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the sea view cafe - smallMy latest, possibly my last novel, is finished and up on Wattpad now for free. It’ll shortly go up on Smashwords from whom I’ll blag the free ISBN, then put it up on Free Ebooks who seem to be doing a good job of shifting downloads at the moment. And there we are. Finished! About two and a half years – the Sea View Cafe years. The small blue car years, the Scarborough years.

It’s a cliche I know but as ever I’m genuinely grateful to anyone who’s read me or commented on my stuff. Even had it been conventionally published, the Sea View would have made relatively nothing, financially, yet already it’s rewarded me tenfold with those readers who’ve picked it up on Wattpad and commented as I’ve posted chapters piecemeal.

It’s a novel written against shifting times, a story swept up in another iteration of the myth of Britannia’s idiocy and decline and, by association the  decline of the west. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s been an all pervasive narrative for as long as I can remember, and probably for centuries. Yet more than any other, the Sea View Cafe is a story that found itself distorted almost daily in the writing by yet one more headline in  rejection of the progressive ideals of strength in the collective of nations and a fall into a petty nationalism, into racism and bigotry.

Yes, these have been the pre-Brexit years. Years when we have wrapped ourselves snug in the native flag, covering all but our faces which are by turns ugly, pompous and hate filled – ejecting spittle with every sentence uttered. Our collective soul stunted by the recurrence of all manner of shadow complexes.

Some of the most brilliant minds working in Britain are of non-white, non Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-Anglo Saxon origin. We are a multi-cultural society, product of our history – not all of it good – but I’d dared to hope we were on the cusp of a rapprochement with our chequered past. Such diversity might have informed our spiritual nature, our secular philosophy – things to be celebrated, built upon, for there can be no surer path to greatness, than by the hybridisation of faith and ideas. And what did we do? We chose the path of the tabloid, of the angry old white crustacean.

Or was it more a case of two fingers to a plutocratic establishment that had done nothing to solve the problems of a lost decade, and looked willing to sacrifice a whole generation of non-privileged youth upon a bonfire of perpetual austerity?

The reasons are complex, but tending in the same direction and manifesting in abject poverty for millions.

And what of women? That much maligned species, scorned, dismissed, defiled by the repugnant male ego. This is strange to me, for I have only the experience of women in my own circle to go on, and they are of strong character, organising, nurturing, building, and gifting love.

So, in the Sea View, we meet strong female leads, not out of any gender political motives – I wouldn’t dare go there – but more simply because that is my experience of women. They are my my aunts, my sisters, my mothers, my grandmothers. Helena Aynslea, Hermione Watts, Carina and Nina and Anica. These are tough women, while remaining entirely feminine, and I hope I’ve done them justice. They carry the Sea View, as they have carried my entire life.

And so what if two of them take a fancy to the same guy, and each other? Let them both have him, and themselves  – all at the same time and be damned – because I hope this is more than a romance, more than a trite polyamory fantasy on my part.

Thus we move beyond the conventional narrative, explode the hell out of the world in order to find ourselves anew. We have to hard-wire it into the collective that it’s okay to be different. Gay, coloured, bisexual, Muslim, Christian, Jew. Female. Intellectual. Shy. Red-haired. In short, diverse. And what we have to code out is the idea we can in any way advance ourselves at the cost of others, that anything which increases ourselves at the cost of diminishing someone else is not only wrong, it is also, ultimately, self-destructive. The young seem to get this and it’s in them I dare to hope.

These are strange times. They haunt me, as they haunt the Sea View. Either they are the end of times, or they’re the rallying call to radicals and progressives everywhere to seriously challenge the archaic and archetypal evils that seem to have snuck in under the radar.

The answer? It’s with all of us.

Awaken.

Oh, I almost forgot, do read the Sea View Cafe if you can bear it! Unedited, unprofessional, and riddled with sneaky typos. It won’t change your life, but it might cheer you up in the mean time! I know I’ve had a lot of pleasure from writing it.

 

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The process of forgetting is sometimes more a matter of adaptation to circumstances than mental decay. There are things I have taken great pleasure in, but which I no longer indulge, and have largely forgotten. Adaptation is the only reason I can come up with for such self denial. Anything else makes no sense at all, and mostly what I tell myself I’m adapting to is lack of time.

Listening to this opening piece (Bach’s Lute Prelude, BWV 1006) by the guitarist John Williams, I’m reminded how much the guitar once meant to me – the colours, the tones, the varied and emotive pacing. The expression here literally catches my breath and brings tears to my eyes, but then the classical guitar was once my greatest love. I was a student of the guitar for many years, but the time to practice became progressively beyond my means as life and work matured into the routine of decades. It is a pleasure I have largely forgotten now.

I never aspired to mastery of this particular piece, though I once made a good fist of Bach’s technically easier Lute Prelude, BWV 999, after hearing it played by Narcisso Yepes on his stupendous ten stringed guitar. I no longer have that recording. I wore the original vinyl out and have searched everywhere for it to no avail. But here it is in the hands of  another master, Julian Bream (a quaintly staged recording from 1962):

It took me a year of practice to grasp even the fundamentals of this piece. There were moments when I fancied I sounded not unlike Bream, or Yepes, but mostly I would fumble my way like any third rank amateur. I only played it fluently the whole way through, once. It was a defining moment, a moment of great satisfaction. I would have been around forty years old. It was about then the process of forgetting set in.

I began my studentship at the age of six with a cheap junior guitar of dubious manufacture, and from then to the age of fourteen learned only how to make a noise with it. The guitar is a difficult instrument and not everyone has the fingers for it, but I loved it for its difficulty, that an instrument of such size and apparent simplicity in construction could enable such beauty in tone and expression. To listen to a piece of classical guitar, is to experience not just the one voice, as with a solo violin, it is to experience an entire ensemble. My love of music is owed to the classical guitar. Here, it says – this is what music can do to you, now go and see what else you can find.

At the age of fourteen, I received my second instrument, a lovely Japanese Moridaria, purchased cheaply from the girl next door, who had given up on it. With this guitar I began to find more harmony around chord improvisation, also some beginners tunes with the help of books. My fingering was nimble enough and quick, but I lacked a good teacher to take me where I wanted to go.

I had been advised by now, however, music was not my forte, at least according to my school music teacher – a miserable, shouty grouch of a man. Intellectually then, music remained an inaccessible mistress, locked away under his tutelage – indeed it was no more than a source of weekly terror. Privately though, and perhaps bloody mindedly, I persevered with the guitar because it was romantic, and I had in mind it would be a sure way to impress a certain girl, should I ever get close enough to her, and have my guitar handy. Oh, the optimism of youth!

I would take lessons, of course, one day, but for now other studies were pressing, squeezing out the time I needed for such an indulgence. As soon as my O Levels were out of the way, as soon as I had done my HNC, my HND, as soon as the nerve shredding years of the Engineering Council Examinations were over – then,… yes, then I would take time to devote to the study of something I loved, rather than something I merely needed.

But by this time I was twenty five, and that’s too late to be doing anything serious with the guitar. I made a start anyway, took myself and my old Moridaria to an evening class, and there met LW, a teacher who was a classical guitarist of mesmerising skill and exquisite tone. She was also of a much sweeter disposition and considerably better looking than my old school music teacher. I signed up with her for private lessons, and discovered music was my forte after all. I had the ear she said, and the rest was just practice. So, I bought another guitar, a serious instrument for a beginner – a Cuenca, from the region of Castilla-La-Mancha in central Spain. It has a beautiful, rich tone,… and between it and my teacher, at last I became a proper student of music!

Thanks to her I could read by now and, with persistence, could work through the beginner’s repertoires of Sor , Giuliani, Dowland, and the collected Estudios of Segovia. I once heard Segovia’s Estudio number 5 – actually Sor Op 35 No 22 – played in the precinct of my local town, a hairy guy in a trench-coat, playing with the power of a God and the expression of an angel. Of all the buskers that day, he was the only one turning heads, and this a northern working class market town, on its late 80’s  uppers.

I paused to listen, felt different for the experience, felt inspired. My teacher added that piece to my repertoire, bless her, and it remains among my favourites. But the lessons petered out. My teacher and I were by now engaged to be married,… to other people. Her teaching was replaced by babies, my studentship by the slow erosion of the mundane. I have not seen her in a quarter of a century, but have only to close my eyes to hear her play.

I persevered in private, trying to maintain fluency in those pieces I knew, but without time, without practice, first the fluency, then the shape memory falls apart. Few pieces remain now. I still have the guitar, still treasure it as a symbol, a talisman, but it gathers dust. It’s years since I had the courage to pick it up and relive those days.

I would never have been able to play like Williams, or Bream, or Yepes, or my own teacher – was never even competent to play for an audience of family or friends, nor yet still that particular young lady, had I ever been granted the opportunity – the music would go, robbed by self consciousness.

I close with Julian Bream and another transcription from Bach:

Listening to Bream, I think my favourite among all the greats, I am reminded the masters are there, not to be copied, or lived up to in the competitive sense. They possess something most of us do not, a divine gift to which few can ever aspire. But what they do is grant the rest of us the inspiration, that such beauty is still within the scope of human expression, that so long as some of us at least are capable of attaining such sublime heights as these, there is sufficient hope and meaning in life that, even amid its darkest of days, makes it worth the carrying on.

One day I shall dust off the guitar, and see what I remember of it.

One day, when I find the time.

Meanwhile my thanks to John Williams, to Julian Bream, to Narcisso Yepes, for their their mastery, and their continuing inspiration, and to LW for her life changing tutelage, brief though it was.

I can only hope her guitar is not as dusty as mine.

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loveliness

 

How sudden-keen am I aware,
And never as before,
Of a radiance arising,
To shine from every pore.

Your breath alone, I’d long to feel
Its tingle on my skin,
While visions of your tenderness,
Turn butterflies within.

You are the very best I’m sure,
A man could aspire to.
No, there’s never been another,
Quite as beautiful as you.

They all shall fade to shadows now,
Insignificant and plain.
How perfect would my life then be,
If you only knew my name.

How joyful and how rich at last,
My days would then become.
If you would only turn and look at me,
I’d feel I had begun.

I’d sense a movement in the air,
That all was not the same,
That the world was not so empty,
As it was before you came.

Was it not the world that gifted me,
This simple heart to crave?
Why then must I feel its pity,
Carved in verse upon my grave?

I want the world to know me,
As I think I have been made,
As a man whose love for loveliness,
Cannot bide long in the shade.

So look at me and speak my name,
And know that I am yours,
Or shall you pass me by again,
And let slam shut the door?

And slamming shut, loud let it ring,
Then how long shall it be,
Before I can accept at last,
You were not meant for me?

MG

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mazda2I’m still in the process of relearning how to drive. Twenty years of cruising about in automatics has left me unable to judge the best gear to be in when entering bends and also what a car feels like, literally through the seat of my pants. I’m enjoying the ride though and my teacher, this old but rather lovely MX5 is very patient with me, treating me to a rediscovery of the thrill of movement while forgiving me as I fluff and bluff my way up and down the gear box. I’m told her patience will be more sorely tested in the wet, so I’m avoiding that for now.

This evening I’m touring the lanes between Rufford, Parbold and Wrightington, an area threaded through with a network of little byways that have been the backdrop to various love affairs over the years, both real and imaginary. The weather is fine, clear blue skies deepening to tobacco at the western horizon, an horizon that comes right down to the plane and is interrupted only by low hedgerows. This is a big sky kind of place. The car is proving to be something of a time machine tonight because suddenly I’m nineteen again and I’m listening to Rumours on the player, and one song in particular is proving especially emotive:

Listen to the wind blow
Watch the sun rise,…

rufford old hall

Rufford Old Hall

We’re just coming up to Rufford Old Hall on the A59 – home to the Heskeths for 500 years. They say Shakespeare debuted here in the days before patronage caught up with him. They still do his plays in the open air, on summer evenings – Midsummer Night’s Dream at Midsummer is quite special. The hall is a good day out on Sundays, somewhere to take one’s new love. You’re paying National Trust prices of course, but if there’s just the two of you it’s not so bad. In the later years it’ll be family tickets and sharp intakes of breath. But watch your speed here Michael, this is a thirty zone, remember? Down to fourth, revs settle around 2K, slight grumble from an engine that’s not quite warm yet but yearning for more throttle – mega-jolt from a pothole that rattles down the chassis.

Run in the shadows,…

Since the BBC took the bass “outro” of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and flogged it to death as the “intro” to their Formula One racing coverage, I’ve tended to skip this song out of sheer weariness, so the rest of the piece, and the lyrics in particular have atrophied to zilch. But listening to them this evening they’re winkling out startling memories as the sun sinks to ochre over the plane, and this little car shows me how to feel the road once more through both feet. In a sense it’s putting me back in touch with reality, and the song is reminding me how I once used to feel. Quick snatch down to third now, and a sharp left onto the B5246, dropping in a little corkscrew motion like we’re on smooth rails.

Damn your love,
Damn your lies,…

The song was written in 1976 at a time when the band was undergoing various upsets, marriage breakdowns and relationship break-ups. I caught up with them in 1979, around the time of the “Tusk” album, a period of romantic ups and downs for me too. The song reminds me that, in some respects, I have always been a teenager, feeling too deep, reaching too far and expecting too much, from women in particular. No disrespect girls, but it took me while to work out you were just human beings and not actually goddesses – well, except for Stevie Nicks of course who was and still is pure goddess.

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain,…

At nineteen I was a third year engineering apprentice, studying for an HND at Wigan Technical college. In those days the day-job was just starting up, while inbetween my commutes, like most kids I was having my fingers burned and my heart fried in the furnace of fledgeling love. By contrast this evening I’m eyeing the endgame so far as the day-job is concerned, and having been happily married now for 25 years, it’s also a long time since I got my heart fried. Sometimes I forget this, but tonight it becomes a shade more real.

I can feel it.

And it’s interesting.

Listen to the wind blow,
Down comes the night,
Run in the shadows,…

Stevie Nicks 1977

Stevie Nicks in 1977 – Photo Wikipedia

This is not to say I don’t sometimes miss the intensity of feeling that first love brings, but it also leaves you a little numb, so you hold yourself in reserve as you age, shutting down those parts of yourself that are prone to most hurt. This is the trick of the adult – that emotional intensity would probably be too much for me now. But those early searing shocks are a natural proving ground, standing you in good stead later on, rendering you all the more able to cope with different kinds of loss – the death of friends and loved ones – and the sheer crazy mess of life.

I’d ride out this way with girls in the long ago, just for a drive and a talk and a place to be alone. I remember the scent of one girl very well and, before I became almost totally anosmic in later years, that same scent, like these lyrics, could release a long chain of memory. She’ll be fifty three now, but I’ve not seen her since ’79, so she’ll always be nineteen to me. There’s a tree, down a narrow lane off the 5246. We’d park under it and embrace while the sun set fire over the cornfields. Few travel that road, and even now you can usually guarantee the sense of being the last people in the world, at least for fifteen minutes or so. This was hardly dogging, those stolen moments. They were innocent times, times when it was sufficient for a man to thrill to the texture of a girl’s hair against his face, and the feel of her breath in his ear. Now anything goes, and nothing is too much or too depraved, or too precious to besmirch with haste.

In all my girls in those days I think I was searching for the muse I projected onto Stevie Nicks – me and a million other guys of course. Nothing worked out as planned. It was a tough learning process.

Damn your love
Damn your lies,…

The 5246, known also intermittently as Meadow Lane and Rufford Road is a lovely long run, twisty turney, lots of downshifts and then fast out of the bends, a lovely snarl from the engine out of second gear and a punchy acceleration that lights me up. It runs for a couple of miles, then brings you out onto the A5209 at Parbold. I spent the first five years of my married life here, up to ’93. Lovely village, Parbold, but stank to high heaven back then, courtesy of the Hoscar Sewerage works. I can’t smell it tonight, but that’s not saying anything.

windmill pub

The Windmill pub, Parbold

Long pull from here, up Parbold Hill, a brute of an incline, especially on a cold morning with a cold car that could barely manage 60 brake horse, but the Mazda’s nicely warmed now and even with her nose pointing at the sky the slightest nudge on the throttle yields a thrilling eagerness that’s thwarted only by the strategically placed GATSO cam.

Break the silence,
Damn the dark,
Damn the light,…

The pub at the top of Parbold Hill used to be called the Wiggin Tree, a popular watering hole, and a frequent haunt when courting. During our Parbold years, my wife and I would alternate between it and the Windmill on Friday nights. I blagged it for a scene or two in the Road from Langholm Avenue. It’s a Miller and Carter steakhouse now, a national franchise. Times have changed. Drinkers in pubs are simply in the way. The money is in food. I’ve not been in since it changed hands.

That reference to Langholm Avenue has me thinking of unrequited loves now. We’ve all had our share of those, but it’s a curse bourne in greater part by the reticent.

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain,…

parbold hall

Parbold Hall

Which brings us nicely down to the ominously named Dangerous Corner at Wrightington, noting as we pass that Parbold Hall gardens are open, and I’m thinking I must make the effort one day, as those gardens are well spoken of. The house, originally dating to the 13th century but extensively remodelled in the last four hundred years, recently changed hands for 9.5 million. Nice twist here as we take the corner, very tactile steering, feeling every stone as we pick up Robin Hood Lane, then sharp left and out across High Moor, into the setting sun. There’s a faint clipping from the nearside rear disk, but it’s drowned out by an exuberant snarl as we punch along the straight.

Chain, keep us together
Running in the shadows,…

Sharp  right, past the Rigbye Arms, my current watering hole of choice, then a few nice twists and turns before the road falls away on Bannister Lane, the plane opening suddenly again and giving a brief impression of flight. I’m  keeping the speed to forty here, though the temptation is to floor it. I’m half conscious the pads are wearing thin and need a change, but I’m also wanting to resist the intimidation of this huge BMW I picked up at the Highmoor restaurant. He’s weaving about, sitting on my bumper, eager to prove his willy is bigger than mine – proof enough, if proof were needed, that we are descended from primates. There’s nowhere really for him to pass safely here but,… oh, there he goes – shower of chippings and a faint grey haze. Fast, ambitious, and obscenely monied. That car was easily worth fifty grand – more than I paid for that house in Parbold twenty five years ago, and which I’ve only just finished paying off. My car’s worth a mere two and a half thousand, but a whole lot more fun. He’s careless too as it doesn’t look like he’s bothering with the thirty zone at the bottom of the hill where you run into Bispham, just flashing through, and flashing on in his flashy self important way.

rigbye arms

The Rigbye Arms, High Moor

Down to third now and a sudden sweet reverberation from the exhaust, then slow past the Farmer’s Arms – easy to miss the right turn here onto Maltkin Lane and the final leg of tonight’s run. Here it is. Stay in third or drop to second? Hmm, too late – fluffed that one Michael. Never mind. That tug as we make the turn more than makes up for it. This is motoring in all its glory.

This is not nostalgia, this drive down the memory back-lanes of West Lancashire, in search of Stevie Nicks. This is more a searching of the past for pieces of soul we might have left stranded there. It’s good to gather them up now and then and feel oneself becoming whole again. You know it’s working when you feel yourself suddenly  energised by a thing you’ve all but forgotten. The trick is to bore deep down and be patient until you feel the energy of reconnection coursing through your veins. What does that feel like? Well, it feels something like this:

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southport pierIt was a beautiful hot day, early in the season, and I’d been tempted out to the coast, to Southport, for a walk along the promenade, then to the end of the pier, for coffee and doughnuts. Being rather challenged in the follicle department these days, I’d not wanted to catch the sun too much on the top of my head, so I’d called in to the Matalan store, just off the promenade, for a hat, choosing for myself an inexpensive, one-size-fits-all thing, made of straw.

Thus, protected from the sun, I re-joined the crowds making their way along the pier. It was a wonderful afternoon and my spirits soared. After feeling like I’d been cooped up in the house all winter, the sea air was incredibly invigorating. About half way along the pier we picked up a teasing breeze, and one of the mischievous little sprites of air lifted my new hat from head and snatched it out of reach of my startled grasp. Well, that’s that, I thought – I’d had the hat all of ten minutes, and there is was: gone! I turned then, just in time to see a quick witted lady, whom I took to be of Malaysian descent, catching hold of it with a dainty little hop and a laugh. Her companions, an English couple in their seventies, found the incident amusing and for a moment we all shared in the silliness of it. She had the most wonderful smile, this woman, and such playful eyes, and a charming demeanour. Graciously, she returned my hat and, a little embarrassed, I thanked her, then went on my way.

It was that same evening, at home, I got an email from a friend. I replied with some news about my day. I don’t know why I brought up the subject of nearly losing my hat – perhaps I was stuck for something to say – but anyway I described the incident to him pretty much as I’ve described it to you. Then, the very next day, he came back to me with another email. He said his sister, who lives in Southport, has a neighbour, a lady originally from the far east. She’d had some elderly English friends visiting recently, possibly the companions I’d described, and wouldn’t it be amazing if it was the same woman who’d caught my hat? Enthused by the possibility, he resolved to ask his sister to enquire at the next opportunity. And I, equally enthused, eagerly awaited news. The odds were pretty much against it, but stranger things have happened, plus I had this funny feeling,…

And you know what?

My friend’s sister’s neighbour said it definitely wasn’t her! But if it had been,… well, that would have been a really good story!

Of course, it would not have taken much for me to end my tale differently for you here, thus transforming rather a pointless, factual, anecdote into a more beguiling lie. Believe me, the temptation was strong, because I had wanted it to be true. I had wanted the neighbour of my friend’s sister to be the one who had caught my hat, because it would have created a highly improbable and possibly meaningful connection between strangers who were mutually, though rather vaguely connected already, yet entirely unknown to one another. That we are all more intimately connected than we suppose is, I believe, the way of the universe, and I’m hungry for stories that support this hypothesis, to the extent that I am often tempted to bend the facts in order to yield a more polished myth. This is, after all, what story-tellers do.

Sure, we’re all fond of amazing coincidences. It would have been like the universe singling me out on that sunny day, amid vast crowds, and raising me to the ranks of existential celebrity. It would have meant I was not just some insignificant twerp in a poorly fitting hat. But alas, in the absence of any miracle, as my good lady was kind enough to point out at the time, that’s exactly what I had been. That I’d been unable to hold onto my hat, and a stranger had caught it, was really neither here nor there, and barely worth the mention.

Except,…

This fragment of an opening has the feel of a romance about it, and I’m fond of writing those, so I shall step aside from myself for a moment and put a fictional protagonist in my shoes. He’s single, perhaps divorced, or maybe he just never got around to it in the first place. He’s thinking life’s passed him by, that the time for love has gone.

Then the wind snatches off his hat, just like that!

And the rest, as they say,…

Well, you couldn’t make it up, could you?

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885My thanks to fellow blogger Bottledworder for this idea – I beg her forgiveness for borrowing it. We bloggers can sometimes have very high ideals about what it is we’re writing for, that we’re slaves to our art – or something – but when we look at our blog stats, at what’s the most popular material we’ve written, we can sometimes be brought down to earth with a bump. In my own case, while this blog at times gets lost with its head in the clouds, readers are more interested in my thoughts on how to get rid of verrucas with tea-tree oil and exterminating headlice with vinegar.

While I may be a little careless when it comes to predicting popular blogging topics, I am of course grateful for the occasional, if inadvertent, bullseye, or my hundred hits a day would be more like ten. But being a staid old married man, I’m perhaps forgetting one other thing that really piques the interest of the reader – the judicious tagging of which might just boost my stats even more – namely Romance, and Dating!

So in the interest of shameless self promotion, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek, here goes.

We’ll have to imagine for a moment I am a single man, that the good Lady Graeme has decided to abandon me to the company of my mistress-laptop, and run away with a less socially retarded non-writer, therefore plunging me squarely back “out there”. With the scene thus neatly set, what advice would I give to ladies of a certain age who might be contemplating dating someone like me?

Hmm,.. let me see,…

Don’t.

That’s the simple answer.

But let’s say for argument’s sake, the lady is very determined, very sure of herself, and perhaps irrationally hung up on the romantic idea of hanging out with a woolly minded writer-type. It may even be that my helplessness in social matters, and the holes in my stockings, arouses her maternal instincts – and yes I do need a bit of looking after, to say nothing of the occasional bit of feminine sympathy. But I might remind the lady that I was never much of a looker, even in my youth, to which she might point out that I still have all my own teeth, and can walk unaided – things that are considered attractive attributes in later life, apparently. She might point out that I’m also financially solvent and, since giving up the whiskey, on account of intermittent bouts of anosmia, I no longer snore. Nor am I violent or abusive – indeed I’m quite passive, to the extent of not being fully “there”.

Put like that I sound like rather a docile mate, that a night in bed with me would guarantee, if nothing else, a very sound sleep. And unless the lady in question were also completely self contained in her stimuli – say an avid reader, lover of jigsaws, devoted mother and follower of soap opera – she would probably be bored stiff, as I rarely give much attention to anyone who is not a fictional character.

In dating the older male writer, you see, you have to realise you’re not dealing with the full shilling. Our feet are not planted firmly in the real world at all. If the fridge is empty and a trip to Tescos looming, the priority for the writer will be the story first – food later. When the story is finished and hunger calls, the shops are usually shut, and the only solution is to go to bed.

But as I hinted earlier, bed is not what it used to be. Did I once hunger for the more intimate delights? I vaguely recall that I did, and frequently, but for an older writer, bed is more a place for – well – sleep and dreams. Where once the size and quality of the mattress were of little interest, and certainly a poor second to other “bed-minded” matters, I’m afraid now the parameters of the mattress are of primary concern. The Princess was not exaggerating about that pea!

Do you like late nights? No, I’m not talking about going out and dancing until the small hours. I’m talking about sitting, curled up with my mistress-laptop, lost in a thread of my story, or even battering out nonsense like this, losing track of time as I hone my thoughts – because I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t even know what he thinks until he’s written it down, and redrafted it a dozen times. I’ll curl up at 10:00 p.m., thinking to tidy up a few spurious commas, and suddenly it’s 2:00 am. Then I’m tiptoeing to bed in pitch dark, trying not wake the house, and usually failing on the home straight when I stub my toe on the corner of the bed-post.

Other men sitting alone at night with their laptops find plenty to tickle their fancies, I’m told, leaving their women to raise their brows in stern dismay and not a little disgust. Me? I have other distractions, more vital and less transient, because I can only accurately paint my heroines if I can imagine myself in love with them. Therefore, the real life lady in my life must be prepared to be for ever cuckolded by imaginary mistresses.

I’m not totally neglectful. I might take her out at the weekends for shopping and lunch, but in the cafe she’ll look up, mid-sentence to find me absently stirring my coffee, my gaze fixed in the distance, having heard not a word she’s said. I am, in all probability, thinking of another woman – just not a real one. Always it’s the same. I will be for ever unfaithful to my mates in this, so you’d better get used it.

She’ll need to be particularly forgiving then, and not for ever jumping to the conclusion that if I appear out of sorts it’s because I’m upset with her. More often my upsets rise from the creative side of my life, their causes a mystery.

You might be thinking by now that life with a writerly type isn’t sounding so romantic, and you’d be right, or do you think the fame and fortune I am undoubtedly courting with all this introverted creativity makes it worth your while? I mean money is money, after all, and a nice sports car and a villa in Tuscany would be ample compensation for being saddled with a neglectful chump of a mate like me. I’m not saying you wouldn’t deserve these things – indeed you probably would, if only for putting up with me, and I would gladly gift them to you, were I able, but actually, you see, I don’t make anything from my writing – nothing at all! I have the day-job, the nine to five, an old car and a modest pension building up. In that sense I am quite ordinary, and Tusacan villas are out of my league. A week away with me would most likely involve the Lake District, and rain.

I am, it seems, quite mad!

Would it help if I told you what I wanted from a woman, what I needed the most? Probably not, so, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, here goes:I’d like a quiet kind of loving, undemonstrative, but true – a thing to stand the test of time. And an easy going companionship is a must, plus an independence of spirit and the realisation that I cannot make you happy, that you need to be happy in yourself first, for only then could you be happy being with me.

Is there such a woman, I wonder? Of course there is.

But just the one.

And I’m already married to her.

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