When you are a single occupant you eventually have to get used to the fact that everything has to be done yourself. Meals are only ever cooked for one, there is never any dispute over whose turn it is to polish the decorative mirror on the mantelpiece, recycling is a job that only you can do again and again, while romance is an awkward endeavour which only ever takes care of itself. On Easter Monday I was finally forced to accept that nobody but me was going to clean the conspicuous stain which had been haunting my navy blue tie for months.
I had been planning my outfit for my second reading at Let’s Make A Scene since shortly after my debut spoken word performance and long before I had started to consider what I would actually be talking about. In my mind, I was already wearing my brown tweed suit with a navy blue tie, socks, and pocket square, because I find it easier to match the colour of accessories to a suit than I do to decide which pieces from my notebooks are suitable for reading in front of people.
Washing a tie is not something I had attempted prior to Easter Monday, though the one thing I did know about laundering the garment was that they are not machine washable. I learned this the hard way when my favourite burgundy tie acquired a Merlot stain and I thought I could throw it into the washing machine along with the rest of my regular clothing. An hour or so later I returned to the load to find that the burgundy tie had been decimated, its fluffy innards were torn out like an especially cruel vivisection. It was almost enough to put me off the spin cycle for good.
I wasn’t entirely sure how a person goes about the task of washing a conspicuously stained tie by hand, but I was relieved and surprised to find a bottle of Persil Silk & Wool in the cupboard under the kitchen sink which I had obviously bought at some time in the past for one reason or another and forgotten about, in the same way people buy bay leaves or string. I filled the sink with hot water and a speculative amount of detergent before submerging the navy blue tie in the crackling water. It quickly rose to the surface and took on the appearance of an unusually dapper twig in a children’s paddling pool. I had no idea how long the tie should be in the water, but I figured that because the stain was a few months old it should be longer than I would normally expect, so I kept it in the sink for two hours. When I eventually fished it out, it was the wettest thing I had ever held in my hands, and it took most of the week before it was completely dried.
On the morning of Let’s Make A Scene, I awoke without a hint of the anxiety which had plagued me before my first reading at The Rockfield Centre a couple of months earlier. I was feeling strangely confident, which worried me because it wasn’t at all like me to feel good about anything. All I could think of was the story of Icarus: even if I didn’t have wings to melt, I had a newly cleaned tie that I wasn’t wanting to scorch.
It was around an hour before the open mic event when I was in my bathroom and finally felt the relief of being brought down to earth by an overwhelming urge to vomit. I was free to approach the rest of the night as a new version of my old self, and the best thing about it was that I hadn’t yet put on my tie.
My revitalised nerves led to me being the last person willing to perform their piece on the night; this one being about my trouble with talking to girls. Under the glare of a dozen fairy lights which formed something resembling a fractured spotlight, I began by telling the story of the time the red-haired former barmaid in Aulay’s suggested that I should seek lessons in how to talk to girls. The purpose of the anecdote was to lead into an elaborate pun about how my search took me to the local branch of the book chain Waterstones, where I struggled to find a self-help book on the subject of talking to girls and was eventually forced into asking a store assistant if she would assist me in locating the self-help section.
A hush fell over the room, not too dissimilar to the sound I had heard any time I had tried to make a witty play on words in an attempt to impress a girl. I didn’t know what to do. I had been thinking of the self-help book line the way other people think of their favourite recipe for a homemade pasta sauce, or of their first child. I loved it. Although the rest of my spoken word performance went on to be fairly acceptable and it seemed to achieve a few laughs, I couldn’t stop thinking about the part where it had flopped.
The following day I was wondering where the high I had felt after my first reading a couple of months earlier had gone, and if every other new thing I tried to do would only be an attempt at chasing that high, like watching the original Ghostbusters movie and then watching the next two. I could hardly conjure the desire to leave my bed, let alone go outside my flat, but I was hungry and had little in the way of proper food in my flat, and nobody was going to go to the supermarket for me. Feeling like a tie just removed from the washing machine, I sloped around the aisles of Lidl and picked up what I considered to be an adult grocery shop. At the self-service checkout, my minimal momentum was halted when the scales in the bagging area couldn’t recognise the weight of a packet of chillis, as the Tears For Fears song Everybody Wants To Rule The World was playing from my playlist. I was standing waiting for an assistant to acknowledge my plight and help me when I realised that maybe it wasn’t all that funny after all.