Monday, November 15, 2004

Day 15

Almost there, managed to get a plan together today, but didn't get round to writing until 4 cos I was looking after Harry, amazing how time gets away from you. Halfway thru the month and I'm almost halfway there...

Things started going awry not long after I got back from lunch, pasta salad since you didn’t ask. I never touch sandwiches any more for the obvious reason. Grant was fannying about in the store room again when I got back in and Sean gave me a raised eyebrow as a warning. I could hear muffled curses and then a sliding noise, followed by a bang and another oath, hopefully it meant Grant had been buried alive under a pile of heavy encyclopedias. I didn’t rush to help anyway, as my mobile buzzed to life. It was the morose Ted Churchill asking if we could put our meeting off until Thursday evening as ‘a job had come up’. He apologised in an off-hand way, a routine I supposed that all ex-career cops had perfected when dealing with members of the public. He clearly hadn’t been on a customer service course since retiring anyway. I confirmed our new meeting time, then Grant emerged from the store room, brushing dust from his Hackett sweatshirt and carrying a pile of what looked like cookery books, which he slapped down on top of Sean’s graphic novels (Misc M-Z). Sean whimpered slightly but admirably held himself in check and didn’t rush over to move the cookery books. Grant had a plan for us anyway.
“Cancel whatever you’re doing Thursday night boys, Grant’s taking the team out on the piss!”
“I’m meeting someone at 6 in the Crown, so…” I began.
“S’alright feller, we’ll wait on you, the Crown’s not a bad start off place, me and Sean’ll sink a couple of cheeky ones over a game of pool or something.” Sean looked crestfallen at this turn of events.
“Thing is though, I don’t know how long it’s going to go on,” I said.
“Hang on a minute you’re not meeting that fine young filly that was in here last week are you?” Grant was almost dancing on the spot, “She was called Astra or something, you dark horse Georgie boy!” Yeah, I know he is definitely the kind of tosser that would still call a woman a filly.
“No, and she’s called Astrid.”
“Well, whatever, you toddle off to your meeting and give me a toot on the mobie when you’re done.” With that he bade us a ‘fond farewell’ and fucked off with the Jamies and Nigellas out to his Punto.
“What do you reckon’s brought that on eh?” Sean asked. I shrugged.
“Probably wants to tell us he’s turning the shop into a rest home for pale young boys and we’re no longer needed.” Sean started to reshuffle the comics Grant had flattened with the cookery books. I stifled an urge to beat him round the head with a copy of Sandman, and tell him to stop being so anal, but stopped myself, Sean was a good kid, if a little too reserved for his own good. He reminded me of myself at that age, which was a good thing, I needed a marker to show me how far I’d come on, even if it wasn’t that far down the road.

A better marker was that I was actually going on a real live date with a real live girl, something I hadn’t done for some years, seven to be precise. I’d almost forgotten what I was supposed to do. The phone call setting it up had gone better than I’d hoped, Astrid had been willing to meet me for a start and hadn’t suddenly realised that her visa had run out and she had to return to whatever Mediterranean country she came from in a hurry. I showered and shaved, then spent an agonising hour choosing what to wear. My vague plan for the evening, such as it was, was to go for a couple of drinks then take her to the Italian restaurant that Shuggsy, Marlene and myself very occasionally frequented. I’d almost considered asking Marlene to get me membership to the casino, but had rejected on the ground that it was a bit wanky for a first date and besides, I hadn’t told Marlene I was going on a date. I felt a bit shitty about that to be honest, I normally told Marlene everything that was going on in my life, she was the only one who knew about the Dream Police, but after her reaction when I’d told her about meeting Astrid, I decided to hold back. There would be a right time to tell her, but this wasn’t it. I’d told her that I was going out but that it was with Sean, which meant that I couldn’t make too much effort for fear of raising her suspicions. I eventually settled for a pair of black jeans, and a smart-ish but casual red shirt. I did however decide to add a pair of my late grandad’s black cufflinks for a touch of panache. I slung my black jacket on to cover them up for now though and called to Marlene that I was off out. Shuggsy was out at the Primrose, I hoped he wasn’t celebrating his let-off from his drugs caution by getting himself in a fresh scrape, but sod it, he was a big enough lad and he could look after himself. Surely he wasn’t daft enough to get bitten twice?

Just before I departed, I re-read the section in Be Lucky! about luck when interacting with other people;

Lucky people expect their interactions with others to be lucky and successful……. after someone has finished speaking to you, you should pause three seconds before replying, while looking into their eyes. This shows you have focused upon hearing and understanding them. Don't be thinking about what you are going to say in reply, just concentrate on listening.

It sounded like common-sense to me anyway, but I was going to try it and see how far it got me. I left the house in a good mood.

Astrid was late, but not checking the door every five minutes and getting paranoid late, she apologised anyway and kissed me on the cheek, the first kiss I’d had in years that wasn’t from a close relative or Marlene I was ashamed to recall, course I didn’t tell her that, I was trying to project the air of a confident bloke who did this sort of thing every week, just not with different women, not that she would make that mistake if we spent any kind of time together. I got her a drink, a white wine and lemonade, and a bottle of lager for myself. I don’t normally drink lager, and certainly not in bottles, but I’d decided it was better to pace myself, I have a tendency to blurt stuff out without thinking when I’m on the wrong side of a few pints. I needn’t have worried anyway, Astrid was very easy going and relaxed and I wondered idly if she was lucky. Mattinson had put forward the theory that ‘lucky people have a relaxed attitude towards life.’ I certainly wasn’t about to ask her such a daft question early on anyway, I still wasn’t absolutely convinced of the book’s veracity, even if my life had changed for the better since taking possession of it. It turned out that she was from Italy, Castel di Sangro to be exact, a small town in the Abruzzi region in the south of Italy whose chief claim to fame it appeared was that their football team had risen to the heights of the second division of Italian football during the early nineties but had disappeared back into obscurity through a combination of fraud, mismanagement and it’s star striker being shot. The story had been written up by an American journalist and had become a best selling book.
I didn’t have a clue about it, and very little interest but I made sure I listened intently, interjecting where appropriate. I was quietly impressed anyway, no-one had bothered to write a book about my town, at least not that I knew of, we’d never sold one at the Book Exchange anyway. Besides Astrid was obviously very proud of her birthplace and I could have listened to her reciting the town’s phone book if it came to it, if it meant I could watch her gorgeous face all night. She had come to England to study five years previously and had found a job whilst in college at a PR firm in Manchester, but had decided to live here because it was more ‘how do you say it, ruralous.’ I could have kissed her myself then, I’m trying not to sound patronising either. I told her a bit about my life to date, trying to appear less of a geek than I was, and had been, and sketching over the lack of female companionship bit. I told her about mum, most of it, da, not much of it and concentrated on a few anecdotes about Shuggsy that made everyone laugh, including the one where he’d cycled to the newsagents, bought a paper and a scratchcard, won fifty quid on the scratchcard, then come outside to find his bike had been nicked and had to pay hundred pounds for a new one. By this time, I’d had three bottles of fizzy Continental hops and water and my stomach was growling at me, so I suggested moving onto the restaurant.

Armed with the hindsight of knowing she was from Italy, I probably wouldn’t have booked a table at the trattoria. It wasn’t that the food was rubbish, it was just a bit cheesy, with the formica tables, the check tablecloths and the bottles of Chianti encrusted in candle wax. Again I shouldn’t have worried, Astrid was made up with it, and was amazed she’d never been here before. She had the waiters wrapped round her little finger in no time, ordering in Italian and making little comments to the manager, who hovered around our table like a mayfly, which made his night. Again, Astrid did most of the talking but I didn’t have to keep up the pretence of being intent on listening (not that I had anyway) as I was determined to make the most of tonight. My pessimistic alter ego told me that this would be our one and only date when she found out what I was about, so I should store it all away for use during the next seven dateless years. Don’t think Guy Mattinson would have been impressed with that attitude.

When I paid the bill, (yeah I know, God knows if it’s chauvinistic to insist on paying the bill on a first date, but what the hell) I was amazed to see it was eleven thirty. Outside, I visualised a taxi coming round the corner, and amazingly there was one. We shared the cab to her house, she thanked me for a great night, and looked like she meant it. Then she kissed me, missing my cheek, whether on purpose of not I couldn’t tell, but couldn’t have cared less, and planted her lips on mine. Then she jumped out, leaving me with, well let’s not beat about the bush, an erection. Come on, it’d take a stronger man than me not to. You’ve got to admire my honesty anyway. I took the cab home and went up to my room and decided to treat myself with…..a cup of coffee and another viewing of Dark Star on DVD. Hey, once a nerd always a nerd right?

Word Count: 1,925
Total Word Count: 24,747
% under target: 1.03%
Words to go: 25,253
Word of the day: Panache

1 Comments:

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October 22, 2005 at 1:43 AM  

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