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That you can put disagreements down to differences in personality is something I can’t disagree with. But that assumes both parties involved have some degree of personality to start with. Despite my eternal hope for the opposite, too often it isn’t the case, as I rediscovered only just the other month.
An old fool once told me: “You’re never too old to learn.” Like many old fools, for the life of me, I can’t imagine he was including himself. Nevertheless, in an ideal world, he should be right. Now why do I mention all that? Probably to show what a grump I can be. So anyone who doesn’t like a good old grumble, should stop right here.
Anji and I had been looking forward to a visit from an old friend of mine, and the woman he lives in sin with, for almost a year. I dislike the word partner as it makes a couple sound like a legal practice. Living in sin sounds so much more exciting. We planned to use the opportunity for a desperately-needed and long-awaited holiday. Carefully putting money aside, I’d worked out an itinerary taking in interesting sites of Andalucia, which would fit our slender budget, as well as giving them a chance to explore places off the tourist trail they’d be unlikely to find left to their own devices.
Though I’d only met the woman he was living with sin with once before, I’d known my friend since our old hippy days in the Notting Hill area of London. Back then it was still a shabby and rundown slum inhabited by the poor, the black, squatters and hippies. Happy days; an age away from the cold, affluent and fashionable place it has since become. We’d shared a lot of times I like to remember, and a lot of other times I’d rather forget. Anji got to know them both for the first time after they’d been living in sin for almost a decade, when they visited us for a few days at the end of a grand tour of southern Europe. They were fed-up of travelling by the time they reached us, and said it was the best part of the trip.
Though I noticed a few things I didn’t really take to about the woman my friend was-living-in-sin-with, first time round, they were basically inconsequentional. It would’ve been churlish to let them get in the way of us all having a good time. At our parting everything was as hunkydory as butterflies on toast in paradise. We should’ve left it at that. But no, they promised to return, and like the idiots we are, we begged them to do it. Unlike most people, who promise to come back, in the certain knowledge they never will, they actually meant it.
It’s a sad reality but, despite what we like to think about ourselves, we all change. Nevertheless, as with the first reunion, on the second visit, my old friend actually hadn’t changed much at all, but the woman he-was-living-in-sin-with appeared to have transformed drastically over the intervening couple of years. Either she’d been hiding her true character for the first visit, or she’d morphed into a self-possessed ogre. It’s strange what living in sin can do to some people.
I was aware she talked a lot from our first encounter. Then so do I. But it was the constant vying for attention by any means possible that I began to find disturbing, and the occasional sign of passive aggressive behaviour in the little digs and slap-downs she slipped in here and there, as if she thought nobody noticed. The interminable interruptions, veering completely away from the subject, didn’t help, nor did the feigned helplessness she exhibited from time to time. Worst of all, she appeared to think you have to win conversations.
And then there was the continual laughing at her own stories, while the rest of us couldn’t wait for them to end. They weren’t funny in the slightest to anyone else. Something she seemed conspicuously unaware of.
She opened her tales with sentences that seemed more like challenges, such as: “This’ll make you laugh, it’s a real story, not an invented one, like yours.” The put-down blatantly obvious, we’d be shocked into silence. That provided the gap she wanted. Immediately grabbing the opportunity created she’d launch into yet another of her dreadfully long stories about a problem she’d had with a rucksack, or something or other, insisting everybody listen to every tiny detail, no matter how trivial and uninteresting, repeating herself over and over again. Eating away at our precious time on Earth, she’d instruct us to “listen to this bit, it’s hilarious”. Generally, it wasn’t even vaguely amusing. Yet she’d still carry on, laughing and giggling to herself as she went along. And should our attentions start to flag she’d prompt us with little, almost admonishing, touches to our wrists. The anticipation of yet another to come, began to get extremley stressful. The woman I live in sin with, and I, were becoming nervous wrecks.
No matter how subdued our reaction, she remained completely oblivious, even though everyone else assembled stayed straight-faced throughout. Unable even to feign a titter, we were flabbergasted, as we died for the endless torture of having to listen to come to its end. There were times I wanted to crawl beneath the nearest table and curl into a tiny ball hoping everything would go away. Everything about the visit was centring more and more on her.
A few days had begun to seem like a lifetime. I became as desperate as a man searching out the emergency exit at an amateur production of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. We only realised what happiness was again once they’d left in a hurry.
Suddenly pretending to feel more hurt and insulted than anyone could possibly be after a small disagreement turned nasty, the woman he-lives-in-sin-with bullied my old friend into cutting their visit short. At last we could breathe the sigh of relief that had been pent up so long.
Though an old and valued pal, there’s someone I’ll never see again, and I can’t say I’m disappointed. Still, however old we get, we all make mistakes. As the old adage has it: “A man who never made a mistake, never made anything at all.”
Anyway, what I really wanted to go on about is this. Going over the experience for the umpteenth time, in my head, got me to thinking of a comment I wrote to a new, and very refreshing blog, I stumbled across only the other day. Just A Small Town Girl is written by a young, recent university graduate living in a small town in England. Her parents were born in India. Blogs by young people living in India, or brought up against an Indian background, are often extremely well-written and interesting. Sharah’s is no different. She gives us a taste of her parents’ culture juxtaposed with the English culture she experiences beyond the family home. In a lovely little article entitled Growing Up, one sentence captured my attention. She was writing about the differences between herself and her friends, now they’re embarking on new lives.
“Whereas when it comes to me, I want to spend my early 20s exploring and learning, making mistakes and just generally going with the flow and seeing where life takes me.”
Though I agree entirely with the sentiment, I couldn’t help replying, rather cheekily:
“I’ve spent so many decades making mistakes, I’m finally getting the hang of it.”
Think of me as cynical, but the idea visits from old friends will always be wonderful is one of the greatest mistakes in life we can make.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
Une fois. Encore.
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