me to borrow; when he told me about his family’s history of divorce, about his father’s second marriage to a much younger woman. I was even invincible when he offered to relieve me of some of my workload.

Then, one day, he came over to talk to Gus at the neighbouring desk.

He has a strange way of walking: hurried, impatient, not quite graceful. His hair sticks up a bit at the back and his eyes have this intense, brooding expression.

I look up from what I’m doing and meet his gaze. And that’s when it happens. I fall. Fuck, do I fall.

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CC Image courtesy of M i x y on Flickr

I hit the forward button and type:

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Beatrice comes back minutes later:

I wondered if you’d react.

Of course I’d bloody react!

Her advice is not to go.

*

Two weeks earlier…

The first thing I see is a status update: he’s leaving the company, leaving London, moving up north. I don’t know what he’s doing there (getting married and having babies probably) and it doesn’t really matter.

 

As the leaving date approaches, I think of him occasionally. It’s sad, the way things have turned out. Given what happened, I can’t but think badly of the guy, and I’d much rather think well of him.

 

The afternoon is busy, my inbox awash with emails. ‘Drinks tomorrow’ is the subject, but it’s the sender’s name which makes me stare. I open the message, read the farewell note to colleagues. He’s sent it to his whole office, and in the ‘CC’ field included just four names.

*

‘Hey!’

I run into Beatrice on the station side of the traffic lights.

‘Hey!’ she says. ‘What are you doing here?!’

‘Oh… I’m just going to a drinks thing before dancing.’

‘Oh! Right!’

‘Yeah. Where are you off to?’

A gallery opening. In fact she’d better go, she’s running late. We say a hurried goodbye.

 

I come to a standstill a hundred yards or so from the pub, make a meal out of turning off my iPod, bundling up the headphones. I check my phone, stow it in my bag, and look for traffic in both directions before crossing.

 

He looks a little awkward, which makes two of us, but pleased. Or relieved? He finds me a chair.

 

‘I think… the last time I saw you,’ he says when people have moved around a bit, and we have less of an audience, ‘was at the summer party.’

‘I remember.’

He laughs, a tad awkward. ‘I think I was very drunk that night.’

‘I think you might’ve been.’

He laughs again. I can’t think of what to say next.

 

A short while later, I get up to go. We hug.

‘Don’t let the man get you down,’ he says, with the same awkward laugh.

I don’t say that with him out of the picture I’ve a marginally better chance of following his advice.

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Model Behaviour

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At uni I launched a poster campaign. I was looking for a man. The precise wording:

Would you like to learn to dance? I’m looking for a 6ft+ male…

‘Really you’re just looking for a boyfriend,’ Tom said.

‘Actually I’m not. I do genuinely want to find someone to dance with!’

 

One morning, as I was coming out of a lecture, my eye was caught by a pair of cheekbones and a tall, slender frame. He was beautiful, the kind of man I’d normally be scared to talk to. But – and this must stand to show just how desperate I was – I asked him straight out, was he interested in learning to dance?

He was nice, pleasant, chatty… not interested in learning to dance. But I went back to college riding a little high, the kind you get after being in the presence of – and acknowledged by – the very beautiful.

 

We became library buddies: he’d drop me a line when he needed a particular book. Then he’d appear at the porter’s lodge, an exotic presence, looking every inch the catwalk model (which he was).

‘Why are you putting on make-up?’ Tom said, leaning against the doorframe of my room.

‘No reason.’

And, my twenty-year-old self knew, very little point.

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