Bar Exercises

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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?’


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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Pain Quotidien

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CC Image courtesy of Steven Leonti on Flickr‘Hi Anna!’

I look round, searching for the speaker. ‘Hi Tristan.’ He probably has a question about work. ‘How are you?’

‘Good,’ he says. ‘What’s in the box?’

‘Oh, just lunch.’ I hesitate then go over to where he’s sitting. ‘Look!’ I hold out my paint-spattered hands. ‘I did legal graffiti last night! It does come off – but I didn’t try very hard!’

He laughs. ‘Illegal graffiti?’

‘No no, legal graffiti.’

Tobias is listening now.

‘Ahh.’ Tristan smiles. ‘You can call it reeling, y’know?’

I give him a look. ‘Yeah, that’s what we do in the church. It’s funny, they never notice afterwards. They’re too busy–.’


‘That’s where we reel.’

‘Were you reeling or praying?’ Tobias says.


Tristan looks surprised. ‘You were actually doing graffiti?’



‘There’s a tunnel, near Waterloo, where it’s legal.’

‘What did you draw? I imagine with your painting and drawing…’

I don’t remember having ever told Tristan I paint and draw.

‘… you’d be good at it.’

‘Hmm it’s difficult…’

My companion kept telling me to hold the nozzle close to the wall and the spray can vertical, neither of which I succeeded in doing.

‘… and, well, most of the spray cans didn’t work.’

Tristan grins. ‘It sounds like an artisan date.’

I laugh. ‘I think that would happen at Pain Quotidien.’

Our audience has expanded to include the rest of Tristan’s team. I can feel myself growing red.

‘Yeah well… I better go,’ I say, starting to move away. The next question will probably relate to who I was with. Adrien, Gus and Ryan know all the grisly details about my dating life and Tobias knows some of them but I’ve always been silent on the subject with Tristan. Perhaps because the others can be relied upon to keep him informed of any developments (he often greets me with, ‘How was your date? Adrien/Ryan said…’). Or perhaps because I don’t want him thinking there’s anyone but him. And I’m not sure there is.

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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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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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Egg Flip: Part II

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CC Image courtesy of JotaEse92 on Flickr(Continued from Egg Flip: Part I)

Nick’s heading off.

‘Well… are you in London for the weekend?’ I say.

He doesn’t bite.  He does tell me of his weekend plans.  The chat is flirty and fun and there are a few of those truly great moments where you’re both laughing at something which isn’t all that funny and your eyes meet, and it’s like… yep.

‘Do you like my bag?’ he says.

‘“Emotional baggage”,’ I read and laugh.  ‘It’s cool.  Where’s it from?’

‘Where I work.’  He shows me the quirky label which it came with.  ‘It’s almost worth having just for the label.’

I laugh.  ‘I bought something the other day just because I loved the box it came in.  Sometimes the packaging is more exciting than the object itself!  Like, one of my most prized possessions is an egg carton…’

I’m not weird.

He smiles.  ‘Proust could probably write a book about that.’


‘An egg carton – Proust could probably make something of that.’


‘Yeah well, it’s an empty one, so that’s probably even more meaningful!’

We laugh.

‘So,’ he says, ‘do you have anymore reeling coming up?’

I tell him I’m going to a ball in a couple of weeks’ time – actually it’s in Oxford.

‘Ah. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to that one.  I’ve been for the past couple of years….’

‘You should come,’ I say.  ‘There’ll be dancing!’

And bugger all subtlety on my part if tonight is anything to go by.


He must dash.  We kiss on the cheeks.

‘Nice to see you,’ I say.

‘Thank you for the dance.’

Wrong answer.

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