Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 13

Part of the thing with getting older is that at some point, you find yourself coming into possession of something new and that something new is a distant past.

I don't think I ever noticed I had one of these before until over Christmas when I persuaded my friend Adam (he of better targeting) to take a trip to one of the local pubs that we used to frequent from sixth form onwards while we were home.

This wasn't an easy thing as Adam absolutely hates the idea of strolling down memory lane and over the last couple of years Adam has refused all invitations to head out while home over Christmas. He usually tells me something along the lines of that Christmas is a time for families ("But you hate yours." "I know, I meant other people's families"). This time he was convinced my desire to revisit an old school/student pub haunt was just another example of my demographic shifting.

The evening underlined again that right now my friends and I (Generation X in general) stand at a turning point. What it is, I think, is that have reached a point in our lives where we about to come into possession for the first time of a distant past. Until now, nothing has really seemed that way, everything has still felt close enough to touch (to pick up the phone/email), but I think that in the not-too-distant future things will start to become unreachable. It's like a ship on any kind of voyage will always reach a point where it is too far too go back and going forward is the only option and I think that moment is probably right about now (you funk so heavy).

I found Adam already seated, drinks on the table, when I turned up. "I see you've chosen our usual table, that's nice."

"I phoned ahead. it wasn't a problem. And tell me, that is better than television why precisely?"

"Don't you at all miss coming to places like this?"

Adam pulls a face. "I guess it would be funny to run into people, but I don't think anyone does this any more and I don't think people run into each other, which is I think why we stopped doing it."

Adam was, of course, right. We used to do this all the time. Ritualistically meeting in one of several local pubs over the Christmas period on Christmas Eve and then again on Boxing Day, which was all a simple dress rehearsal for New Year's Eve. I'm not quite sure when it happened, but at some point a few years ago it stopped. Mostly because people started to live in bizarre parts of the country, spend Christmas with their other half or really just couldn't be bothered to go out.

It's always the most unlikely people you run into and that Boxing Day occasion proved no different. When we sat down there was absolutely no one around who we recognised, but after a couple of drinks, we became aware of someone standing in front of our table.

When we looked up we recognised the person immediately as David Reynolds, who was perhaps one of the brightest yet most disliked people at school. He was chiefly disliked because of his unstoppable line in withering sarcasm and general disdain.

I don't think I had seen Dave him for maybe 10 years and he had changed little. His hair was still a curly wiry mess and I think he was wearing the same pair of glasses (those thick black plastic Elvis Costello type specs), the right arm of which was held on by Sellotape. Even at school I seem to remember they were always broken, but back then it was because people were always punching him. Dave really was one of those people who asked for trouble, got it, and then asked again. He wasn't helped by being a displaced Geordie and having a thick accent to boot (people just sound more withering in Geordie).

He was dressed in beaten blue 501 jeans, a black Joy Division T-shirt and an ancient black leather jacket of the kind that Tucker Jenkins used to wear. Actually Dave is the guy who found his look 15 years ago and stayed with it.

"I thought it was you two," Dave said. "Been a while."

"Not long enough," Adam said. "See, I told you? Of all the people we could run into it's everybody's favourite pain in the arse, Dave Reynolds."

"You're not wrong there."

"Hey, Dave so how's it going?"

"Don't ask. It's all gone horribly wrong."

This was too much for Adam. "You're kidding right, come on you're just in character right?"

"No, I'm serious."

"But you work on consumer mags don't you? Film reviews?" Adam supplies.

"Film reviews? I fucking hate it. It's the lowest common denominator. I wanted to write about art. I wanted to be a dilettante."

"Well, think of it this way, you get to watch lots of movies," I said.

"Yeah, but they're all shite aren't they? What a dilettante I turned out to be. I'm washed up."

"You're hardly washed up Dave," I said.

"I'm 33. Take a look around. Washing up's starting early. I'm living back home as well. My old man died and left me the house."

"I take it this was after he died," said Adam dryly.

"You're a fucking genius you, Price."

Dave pulled up a chair. "What's that book you're reading," Dave asked of the book sticking out of my coat, which happened to be my Toby Young holiday read.

"That's shite. Me, I've read everything. I can't remember the last time I saw anything that I wanted to read."

"Dave, even you -- a man with clearly too much time on his hands -- can not have read everything."

"I fucking have. Name something?"

"OK, Albert Camus, 'The Outsider'."

"'The Outsider'? I fucking lived it mate."

"I just knew that you were going to say that," Adam went.

The three of us then preceded to sit and swap school anecdotes. Dave passed almost universally the same comment on one and all ("I fucking hated that c***"). The funny thing was, though, that Dave seemed to be in contact with more than a few of our old classmates, despite being so disliked.

Eventually Adam asks him about this. "Dave, don't take this the wrong way, I'm surprised you're still in touch so many people."

"It's true I see fucking everyone. It's depressing as most of them are complete c***s."

Given Dave's claimed encyclopaedic knowledge of our former schoolmates, I was struck by an idea that was too good to pass up and I knew it was one that Adam wouldn't like one bit.

"OK Dave, what about Carolyn Gunn?"

Carolyn is one of the great loves of Adam's life. They went out from sixth form for more than five years. Tall and willowy with brown-red hair, there was something about her.

Dave smiles at this. "I knew you were going to ask about her."

Adam wasn't pleased. Adam operates a couple of rules about women and chief among which is that, as far as old girlfriends are concerned, you never go back ("Gordon, that's why they're called 'old girlfriends'"). As an addendum to this rule (should you break the above rule), Adam argues you should never pursue OGFs if you were the one who dumped them as they will return the favour should you go out with them again.

"Oh aye, I know all about Carolyn. You should have looked on Friends Reunited, she's there."

"Come on Dave, put us out of our misery. Picture perfect marriage to some academic in the north of England with two kids, right?" I said.

"She's an academic alright, I'll give you that. Works at Hatfield University. She's single as well."

"I can not believe she's single, she was stunning," Adam, who had suddenly pricked up his ears, said.

"That's because she's got a fucking four-year-old as well."

Adam shakes his head perplexed. "A four-year-old what?"

"A child Adam, a four-year-old child. Adam has a thing about children, Dave. He doesn't like them."

"You'll go down well then," Dave said. "Her husband dumped her and so she did what they all do. She came back running back home. No one's interested in single mothers."

"Dave, you are the master of sympathy," Adam said.

"I see her all the time. She asked me a while back if I ever heard anything of you," Dave said, tipping his glass to Adam, "and I told her I hadn't seen that c*** in years."

"So how is she?" Adam asks.

"You can ask her yourself. She's living back at her mother's."

"So how come you and Carolyn 'hang out' together?" Adam asked.

"You know what it's like. They don't get out much when they have a kid around their ankles. Their standards fall, they'll hang out with anyone," Dave said. "You might be able to rekindle your childhood romance. She's definitely not getting any now."

I digressed (a lot), but my point is that if you want to catch the past, now is about the time to do it because the next stop after this is the one where you are much older and will have shifted several more times. Adam, however, was not at all keen.

"Why don't you just call her? You'll be throwing away a chance if you don't."

"What, my one true chance for happiness?"

"Absolutely, I'm convinced of it."

"And the thing is I know you're right. Sort of. But you know what it is? I figured what it was that was weird about dating single women our age with children, or even women that you used to go out with years ago? I can't help but get the feeling that you're living someone else's life. A life that someone else had already started, which in the case of Carolyn is some bearded academic no doubt living in the north of England. They're always bearded."

That's other thing that comes with the distant past. It's the feeling that if you do go back, things aren't at all new and, in Adam's case, dealing with the fact that you're no longer the only guy they ever kissed or their only major relationship. Personally, I don't think that matters and even if it does, well, that's kind of tough. Besides, if Friends Reunited has proved one thing it's that a lot of people are no way near as bothered as Adam.

In the end, I told him he had to call her as otherwise he would have to face the prospect that one day she might succumb and end up living with Dave. He would then have to spend the rest of his life knowing that Dave is living with his girlfriend and loving every minute of it. I think that clinched it.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 12

Something unexpected happened during the holiday period involving somebody else's girlfriend and it was a totally unpleasant experience.

A retreat back to my mother's house is usually a welcome experience. She has all the things that I don't have in my flat. Major appliances that all work, freezers stocked with food, a whole fridge dedicated to beverages, not to mention lots of wine (as opposed to empty bottles waiting to be recycled); a dish washer (obviously it needs to be stacked, but someone else does this) and a tumble dryer (as opposed to radiators).

This year, however, I was rather ill over Christmas. I won't go into detail (it involved vomiting), but basically it lasted the duration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It also meant that I had to endure the most painful car journey in the world, catching a lift to Hertfordshire as I did with the worst driver (OK, so I'm ungrateful) in the world, who managed to hop us along, bumping gears and jerkily braking, all 25 miles home at a steady 40 miles an hour. Never get a lift with a gay man, if you are feeling ill. They drive like pensioners or girls.

It was a bit of a group homecoming, for along with our hometown driver, my friend Adam (another hometown boy) was with us much to his chagrin. He had planned to be spending Christmas with his girlfriend, but she kindly dumped him just before Christmas Eve. She did this in accordance with the dating Geneva Convention rules, states that if you are going to dump someone over Christmas you have to do it before Christmas Eve as after that you can't do it until after New Year's (it's just terrifically bad form to act otherwise... I mean, so I'm told).

I seemed to be the only one generally looking forward to a really warm house and a large comfy bed, which I could be waited on in my weakened state. It's like going to a hotel, but just really cheap (I have to make sure my mother never reads this or I am going to be quite busted). Adam, on the other hand, found the return home a reason for dismay. He particularly lamented the fact that of the three of us in the car, the only person who was in a stable relationship was gay.

"What does that say to you," he raged.

"Absolutely nothing, is this going to be a conversation about failure to commit?"

"I've been thinking about that. I think it comes down to inappropriate choices rather than a failure to commit to one woman per se."

I have to say I was impressed by this astute analysis. What he was saying was that it came down to being an issue of targeting. Actually, this made a lot of sense to me as only very recently I had been told by another friend that, while my acquisition activity was fine, I was let down by having no retention strategy. These people who work in marketing... the way they speak sometimes. I'm still waiting for someone to bring out the marketers' guide to dating, the section on customer loyalty should be a blast.

He rather let his argument down, however, by revealing that a crazy ex-girlfriend ("but she's really attractive, besides she had nowhere to go") was joining the family for Christmas Day.

Ill as I was, I ate and drank almost nothing. Just about everything turned my stomach apart from chocolate, of which my mother's house was stacked with. Chocolate really is the wonder food and I now really like those individually wrapped bits of Terry's Chocolate Orange.

Despite being so ill, I received very little sympathy. I don't know, maybe I groaned too much for a house with too many women in it. Everyone seemed to be under the impression that my illness was self inflicted. My sister, in particular, could not believe that I had not done it to myself. Some people. I blame it all on a single shot of Grappa, having been out on the 23rd and ending up in our local Italian, where the friendly staff issued us all with shots of this brew. I swear it is that and I have now added this drink to my list of alcoholic beverages not to be touched in future (joining tequila, jugs of crushed ice and rum, and absinthe) because of the memorable (not by me) social occasions they have created.

Anyway, I digress, the subject of this week is really about fancying other people's girlfriends (OPGs) and, more particularly, the very inappropriate OPGs. Generally, this is not a subject that one should write about. Even mentioning it feels somehow like there will be ramifications as the two things to remember about OPGs is that: a) they are other people's; and b) they can cause, as we all know, a world of trouble.

I could, in fact, write for a very long time about this subject, rolling out my favourite anecdotes, but one of the things about leaving the 18-34 demographic is that you suddenly find yourself turning into Mr/Ms Sensible. Besides, as most of the parties are still living it would simply not be healthy (or indeed safe) for anyone concerned to rake over the coals just one more time for journalistic purposes (besides, as fun as it is to quote Joan Didion from 'Slouching towards Bethlehem' about writers selling people out, it's less fun when threatened with violence). I thought long and hard about writing about it this time, but I saw my friend Marcus over the holidays (he who is resident of Stallingwalling) and he reminded me of a certain incident, which involved him asking out A. This would not have been a problem, had I not still been going out with her at the time.

Marcus explained away this by saying that he had a moment of insanity. Later, of course, after she had cruelly dumped me, I wondered if he had some kind of prescient knowledge. That's, in fact, a total revisionist lie. She dumped me the second time only after I had done it to her first (on my birthday -- see, I have style and clearly no need for the dating Geneva Convention), which only goes to prove what Adam also says that you should never go back out with someone who you have previously dated and dumped. The reason being as (no matter what they say) they will always want to get their own back and dump you to return the favour. It's a cruel world.

I continue to digress. The OPG concerned was a real shocker, in that she belonged to my cousin. This was bad on so many levels. Admittedly, it was not really as bad as it could have been... she was 24 (but still it's pushing icky territory, considering my cousin is a baby-faced 21-year-old). Worse still, I think as for the first time within the realms of the cousins/stepchildren/siblings and their other halves, I was in danger of feeling almost uncle-ish and not in a good way. All I needed was a dirty raincoat, which is funny as that so had not been in my plans for my Winter 2002/2003 wardrobe.

Fortunately, as the 20-something rabble downed B52s and other beverages of choice, I remained completely sober, unable to drink anything. This was, in the end, a good thing (clearly penance for inappropriate OPG attraction). I stood outside for a while with my sister, who was smoking in the garden (me being reduced to enjoying other people's smoke) and I admitted the OPG problem. My sister, as withering as ever, was quick to offer comfort.

"That's terribly sad."

"I know."

Then she relented: "I wouldn't worry about it, she's almost 25. It doesn't sound so bad that way."

I nodded at this, said nothing, while thinking that's no good, I'm almost 35 and well into this demographic shift.