Date: 3 April 2015.
Location: the Science Museum cafe. ('London's deserted over Easter', they said. 'It'll be peaceful', they said. They were wrong! There are more strollers here than at a Peppa Pig convention.)
I heard the most wonderful story this week. Full credit goes to to its author, Simon Rich, who tells it far better than I'm about to.
Plato tells us that a long, long time ago in most Ancient Greece, humans came in three forms: the children of the moon, the children of the sun and the children of the earth. The children of the sun had four arms, four legs and two heads — both male. The children of the earth were the same, but with two female heads. The children of the moon had one head of each gender.
But Plato had neglected the final group: the children of the dirt. These creatures looked just like you and me: just two legs, just two arms and just the one head. And, 'whenever they saw a two-headed creature walking by, talking to itself in baby-talk voices, it made them want to vomit. They hated going to parties and when there was no way to get out of one, they sat in the corner, too bitter and depressed to talk to anybody. The children of the dirt were so miserable that they invented wine and art to dull their pain. It helped a little, but not really.'
But so infatuated and happy grew the children of the moon, of the sun and of the earth that they all grew indolent and neglected their Gods. Zeus was not impressed. One afternoon he'd had enough and descended from Mt Olympus to punish these blissful creatures. He split each of them in two, taking their literal other half and casting it far acros the world, damning all to a life in search of the one who completes them: the sun children gay men, the earthen children lesbians and the moon children heterosexual.
The children of the dirt? Zeus left them quite alone. They're already bloody miserable, he figured.
And perhaps the vast majority of humans are descendants of these children of the dirt? 'And no matter how long they search the earth, they’ll never find what they’re looking for because there’s nobody for them, not anybody in the world'.
I loved this story. I don't buy into its simplistic cynicism. No, I'm a Jane Austen-reading, romcom-watching, Hugh-Grant vs Colin Firth-loving hopeless romantic from way back, and yet the story resonates.
I first heard this story on the NPR science podcast Invisibilia (and I've just outed myself as a giant geek, in case that was not already stunningly clear to you all) whilst on the bus this past rainy Tuesday, heading to Zilouf's on Upper Street to have a wine with a girl I'd met all of twice. We shall call her Elle, for various reasons. Elle, very recently in possession of both a shiny new Masters of Law from the prestigious LSE and a shiny new husband, is just the kind of girl that would be very easy to dislike on principal, but you just can't. She's all curvy and dusky Middle Eastern in appearance, with a giant grin and bigger prescence and she speaks even faster than I do. She just radiates warmth which was why, when I'd found out she was in London too, I wasn't shy about agreeing to meet up despite our limited acquaintance. Elle had been all lined up to start work in the international arbitration team at the same American mega law firm with whom I'd interviewed and really liked. Then, a few days ago, she'd gotten a phone call from her old professor, throwing a sexy Dutch spanner in the works. She'd been chosen as a judge's associate at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Guys, this is winning the American Idol of international law. She's going to take it, of course, but this decision had not been come to easily — it means saying no to the prestigious firm and fat pay-check she so desperately needed, and living away from her new husband who's now studying at LSE. We eased the pain of her sleepless nights with grenache. Quite a bit of it. As I wandered home, I thought tipsily about how amazing Elle's 2015 and onwards career was now looking, about how unpredictable life can be. I'm constantly reminded that London is other cities on cocaine: faster, cockier, sparklier, less predicable. Fortunate happenstances and unbelievable opportunities happen everywhere. But they seem to happen more here.
If this week had a theme, it might be familiar wine varietals and new faces.
On Wednesday I put on my game face (and some very dark By Terry lipstick) and refused to let myself bargain out of a date with the French boy. At the very least, I figured, it's wine and story to write about. Plus, I don't have the Internet or a TV at home yet so what the hell else was I going to do on this cool and drizzly spring night? You guys should only have to get through so many stories about how much I miss my cat and the things I've bought at M&S.
This boy, and we'll call him Frank as I lack imagination and he's French, had already scored points by (a) agreeing to come to my part of town (b) proposing two options for drinks and giving me final say and (c) letting me know he'd made a booking for dinner just in case. Well played, Frank. Gentleman, take note. I'd chosen the more low-key of the options presented, a drink at The Holborn Whippet. However, earlier that day a subway fire had outed power across parts of Holborn, resulting in a half-day for many workers in the area — many of whom had found the Whippet and just stayed all day. It was packed and loud. Awkwardly, I loitered outside. This is silly, but I deliberately didn't look Frank back up on Bumble (where we'd met) to check what he looked like. I knew that if he was super attractive I'd psych myself out and I knew that if he was less attractive than I remembered I'd probably just bolt. So it was a pleasant surprise when a tall, blonde, glasses-sporting Teutonic type in a good coat approached. He, naturally, went for the kiss and I went for a hand shake (because: awkward) and he managed to stand in my toe so everything started off about as well as expected.
Thankfully in London you're never far from somewhere to eat and drink so we easily agreed to cross Bloomsbury Way to a Spanish bar instead. We scored the last table and he offered to get me a drink. I asked for a red wine, something strong — and immediately sounded like an alcoholic. He returned with Rjoja and an Estrella for himself and we settled into small talk. I cradled my wine before me like a shield as small talk is pretty much my biggest fear. His English was excellent, having studied for his MBA at Columbia in New York last year. He also spoke German as he was from Alsace, near the border. Throughout the evening he kept referring to himself and his family as 'Alsatians' and my mind obediently conjured up images of a family of glasses-wearing German Shepherds each time. Soon, things felt easy enough to admit and explain this and we laughed about that, and about one another's accents: his being an easy-on-the-ears mix between French and German with a New York inflection, mine being tempered Australian peppered with the occasional Canadianism like 'housecoat'. We had another round of drinks. We ordered tapas. Unsure what the etiquette requires, I offered to buy him the next drink and got tangled in my handbag straps as I tried to escape my tall bar stool to do so when he accepted. Around eleven, the lights came on and it was time to leave. As he paid the bill, I smugly self-congratulated. Then felt instantly less smug as he took my hand and we stepped out together into the London rain, dashing across the street to a portico to call our respective Ubers. And I'll leave you there, because I don't kiss and tell. (Lies, I totally do, but my elders and betters read this.)