vendredi 14 décembre 2007

Star Academy

So last night was the date with le Lyonnais. He cooked dinner for us both. And you know what? As I stood on his balcony, freezing but with a gin and tonic to keep me warm, I realised I was in the wrong place.

He's a nice guy, just not nice enough. Well, he probably is nice enough for someone else, but not me. What am I looking for? What was he lacking? If only I knew. I just know it wasn't right.

I ate my dinner, gave good company and got my coat. Years ago I'd have stayed, just for politeness' sake. But I didn't stay. I didn't want to, so I left. I know this probably sounds like a pretty simple decision, but trust me, it was hard. I knew the sex would be good. I also knew I'd hate myself the next day. And I knew he'd be more difficult to give up if we slept together again.

Am I avoiding getting involved? Am I scared? Am I scarred? Or did I just make a good decision, a normal, grown-up decision? Maybe it was just a dinner that was followed by an offer that I turned down. Is life ever that simple?

Anyway, tonight I'm watching Star Academy. It's mindless and stupid, and bad tv, but it's easier than dating.

mercredi 12 décembre 2007

le Lyonnais

Just before I left for Hong Kong, I went to dinner with a group of friends at L'Ouest - a restaurant run by local hero and national treasure Paul Bocuse. As expected, the food was first class. The company was good too and we managed to put the world to rights around the table. Many good friends were there, as well as a few people I had never met before.

The food eaten, wine drunk and bill paid, we prepared to leave. As I put on my coat, one of the 'inconnus', a Lyonnais guy called Martin, asked me if I wanted to share a beer on the way home. The restaurant is a bit out of town, and a forty-five minute walk from my place. But it's a pleasant walk along the river Saone and so I chose to walk rather than taxi. Martin, having arrived in a cab, agreed to walk back with me and we stopped off at a bar in Vaise for a couple of beers.

As he left my apartment the next morning, I wondered what I actually thought of this guy. He's short, but then I'm in the wrong country for leggy lovelies. He's opinionated, but again, this isn't the land of the shrinking violet. He smokes and drinks, and didn't shower before leaving. I think it may be love. ha ha.

The point is, that I always meet people just as I'm about to leave. And so I left for Hong Kong wondering if I'd see him again, but hoping I would.

I've been back in Lyon for two days now, and he's called me twice a day. I'm seeing him again tomorrow - he's cooking dinner for us. Who knows. Is this the start of something? Even if it's the end of something I'm happy. Back in the saddle, back off the shelf. For the time being, at least.

mardi 27 novembre 2007

Capsule wardrobe

I'm going to Hong Kong tomorrow. You'd think I'd be excited about this. Secretly I am, but I'm not telling anyone that. Instead, I'm saying how stressful it is. How hard it is to decide what to pack.

What I need is a capsule wardrobe. You know, the kind that has been cleverly thought out so that everything goes with everything else. Where there are outfits that can take you from podium dancing at boyz-a-go-go to the Ambassadors reception. Not that either of these feature in my holiday plans.

Anyway, my holiday wardrobe is a disaster. Basically, it's my normal wardrobe, with shorts. Nothing really goes with anything else, and you can guarantee that the one item of clothing that holds the whole collection together is the one that I leave next to the ironing board.

For someone who packs every single week, you'd think I'd be an expert. Next to some members of my family I am an expert. My mother will lay out her clothes three weeks before the trip and slowly add things and take things away until she's left with an unholy mess that makes her look like she won a five minute sweep at TK Maxx.

So I've tried to focus this time. I don't really want to turn up at the Intercontinental looking like a dogs dinner, but let's face it, I'm flying Air France, so I'll be lucky to turn up at all.

lundi 26 novembre 2007

Queens, queens, queens

I'm stood in the Palais Garnier, coupe de champagne in hand, mercilessly scanning the crowd. It's the Nana Mouskouri soiree and so, as you'd imagine, there are lots of boys here who appear to have left their wives at home....

We've positioned ourselves near to one group who looked like they promised to be entertaining. "Of course, Barbra Streisand was wunderbar in Vienna. It was queens, queens, queens as far as my eye could see", piped up one of the group. Obviously the Austrian boys were in town. "Who is that woman down there getting all of the attention?" he cried. "It should be me".

Me and Best Friend look down into the lobby and indeeed, there is a small, well-presented woman with massive helmet hair being ushered into the hall, photographers in pursuit. "Whoever she is, she could do with better shoes" mocked our new friend from Vienna.

Well, I'm not sure what kind of clothing budget is given to the wife of an ex President of the Republic, but from where we stood, it seemed that Bernadette Chirac was doing ok.

samedi 24 novembre 2007

State of independence

When I think about my parents, and about my life as a child, I feel so much love, admiration and respect for them.

As I've grown older, I've come to realise that life isn't always easy. Love, money, jobs, bosses, parents, kids - it all causes stress and makes the daily existence of the family unit difficult.

Not once did I ever realise this as a child. My parents shielded me from so much, protected me and made sure that my life was never anything less than wonderful. It makes me so happy to know this, that they loved me to this extent, yet so sad that their lives weren't as easy as I thought they were. But I guess that's what parents do?

When I spend time with friends who have kids, I see them doing the same thing for their kids. It makes me wonder if the path my life has taken, the path I have allowed it to take, the path I have chosen, is the right path. If I had kids, would I be happier? If I was married, would I be happier?

These are the things that traditionally make us humans happy - love, security, family life.

But I love my independence, my life on the run, my friends. I like being able to hand kids back when they start to play up. I like having time to myself. I like choosing what to eat, what to watch on TV, what to spend my money on.

Would I trade all of this for a different life? A life with a good man by my side. With adopted kids or rescued dogs. A life centred on a family home, not a bachelor pad.

Would I be prepared to change my life to this extent?

Today I'm feeling brave, so I say "Yes. In a heartbeat".

vendredi 23 novembre 2007

Schiphol Airport, Friday, 6 a.m.

Yes, it's every bit as bad as the title suggests.

dimanche 18 novembre 2007

Sundays are for packing

Ok, so I'm in denial. I have big week of travelling ahead of me, and I just can't face packing.

It's not just the packing, it's thinking about what I need, making sure it's all ironed, working out what work documents I need and fitting it all into a bag. I get a bit bored of it to be honest.

That said, I should be happy this week - although there's a lot of travelling, there's much more than just endless meetings to look forward to this week.

To give you an idea of what lies ahead :

Monday - Fly to Paris at lunchtime. Meet with awkward Parisian customers in the afternoon, but then deep joy, Rufus Wainwright is playing at the Casino de Paris this evening and I have a ticket. Will he notice me? Will he ask me to marry him?

Tuesday - From Paris to Amsterdam and meetings all day. Late afternoon, drive to Eindhoven to deliver an evening training session to Dutch and UK colleagues.

Wednesday - return to Amsterdam, drop UK colleagues off at airport and meet friends for lunch. Afternoon is more meetings, then dinner and sleep at friends house.

Thursday - drive from Amsterdam to Arnhem for a meeting that I know will be hard and long, and which is due to finish at midnight...a long, long day.

Friday - after seeing Amsterdam marketing agency, it's back to Paris. Best Friend arrives from UK today and we're off to eat, shop and drink ourselves silly. The fact that we have tickets to see Nana Mouskouri at the Opera Garnier for Saturday night is making us both very giddy with excitement. And you thought I was more Sex Pistols...?

I'll get home late Sunday evening. Ready for work Monday morning. It's a great week really, but you can surely imagine why I'm in denial...

samedi 17 novembre 2007

Thanks to Swearing Mother... are my own crazy eights. And before you ask, they are in no particular order.

Eight things I am passionate about

1. laughing
2. time spent with friends, including those members of my family that I consider friends
3. the power of the bathtub
4. falling in love, although it happens too infrequently
5. sex
6. a well made Negroni in winter
7. a cold, refreshing Mojito in summer
8. hairy chests and beer bellies

Eight things to do before I die

I don't have great plans in this area, you know. It's acttually quite dull. I don't want to climb Everest. I don't want to cross the Atlantic in a pedalo. I absolutely don't want go to Disneyland. I just want to be happy. Here are a few things that would make me happy...

1. get my light from under this damn bushel
2. marry Rufus Wainwright
3. divorce Rufus Wainwright, but only if I get to keep some money and the sex tapes we made

Eight things I say often

there are the phrases that I use far too regularly for my own good....

1. are you on drugs?
2. no shit, sherlock
3. he's just a fucking nuisance, that boy
4. and I'm like, yeah right, whatever

and then there are the ones that I wish I didn't have to say quite so often....

5. is the flight on time today?
6. aisle please, as close to the front as possible
7. non-smoking room, with a double bed on a high floor, please
8. can I order some room service please?

Eight books I have read or am still reading

Each of these books has affected me in one way or another. Usually they just make me incredibly sad to have finished them - the best possible reaction to a book, in my opinion...

1. From Blue to Black, Joel Young
2. The Good Life, Jay McInerney
3. If no-one speaks of remarkable things, Jon McGregor
4. The line of beauty, Alan Hollinghurst

The above books are all recent reads, and all come highly recommended. The next three are authors whose every piece of work I have read and adored :

5. Douglas Coupland
6. Brett Easton Ellis
7. Augusten Burroughs

And finally, in a well-deserved category of his own (I'm suggesting 'literary God') I give you my all-time favourite author....

8. Toby Litt

Eight songs to listen to over and over again

Such a difficult thing to do - it's like that question we all hate "what kind of music do you like?"...

That said, choosing number one is easy - it has to be 'Oh What a World' by Rufus Wainwright. It's where the title of this blog comes from. In fact, Number one should be the whole album on which this track appears - Want One.

1. Oh What a World/Want One - Rufus Wainwright
2. Hong Kong Garden - Siouxsie and the Banshees
3. Jealousy - Pet Shop Boys
4. Valencia - Sara Montiel
5. La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf / Grace Jones / KD Lang
6. Read my mind - Killers (Pet Shop Boys remix)
7. Suedehead - Morrissey
8. Glorious - Andreas Johnson

Eight things that attract me to friends

1. will I be ashamed to be seen in public with this person?
2. can they advance my career in any way?
3. will they buy me dinner?
4. do they have a villa that I can use?
5. do they have an attractive son in his late twenties?

or maybe this is me being facetious. The real ones are far too obvious...

6. sense of humour - do they laugh at my jokes?
7. things in common - are they interested in what I have to say?
8. attractiveness - will they put up with always being considered 'the plain one'?

Eight people I think should do crazy eight's

Well there are only three, how about:

1. Stew from the tile factory
2. Bruz for a french point of view
3. And the mid-lifer, for a former punk's outlook

Over to you.....

vendredi 16 novembre 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

Well, we met for lunch and that was it. Mark is quitting. Has quit. And I guess it's going to be difficult to bump into each other as he's moving to Dubai. In three weeks time.

I said it would end in tears. It hasn't. Not mine, not his. This is a good thing.

So I start today with a fresh outlook. No bags, no baggage. No easy relationship with someone who will never get too serious. No using him as an excuse for not getting out there and sorting my life out. It's taught me that actually, although I think being single is fine, having someone to come home to is not unpleasant. I'm not sure I crave this, let alone want this, but at least I'm no longer saying no, no way, never.

Trust me, finding this new attitude is a milestone.

Or is it a millstone?

I never did work out the difference.

I predict a riot

How very French.

Behind my house is the Ecole National du Tresor Public. And god bless' em, this morning they was a manifestin' in the street. Shouting, klaxon-ing, singing and generally having quite a nice time, it seemed. I almost felt like joining them, such fun they appeared to be having.

As I drove across town, I passed the Prefecture and coming from the Police Station next door were van loads of Police with riot shields and batons at the ready. Suddenly the manifestation looked less enticing.

I guess this is serious stuff really - a nation fighting against a President who is determined to break the stranglehold that the unions have on the country. I feel a sense of detachment from it at the moment, but I know that ultimately, we will all be affected in one way or another.

Vive la revolution? Let's just get it done with and out of the way, and let's get on with our lives. Some of us have trains to catch, don't you know.

jeudi 15 novembre 2007

Make yourself at home.

I get home late Tuesday night after a dinner that was ridiculously late, thanks to the Belgian police and my inability to read signs. The dinner is dreary. The food isn't good, but it's better than the company. I get home at 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. Goodness knows why.

I wake up Wednesday morning and sit for an hour on the Brussels ring road. In this hour I drive about five kilometres. During which time I drive past Brussels airport. But I'm not heading there am I? Oh no. My flight is conveniently booked from Amsterdam airport. I have a new person at Head Office making my travel arrangements. Suffice to say, it's not going well.

I drive to Schiphol. I get there too late for my flight but the lovely people at KLM find me a seat on the next one. In four hours' time.

So, I sit at the airport for four hours and I work. I catch up on emails, speak to my boss and generally do good things. But I have to say, by this point all I want to do is sleep. If I got three hours sleep the previous night I'd be surprised.

Anyway, my flight boards and I find my place. I plan to sleep. The woman next to me wants to 'chat'. I'm not in a chatting mood. I'm in a sleeping mood. Surely my closed eyes and reclined seat tell her this? Apparently not.

To make matters worse, my plane is going to Geneva. This was a last minute trip and the Lyon flight was full. It's a two-hour drive home from Geneva airport, through the tail-end of the Jura mountains. It's a clear, cold night and the Jura are covered in snow. It'd be a beautiful drive if my mood ring wasn't glowing dark, dark, black.

Eventually I get home. Knackered. Broken. Desperate for sleep. It's midnight.

I drop my bag in the lounge, undress in the bathroom, clean my teeth and go to my bedroom.

Mark is in my bed. Well, I suppose he did tell me he was coming to Lyon. I just don't remember ever having given him a key to the apartment.

I get into the bed. It's comfortably warm already and it's good to have a body to lie against. I sleep.

I wake up late this morning and Mark is gone. Such was my tired and worn out state last night that I wonder if I dreamt the whole thing.

I stumble into the living room. He's left me a note saying he'll be back at midday. "can we do lunch? I still need to talk to you. Mark".

And so another day in paradise begins. I go back to bed and sleep some more.

mercredi 14 novembre 2007

50 Euros

As I stood in the police station in the town square at Grimbergen, a suburb of Brussels, I wonder how this became my life. How was it that my name was now being entered on to the Belgian police's database of offensive foreigners?

Now, dear reader, I don't want you to panic. I'm not here on drugs charges, or for having bared my nethers at the locals (although I'm certain they'd be impressed). It's a simple case of mistaken identity. They've mistaken me for someone who knows, understands and cares about the intricacies of the Belgian parking system.

How was I supposed to know that parking is on the left hand side of the road for the first half of the month, then it switches to the right hand side? Strikes me as a bit daft. Are they worried that the road will wear unevenly if it doesn't get equal use on both sides?

And here was I singing the praises of the Belgians, but a couple of days ago.

Anyway, 50 euros later, I get out of the police station and a lovely young officer (who only spoke flemish, but I'm sure there was a connection, ha ha) drove me back to my car and took the clamp off it (oh yes, there was a clamp - did I fail to mention this?). He then waited for me to do a three-point turn and park on the opposite side of the road, said well done and left me to it.

I can only guess that it was a quiet night and he had no international terrorists to catch.

dimanche 11 novembre 2007

Sunday morning

Sleeping on sofas was fine ten years ago. I'm kind of over it now.

That said, it is on a sofa that I find myself waking this morning. A nice sofa, mind you. A nice charcoal grey number from Heals. But a sofa, nonetheless.

All of my London friends are normal people (i.e. they don't have trust funds and they're not on City bonuses), so if I stay over at someone's house when I'm in town it's pretty much guaranteed to be on a sofa. But I'm not complaining. Sofas are actually great places to sleep - you can go from lying in bed to sitting up and watching breakfast news in minutes, and have an excuse for eating breakfast wrapped in a duvet.

Anyway, last night was the Sex Pistols gig. Which was many times better than expected. But then I did expect it to be shit. In fact it was great. John Lydon giving a performance worthy of any regional panto, backed up by excellent music, played really well. I was really unsure about going, but had an excellent night.

Which was just what I needed after I finally gave in and answered Mark's call on his fourth attempt to reach me.

"Are you going to be in Lyon next week?" "I don't know, probably yes".

"Can we meet up? I need to talk to you" Again, I answer "I don't know, probably yes".

"It's important".

"Did she throw you out?"

"Fuck you" he says, and hangs up.

Bloody Mary

Saturday morning. I wake up in the hotel and fumble around for the TV remote. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea what day it is. I lie there like some kind of fool. Trying to come to terms with the existential crisis that I was having in my dream. Attempting to work out my motivation for this scene.

As tempting as it is to lie in bed drifting in and out of sleep, I know that I need to get my sorry arse into the shower. I need to somehow clear the haze and the throbbing that the night has left in my head. And I need to be in London at lunchtime.

I finally got rid of the Bordeaux Rugby player last night, after a couple of days where I learned that a) he may be great to look at, but there's not much going on behind the eyes; b) he has a girlfriend who seems to be keeping him on a very short lead (which he seems quite happy with) and c) sporty types are no fun because they don't drink and look at you accusingly for having carb's on your plate.

However, despite all of this I also learned that d) I still would, if he was up for it. Which, I should point out, he isn't.

Anyway, he's gone back home to wherever home is. And I'm heading to London to meet a friend who has bought me a ticket for a gig in town.

We're meeting, as usual, at Joe Allen. It's become our meeting place of choice largely because of the bloody marys. And it's only the thought of the drinks that gets me into the shower, into the car and into the city.

As I walk down Exeter Street to Joe Allen, I get a call from Mark. I don't answer. He leaves me a message - he's going to be in Lyon next week. Am I going to be there?

Two bloody marys later, I feel like I'm ready to call him back.

jeudi 8 novembre 2007

Written in the stars

I blame my mother for delivering me four weeks early. I should be a Virgo. Which would mean that this month I'm mostly enjoying home cooked meals for two and lengthy love making sessions with a significant other, whilst we both enjoy our financial freedom and good health.

Instead, as a lovely Leo, my stars today tell me that even though I'm finally getting sorted on the financial front, I'll have no-one to share it with - both socially and romantically the outlook is bleak, nay disastrous.

Which is precisely what a single boy wants to hear, just as the nights get dark and the bed gets cold.

Wish me luck...

mercredi 7 novembre 2007

London (wishful thinking)

I'm listening to Sara Montiel, drinking a gin and tonic and packing my bag.

I'm heading back to the UK tomorrow afternoon - I'm working in London on Thursday and Friday.

It'd be quite dull except that the new boy is also in town. He's our man in Bordeaux - an ex-pro rugby player, and the hottest thing to walk through the company reception since...? Goodness only knows.

He's getting himself quite a reputation, flirting with anyone and everyone. More than one male colleague has told me that he'd happily 'go gay for Guillaume'. Which is more than they've ever done for me.

Anyway, for the next couple of days it's just me and him - he's tagging along to some meetings as a training exercise. I'm not complaining. I just hope the hotel has a sauna.

In the words of La Montiel herself 'quizas, quizas, quizas....'

lundi 5 novembre 2007


So, I'm back home.

It's weird isn't it? I don't want to be an Englishman who lives in France and compares it constantly with living in the UK, but from time to time, I am that man.

I try hard not to be the kind of person who says "how much?!" when I pay for petrol in England, but I say it. I try really hard not to be the person who praises french supermarkets (so much cheese!) and groans at the thought of English sliced bread. But hey, here I am.

I tell you what though - I love the UK for it's love of fat people. We always moan in the UK about body fascism and size zero models, but people are happy and live normal, fairly healthy lives with a bit of fat. Some of us even find a bit of bulk a turn-on.

Now, being well built is one thing but no-one, absolutely no-one, wants to be the fattest person in the room.

In the UK I'd never be the fattest person in the room. There's definitely some pounds to be lost here, but I know many fatter people. In the UK. In France I am the fattest person I know. How did this happen? I go to meetings and am the biggest person there. Ditto nightclubs, ditto restaurants, ditto everywhere.

My fancy Gym membership is helping me to lose some, but even though I enjoy the view of the fit bodies working out, I miss fat people in the gym. There's nothing better than people fatter than yourself to give your confidence a boost. Well guess what? I'm boosting everyone's confidence but my own at the gym.

But I continue to go. If only for the nice towels and the hydrotherapy pool.

And the baking hot sauna.

And the outdoor swimming pool in summer.

And that boy behind reception with the curly hair....

West Bromwich Albion

"We're West Brom til we die, we're West Brom til we die. We're blue and white, the Wolves are shite, we're West Brom til we die". This is the song my 5 year old nephew decided to entertain us with at Saturday evening's family bonfire extravaganza. His 3 year old sister had given us '1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive', which was perfectly acceptable, but I was somewhat stunned by the West Brom chant.

My nephew has a season ticket which he shares with my mother. One of them accompanies my brother to all WBA home matches throughout the season.

This is a whole new world to me, and one which I've never understood. I've been to matches and I've even run down the tunnel at Old Trafford - thanks to a NatWest hospitality event (although in my mind I was a member of ABBA coming on stage for an encore, not a premier league footballer running on to the pitch for a kickaround).

Anyway, the whole football thing kind of missed me. I was the one last to be picked at school. Every time. The time I spent waiting to be picked I spent devising clever put-downs for those people who never picked me. Thinking of names to call them and daydreaming about the matching quilt and curtains I wanted in my bedroom.

If forced to play, I'd always position myself nearest to the player with the best legs. Well, it's nice to have something to look at when you've got nothing to do isn't it?

Anyway, as the West Brom chant ended, my cousin (a female 53 year-old senior manager in the NHS and avid Wolves supporter) stood up and gave an equally tasteless Wolverhampton Wanderers chant which made the five year old cry. It took him an hour to calm down, such were his tears.

We watched fireworks, we drank soup and we got through a few bottles of wine. As I left the house towards midnight, my nephew, who had been sleeping on the sofa, woke up to say goodbye.

"the Wolves are shite, aren't they?" he said, before dropping back to sleep.

samedi 3 novembre 2007

No more tears

My boss cried during our meeting on Friday. Inconsolably. It was disturbing.

I flew back to the UK for a couple of days of meetings last week, one of which was my fairly regular one-to-one with my boss. It was an early flight and, having missed the very same flight only three weeks before, I took extra precautions. Not only did I set my mobile phone to ring and my alarm clock (which is permanently fifteen minutes early), I also asked a friend to wake herself up and give me a call to make sure I was awake. Bless her. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to be my friend....ha ha.

Anyway, The meeting starts with my boss handing me a cheque in quite an extravagant manner. "This is for your hard work" she said. "Thanks very much" I replied. I'm always happy to be given a cheque.

"It's a small bonus" said she. "A bonus and a pay review in one meeting?" said I "what have I done to deserve this?".

"Pay review?" said the boss. "Remember last time, you said you'd have organised my pay rise for this meeting? I have an email from you confirming that you would". At which point she, rather unexpectedly, started crying.

To be honest, it was the last reaction I expected and it really took me by surprise. She's normally a hard talking, take-no-nonsense type of girl. "I'm so sorry" she said "I just thought I was doing something nice". By which time, she's struggling to catch her breath, let alone talk. I whisk her out of the back door and we go for a walk around the back of the building. I'm figuring that fresh air might do her some good. I'm not about to hug her and I think slapping her might not help my chances of a pay rise.

She calms down enough to tell me some stunning things that I didn't want to hear about her personal life, before promising that she won't ever cry again and making me swear to tell no-one. "Absolutely no-one" she says. I agree hastily.

I've never wanted to finish a meeting so quickly in my life. Unfortunately we'd only just started and so for the next two hours we discussed my results and any current projects with a constant sniffling and the occasional gasp for breath.

Just awful. Afterwards I felt like I'd been through the wringer twice - goodness only knows how she felt. She avoided my part of the building for the rest of the day.

And guess what? We never did discuss my pay rise.

vendredi 26 octobre 2007


Mark's visit to Lyon was postponed and he arrived in town this morning. So there's me thinking I'd be in Berlin when he visited, and so saying he can sleep at my place.

Anyway, he spent all day in meetings, which was fine by me. Whenever I'm here I'm speaking to people who are elsewhere. Today I've been trying to sort out the sale of my UK house. It's so strange, but I feel no sentimental attachment to that house - to me it's just walls and windows.

So the house is being sold, and I'm not sad. It's where I was living when my father died, when I lost my job, when nephews and nieces were born. It's where lovers came and lovers went; friends came and friends went.

I look at it now and feel nothing. I just wish it was sold, end of part one. Let's get the adverts over and move on with part two - after all, the scene has been set, it's about time we had some action.

The working day over, I go to the bar to meet Mark. He's had a bad day too, I can tell. We have a drink, we eat some dinner.

We make our way across the bridge to my place. I love this river, this view of Fourviere at night. We're both quiet, introspective. Neither of us wants to talk much. Both of us want to sleep.

I get the feeling that two people will walk away from this with broken hearts. Mark isn't one of them.

mercredi 24 octobre 2007

Visiting rights

Geneva Airport, being the regional low-cost hub, is the accepted point of arrival and departure for visiting friends and family members. They all like to visit, but no-one likes to go to the expense of flying to the airport that is on my doorstep. They like me to work for their company, by flying into an airport that is an hour and half’s drive across the mountains. And then when they arrive, I spend the whole time worrying that they’re not having a great time and taking personally anything negative they say about anywhere I take them to. As you can imagine, I love it when friends and family come to stay….

And this week has seen an almost textbook family visit.

Step one. I rush around my apartment removing anything likely to offend the sensibility of junior, senior or just-plain-sensitive family members. I make sure photo’s of visiting relatives are prominently on display and that any artwork previously provided by children of visitors is attached to fridge.

Step two. I take the train to the airport and rent a bigger car. My own car is great - perfectly sized for almost any parking space that your average European city can throw at it. It also has enough va va voom to get it up and over medium sized mountains but, alas, is too small to carry anyone but me, a very close friend and enough bags for a weekend away. So my visitors get the treat of a rental car (usually at my expense, can I point out).

Step three. I wait at the arrivals area where I invariably have to stop myself from shedding a few tears at the emotional welcome a complete stranger has received from his/her own family. This is the kind of welcome everyone should get when they come through customs. I, naturally, never get such an outpouring of emotion – if there ever is anyone to meet me, it’s a sartorial disaster-zone of a taxi driver with my name spelt incorrectly on a piece of A4.

Step four. We head home en famille, usually for a few days in Lyon, where I send them out shopping and sightseeing whilst I get on with work. Often this ‘work’ involves me taking a long bath or reading a book in peace. This is almost always followed by a weekend away in a rented apartment or cottage somewhere not too far away where we cook cottage pie, drink lots of cheap red and generally stay up late reminiscing.

Step five. We all pretend to be having a great time, yet when we retire to our individual sleeping areas it is considered acceptable ring ‘best friend’ to bitch about the people who are visiting. To go into drunken detail about why they are the worst people on earth and why it would be so much better if it was ‘best friend’ visiting instead. OK, so it’s just me who does this….

Step six. I spend the last two days wishing I had some time to myself. Wishing I didn’t have to translate every menu, be the only person capable of ordering in French and being the one who goes into shops and asks for ‘that one, there’ because no-one else is brave enough.

Step seven. I drop them all off at the airport, breathe a huge sigh of relief, text best friend to say ‘they’ve gone, hooray!’ and then cry all the way home, feeling bereft of company and desperate to move back to the UK and be closer to these people.

Step eight. I phone a ‘sure thing’ from the train home and arrange a date for that evening. I go on said date, get some gins inside us both, take him home and wake up the next morning as if it had all been a dream…

And so life goes on. Back to normal, back to routine. I’m heading home on the train now and have already called Robert, my Lyon ‘sure thing’ and set up this evening’s entertainment.

I’m not saying I don’t miss my family and friends – I do. But do I really want to live next door to any of them? Next question, please…..

jeudi 18 octobre 2007


I think I like this place because, deep down, the city is a slut.

This morning, on the U2 from Schonhauser Allee into Mitte I looked around me and was comforted by the way that, in Germany, I could pass for attractive. I'm not saying it's an ugly country, it's just not full of waiflike beauties. And everyone looks like they'd be more than happy to sleep with you, they're just waiting to be asked. That said, I'd insist that most of them had a good bath first...

Talking about baths, my German colleague took me out to Cabaret last night. It largely involved a cigar smoking dwarf, blowing smoke filled bubble-sculptures whilst fey young men and sturdy girls cavorted in a stage full of baths. It was quite odd and not the Kit Kat Klub that I was hoping for. I guess there's no accounting for what is classed as entertainment in other countries. I once went to see an Edith Piaf tribute show in Bucharest. I'm not sure how the little sparrow would feel at being portrayed by a Romanian bruiser who systematically murdered song after song, whilst rolling around on a bed with a man who looked like he'd shag you, then steal your wallet on the way out. But hey, god bless Romania. I was mugged within ten minutes of stepping out of the cab and have vowed never to return.

Back in Berlin, Me and Stefan get dropped off at Tegel to catch our respective flights home. As the taxi fades into the distance I realise that, while he was paying the driver, I've taken my bag, Stefan's bag and the taxi driver's bag out of the boot.

I really should concentrate more.

lundi 15 octobre 2007


As I check out of the hotel and head to my car, I realise that sometimes I enjoy my life a lot.

I've taken a 24 hour break from visiting my mother - where I'm living under the threat of home cooked food and visits from various family members. The break allows me to check into a nice hotel, eat good food and go out and hit some of the nightclubs of my youth. Neither I nor they are recognisable from those days, but hey, that's progress (or aging, in my case). The fact that the hotel is less than 3 miles from her house is, admittedly, a bit strange but hey, it suits my mood.

Heading up Hurst Street at 3 o'clock this morning, I was happy. I'd had a couple of drinks, a bit of a laugh and an innocent fumble with Dan, a tiler from Kitts Green. Waiting for me at the hotel was a big bed with 300 count sheets and a good breakfast that's all set to be delivered at 9.30. What more does a boy need out of life?

In the hotel lobby my telephone beeps. "Where R U? Did U leave? Call me I don't want 2 go home 2nite. Danx".

I send a reply and get in the lift, thinking 'I must remember to order an extra breakfast'.

mercredi 10 octobre 2007

Where can I get a cup of coffee?

The poster at the airport says ‘where can I get a cup of coffee?’

I’m on the two-mile hike from the check in desk to the gate, wondering why the poster doesn’t tell me where I can get coffee from, rather than ask me for directions. The advert, with its weird question, isn’t out of place here. As airports go, Brussels is about as bi-polar as they get. Someone has insisted that the two terminals will share common areas like check in and baggage claim. This is despite the fact that this clearly doesn’t work for either of them, and is inconvenient for anyone who finds themselves travelling through. As a concept, it’s not unlike Belgium itself.

Today’s meetings with the sales team have all gone well, although I could do without the constant dick-measuring contest that these things turn into. I’ve never felt the need to (metaphorically speaking) wallop mine out on the table and compare the length and girth. I’ve always felt confident that it would be the biggest in the room. The sales boys are constantly trying to out perform their colleagues, to be the one who gets the praise. At the moment they’re fighting for a promotion, so the dick measuring is getting out of hand.

As I leave the last meeting of the day, Mark phones me and asks me how I’m doing. He’s heading to Lyon next week and is wondering if I can recommend a hotel. ‘Why don’t you stay at my place’ I suggest. I tell him where I’ll leave the keys, as I’ll be in Berlin. I like to think he looked disappointed.

At Zaventem, I call my boss, check my emails, sms a couple of friends who are desk bound and get on the plane towards Lyon, home.

I wake mid-flight with an overwhelming feeling that I’m without a direction, that this life is heading nowhere.

The thing is, my life exists in so many places that it doesn’t actually exist anywhere in full. A meeting here, a few drinks there, the odd conference and a bit of sex thrown in for good measure. I’m on the edge of so much but central to nothing and to no one.

Where to get a cup of coffee is the least of my worries.

mardi 9 octobre 2007


I drive down the Avenue Louise in my rented BMW, heading back to my hotel with its mini-bar and room service, its uniformed doormen who know my name and receptionists who make sure I always get a good room. And I wonder what it’s all for.

Does a falling tree make a noise if there’s no one in the forest to hear it?

samedi 6 octobre 2007


How did this become my life?

I’m speaking at a conference today, at a fancy Government run conference centre in London. I feel mildly stunned that these people have travelled from the US, from Canada, from South Africa and from across Europe to hear me speak. Admittedly I’m not the only show in town, but here they are, sat in front of me, waiting for my words of wisdom.

If they’d seen me last night they wouldn’t be hanging on my every word, taking notes so studiously.

Mark was also in town last night and we caught up over cocktails at the Dial bar. What can I say? He’s a different person when a: his wife is in another country, b: he’s got a few drinks inside him and c: he's with me. He never asked me not to mention it to Josja. He just got showered, got dressed and got into a cab.

My speech over, I work my way through the hand-shakers and back-patters, out of the conference centre and onto Victoria Street. It’s all been a bit too much for my poor hangover to cope with. I grab a latte and hail a cab. City airport, here I come. Get me out of here.

jeudi 4 octobre 2007


As I wake up, it takes me a while to work out where I am. This is normal.

I stand in the shower and will myself into life. Into action. Ok, maybe not into action, but certainly into life.

On the train last night I saw an American guy get his wallet stolen. He lost lots – dollars, euros, cards and I.D. No doubt there’s someone in Dordrecht who’s waking up with his new Illinois driving licence.

The thing that struck me was that no-one cared. And to be honest, neither did I. But he wasn’t travelling alone – he was with his brother – yet even the brother didn’t care. The guard told him to report it when the train got to Brussels, and I can only imagine how well that went down with the Belgian police.

Anyway, it seemed to me that the American was a bit of a nuisance, and that his brother felt that he got what he deserved. It reminded me of someone I knew a while ago. A grown man with a serious job who cried, inconsolably, for twenty minutes at Bristol temple Meads station because his train had been cancelled and he would miss his connection at New Street.

I couldn’t look him in the eye for the whole journey northwards, and conversation was limited.

He got off the train at Birmingham New Street and I stayed on. A passenger tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘there’s someone waving at you out there – do you know him?’.

‘I used to’ I replied.

mardi 2 octobre 2007


I sit in the hotel bar and I’m struck by how much I really love this city. The big grey river that matches the big grey sky, the sky that in itself promises an exit route when it all goes wrong. I love the way that the people embrace fashion, yet do it all in a way that can’t last, too extreme, too fashionable, so of the moment that it’s out before it’s in. The way the city has dressed itself in the same way – architecture that is so modern, so extreme, maybe trying too hard. Both the people and the buildings will be passé in a fortnight. But for the brief moment that they were in fashion, they were the cutting edge.

The bar is fine. It gives me a view of the city from the other side of the grey mass. I see the skyscrapers and the old merchants’ houses. The water taxis and the sailing ships. The omnipresent tower that surveys all that we do. The view makes my heart sing and tells me that this is where I should be. I don’t know why but I knew this the first time I visited the city.

Anyway, here’s Mark. We talk profit and loss, bottom lines and end of trimester results; sales projections and marketing campaigns; competitors and customers. He’s building a house an hour out of town and is distracted by the need to look at bathroom fittings while he’s in the city. To be honest, I’d rather be choosing taps and tiles with him, than sat here discussing year on year results. As it turns out, he’s meeting Josja after our meeting and they’re off to choose fittings together. She’s a hard working girl, born to succeed - educated, cultured, well put together, heading towards a partnership at the top law firm in town. She’s everything I am, but she’s everything I’m not.

Mark is a solid guy, typical of his countrymen – tall, blond, handsome. Under the business suit he’s got something pretty athletic going on. A born leader and a born winner. Josja is the female equivalent, but I always like to imagine the daily battle she has with her inner slut.

‘Eat with us tonight’ Mark said, draining his coffee and pulling on his overcoat. ‘We’re staying in town for dinner and Josja hasn’t seen you in ages – she keeps asking after you’.

‘Maybe’, I say. In that happily coupled way, Mark thinks I’m going to just stay in my room, order room service and watch a bad movie. In my single and proud way, I’m thinking that I’ll go into the city, get some dinner alone, have a drink and maybe see if I can get a bit of action. Obviously, Mark is much closer to what will happen in reality than I am, so I accept. ‘But I need to call the states, get a shower, you know’.

‘Eight thirty, we’ll wait for you at the water taxi’.

lundi 1 octobre 2007


The thing is, no matter which way I look at my life, I’m fucking up. Of this there is no doubt. When I actually try and look at it, it’s amazing how fucked up a normal person can be. But trust me, I don’t look at my life that often. But maybe that’s the problem.

My life is full of bars that I can’t go into, banks that make me feel sick if I walk past (to the point that I don’t walk past anymore), colleagues that I have to avoid on a social level. Internet sites I can’t visit, telephone calls that I avoid and mail that I don’t/won’t/can’t open. People, places, dates and conversations that I have to avoid because they are attached to an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and have been the source, scene, subject or result of one of my fuck ups.

Last week I spent the best part of two hours on the verge of vomiting and / or running away from a group of, actually very ordinary and pleasant, colleagues. Why? Because one of them had been present at a less than satisfactory moment in my life and I passed the two hours in fear that this would become the subject of conversation. As you have probably guessed, I am not only prone to fucking up, but as a human, I myself am actually pretty fucked up.

I have a great job with an excellent salary. I am blessed with great friends and a family that love me. Or at least they all love the ‘me’ that I present to them. They don’t really love me because they don’t know me. Of this I am sure. If they really knew me, really knew me, they wouldn’t like me, let alone love me. Although I guess you don’t have to like someone to love them.