I can’t say I have ever been successful in my relationships, though not for lack of trying. There is always something that happens which seems to shorten them for one reason or another and yes, it’s mostly down to my complete idiocy, lack of foresight, penchant for making light of serious matters and general misjudgment of almost every situation that requires thought before opening my big mouth.
One such episode took place a decade ago in London. I met a girl, to my mind, the most beautiful girl I ever clapped eyes on. Haze coloured almond shaped eyes that squinted when the hint of a naughty smile appeared on her face – I was mesmerized and smitten at the same time. Cut to several large vodka tonics later (which went a long way in helping me overcome my natural shyness) I bucked up the courage to talk to her. The conversation went swimmingly – numbers were exchanged, more drinks ordered and she left with her friends at the end of the evening. Perfect. No waking up with regrets for her and no stonking hangover for me.
I went off home, elated and on cloud 53, and proceeded to think about her as soon as the old eyes opened and coffee hit the spot the next morning. I was in love. No, honestly I was. You see I have this habit of falling head over heels in love at the drop of a hat (I know that’s as idiom-laden a sentence as one can ever have, enough to make any half – decent editor cringe – but bear with me). This is how I am, just take me out anywhere, ply me with alcohol and drop a hat in front of a woman and bang! Love appears – that little baby in a towel nappy carrying his bow and quiver full of arrows of (mis)fortune – thinking that this is where he will have a laugh at my expense. He always does that to me the little so and so.
I digress, so I called her – we’ll call her Roberta. I called Roberta and she answered, good start, and then, blood filled with vodka enhancing Dutch courage in my veins I popped the question – would she like to have a coffee with me. She agreed and asked me to pick her up from her place in West Kensington – more Hammersmith way, but I am not going to delve into the merits of London post codes.
It was early February and I scraped the ice off my windscreen, squeezed myself into my Mini (pre-BMW) and went of to pick her up later that afternoon. We found a pub on the Chiswick Mall, facing the Thames, and each had a cup of tea and a sticky bun. I listened to her laugh, to tell me stories about her work (she was a theatre makeup artist) and her life. She had a slight lisp which years of elocution lessons as a child had nearly masked, but during moments of mirth it showed itself and made her sound like a cute child learning to speak.
The arrow, unloosed last night, hit the bulls eye, square on and bang in the middle, hats were lying on the ground all around me and birds circling my head tweeting despite the freezing winter temperatures outside. I dropped her to work, though she never left me. Thoughts of her were everywhere and I couldn’t do anything to concentrate on my own work. I texted her to call me and that perhaps we could go for a drink after her show. She replied that tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow… God I hate that word. Lisping birdsong in my head accompanied by a heart heavy at not seeing her again I sat there in a happy depression.
These moments of introspection are often those during which, so science tells us, we have our best ideas – and science is always right – I did just that: Light bulbs popped up everywhere. Valentine’s Day was approaching next week and wouldn’t it be lovely if I booked a romantic night in Paris in a hotel? What a genius idea, pat on the back and smirk of self-congratulation. It would be the perfect place to consummate my love for her and she would love me forever – birds, hats and arrows have that effect on people you know, brain wiring, which one has spent years laying down to be serious and logical with just a hint of the ridiculous thrown in for good measure, suddenly gets uprooted and in place of logic and caution, there is now instant gratification and idiocy; that carefully laid caution gets windswept and the logic is nowhere to be seen, drowning itself in its sorrows in the nearest pub. That is what falling in love does to me.
Not being able to contain myself, excitement boiling over, more like frothing over out of the pot, dribbling down the front of the cooker and onto a pristine floor, I called her and gave her the news. Now look, I can be romantic if I want to and calling up a girl to ask her out for a weekend of frolics in the Lovers’ Capital has undertones of a smutty weekend thought up on the back of a whim while having had too many drinks, and you would be right under normal circumstances – but come on, this was LOVE with capitals, upper-uppercase, bold and in italics with sparkles and things. There was not an ounce of an indecent thought process in my head, it was all butterflies, swooning and sighs.
The day arrived, a Saturday morning, and I picked her up from her place again. The drive to Ashford to catch the Eurostar to Calais was long (she lived in West London and we had to head in completely the opposite direction: the south east) but I didn’t remember how long it was – love, the devourer of time. We chatted, we laughed and I didn’t miss a single motorway exit. Likewise the drive to Paris was undertaken as if I had been driving on the continent all my life (in England we drive on the right side of the road, that is to say the left, and Paris’s ring roads didn’t scare the bejesus out of me as they usually do.
And finally, there in front of us, on a side street just off the Étoile, was our boutique hotel. Our little love nest away from the hustle and bustle and rainy grey skies of London, under the far more romantic, and even greyer and drizzle ridden skies of Paris with dog faeces laden pavements that are never noticed because the shops and lights dazzle our poor English eyes. We were checked in by a petite receptionist with her faux Hèrmes scarf tied in the quintessential French way and her faux smile at a reception made of faux mahogany and real frosted glass. The bell boy who also doubled as the concierge and waiter (reminiscent of Manuel though not from Barcelona but rather from Gdansk) took our luggage and smiled – I should have known but I refer you back to butterflies etc.
Into the lift we went, cosy could be a word to describe quaint French boutique hotel lifts quaint might be another… cramped would be a real-world description. I couldn’t care less, cramped was great as far as i was concerned, the more cramped the better. Out of the lift and down a carpeted corridor to the room at the end (why is it always the room at the end of the corridor like in all the movies?). The Gdansk bell boy opened the room with our key cards and ushered us into a minimalist room.
Now bear in mind this was a decade ago when minimalism was the in-thing. Beautiful lines, subdued lighting, all shades of brown and tan and that frosted glass everywhere – and a large bunch of red roses and a bottle of champagne for our Valentine’s welcome (all part of the package booked on lastminute.com for a steal I might add). Roberta loved it. I was alarmed.
Alarmed? Why you ask – it all sounds wonderful. Well it was, that is to say for just one small thing. At the far end of bedroom (several feet away from the end of the bed so not very far at all) there was a glass wall open on two sides, a sort of wall without being a wall. It looked quite sublime, very minimal and Scandinavian if you like that sort of thing and I often do but with caveats. The bell boy disappeared behind the glass wall and emerged from the other side – magic! Roberta and I looked at each other. My look changed from amusement and “oh how cool is that” to “oh my god, this is really not happening to me!” Behind the thin frosted glass could be seen the outline of a bath and the toilet. Yes, you heard me right. The toilet was in the bedroom! In the bedroom!
Honestly, whose stupid idea was it to put a toilet in the bedroom and then tell us that it was the cool thing to do, the newest design – no wonder the “overnight romantic Valentine’s break” was so cheap! How the hell was I going to go to the loo? How was she going to go to the loo? I should have known at this point that butterflies in my stomach were there for a reason, I should have booked the other room for a bit more money…I should have done a lot of things.
The Gdansk bell boy was smiling – bastard! He knew what the look on our faces was going to be when he was taking us up in the lift. He knew that we would both be embarrassed… The receptionist knew, I had to do something about this.
“Erm, excuse me…”
“Oui Monsieur?” he said in his best Frenlish.
“The bathroom is in the room…”
“Oui, Monsieur.” He said with a straight face as if what I was asking was a completely nonsensical question.
I turned to Roberta, “Darling, is this room okay?”
And before she could reply, the bell boy piped up, “but Monsieur, we are fooly buuked. Zere are no more free reums. C’est Le weekend pour amour.” Accompanied by his best Cheshire Cat smile.
Now where did that leave us you may well ask? Well, Roberta and I, being adults decided that we would be able to handle it. We arranged that I would go down to the bar and have a snifter while she would get ready for dinner and once she was done, we would swap and she would have a drink and wait for me. This sensibility from her side was just making me love her even more – she didn’t complain, she didn’t even wince (unlike me), she just of matter-of-factly got on with things. I could get used to this girl, this was just the type of girl that I needed a girl who would be able to keep me on the straight and narrow. She would do just fine thank you very much I could hear old granny saying. Butterflies were back baby!! I opened the champagne and poured two glasses. Roberta looked into my eyes and I looked into hers and nearly missed the clinking of glasses. This drew a laugh and as I always say, laughter is good no matter what the situation.
“To a great evening.” She said. “Yes, to a wonderful evening.” I replied and downed the glass, gave her a peck on the cheek and left.
I went, down to the bar in the entrance to the hotel. It was another muted brown coloured affair, wood, leather and glass. I sat on a bar stool and proceeded to order a beer… It was four in the afternoon and I had been driving for hours and hadn’t slept too well the night before because I was nervous so a light drink to kick off the evening would be just fine. A cold beer arrived and it was a godsend. My mind was lost in the feeling of a new place, a new potential girlfriend, the tinkle of glasses in the bar and soft French jazz music and beautiful French voices in the background. Lulled by the sounds time flew and before I knew it two hours had passed. I looked around and there, walking out of the lift was the woman of my dreams wearing a long turquoise dress, a gown of sorts with a respectable slit down the side. The material swished as she walked and my eyes strained to catch a glimpse of thigh.
I left the bar and walked towards her, not realizing how unsteady I was – the beer had gone straight to my head. We kissed, I told her how beautiful she looked, she smiled and I held her hand a little longer than I should have done. No matter, she smiled and walked to the bar and it was my turn to change. I ironed a shirt, shaved and showered and got ready in a matter of minutes. Before going downstairs i poured the last few dregs of champagne – Roberta, like me must have been thirsty! I checked my watch and it was only an hour. Perfect.
By the time I got downstairs, I found her having a martini which the batman assured me (as all barren are wont to do) was the best in Paris, if not in the world. Roberta downed her glass and ordered one too. It was perfect. In half an hour we would walk the two hundred yards to the restaurant where I had a booking, then a taxi to the Place de la Concorde and a short walk by the Seine and nod then back to the hotel for a nightcap and then hopefully a real night cap. All planned to perfection. Roberta, now on her third Vodka martini and most of a bottle of champagne was on fine form, laughing, telling anecdotes and making me laugh, making all of us laugh – isn’t it amazing how a woman, beautifully dressed and vivacious attracts men like flies? Yes, jealousy was creeping in, they were all around us, laughing at her jokes and my clear infatuation with her. It must be that. A round was bought by a tall bald man sitting at the bar who had joined in on the conversation sometime earlier. Before we knew it we were late. I paid the bill, not realizing that we had, by now consumed eight vodka martinis not to mention several rounds bought by various admirers of Roberta’s.
I put my hand out to help her off the stool she was perched on and she took it, the smile on my face broadened as if to say. To all the salivating males- Ha!! She’s mine! The old dog marking his territory routine that we males are so often prone to performing once we have competition, or even the hint of some territory. Her hand in mine, I gently eased her off the bar stool and gave her a soft tug, as one does, not realizing that the heel of her shoe was caught in her dress which itself was caught in the stool. The result was that Roberta, filled to the gills with champagne and vodka martinis and a few peanuts and bar snacks fell off the stool face forward. My reactions, now also delayed due to too much alcohol were not what she expected. Her knight in shining armour was not a court jester looking at her fall, his armour replaced by a stupid hat with bells on it – at least that’s what it felt like I was wearing. How could I have let her go? How the hell did she fall like that? I couldn’t fall like that if I tried.
Things weren’t all lost though. Too much drink also has the effect of making one laugh and thankfully she was in the silly giggles phase and not the I-love-you-you-are-my-best-friend phase yet. We laughed it off and arm in arm we tottered off to the lift. This was my moment. Lift doors closed and I made my move. Encircling my hands around in her waist, I pulled her closer and we kissed. The lift doors opened and closed and we were still kissing. They opened again and we were back on the ground floor! More giggles from both of us and people stepped in. We tried it again and made it back to our room… Key cards gave us a little trouble but I don’t remember that being so bad (Roberta later told me that we had to call someone but my mind blanked that part out). She opened the minibar and got two drinks out and told me to wait on the bed while she got changed… I do remember she used the “slip into something more comfortable” line which always makes me cringe but she was laughing when she said it and her laughter made the butterflies and bunnies in my heart frolic more, if you catch my drift.
The next thing I remember is that I found myself waking up to a sound. My head hurt and I couldn’t open my eyes. The room was dark except there was light coming from behind the frosted glass wall of the bathroom. I listened and heard panting… Then a soft noise:
“Eeennnnnnnnnnn.” What the hell was that.
It started again, “Eeeennnnnnnnnnhhhhhhhhh. Phwaaaaaarrrrr. Plop.”
That was it. Remember those butterflies… They were dead, murdered by a DDT-spraying crop duster from hell; and the bunnies gambolling about on the green forest floor of my heart – dead too, poisoned by the sound in my ears. Heartbroken, I turned around and went to sleep. My dreams were of darkness; I was in a dark, dank hole and couldn’t crawl out.
To cut a very long story short, we woke up and Roberta was fresh as a daisy while I was sulking. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what I heard; I was ashamed of hearing it. But the odd thing is why was I ashamed of it? I shouldn’t have been, I should have been more adult about it. It’s a part of life after all. The problem, I realized, after I dropped her back to her place, was that it wasn’t that I felt disappointed at her actions, I felt more disappointed at myself for being so fickle-hearted.
So Roberta, if you read this… I am sorry. I should have persevered… you were and always will be, worth it.