Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Back to the Future?

The gentle rhythm of the train was helping to ease the insistent throb of my hang-over. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea in the world to go for a heavy session the evening before, but it had turned into one of those nights. And it certainly vindicated my plan to take the train, rather than drive. The idea of battling the motorway while feeling this fragile did not appeal.

“That would be lovely, Ben,” Jenny had said, when I suggested coming to see her that weekend. A fortnight had passed since her mother's funeral, and I judged the time to be ripe. Not too soon – give her time to get over it, and don't look too keen. On the other hand, strike while the iron was at least still warm, and get the job done …

What job, exactly? What was I going to see Jenny for? If I was honest, it was an idea I'd run through my mind a few times over the past few months. Not before. As long as I'd been married, my mind never harked back to Jenny, unhappy even though many of the later years had been. But, my marriage had been like that – something which, despite the difficulties, I just assumed was to be a constant feature of the rest of my life.

And, I hadn't ever considered her after I got divorced, and when I first relaunched myself onto the circuit and tried to meet women. Perhaps that was because I was looking to the future, and not the past. And, then I met Charlotte and everything had seemed wonderful and Jenny belonged to ancient prehistory.

After Charlotte, heart-broken as I was, I still faced the future with optimism. After all, I had just pulled one super-hot 25 year-old blonde, so why couldn't I quickly pull another? Get back out there, hit the scene, trawl the dating sites, and …

The truth eventually began to dawn. Charlotte had been an outlier, an exceptional event in my middle-age made possible only because of her own circumstances at the time. And, it became very obvious that once that particular phase in her life was over, my services were no longer required. And that, on the whole, super-hot 25 year-old blondes are not very interested in 40-something divorced men.

The sad truth was that single women anywhere near my age were nothing like Charlotte. They were, on the whole, simply awful, and my post-Charlotte dating experiences were a grim litany of failure. With Charlotte, of course, amazing though it had been, the reality was once she had grown bored she had no hesitation in dumping me, and remained resolutely impervious to repeated begging, pleading, promises, tears and the full, pathetic depths of my self-abasement. So, really, she wasn't so nice either.

The “big one” before Charlotte, of course, had been my ex-wife, who was possibly the most bitter and twisted human being I could ever have made the mistake of becoming involved with. And before that, well, there had been her, and before that there had been Jenny. Who had always been really sweet, affectionate, and loving, and who certainly hadn't deserved to be chucked in the way that she had been ...

So, it was not altogether surprising that I had started to view my old relationship with Jenny with some nostalgia. To wonder what it was she was doing now, whether she was single, and about what-ifs and might've-beens. But, to actually get in touch had been too difficult – I had long ago lost her address and phone number; had no idea, in fact, whether she had moved, got married, settled down with someone, or whatever. And, while I'm sure some detective work with my family could have uncovered these things, I really didn't want to re-open the whole Jenny issue with them again.

Jenny's mother's funeral, then – was it some signal from fate? Naturally, Eleanor Morrison had loathed the very sight of me for the last 15 years of her life – I was the one who dumped her little Jenny, and I couldn't blame her for feeling that way. But, with her mother gone, was the way now somehow clear? For what?

I didn't really believe in fate. I was tempted to, during the heights of my love affair with Charlotte, which I could sometimes think was some karmic reward for all the years of suffering through a terrible marriage and worse divorce. But, Charlotte was history, and surely I didn't deserve all this bad luck for the way I had treated Jenny 15 years ago?

And, I didn't really want Jenny back. In some ways, I never really wanted Jenny in the first place, not the way I'd later wanted Charlotte, and before that (I suppose) my ex-wife, and before that … well … one or two others. I'd been hugely attracted to Jenny when we first met, and had enjoyed our relationship up to a point, but had been persuaded to let her move in with me, and eventually came to regret it. Perhaps it was just that I wasn't ready to settle down at that stage in my life, but one big factor remained as true today as it had ever been – the age gap.

Hypocritical of me? Of course – Jenny being something over ten years older was a huge problem, while Charlotte being twenty years younger was just dandy. Of course, seeing Jenny again at that funeral had been a revelation – she looked nothing like her age, and I had felt the old feelings come surging back. Not feelings of deep romantic love, of course, but a feeling that I would really, really love to bang her senseless. Just for old times sake …

“So shag her,” had been Charlotte's straightforward advice, when I told her about the funeral encounter and how hot Jenny still looked. I'm not sure that it's always the best idea in the world to have an ex-girlfriend as possibly your best friend, but I had always found, in matters such as these, that Charlotte was always right. And, I could be open and honest with her in a way that I couldn't with anyone else – who else knew my deepest desires and fantasies?

Other friends thought that I had little to lose by at least visiting Jenny one more time. My dear little friend Louise was less forthright than Charlotte, but was definitely implying something similar when she told me to “go for it”. Nick's advice was more basic still: “Any chance of a leg-over? Good man”. And I thought: why not? After all, Jenny and I were both consenting adults, so why shouldn't both of us be attracted to a little no-strings pleasure? The physical distance would ensure that nothing too intense happened – no reason we couldn't see each other now and again, of course, for the odd weekend have-it-away-day.

So, it was with a sense of inevitability that I had suggested to Jenny that I visit that weekend. It turned out that she lived in the same South London flat as when we first met (temporarily rented out when she moved in with me). I resolved to travel down on the Saturday afternoon, and booked a nearby Thai restaurant for dinner for the two of us that evening. I could barely remember the geography around Jenny's old place, but Google Maps was my friend – and I wanted somewhere that was within easy walking distance of her flat. The plan, then, was clear: get down there around 6pm, meet up, have a couple of drinks (or maybe just tear each other's clothes off at once?), dinner and some chat, get as much Pinot Grigio down her neck as possible, then back to her place for wild, rampant, drunken sex. I had booked a return ticket for late Sunday afternoon, so as to allow plenty of time for more mellow, relaxed sex in Jenny's double bed all Sunday morning.

Of course, I couldn't be quite as blatant about it as that. I had to at least make a token effort at respectability, and find myself a hotel room, that I had no intention of using. But, no harm in hinting – rather then consult Google Maps, I asked Jenny where the nearest place to stay was, hoping of course that she would suggest her sofa (i.e., “her bed”). Disappointingly, she came up with a Travel Lodge about half a mile away.

And, then she changed her mind, suggesting instead that I stay with her friend Sarah, who was (apparently) just around the corner from Jenny's and had plenty of room. While this sounded completely bizarre to me (what woman would cheerfully invite a friend's ex-boyfriend, who she had never met, and could be a complete nut-job, to stay at her house?), Charlotte believed I was onto a winner. “It's just cover,” Charlotte said, “You'll never get to the friend's, but Jenny doesn't feel she can ask you to stay at her place because it's too much like asking you for sex. And, if by any chance you do end up at the friend's, fuck her instead.” No beating about the bush with Charlotte.

So, the die was cast. Jenny had arranged to meet me at her local station; it was a fine early spring day, everything was in walking distance, and I was travelling light with only a small overnight bag. My main journey was to Euston; I then faced a Tube ride across the centre of town, before a second mainline train to outer South London where Jenny lived. Pugsly, I had been informed, was really excited about meeting me.

I always enjoyed train journeys, and even experienced a slight nostalgic rush when using the Tube. Of course, it wasn't exactly pleasant, but the smell of rubber and burnt engine oil, and the foreign students with their ludicrously large backpacks, were a memory of another time.

The connections were quicker than I anticipated, and I caught an earlier local train to Jenny's than planned. No problem, I thought, and sent Jenny a text indicating that I would be around twenty minutes early. When the train pulled into her local station, my hang-over had gone completely, and it almost felt like stepping into the past.