The Gin Palace

I promised to tell you why I left one rental place after a week*.

It was a huge house in Darlington, owned by an elderly couple. They lived there, and rented out their spare rooms to idiots.

I was one of them.

I went round for a visit, one morning, before agreeing to rent. It seemed nice enough, and the landlords were as sweet as pie.

Apparently that was for show. When I moved in, they were both as drunk as skunks. And the landlady went through all my possessions*.

It was a large house. The wife slept on the ground floor in her bedroom, and her husband’s bedroom was on the first floor. I had the bedroom next to his.

All was mildly weird (they both seemed permanently pissed), but vaguely OK until one night, I was woken by shrieking from his room. He was yelling for his wife like the world was ending.

“MARY! MARY! MARY!” (for that was not my landlady’s name, but it’ll do for now.) “MARY! MARY! MARY!”

I was out of bed and banging on his door in an instant: “Are you alright Mr. X?” No answer, just more screaming “MARY! MARY! MARY!”.

I ran downstairs, banged on my landlady’s door. She charged upstairs and into her husband’s room; he was still yelling and she started screaming too.

Ten minutes later, an ambulance arrived, and the paramedics charged up the stairs. Apparently my landlord is utterly sozzled, pissed himself, fell out of bed, can’t get up. I could hear the ambulance crew trying to help him, but he started screaming abuse at them, swearing, lashing out. “We need your permission before we can help you, Sir.” “FUCK OFF! FUCK YOU ALL!”

Eventually, unable to help him, they left. As did his wife, storming off back downstairs.

But still he was screaming for her, “MARY! MARY! MARY!” over and over.

I bang on her door again and she shouts back to just ignore him: “I’m sick of the crazy bastard. He did this last week too. And the week before he chased me around the garden with a knife. I’m going to leave him.”

At 4am he finally stopped screaming. Not that I slept a wink after that.

The next morning at breakfast, Mrs Landlady handed around polaroids she took of her husband the previous night. Pissed out his mind, in a pool of his own piss and poop even, stark-bollock naked.

She said she was handing round the polaroids “to teach him a lesson”.

I told her I’d be moving out that day, and that I’d be back at the weekend to collect the rest of my possessions. Fifteen minutes later, I’d grabbed a bag of essentials and was on the way to spend the rest of the week crashing in a friend’s spare room.

Saturday came. I loaded my things into my car, handed over the keys and asked her for my deposit back. She refused. When I asked why, she told me that it was because her husband was a “dear man who was taken a little poorly” and apparently I was trying to take advantage of them. “If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life”, she said, “then count yourself lucky.”**

I was steaming at the time, absolutely furious. For years, I couldn’t even think of the pair of them without a rage descending. But, that was a long time ago. These days, I just feel sorry for them. They were both obviously ill, both tied to one another, dragging each other down. I wish them respite, from each other and from the bottle.

*Here’s the first part of the story: No Boundaries

**Actually, it’s about the 7th worse thing that ever happened to me. Maybe she had a point.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #11

He spent the start of our date complaining about his ex: “She never loved me, she just saw me as a sperm donor!”.

He also spent the middle part of our date complaining about her: “I love my daughter, even though my ex just sees me as the man who donated the sperm to make her!”

By the end of the date: “My ex is a heartless cow! I’m just a sperm donor to her!”, I was wearing a rictus grin & contemplating stabbing myself to death with a spoon.

I kept a tally of how many times he used the phrase “sperm donor”. Nine times. That’s nine times too many. (And, no, by the end of the evening, I couldn’t have been less interested in procuring any of his sperm myself.)

ADVENTURES IN SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS #2: The Sleepover

A friend was crashing over at mine. He was sleeping on my sofa-bed, in the lounge (with a door that was broken and couldn’t be closed properly).

It was bed-time, so I said goodnight to my mate and then waltzed off to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses. Then—realising that I’d forgotten to tell him something important—I wandered back into the lounge without bothering to put my glasses on. I really am short-sighted, so my friend was just a fuzzy blob.

So, I was chatting away at him, but he was acting rather strangely and not really replying, which seemed a bit weird. After a few minutes, I squinted a bit more at him and realised that he wasn’t just a fuzzy blob, he was an entirely pink fuzzy blob. And why would he be entirely pink? Because he’s not wearing any… ohhhhh….! I stopped talking mid-word, and hurried out of the room.

It must have been ever so odd for my mate: he was getting changed for bed, completely starkers, and I’d wandered in and struck up a conversation with him like nothing unusual was happening.

He never stayed again. I can’t say I blame him.

THE WINNING LINES #10: Tales from my dating days (Valentine’s Edition)

I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day. I firmly believe that, if you love someone, you should show them every damn day.

Perhaps you’ve been admiring someone from afar for a while, and think that Valentine’s Day might be the day to show your hand? No. If you like them today, do something about it today. It might not work out, of course, but so much better to get on and get over it, rather than moping around until February 14th.

Anyway. It was Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend, although he is not the subject of this story.

That honour goes to an ex of mine. Well, I call him an ex although that’s rather misleading. We’d been seeing each other for a while, but never officially dated; every time we drew together he’d retreat (I’d usually hear him shouting: “I’m not ready for a relationship!” as he vanished into the distance.)

Tiring of this, eventually, I started dating someone else. But the ex (as it were) and I had stayed in touch, agreeing to just be friends.

Valentine’s Day arrived. The first post in my Facebook newsfeed was by my ex. He’d uploaded a video of himself, singing a song “for the woman I love, and have probably lost forever.”

“Oh dear”, I thought, when I saw it. “I wonder who that’s for?”

Then I checked into the website I ran (at the time). He’d posted the same thing there. Oh. It couldn’t possibly… could it?… he wouldn’t?…

On cue, the doorbell rang. The postman needed me to sign for a letter. Turns out, it was a Valentine’s card from my ex.

I watched the video again. Now, you may know “Wonderful Life”. It is a tremendous song, but possibly the worst choice of love song ever. It’s a song abut the singer: how lonely he was. How he needed a friend. How unfair it was. “Look at me”, said the lyrics, “Look at me standing here”. You learn nothing about the person he’s singing to.  Nothing.

None of this was about me: it was only about him. And he’d sent me a Valentine’s card, even though he knew full well I had a boyfriend. What did he think was going to happen, that I was going to immediately ditch my boyfriend and declare my undying love? Did he really think I was that shallow? That’s not love. I was merely a prize to be won, like I was a bloody goldfish at the fair.

I fumed for a while about how to respond. I started composing a restrained “Sorry, but you know I’m not available” text, when I checked Facebook again.

He’d updated his status again. Now it read: “Fuck this, I’m sick of waiting for a response, I’m going back to bed”.

Charming.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

SMALL CO-INCIDENCE THAT WILL NEVER BE MADE INTO A FILM BUT IS STILL QUITE CUTE NEVERTHELESS:

In 2012, it snowed.

Hard.

So hard, I was convinced I was going to die.

I was sitting in my friend’s lounge when the first snowflakes started falling. It was getting late, and it was a 60 mile drive home. Usually, I’d have crashed on their sofa, but I was working the next morning and needed to get home. Driving made sense.

It didn’t take long to regret that decision. The snow fell, heavier now. I struggled up hills, the wheels spinning. I was in the “Divorce Car”, the car I’d been left with when my marriage broke down; a car I hadn’t actually wanted, and couldn’t really afford to run as it was an ostentatious, petrol-guzzling monster of a thing. Plus, it was Rear-Wheel Drive, which I didn’t know is disastrous for snow.

I was now too far into the journey to turn back; at least I was near the motorway, which I assured myself would be gritted, and safer. I was wrong.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got onto the M25, the snow still falling so quickly and so heavily. The carriageway was icy, and I lost control of my car several times, the steering wheel jerking under my hands. I was crying as I drove, muttering an incantation that I hoped would save me (although I don’t know who I was offering it up to, given that I’m quite cheerfully atheist): “I can’t die. I’m a mum, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, please don’t let me die.”

Then, I was catapulted across the carriageway.

The car spinning, in freefall, towards the central reservation.

Time slowed: “So, this is how it ends.” I thought. I apologised to my kids, that I wouldn’t be there to see them growing up. I thought of my mum and my sister. I wondered briefly if there was an afterlife, and if I was going to be reunited with my dad. I even took a moment to be sorry that I wouldn’t be going on a second date with a promising suitor*.

The car stopped, inches from the barrier, facing the wrong way into the traffic.

I exhaled, and burst into tears again.

I’d been driving for over 3 hours at this point. I gingerly turned the car around, kept driving, crying constantly now, and chanting my new mantra, “Please don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die.”

I eventually managed to wrestle the car off the motorway and, slowly, slowly, some of the way home.

At 4am, I admitted defeat. I couldn’t get the car up a hill, couldn’t turn round to go back down, couldn’t do anything other than abandon the car and walk the final 4 miles home.

As I walked, I fell into step with a man. We started chatting, as you do in weird situations; normal social conventions don’t apply. His name was Jamie and he was an interesting chap, ran an art gallery in town, lived over the other side of London but had got stuck visiting family. We chatted about this and that until we arrived at a house.

“I’m sorry I can’t walk you home”, he said, “but this is where I’m staying tonight.” He reached into his jacket, then handed me a business card, “Text me when you’re home so I know you got back safely”.

I got home some time after 5am. My Converse had frozen to my feet. I cried with relief for a while, and then collapsed into sleep.

Four years later, I was chatting with a lovely lady that I knew, a little. This time, we got onto the subject of art. She told me it’s her family’s passion, and that her son Jamie runs an art gallery in town.

“Oh”, I said, “I wonder if he remembers me? We met the last time it snowed”.

*************

*As it turns out, there was no second date, for reasons that will probably be explained in another post.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #9

We were in a restaurant. I put the menu on the table in front of me, and leaned forward to read it. As I did so, I rested my hands on my elbows.

Him: “You’ve crossed your arms. You must be feeling uncomfortable”.

Me: “I’m fine. I’m just reading the menu.”.

Him: “But you wouldn’t cross your arms unless you were feeling uncomfortable. I’ve studied body language*. Everything you do means something.”

Me: “Yes, it means that it’s comfy for me to have my arms like this, while I’m reading the menu”.

Him: “But you wouldn’t have done it unless you were feeling uncomfortable”.

Me: “I’m fine, really”.

Him: “Are you feeling uncomfortable?”

Me: “Now I am”.

And so it continued. He kept commenting on my body language and facial expressions—despite me repeatedly asking him not to—until I ended the date, forty minutes after it started.

*This isn’t the first time someone’s commented on my body language; I once lost a job because of it. Perhaps it’s me, after all.

Hot Mess

My friend Jane invited a bunch of us round for a house-warming supper;  she’d just moved out of her parents’ place and into her own flat, and was ever so excited about it.

She scooped us all a generous serving of dinner: some sort of brown splodge and rice.

As we hungrily raised our forks, Jane thanked us for joining her: “…and I know you won’t believe it, but this is the first time I’ve ever cooked! Bon Appetit!!”

Oh.

The rice wasn’t just undercooked, it was still raw. And I’ve still no idea what the brown splodge was actually supposed to be (tumours au gratin? braised dysentery? hot misery?)

Whatever it was, it remains the second-worst meal that I have ever eaten.*

We exchanged panicked glances over our heaped bowls. Jane beamed at us: “Are you enjoying it?”

She was one of life’s genuine sweethearts, a thoroughly lovely person. It would have been like kicking a puppy. “It’s delicious!”, we enthusiastically lied in unison.

Being a well-brought up type, I forced down every last horrifically crunchy mouthful. My friend Matthew later confessed to having tipped his bowlful into a pot-plant.

We all declined seconds. “I’m so full, I couldn’t eat another mouthful!” Well, half of that sentence was true.

I didn’t even let her make me a cup of tea after that

*There’s a chance that the creator of the third-worst meal that I’ve ever eaten will see anything I write about it, so I won’t be telling you about that one. But at some point I will tell you about the worst-ever meal that I’ve ever eaten. Because I made that one. (I’m usually a pretty good chef, honest.)

Goodbye, Steve

Me: “Hello?”

Steve: “Hello, it’s Steve from Scottish Power
here. I understand you’re thinking of leaving us for another utility company because they’ve offered you a better price?”

Me: “I’m not thinking, I’ve already switched. And it’s nothing to do with price, it’s because your customer service has been terrible.”

Steve: “But the price must have had something to do with it?”

Me: “Really, no. I’ve had a number of problems with my account since I’ve been with you, and the people at customer service have been friendly enough, but totally incompetent with it.”

Steve: “Can you give me a few more details please?”

Me: [there follows 10 minutes of me detailing numerous incidents where Scottish Power have totally failed to sort out problems]

Steve: “Fair enough, I totally get why you’d want to leave us. But, if I offered you a really good deal on your fuel, would you consider staying?”

Me: “No.”

Steve: “A really really good deal?”

Me: “Seriously, this isn’t about the money. It’s about the customer service.”

Steve: “Is there anything I can do to make you reconsider your decision to leave?”

Me: “No. There really isn’t.”

Steve: “But it’s my job to stop you leaving.”

Me: “Steve, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s your company’s customer service.”

He said he understood, and we hung up. But still, I hope Steve is OK. I hope he goes on to find other customers (and that they get treated better than I did). I hope he learns to love again, or whatever.