Renaissance Man

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Perky looks thoughtful. ‘Remind me again what your type is?’

I glance over in the direction of her best friend’s boyfriend.

 

Two hours earlier…

I enter the room and immediately fall into conversation with a charming Frenchman. Ten minutes later, a girl I recognise appears at his elbow. We exchange festive greetings then, gesturing towards Charming Frenchman, I say:

‘Have you met?’

She smiles, not unkindly. ‘Yes, we’re together.’

I resist the urge to grab the nearest bag of Kettle Chips and walk away.

 

Three glasses of mulled wine later, I’m standing opposite Perky asking if there’s anyone – anyone – she could set me up with.

‘Remind me again what your type is?’ she says.

‘Umm… the thing is, if I describe my type, I’ll just be describing the last guy I dated.’

But one.

‘That’s fine. Obviously that’s your type.’

Yes, but as my beloved mother has pointed out on numerous occasions, it’s probably not very realistic.

‘Hmm OK,’ I say, ‘well, the most important thing is that they’re very clever. And funny – we need to have the same sense of humour.’

‘OK, what about height?’

‘Not that bothered.’

‘But you wouldn’t want someone shorter than you?’

‘I don’t really mind. The last few guys I’ve dated have been the same height as me and that’s been fine.’

‘OK but you’re quite tall.’

‘Yeah I guess.’ I think for a moment. ‘Also… I’ve got a weakness for scientists who are also interested in the arts. So, a polymath. Basically,’ I laugh, ‘I want Leonardo Da Vinci, but alive.’

And straight. And fractionally taller.

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CC Image courtesy of viktoriawigenstam on FlickrHe walks away.

‘I used to have a massive crush on him,’ I say to the girl opposite, ‘and then the other day… we matched on Tinder!’

She does fish out of water and points in his direction. ‘Go – go after him!’

I shake my head, smiling, feeling our three-year age gap more than ever. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because….’ I shrug. ‘We’ve got nothing in common. It wouldn’t work.’

‘Do you still find him attractive?’

‘Yes.’

Hell yes.

‘Then… look,’ she says, ‘I’m going out with Sam and we’ve got nothing in common. He’s maths, I’m arts, but it works.’

‘Yeah but – you have got things in common. Friends and… you both reel. Whereas, well, when I spoke to that guy just now – we’d run out of things to say!’

‘Maybe he’s shy.’

‘Yeah… yeah, he probably is.’

 

Four years ago I quit my job in the arts and took an administrative role in a start-up. Its offices backed onto a wine bar and when important clients visited, it fell to me to reserve a table there. I would walk the 30 yards or so along the pavement, my hopes rising with every step. Sometimes I’d be wearing my red dress, just long enough to be office-appropriate, and if he was there I’d smile and turn the same colour as it. I confided in a colleague who, like me, couldn’t understand what it was about him. All I knew was that he passed the acid test.

One day, after a bit of flirty emailing, I went round to the bar. He was there and we talked our usual nonsense for a bit. Just as I was about to leave I suggested we go for a drink sometime. He looked a bit awkward. ‘Sure,’ he said. Which I interpreted as enthusiasm.

Fast forward a week and I’m back at the bar. I have a plan. The plan is to give him my number, which I’ve scribbled on a scrap of paper. The plan is to give it to him quickly, casual-like, as if I was passing and it had just occurred to me to do it. The plan is not to chat for a bit, repeat the suggestion of going for a drink then practically put the bit of paper into his hand. That was a red dress day.

Shortly after that I found out he had a girlfriend. Which solved the mystery of what it was that I liked about him.

*

I meet his eye, smile. He smiles back. He’s on his way out – that’s clear from the coat – but we exchange pleasantries and I introduce him to the girl opposite. His friends appear; they’re ready to leave. We kiss on the cheeks.

‘You should come down to the bar more often,’ he says.

Again he kisses me, and walks away.

 

Two days later…

I bring up his profile. Everything about it is wrong: the clichéd phrases, the dodgy grammar, the selfie. I hit the message tab and start writing.

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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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CC Image courtesy of jonathan229 on FlickrThere’s a scene in a film – the ’92 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d – where Amanda Elwes’s character is asked why she moved to England. She replies: ‘I like English men.’ By the same logic I should be booking a one-way ticket for the Eurostar, powerless as I am in the face of Gallic charm. Admittedly Adrien is rarely charming to me. Most of the time we’re foul to each other, so much so that the other French speaker in the office likes to quote idioms in her mother tongue about the thin line between love and hate.

This is when I piss on my own parade and tell you Adrien lives with his half-Spanish, wholly beautiful girlfriend. His ‘imaginary girlfriend’, as I call her – twice she’s been a no-show at work drinks. Sensible woman.

Ce soir,’ I say to him, over the top of my computer, ‘j’ai un… qu’est-ce que c’est ‘date’ en français?’

‘Ah. Rendez-vous.’

‘Rendez-vous. J’ai un rendez-vous avec un homme qui est… demi-francais?’

Adrien frowns a moment. ‘Ah. La moitié français.

‘Qui est la moitié français, donc je peux pratiquer mon français!’

He nods, smiling.

Et, je pense to myself, j’espère qu’il est half as incroyable as you.

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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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