So, there we were again. A Friday night with all of London at our fingertips yet we still ended up back in this joint. I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I seem to recall being resolute that I wouldn’t return, but, you know, I’m trying. I’m trying to fit in, I’m trying to be sociable. I’m trying to be normal rather than the short-tempered, foul-mouthed, caffeine-dependant grouch I occasionally get mistaken for.
Someone must actually like this place, I guess.
The evening was going okay. The music was still dire and the beer was still fizzy, overpriced and regretfully not from the West Midlands, but I was still enjoying myself. I was at all the right points. Most of the time.
Most of the group had shuffled off to dance which was, apparently, the whole point. I thought the point was to get the guy whose last day it was drunk, but no, it transpired that the point was to shake some booty.
The thing is I don’t dance.
Well, okay, I do dance under certain circumstances, such as actually enjoying the music. I strutted some sort of stuff enthusiastically to a soul band at a wedding a couple of years ago, but there was a reason Hannah had to say “Dave, I love your dancing,” behind a fit of giggles. It’s because when I dance I tend to do the shoulder sinking, hip twitching, hand flicking relatively sedate movements until I remember that I’m supposed to be dancing, then it’s like someone’s jabbed me with a particularly potent cattle prod for fifteen seconds before I become self-conscious again.
There are exceptions. On the evening of the soul band I think the cattle prod was completely drained dry.
So, I’m not a great dancer. I can live with that. At least I’m not deluded and there are people with whom I’m sufficiently comfortable to make that the much of a tit of myself around.
Fortunately I wasn’t the only one on Friday to feel like this, so a couple of us were sitting, drinking, talking and generally not having a problem with erratic tempos. Suddenly a girl who had disappeared about half an hour earlier with a glass of pinot grigo reappeared with two pint bottles of Bulmers cider and straddled my knee.
This was particularly shocking as – well, how to put this? – she wasn’t exactly petit.
She then proceeded to two-handed thump me in the chest before sliding her hands to my shoulders and forcing me to shrug off my jacket.
“Um...” I said, possibly over-confused, “what are you doing?”
“Come on,” she said.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Come ON!” She squawked and yanked me out of my seat and in the direction of the dance floor.
Perhaps, I wondered, this apparent mis-understanding had been my fault. I’d been sub-consciously wondering whether I ought to practise flirting, to get used to doing it, before I met someone I actually like, but, surely, I hadn’t been flirting with her. Had I?
I mean, does this sound flirtatious to you? Someone else had bought us both a drink in the other bar and I’d half-arsedly tapped the tip of my beer bottle against her proffered wine glass.
“No, no, no,” she said animatedly, “you’ve got to look someone in the eye when you chink glasses.”
I dutifully did as instructed.
“Otherwise it’s seven years of bad sex,” she’d smiled, “or so someone once told me.”
“Huh,” I’d snorted slightly grumpily, “better than seven years of no sex, mind.”
Or, what are the rules in this situation? You’re in some stupid place which doesn’t have proper tables or chairs and everyone’s forced to sit on what are essentially either oversized yet squidgy foot stools or overstuffed beanbags and I keep wondering what we’re doing there when the Lamb or the Princess Louise or the Ship or even that odd Polish place Ben and I ended up in one random night are so nearby.
Anyway, so we were sitting on these odd balls of foam and the person next to me gesticulates with her hands a lot (an awful lot) whilst talking and consequently keeps brushing my knee. Do I leave the knee where it is, because it was there first and besides I don’t really want to draw attention to the fact that she keeps almost caressing it? Probably not, but it quickly became too late to do anything about it, because that would just look indecisive.
And I supposed it could be interpreted as flirtatious (in a seedy, yet non-deliberate way) if, when walking between two by two to the next bar, she asked: “Is this going to some crazy-wild late night? Am I going to be able to get home okay?”
And I instantly thought how the levels of excess were extremely unlikely to reach the self-destructive real-ale fuelled semi-madness that would sometimes result in being found in random North London Irish pubs at three on a Wednesday morning that I was used to and so I replied: “Nah, this lot are pretty safe. It’s me you want to be wary of.”
What was I thinking?
“Oh,” she laughed, “so I’m not safe with you then?”
This was followed by a few hand-wringing, cringe-inducing sentences whereupon I tried to explain what I’d really meant and probably made it all a whole lot worse.
Still, I mused as my mind returned to the dance-floor hell and reminded my body to twitch a bit, it was several massive leaps of logic from there to this. For she was, but of course, gyrating her arse rather vigorously and uncomfortably close to my crotch in tune to Beyonce’s Crazy In Love.
As she forced my hands around her mid-rift, I wondered why, if this was supposedly a
trendy place, were they still playing that god-damned song?
Okay, that’s not entirely true. For a second there was a slight stirring, an automatic physical response accompanied by the voice in my head whispering ‘go on, you’ve never had a one night stand. Why not? What’s stopping you?’
But then she spun away, turned to face me and a quick glance at the glazed eyes and lolling tongue in her slightly ajar mouth quietened the voice down.
Fortunately someone else, someone far more comfortable in these kinds of situations, shimmied his way across and allowed me to escape to the toilet. On the way back to the table, I grabbed another beer from the bar and again, for second, wondered ‘should I?’
I sat down on the long wooden bench opposite someone who had missed the jacket shedding manoeuvre so I, rather tactlessly, told them all about it, liberally dropping the word “help” in.
“Do you not think you’re over-reading things? No-one’s that blatant, are they?”
With impeccable timing she appeared and slid up the bench approaching my right hand side, two fresh pint cider bottles both gripped in her right hand.
“If you want me,” she breathed, “I’ll be over there.” The ‘there’ in question was somewhere to my left which she pointed out by wrapping an arm around my shoulder and panting sticky sweet appleness against my earlobe.
So, she went over there and I ran away. Obviously. She went over there and I went to Charing Cross, even though there wasn’t a train for twenty minutes, because I didn’t trust myself.
In the end, I sat alone at quarter to one drinking a glass of neat dark rum, which I’d inexplicably acquired at some point, a part of me wondering if I did the right thing.
Rapidly approaching thirty and all the emotional sophistication of a thirteen year old.