Book Extract - Bar Life
I'm not in the mood for someone else's hassles, so I turn my back on him, to talk to Anya. She's not great at sympathy though; much as I love her, she's ever practical and nothing seems to hurt her.
"Do you think he'll call me?" I ask her.
"Why do you want him to call you? He's a wanker. Aren't you looking for a one-woman man?"
Our new friend is leaning forward, pretending, intently, badly, not to be listening to our conversation.
"Well, maybe he'll email. Text. Instant message. Something." I do want to hear from him, and I even I don't know why. I'm not up for a group marriage or whatever he wanted.
"The technology's gonna make you feel better?" Anya looks at me, enquiring.
"No, no, I… well, yeah. It might actually. Not really him, just an inference of him."
"Listen, Tal, I'm bursting for the loo." Anya leaves her jacket and bag for me to watch. The bloke sitting next to us, who's obviously been earwigging our conversation entirely, leans forward again.
"I'm a one-woman man. Honest."
We make informal introductions; my new friend has just left his girlfriend of two years for no reason other than that it wasn't special enough. It wasn't going anywhere.
"Where did you want it to go?" I'm intrigued that he has a sense of purpose in his relationships.
"It wasn't exciting anymore. We were jush, jush," he takes another swig of his wine, "going through the motions. You know."
"Sounds like you like being single then?"
He skilfully turns the conversation to the whole internet/web thing, hanging off the back of my earlier comments about just wanting some kind of technology sign that Milan was still there.
"C'mon, we all know that internet killed the media star." He says this like he's open for combat. Friendly combat.
"Don'tya mean video killed the radio star?"
"Oh so early eighties, baby." He says early eighties while making quote marks in the air. Ironically, I presume. "No, legacy technology and all that. I mean in the Too Much Information Generation people don't have that Top of the Pops or Tuesday Afternoon Charts experience. Who even knows the first time they heard a song anymore?"
I look at him as if he just arrived from some future generation. And I thought I was hip. I read the Culture section of the Sunday Times as fast as the next person. I try and come up with some witty and apposite riposte.
"We heard the playback and it seemed so long ago?" As I'm remembering the Buggles lyrics, I turn them into a question because I don't really know what the hell I'm talking about, or how it fits into the conversation. If it is even a conversation; it might just be a random collection of thoughts and interjections loosely held together by expensive red wine.
"Rewritten by machine on new technology". Judging by his in-depth knowledge of late seventies/early eighties music, I was estimating him to be approximately thirty two. Or maybe that was the only song that ever got his goat.
"How old are you?"
"Isn't that a little forward? You don't even know my name." He says this as a flirtatious smile gently rolls across his lips. He's way more attractive when he smiles.
I smile back.
"In Vietnam he was nineteen." That's witty, but ultimately data-free.
"In world war one the average age of the combat soldier was twenty six." I counter him. If I ever go on Mastermind - that's if they bring it back - eighties lyrics will be my special subject.
"We're on a road to nowhere, come on inside." He makes prolonged eye contact while he says this. I don't know if he's read articles in FHM about how to flirt or whether he's so pissed that he can't focus.
"Don't Byrne me, man. You saying I'm not a good conversationalist?" I say this a little more sharply than I intended, but he's way more pissed than me by now, so I don't think he notices.
"Bet you're a cunning linguist, though." He leers slightly as he's talking, and it confuses me. I lick my lips.
"C'mon, the old ones are the best ones. You can do better than that. And anyway, shouldn't I be saying that to you?"
He looks confused too, and evidently decides to go back to the How Old Are you topic.
"I was twenty one years when I wrote this song." He smiles at me, but doesn't look a thing like Kirsty MacColl. Thank God. He's not so much big hair as no hair.
We both start singing and swaying like people do when they're drunk and reminiscing about their lost youth. Singing in unison:
"I don't want to change the world, I'm not looking for a New England." Other Asian Babes drinkers look at us strangely, mostly because they're either twenty-two or because they came here for the Asian bhangra not a badly sung best of the eighties screen-less karaoke compilation. He stops singing, but I don't.
"Are you looking for another girl?" I hum quietly into his ear. I can flirt so much better when I'm drunk. I never liked Milan anyhow. I can get any man I want. I'll fucking show him.
"She's got some wild, wild life. Ain't that the way you like it?" I'm not sure if it's another random Talking Heads lyric or a reference to my less-than-perfect love life that he managed to overhear. This guy's starting to know more about me than my Mother and I don't even know his name.
"Hey, this is getting silly. Tell me something real. Tell me what you do for a living." I think he's cute and funny but I'm running out of good lyrics to refer to in a nonchalant culturally hip way.
Clearly he hasn't.
"My job is very boring, I'm an office clerk." Martha and the Muffins. This whole conversation is my late childhood/early adolescence come to life.
"From nine to five you have to spend your time at work." I counter, just to prove I know where he's coming from.
"I know it's out of fashion and a trifle uncool," he starts humming, and we start swaying from side to side like we're at a school disco. Which in our collective mind we are. People are trying not to look at us.
Anya's coming back from the toilet, oblivious to our new found intense, alcohol-soaked intimacy. We both smile at her. She doesn't really smile back.
"None of them received a hero's welcome." He splutters into my ear, and we both dissolve into ridiculous, childish giggles. Anya sits down.
"Anya, this is my new friend - " I pause, realising that we may know every Pop Quiz thing there is to know about each other, we don't know actual names. But in these web-powered days, what's an identity if you "connect", as they say.
"Simon." He says, and offers Anya a clearly clammy hand, which she shakes because she seemingly has no choice.
"Simon - " I pause, turn and smile at him, "this is Anya. She's my best friend."
"Looks like you two have got to know each other pretty well, while I've been gone." I can't tell if she's angry she missed out or distracted.
"You were ages. Honestly." The time had gone really quickly, but I knew it was probably about twenty minutes.
"Gotta call from the office. Actually, I think I have to go." Anya glances at her watch. "Problem with some of the discovery documents, and it's all got to be bundled and labelled for tomorrow." She smiles an apology. "But I'm sure Simon'll look after you."
Simon looks at me like he's happy to get this third party invitation to secure my welfare for the evening.
"No problem." He puts his arm around, me and we're both fairly far gone, and I don't resist.
Anya gathers up her case, bag and coat, and I'm sure that I see her imperceptibly wink at me in a "you've pulled" way as she leaves.
"Duty calls. Talk to you later." Later is, of course, a generic phrase for some time in the future, so I know it's unlikely that we will. But then again, she might just want a shag update. Or she might get caught up with intergalactic multi-jurisdictional insurance litigation.
Simon, as I now know him to be, turns to me.
"She a lawyer?"
"Uhuh. We were at law school together."
"You're a lawyer?" He says this in an incredulous unbelieving manner, simultaneously taking in my cleavage and lace-backed top, which requires a fair amount of contortion. Then he looks at my cleavage again.
"That's some zeppelin cleavage you've got there."
I smile, acknowledging the compliment, and reply:
"But without the German engineering, right?" Although that is not entirely true as I am wearing an underwired bra, although prohibitive labour costs mean that I doubt if it was made anywhere in the EU.
"I don't know. I'll have to check it out myself." And he simultaneously pulls me closer to him with the arm around my shoulder and caresses my right breast with his left hand.
"You're a little forward?" I'm never great at handling these kind of situations, and feel that I should issue a warning that Simon is perhaps stepping over some imaginary teenage line that had been drawn around the times of the music we were talking about. The alcohol is giving me a false sense of bravado, though - in another situation, I might just elbow him in the balls. Not that I have intimacy issues. My friend Rani went on a Dating Skills workshop a few months ago - "a weekend, two hundred quid, and not a single fanciable bloke in sight" was how she had described it to me - and said the key to a new relationship is listening. But that's probably when you're sober.
"Let me get shome more drinks. Shame again?" As Simon stands up, I'm just about to turn around and follow his butt with my eyes to form a 40% proof view on how horny he is, and how much he might get Milan out of my mind, when there's a noise from the other side.
"Shit!" A skinny women on the left of me has been elbowed by a tall bloke in front of her, and poured her wine all over my trousers. Luckily it's white wine.
"I'm so sorry," she says, as the bloke in front of her takes the opportunity of wiping down my legs with a napkin he picked up off the table.
"Alright darlin'?" He leers right down my cleavage. I like showing it off, but not to beer-sodden lechs.
"Fine. Thanks." I take the napkin out of his hand. "I'll be fine. OK?"
"OK, OK. Just wan'ed to 'elp." He turns away from me, and turns his attention to the skinny woman who I suddenly realise he elbowed on purpose to get some action.
Simon comes back balancing two bottles of red wine and some fresh glasses, oblivious to our altercation.
"Fucking nightmare at the bar. You'd think they'd have waitress service somewhere as allegedly hip as this."
"Yeah, I guess." I know, suddenly, that what I want is to fuck the deconstructed brains out of Simon. I have no idea if it will make me feel better, but I know that I'll enjoy it. The conversation twists and turns through a Best Of compilation ranging from post-punk, New Wave, the New Romantics, to early hip-hop, with a trace of left-of-centre Old Labour politics thrown in for good measure.
"The politicians are now DJs." I'm surprised at how on the ball Simon is given that we've drunk a small winery in the Algarve between us. It's late and the other punters are starting to thin out. Even though it's a Thursday night, there's a definite school night feeling about the place.
"I can't believe you remember that." I compliment him. "It only ever got to number twenty eight in the charts."
We're both standing up now, and Simon doesn't respond. I notice that he's really quite short standing up. He wraps his arms around me, starts dancing like we're at the Church Youth Club disco in nineteen eighty one, and hums into my ear:
"The politics of dancing. The politics of ooo - ooo feeling good. The politics of moving. Is this message understood?" He even makes his voice waver up and down for und-er-stood. It's almost as good as Re-Flex.
Of course, now we're adults, we don't have to worry about that messy fumbling about behind whatever building we're inside of. I'm presuming that he's got his own place too, or at least his own bedroom. I bask in the moment. It feels like ten minutes later, but we've drunk a good four bottles of wine between us - including Simon's head start when I was still on cocktails - and I for one am feeling somewhere between hazy and fuzzy. Fazy.
"Where do we go from here? Is it down to the lake I fear?" He whispers to me. I'd always felt Haircut 100 was a ridiculous name for a band. But as Simon's starting up on the Eighties theme again, I feel it's time to call a lyrics amnesty.
"OK, you can come home with me, but we have to stop doing the lyrics thing, OK?"
"For coffee?" He makes that silly quotes mark again.
"You know I only do safe coffee?"
I think Simon's probably already got the signs of an early-onset hangover, so I can't tell how much he wants this, but it has a definite sense of post-prandial inevitability, so I figure it's mutual. He'd certainly had his hands all over me before he'd gone to get the last two bottles of wine.
When we leave, I'm sure the black guy on the door winks at me. I don't know if this is a good thing or not. As we're stumbling from West End Lane towards Sumatra Road, Simon's still humming or mumbling a lyrics compilation, but we keep stopping for a snog and a fumble. The whole evening has a Christmas Disco quality to it, and I'm only sorry that I'm not resplendent in school locker chic. That would be big hair, Strawberry Switchblade polka dots and ripped fishnet tights.
As we draw near to my house, I realise that Simon hasn't filled out my usual pre-coital survey. This covers sexual and relationship history (including diseases), preferred print media, smoking habits and the like. I'm not sure I can make him fill out a questionnaire at this late stage, but there's stuff I feel I should know.
"Hey, Simon, you never told me where you live."
"Why, you wanna go to mine?"
"No, just wondered, s'all." I let him kiss me sloppily again, just to prove there are no hard feelings.
"Round the corner. Cheap end of West Hampstead."
"You mean Kilburn?"
"More Cricklewood, really."
"You mean Crickle-hampstead?" You know how it is when you're both so pissed that pretty much anything is funny. We giggle and laugh and trip over the steps at the entrance to my house.