Friday, 19 April 2013

Blushed Away

I've got to do better with names, and I've really got to be better around people. Especially if those people have names.

It's the first Monday of my final term at university- the beginning of the end- and I've just walked to a lecture and seen a helpful notice on the door telling me and my fellow classmates that the location of our lecture has been moved. I look inside and, sure enough, there is a completely different class in the room we usually occupy on a Monday, learning something incredibly tedious, I assume, because two of the people in there looked asleep. One looked as if he was checking his own pulse, just to make sure he was still alive. 

I set off to walk to our new location, and suddenly recognise a fellow lecture-goer. I assume he's going to the same lecture as me, because he looks familiar, even if I can't quite remember his name. Instinctively, I tell him the breaking news, and he believes me (why wouldn't he?). We start to head off together, and I smile at him, glad I have a travelling companion now, and he grimaces, probably wondering why I'm smiling so creepily at him. If only he knew of the journey ahead. This young fellow shall be Samwise Gamgee to my Frodo Baggins, and we shall find this new location of learning together! But before we have walked 10 paces, another student walks past us. I definitely recognise him, and so does my Sam. He's another classmate! I could start my own fellowship at the rate I'm picking up students! I tell my Sam the good news.
"I think I recognise that guy, he's in our class, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he definitely is" he says.
"Yeah. Daniel, I think his name is?" 
My Sam stops suddenly, and looks at me. "I don't think his name is Daniel." 
I stop myself suddenly.

I don't think his name is Daniel either. 

I think Sam's name is Daniel. 

The same Daniel I've been studying History, in a class of less than 10, with for nearly 12 weeks now. The same Daniel who's taken time to remember my name, because he's definitely said it before to me. The same Daniel who is now faced with a journey and a lecture alongside me, a man who can't remember his name properly. But I've got a bigger problem now; I need to grab not-Daniel's attention before he walks all the way to the wrong room, eventually sees us in the right room, and thinks "why didn't those pricks just tell me when we passed on the stairs?!"

After about 5 or 6 hours worth of silence and thinking what to say to not-Daniel, the real Daniel eventually tells him, and the three of us make our way. I stay deadly silent, and let them talk about their weekend- at this point, any hint of my mouth opening could lead to more awkward moments, which I'm quite keen to avoid, having accumulated so many in such a short time at University.

Difficult situations are never too far away from me, and they always seems so easy to come by. All it takes is one seemingly helpful and random act of kindness and one unsuspecting attractive housemate, and you go from being a brilliant roomie who's making sure your housemate's clothes are dry and folded next to her door, to a pervert who's touching every bit of underwear she owns while she's out at a lecture and feeling it between your fingers for no apparent reason, other than you're sick and depraved. With hindsight, I should have bought my own drying rack when I moved in. Or just left her clothes alone, and definitely not checked them for dryness. I don't think even I would have believed myself if I heard it. Still, it could have been worse, she could have still been wearing it.

But my guilt for my housemate who put up with my awkwardness (and there is guilt, trust me- nobody should have to go through that much silence for a year) pales into insignificance compared to that towards a girl I only know by association with a mutual friend from night out, who in turn was a mutual friend as she was dating my housemate. This mutual mutual friend of mine worked at the same place I did at the time. With the thinnest foundations known to man, I challenged with myself not only to converse with this woman, but also entertain her for the bus ride home, and keep a tally of how entertained she is by my conversational wit and charm. Smiles and nods of agreement count as a point. Laughter counts as two. Spontaneous lovemaking (a popular term with students, I'm sure) counts as 50. Glances at a phone count as minus a point. Long silences are minus three. Contemplation of suicide by either participant is minus ten. The bus eventually arrived at her stop, and I, ignoring both the fact that we're quite far off my actual stop, and I was scoring at about -17, decided to jump off as well. We carried on chatting for a little bit, and eventually it is time for us to part ways at a crossroads. She has to go right because she doesn't really want me knowing which exact house on the street she lives on, and I have to go left because I'm in real danger of getting lost now, still miles away from my own house. She moves to shake my hand, and I go for a hug, just like nobody has ever done in the history of talking to somebody when they're sober. She's trapped. It is just me hugging her, for an excruciatingly long time. Through the voices in my head bellowing "LET GO! LET GO OF HER FOR GOD'S SAKE! LET GO OF HER NOW!", I genuinely heard her utter the words "Okay, so this is happening". I let go, and say nothing. Neither of us say anything. We don't say anything until we met again by luck (good or bad) a year later. 

I should've learned how to be a BNOC (pronounced "bee-knock", it means a Big Name On Campus. The tragic thing is I haven't even made that up, it's an actual thing people say here), like my housemates are now, in first year. Everywhere they go, they know somebody. Someone in the gym, in the library, in the shops, at the bar, on their way to the toilets, on the way back, next to them in the urinals, and they talk so well. They must store up things to say like solar energy, only using topics sparingly when they need to. I'm convinced they've got a checklist of every subject, every social group, every sports society, and honestly work their way through knowing at least one person from every demographic imaginable. Whereas when I recognise someone walking in the opposite direction FAR too early, and I have to avert my eyes until an appropriate time, when I can look up and say "Alr-ight?" in a spluttering, squeaky voice completely removed from my own, and forcing me to walk past them at such a rate of knots I nip the chance of any further conversation right in the bud. 

Maybe even that one word, which has served me so well for most of my university life, is too much. Maybe it's best I just stay silent, even when spoken to. Maybe my social life expectancy was 19, and I'm just operating on borrowed time from now until my merciful doom, limping from one weak joke to another, strung together by a pitiful anecdote about being caught feeling half-wet bra in my hands by an attractive housemate.

Or have you heard that one already?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

One and a Half Men

I may have been looking into it a little too much, but yesterday, I was holding a spatula, and foresaw the decline of my entire manhood.

To stop being a man at 21 is NOT what I signed up for when I turned 18. I'm a soon-to-be graduate already with a full time job! I am a learned individual, skilled in debating, woodcraft and metalwork. I was the one who got up a ladder and changed a light bulb in the bathroom when apathy gripped my two housemates with whom I share that facility (probably too tired from going to the gym because they're so manly, it's understandable). The two same housemates who thought I was going to be a house-husband! Fool, I am no such thing- I am a man, a bloody good man, and an excellent housemate! The ideal, no, the PERFECT living partner for my girlfriend. She is a woman, and I am a man. We make an excellent couple, good enough to please the man in the sky, who in return will gift us with sunlight to revive us, crops to harvest and apes to evolve from.

Well, we would be, except one of us not quite living up to our name. There's no doubt in my mind that my girlfriend is a woman. She must be, I've seen her read magazines, tweet about her feelings and swindle a man into buying her a drink before walking off and giving me the other one. But am I really a man? Would Sean Connery give up his days of espionage, or Liam Neeson abandon his daughter to be in my shoes now? Where even are my shoes right now?

My shoes, with my feet planted inside them, are in HomeSense, in Gloucester. We're looking for things to put in a house we have just visited. Not bought, not even made an offer for, but visited. We looked at a house, and now we've got to look at things to not put in it. Instantly. My girlfriend is looking studiously at cafetieres. "We might as well get one, we both drink coffee". Yes but we don't live in a bloody house yet! Why would be buy something for a place that doesn't even exist!

Initially I was holding out well. I managed to articulate clearly that we didn't need a bicycle made of bamboo, because there simply is no room for it. "But you love cycling!"- Yes, I like drinking coffee as well, and look how that ended up! I'm on my own here, setting a very stroppy sail and riding against the winds of change. I refuse to accept we need a pestle and mortar- I have enough brawn to turn a frozen leg of whichever beast I have slain into the finest of mincemeat (you know, being a man and all that), and a juicer?! When are we going to use that? After it's left the bloody carton, or before it's reached my bloody glass- Whoops, bumped into somebody. I look down at the ground and murmur something resembling the word "sorry". I bet men never have problems speaking to other men, just little weeds like me. But this man reciprocates the apology! "Sorry mate, I was miles away there." Then another noise manages to escape my mouth- words! "Yeah, I wish I was miles away from here as well!" We both laugh. More than that, we bond. We are both men, here against our will! We should should fight this oppression! We should form the Judean Peoples Front (or was it Peoples Front of Judea?) and shake off these shackles of home stores! 

I'm very keen to impress upon you that my life wasn't always like this, I used to be free as a bird, in quite a literal sense- last winter I migrated to Tenerife on the back of an invitation two very attractive girls offered me the night before they were due to jet off. Not giving it a second thought, I was stuffing swimming shorts and as much aftershave as customs would allow into a bag and waving goodbye to my nonplussed housemates. Imagine that! I used to be able to drink a pint- a WHOLE pint- in one go, and now I can't even bend over to pick something up and bring myself back up without going sighing. What has happened to me?! I want to be young, be free! I want to walk into a meeting room in my pyjamas and use last night's lukewarm Fosters as a mouthwash! I want to have Coco Pops for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 days!-

"What do you think about this?" (She is holding a plastic spatula)
"... No".
"What?" (I have shocked her with my backchat)
"What?!" (I have shocked myself. I NEVER question what's going to go into my house!)
"Why not? I think looks quite cool"
"No, we've got to get a metallic one, otherwise it won't scrape things of the frying pan properly. (I have made an excellent point! She nods in agreement- but somehow, I've lost the keys to my lips, and they burble on) Mum and Dad have a plastic one and it's rubbish- and that reminds me, we HAVE to get a decent knife sharpener, I'm sick of trying to cut an onion with their knives. (Okay, it's not too late to save this) All of them are rubbish- we should get them a set for their anniversary or for Christmas- at least they might actually use that- you know I bought a carafe for them and I don't think they've used it once? (Nope, moment's gone) We probably won't need one, unless my little sister comes over and we're forced to decant a bottle of fucking Lambrini for her. What we DO need is a new wok, how about this one? Big enough so that when we have guests over, we can make something big, but also easy to put away (stop it, James), and also probably a new frying pan, the one I've got at Uni is pretty knackered so I'm just going to leave it there, (seriously James, stop), also, I'm leaving my chair there for the next guy, there's no point cluttering up the place with disjointed furniture- you know I went to school with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's kids? Maybe we could get him to do our bedroom for us?!" 
"Do you know him well?"
"Well, once he stopped me buying a keg of ale at an auction because he didn't think I was 18. But his kids are really nice"

The penny drops. I realise I have said way too much. I've surrendered any supremacy I had in this relationship. I can't even be trusted to decide what spatula to put in a kitchen, I'd only fuck it up and ring a TV personality I met once for advice. How? I started that conversation so well! Yet I have finished it by telling somebody who used to respect me, and plans to spend the rest of her life with me, that she is now condemned to share her feelings and bodily fluids with a man who isn't as manly as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen?! A man whose own Wikipedia page describes him as "noted for his flamboyant personality and dandyish appearance." (This isn't a slight on LL-B, I'm sure he is a manly man in his own right, but in Changing Rooms wasn't there always another guy putting up the shelves while he just chatted to Carol Smillie?)

The bells have finally tolled on my manliness. What little brawn I had when I went into HomeSense has now bitten into it's cyanide capsule and thrown itself off the Severn Bridge. When we have friends over for dinner, it will be my girlfriend welcoming them in, drinking a beer and laughing about how funny it was watching me trying to lift a chair through the door while I stay in the kitchen making sure the sun-dried tomatoes and Kettle Crisps are arranged nicely so people can have something to nibble on, and crisps and tomatoes are all I can be trusted with, because I'd only burn the dinner like I did the beans in a now infamous dinner I made for her. 

I guess I'm just not cut out to be a man. Ever since I received a cricket tour shirt with "Captain Camp" on it, right up until I agreed to watch "Les Miserables" with the girlfriend in the cinema and not get a treat, I knew this moment was coming, and it took a spatula to drive in the final nail in my coffin.

But oh, sorry, listen to me talking! Where are my manners!

More hummus, anyone?