Date: 4 May 2015.
Location: Sunday cafe, my local (and far too popular for my liking) brunch spot. I like my smoked salmon and corn fritters without a complimentary wait time of ten minutes and sans a side of friendly chit chat from the table next to me. This makes me sound cranky, though I’m anything but. It’s a sunny May bank holiday Monday and everyone and everything in London is cracking a slow smile, sleeping in and tilting their heads back as the Islington wind shakes down snow in the form of white cherry blossom petals.
I’m parent free! Lovely to have them here, equally lovely to have had them here and now be able to sleep in until midday if I want to. I like my life here in London. It feels quarantined from my Melbourne life and from all of its elements, those both good and bad. I’m not so keen on allowing either in here. Cross-border contamination makes me miss the good things, and I’d tried so bloody hard to flee from the bad ones. I also felt a little slighted by my dad who was here on business for four nights and so could only spare one for me. It was blatantly clear that he was here for work and not the pleasure of my company which is, of course, fine as it’s what paid for his flight over. However, under my shellacked, hard grown-up shell is my soft and easily bruised daughter-self — and she was wounded by this. I’ve had more than my fair share of house guests in the last two months and he was one of the more difficult. This left a bitter, oily, guilty taste in my mouth.
Last Saturday was ANZAC day. I celebrated by drinking with Australians. Something new! I shouldn’t have to explain that this last should be read with a measure of sarcasm. It had been a busy week that sent me to Leeds and to Staines-Upon-Thames (which is leafy and sweet, not the blight on the scenery its name suggests) for work. So, come this Saturday ANZAC morning, I found myself having used up my last reserves of self-restraint. A glow of relief settled over me as I snuggled down in West London’s Ember Yard for an elegant tapas and Tempranillo lunch with The China Doll. The afternoon declined in stylishness from there. First, tipsy shopping on Oxford St (I bought a £36 candle. I cannot be trusted.) Then I joined Chandler and Monica at Gordon’s Wine Bar, a snug cave of a place set along the Thames. We polished off a bottle of house red and were soon joined by Twiggy and Joey. We had agreed to do the unthinkable together: to acknowledge our passports and the ANZACs and visit the last standing Walkabout. For those without The Knowledge, a Walkabout is a dirty, sticky Australian chain pub with kangaroos on the wall and a bad, dad-aged cover band playing Johnny Farnham. Walkabouts were a thing in the early 2000s but, as the Australian population in Britain grew and loudly derided them as fake they began to shut down. Thankfully for us there’s one left. And that’s where we now headed, to drink Fosters out of plastic glasses. I’m not especially proud of this next bit: it was really fun. Somewhere between Aussies in uniform, sweaty boys in Bintang beer singlets, plentiful cheap beers, we had stepped through a black hole to an Australia that never quite existed. It was 4pm. We could stay here all night.
There was only one little problem with this genius plan.
And now we come to the crux of today’s story.
Loyal readers may remember that I’d met The Journalist in Budapest, where we had both been invited by Chandler and Monica. Since then, to the best of our mutual Friends’ knowledge, we’d seen one another only once or twice in a group. But that wasn’t entirely accurate. In fact, spurred on cheap mojito courage, we’d exchanged numbers over Easter. Been to a gig in Brixton two weeks later. Had a drink and dinner that Friday. Beer tasted Monday. And we were due to see a movie that night at 7pm. How to make a graceful escape without mentioning where I was going? It didn’t seem viable, or sensible. The afternoon had already had its fair share of potential segues. (Them ‘So, Alex, will you bring Frenchy to our party next weekend?’ Me: ‘Um, no, probably not’.) It’s difficult to talk about a relationship that’s metamorphosing from a simple friendship-lite into something murkier. I have no idea if it’s becoming something thin and fleeting, an awkward mutant near-miss or a wholesome relationship specimen. I don’t know what I want. I can’t fathom what he wants. How difficult, then, to describe this changing chimera with its blurry edges to a solidly happy couple who know and have opinions on us both? In the end I don’t even try. At 6.30 I picked up my handbag and excused myself.
‘I have to go. I have a date.’
Monica doesn’t miss a beat. ‘With Frenchy?’
‘With who?’ (The annoying grammar priss in my head, ‘With whom‘.)
A blank look from Monica. Then, gradual understanding. ‘You’re kidding!’
Neither she nor Chandler looked particularly pleased at my little revelation. Both seemed annoyed that neither of us had seen fit to mention this yet. I don’t understand reaction, and was quite crestfallen about it (my crunchy outer shell just isn’t doing its job this week.) Twiggy and Joey, already privy, looked around awkwardly at the Surfers Paradise beach posters or into their Fosters. Joey would later suggest to me that Monica was only irritated as she’d already earmarked The Journalist as a match for one of her other friends and I’d choose to believe this. Perhaps I’d injured her pride in keeping it from her. I would probably feel like that should two of my friends from separate circles that I’d been responsible for uniting hang out in secret. Hell, rumour has it that back home Wolfgang and Ariel are hanging out a lot (ahem) and even that irritates me, though that makes no logical sense.
The weekend ended well. I (oops) sneakily slept through most of Saturday’s Avengers movie, which made dinner conversation a minefield. (“Yeah, I really liked that bit where the…uh, thing exploded”.) Ignoring Sunday’s London Marathon I holed up with Orange Is The New Black and then had a Sunday dinner with Joey at The Angelic as she was staying over.
I slipped into bed feeling fat, tired and grateful. Grateful that my brother didn’t have to fight like an ANZAC. Grateful for friends and adventures. Grateful that my time in Nepal was marked with kindness and dal, not earthquakes and horror. Grateful for all the Australians in London. Grateful for my little apartment and fresh flowers.