Undeterred by my tangle with lipstick Leanne the lady with the probing tongue a few days later I set off to a pub in Primrose Hill for a date with Roxanne, a thirty-five year old North Londoner, half Italian & half Iranian. She is tattooed and has big brown eyes, OK she also also has big beautiful breasts. Let’s be honest I am a man after all and tiresome though that may be we notice these things. I should add that as far as I can make out a mans focus on a pair of knockers is an ingrained genetic predisposition in the average male, there is no free thought in the process, it’s more some deep seated part of the ancient lizard brain, in fact it is my firm belief that contrary to popular medical thought I remain convinced that the male brain is not all enclosed inside the cranial area. In fact there are three parts to the male brain: the one we recognise that sits in the skull, another residual part that is somewhere as yet unidentified within the stomach area & finally a third brain segment located within the male appendage area. And what’s more it is my summation that the male of the species homo sapien can operate the entire male unit for intermittent periods of time using any one of his three brains, in other words thinking with his stomach or head or indeed genitals – though the ability to select which third controls his actions is unpredictable and he is rarely able to determine for himself which one is running the show.
Anyway, I diverge, back to Roxanne who is already at the bar when I arrive and half way down a pint of Guinness, she is wearing a leather biker jacket and a low cut top. I like that.
We leave the pub after a few drinks and decide to head on to Camden, an hour or two later we head to the West End and have cocktails, at five a.m. we are sitting next to the Thames waiting for the sunrise and somewhere to open for breakfast. Roxanne ticks boxes all over the place, but I come to the conclusion that though I am interested she is at best luke warm, I think she likes her fellas a little rougher round the edges than I, the kind of bloke who’s been educated at the School of Life, and that maybe picked up some tattoos along the way, but we get on well, and she’s fun. She is also a hairdresser & when I say I want to do something about the way I look and maybe try something new she says I should come to her Salon in North London, she would love to help give me a make over.
Now I imagine some uber trendy unisex hair joint in Norf London, maybe the type of place that does hair on the ground floor and tattoos & piercings in the basement, where there’s a waft of weed coming from a back room and speakers belting out dubstep or grunge, but what I find is a salon choc-a-bloc with Jewish old ladies having blue rinses, a row of them are under those old fashioned hair dryers, all with their noses parked in magazines. The whole place is a hive of activity, well as much activity as Jewish ladies with an average age of seventy five can muster.
As I walk to the reception desk everything goes quiet, I can feel every pair of eyes peering at me.
The receptionist asks me if I have an appointment and before I can reply Roxanne strides over and announces He’s mine.
She kisses me on the cheeks and leads me to the rear of the salon.
I get the impression that I am the most exciting thing to have happened here in years as for the next forty minutes whilst I sit in the chair & Roxanne does her stuff the old ladies stop reading and instead gossip conspiratorially and stare at me the whole time.
I decide this must make me eye candy, though not quite for the kind of audience I was hoping for, but hey you’ve got to start somewhere.
Next date is afterwards is with Solange, a Mexican, younger than me, new to London & working in fashion, It works for me having some company, female company, and though its pretty clear from the outset that the two of us don’t have a big chemistry thing kicking off she makes good company and it’s a bit of light relief to spend time with someone that knows nothing about me or my history, I like that there is nothing to explain, nothing to answer for and nobody I am expected to be. We meet up every few days and I show her parts of London that I think she will like. Then comes a patch of hot weather. I suggest a trip to the beach, we pack a picnic, swimming gear and a beach blanket and head to West Wittering. After a few hours we leave the beach and head a few miles along the coast and take a little boat trip from Bosham harbour.
As the afternoon draws in and the light begins to grow weaker the wind picks up and it becomes distinctly chilly. Solange begins to shiver, I wrap her in the beach blanket and cuddle up to her, putting my arms around her, she snuggles up tp me and rests her head on my chest.
Sitting opposite us in the launch is a little girl with her mother, she stares at us then says Mummy what are they doing? Pointing directly at us. I decide to answer on the mothers behalf. I tell her that I don’t want my friend to get cold so I am keeping her warm and the little girl nods and smiles and then cuddles up to her mother.
For the remainder of the journey back to the harbour the only sounds are the chug chug of the engine and the sound of the bow slapping the little tidal waves in the river.
This is a friendship not a love affair, but I like the feeling of a man and a woman sharing a connection – no agenda, no expectation, just a little tenderness and friendship, with it for the first time in an age my feeling of being utterly lost leaves me for a while and in that place I am happy.
On facebook I notice a post from an old friend, Rose, who is between flats, she’s looking for somewhere to stay locally until her new place is decorated and ready to move into. I message her, there are three empty bedrooms in the house I explain – I say she is welcome to one, she offers a little rent which is really useful.
A couple of days into her stay its all rather jolly, we talk, we laugh, we have dinners together in the evenings, then late one night we are on the sofa chatting, the conversation is free & easy, I begin to look at Rose differently, I’d never really appreciated how attractive she was, looks, personality, she has lots going for her. One thing leads to another and next thing I know we are kissing, I can’t remember who started it – her or me, but temperatures rise, cheeks grow rosy red and nature begins to take over. At this point I begin to feel something, ( and I don’t mean the bulge in my pants) it’s Rose’s scent, not a perfume from a bottle kind of scent, but her scent, she doesn’t have a strong body odour, or an unpleasant one, or anything like that, its just the scent of her, something about her scent doesn’t feel right and any desire for her falls quickly away.
This really struck me as another layer of ridiculous complication to a life that was already complicated enough, what the fuck was going on, it was not enough to be attracted to a woman sexually and psychologically, it also mattered how they smelt. What a complicated fucker I was.
Rose saves the day, wrapped around each other on the sofa she looks into my eyes and says Maybe this isn’t a good idea? For a moment I wonder if Is she is saying this because she wants me to say no no let’s carry on? Or is it because she isn’t sure and doesn’t feel comfortable?
It doesn’t matter, its my chance to get out of the clinch, Yes Rose you know what I think you are right. For the remainder of Rose’s stay sex and snogging does not rear its ugly head.
On a morning shortly afterwards I find Pepper the Dog, family pet of eighteen years lying sparked out on the lawn, her body is twitching. I take her to the vet and am told there is nothing to do, she’s had a stroke, the kindest thing to do is to put her down. The Vet asks if I want to leave her or be present whilst an injection is administered. I can’t bear the idea of her dying with a stranger and say I want to be present. I hold her in my arms as the vet tries to inject her, so aged and infirm is Pepper that it takes several attempts to find a healthy enough vein. Each time she whimpers, I stroke her and talk calmly as finally a vein is located and the injection made, she slips gently away. Her body is sent for cremation, I walk home and as I go I remember the little bundle of puppy that we collected all those years before and how one more piece of my history has faded away. I wonder if somebody upstairs has it in for me, why do I keep losing everything? A belligerence rises inside, fuck you, see if I care, I don’t need any of it. Then my mind wanders off to my classes at the meditation centre and the Buddhist tenet of impermanence, nothing lasts for ever, all things change and here was another reminder if I needed one, just to be going on with.
Yoga was always a thing in our house, a thing I assiduously avoided. I decided somewhere along the line it was for my wife not me. She loved Yoga, the practice, the philosophy, the chanting and all that went with it. However much she tried to get me involved or interested in her passion for Yoga I just couldn’t be there . The one time I went to Yoga I had a panic attack at the start of the class just lying down in the rest position, I got up and literally ran away. Once a week there was kirtan chanting at the local Yoga centre – the reciting and singing of Indian songs, sitting cross legged in a big circle for two hours and then afterwards some vegan food and herb tea. I also tried going to the chan†ing, but I seemed to have an overwhelming aversion to the whole thing. Why when I was an atheist that didn’t do God would I sit and chant the names of Hindu deities that meant nothing at all to me for two hours? Something about it smacked to me of being untruthful, it wasn’t for me and I rejected the whole thing.
Now however for all intents and purposes the idea of Yoga seemed to make perfect sense. I needed to be healthier, Yoga could help with that. Chanting, the idea of which I had absolutely loathed, well now I felt like I had to do things that were uncomfortable, things that challenged me, I needed to face my blockages and make my way through them, despite the mess I found myself in it was I was certain the only way forward.
Someone I knew had a Yoga school outside of London, it was a short drive to the little dormitory town in Surrey, they invited me to a chanting evening and dinner on a saturday night. I decided I had to go. The place was busy, lots of folks in baggy pants, big fluffy socks and a lot of and home made knitwear, somehow or other I left my natural aversion at the door, I sat down amongst everyone else and joined in. I begin to sing, I begin to feel perfectly at home, the next thing I remember tears are running down my cheeks, big warm salty tears. Not because I am sad, but the absolute opposite, I feel happy, free, and this made me cry? What was going on?
I then did my best to wipe the tears away without anyone noticing, the last thing I wanted was to be caught crying.
After the chanting its sitting on our knees, at low Japanese style tables eating big bowls of vegan soup. Next to me is a lady named Erica, we talk, we talk a lot and both ignore the rest of the people at our table for most of the time. At the end of the evening phone numbers are exchanged. She invites me for lunch the following Sunday at her home in a country village. She’s in the middle of a divorce, she has four children under twelve, her house is chaotic, noisy and full of life, The kids are sweet, she is sweeter and she really seems to like me. We start meeting up regularly, the following weekend the kids are staying with the Dad. She’s alone for the weekend, would I like to come over & maybe stay? I sure would.
Erica is a psychologist, she has just turned forty and is going through an acrimonious divorce she tells me. She is tall and lithe, her body makes me think of an 400 metre runner, athletic & strong & very fit. She has big lips that would never need botox and look like they enjoy kissing.
It’s early autumn and one of those weekends where the days are bright and sunny, but come sunset the temperature falls off quickly. Erica says she is going to cook dinner, I am tasked with making a fire and sorting out the vino.
I head to the garden shed for wood, find a large axe and chop kindling, then fill a basket with logs and head back to the house. Soon the fireplace is glowing away, two fat glasses of red wine are poured, one for the chef, one for the fire starter, the aroma of dinner wafts from the kitchen. Sitting in a big armchair with a glass in my hand gulping down large mouthfuls of red wine I muse on how pleasant this is.
After dinner and and two bottles of wine Erica moves from her chair and heads towards the door, she switches off the lights and the room is bathed in the orange and reds of the fire.
She stands on a big sheepskin rug in front of the fire and takes off all her clothes.
Fuck me now, here on the rug she demands. She holds out her hand towards me and I join her and it’s not even my birthday.
Over the next couple of weeks I make regular visits to Erica’s, sometimes I arrive late after the kids have gone to bed, sometimes I join them for dinner. The bunch of us head out on a trip or two, the kids are fun and I can’t help but think of my own son, now grown up, how happy I had felt being a father, what a bloody useful thing a bloke can be sometimes, could I be a father ( or at least a kind of father ) again? Is this all a mad idea?
This possibility bubbles away in my head, not of replacing those kids own Dad, but maybe helping along the way, and of course there was Erica, lovely Erica.
With time I get to know her better, her husband it turns out was an Anglican Vicar, that I was not expecting, and their marriage was actually a threesome, the Vicar, Erica & God.
Now God turned out to be difficult to live up to and he tended to rule the roost.
Her husband was older and unsurprisingly a man of God, for him sex was not something to be enjoyed, but more endured, a kind of duty of procreation – the begetting of children – and as there were four of them clearly there had been a lot of begetting being done, but from what Erica explained there wasn’t a lot of love there, for her.
Eventually she came to the conclusion that she couldn’t continue with the marriage and asked for a divorce. Somewhat angrily the Vicar eventually agreed, first to separation and then to divorce proceedings, with her freedom Erica began to blossom, she took to Yoga, which her husband saw as a form of Devil worship, but all credit to her Erica being made of strong stuff was managing to be a mother to four kids, a Yoga student, hold down a busy job and run a home, how she managed it all I’ve no idea.
One evening Erica and I are in bed, I’ve got something to show you she says………….
She heads over to the wardrobe and fishes deep inside, she brings out a large white tray and lays it down on top of the bed. There in front of me is the largest collection of Dildos I’ve ever seen. Marble ones, Crystal ones, Murano blown glass ones, metallic, polished ebony. Erica says that she’s collected them for years, it’s been her secret, she could never ever have shown her husband. I begin to have an idea of what it might be like for a woman to be stuck in a relationship without love or desire, how crushing that must be. How good for her that she is free.
Being with Erica is easy, it is also fun, Erica can also turn herself into a creature full of lust.
All of these sides to her are deeply attractive, if ever I wanted a place to be this was probably going to be about as good as I was ever going to find. And yet, and yet something was missing, something just wasn’t right. I had no idea what that something was.
Now each time I visited I came away with a nagging feeling that just wouldn’t go away, and with each day that passed the growing feeling that if I didn’t do something soon it would be more and more difficult to break off a relationship with her. But that I had to.
To my eternal shame the next thing I did was cowardly and probably an out and out lie.
I texted her and said Erica, I’m sorry, but I am still in love with my Wife, I can’t see you anymore.
Cowardly because who else other than a coward dumps someone by text. And a liar? Well saying that I still loved my wife, that was an excuse that felt weighty enough and plausible, but in truth I questioned if I had ever loved my wife.
Erica was very pissed off with me, she texted back: I never want to hear from you again. Don’t ever contact me again.
Fair enough Erica, that was no less than I deserved.