Girls like men who smell nice. Brian the Bastard smells nice but I wouldn’t trust him to save me on the Titanic after having his way with me in that steamed-up vintage car in the hold.
He had invited me into his office for what I assumed was a bollocking. I had left Nikki for a quick Rare Summer Shaguardi hunt on the lower slopes of the nearest stylish retail mecca in my lunch hour and had been unable to get the car to do anything useful when I returned to where I had parked it. In short I was very, very late getting back.
It would start, but that was it. It wouldn’t go in any of the gears. Being mechanically aware, though not mechanically adept, I assumed either the clutch or the gearbox had gone. So I rang Phil the Ferret, our fleet manager and IT manager – sightings as rare as a Summer Shaguardi at times of IT or car crisis – and gave him a lambasting for giving me this useless piece of shit. Then I extracted the relevant info on contacting the AA and all that other boring stuff.
I phoned Nikki and told her that my return to the office would be delayed and then my Mum and then Jackie for a moan about it. I phoned the AA centre and told them I would need home relay as it would not be fixable by the roadside unless they had a spare clutch and gearbox for a Jeep and then sat back and listened to The Archers.
I had eaten an entire box of TicTacs by the time the AA man arrived. He smiled at me and nodded interestedly as I went through my ‘You’ll never fix this’ scenario. He started the car, had a look under the bonnet and then returned to the driving seat. ‘Ah’ he said, ‘you see this is the problem’. What, what, I was thinking crankily, why do men have to show you the problem and explain it at length before bloody well giving in and just taking you home and carting the wretched car off.
He was still mumbling on, ‘You see here,’ he was gripping the sides of the car mat in the driver’s footwell. He gave it a little tug, I’d say about 2 centimetres, ‘your clutch was stuck on it’.
I looked him straight in the eye. He didn’t flinch. It was obvious he saw this kind of thing quite a bit. I said thanks as though he had just achieved something of extraordinary technical difficulty and as though I respected him for it. He didn’t even smirk, just held my gaze. Now that is what I call service.
So BTB wanted to know why I was so late. I couldn’t tell him about the car mat thing, so tried to waffle around a couple of alternatives but he fixed me with a gimlet gaze and said, ‘So what was wrong with the car then?’
Bugger, Nikki had obviously told the office I had car trouble that was going to be serious hence the late lunch. I had to cough to it.
Unlike men who have a vocation, the sort of men who have the right stuff, the sort of men who make it into the gruelling, challenging and heroic world of AA roadside assistance, BTB is not at all professional. His HR skills are nil and his deskside manner negligible. He laughed like a drain.
That night I went out with an old boyfriend. I had dumped Jim three years earlier for a toyboy thing who paid me a lot of flattering attention. Jim is not good at attention or flattering, or at least he wasn’t back then. He has since been going out with a woman who has put a fearsome amount of effort into training him properly, introducing him to a whole world of gentlemanly good practices, and he’s turning out pretty nicely. More fool me for being so shallow. I also, I think, broke his heart. She’s done a smashing job with the superglue though and now he’s my occasional ‘date’ when they’ve had a row.
Jim now ticks many of the boyfriend boxes for me, and they are:
1. His first pony was called Sparkle, and lived to be 28
2. He is chief whipper in for the local hunt (men in breeches, men in breeches)
3. He is smart & funny
4. He skis
5. He rides (well)
6. He sails and water skis
7. He is a sheep farmer (plenty of cuddly girlfriends)
8. He also has a very tricky job concerning cones on the motorway and men in jackets. He’s in charge
9. He breeds and races point to point racehorses
10. He knows someone with a zedonk (a cross between a donkey and a zebra)
11. He treats me like a lady
12. He once got an orf on his face which you can apparently catch from kissing sheep
But I still don’t fancy him.
Also, Jim is functionally wired in a very male way. We were sitting in the car once, parked in a lay-by in a dark lane for a bit of a snog and I remember remarking, I wouldn’t like to walk down here on my own with no torch. He gave me a detailed explanation of the eye’s ‘rod and cone’ system for adjusting to minimal light.
Later, when I woke up from my lecture-induced torpor we were treated to the sight of a pair of badgers crossing the road. Not really a pair, one was about 100 yards further up the lane. I think they may have been a pair but perhaps were not speaking. We had a brief fumble and I turned the car for his place
On kissing me goodnight that night he also saw fit to teach me how to deal with aggressive badgers in case I met one on the way home from dropping him off. Apparently this would be accomplished by grappling their front legs, forcing them apart and dealing a big kick in the chest if they attacked. I told him I’d probably just stay in the car. But then that had got me into quite a bit of trouble already that evening and he hadn’t taught me the badger manoeuvre until he was in the clear had he!
I like Jim. I once asked him to test me on pub quiz questions (he does the pub quiz on a Tuesday) excluding the questions about history, geography, maths, science, sport or pop music because I’m not very good on those subjects. He asked me the capital city of a load of obscure countries that are apparently in Africa I got them all wrong. But that’s geography isn’t it so I think I win by default.
That night we met in a beautiful country pub with an excellent restaurant. Jim doesn’t do things by halves – pints only. He is quaintly unfamiliar with the phrase ‘Bacardi Breezer’, drinks obscure beer and nice wine. Our evening passes pleasantly and we have fun, but the badgers of our past passion are just wraiths in the night and, although I suspect he could still explain the whole rod and cone thing, it just wouldn’t be the same. I’ll always be a little bit disappointed about Jim, and now I’ve seen what’s out there in cyber dating land I can see why I’d take a horse riding, sheep snogging road designer over a nerd with a lardy tench, a digital camera and a licence to bore.
We have one of our mini snogs goodnight. A bit like mini rolls, they are very nice but you know you can’t have the whole packet. Jim smells nice. He touches my face and smells my hair. His eyes are misty when he turns away. He can’t talk about his feelings whereas I …..
That night I cry when I’m in bed. For once St John is empathetic. He comes over and curls into the curve of duvet between my drawn up knees and my stomach. His purr fills my ears like a six cylinder Viper on idle. I wander dreamily in my mind through boyfriends past and future like Scrooge at a speed dating event. This really is depressing. Instead I leap to BTB and prostates…better…I’m regaining control.
After sorting out Twinkle – rum and raisin fudge pieces and a cube of mandarin jelly as a treat after breakfast prior to an arduous session of grazing – I get myself down to the grimnasium.
I totter along on the treadmill while thin girls sprint either side of me, their flaxen ponytails whipping up a perky storm countered only by their perky tits like small rocks jammed up their cropped tops. I power walk on in a sports bra that would house a small scout camp and try to focus on Anthony Worral Thompson who is cooking something on the TV. He’s not awfully likeable, but he is fatter than me, ergo my friend. I suspect I’d get on famously with him on an evening out.
I look down. I’ve burned .2 calories. What’s going on! If my DNA was examined would they find I’m part grizzly bear. Feeding on salmon brain and skin and other uber fat treats to get me through a winter of hibernation…Ah no. I’ve done four minutes. Thought I’d done 40.
The ponytail girls patter lightly on. I potter off purple in the face for a relaxing swim.
I can’t believe it. There are four men in the pool, all with furry backs. I get in, but gingerly. I don’t want one of my earrings to snag on the shoulder pelt of a passing walrus. I wimp out of the usual 30 lengths when another hunched werewolf arrives. I have burned off enough calories to treat myself to a Cadbury’s button. And my hair’s frizzy.
Showered and changed it’s round to Nikki’s for a lunchtime boyfriend shopping session. I score a date for that night. James Bond 9213.
It’s ludicrously easy to see why a 36-year-old woman might resort to creating an imaginary boyfriend. Or at least it’s ludicrously easy for any 36-year-old woman who’s been on a date with James Bond 9213.
If young Hannah sowed the seed of an idea, it was old JB9213 who came and dumped a healthy sprinkle of well-rotted Twinkle-pooh on top.
Having sorted a time and venue after a spirited bout of virtual ‘I-don’t- know-what-do-you-think’ ping pong it was back home for extensive the ritual bathing. Not to mention the obsessive plucking and wardrobe ransacking.
Three hours before date time I was naked smearing Veet hair removal cream from ankle to knee in the bathroom. Billie Holiday was breaking her heart in the bedroom, the power of her fragility wafting through to the bathroom. On the edge of the bath was balanced a glass of Sauvignon and one of my feet.
I dropped my foot back onto the floor and took a swig of my wine. Actually it was my second glass. I was quite nervous about the whole Mr Bond scenario. I noticed that my face was quite red. A little chirrup alerted me to St John’s entrance. Alarmingly he’d brought a friend. Practicalities kicked in and I sneakily shut the bathroom door to contain the small bird to the bathroom, then I launched into grappling with his nibs. As I was prizing his jaws apart he fell against my legs, then righted himself huffily as I dumped a slaver-covered sparrow out of the bathroom window. It flew off clumsily on damp little wings.
Oh shit. He fell against my legs. St John was now wearing a coating of Veet hair removal cream up his cheek fur, whiskers and all across his right shoulder. Bugger.
I ran the bath. I then proceeded to do something even Ant and Dec wouldn’t condone as part of a Bush Tucker Trial. I bathed a very angry cat, and I did it naked.
Apparently St John would have benefited from a wool cycle. He’d shrunk. Actually all that spitting wasn’t very nice either. What I retrieved from the bath was something akin to the runt of a mere cat litter. A vigorous towelling produced some grudging purring. The whisker tugging didn’t go down well, however all were still firmly anchored. I only had one or two really deep scratches on my forearms, hands, across the chest and a small and swelling mark on the end of my nose where he’d managed to get a nip in.
Bugger. The Veet had now been on my legs for 23 minutes. The pack said 10 minutes maximum. I looked down. My legs were partially covered in cream, long fine cat hair and little grey feathers. And they felt hot. Really hot.
A 10 minute shower revealed mottled and blotchy red legs. The patches that weren’t covered in a rash had severe stubble – where St John had applied his own Veet-o to the hair removal programme.
Right, back to the wardrobe and a dramatic re-think. Hmm, trousers.
To restore my mellow mood and calm my nerves I tipped the last of the Sauvignon into my glass and sat down in front of the dressing table mirror. Billie was oozing her way through ‘Strange Fruit’. Damn right I thought eyeing the fright that stared shyly at me from the mirror.
While I was repairing the damage I wondered why I was putting myself through the whole internet blind date thing. This guy didn’t even come with the benefit of a well meaning recommendation from my friends. No one had ever checked him out. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw a figure smiling at me in the mirror. Tall, dark, great smile. He was holding two chilled glasses and had the warmest eyes I’ve ever seen. I blinked and he was gone. My legs were stinging now. I coated them entirely with calomine lotion and waited for it to dry before getting dressed.
I found some green ‘high colour corrector’ at the back of one of my dressing table drawers. Perfect for toning down redness, the pack said. Once I had run the tube top under the hot tap for a bit I managed to break through the crust and squidge some of the green goo onto my fingers. Paying particular attention to my bitten nose and the welts across the neck and visible bits of chest I plastered it on, covering it with several layers of foundation.
Hair and face done, although my nose looked a bit like papier mache nativity play stage scenery, my replacement outfit was ok. French Connection trousers that hid most of my marsupial pouch, a buttoned silk shirt in pale pink and black ankle boots.
I topped off my outfit with a black puffa jacket, pink silk scarf and a matching woolly hat. Because my legs were now so sensitive I had opted for white sports anklet socks under the boots, I couldn’t bear anything above the ankle.
It was while sitting in the taxi on the way to meet JB9213 that I first started to notice the itching. The trousers, a wool mix, were only half lined, the thigh half of course. I decided not to think about it.
We had arranged to meet in the car park of a pub. He would be in the green Saab. As the taxi pulled up next to it I rolled down my window. I resisted the urge to run away and instead gave JB9213 a winning smile.
In his profile he had described himself as brown haired, good looking, well built/muscular and over six feet tall. His pictures showed him in a full-face motorcycle helmet with the visor up and in the distance cuddling a fish while wearing a kaki hat with fishing flies on it.
We got out of our cars. He was a good half head shorter than me, with a shock of red hair and was at least four dress sizes smaller. ‘So Mr Bond,’ I thought, ‘Another of your cunning disguises’.
‘Hi, Logan is it?’
‘Yes, and, er, Mr Bond?’
‘Oh it’s Kevin actually’
Mr Bond is shaking badly and I’m not stirred. It’s hot inside the pub. I’m loath to remove my hat, coat and scarf; I didn’t want to look as though I have any intention of staying.
‘Would you like a drink?’
‘Erm, glass of wine would be lovely, thanks.’
Mr Bond’s hands are shaking so badly he can barely get his fingers into the small girly purse he draws out of the pocket of a jacket I suspect he sat his A levels in. The barmaid asks us if we’d like a large wine. I say yes at the exact same time he says no. He’s having grapefruit juice.
We move to sit down and I resist the urge to read the beer mats. It’s really very hot. I take off my hat, scarf and coat. Mr Bond runs a critical eye over tonight’s Bond girl. He can’t take his eyes off my face. Oh well, I suppose rapt attention, even from a man St John could out muscle at his dampest, is better than nothing.
After a long and embarrassed silence I excuse myself and nip to the ladies. Perched over the loo I noticed that my little black ankle boots have pink chalky rivulets washing over them. My legs are still very hot and the calamine was on the move. A quick toilet paper polish and the leather was uniformly pink and chalky. At the washbasin it’s Pussy Galore. Across my brow, with the hat removed, is a row of rib marks where the foundation has rubbed off in lines, leaving a kind of green and pink zebra crossing effect. At some point, presumably when removing my scarf, I had scuffed the protective coating over the nose bite. Little green flakes are exposed and no longer look like make up. Frankly it looks like some strange clotting alien blood over the crater left by their mini-craft.
I patch up as best I can and walk smartly back to our table. The pub has begun filling up. I am halfway back to Bond, Kevin Bond, when a familiar chocolatey tone hails me.
I keep walking
‘Logan, hey Logan’
Bugger. Brian the buggering Bastard.
‘Hi Brian, quite a surprise to see you here, didn’t know you were a regular’
‘I’m not, I was just meeting someone.’
I notice the cool, elegant, long-legged brunette perched on the bar stool next to him. She has porcelain skin and clear grey eyes that may have been drawn by Walt Disney.
She raises a glass, and a smile.
‘On your own Logan?’
‘Er n yes, I was erm (Bond is beckoning with a limp wristed wave) just meeting someone.’
‘Date is it?’
BtB smiles the smile of a Great White. The eyes are dead.
‘Anyway, you look very nice, nice and rosy’
‘No, no, no. No. No, must go my, er, old school friend is waiting. He used to be a woman you know.’
Before BtB can reply I begin a hasty retreat. I can see the Disney eyes have widened to unbelievable proportions and she and BtB are now both huddled and glancing over at Bond.
Kevin tries to smile at me. His mouth it seems is constructed in the same way as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Only the bottom lip moves and there’s virtually no sideways stretchiness available for smiling.
‘Erm, you seem to have something on your nose. Who was that?’
‘Oh, yeah, thanks, actually strange you should mention my nose, I’ve had some work done and I think it’s disintegrating. I need to get back home immediately and pop it back in the retaining mould. I’m really sorry to do this but I really have to run.’
I start dialling the taxi on my mobile.
Brian gets up from his bar stool and looms dangerously close to our table. The arm candy follows. He walks on and then looks back.
‘By the way Logan, really like the prostate work in progress, but still not sure about the opening. Think we should consider a new nose. Let’s talk about it Monday.’
Kevin’s mouth has dropped narrowly open. I can’t be bothered explaining that a new nose is journalese for a new introductory section. I can’t be bothered explaining to him the truth about my real nose. I just want to go home without hurting his feelings. I tap the side of my nose and wink in a conspiratorial fashion. It occurs to me he will now be wondering about the work I may be having done on my bottom. No matter.
I jam my hat back on and we walk to the door. The cab draws up and relief pours over me like a simultaneous hit of electric blanket and Belgian chocolate.
‘I’d, er, like to see you again,’ he stutters. I wasn’t ready for that one.
‘That’d be great,’ I say as I hurl myself into the cab in case there’s any attempt at tonsil hockey action. Bugger.
He leans in: “Wait, wait a minute, I’ve got something for you.” I’m already thinking oh no you haven’t matey but he’s rummaging in the boot of his Saab. He hands me a chilled and rank smelling parcel of great weight. ‘Trout’ he smiles happily ‘Caught em today.’ Hmm, bet they had a modelling assignment before they went into this parcel I thought as I tried to assemble a corresponding smile.
I huddle in the taxi with my scarf over my nose and my hat pulled down over my eyebrows. The slimy parcel is in the boot, the driver is not best pleased. I, on the other hand, am thinking I’ve got off lightly. Better two smelly fish than a French kiss with A View To A Kill.
‘Bloody hell luv, you look rough,’ says the taxi driver. Don’t I know it.
As I’m in so early and as I am wearing such a colossal amount of face paint I decide to give myself a treat and clean it all off before bed. I hit the shower and then sit in front of the mirror with cotton balls and industrial strength Mr Muscle Makeup Remover.
I half close my eyes as I do my lower lashes. There he is again. He’s sitting on my bed, one hand ruffling through a shiny tangle of silky black straight hair. He glances up and notices my face in the mirror. His lights up and he drops his arm to the bed. He raises one jeans-clad, bare-foot leg onto the bed and drapes a muscle corded forearm over the strong plane of his knee. I sigh a little and the vision ripples. He’s gone.
That night I sleep alone. St John is sulking and I am lying on top of the bed. My legs are now the consistency of the pebbledash render of my mum’s house. I can’t bear the duvet over them and anyway, they are like twin radiators. It’s really all too, too much.
I wake in the recovery position atop the duvet. St John can be heard shredding the carpet on the bottom step of the stairs and shouting in an attempt to attract the ear of the breakfast waitress. He had witnessed the arrival of two enormous fish last night and really hadn’t fully recovered from the over-excitement yet.
It’s Sunday. There’s a text from Bond. I badly want to destroy it before reading it but know I can’t. It says: “Really enjoyed r nite. Can’t w8 2 do it again – when r u free?”
Oh, I’ll think of something to say later.
After serving breakfast and receiving a purr of recognition it’s a quick shower, replastering of face and neck and out onto the stable yard. It’s raining again. As I make for the front door St John steps forward for a 10 minute hover in the threshold. ‘It’s raining’ I say. He runs chirruping to the back door. I follow him, telling him that, as usual, it will be raining at the back of the house too. As there is a conservatory at the back with a catflap I feel no remorse in encouraging his departure from the centrally heated bosom of our home into that slate-floored sanctuary. I have the patio doors locked before he can turn and demand re-entry. God it’s like Sigourney Weaver v Alien every morning trying to outsmart that cat.
I once again gather up tack room keys, two carrots and my mobile phone already parked by the front door and open up. He’s there, he’s slightly damp and he’s in and velcroed to the hall radiator in a flash.
‘It’s ok, I’ll go and earn all the money to buy you cat food, keep Twinkle in hay and keep the central heating going, I wouldn’t want you to lose a wink of your 17 hour a day snooze worrying about me out in the cold and the wet.’ Too late, he’s already tucked his nose and eyes into the lea of his front paws and has morphed into a fluffy pompom.
The day is the consistency of a schoolboy’s sock. Unrelieved grey and generally unpleasant, hanging like damp cable-knit over the landscape. As I spread clean shavings I thought about Kevin Bond. Is that really the best I can hope for? At least Twinkle has the benefit of being taller and more attractive. As an extra bonus he had been affectionate this morning, perhaps I was better off giving up the chase altogether and opening a sanctuary for elderly ponies and cats. I could wear underwear hand knitted from cat and pony fur, smell strange and wear a lot of orange. I could give up work and having my roots done. I’d collect newspaper and old tins. At least then I would have a tangible reason for not having a boyfriend.
Once I had warmed up my mood improved. I suddenly remembered my little flight of fancy from the night before. Not Kevin but the divine vision reclining on my bed. I leaned on the shavings fork and thought this through. My mind turned to Glum Girl. For Hannah she was so real she could be described in detail. If I was starting to hallucinate I might as well get some benefit out of it. So it came to pass that, like the baby Jesus, my imaginary boyfriend was born in a stable on a grey and wintry day.
I sent an apologetic text to Kevin Bond thanking him for all the fish and telling him that unfortunately (for him) I had met someone else from the virtual world and that we really hit it off. I wished him the best of luck. And actually, it wasn’t a lie either.
I rang the coven and called an urgent meeting at my gaff. Bring a bottle, obviously, I’ll provide the Sunday roast.
Feeling like Nigella Lawson only smug-er I finished a hunter gatherer foray at Waitrose without even checking out the wedding ring fingers of the most handsome hands in the 10 items or fewer aisle. Why should I? Like Nigella I had bagged a very rich and very intelligent man. However mine had the advantage of being inordinately good looking.
Like Nigella I was studding a joint of lamb with garlic and rosemary and wearing a tight sweater and lots of lip gloss. St John was at my feet hissing ‘Lamb, Lamb, Lamb, Lamb’ and occasionally sinking his teeth, ever so gently, into the lower section of my calf muscle.
I would need help and support with the plan, and I would need Nikki, Jackie and Delilah not to immediately try and section me. The joint already roasting merrily in the oven, I par-boiled the potatoes before giving them a good scuff around in the colander for extra crispiness ready to join the lamb in the roasting tin.
As I julienne-d my way through a pile of carrots, punctuated with occasional hair sweeping (eat your heart out Nigella) and constant weight shifting (due to cat attack) I laid out my ‘reveal’.
Fabio, as I now called him, had lots of very practical benefits. He could get me into and out of lots of things. The horrendous singles nights for example, endured with another single friend. One particularly memorable one stands out. It featured a 47 year old DJ with a mullet just seven years younger rapping over ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’ and me, desperately stuffing myself with tuna sandwiches at the free buffet in the hope that Kit-e-Kat breath would see off all comers. Yes Fabio was going to come in really handy, and, like Mary Poppins, he was ‘practically perfect in every way’. The girls would just love him.
I opened the door to the three witches in top order, although the nose camouflage had, once again, disintegrated in the steamy environment of 1. my kitchen and 2. my face.
Jackie shoved a bottle of champagne at me and gave me a hug. ‘Ooh, what’s the matter with your nose?’
Delilah: ‘Bloody hell, your nose is doing a runner. Good job your tits look great in that jumper. Is there a bloke coming or something. Mmm something smells gorgeous and yet there is something fishy going on…’
‘No, nothing fishy, we’re having lamb. I just have an important concept I need your help with and it’s best done over dinner and this fabulous champagne, thank you so much!’
Nikki said: “What is that on your nose?”
I filled them in on the St John synchronised scratching episode, the date with James Bond, the disastrous meeting with BtB and the tale of two fish.
We were rounding off with plum crumble and custard by the time I had laid my plans for a fully functioning imaginary boyfriend on the table. Delilah made no bones about the fact that she clearly thought I was mad, but, as a fellow journalist she saw the value in it as a ‘research’ project.
Jackie just gave me a jiggly kind of hug. The sort you get from your mum when you’re seven and you’ve fallen off your bike or your hamster’s just died.
Nikki raised a perfectly arched eyebrow into the shade of her fringe. I’m not sure I saw it again for the rest of the evening.
‘Ok, look, we’re prepared to go along with this so long as it doesn’t totally blind you to a real opportunity coming along,’ said Del.
‘But that’s the point, nothing is coming along and, like my mum says, it’s when you’re not looking you’ll find someone.’
‘That might be true but not if you’re in every night cosying up to the invisible man. You can hardly actually go out with him, can you,’ said Nik.
‘But that’s the point, I can. It’s just he’s never in the same room as me….I can pull this off, I know I can.’