A Play For Voices

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CC Image courtesy of quinn.anya on FlickrLast week I threw caution to the wind and attended an event not as myself but as MBE.

The last time I played a part was in my final year of secondary school. I came on stage wearing a wetsuit, snorkel and flippers – I’m pretty sure I only got the part because no one else was stupid enough to agree to wear the costume – and halfway through the first scene my contact lens fell out.

This time I get to choose my outfit. I’m way too hot, but Bellinis are on tap and Beatrice is at my side, so what can possibly go wrong?

‘I don’t know what to call myself,’ I say, as we approach the venue.

Fortunately the whole guest list thing is beyond casual. We get in as ‘Clare’s friends’. I hope I recognise Clare from her Gmail picture.

Clare is lovely and the event itself is wonderful. After four Bellinis everything is wonderful and Beatrice and I are propping up the canapé station, talking intensely about her first boyfriend and where it all went wrong.

We do mingle, and I meet several members of that elusive breed, the dating blogger. It’s a bit disconcerting, like walking down the street and passing someone who’s the spitting image of yourself.

I’d wondered what the vibe of a dating app launch party would be, what sort of crowd it would attract. Socialites, tech heads, bloggers, men in skirts visiting from East London – they’re all there. As are the founders of the app, VoiceCandy. It’s a similar concept to Tinder but with the addition of recorded voice messages. Because, as one of the founders explains, studies have shown that voice, like non-verbal communication, plays a huge part in attraction.

 

I can remember as if it was yesterday the first time I heard VP’s voice over the phone and, aside from the weird instructions about Nando’s, it was entirely unremarkable. Later I would come to love that voice for its slowness – a sign not of stupidity but of a razor-sharp intellect measuring every word for its worth. But at first it was only a reassuring neutral.

Other voices linger in the mind. Tobias’s antipodean drawl carries across the office and I feel my back straighten instinctively. And the first time I call Tristan in his new role and hear him answer, ‘Hi Anna’, I have to take a moment to compose myself.

 

So it’s ironic when Beatrice asks one of the other dating bloggers present what the best singles event she’s ever reviewed is and she replies, ‘Silent speed dating’. Shhh Dating, she explains, takes voice and speech entirely out of the equation.

At which point a couple of guys join our circle. They’re too young, I think, a suspicion confirmed when they say they’re fresh out of uni. But even before they speak, and despite (or perhaps because of) their jock-esque good looks and sharp suits, something about the way they carry themselves, their unsmiling countenances – it makes me want to turn away.

 

Beatrice and I call time around 9. I’ve successfully not revealed my surname or place of employment to any of the assembled company, learnt that my Twitter handle is completely undiscoverable when you put it into the website’s search bar and affirmed my deep love for Bellinis and courgette tempura. The evening ends with Top Gun on the big screen in Hyde Park and a giggly stumble back to the tube.

‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ Beatrice says.
‘Tinder date.’
‘Oh of course! Let me know how it goes.’
‘I will.’

We hug and I go carefully down the steps, wondering how I’m going to explain the mid-week hangover to my unsuspecting date.

CC Image courtesy of Ciudadano Poeta on Flickr

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The Eyes Have It

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CC Image courtesy of markhassize11feet on Flickr

As I arrive a girl is coming out. She seems to know me.

‘I’ve got a blind date,’ she says. ‘He just called to say he’s here, so I have to go!’

She tells me the back story.

‘This time last year,’ I say, ‘I went on a really good blind date, so… hopefully it’s a lucky time of year!’

I do talk crap sometimes.

‘Aaw yes, hopefully.’

We say an affectionate goodbye – I still have no idea who she is – and I make my way downstairs to the bar. So much for not remembering the significance of today’s date.

 

Several hours later…

I see him first in a group. We’re introduced and there’s a moment – eye contact, I think they call it – before the crowd separates us.

Later it brings us together.

‘Tristan,’ he says.

‘Hi. That’s an unusual name. I called a character in something I’m writing Tristan but I’ve never met one in real life.’

As opening gambits go, I’m pretty pleased with this one, even if it does raise some awkward questions…

‘You’re a writer?!’ he says.

‘Oh, well, sort of – it’s not my main job but I like to do it on the side.’

‘What sort of thing?’

‘Like… romantic comedy?’

‘Cool, so, what, short stories?’

‘More like vignettes.’

Vignettes. Nice. I should talk about writing more often while under the influence. I go on:

‘But hopefully they’ll turn into something more substantial at some point.’

Just like that, without me having to so much as lift a finger. Wouldn’t that be nice? Speaking of nice…

Tristan moves closer, his eyes still fixed on mine. ‘But you said it wasn’t your main thing. So, what is?’

However original the opener, it always comes back to that inevitable question. And, after we’ve parted company, he having said he’d like to talk more at so-and-so event in a few weeks’ time, that he’d like to read some of my stuff, that ‘we’ll… Facebook’ accompanied by typing gestures – after all that comes the inevitable truth…

‘I like Tristan. Is he single?’

The hostess looks apologetic. ‘He’s got a girlfriend, and she’s one of my best friends so I have to look out for her.’

I like the implication that if the girlfriend wasn’t one of her best friends Tristan would be fair game.

 

The next day I find myself on said girlfriend’s blog, trying to determine a) how long they’ve been together, and b) (and this is the more challenging part, read: total waste of time) how happy they are. It’s preferable to hanging out on Tristan’s Facebook profile. I hadn’t noticed straightaway on meeting him but now, faced with an album of stills, the resemblance is unmistakeable. Long face, square jaw, good teeth, full lips… everything is the same – eerily so – except the eyes which, instead of a clear bright blue, are dark brown. But that aside, Tristan, well… he’s just another Viable Prospect.

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The Name Game

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The first person I see on entering the pub is Casper.

‘What do you guys want?’

Ryan and Gus request pints. Tristan pokes me. ‘What do you want?’

‘Oh… just water, thanks.’

‘Half or pint?’ he says with a grin.

I come back from the loo to find a gin and tonic and a half pint of water waiting for me. Once seated, I decide to do the honourable thing and make polite conversation with Casper who’s to my left, silently thanking God (and Tristan) that there’s hard liquor to hand.

The second person I noticed on entering the pub was someone I didn’t know the name of, incredible given the number of hours I’ve spent on Tristan’s Facebook profile. The guy in question is good-looking, casually dressed in jumper and jeans, with an intelligent face.

Casper is talking shop, which anyone should know is pretty much not allowed, unless you’re 007, and even then. And I’m listening, sort of. A couple of times my eyes drift in the direction of Intelligent Face, to find it directed at me.

Casper goes out for a smoke and I fall into conversation with the girl sitting opposite. Her face is familiar, and so is her name – Laura – though we’ve never met. I like her instinctively and the chatter is relaxed and easy. Talk of mixed schools leads to a discussion of whether men and women can be friends. She is for the motion.

‘Tristan for instance,’ she says, ‘I’ve known him for years, but I could never think of him in that way.’

What is WRONG with you, I want to say. But instead I smile politely.

People move round. I’m pretty much stuck between Casper and Ryan; Intelligent Face is a few seats away, between Gus and Tristan. Not ideal positioning for a tête-à-tête, so it feels somewhat pointed when he speaks across Gus and Ryan and asks me a question about my job. By this stage in the proceedings I’ve figured out who he is. Tristan’s spoken of him often. He’s a playwright and one of Tristan’s best friends.

Fast forward half an hour and Shakespeare has somehow engineered taking the seat next to me. We’re talking writing.

‘I didn’t know you had a blog!’ Tristan says, overhearing.

I look incredulous. ‘I told you I had a blog!’

I’m sailing pretty close to the wind here.

‘Yeah,’ Tristan says, ‘but I didn’t realise you actually posted regularly. What’s it called?’

‘Oh… it’s anonymous,’ I say, ‘I don’t promote it.’

Shakespeare tries pretty hard to get the name out of me, but I’m not forthcoming. I’m also a bit confused. I mean, here is a guy – attractive, intelligent, interesting – showing interest. And across from me is his best friend, a man I refer to among my immediate family as ‘Future Husband’, and among my best friends as ‘Perfect Colleague’.

Around eleven Tristan gets up to leave and I make as if to follow suit. Shakespeare looks mildly disappointed, and I’m disappointed too. But I mean really, how would it go, hanging out with Shakespeare and Tristan and Tristan’s girlfriend? I might be a masochist but I have my limits.

Things don’t go according to plan, and it’s nearly midnight when I find myself on the pavement with Shakespeare, Laura, Casper and several others, heading for the station. At the ticket barriers, Casper says he should take me out for dinner sometime, a suggestion which I laugh off. Shakespeare, when it comes to saying goodbye, looks at me steadily and says we’ll hopefully see each other at Tristan’s housewarming in the New Year, before going on his way. I head in the opposite direction with Laura and the others, chatting merrily.

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The Boyfriend

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CC Image courtesy of Dr Snafu on FlickrI always thought I’d be the first one to know when I was going out with someone. So it comes as something of a surprise when, Friday morning, I get a text from Rachel.

‘Anna!! Are you going out with someone??’

‘Am I?’ I send back. ‘This is exciting! Who is it?’

I’m expecting her to say she’s read the latest post and extrapolated that VP and I are now an item.  I’m not expecting her to say that a mutual friend has been told by someone’s ex-girlfriend (my alleged boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend no less) that he and I are now an item.  It’s a long, complicated story, but the bottom line is…

‘No, not seeing anyone, not seriously anyway.’

I haven’t replied to Redhead‘s last message.  I have however spent the last forty-eight hours composing a piece of thesis-worthy literary criticism to send to VP.  I might not end up with the guy, but he’s doing wonders for my little grey cells.

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Wasted

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CC Image courtesy of francisco_osorio on FlickrThe Master of Ceremonies is wearing what looks like a high-end bin-liner.  ‘Turn to the person next to you,’ he says, ‘and share a story with the theme ‘Wasted’.’

‘I’m glad I’m next to the wall,’ I say, laughing.

Karl isn’t going to let me off the hook.  He goes first, with a story about how he wasted four months of his life working for an estate agents called Foxtons.  In that time he worked like a dog, to the point that he would get home to his girlfriend and be too tired to have sex.  ‘She used to beg me,’ he says, eyes wide with wonder, ‘but I just couldn’t!’  He shakes his head.  ‘It was such a waste.’

Now it’s my turn.  On reading the event description for the evening, I’d run a quick scan of the memory files for any relevant anecdotes.  Lately the saying ‘you regret the things you don’t do’ had been preying on my mind.  In Forget Me Not, the woman asks, ‘Any regrets?’  ‘Maybe,’ the guy says.  It’s a poignant moment.  Regrets, I realised, are something I never want to have and I don’t have many.  But there’s one I can’t seem to shake.  There it is, a wasted opportunity which fills me with feelings of regret.  It’s a trivial story, barely a story at all, but once lodged in my head, I can’t shift it.  And so, when Bin Liner invites us to share, it’s the only one that springs to mind.  I take a deep breath.

‘I should’ve gone to the ball at which I would have met the man I should marry but I didn’t because the guy who invited me I was still getting over and now the guy I should marry is going out with someone else….’

I said it was trivial, pathetic even.

Karl cuts in, ‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I frown.  ‘Sorry?’

‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I don’t, but the question is just annoying.  I mean, of course he’s the guy I should marry.

‘Because, when we did meet-.’

‘So you did meet him?’

‘Yes, we worked together…’

And if you’d let me finish the ruddy story, you’d have found this out!

‘… and we just got on really well.’

To the point that I was left in no doubt that he was the man I should marry.  Honestly, details.

‘But if you had met, you might have gone out together, and found it didn’t work.  I mean, you meet, you become lovers, and then you get to know each other, and then, if it works, it might become a relationship, but not necessarily.  More often than not, it doesn’t work.’

‘True.  But, well, I think it would work.  But anyway, now he’s got a girlfriend.  It’s such a waste.’

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