Mr. Chips: Part I

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‘You’ll meet someone when you least expect it.’CC Image courtesy of electricnerve on Flickr

I laugh. ‘I’m always expecting it though!’

I’m half-joking. I might not always be expecting it, but I am always looking for it. Tonight, for instance, it’s Perky’s Christmas party: 50% guys I know and don’t fancy, 25% guys who don’t fancy me back, 20% unknown entities and 5% blood relatives (off-limits, whatever you might have read on here recently). By 2am a really nice couple is trying to help me get with ‘Cream Jumper’ (yes, I’m aware of how desperate that sounds), one of the 25%. Fortunately the cab, taking the three of us south, arrives before I do anything stupid/embarrassing. We chatter all the way, about the psychology of the likes of Cream Jumper (a famous flirt)… to be honest, that’s the only part of the conversation I can remember, but it’s really fun, and when the cab pulls up yards from my flat, I’m feeling happy and relaxed.

‘Thank you,’ I say, hopping out. ‘Good night!’ I close the door and the cab pulls away.


I look round to see my next-door neighbour, standing on the pavement, holding one of those horrible yellow takeaway boxes. Here is what I know about him:

1. He works in finance.

2. He’s charming.

3. I fancy him.


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At first I’m not sure it’s him.  Then someone moves aside and I get a clearer view.  I flash a smile – yes I do – give a wave.  In his face, I see a spark of recognition tinged with puzzlement.  Then someone blocks my line of sight, or he looks away, and I’m left feeling like a bit of a gimp.  He doesn’t remember.

Or does he?

Our eyes meet again.  He’s walking towards me, through the crowd.  Winning smile #2.

‘I had no idea you’d be here!’ he says.

‘Ben!  Wow, what, it’s been, like, six years?!’

We hug, crumpling costumes.


Two weeks earlier…

‘Thank you for the invite.  I’m really looking forward to it!’

Georgie clasps her hands together. ‘You can come?  That’s great!’

Hard to say which of us looks more pleased.

‘Also, how do you know Ben?’

She has a habit of doing this, bringing up a new topic as if it’s a continuation of what’s gone before.

I frown. ‘Ben?’

‘Ben Phillips?’

The name rings a distant bell.

‘Oh, Ben!  I saw he was coming!  Reeling, actually.  But quite random reeling…’

In a barn, near home, years ago.  At the time, he was dating one of my classmates.  She was cool and sporty and not one of my favourite people.  He was open and warm and friendly.

‘I really liked him,’ I say, throwing caution to the wind.


I pass him in the corridor, make tutting noises.

‘It’s work,’ he says, waving the phone in the air. ‘I’m on call.’

He’s not a doctor so I’ve no idea what this means, but it’s hot.  We fall into conversation, drift in the direction of the sitting room and the makeshift dancefloor.

‘Dance?’ I say.  For old time’s sake.

He declines; he hasn’t had enough to drink.

Which is when Georgie appears and gives him no choice in the matter.


There’s something quite ‘school disco’ about it, which is fitting: a sea of familiar faces; disco anthems playing; gradually coming together, first to dance, then to kiss…


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Notting Hill

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CC Image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan on FlickrHe’s sitting alone, feet up on a chair, reading what looks like the free copy of Country Life which turns up at the office every week, because once upon a time we put an ad in there and they forgot to take us off the mailing list.


Which, as greetings go, would be fine, if I’d said it in a vaguely normal voice.  But instead I plump for something between Darth Vader and Voldemort.

He looks up and smiles.  ‘Hello.’

I pick myself up off the floor and saunter (sexy, huh?) over to the microwave – which is in use.  I unclip the lid of my Tupperware (one day that will be a euphemism) and start assembling my soon to be melted cheese and pesto sandwich.  A quick blitz – twenty seconds max – is all that’s needed to turn it into a gooey cheesy slice of deliciousness.  That’s the plan anyhow.

‘How is the fantastical world of data?’ Tristan says.

‘Oh fantastic.’  I laugh.  ‘I try not to mention the data thing, in social situations – I go with Marketing instead.’

The microwave comes free.  I set the timer to one minute.

He lowers his magazine.  ‘Oh!  I remember telling a girl what I did once…’

Would that be before or after you met Holly, and I don’t suppose you and she have broken up?!

‘… and she thought it was really cool!  She said it was her dream to work in this industry!’

I laugh.  ‘I hope you didn’t disillusion her!’

‘No, I told her about the chocolate fountains…’

I don’t recall what the guy says next because at this point he gets up – it gets better – and walks over to where I’m standing beside the bins… and drops his sandwich wrapper into the recyclable waste.  My sandwich meanwhile is achieving something close to nuclear fission in the microwave.

He sits back down.  I hear footsteps approaching and my heart sinks.  It’s probably Gus or Ryan or, worse, a woman.  But it’s a stranger.  Tristan is back to leafing through Country Life.  I’m trying to think of something to say and settle on the first thing that comes to mind: the phone conversation I’ve just had with my brother.  He’s decided, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, if they even exist at all, on a restaurant in Notting Hill as the venue for his birthday festivities.

‘Is it somewhere he knows?’

‘Nope, never been before.’ I laugh. ‘And all the guests live either East or South!  It doesn’t make any sense!’

He smiles. ‘Let me guess – you live west.’

I look mock-offended, then laugh.  ‘Says the guy who reads the ‘free’ copy of Country Life every week!’

He laughs.  ‘Harsh words.’

I smile, and cut my oil and basil leaf sandwich in two.

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Sexy As Hell

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Sexy.  That’s the overriding impression.  And one hell of a dancer, so let’s call him Patrick.

For the first three hours, we don’t have much to do with each other.  Someone tells me I should dance with him, because he’s really good, but it’s for exactly that reason that I don’t.  He’s intimidating, awesome, and he must have women falling over themselves to dance with him – and there are more approachable, more generous partners on the floor.


I’ve swapped my flimsy ballet pumps for boots and am looking around for the host.  It’s getting on for 2am and I have an epic bus journey ahead of me.  Patrick is passing, and stops and makes some remark about the speaker system, which is playing up.  We exchange basic information: name, job, how we know the host.

‘So,’ I say, ‘what’s your dance history?’

I don’t make a habit in social situations of asking questions which belong in a job interview, but then I don’t often find myself talking to the Patricks of this world.  When I do, speech itself is an achievement.

He doesn’t bat an eyelid, but gives an answer which covers both questions: the one I asked, and the one I meant, namely, how come you’ve got such incredible moves?

He winds up, ‘I want to learn salsa.’

‘Yeah, that’d be cool.’

I like to think if he’d said he wanted to learn, say, basket-weaving or book-binding, I’d have responded differently.

I go on, ‘I’m learning tango, but you can probably let your hair down a bit more doing salsa!’

‘What’s tango like?’

‘Err… well… you want me to show you?’

‘Yeah.’  So there, in the hallway, we do tango basic.

Someone’s making merry hell with the music.  Patrick looks over at the perpetrator, puts his hand briefly on my waist, then walks off to see what’s happening.  I follow.  Minutes later, Cuban-style music comes on.  He takes my hand and we start to dance.  For someone who wants to learn salsa, he’s pretty damn good.

‘This music is actually merengue,’ he says, ‘but I don’t really know what the difference is!’

And anyway it’s not long before our salsa has morphed into something less PG, which is fine by me.

This is typically when things go to pot.  I mean, this guy is like, ripped (yes, this is MBE writing, and no, the blog has not been hijacked).  And, confusingly for someone so beautiful, he seems nice, which I really don’t know what to do with.  But going back to the whole ripped thing, I feel like I need to be less blatant about wanting to dance with him, and only him (see above, about women falling over themselves).  This would be easier if there were other people on the floor, but everyone else appears to have done a runner during the dodgy DJ-ing phase.  As a man, he can just grab someone and dance with them, create the impression of not putting all his eggs in one basket, but for me, it’s a bit more difficult.  Also, when I like someone and they’re a good dancer, I become really really bad at playing it cool.  And, well, I’m shit at it anyway!

So, when I see him out of the corner of my eye dancing with another girl, I decide it’s time to call it a night.  Not least because 2am has been and gone, and for all I know Patrick was dancing with me out of mere politeness (I don’t actually believe that), or as one dancer to another (more likely).  I find my jacket, pull it on.  A quick glance in the direction of the floor brings Patrick into view.  He’s coming over.

‘Are you leaving?’

‘Yes.  I’ve got a bit of an epic journey ahead of me.  Night buses…’

‘Oh, right, yeah.’

‘It was nice to see you again.  And, thank you for the dance!

I say that a lot, and it’s never what I mean.

We kiss on the cheeks.

‘Yes, it was nice to see you.’

‘I hope it goes well in China.’

He’s moving there for work shortly.  Another red flag, literally.

‘I’ll hopefully see you before then – I’ll come to the next one of these,’ he nods in the direction of the host, ‘if he has another.’


It feels like now is the moment to kiss or hug or something, but we’ve done that.  He shakes my hand, then we bump fists, ironically I think, though it’s hard to be sure.

I laugh.  ‘That’s way too cool for me!’

What I mean is, you’re way too cool for me.  Which he is.


Seventeen minutes until the bus is due.  I pull out my phone, run the old Facebook search.  He really is beautiful.  The minutes fly by.  The bus arrives; I board, and find a seat at the top.   Out comes the phone again, flashing bright white with a notification.  It’s getting on for 3am so this surprises me.

Not half as much as what’s waiting for me.  It’s like one of those Twitter quotes: ‘how great it feels when the guy you’ve just been looking at on Facebook, adds you‘.  I grin, and hug my coat tighter around me.  Now to see if he bucks the trend.

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My mother‘s advice: make sure you leave with someone.CC Image courtesy of excitingsounds on Flickr

Isn’t that always the plan?  And it nearly came off.  It would have perhaps, if I’d liked him less.


The occasion is a dinner party.  My mother’s up for the evening and drives me to the door.

‘If you walk back to the station,’ she says, ‘make sure you go with someone – or take a taxi.’

There’s one behind us, waiting to get past.  I say a hasty goodbye, jump out and enter the building.


It’s the best kind of evening: relaxed, unpretentious, filled with laughter.  I arrive to find three guests already sitting at the table.  Introductions follow.  I take a seat next to the only man present.  Conversation is polite and pleasant, if a little stilted.  The doorbell rings.

He’s dark, casually dressed, and looks confident, walking ahead of the hostess.  We’re introduced and fall into easy conversation.  He doesn’t reel.  He does sail, but would enjoy it more if the boats had fewer holes in them.  Which brings us, somewhat inevitably, to Rebecca, other novels by du Maurier, Atonement (via characterisation), the short story genre, his burgeoning legal career.  He’s fun, funny and smart, and I’m glad when, supper being ready, he takes the seat beside me.  This is, again somewhat inevitably, when paranoia sets in: the desire not to appear too interested, not to ask the kinds of questions which I could only possibly be interested in hearing the answers to because I’m contemplating spending the rest of my life with the person.


Fast forward a couple of hours.  The hostess is telling a long story, which is entertaining because I’ve had some wine, and impossible to follow because she’s had some wine.  Fun, Funny and Smart (FFS for short) is sitting back in his chair, brow furrowed, mouth set in a smile.  I’m no expert – as evidenced by this blog – but the way he looks at me, the way our eyes meet whenever I glance his way, the fact he keeps offering me chocolates, his reaction when I get up to leave: it all suggests he likes me.

I pull on my coat.

‘Are you getting the last tube?’ he says, making as if to get up too.

The guy to his right gives him a friendly shove. ‘You can walk home from here!’

Shyness and paranoia (see above) stops me saying anything more than ‘Yes’.  I follow the hostess through to her room, find my bag.  She’s about to show me out.

‘I’ll just say goodbye….’

I go back through to the dining room.  FFS rises from his seat; we kiss on the cheeks.


Work the next day is a struggle, but I drift through it wearing the silly smile of someone who’s met someone they like who might, just might, like them back.  Lunchtime, my smile broadens (standard) when the guy in question adds me on Facebook (not standard).


Two days later, I’m on the blower to Beatrice complaining that I haven’t heard from him.

‘And it’s been, what, nearly 48 hours!’

Silence: the phone equivalent of an eye roll.  Then we laugh.

‘Fine,’ I say, ‘but…’

So not fine.

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