I mused on Valentine Day about a Valentine post. But I’m really not a great consumer of picked roses and helium hearts so this is what came to mind instead. And it’s late for Valentine too. So no brownie points there, either.
It’s a love letter to a City. Bristol. Without doubt the City of Love. For me, anyway.
I hand out a lot of advice. I like to think most of it is wanted, at least asked for. I try and ask open questions rather than just leap in with an opinion, try to get the asker to reach some sort of conclusion for themselves, but often those intentions quickly slip.
Consequently, as I pontificate and my family snigger behind their hands, I know, to the uninitiated, I’m probably coming across as confident, a man of experience ready to share it to help others. Not, in summary, a sufferer from self-doubt.
But that is the veneer, the carapace I have developed over the years. I like this cloak – I give it a shake from time to time, feel its rich texture, with grains of life rubbed into the weave – but it isn’t really me, not really my skin and certainly not my often tremulous insides.
These days, though, I know I have to exude that confidence at times; I have to be decisive, not just for me but for others too. Any parent, if they haven’t learnt it before their offspring appear, learns it soon enough. Those little treasures will work out you have feet of clay soon enough but until then they look to you for that guidance, those nuggets of wisdom. Which they ignore after reaching 13, or 10 or in the case of the Lawyer, 5.
But it has taken years to be able to fool some people. Because back when I left the comfort of home for University I couldn’t fool the mirror. I was patently, openly inadequate. And that was especially so with the opposite sex.
I wasn’t unique; indeed I would suggest I was in the majority, going by my friends’ experiences but that hardly made it easier. I’m not sure I was shy exactly; I did talk to girls. I was just horribly self-aware that I wasn’t really very interesting to them. Useful, in that I could carry bags and find the right cases we needed for our lectures on Crime and Public law. But socially inept.
‘Do you fancy…’
My dating technique had netted me one girlfriend and two dates by the time I reached Bristol in September 1975. And I only managed that because (a) she loved cricket; (b) she snogged me on the way back from the Gillette Cup quarter-final in Leicester to stop the even more irritating tit on her other side on the back seat of the coach from testing the strength of her tonsils; and (c) she probably felt she owed me somehow – like I was complaining. She dumped me, if you could call it that, when she rode round to my house, didn’t get off her horse and told me she preferred Clive, even though he was bald following a car accident two years before. I’ve always been suspicious of people who say they like someone for their hair ever after.
My first year at Uni gave me some grounds for optimism; there was Amanda with whom I had several dates (I’m pretty sure she asked me on the first one) and who I knew wasn’t going to be the one after I laughed when a pigeon shat into her hair, at which point she told me how long it took to dry something that long – see, hair again, my nemesis. Or Jo and her nursing friend from London Sue who were fun and lively and were the first to tell me that they ‘liked me as a friend’ which was to become something of a killer line, whose meaning became rapidly apparent; ‘happy to have you around but, see this line…?’
I nodded and smiled and inwardly died a little.
The year rolled on; I loved Uni, but of love I found little. Even my best mate went out with Amanda in the last term. He felt guilty. Whatever, I thought, his friendship was more important. And anyway he had better hair than me.
So now it’s the second year, October 1976, and there are several possibilities. Including a rather fun and gorgeous first year who I met at the Freshers week when signing her up to the law club. I didn’t think I had much of a chance and anyway there were Jenny M and Hilary W in my year to think about first…
Of course the first year was the Textiliste; she was someone with whom I shared many jokes at department social events and in the library as 1976 gradually eroded in 1977. Gradually it dawned on me. We reached the end of February 1977 and a friend had booked Lautrecs, a nightclub where you could hire the dance floor for nothing and they recouped the cost on the bar. I had two tickets. All I needed was a date. How ever did I mumble a ‘would you like…?’, eyes squeezed shut, awaiting the inevitable rejection.
‘I’d love to…’
Were those the words? Were there rainbows shooting across the cerulean sky as angels played the guitar solo from Layla on their harps? In my small intestine for sure.
The party is a week away. She’ll get cold feet, a better offer. I need to fill in the gap. There she is, her forty-foot scarf wrapped round her neck to supplement the non-existent heating in the library as she stares myopically at yet another All England law report.
‘Hi. Erm, I wondered…
Her eyes are jewels, pools, ready to make a fool…
‘Do you know Mel Brooks…?’
You’re a goddess, a woman of refinement; Of course you’ll know one of the finest directors of cinematic comedy, creator of The Producers and Blazing Saddles…
‘No? Is he a second year?’
A metaphor for a relationship? Probably. And she’s always had fabulous hair. After forty years, I love that hair an all that’s attached to it. Thank you Bristol. I owe you…