A portrait of Valentine’s Day in Oban

Storm Ciara hadn’t long ceased from battering the country with gale-force winds when Storm Dennis came howling in on its tail.  In February, storms on the west coast of Scotland are a lot like buses in London:  two or three come at once, and you never know where they’re going to go.  I couldn’t recall exactly when the Met Office began the practice of naming storms, but when the country had gone from Ciara straight into Dennis, it sounded like an underwhelming Jane Austen novel.  

When the first storm landed the previous weekend, there weren’t many people around outside braving the elements.  I had made the short walk to Lidl for some parmesan cheese and the only thing I encountered was some leaves that were dancing across the pavement like drunks during the last song at a wedding reception.  On the other side of the street, someone had left three blue recycling bins sitting outside their block of flats; an invitation for catastrophe.  One of the bins had been blown over by the wind at least twice, on one occasion causing a load of cardboard to be carried off towards Argyll Square, reminiscent of the opening scene of a film depicting a dystopian future.  I presumed that somebody’s Alexa wasn’t talking to them that morning.  Why else would you put your bins out in the middle of a storm three days before they were scheduled to be emptied?

Between two storms

 

In my living room, the sound of the wind wheezing down the chimney made me think of asthma and it was unsettling, though not as painful as when the finale of the first of the winter storms arrived a day or so later and I was caught in a hailstorm as I was walking home from work along the Esplanade.  The hail was the size of pumpkin seeds and started to fall as I was rounding the North Pier.  It rarely ever comes just as you are reaching the front door of your building.  By the time it stopped a few minutes later my cheek was surely the same shade it turns whenever I have tried talking to a woman.  There isn’t much makes a person feel as lonely as a storm does.  Nothing except maybe Valentine’s Day.

The fourteenth of February was never a day of great significance for me; I rarely felt inclined to celebrate the patron saint of lovers and the Hallmark greeting card company, though Saint Valentine was also recognised as the patron saint of beekeeping, epilepsy, plague and travel, which just seemed like a reckless portfolio of jobs to assign to the same person.  However, like birthdays, anniversaries and New Year, it was always a date that served as a mile marker in life’s journey.  By the reckoning of my own internal odometer, I was on a streak of around eight or nine years of uninterrupted loneliness on Valentine’s Day during which I hadn’t received so much as a card or a heart-shaped piece of chocolate.  By far the most prolific period in my life was the few years in primary school when on the morning of the fourteenth the postman would deliver to our house a red envelope which had within it a card from a secret admirer, though since the sender appeared to share the same handwriting as Santa Claus I was always suspicious.

I wasn’t expecting anything different on the Valentine’s Day of 2020.  The evening before had seen a peaceful calm between the two storms where it could easily have been mistaken for a midsummer’s night had it not been for the biting cold and the snow on the hilltops of Mull in the distance.   I was walking along the seafront after work, where I saw a woman who was sitting on one of the benches with a box of chips balanced on her knee.  I presumed that she was a tourist, on the basis that a local probably wouldn’t sit so close to the shore on such a chilly night.  In her hand she was holding a book – although it might have been a mobile phone – while behind her, on the short stone wall which surrounded the little grass verges along that part of the Esplanade, was a crow.  The bird was standing in the shadow of the bench, waiting patiently in the seemingly vain hope that a chip might fall from the precariously positioned polystyrene and onto the ground where he could pick it up.  It looked to be a game of hope more than anything:  without anything other than someone else’s cruel luck, the crow was going to go hungry.  When I witnessed the scene, it made me think that it was how my own Valentine’s Day was destined to be.

Since the fourteenth fell on a Friday I was feeling hopeful that anyone who was out in the bars during the night without an obvious partner was single.  There was bound to be an anomaly here or there, but otherwise it seemed like a safe conclusion to reach.  With that in mind, I had been thinking of what I was hoping would be the ideal line, in the form of the traditional Valentine’s Day verse, in the event that I should find myself talking to another person with a similarly lonely heart.  When the prose suddenly came to me I was giddy with excitement, and it was all I could do to try the quartet of lines out on unsuspecting colleagues around the office during the afternoon.  Almost all of them were either married or with a partner, so I figured that they would be experts in the matter.  One by one they unanimously announced that the verse was terrible and that I would be better off considering a different approach, but by then I had memorised it and it was all I could think of.  I still believed that with a little work it had the potential to be a success with a fellow single occupant.

Roses are red;
Violets are blue.
Though I never received either
And obviously neither did you.

In response, one colleague swivelled around in her chair to look at me.  On her face was painted a look that resembled the outcome if you were to ask an artist to sketch puzzlement, bemusement and dismay.  She claimed to have a much better line that would practically guarantee success.  It was a line that my colleague and a group of her friends had passed on to their male friend to use while on a night out in Edinburgh.  The story went that he was lauded by all of the girls he recited the line to for his great sense of humour, and that sounded like something I would like to hear for myself, so I asked her what the line was.

“Were you brought up on a farm?”  The initial question asked.
“No.”
“Well, you sure know how to raise a cock.”

Although in my thirty-six years I had never been especially good at reading women or putting myself in their shoes – though, after all, I wear a size twelve – I was feeling fairly certain that opening with borderline misogyny wasn’t the way to go.  Most people agreed that my original verse was probably more suitable than the faux chicken pun, though it was suggested that neither would be appropriate to use.

Sandbags were lined in preparation for Storm Dennis

 

There wasn’t an obvious presence of love in the air in Aulay’s, although there were a few adoring glances being cast toward pint glasses.  Early in the night there was an unusually high quota of bald men; in parts of the pub the hair count matched my Valentine’s card count.  The plant doctor was standing at the bar wearing a black t-shirt which had animations of peeled bananas spotted all over it.  He was with his work colleague, the Czech marine biologist, and our discussion came around to chat-up lines.  Once again my verse was dismissed for its folly, and we began exchanging alternatives, one of which centred on the premise of me asking a woman to touch my navy blue tie and prompting her to guess the material it was made of.  After several guesses which would inevitably be wrong, I would interject and inform her that it was “boyfriend material.”  None of this was impressing the Czech marine biologist, who questioned why there was any need for a chat-up line at all and why I couldn’t just talk to a woman.  I reminded her that the last time we were speaking, at the Distillery before my reading in September, I had spent the better part of fifteen minutes telling her about my socks.  She was familiar with the occasion and acknowledged that it might be better for all concerned if I didn’t say anything at all.

The night developed like any other Friday in the pub.  One man, who walked in with the distinct scent of oil clinging to his person, was refused service from the bar staff, and when he questioned why he wasn’t being allowed to buy a drink he was told that it was because he looked drunk.  The man glanced down at the large item of luggage he had removed from his back and defended himself.  “You’d look pished too if you were carrying this bag.”  It was the sort of line that just hangs in the air like an empty crisp packet caught in the wind.  I wondered what could possibly be in the bag that was making it so heavy that it would give a person a look of intoxication.  Sometimes this place was like a continuous episode of The X-Files.

The plant doctor and I were feeding pound coins into the jukebox; finally a Valentine that would respond.  We curated a soundtrack that was in keeping with the mood of the day, playing songs such as Heartattack And Vine by Tom Waits, Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams, and Kashmir.  The latter enticed the man who was sitting at the table in the corner with his wife, and who seemed to be drinking at a ratio of two drinks to every one of hers, to make his own trip to the jukebox, where he engaged in a Led Zeppelin-off with the plant doctor.  They both reached for some deep cuts, and if I wasn’t in the mood for love, I was in the mood to listen to Led Zeppelin, who were a band I had never really paid much attention to.  I promised to seek out their 1975 album Physical Graffiti, if only because when I was in New York City in 2016 I had made a point of finding the building which was featured on the album cover.  The conversation brought me to look through the photograph library on my phone for the picture I had taken that day, only to realise when comparing it with the actual album cover that I had only captured half of the building.  It was yet another thing to add to my bulging emotional baggage.

I had somehow only captured half of the Physical Graffiti building in NYC in 2016

 

I left the Led Zeppelin-off and made my own pilgrimage to Markie Dans.  It was after midnight and the streets were deserted, without a soul or a lonely heart to be seen.  In the doorways of some buildings along the Esplanade there were sandbags which had been laid in anticipation of the arrival of the week’s second big storm.  Nobody was taking anything for granted.  There was disco music in full flow in Markies, and I was able to catch up with a couple of friends.  The young women were out as part of a collective who were referring to themselves as “single shambles”, and it sounded like a group I was meant to be a part of.

One of the girls I knew invited me to join the rest of the single shambles at a house party after the pub closed, and despite always feeling socially inept at such gatherings, I agreed to go.  The apartment building seemed new, clean and much too nice for a wretch like me.  I spent most of my time there standing in the corner of the room with a can of Dark Fruits cider in my hand, resembling the well-dressed but awkwardly shaped antique ornament that you can’t find the right place for.  I occupied myself by studying the plants which were lined along the windowsill.  There were four or five of them, and they appeared to have things like red peppers and green beans growing in them.  It was a nice touch.  I left for home once I had finished my can of cider.  It was just after four in the morning and the wind was beginning to pick up, while the pavements were slick with freshly fallen rain.  Valentine’s Day had passed for another year and there was a new storm about to crash onto the coast.  There isn’t much makes a person feel as lonely as a storm does…

This week I have been mostly listening to:

Valentine’s Day Mascara

When I left for work on the morning of Valentine’s Day the postman had not yet delivered to my street, and I was able to deceive myself for a few more hours into thinking that I might return to find a red envelope or two in my mailbox.  A year earlier I had just become a single occupant and moved into my new flat, a circumstance which I had used to convince myself was the reason why none of my suitors or secret admirers had been able to send a declaration of their love through the post, even if it didn’t necessarily tally with the previous thirty-three years of empty postboxes.

Although I did not receive a Valentine’s card in 2018, I did send my first one since whenever my last courtship ended.  The recipient was the then red-haired barmaid, who became a formerly red-haired barmaid and who would later become a red-haired former barmaid.  A few days prior to the event she jokingly suggested that I should send her a card, and because I am a man who rarely backs down from an opportunity to humiliate himself in front of the opposite sex, I took this as a challenge.  

For days I was agonising over the literature I would use on the inside of the card, which was probably decorated with an animated teddy bear or a puppy or something which similarly suggested a tacky attempt at romance.  I was searching for a verse which would be light-hearted enough to be in keeping with the joking nature of the endeavour, though with enough charm that the barmaid would be made aware that I had a favourable impression of her.  Eventually, I settled on four lines which I wrote in my finest scrawl and felt confident captured the sentiment of the occasion.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
You pull a great pint
Can I pull you?

Satire and seduction proved not to make successful bedfellows, and like a bad meal, the card was spoken of once and never again.

The mailbox which is positioned on the wall outside my front door is immaculately white and looks like a house which was designed by a fabulously drunk and deeply flawed architect, with its long and thin streak of windows stretched across the eaves of the property and a small door which is no shape for any reasonable person to use as a point of entry.  Most of the time it lies empty, but when I arrived home after work on Valentine’s Day I could see the pointed edge of an envelope protruding from the slot.  A sense of intrigue captured me and I placed my bag of shopping between my ankles and reached for the key to open the box, feeling the way I would imagine a treasure hunter does when they happen upon a rare antique chest.

I opened the mailbox as far as the hinge would allow, studying the envelope forensically, more in hope rather than expectation, the way a dog watches intently as a sausage is being eaten.  I took the large white envelope between my thumb and index finger and quickly became aware that it was a communication from the Bank of Scotland and that it was addressed to my neighbour across the landing.  With my hope dashed, I fed the envelope through the letterbox on my neighbour’s door and accepted that at least someone would be having a more underwhelming Valentine’s experience than my own

The light in my kitchen had begun to flicker the previous evening, the way electrical fittings do in horror films when something ominous is about to occur.  Within moments of it being turned on, it suddenly fell into a darkened obscurity, like an anticlimactic Valentine date, and I was left standing in a dim kitchen where the only light was provided from the floodlight in the yard behind the garden.  I had just returned from the shop and felt certain that I wasn’t going to be the victim of a Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, so I decided that I could survive a night without a light in the kitchen.  For a while, I was considering that I could inflame a few tealight candles and line them along the breakfast bar, though I dismissed the notion as being much too intimate for a solo dining experience where the only item on the menu was a frozen lasagne.  Maybe if I had had the time to construct the dish from scratch I would have indulged in candlelight, but a single man eating a frozen lasagne on Valentine’s night was probably best kept in the dark.

After eating the second most tasteless lasagne meal I have had in recent times, I went out to Aulay’s to watch the football, where I believed that if I couldn’t spend the night with my beloved, I could at least enjoy it with beer lovers.  I arrived at the bar prior to the game kicking off, armed with the knowledge that as well as being the patron saint of lovers and beekeepers, Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of plague and epileptics, which made spending the night amongst the unwell of a bar population seem fitting.  The lounge was sparsely inhabited, six stems short of a dozen red roses, and the football was doing little to spread the love, the result only adding to the defeat of the day.

When I awoke in the harsh light of the following morning, I was reminded of my need to get a new lightbulb for the kitchen.  In a bedraggled state, I was forced to iron a baby blue shirt in near darkness, though nobody commented that I looked any different from usual.  In the evening I went shopping for the item I was needing which would allow me to eat reasonable meals and iron my shirts in a civilised manner.  In the entranceway of Tesco was a display of flowers of various colours, some of them matching the palette of my own outfit.  Next to the floral island of unwanted Valentine’s goods was a sign which was indicating that there was ‘75% off the marked price’ and it struck me how the existence of reduced roses and cheapened chrysanthemums was a lot like that of a single occupant in Argyll & Bute.

The night I was told I smell like old books

It was the twenty-first of November – I knew this because it was Wednesday, and it always rains on the day the blue recycling bins are emptied.  The morning was remarkable only for the way it was like every other morning: I woke up as a single in a double bed, trimmed my stubble to a fine 1.0mm, showered, stood bare-chested in the kitchen as I ironed a shirt which was the colour of a custard cream, ate a handful of blueberries and drank two small glasses of orange juice; because I like to get my vitamins and my bright colours early in the day.

Fully dressed and ready for work, I was approaching the door of my flat when something struck me as being peculiar and out of the ordinary.  In the close, snuggled in against the bottom of the stairs, was a baby’s buggy – or, at least, a buggy which belonged to the parents of a baby.  Its transparent plastic hood had amassed a collection of pearly raindrops, and on the thin layer of fabric at the back of the seat were three polar bears of varying size, coloured white, black and minty blue.  The bears looked friendly and happy, as though they knew that their only purpose in life was to look at the back of this baby’s head, and they were doing a good job. Cradled between the purple handlebars was a pink blanket which looked like it would provide great comfort and warmth.  The blanket had little pink tassels that dangled loosely along the ends, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they would look against my navy blue suit.

I was standing in the cold concrete surroundings of the close, the only light provided by a streak of winter daylight which was shining through the glass pane on the back door, illuminating this baby’s buggy which had become the object of my curiosity.  Nobody in my block of flats has any children, as far as I am aware, and the youngest living being is a one-year-old golden retriever who lives with her owners on the second floor, and I was feeling certain that she could be taken on walks without the aid of a pushchair.  I couldn’t imagine where the buggy had come from or why it was sitting outside my flat, especially when Christmas was more than four weeks away.

As the week developed, there was an increasingly cold wind which was ripping in from the sea, the kind that rattles in your bones and leaves a person feeling like they need to pee.  On my nightly walks along the Esplanade, I was finding that my hands were making for the pockets of my coat regularly, in search of warmth and in an effort to assure myself that I was still in command of my functions.  In Aulay’s, as I was entering into a debate with a bald-headed man about the percentage of a pint of lager which should be head, a pair of women who were wearing wooly hats were ordering a measure of whisky each, and at that moment they were maybe the warmest people I have ever laid eyes on.

Downtown in the Oban Inn, a woman who was some years beyond middle age – if it is assumed that she won’t live to be a hundred – was dancing by the side of the bar with great enthusiasm.  She informed us that her father had recently died and that all she wanted to do was dance.  Over the shoulder of the middle-aged dancer, the one man bar band was preparing to resume his set, and as he sat on a chair alongside his pale electric guitar he was looking like a drawing a young child would produce if it had been asked to sketch the saddest man in the world.  His eyes were dropping like shaded pencil outlines, and his mouth could have been a golf umbrella.

A short while later, in a bar along the bracing seafront, I found myself in conversation with a woman who was claiming to have cut my hair when I was little more than a small boy.  I didn’t remember her face, but she seemed trustworthy and I decided that I would believe her.  After all, I thought to myself, who would it really benefit to invent such a story?  The hairdresser was beginning to embellish me with further details when I could just about see the cartoon thought bubble appear above her head.  “I always knew he would struggle to keep his hair,” it read.

In a booth close to the door, my brother and I were talking to a couple of young women who we had met whilst stood at the bar.  The girl sitting closest to me had canary blonde hair that rested upon the top of her head, which was the size of a boulder.  Her facial features looked like they had been carved out of stone, the sort an archaeologist would spend an age studying.  She was a close talker who liked to speak almost directly into the eardrum.  Each time she leaned in to say something, her hair would wave across my cheek and I was picking up a distinctive scent which I couldn’t quite place.  I speculated that it might be vanilla, and suggested this to the girl who had a face like a rock, thinking that vanilla is an inoffensive fragrance.  She didn’t dispute my sense of smell, and once again leaned into my ear.

“You smell like old books.”

I have never been told that I have the aura of antique literature, and being that it was something I am not used to hearing, I misheard the words she originally used.  I don’t know why the question that I next asked occurred to me, but it was the only response that I could think of.

“The kind of old boots that someone might have died wearing?”

The girl’s stony features had the look of confusion you might usually see on someone who has happened upon a single slipper by the side of a busy road.  Her hair brushed my face once more, and she intimated that she didn’t know what I was talking about, before repeating that I smell like old books and that she found it comforting.

With it cleared up that I have the fragrance of words which go to the soul, rather than leather which goes to the sole, the archaeologist’s dream asked me if I had ever considered how sexy it would be for two people who work together in a library to hook up after a time.  I told her that I had not spent any time contemplating that particular scenario, though in my mind I was thinking how I would find it sexy to get with another person in just about any situation.

She sat closer to me as she started to elaborate on the fantasy she had in mind.  She asked me to picture how it would be to work as a librarian, and I told her that I had no trouble conjuring the image of finding a way to make girls stop talking.  In her workplace ballad, the two participants would have been working in the same library for years but rarely crossed paths, which seemed terribly unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to tread on her artistic license.  One day, she said, they would be returning books to the same section of the library, and their hands would touch as they were placing the books back on the shelf.  She illustrated this by touching my hand as she spoke.  I could tell that she was finding the idea of the saga quite stimulating, and I should probably have taken the role play more seriously.

“Which section of the library were they in?”  I asked.

“Why does it matter?”

“I like to paint a picture.”

“Oh, alright.  Non-fiction, I suppose.”

“So there was friction in the non-fiction?”

The girl with canary blonde hair took her hand from mine and suggested that I should get another drink.  Whilst at the bar I encountered a couple of friends, and once they left I found myself standing next to the fresh-faced homosexual.  As a gesture of good will, and a display of there being no hard feelings, I offered to buy him a drink.  The entire process of getting a round of drinks for our table took around ten or fifteen minutes, and by the time I returned the two girls had moved elsewhere.  The fresh-faced homosexual joined me, and I reminded him of our initial encounter a few weeks previous.  He laughed and denied that he had ‘cock blocked’ me, though in an absurd twist of fate he had unwittingly contributed to my failure on this occasion, too.   Instead of learning what happens after hands touch in the non-fiction section of the library, the fresh-faced homosexual and I were talking until closing time about his time as a trainee chef at a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, and about the planet Mars.

In the small hours of the morning, I returned to my flat to find the baby’s buggy still sitting in the close.  I was beginning to feel like it was haunting me, as though someone had left it there as a cruel play on the Christmas story.  Instead of a baby being bestowed upon a virginal woman, an empty buggy had been presented to a single man who can’t be very far away from regaining his virginity.  It was either that, or I had new neighbours.

 

The week I cooked too much pasta (and other instances of household mismanagement)

After around seven months of living in bachelorhood I was finally forced to concede that I have an inability to measure an appropriate portion of pasta for a solo diner with an average appetite.  It was the last Monday in July and I had half of a large sweet potato left over from a chicken, sweet potato and quinoa stew I had enjoyed the previous night and I was searching for something to do with the remaining root vegetable.  It is almost always the case in such situations that I find myself asking can this go in pasta?  And the answer is usually yes.

I found a recipe for a sweet potato and spinach pasta which was written in a fashion which suggested that someone like me could cook it, and it was accompanied by some pretty pictures which made it look like a mouth-watering meal.  I followed the internet’s instructions to the letter and used nature’s measuring instrument – the eye – to calculate how much Penne Rigate I would need to soak up the vegetable stock, thyme and parmesan I used as a sauce.  When the cooking time had elapsed and I carefully drained the boiling water from the pan and used a spoon to transfer rubbery and slippery tubes of pasta onto a waiting porcelain plate, it turned out that one plate would not suffice for the amount I had cooked.  I immediately, and not for the first time, cursed my inability to measure a single portion of pasta and, in the same moment, decided that I would eat both platefuls because they were there, because hot food is better than food at any other temperature and because I couldn’t be sure of the rules of microwaving sweet potato.

Whilst I didn’t regret my gluten-laden gluttony I quickly found myself becoming weary and lethargic, and before even nine o’clock came my eyelids had taken on parachutes and were heading for the ground.  I drank an Earl Grey tea in an attempt to lighten my mind, but it had no effect and I was in bed much earlier than usual.  I fell asleep with a great deal less of the usual tossing and turning in the face of the interrogatory street light which glares through the bedroom curtains.  Most nights it is like trying to sleep in an old-time war movie, but it didn’t trouble me in the fog of my large pasta dinner.  However, by three o’clock in the morning I was wide awake after a particularly disturbing dream.

I could remember it vividly as I lay amongst my tangled 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  The scene seemed to be a flat warming, though despite many features of the place being familiar to me it seemed much larger than the flat I am currently living in.  There was a group of people of moderate size – somewhere between 5’5″ and 5’10” – and I recognised many of them.  There was music playing and everybody was drinking beer and Jack Daniels with orange juice, which is how I could tell it was definitely my flat.  In the kitchen there was a woman who I knew very fondly.  She was foraging in my fridge and had come across a large cooked ham.  She took it from the shelf and declared that it was hers and that she was leaving with it.  I disputed this and argued that the ham was mine, that I had laboured over cooking it for hours and that it was the centrepiece of my food offering for the flat warming party.  She scoffed and announced that she was taking the ham anyway.  The woman who I knew very fondly left my flat with the ham and it was then that I woke up.  I lay in my bed feeling very dazed and confused, because women hardly ever visit my flat and I never keep ham.

As the week unfolded I had recovered from my troubling ham nightmare and walked straight into a waking nightmare as all of my toiletries began to run low in unison.  I have an unwritten household policy of replenishing my supply of toiletries in small batches some time before they are finished.  There is no conscionable reason for this other than a deep-rooted fear of how a shopping basket filled with Lynx bodyspray, toothpaste, Nivea deep cleaning face wash, 400ml of shower gel, rehydrating moisturiser and a pack of four shea butter toilet rolls would look to a passing stranger.  I was forced to confront my fears – as I also was when the summer skies finally broke and turned the colour of a wet dishcloth which has been sitting on the sink for a fortnight and a score of umbrellas exploded open across the pavements – and I went to the supermarket to restock my toiletries.  I dropped each of the items I needed into my basket and placed a bunch of bananas prominently on top for perception.

In Aulay’s I was seeking refuge from the sodden streets and the downpour of day-to-day life whilst simultaneously hoping that maybe this would be the night where my soul mate would stroll into the lounge bar and become bewitched by my purple pocket square.  Instead I attracted the attention of an Alpine furniture restorer who seemed to have decided that this would be the night that he would seek the therapeutic ear of a stranger in a bar.  He clutched his pint of Guinness in his right hand, and my own cold glass became a crutch.  His eyes darted wildly from side to side, like a moth flailing around a lampshade, and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn from innocuous pleasantries to a winding tale of woe which visited such traumas as Brexit and the difficulty of renewing a Visa, civil court cases, small court fines and the habit of women running away.

I frequently nodded my head at the appropriate moments and offered the occasional consolation smile to indicate that I was still listening, though any effort on my part to respond with words and enter the conversation was swiftly cut off with the precision of a tattoo gun and he would go off on another tangent.  I looked over his shoulder at intervals and gazed hopefully at the door, wondering if this girl I had never met would walk in.  She never did, and as I was standing at the bar I found myself wondering if I would be better off staying at home playing board games, because this search for a woman was becoming more like a trivial pursuit.

Late on Friday night I received a visit from a plant doctor, and we drank beer and listened to Neil Young and Richard Hell and the plant doctor offered to diagnose my family of houseplants.  He observed happiness in one, a need for growth in another and the likelihood that I was killing my sunflowers with the water of my love.  I felt relieved that most of my plants were thriving and as I went to bed and laid my head on a duck feather pillow, the street light and a hint of breaking daylight yawning against the curtains, I began to consider the possibility that maybe a man who spends his Sunday preparing a chicken, sweet potato and quinoa stew isn’t supposed to have a girlfriend, and is instead more likely to have to repot every now and again.

The night I ate a foot long Sub

My two new houseplants had been flowering into life for more than a week and I was beginning to convince myself that maybe I am not the incompetent plant killing sociopath that I once felt certain I was when I finished watering them on Wednesday morning.  It was bin collection day, and in keeping with my role within our block of flats I stepped outside to retrieve the emptied blue vessels.  I pinned the door of the close back against the wall with a brick which, for some reason, is shrouded inside an old towel and I wheeled the first of the three bins inside.  As I was doing this my neighbour on the ground floor was returning from the garden with a laundry basket in her hand, and with the radiant glow of early morning sunlight streaming through the open door behind me it struck me that she is quite becoming.

We exchanged greeting pleasantries – her voice carried a foreign flair, possibly German or Danish – and it occurred to me how contrasting our outfits were.  My neighbour was dressed in black lycra cycling shorts, indicating a degree of athleticism, whilst I was sporting a black and white tie and matching socks, which I suspected probably indicated to her that I had taken my sartorial inspiration from the Liquorice Allsorts mascot, Bertie Bassett.

Through the day I was conjuring scenarios in my mind where I could manufacture a meeting with the ground floor girl who cycles (when I am the ground floor guy who recycles.)  I considered that on an evening I could knock on her door and ask if she had any spare sugar I could borrow, though I dismissed this idea as being clichéd and only adding to her belief that I am beholden to my sweet tooth.  In a more nefarious notion I thought about the possibility of sabotaging her tyres in the hope that she would come to me as some damsel in distress, urging me to help change them.  I concluded that she likely has an equally athletic boyfriend who would fit new wheels for her and who would easily squash me when my deeds become evident, and even if she doesn’t I realised that I have never changed a tyre in my thirty-four years and I would only look foolish if she approached me in her moment of need and I fumbled with a foot pump.

Since I introduced multivitamins into my daily weekday morning routine at the beginning of June I have begun using them as a handy measurement of time.  If one tube of twenty effervescent tablets is equal to four weeks then it has been a tube and a quarter, or five weeks, since I last saw a person who I felt may have been my best friend.  Until I started taking these tablets each morning I didn’t know that people could fade out so fast, like a soluble vitamin in a glass of water.

It has been a twentieth of a tube since I had my last severe anxiety attack, although the incessant headache which rings in my head like the bell at last orders in the bar lasted long into Friday.  I haven’t been taking multivitamins long enough to accurately measure the time since my last romantic dalliance.

It was a night like any other Friday night when I embarked upon my usual post work, pre-pub routine.  I lit two small candles and placed them inside a pair of blackened tealight holders to burn a mound of my favourite ‘Full Moon’ incense purchased from Treadwell’s bookstore in London; drank a couple more than half a dozen bottles of Budweiser; listened to some of the more sad Ryan Adams songs on my playlist and watered my houseplants, because I had forgotten to do so in the morning.

My anxiety was still lurking sharply behind my eyes like the way a shy Lothario stands at the dimmer side of the bar, and I decided that the best thing I could do would be to go to Subway for a sandwich, because nothing cures sadness like cured meat.  It had been nigh upon eighteen months since I last visited the six-inch specialists, which was a place that once upon a time featured frequently on my Friday nights out due to me usually being too drunk to make my own sandwich and because of the smile.

So long had it been since I had eaten a Subway sandwich that by the time I joined the queue I had forgotten the etiquette for ordering and I had to be guided through the entire process, relying on the Subway girl’s expertise to remind me of how I liked my breaded cuisine.  I ordered a steak sandwich, as normal, and had it as a foot-long due to them being 30p cheaper than a six-inch after four o’clock and I felt like I was making a saving.  I finally enjoyed the soft drink I had been asking for on every visit and never received, and I spent so much time in the store that it felt right that I should offer to mop the floor.  I was inarguably a man wearing a blue suit with a pink pocket square and mopping the floor of a Subway restaurant in a neat figure eight fashion, though my actions were less sweeping anyone off their feet and more kicking myself in the bucket.

I wasn’t perturbed by this defeat, however, and in the evening the barmaid with the dreadlocks and the green fingers presented me with a small potted plant, complete with instructions on how to keep it alive.  It was a very thoughtful gift and I immediately named the plant Succy the Succulent, because it is a succulent.  The instructions suggest that it would be very difficult for me to kill Succy.  I placed her on the kitchen window, away from the other two more needy plants, and with a tantalising view of grass and some bushes on the other side of the glass.  My family of plants is growing, and every day they are becoming more of a replacement for romance.