1997, two years after graduating from University. Tony Blair is elected Prime Minister. The Tories have gone and there is a palpable sense of excitement in the air. I had just gained employment at the BBC, and anything seems possible. We will never be going to war with anyone!
Plus Leonardo DiCaprio drowns.
I am still living at my Mums at the time, and fannying about on her new 'multimedia' computer. Solitare was beginning to get dull, so I decide to investigate this Interweb thing.
I connect a lead into the phone line. I double click. Some strange hissing noises emanate from the speakers. Then some man called Bill wants my credit card details.
Oh go on then.
I order my own Electropost address. Then a globe in the top right hand corner starts to turn. Jesus H Christ on a bike! I'm in! This is like the bloody Matrix! (which isn't released for another two years, but bear with me.)
Everything and anything is mine at the touch of a button. Information, communication, entertainment, knowledge.
So I trawl for porn.
I begin to get addicted (to the whole web, not the porn. Well, not just the porn.) Hours become Days become Month... you get the picture. I find rooms in which to chat. There are other people there, and from other countries! And many Americans. Many of them say 'Yo', and spell funny. Many more think my teeth are bad and remind me that my bottom got smacked about 221 years ago, which is strange because they've never met me and must know I'm not that old.
And then a girl says hello. She doesn't spell funny. In fact, she spells the same. She is also a million miles away except she isn't because she tells me it's more like four.
Up the road.
We chat more, for several days. Then we send mail to each other.
Then I give her my phone number because she seems like a lot of fun, and we chat with our voices and she sounds very sexy too and makes it hard for me to stand up when my Mum's in the room. Her name is Jenny, and she says she looks like a cross between Drew Barrymore and Dawn French. Cor! Drew Barrymore! Brilliant!!!
So we agree to meet. I order a pint and sit down to wait. In my pocket is a little tape of house music I've made for her. It then occurs to me that this was the first proper blind date I'd ever been on, and it had all happened by accident. I normally met ladypeople through just being alive and doing work or Uni stuff, but now, here I was in a public house doing the things grown ups do. I felt awkward and shifted a lot. I was convinced that everyone was staring at me and they all knew I had a blind date.
Never mind. It'll be ok when she eventuFUCK ME, IT'S DAWN FRENCH.
Jenny stared at me and cocked her head to one side, as if guaging if the nervous fidgeter on the table in front was indeed this secret admirer. I waved at her almost imperceptibly, and she began to walk over slowly, and shyly.
I started sweating.
It's not that I'm a bigot, or even fattist - I hope I'm neither - but I reserve the right to be physically attracted to someone first. Granted, I have fallen for women I didn't initially fancy so there are exceptions, but I do believe in love, and certainly lust, at first sight. But that wasn't happening here. So I stood up, kissed her on the cheek, and proceeded to drink heavily. Jenny was driving, so I had to drink for two. There was no ulterior motive here, no drinking her attractive so something could happen. I do, after all, make Jesus look like a crack dealer.
I had merely decided to make the most of being 23 and in a pub with a new person to talk to.
And talk we did. I recall it being really rather pleasant. And when she remarked that she wanted to drive into Central London to meet her sister in a bar, I was well into the idea. I have a snapshot in my head of her driving while I sat there making her laugh. I recall her climbing stairs in front of me and thinking, 'Those huge jeans look awfully tight', but most of all, I remember her face once we'd got to the bar and she'd found her sister - She was waiting for me to do something. She had a coy smile. There was now silence. Her hands were behind her back.
She was actually quite pretty.
But I couldn't do it. I already felt guilty. I kissed her on the cheek and left the bar.
We spoke now and again, but we didn't meet up. She did ask, but I declined. I felt like a bastard but I rationalised that I could've slept with her, then ignored her, and been a bona-fide bastard.
But that really isn't me. So perhaps you can see the conflict I get in my head when, from time to time, I regret the huge amount of sex I haven't had.
But anyway... Fast forward a couple of years. It is 1999, and I am still at my Mums. (Here comes the embarrassing bit. Thanks for your patience.)
One morning, I decide to take a different tube station to work, one that takes five minutes longer to get to, but varied the day-to-day commute. I get on the train and sit down, my head buried in Loot as I was by now looking for a place to rent. Then I hear a voice on a phone. A loud voice. A girly voice. I look over casually, look back at my paper, then double back in shock.
Fucketyfucketyfuckety. I know her. She looks exactly like Dawn French.
It is Jenny. She hasn't seen me. Good. Head in paper... Really really deep in paper.
I concentrate in earnest. A few stops pass. I have to change at Wembley to get another line, so as we pull in to the station and the doors begin to open, I swiftly, neatly, deftly rise, turn, and exit.
Deciding to create some space, I jog to the far end of the other platform as the next train arrives.
I'm having a rather pleasant time on the next train. I'm scouring all manner of flats in places I'd like to live in; Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Soho, then I note the price and look up less salubrious haunts - Ealing, Hendon, Hammersmith. (South London is not an option.)
The train slows. I look out of the window. Marvellous. We're pulling in to Baker Street. With a sexycasual glow, I lower my paper and reach for my bag in preparFUCKING HELL IT'S JENNY SITTING RIGHT OPPOSITE ME. She must have seen me leave the last tube and followed me down. Thank Buddha I hadn't spotted her earlier. And even now, she hadn't clocked me. She was too busy looking up at the ceiling pretending to look nonchalant. But I was about to leave.
I got up and headed to the exit without making eye contact with anyone. And when the doors opened, I unashamedly RAN. I ran like the wind. I ran like Forrest Gump. I barged into commuters and elbowed old women out the way with delirious fervour. I ran into the tube concourse and sprinted down the escalator to rejoin the Jubilee line. I heard a train, FUCK - It's my train! I turned into the thronged platform and realised it was GOING THE WRONG WAY, so I ran out and over to the opposite platform, which was empty. There, on the wall in front, was a map of the next few stops. No, THIS was the wrong fucking platform, shitshitshit....
I ran back. The platform was no longer thronged. Everyone was now on the tube as the little pingpingping signified the doors were about to close. I barely got my fingers to the window as the tube doors shut and the whole damn thing took off without me. I dropped to my knees and I screamed. I tugged at my hair and pulled my head into my lap. I stood up, and still panting, began trudging over to the far corner when I heard a 'Fweng?' break the eerie silence of the now empty platform.
'Jenny? Wow! What are you doing here?!!!'
Awkward, sweaty, blustering conversations are bad at the best of times without having to do it in a packed carriage full of bored nosey commuters.