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 Name Game

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CC Image courtesy of johanoomen on Flickr

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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For Old Time’s Sake

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CC Image courtesy of lefthandrotation on Flickr

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…

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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