Sunday, April 25, 1999

`We agree that we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate'

I've split up with my girlfriend. I'm in a bar talking fast to a woman I've never met before. She's listening intently though I've no idea why. The attention is attractive. I'm betting myself I'll soon be telling her why my girlfriend and I broke up. I win the bet.

It started like this. My weekend mail had included a letter addressed to her at my house. Her name on the envelope - at my house. It was from her bank. A letter from her bank, to her at my house. Now that would have been fine if she'd been homeless, but she's not. I gave up doing that months ago, though I still like to clock them alfresco for fantasy reference when I'm with someone dull but clean.

My girlfriend's letter turned up after two months of her quite happily sleeping at my place but keeping the mail at hers. So I redirected it to her place. And two days later we had the row.

`But why did you send it on to my flat when you knew I'd be at your house anyway?' she said.

`It was your mail.'

`But I'm here all the time!'

Surely she knew the game was up right then. But like all babes whose time has come, she just had to plot every detail of our split, like a plane-crash junkie scouring the wreck for kids' shoes. I tried short cuts. 'Because I was annoyed about my door.'

`The door that I had mended?' She had mended the door.

`Yes.'

`But it needed mending.'

`I know.'

`So why were you annoyed?'

`Because it's my door.'

`And…?'

`I don't know.'

Why is splitting up so often conducted on the stairs or halfway between two rooms?

Of course it wasn't just the letter. Or the door. Or the fact that she was getting more messages than me on my Ansaphone (half of them didn't even say hello to me). There was also the terrifying dinner we'd been to the night before.

Two friends who are still married are living apart, together; separately in the same house. They set up this arrangement a year ago. It seems to suit them. And last week they invited us to dine in it.

The house is divided horizontally so that she has the basement and ground floor and he has the first and second. He has since converted the loft, so it's 3-2 to him and she is cross, but he says she has more of the garden because, although they share it, she's closer to it and uses it more. They shared the cost of one extra bathroom and an extra kitchen but now every additional narthex is paid for separately.

Since they'd been moronic enough to have a kid, there is a solitary fugitive trudging back and forth like an Albanian. You sometimes see him being transferred at weekends. Papers, satchels and interparental bollockings are exchanged on the stairs and then he takes up skulking residence in whichever half for whatever time. At school his parents are separated and he has to list the same address twice. He's an ugly little sod.

When they throw a party they have to decide whose half it's going to be in, too. On Tuesday, it was in her half. She is a non-smoker. He isn't. Those of us who wanted to smoke had to do so in his half until she complained that she could smell it anyway.

Since she had done the cooking, he had to do the washing-up. In his half. She was getting up early the next day so, straight after the meal, we all went up to his half carrying the dishes (saying goodnight and kissing her at the interconnecting door that has a bell on it). We sat around drinking and not smoking until she phoned upstairs and asked him to keep the noise down. Then we left.

We had seen an ending. Two people trapped in a frozen scream. In a house an estate agent would have to sell as `ideal for a couple of co-habiting divorcees'. And the next day we had the row and agreed to finish.

The girl in the bar laughs and sympathises in all the right places. Her face is becoming an increasingly mesmerising gavotte of charcoal-lashed bluejohn, raven wisps, and freshly slapped black cherry. She sees what I am saying. She knows that when Agrestes said to the judge: `It is the future not the past that haunts our present,' he was not just going to die, he was right.

Can you see where this is going? I am staring straight at her. I am buying her another drink. We agree we agree we agree…

But we don't leave late and we don't leave in each other's arms. We agree that we find each other attractive. We agree that if we took it further we would one day end up sharing breakfasts of hate. And that the cost and pain would be unavoidable and senseless. And that we will meet again next Tuesday…

Sunday, April 18, 1999

`The door of my flat is opened by a bird in T-shirt and pants. I'd forgotten about her'

I'm staring at a door. It is my door. The door to my new flat. It is grey, metallic, stylish and industrial. The flat is a loft. There is much glass in its complex fenestrations. Some of it is made from hemp. Not too long ago, before the conversion, it clanged with machines that conveniently masked the sweaty weeping of slaves. Ah who knows, they probably loved it. I'm rambling here but it is a Sunday. I am very hazy. It is 2pm and I'm not long up. And the point is, I'm staring at the door because I am locked out.

Perelman says there are five types of being locked out - the act of God, the act of a landlord or girlfriend, `I thought you had the keys', `I thought I had the keys', and psychotically, deliberately shutting the door when you know you don't have the keys.

But as I stare dumbly at my door, I couldn't give a fly's tit how I've been locked out (went for milk, forgot the keys) - I'm just furious. After some light cursing and a couple of kicks, I opt for ruining a Visa card. I'm twisted in a weird hunch against the jamb, attempting keyhole surgery with my flat spastic tool, my tongue slewing through a cretinous wince, when a neighbour emerges on to the landing.

She's about 34, smart and professional. Plain as dust, but will do for a nightcap. `Can I help?' she says. I ask hopelessly about master keys. `I'm sorry, do you live here?' Oh gawd, she doesn't remember. `Yes, we met last weekend. I was being sick into the tree pot on the lower gangway.' No recognition. `I was with a crying woman.' Still no flicker. Dammit, she's one of only two people I've met here (the other is Paul, aka DJ Cattle Prod, who shared some lethal new-wave skunk with me the day I moved in).

I press on, wondering if I might gain access to the fire escape via her flat and climb in through my window - but I'm not surprised when she heads down the stairs. When I call: `Can I use your phone?' at the top of her gitty little parting, she informs me there's a phone box in the square. I find it next to the Vaclav Havel café (no-profit food, radical conversation, all furnishings from skips - oh wake up, you dreamy fucks and tell me you won't be a Starbucks by Y2K!).

There's plenty of time to slag off the area you have just moved into if you're waiting for a Sunday locksmith. Time goes viscous and gummy. The only thing you can do is take out a notebook and write down rubbish like `time goes viscous and gummy'.

It's like exercise-bike time. Each minute contains about 500 seconds. It is also related to missed connection time on trains. Except that when you travel by train, deep down you actually want to be stuck for hours on an island of concrete in Rugby - probably because you are married.

The locksmith arrives after 90 minutes. On the phone, he assured me he was a Banham expert but he gives the lock a rather ESN look. `They're real buggers,' he says. He then says he can either drill through the lock - full replacement cost £120 - or he can `have a go with this': a strip of plastic from a washing-up liquid bottle. My sleeping Anne Robinson yaps into life.

I tell him he secured the job on the strength of being an expert and had better do something bloody special with the plastic or he isn't getting paid. As the cocky locky tries to snake around the anti break-in chicanes in the woodwork, I ask him what there is to stop him performing this service for a thief.

`Nothing,' he says brightly, then explains: `If there's any trouble, I'm miles away by that point.' Which is wrong, because at the top of the stairs behind him appear two rozzers. `Problem, sir?'

I explain I've locked myself out. They look sceptical in an unintelligent way. They ask locko if he has verified that I live here. He says no. They say another occupant of this pad stack has reported a stranger trying to break in. Right. So gruel-lips opposite won't lend me her phone to call a locksmith but she will use it to grass me up. I make a mental note that she'll be getting 20 pizzas she didn't order delivered at four in the morning. Just then Cattle Prod appears. `Hey jumpstick!' I greet him hopefully. Roz 1 asks him if he knows me. He eyes us warily, makes a fuzzy calculation, and says: `No way, man.' Cheers, you scabid little slacker - I hope your decks blow up inyour balls.

But just when it seems to have gone the full pear, my door opens. Or rather is opened - from the inside - by a bird in T-shirt and pants. I'd forgotten about her. She'd spent the night on the bathroom floor, you see. Ill. She's looking bleary but in a slightly Kim Basinger way. What she says, though, is not so clever: `… sorry she only just got the door… very sick … something she ate … the big one with the dove on it … Tris said it could have been smacky …' And the looks all round become significantly more significant.

Then there is one of those split seconds during which three things happen. The cops suddenly lose interest, locko starts to charge me a call-out fee even though he's done nothing, and I decide that this is yet another woman, all gorgeous and pointless in her pants, who in the end just will not do.

And that is when I am seized by Perelman's fifth wave of madness. I reach for the stainless steel handle of the door and knowingly, deliberately, firmly pull it shut.

Sunday, April 11, 1999

`I would light up Gitanes. She would beg for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune'

I'm drinking in the pub with Bridget. Moderately. I need my wits because I'm trying to explain something tricky. If I get it wrong, Bridget may end up a less good friend because I will appear to be telling her that a woman is no more important than a can of diesel.

I want her to help but I don't really want her to understand. And she thinks she wants to understand, but if she ever does, she'll wish she could somehow re-ignorise herself until I am de-understood.

So I can't help thinking that I would actually do less damage to our friendship if I inexplicably stopped talking and gave her a smack in the mouth. Yet, like some feckless Colin, I blunder on…

`I lost my dream girl,' I say.

`That slim, black-haired thing from Russell Square?'

`Lauren.'

`How can you lose someone you haven't even started going out with?'

`We are going out.'

`Well, how can you say you've lost her?'

`Ah…'

And that's when I have to reveal that this has something to do with cars.

I happen to own a 1970 Citröen DS. I am unashamedly proud of its wayward machismo. It is sleek, French, vigorous, black, noir, and French again. It has self-levelling suspension, bench- seats and headlights that swivel when you turn corners. And it is moody. Sometimes, it leaks its hydropneumatic fluid. That is why I occasionally borrow Bridget's car for dates. Particularly for girls that don't matter (that much, I mean. Of course they matter - but you know).

Actually, there was one girl who really didn't matter at all, and I took her out in my then girlfriend's car and we consummated our evening energetically, despite (or maybe because of) the giveaway clutter of moisturiser lids, glitter sticks and hats in the back. Lauren, however, mattered a great deal. She mattered so much that for our first date, I wanted to take her out for a whole day, out of town and definitely, quite absolutely, in the DS.

She accepted. I would pick her up on Sunday morning. We would swish to the sea, my Pierrot le Fou to her Anna Karina. I would light up Gitanes and exhale clouds of Baudelaire. And she would beg me for horizontal Baudrillard in a sand dune.

Except that at 4pm on Saturday, the DS gave out. So I turned up in hired wheels. The only one they had left. A great, lacquered git of a Vauxhall Carlton. I waited outside, noticing the seats. They are fatter than they should be, and the tanned, bovine dermis is crenellated around the stitching so that the whole landscape resembles the scarred and raided wasteland of a skin-donor's bum.

Lauren slithered into the fleshy wash next to me. She teased me with wit and restraint. How perfectly Gallic. And the very Frenchness of it set me off.

Usually, I'm pretty slick in a hire car - handle it like my own - but in the creamy fudge of the Carlton's lush interior, I lost it. I fluffed gearshifts. I hooted to indicate. My body flatly refused to perform the repertoire of cool moves that normally grace my control manoeuvres. Sure, I maintained an effective enough stream of banter, but inwardly I screamed as my dream gasped and turned blue in the Sarin waves of Feu Orange.

There was worse to come. After 20 miles or so, I realised I was beginning to enjoy it. I warmed to a numb thrill, a diazapammed, cruise-in-the-fast-lane tingle. And beside me, Lauren's aphroditic presence was overwhelmed by the sexless, air-conditioned pudge that suggested, at best, a muted little suburban orgasm.

Still, we ate fish. We talked. We laughed. We even kicked up dust in a dune. And we drove back. Sort of gorgeous. But for me it was a gorgeousness haunted by the dry slee of a plastic steering wheel through my palm, and the feeling that every time I moved, I did so with the smug swish of a fat uncle.

`So how did you lose her?'

`Like I just told you.'

`When did you last see her?' asks Bridget.

`Today.'

`So what's the problem?'

Pointlessly now, I explain that Lauren had unavoidably diminished on contact with the Vauxhall's plastic wooden fascia. That the panoramic vanity mirror had sucked some of the beauty out of her face and reflected her as an ordinary bird in an ordinary car driven by an ordinary man. That while the sex had been great, it would have been so much better with a trace of hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension fluid in our hair.

Bridget starts a roll-up and sighs. `Lighten up,' she says, `it's only a car.' Yeah, I think, and you're only a woman.