Two Christmases ago, Sharon gave her Mum a self-help paperback called The Duty Trap. The book is aimed at people who persist in unhappy, one-sided relationships out of a misplaced sense of duty. On New Year’s Eve, says Sharon. her Mum finished the book, went upstairs, packed a suitcase and walked out. She went back to the farmer, now widowed, with whom she’d had the one love affair of her life. They are unbelievably happy, though their happiness is tinged with sadness that they left it so late.
At the time, Sharon herself was in the eighth year of an unhappy, one-sided relationship with Tony, a local hard man. She was reading a self-help paperback called Write It Down, Make It Happen. This book promises that you can get whatever you want from life if only you can articulate it in your mind then write it down. Sharon’s wish-list included a different life and a new man. A week later, she met me and left the hard man. (The hard man took it very badly, which is another story.) But as Sharon is fond of saying, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince, and after six months she realised I was one of the former. The thing that made her make up her mind to move on again was track two on Dido’s best-selling album No Angel. It’s called ‘The Hunter’. ‘The crown’s too heavy,’ sings Dido. ‘This queen you think you own/wants to be a hunter again/wants to see the world alone/wants to take a chance on life again/so let me go-or It had really spoken to her, Sharon said.
I held my hands up. Listening to a pop song is as good a reason as any for changing one’s life. The songs of Johnny Cash, for example, have had a significant and usually entirely deleterious effect on the pattern of my own. Instead of a steady boyfriend, Sharon is getting a dog, she told me — an English bull terrier. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of the dog.
Last week, Sharon’s Mum and the farmer came to stay at my house for a few days while the divorce settlement was being finalised by local solicitors. Seeing that I was virtually immobile with grief, and needing something to take my mind off her daughter, she fixed me up with a blind date with one of her mates, a 45-year-old millionairess with stately home and vineyard. I told her this reminded me of the old joke about the ideal woman being a brewery heiress with a flat head to stand your pint on while she gives you a blowjob.
Sharon’s Mum arranged for me to meet her mate at 9.15 a.m. at a coffee shop in town. I would be wearing my green shirt. (Sharon’s mum likes my green shirt.) I’ve let myself go a bit lately, so before I set off she gave me a severe haircut. As she snipped at my head, she gave me a pep talk. I must make an effort, she said. No good sitting around moping. I wasn’t that bad looking. Self-confidence, she said, is three quarters of attractiveness.
I was a bit late when I pushed my shoulders back and shoved open the door of the coffee shop. My date was already in there, talking to another man in a green shirt. Dido’s ‘No Angel’ was playing on the CD. CI can’t sleep, I can’t breathe,’ Dido was singing, ‘till you’re resting here with me,’)
I took my latte over to their table and joined them. My blind date tore herself away from her new friend to talk to me, but only from civility. Evidently she and the bloke in the green shirt had connected in some way. She’d assumed he was me, she said, looking at me with undisguised contempt, because of his green shirt. The bloke in the green shirt made no attempt to move away and winked at me over his raised cup.
Well, I attempted a few inanities, which got the short shrift they deserved. I could see that she was busting to resume the conversation she’d been engaged in with the other bloke before I came in. What was particularly galling to me was that my green shirt was much nicer than his green shirt. Mine was a freshly laundered Ben Sherman; his, this hairy lumberjack thing.
But, as Sharon’s mum had said, self-confidence is all, and I had none. So I stood up, pointlessly shook hands with both of them and came home again. Sharon’s Mum didn’t half tell me off when I told her what had happened. At the moment I am studying a self-help paperback called The Nature of Unhappiness.