London November

Three days of swimming has not got any easier or made me feel any fitter, I am still knackered and I see no improvement in the slightest. Clearly I was hoping for a fitness miracle and the reality is that there’s a long way to go.

Day 4 and I am on my bike once again heading to the Gym. To be honest with you I really don’t want to today, I feel knackered and the last thing I want to do is exercise, I am having an argument with myself, quite possibly I am doing so out loud, like one of those loons one sees jabbering away in the street. Give the pool a miss today,  does one day really matter? Yes, loser, it does. But maybe you can just have a sauna, that’s almost like exercise isn’t it? I give in to my lethargy, half convinced and stop talking out loud.

I head for the treatment suite of the Gym and am duly given a wristband by the receptionist, then deposit my clothes in a locker and head for a sauna. A man is standing there in the sauna area with a mop in his hands. He looks me up and down with disdain. 

Closed he says, just the one word. Closed.

I’m sorry? I say. What do you mean closed?

Can’t you read he says to me. My hackles rise, he points the tip of his broom towards the door and says that one word again. Closed. I go back to the doorway to inspect it more closely, nothing, I look back at the chap, it doesn’t say anything about being closed I respond and the desk said it was fine. I explain that I’ve been given a sauna pass and been told I can have a sauna, I show him my wristband, expecting it to be an open sesame.  He sucks air through his teeth in that way only West Indians can. I wish I could do that, there’s something supremely dismissive about it and despite plenty of gaps in my own teeth it’s an expression beyond my capabilities. Other side he adds with a tone that I understand as crediting me with a brain the size of a pea.

I go through the other side of the door and examine it scrupulously, nothing, I look around the door, up and down the walls and then find a small sign with the smallest possible writing indicating that the sauna will be closed each day for cleaning for 45 minutes at 1.30pm. It’s as though the sign is in the most invisible spot in the smallest writing so you have no idea at all that it’s there.

I stomp back into the sauna rooms ready for verbal fisticuffs. I have a pass  for the sauna I opine, they didn’t say anything about it being closed. 

The chap shrugs his shoulders and says, Not my problem and goes on with his work.

Much as I want to lose my temper with the bloke the fact is that the sauna being closed means that now I will go for a swim, and the exercise is what I need, so I can’t be angry with him. Disgruntled I shuffle off.

I head to the pool, do my lengths and pedal my bike back home on jelly legs.

Saturday evening finds me heading out to a family and friends gathering, a birthday celebration, I haven’t done many of these largish social events in the last few years and meeting lots of old friends and family & relations who are these days little more than  acquaintances is a rather strange experience. To add piquancy to the evening  my ex and her partner are going to be there. Many of the folks going I will not have seen in years and it’s a strange kind of feeling,  an exercise in nostalgia and something of a challenge at the same time, but I am curious as to  how I will find the soiree. 

The thing about these types of get togethers is that inevitably one meets people that you are happy to see again but also others who you wouldn’t necessarily choose to meet up with, but these rites of passage times, weddings or funerals or anniversaries puts you bang there right in the thick of fit.

Now this happened recently with my ex’s partner, whom I hadn’t set eyes on in five years, not once, and quite frankly I was perfectly happy with this state of affairs, vis a vis not seeing him at all, but at a funeral recently he kind of bush-whacked me, there I was minding my own business, sitting at a pew, lost in thoughts about old times with the recently departed, when the next thing I know someone has grasped my hand and is shaking it vigorously. The etiquette of handshakes is a whole panoply in itself, his on this occasion is one of those unnecessarily firm handshakes that blokes do, a kind of testosteroney display of manliness, It takes a moment to realise that the hand that is firmly gripping mine is the ex’s partner. He has a big smile and says how good it is to see me. Now the thing is I am totally flummoxed by this, firstly I wasn’t expecting it, secondly, had I any say in the matter to be honest I wouldn’t have chosen to shake his hand in the first place. But the bugger caught me unawares. 

I think of a handshake as a greeting and an acknowledgment that on some level shows respect, I have neither for him. In fact when he comes to mind I have this pervasive idea of a later day, Spiv* , a kind of cheeky chappy with an old man hat, a London twang and an all round air of the dodgy geezer. Whilst this may be no more than my own conjuring, biased as I am it’s nevertheless a strong association that comes to me readily. Quite simply I am not a fan of his, but the irony that this man I find loathsome was more attractive to my ex than me is a reminder of how crappy I must have been back there. But anyway time moves on, maybe I have. 

Before I even get into the pub where we are meeting I see Mr.Handshake through the pub windows, already there.

I nod to him when I arrive, as it’s not realistic to pretend he isn’t there at all, but I take the precaution of slipping my hands in my pockets, he’s not catching me out this time. 

I managed a nod, or maybe it was more of eyebrows raised in acknowledgment, I’m ok with that.  I figure that’s ok, we are not destined to be bosom buddies.

I decided before I set out for the evening that plenty of alcohol would oil my passage through the night and I set in to the bar with gusto. Several pints of beer later my tongue is suitably loosened along with my brain which is now running entirely on best bitter. The evening progresses and its a rather jolly affair, lots of laughter, an all together pleasant experience, as it draws to a close people begin to drift away.

Eventually so does Mr. Handshake and as he leaves he proffers his hand to me, politely I say if it’s all the same to you I’d rather not & with that he continues his goodbyes and heads out into the night. My brain accompanies his steps with a tune.

I remain at the bar to the nights end, dragging the last dirty stop-outs to a basement cocktail bar where the Slovakian barman has a stash of absinthe. Of this I liberally imbibe, nostalgically trying to recapture the feeling of a year before and a warm summers evening in Germany with a lovely woman and a bottle of absinthe.

But the absinthe doesn’t taste the same, why would it?

I eventually stumble home via night bus and tube, and the worse for drink end up on my computer at two am. Fatal flaw that, going online in one’s cups. I end up sending a message to Lady Absinthe, after having told her a while back that I thought she would be better off without me and it was best we didn’t stay in touch. 

I wake up the next day hungover and with a mouth like the bottom of a bird cage. 

There is a message from Fraulein Absinthe:

You told me last time we spoke that you thought I would be better off without you. I wanted to let you know that you were right. So let’s keep it that way. 

I close up my computer resigned to the fact that sometimes being right is a phyrrhic victory and that I have everything that I deserve. Well done me.

Then I muse on a startling new possibility, maybe for a change I might try not pushing people away,  wow that might be something.

I am going to give it a go, not pushing people away,  (spivs excepted )



Spiv* with thanks to the Urban Dictionary.

an ancient chav trying to make you buy something either that you don’t want or something that is in short supply. Associated with showy dressing habits, shiny suits and inappropriate hats, etc. Romany word from the word ‘spuvel’ to push



2 thoughts on “Speakeasy

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