La Dolce Vita

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CC Image courtesy of drumminhands on FlickrWe were at university together, the three of us. Tom and I were on the same course. I liked him immediately: his deep-seated realism, his love of taking the mickey – he gave my self-esteem more of a battering in three years than all my tutors put together – and his direct manner. And his belief that anything other than pasta and cheese was pretentious fare.

I ran into him once outside the library.

‘Where you headed to?’ he asked.

‘Food shopping.’

He looked at my bike. ‘That’ll be a long ride.’


The supermarket was just around the corner.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘there isn’t a Fortnums in Oxford. You’ll have to go to – where is it – Pic–?’

‘Fuck off.’

He gave me a lot of stick, and a lot of laughs.


Claire used to drop by my room on the way to see him. She would sing his praises, bemoan the fact that he had a girlfriend back home; or rather we would do these things together, with almost equal enthusiasm. And sometimes Tom would drop by on the way to see Claire and I’d laugh like a schoolgirl at his jokes. But I was never the destination.

In Claire’s eyes, no one came close. But Tom had been with his girlfriend for years. A creature of habit, it seemed unlikely that he would end it. And so, for two years, I listened to Claire wax lyrical about him. She did at one point chat up a refugee on a bus, inspired by one of my bolder romantic gestures, but Tom remained her gold standard.


At the end of second year, it happened. I was cycling along with a friend, and she casually mentioned that Tom and his girlfriend had split up. I stopped in my tracks.

‘Who ended it?’


It didn’t make much difference.

I shrugged. ‘Well, it’s only a matter of time now.’

Over the summer, Tom and Claire hooked up. The first term back it was strange. We spoke occasionally in the dinner queue but otherwise I barely saw them. Then, one night, the microwave on my corridor was broken. I went upstairs to the kitchen opposite Claire’s room. She was there preparing pasta and cheese. We started chatting. Tom came in.

‘What you eating?’

‘Errrr… pasta,’ I said.

‘What you having with it?’

He grabbed the jar. ‘Aubergine pesto. Oooh very fancy.’

We laughed.

CC Image courtesy of Patent and the Pantry on Flickr

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