Sixteen, going on seventeen

There’s a line at the end of the lyrics of the Ann Miller and Stephen Sondheim song, “I’m Still Here”, which goes – at least I was there. And that’s exactly how I felt at a party in Covent Garden for my good friend Simon, who turned sixty last week.

Age, they say, is just a number. I have absolutely no hang ups about getting older. I apply face cream with hopeful gusto and suck in my stomach whenever I look sideways in a mirror. In my opinion birthdays are for celebrating, especially ones with a big fat zero at the end of them. However, after a few glasses of Champagne on Sunday night there were moments of, not so quiet, reflection.

“What, if anything, do you wish you could say to your teenage self?” asked Simon.

It took a lot of effort on my part to try to remember what it was like to be a teenager. It seemed such a long time ago. I had a hazy recollection of strange haircuts, even more questionable fashion, and, perhaps more importantly, no internet gay porn. I guess we were more improvisational in those days. I tried to think of something profound to say.

“You know I remember you had great hair and a terrific sense of fashion,” said Simon. “We were all envious of you.” I wondered if he was confusing me with someone else more fabulous who was also called Jean-Paul.

“You know, Jean-Paul,” said Simon emptying another glass, which made me realise he wasn’t confusing me with anyone else more fabulous called Jean-Paul, “back then you behaved like nobody else I knew. Particularly that time you back flipped over the bar at The Hippodrome nightclub in Leicester Square.”

I do remember that night. It was New Year’s Eve. I was sixteen, pretending to be eighteen. I thought I was invincible. I was certainly flexible. I was dating a guy who called himself Bruno who was ten years older than me and was a quantity surveyor from Essex which, even then, seemed inexplicable. But he had a great car and bought me lots of alcohol. I could have broken a leg leaping from that bar, but Simon cushioned my fall. I guess that’s what true friends are for. I don’t think I was singing at the time.

“And now…” said Simon. The three dots of that sentence were audible with the melancholic air of someone who most definitely wasn’t teenage.

“Three cheers and damn it, c’est la vie!” I said.

Judging by our behaviour on Sunday I’m not sure Simon or I have learnt much since we were teenagers. But, hey, at least we were there.

Decisions, opinions, and other points of view

I have generally never found it difficult to make a decision. I’d point at cake in the bakery and say, “I want that one.” And it usually has sponge and a whipped cream centre oozing out of the middle of it. Sometimes, if by some complete miracle, I find something in the clothes store which fits me I’ll impulsively tell the assistant to bag up a blue one and a pink one and even the one with the black and white stripes. Okay, it makes me look wider and when I stare at myself in the mirror it makes my eyes go so funny that I have to blink a lot to re-focus. But, these are the days of snap decisions. Hell, the second hand car I’ve bought was because I liked the leather trim on the seats. What do I care if the air conditioning has a life of its own and there is an unexplained thud every time I indicate left? I’m getting used to it. It’s opinions which I’m finding the harder nut to crack.

“What’s your opinion on the current state of the UK government?” asked my friend Gary.

We were sitting in a London branch of Yo! Sushi at the time. Bowls of Japanese food were floating on a conveyor belt which slowly wound its way around the restaurant past the diners and then back into the kitchen and then back past the diners. It was incredibly hypnotic. It was like standing transfixed next to an airport carousel watching luggage going endlessly round and round, only you got to eat the suitcases.

“I don’t know,” I said, staring at a glazed prawn on a pillow of rice glide past my eye line. Trying to make a decision and being asked my opinion at the same time was always going to be a complete non-starter.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” said Gary. He had already removed 3 bowls of something spicy from the belt but because I was spoiled for choice I remained, staring, and starving.

“You must have an opinion, everyone has an opinion,” he said. He was holding a pair of chop sticks in mid air looking bemused.

“Well, I have an opinion on some things but not sure I have one about that.”

For example I have an opinion on the current fad for having circular baskets on living room walls, and I’d have been happy to give Gary my professional interior designer’s view on that. When I was younger my father always told me never to discuss politics, religion, or money with anyone. He said if I did it would lead to all sorts of problems. Which probably explained the fraught state of my parents marriage when I was growing up because my mother always wanted to talk to him about the perilous state of their joint bank account, whilst he refused and just sat blankly watching the football. This could explain why my mother once famously hit my father with a frying pan, so personally I think my father’s view about being silent on some topics was flawed.

”The UK has become a laughing stock. It’s like we’re living in some sort banana republic. We’re slowly becoming the new Italy.” Gary sucked his teeth and took a sip of saki. I sensed things were getting deep.

That’s the thing with opinions. Everyone has one and can’t wait to tell you it. And they are shocked if you don’t really have one, don’t agree with theirs or challenge their thinking. Suddenly there is something wrong with YOU. All round I’d say it’s easier just to agree with everything anyone says. It makes life a whole lot simpler and you can concentrate on the things that really matter to you. Like Japan’s take on dim sum.

“Actually I agree with you,” I said, “I was thinking exactly the same thing myself but just didn’t want to leap right in there and tell you what I thought. I really admire your candour,” I said. I swiftly picked four bowls of food one after the other. I was amazed how easy it was.

Later, Gary said how refreshing it had been to dine with someone who agreed with his views on almost everything he said, and then he utterly insisted on paying the bill. All I can tell you is that I’m guessing it was someone with a big opinion who argued that there was no such thing, as a free lunch.

Backwards and forwards

In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever type) ”Start wide, expand further, never look back.” I always was too wide, and, I’m trying very hard not to expand any further. However I’m not so sure he’s right about looking back, being a bad thing. It’s impossible not to glance over your shoulder when you know you’re missing the good times that went before.

I was contentedly spreading my sourdough toast with marmalade this morning when my phone went with a ping. Technology is a marvellous thing but I think Steve Jobs forgot to build in the sensitivity chip when he designed the iPhone. It had inexplicably created a memory for me, just like that, as if I didn’t own enough of my own – and this one made with no input from my own brain. Up popped a series of photographs taken of Guido from the last carefree holiday we had on Majorca, 3 years ago, just before all hell broke loose. Staring up at me. At the farmhouse door. Playing with Cabot the dog. On the beach with a frisbee. Raising his wine glass in motion, toasting me with that smile. All of them spun along to music. Just like in a feel good movie.

Yet, I don’t need to play it on loop. You see, it’s already there. Not on the iPhone, but forever in my head. Thousands of memories without the album of pictures to back them up. All of them unique to me and him and now helped along by his spectacles in a drawer, his old hairbrush in the bathroom cabinet, a random and masochistic spray from his bottle of cologne every morning. It’s like he’s just left the room, and not come back in yet. Hovering at the bedroom door and just out of sight. The unexpected fingerprints left behind by someone in my past, yet still so powerfully here. It’s the past that makes you the person who you really are. Looking backwards brings forwards to the here and now the memories you never want to leave behind.

So, once in a while I shall look over my shoulder and remember, because thinking of Guido often, helps me to keep him alive. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Being Boring

Readers (if I actually still have any left) will be pleased to know that I continue to keep abreast of the latest reports from the world of science. Hadron Collider Particle busting repairs? NASA’s plans for a manned trip to Mercury? Does an Oreo taste better dipped in frosted butter icing or crunchy peanut butter? Well no, apparently Essex University took the trouble to conduct five incredibly detailed experiments to determine which type of person amongst us is the most boring. Stick with me.

“There’s someone I think you should meet,” said Gary.

My friend Gary has begun to say this to me with alarming regularity because he is of the opinion I should get out more and get more of a life. I don’t know how many other single and available gay men Gary has up his sleeve but it’s not inconsiderable. I’m beginning to wonder where he finds them, and whether he actually knows any of them, and if they really do need to get out more than me. He tells me that, of all of the others, I’m at the top of his list. This is quite an accolade, and whilst I don’t mind being on a list, I’d just prefer it wasn’t that one.

”You don’t have to feel pressured into having sex with him. In fact there’s no reason why coffee and cake shouldn’t be on the table, and I’m not metaphorically speaking. I’m thinking… actual cake.”

All I heard was the word cake. I wondered if it would be a simple jam sponge and if cream on the side sent the wrong sort of message on a first date. I should also tell you that the problem with the single and available gay men Gary is acquainted with all have something horribly wrong with them. And I should know, I’m one of them. I’m packed full of faults which are utterly incomprehensible. I think I should phone Essex University and tell them to stop wasting their time on scientific trivia and start to focus on something far more complex. Like, me, a packet of Oreos, and multiple condiments with the jar tops screwed off. I reckon they’d need to hook me up to something electrical to check my brain waves and fluctuating calorie count whilst I randomly dipped.

“What have you got to lose?” asked Gary. I noticed one of his eyebrows was raised.

Only a man who is not single could say that to one who is, with an eyebrow askew.

”What does he do for a living and what are his hobbies?” I said quick as a flash.

I then explained to Gary that Essex University determined that people who worked in finance, accounting, data analytics (whatever that is), and cleaning, were the most boring. They also concluded that sleeping, watching television, observing animals or birds, and spending spare time on mathematical dilemas were deemed to be the most boring hobbies. But I don’t think Gary was really listening.

Let’s just say, until I hear otherwise, I can tell you that those with a obsessive interest in biscuit eating are fascinating to hang out with. And that’s a fact.

Table for one

I have to tell you it can be incredibly liberating dining out on your own. You don’t have to bother waiting for anyone else to turn up late or argue about which table is the most private or has the best view or who will pick up the bill at the end of the meal. All you have to worry about is yourself. Sometimes I’ll not even bother looking at the menu and simply throw caution to the wind by asking the waiter to bring me whatever is that day’s special. This is what I now call, Living Dangerously. Trust me, living dangerously used to have a whole different meaning for me in the past but rarely did it ever involve a herb omlette with house salad or a hot beef sandwich on rye. I use the term, dining out on your own, loosely because although I turn up and sit down at a table alone I can assure you I’m never lonely.

Take Monday this week for example at The Breakfast Club on Southwark Street. All I wanted was a quiet avocado and mojo picon on toasted sourdough. For an extra two pounds fifty they’ll even throw on some crispy bacon.

“In my humble opinion that dish would taste far better with some melted halloumi,” said Alice who was sitting opposite me at the time staring at my plate. It’s my experience that anyone who says, in my humble opinion, is never humble. I knew she was called Alice because she had a badge on her lapel which read – Hi I’m Alice – and underneath her name were the words – Here to Help. Only she wasn’t helping because I’ve never liked halloumi. Alice didn’t work at The Breakfast Club she’s employed as a room attendant at the Hilton up the road which I have to say says a lot about their breakfasts. Apparently her first husband ate a considerable amount of feta but it was not entirely clear from our long conversation about him whether their marriage ended because of his love of cheese.

On Tuesday I stopped off at Starbucks for a latte and a Danish and bonded at a window table with Arthur who told me in great detail all about his recent colonoscopy. On Wednesday at Pret a Manger I met two Japanese tourists who took turns pointing and laughing at me every time I stirred my porridge. The faster I whisked my spoon the more hysterical they became. This morning at Giovanni’s I thought I’d play it safe and sit outside on the pavement. For the entire duration of my visit the leash of a Dalmatian dog was looped around the back of my chair. There was no obvious explanation why this happened to my chair other than I suppose the owner thought I looked like I could do with the company. The Dalmation didn’t say much thankfully but I don’t think he approved of my scrambled egg.

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m going to stay home tomorrow. I could do with some peace and quiet.